Drug War Chronicle

comprehensive coverage of the War on Drugs since 1997

NM Legalization Bill Advances, WA Drug Decrim Bill Advances, NY Legalization Fight Continues, More... (2/16/21)

A marijuana legalization bill moves in New Mexico, a bill to expand marijuana decriminalization advances in North Dakota, a drug decriminalization bill advances in Washington, and more.

Gov. Cuomo's plan to legalize marijuana faces an alternative in the NY legislature. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted on Monday to approve House Bill 12, one of four marijuana legalization bills filed in the state this year. In addition to setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, the bill would lift some restrictions on the state's medical marijuana program and some limits on the number of plants producers can grow. The bill now goes before a tax policy committee before heading for a House floor vote.

New York Governor Says He Will Amend Marijuana Legalization Plan. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday he will amend his marijuana legalization proposal after leading legislators and marijuana reform advocates harshly criticized his original proposal. "I'm sending an amended bill. Legalizing recreational marijuana is something we've tried to do for several years," the governor said. "It is overdue in my opinion -- you have people who are incarcerated for crimes that, frankly, they shouldn't have a record on." Cuomo said he and lawmakers "don't have an agreement yet," but "we're making progress." Critics have charged that Cuomo is too concerned with revenues and not concerned enough with social equity provisions.

Drug Policy Alliance Reacts to Cuomo Amendment Message. The Drug Policy Alliance released the following statement on Cuomo's move: "After advocates highlighted shortcomings in Gov. Cuomo's marijuana legalization plan, the Governor has announced amendments to his proposal," said Melissa Moore, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance and member of Start SMART NY Coalition (Sensible Marijuana Access through Regulated Trade). "By reducing criminal penalties and allowing marijuana delivery services, the Governor has taken steps to address decades of disparate marijuana criminalization. There's no question this shift comes in response to powerful organizing for marijuana justice across the state and in the Legislature. While these changes are a move in the right direction, they are not a substitute for the more comprehensive Marijuana Reform and Taxation Act (MRTA) (Senate Bill 854), which remains the gold standard reform bill in the Legislature. That must be the starting point as it has stronger equity and community reinvestment provisions and a more balanced governance structure for the Office of Cannabis Management than the Governor's proposal. We urge its swift passage to secure justice, jobs, equity, and true community investment for millions of New Yorkers."

North Dakota Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill to expand marijuana decriminalization was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Under current state law, possession of a half-ounce or less is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. This bill would make possession of up to an ounce an infraction punishable by a fine of no more than $50. The bill would also make possession of up to 250 grams an infraction with a higher fine.

Drug Policy

Washington Drug Decriminalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to decriminalize drug possession and expand drug treatment, House Bill 1499, was approved by the House Public Safety Committee on Monday. The bill now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.

Biden IRS Doesn't Support Pot Shop's Tax Fight, Myanmar Opium Down But Meth Is Up, More... (2/15/21)

South Dakota's Republican attorney general won't defend the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment any further, a Michigan court rules people on probation can use medical marijuana, and more.

Meth is making big bucks for Asian crime syndicates, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Administration Opposes Marijuana Dispensary's Tax Fight for Supreme Court Review. In one of the first actions regarding marijuana in the Biden administration, the IRS has argued against a Denver-based dispensary, Standing Akimbo LLC, having its case heard in the US Supreme Court. The dispensary is seeking to challenge an IRS rule that business tax deductions cannot be taken by marijuana businesses because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming Soon. State Rep Ed Osienski (D-Newark) says he plans to submit a marijuana legalization bill by the time lawmakers return from their February break on March 9 and that he is optimistic about its prospects. "It's close, it's close," he said. "We're talking one or two votes" away from approval in the House." Gov. John Carney (D) has consistently opposed legalization, but Osienski is suggesting Carney could let the bill become law without signing it.

South Dakota Attorney General Will Not Join Appeal of Ruling That Marijuana Legalization Amendment Is Unconstitutional. Although the attorney general's office generally defends state laws when they are challenged in court, SD Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's (R) office will not help appeal a state judge's ruling that the marijuana legalization amendment passed by voters last November is unconstitutional. Ravnsborg's boss, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) opposes marijuana legalization. A deputy attorney general defended the amendment in lower court, and Ravnsborg's office says that satisfies the state law's requirements. An appeal to the state Supreme Court by attorneys associated with the campaign is ongoing.

(The South Dakota code states that ""... the attorney general shall... appear for the state and prosecute and defend all actions and proceedings, civil or criminal, in the Supreme Court, in which the state shall be interested as a party.")

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Appeals Court Upholds Right of People on Probation to Use Medical Marijuana. The state Court of Appeals has ruled that judges cannot prevent people from using medical marijuana as a condition of probation. The ruling came after a Traverse County district court judge barred Michael Thue from using medical marijuana while on probation, saying it was a policy of circuit court judges in the county. But the appeals court ruled that anyone who has a state-issued medical marijuana card is immune to such penalties.

Criminal Justice

Key Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Gets Booker, Cotton as Chair, Ranking Member. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Sunday that the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, where issues extremely relevant to drug and sentencing policy are the focus, will be chaired Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) named ranking member. Booker is a criminal justice and drug law reform stalwart; Cotton is one of the most regressive members of the Senate on criminal justice.

International

UNODC Reports That Myanmar Opium Production Drops While Meth Surges. A UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released last Thursday finds that opium production has dropped in Myanmar, the world's second-larges poppy producer after Afghanistan has dropped to around 405 metric tons, about half the amount recorded in 2013. Instead, the Golden Triangle drug trade is now dominated by methamphetamine production. "Opium production is down 11 to 12% on the previous year," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Southeast Asia and the Pacific Regional representative. "This decline is intimately linked to the surge of synthetic drugs."

Drug Companies Seek Big Tax Write-Offs for Opioid Settlements, VA Legal Pot Bill Advances, More... (2/12/21)

South Dakota's obstinate governor continues to get in the way of marijuana legalization, a freshman Kansas state representative files a drug decriminalization bill, and more.

Pills, pills, pills. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Campbell County) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 467. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce, provide free expungement of marijuana-related offenses, and dedicate up to 25% of the state's marijuana tax revenues to funding addiction treatment. Personal cultivation of up to five plants would be allowed but would require a $250 permit.

North Carolina Poll Has Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. An Elon University poll released Thursday has support for marijuana legalization at 54%, with 34% opposed. That's a big swing in favor of legalization since 2017, when another Elon University poll had 51% opposed.

South Dakota Bill to Expunge Some Marijuana Convictions Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 141, which would expunge some misdemeanor marijuana convictions from background checks. The bill would provide for the automatic expungement of marijuana possession convictions from public background reports. It still faces a Senate floor vote and action in the House.

South Dakota Governor Likely to Veto Any Marijuana Legalization Bills This Year. Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who has already moved to invalidate a voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative, said Thursday she would probably veto any effort to achieve legalization through the legislature. She said at a news conference she would "not be inclined" to sign such a bill. Some legislators have indicated support for a legalization bill, saying it would reflect the will of the voters.

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Effort Advances. With both chambers having already approved marijuana legalization bills last week, the House General Laws Committee this week approved Substitute Senate Bill 1406, which amends the Senate bill to conform with the House's legalization bill. The Senate bill had allowed localities to opt-out of retail marijuana sales, the House bill doesn't.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Drug Companies Seek Billions in Tax Deductions from Opioid Settlement. A major pharmaceutical company and three drug distribution companies who have agreed to pay $26 billion to settle claims related to their role in stoking the opioid epidemic are now seeking to write off some of those costs from their taxes and pocket about $1 billion each. The companies are drug maker Johnson & Johnson and distributors Cardinal Health, Amerisource-Bergen, and McKesson.

Psychedelics

Texas Bill to Study Therapeutic Potential of Psychedelics Filed. Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) has filed a bill, HB 1802, that would mandate a state study of the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine in the treatment of certain mental health conditions. The Department of State Health Services would conduct the study along with the Texas Medical Board and issue a report by December 2022.

Drug Policy

Kansas Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Aaron Coleman (D-Kansas City), a 20-year-old freshman legislator, has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of illicit drugs. HB 2288 would make drug possession a civil offense punishable by a fine of $100, but it would also create the offense of "failure to comply with drug abuse treatment." The bill is currently before the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

CT Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization in Budget Proposal, Baltimore Announces Policing Reform, More... (2/11/21)

The appetite for busting pot smokers grows weaker in Fort Lauderdale and Milwaukee, Idaho could this year finally legalize hemp, and more.

Baltimore police are reforming some of their stop and search practices. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization Plan in Budget Proposal. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Wednesday released his budget request, which includes a plan to legalize marijuana. His plan would involve creating a "comprehensive framework for the cultivation, manufacture, sale, possession, use, and taxation of cannabis that prioritizes public health, public safety, and social justice," Lamont said. "The proposal builds on the significant work that the Legislature has done on adult-use cannabis in recent sessions and ensures alignment with the approaches pursued by regional states," a summary of the plan says.

Florida's Broward County Gives Up on Misdemeanor Pot Prosecutions. Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) State Attorney Harold Pryor has told county police agencies not to bother referring misdemeanor marijuana possession cases for prosecution. "Prosecuting these cases has no public safety value and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources," Pryor wrote in a memo to the law enforcement agencies. He asked them to refer violators to drug-treatment programs instead of the criminal justice system. Possession of up to 20 grams is a misdemeanor under state law. Neighboring Miami-Dade County enacted a similar policy six months ago. Dade and Broward are the state's two most populous counties.

Milwaukee County Board to Consider $1 Fine for Pot Possession. Board Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez has proposed an ordinance that would make the maximum penalty for possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana a $1 fine. Currently, possession is punished with fines of between $250 and $500. The board's Judiciary Committee will take up the ordinance on March 11.

Hemp

Idaho House Committee Files Hemp Bill. Acting on the behest of the state Farm Bureau, the House Agriculture Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to file legislation to legalize industrial hemp in the state -- the only state yet to do so. The committee vote sets the stage for a full hearing on the bill, which agriculture leaders say they hope will end years of debate on legalizing the crop.

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Ban Hair Follicle Drug Tests in Child Welfare Cases. Rep. Christine Watkins (R-Price) has filed House Bill 73, which would ban the use of hair follicle drug tests in child welfare cases. "It discriminates against people with dark hair," she said in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday. "This is very, very disturbing," Watkins said. "Melanin in dark hair binds with the drugs for a longer time." That means Black and Hispanic parents disproportionately test positive in those tests, she added. The bill has the support of the state Department of Child and Family Services, which said it had been moving away from using the tests.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore Police Unveil New Stop and Search Policies to Comply with Federal Consent Decree. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison announced Wednesday that the department has implemented a new "stops, searches and arrests" policy as the department seeks to comply with a federal consent decree and eliminate unconstitutional interactions with the public. Under the policy, officers will be trained in what constitutes "reasonable, articulable suspicion" for stopping a citizen. The new policy makes clear that someone fleeing when he sees police is not an adequate reason to stop and investigate him. Police had frequently resorted to "jump outs at corners," jumping out of their vehicles at corners known for drug trafficking and detaining anyone who ran away. No more.

SD Judge Throws Out Marijuana Legalization Init, IL Drug Defelonization Bill Coming, More... (2/10/21)

A South Dakota court throws out the voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment, Idaho medical marijuana campaigners can begin signature-gathering for 2022, and more.

A bill to requiring reporting on COVID in federal prisons is about to be filed. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New National Poll Has Three-Fifths Saying Marijuana Legalization is a "Good Idea." A new national survey from Emerson College Polling has 61% of respondents saying marijuana legalization is a "good idea." The poll asked about various issues -- new pathways for citizenship, raising the minimum wage, for example -- but none had as much support as marijuana legalization.

Connecticut Bill Would Require "Labor Peace" for Marijuana Businesses. A bill now before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, HB 6377, would require that marijuana businesses enter into labor peace agreements with a union before being granted licenses. The bill would require an agreement "between a cannabis establishment and a bona fide labor organization that protects the state's interests by, at minimum, prohibiting the labor organization from engaging in picketing, work stoppages or boycotts against the cannabis establishment." Under the bill, marijuana employers would give up some rights, including the right to speak to employees about union organizing efforts.

South Dakota Judge Rejects Amendment Legalizing Marijuana. A circuit court judge in Pierre appointed by marijuana legalization opponent Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has thrown out the constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana that was approved by 54% of the voters in November. The judge held that the measure violated the state's requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject and would have created broad changes to state government. Amendment sponsors led by former US Attorney Brendan Johnson said they would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Campaigners Cleared to Begin Signature Gathering for 2022 Medical Marijuana Initiative. Kind Idaho, the group leading the campaign for a 2022 medical marijuana initiative, has been cleared to begin signature gathering. A 2020 signature-gathering campaign was disrupted by the coronavirus and ultimately failed to back the ballot. This move comes as a medical marijuana bill has just been introduced in the legislature and as the legislature also considers legislation that would prevent the state from legalizing any currently illicit drugs.

South Dakota Governor Seeks Delay in Implementing Medical Marijuana Initiative. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said Wednesday that while she will not stand in the way of implementing a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, the state will need more time to get the program up and running. "We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly," Noem said. "The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time." Under state law, voter-approved ballot measures are supposed to take effect the following July 1, but Noem and the state's Republican legislative leadership say they will delay implementation until July 1, 2022.

Incarceration

Progressive Lawmakers Will Reintroduce COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act. United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) will reintroduce of the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, bicameral legislation that would require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. "As a result of their confinement, incarcerated people are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and reports show that COVID-19 has spread like wildfire in correctional facilities across the country. This bill takes a necessary step towards containing the pandemic and supporting the health and safety of incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and the general public by strengthening data collection, reporting, and transparency," Senator Warren said.

Sentencing Policy

Illinois Drug Defelonization Bill Coming. Criminal justice reform advocates were thwarted in getting a drug defelonization bill passed in 2019, and now they are preparing to try again. The proposed bill would not only defelonize drug possession, it would also seek to divert drug users from the criminal justice system.

Medical Marijuana Update

Some of the remaining non-medical marijuana states are moving to get on the bandwagon, the NLRB says medical marijuana workers in Pennsylvania can't unionize, and more.

Alabama

Alabama Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill. A bill to legalize medical marijuana, Senate Bill 46, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill would set up a state medical marijuana commission, but would limit access to patients who have been diagnosed with one of about 20 qualifying conditions.

Idaho

Idaho Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state won a vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee Monday. Although sponsored by the committee, the bill was actually written by Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, a US Air Force veteran with terminal cancer, who testified before the vote Monday. "I'm here to talk with you about my desire for medical cannabis to be legalized here in Idaho, with specific limitations and controls," Kitzhaber said. "I've spent years writing and editing this legislation, to make it something that would allow medical cannabis to reach those who need it, but not necessarily reach those who just want it."

Kansas

Kansas Governor Pushes for Medical Marijuana to Pay for Medicaid Expansion. Governor Laura Kelly (D) called February 1 for lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana as a means of paying for the expansion of Medicaid in the state. The move comes after Republican legislators blocked Medicaid expansion last year. You have heard many of the comments coming from the opposition have been we can't afford it," Kelly said. "We have just designed a bill that pays for itself and more. There's never been any good argument against expansion other than we can't afford it."

Mississippi

Mississippi Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Arguments in Medical Cannabis Case. The state Supreme Court has set a date of April 14 to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November. Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate the will of the voters because the state's initiative law is outdated. Under the state constitution, initiative petitioners must collect an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts, but the state now has only four congressional districts, which, Butler argues, makes the initiative vote invalid.

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The Senate Finance Committee has approved Senate Bill 2765, which would make medical marijuana available to people with specified debilitating and chronic diseases. Last November, voters approved a broader medical marijuana initiative, but it is being challenged in court. The bill sponsor says if the court strikes down the initiative, there will be a bill ready to replace it.

New Jersey

New Jersey Court Hears Oral Arguments in Medical Marijuana Expansion Case. A panel of three appellate court judges heard oral arguments February 2 in a case where rejected medical marijuana applicants sued the state over its licensing procedures. The rejected business applicants argue that the state incorrectly rejected their applications. The case has stalled the expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Marijuana Workers Can't Unionize, NLRB Rules. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has squashed an attempt to unionize workers at a medical marijuana facility near Philadelphia. Workers at the AgriKind growing operation cannot be unionized because they are agricultural workers, the NLRB held. Agricultural and farm workers are usually considered to be exempt from federal labor law. The NLRB has ruled in favor of unionizing marijuana workers if their work includes packaging or delivering marijuana.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Yet another Baltimore cop heads to prison in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, a small-town Maine cop gets popped peddling pills to a female high school student, and more. Let's get to it:

In Jeffersonville, Georgia, a former Twiggs County sheriff's deputy was arrested February 2 for stealing more than $1,500 in cash being held as evidence in a drug case. William "Chip" Samuel Stokes, 51, a major in the sheriff's office until he was fired February 1, allegedly made off with money seized in a December traffic stop after it went missing from the evidence room. He is charged with theft and violating his oath of office.

In Harrington, Maine, a former Calais police officer was arrested last Friday for allegedly giving drugs to a teenage girl near a local high school. Jeffrey Bishop, 53, went down after a basketball coach found hydrocodone pills and three bags of fentanyl powder on a 17-year-old female student. Bishop was arrested days later and is charged with five separate drug-related offenses. He resigned two days before he was arrested and at last report was being held at the Aroostook County jail with bail set at $30,000 cash.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, a Lincoln Correctional Center guard was arrested last Friday after getting caught delivering marijuana to an inmate. Officer Xavier Palomares, 24, allegedly conveyed the weed into the prison on the promise of being paid $1,000. He's charged with one felony count: unlawful conveyance of an article to an inmate.

In Baltimore, a former Baltimore police officer was sentenced Monday to 14 months in federal prison for lying to federal agents about his role in a broad-ranging scandal where numerous officers have been arrested and convicted for selling cocaine seized by the police department. Former detective Ivo Louvado, 47, participated in a drug bust where 44 kilos of cocaine were seized, but only 41 turned into evidence. The rest was sold by police informants on the black market. He pleaded guilty to intentionally misleading a federal agent.

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Allow Buprenorphine Expansion, Honduran President Target of US Drug Investigation, More... (2/9/21)

A major new marijuana reform coalition has formed, a Hawaii asset forfeiture reform bill advances, so does an Idaho medical marijuana bill, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Major Marijuana Coalition Forms to Coordinate Legalization Push, But Some Key Advocacy Players Are Not Involved. A bunch of industry and advocacy groups have formed a new coalition, the United States Cannabis Council, to press forward on marijuana legalization. But while the group is headed by Marijuana Policy Project executive director Steven Hawkins on an interim basis, it does not include major advocacy groups such as NORML and the Drug Policy Alliance. It does include marijuana enterprises such as Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth, Columbia Care, Cronos Group, Curaleaf, Eaze, iAnthus Capital Holdings, LivWell Enlightened Health, MedMen, PAX Labs, Schwazze, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company and Vireo.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state won a vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee Monday. Although sponsored by the committee, the bill was actually written by Sgt. Jeremy Kitzhaber, a US Air Force veteran with terminal cancer, who testified before the vote Monday. "I'm here to talk with you about my desire for medical cannabis to be legalized here in Idaho, with specific limitations and controls," Kitzhaber said. "I've spent years writing and editing this legislation, to make it something that would allow medical cannabis to reach those who need it, but not necessarily reach those who just want it."

Asset Forfeiture

Hawaii Senate Advances Asset Forfeiture Reform Measure. The state Senate has approved Senate Bill 294, which would end civil asset forfeiture by requiring a conviction on a felony count before seized property could be sold or otherwise disposed of. The bill would also direct proceeds from the sale of seized property to the state's general fund instead of a fund controlled by law enforcement. Gov. David Ige (D) vetoed a similar bill in 2019, citing concerns it would hinder law enforcement.

Drug Testing

Illinois Bill Would Require Drug Screening to Receive Food Stamps. A downstate Republican, Rep. Blaine Wilhour, filed HB 658 last Friday. The bill would require recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to undergo a drug screening upon being approved for benefits. The bill would also require them to agree to random drug screening while they are receiving the benefits. The bill has not yet been referred to a committee.

Drug Treatment

Lawmakers Urge Biden to Back Buprenorphine Expansion. A group of lawmakers led by led by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and joined by four members in the House is calling on President Biden to allow more doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used for the treatment of opioid addiction. The Trump administration had loosened rules for buprenorphine prescribing, but in an early move, the Biden administration reversed that move, saying it was premature. The lawmakers are now reintroducing legislation to eliminate restrictive rules and are calling on Biden to "deliver on your promise to expand access to medication-assisted treatment."

Foreign Policy

US Prosecutors Are Investigating the Honduran President on Drug Trafficking Charges. In new court filing last Friday in the case of an indicted Honduran drug trafficker, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and other "high-ranking officials" were targets of a drug trafficking investigation. In another filing last month, prosecutors said that by 2013 Hernandez had "accepted millions of dollars in drug trafficking proceeds" and in return had "promised drug traffickers from prosecutors, law enforcement, and extradition to the United States." Hernandez has been a key US ally in the region.

NJ Governor Signs Bill to Reduce Psilocybin Penalties, VA Drug Decrim Bill Killed, More... (2/8/21)

New Jersey reduces penalties for possession of psychedelic mushrooms, an Idaho medical marijuana bil lis filed, a Minnesota asset forfeiture reform bill advances, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Deadline for Marijuana Legalization Legislation Extended. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) last Friday bumped back a procedural deadline for gubernatorial action on two already-passed marijuana legalization implementation and decriminalization measures from Monday to February 18. Governor Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders are making progress on changes to those bills to address concerns raised by the governor.

South Dakota Bill to Ban Smoking Marijuana in a Motor Vehicle Gets Hearing. A bill that would ban smoking marijuana in a motor vehicle got a hearing Monday. The bill, House Bill 1061, is a response to the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative that passed in November.

Wisconsin Governor Proposes Legalizing Marijuana. Governor Tony Evers (D) announced Sunday that he is proposing that the state legalize marijuana. Evers' plan would allow people 21 and over to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants, as well as set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Medical marijuana would be available for people 18 and over.

Medical Marijuana

Idaho Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. The House Health and Welfare Committee has filed a bill to allow for medical marijuana in the state. In a hearing Friday, witnesses including a prominent medical oncologist urged support for the legislation. No action was taken.

Pennsylvania Marijuana Workers Can't Unionize, NLRB Rules. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has squashed an attempt to unionize workers at a medical marijuana facility near Philadelphia. Workers at the AgriKind growing operation cannot be unionized because they are agricultural workers, the NLRB held. Agricultural and farm workers are usually considered to be exempt from federal labor law. The NLRB has ruled in favor of unionizing marijuana workers if their work includes packaging or delivering marijuana.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill to Reduce Penalties for Psilocybin Possession. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law A 5084 / S 3256, which reduces the penalty for people caught with small amounts of psilocybin from up to five years in state prison to a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D), who first introduced the mushroom amendment, said Thursday the change mushrooms are still illegal in New Jersey, "but it's not going to ruin lives for a first offense."

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Advances. A bill that would limit cash seizures to amounts greater $1,500 unless drug trafficking is alleged and bar the seizure of vehicles except for repeat drunk driving offenders or vehicles used for drug trafficking -- not possession -- passed the House last Friday. HF 75 passed the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee and will now be considered by the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

Sentencing

Virginia Drug Defelonization Bill Killed in Committee. A bill that would have eliminated felony drug possession charges and shift the focus toward drug treatment instead of punishment, House Bill 2303, was defeated in the Committee on Courts and Justice last Friday.

Virginia is on the Verge on Legalizing Marijuana [FEATURE]

The Old Dominion is set to notch a pair of marijuana firsts after both chambers of the state legislature approved marijuana legalization bills last Friday. While the bills, HB 2312and SB 1406 have minor differences that still have to be worked out in conference committee and while Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has yet to sign the bills into law, Virginia is now poised to be the first state to legalize marijuana in 2021 and the first state in the Old South to do so.

Richmond State House (Creative Commons)
Lawmakers need to move fast, though: The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday.

The pair of bills would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by persons 21 and over and would allow for the personal cultivation of up to four plants -- two mature and two immature. Possession of more than an ounce would merit only a $25 fine, unless it is more than five pounds, which could result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

The legislation also provides for the automatic expungement of certain past marijuana-related offenses and sets up a regulatory framework for legal marijuana commerce. The bills also mandate that some marijuana tax revenues go to pre-kindergarten programs for at-risk youth and public health programs.

The passage of the bills was hailed by marijuana policy reform groups, who had worked with legislators to push them forward.

"Virginia appears poised to join 15 other states that have adopted sensible laws that legalize and regulate marijuana for adults," Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) said in a press release. "MPP is proud to have played an important role in all three states where the House and Senate have voted to legalize cannabis, in Vermont, Illinois, and now, Virginia."

"Virginians have been clear in their support for this issue and Governor Northam agrees, it is time to legalize the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth," National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini said in a statement last Friday. "And while today's historic votes seek to put this majority public opinion into practice, there still remains much work to be done by NORML and others to ensure that Virginia gets it right and implements legislation that is expeditious and just."

So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. Virginia is set to become the 16th state. And while marijuana legalization bills have been filed in a number of states, there are at least four more -- Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Rhode Island -- that are particularly well-positioned to get it done this year as well.

VA House Votes to Legalize Marijuana, WA Drug Decrim Bill Filed, NJ Psilocbyin Penalties Eased, More... (2/5/21)

Virginia is on the verge of legalizing marijuana, San Antonio's prosecutors will reject especially small-time marijuana and other drug possession charges, and more.

magic mushrooms (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia House Votes to Legalize Marijuana. The Old Dominion took a giant step toward marijuana legalization Friday as the House of Delegates voted 55-52 to approve House Bill 2312, which would do just that. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure shortly. Governor Ralph Northam (D) supports the effort.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Governor Signs Bill Easing Penalties for Magic Mushrooms. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 3256, which downgrades the possession of up to an ounce of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) from a third degree crime to a disorderly persons offense. That means people caught with 'shrooms face only six months in jail and a $1,000 fine instead of three to five years in state prison. The new law goes into effect immediately.

Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill Dies. After failing to move ahead of a legislative deadline this week, a mild civil asset forfeiture reform bill has died. Senate Bill 2326 would have required proceeds from civil asset forfeitures be used to supplement and not supplant the existing budget of the participating law enforcement agency. It was sponsored by state Senator Jeremy England (R-Vancleave).

Drug Policy

Washington State Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Representatives Lauren Harris (D) and Kirsten Harris-Talley (D) filed a drug decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 1499, on Thursday. The bill would also expand treatment services for people with substance abuse disorders. "Substance disorder is among the only health conditions for which a person can be arrested for displaying symptoms," the bill says. "Treating substance disorder like a crime through arrests and incarceration further disrupts and destabilizes the lives of these individuals." The amounts of various drugs to be decriminalized is not set in the bill, but will be set by state officials later.

Law Enforcement

San Antonio DA to Reduce Drug Cases. Bexar County (San Antonio) District Attorney Joe Gonzales is enacting new policies aimed at reducing the number of drug prosecutions. Under the new policies, his office will reject any marijuana cases involving less than an ounce of marijuana as well as any other drug cases involving less than a quarter gram of the controlled substance -- unless the defendant is a danger to the community. Also, prosecutors will not accept any misdemeanor drug cases without a lab report.

Purdue Consultant to Pay $573 Million in Settlements, Idaho Bill to Ban Marijuana Legalization Advances, More... (2/4/21)

Another massive settlement resulting from Purdue Pharma's aggressive marketing of OxyContin, a Maryland marijuana legalization bill gets filed with support from the leadership, South Dakota lawmakers begin working to implement their marijuana legalization initiative, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Idaho Senate Passes Constitutional Amendment to Ban Marijuana Legalization.The state Senate on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment that would make it impossible for voters or legislators to legalize marijuana -- or any other drug not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. The measure, Senate Joint Resolution 101, now heads to the House, where it must be approved by a two-thirds majority. If it passes the House, it would then have to be approved by a simple majority of voters in the November 2022 election.

Maryland Senate President Cosponsors Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Nancy King (D) is cosponsoring a marijuana bill, Senate Bill 708, that was introduced this week. Senate Finance Committee Vice-Chair Brian J. Feldman (D) is the lead sponsor, and he has several other powerful cosponsors, including Budget and Taxation Chair Guy J. Guzzone (D), Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr (D), Vice-Chair Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D). The bill would tax and regulate marijuana sales, but also include several social equity provisions.

Oregon Marijuana Social Equity Bill Filed. A coalition of legislators has filed House Bill 3112, which is also backed by numerous marijuana companies, the NuLeaf Project, the Oregon Cannabis Association, the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association, the City of Portland, Urban League, and law students from Willamette University. The bill would use marijuana tax revenues to invest in communities adversely affected by decades of marijuana prohibition. The bill includes automatic expungement of past marijuana convictions, direct investment in marijuana businesses owned by minorities and people with marijuana convictions, and equity licenses with reduced fees and modified requirements for those communities.

South Dakota Lawmakers Take Up Bill to Implement Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. A bill designed to implement taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, House Bill 1225, was filed Wednesday. Titled "An Act to establish provisions concerning the sale of adult-use retail marijuana," the bill contains 72 separate sections addressing a wide range of rules and regulations related to recreational marijuana. Also, a bipartisan group of legislators has formed a Cannabis Caucus to study issues around managing legalization. Meanwhile, a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative backed by Governor Kristi Noem (R) remains pending.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Bill Moves. The Senate Finance Committee has approved Senate Bill 2765, which would make medical marijuana available to people with specified debilitating and chronic diseases. Last November, voters approved a broader medical marijuana initiative, but it is being challenged in court. The bill sponsor says if the court strikes down the initiative, there will be a bill ready to replace it.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Big Pharma Consulting Company Agrees to Pay $573 Million for Role in "Turbocharging" Prescription Opioid Sales, McKinsey & Company, a high-end consulting firm for big corporations, including major pharmaceutical companies, has agreed to pay $573 million to settle lawsuits that charged it with "turbocharging" the sale of prescription opioids. Attorneys general in 47 states, five US territories, and the District of Columbia sued the firm, unearthing documents showing how McKinsey worked to drive up the sales of Purdue Pharma's OxyContin -- even after Purdue pleaded guilty to federal charges of misleading doctors and regulators about OxyContin's risks.

Psychedelics

Cambridge Becomes Second Massachusetts City to Move to Decriminalize Psychedelics. The Cambridge city council voted Wednesday to decriminalize a broad range of psychedelics, following in the footsteps of Somerville, which passed a similar measure last month. The Cambridge resolution called for making enforcement of laws against the use and possession the city's lowest law enforcement priority, and it calls on police to stop arresting people for possessing or using any illicit drugs.

VA Poll Finds 2/3 Support for MJ Legalization, Reformers Urge End to Fed Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, More... (2/3/21)

An Alabama bill would let police use wiretaps against suspected drug felons, another Alabama bill would legalize medical marijuana, a New Jersey court hears a key medical marijuana licensing case, and more.

FAMM and the Prison Fellowship call on Congress to end the federal cocaine sentencing disparity. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Poll Has More Than Two-Thirds Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University has support for marijuana legalization at 68% among registered voters. The poll comes as legalization bills are moving rapidly through the legislature and just days ahead of a Friday deadline for getting bills through at least one house of the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Committee Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill. A bill to legalize medical marijuana, Senate Bill 46, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill would set up a state medical marijuana commission, but would limit access to patients who have been diagnosed with one of about 20 qualifying conditions.

New Jersey Court Hears Oral Arguments in Medical Marijuana Expansion Case. A panel of three appellate court judges heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case where rejected medical marijuana applicants sued the state over its licensing procedures. The rejected business applicants argue that the state incorrectly rejected their applications. The case has stalled the expansion of the state's medical marijuana program.

Law Enforcement

Alabama Bill Would Let Police Secretly Wiretap Suspected Drug Felons. Lawmakers in Montgomery are taking up House Bill 17, which would allow state and local police to place wiretaps on phone lines and monitor the online communications of drug suspects without involving federal law enforcement. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville), the former Huntsville police chief. "This is for drug traffickers," he said. "There are people that are bringing illicit drugs into our counties, drugs that are killing our youth." But critics say the bill uses a low standard of proof, requiring only probable cause, and that it could be used even for some marijuana possession offenses.

Sentencing Policy

Prison Fellowship, FAMM Urge Congress to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. Prison Fellowship, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, is partnering with FAMM to launch the #EndTheDisparity campaign and to urge Congress to eliminate the disparity between how crack and powder cocaine-related offenses are punished. Both organizations are circulating petitions and are planning a series of activities to build public support for reform. "We have been fighting to repeal unjust sentencing laws for 30 years, and we've seen no greater injustice than the crack-powder disparity," FAMM President Kevin Ring said. "We were glad Congress reduced the disparity in 2010, but it's time to finish the job. We must remove this racially discriminatory scheme from the criminal code."

NM Legalization Bills Filed, PA Bill Would Restrict Buprenorphine, More... (2/2/21)

Kansas's governor wants medical marijuana approved to pay for Medicaid expansion, the Mississippi Supreme Court has set a date for oral arguments in a case challenging that state's voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bills Filed. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have filed marijuana legalization bills this week. Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D) has filed SB 13, which would have private enterprise control the sale of marijuana and would tax it at 21%. Meanwhile, Senator Cliff Pirtle (R) has filed SB 288, which would also provide for the regulated, taxed sale and manufacturing of retail cannabis. The retail tax would be shared among municipalities, counties, and state governments for law enforcement and behavioral health and substance abuse programs. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is calling for marijuana legalization to pass this year.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Governor Pushes for Medical Marijuana to Pay for Medicaid Expansion. Governor Laura Kelly (D) called Monday for lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana as a means of paying for the expansion of Medicaid in the state. The move comes after Republican legislators blocked Medicaid expansion last year. You have heard many of the comments coming from the opposition have been we can't afford it," Kelly said. "We have just designed a bill that pays for itself and more. There's never been any good argument against expansion other than we can't afford it."

Mississippi Supreme Court Set to Hear Oral Arguments in Medical Cannabis Case. The state Supreme Court has set a date of April 14 to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November. Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed the lawsuit, which seeks to invalidate the will of the voters because the state's initiative law is outdated. Under the state constitution, initiative petitioners must collect an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts, but the state now has only four congressional districts, which, Butler argues, makes the initiative vote invalid.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Bill Would Restrict Buprenorphine Access. State Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Crawford County) has refiled Senate Bill 675, which would impose new requirements on buprenorphine prescribers and create new barriers for buprenorphine patients. Buprenorphine is used to maintain opioid-dependent patients. Brooks' bill would require doctors prescribing buprenorphine to pay a fee of up to $500 to get a license from the state. It would also bar opioid use disorder (OUD) patients from being prescribed the drug unless they are enrolled in drug treatment programs licensed by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Brooks introduced the same bill in 2019, where it passed the Republican-controlled Senate only to die in the House.

Book Review: Three Takes on the Opioid Crisis [FEATURE]

RX Appalachia: Stories of Treatment and Survival in Rural Kentucky, by Lesly-Marie Buer (2020, Haymarket Books, 264 pp., $22.95 PB)

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, by Eric Eyre (2020, Scribner, 289 pp., $28.00 HB)

White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America, by David Herzberg (2020, University of Chicago Press, 365 pp., $27.50 HB)

America remains in the grip of what is arguably its third great opioid addiction and overdose crisis. It began in the late 1990s as doctors tried to address an historic problem of under-prescribing and unavailability of opioids for chronic pain treatment that affected many patients. But mistakes were made along the way, and a massive tide of not always well targeted prescription opioids swamped the country. As regulators and law enforcement cracked down on pain pills, that morphed into a deadly wave of heroin addiction. And then we got fentanyl, which quickly took first place as a cause for overdose deaths. Produced mostly in China and Mexico, fentanyl is used by some hardcore addicts with high tolerance, but mainly appears as an adulterant added to heroin or in counterfeit prescription pills.

The authors of the three books reviewed here take on various aspects of the phenomenon, from the granular nitty-gritty of the lives of poor, white, female drug users ensnared in the treatment and rehab system in present-day Appalachia, to a state-level look at how drug distribution companies flooded West Virginia with literally billions of prescription opioids, to a long-term overview of the effort to regulate drugs and the subsequent -- and enduring -- historic division of drug use and users into markets black and white. (And by white markets, we are referring not only to legality but also, sadly yet unsurprisingly, skin color.)

Taken together, the three books weave a damning indictment of pharmaceutical companies, the people and entities that are supposed to regulate them, and the moral crusaders who -- too often, successfully -- use the issue of drug use to call for repressive policies, especially aimed at people who aren't "good people;" that is, poor and/or non-white people.

There are also some things the books don't do more than tangentially. They don't touch on the issue of access to pain medications for chronic pain patients. These are people who often suffer not from too-easy access to prescription opioids, but from obstacles to access, and who have suffered even more as politicians and regulators moved to rein in what they argue is massive overprescribing of such medications.

Whether it's being prosecuted for seeking their medicine in the black market or being forced to jump through hoops to obtain their medicine or being refused it altogether in the white market, these are people whose access to the medicines they need is encumbered. Their story is an important part of the debate over opioids (and drug policy more generally), but it gets only a side mention in one of these three works. But over-prescribing of opioids and under-prescribing of them continue to coexist.

The books also don't attempt to disentangle supply-driven opioid abuse, from the so-called "deaths of despair." The same social and economic factors that have driven up the suicide rate in recent decades, and which arguably helped to elect Donald Trump, increase the rates at which drugs are used and abused, including opioids. That in turn leads to more overdose deaths, and some apparent overdoses actually are suicides.

And the authors don't ask their readers to question whether any given "pill mill" or seemingly too large prescription, is really what it looks like. If we accept that abuses in the supply system have played a role in the opioid crisis, that doesn't mean that any given doctor or pharmacist or distributor is guilty as charged. A medical practice with patients treating patients from hundreds of miles away, could be a "pill mill," but it could also have the one doctor who understands pain treatment and is willing to work with poor people whom other doctors view as too risky. A prescription that seems huge because of the number of pills, could represent diversion to the underground market – or it could mean that a long-term pain patient who needs a large dosage because of tolerance built up over time, and who doesn't use technology like a medically-inserted morphine pump, is reliant on pills and their standard-sized dosages that are designed for less tolerant patients. Without considering those contexts, pill numbers can be a misleading metric, at least some of the time.

The books do discuss some options for making effective opioid addiction treatments more easy for more patients to obtain, or for reducing the likelihood of a user coming to serious harm. But the most effective treatment for this type of addiction is the use of other opioids, in what's known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Through controlled use of methadone or buprenorphine supplied by clinics, people with opioid addictions are able to stabilize their lives and avoid catastrophic physical harms, while maintaining responsibilities like work and family needs. Making MAT available through a doctor's office, while training doctors in their use, would reduce the harm of opioid addiction by providing a legal alternative that works -- in this case a quality-controlled opioid. Offering HAT, too -- heroin assisted treatment, or heroin maintenance, as Canada and some European countries do for people who have tried methadone or buprenorphine without succeeding -- would do more.

And that begs the question about prohibition itself. Though some may find it counterintuitive to talk about legalization as a solution to a problem driven by increased drug availability, it is the case that this opioid crisis in its entirety has transpired under the current system – a system in which all drugs of this type are illegal unless one has a prescription, and in which most people are usually not supposed to be given prescriptions. Fentanyl, which today accounts for 2/3 of US opioid deaths and has room to spread geographically and increase further, is a textbook example of the consequences of prohibition -- most people taking it, and nearly all of those who die from it, thought they were taking something else. If people who developed addiction problems had access to predictable, (relatively) safe, easy to access and financially affordable options, that might be better even than a less heavy-handed system but still prohibition-based system.

All that said, there is an opioid crisis. These three books provide an eye-opening and important look at some critical sides of the phenomenon.

Lesly-Marie Buer is a Knoxville-based harm reductionist and medical anthropologist whose RX Appalachia is a compelling examination of the socially constructed suffering of mainly poor, white women who use drugs in a cluster of eastern Kentucky counties. She spent months living in the area, followed the women to court, to drug treatment, and opioid maintenance programs, and interviewed them extensively over time.

The result is a nuanced portrayal of these women's lives and struggles as they contend with the demands of institutions of social control even as they have to deal with poverty, child custody issues, and their stigmatization as drug users and therefore bad mothers. In that very important sense, RX Appalachia gives voice to the voiceless.

It also voices an unrelenting critique of a social and political system that provides unequal access to resources, chronically underfunds services to the poor and needy -- including but not limited to drug treatment and mental health services -- and is more willing to impose social controls on these women than to help them deal with the complexities of their lives. Appalachia RX is an important contribution to our understanding of the way drug policies, as well as broader social and economic trends, play out on the bodies of these multiply oppressed women.

How some of those women got strung out in the first place is the subject matter of Death in Mud Lick, still in Appalachia and just across the West Virginia line from those Kentucky women. Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for his years of doggedly chasing down the story of how drug distribution companies pumped billions of opioid pain pills into the state in just a few years, and here, he puts that reporting in book form. It's quite a tale.

Eyre starts with a single drug overdose death, and by the time he's done, has unraveled a tangled tale of negligence, indifference, and profit-driven decision-making that left 1,728 West Virginians dead of drug overdoses in a six-year period. Thanks to Eyre's journalistic persistence and to a legal team determined to get to the bottom of the flood of pain pills that overwhelmed the state (and the region and the nation), we now know that drug companies dumped some 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone tablets into the state during that same period.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Pharmaceutical corporations such as Purdue aggressively promoted their opioid products, doctors turned medical practices into pill-prescribing machines, pharmacies blithely filled numberless prescriptions, and drug distribution companies such as Cardinal and McKesson just as blithely delivered all those pills to the pharmacies, despite warning signs.

And regulators failed to regulate. Whether it was the state Board of Pharmacy or the DEA, regulators were asleep at the switch as an opioid epidemic grew right in front of them. And state officials were compromised by ties with the pharmaceutical industry and the distributors.

Eyre tells his tale with journalistic panache, taking the reader with him as he and his struggling newspaper take on the state political establishment and the distributors in the court battles that ultimately forced the companies and the DEA to release the records that documented the deluge of opioids. Death in Mud Lick is a real eye-opener.

But for David Hertzberg, an associate professor of history at the University of Buffalo and author of White Market Drugs, Eyre's story is just the latest chapter in the long history of America's effort to control drugs. Hertzberg begins with the opioid crisis of the late 19th Century and ably describes how the competing forces seeking to deal with it -- therapeutic reformers, repressive moral entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical companies, the medical profession -- created a class- and race-based bifurcation of the world of psychoactive substances into "medicines" and "drugs."

If it was prescribed by a physician, it was medicine. If not, not. The world of legal, regulated drugs became Hertzberg's white market. The world of repressed, prohibited drugs is the familiar black market. One serves middle-class white people and is concerned with consumer safety. The other serves the poor, the unconnected, the immigrant, the people of color, whose drug use and sales are considered crimes.

The history of drugs in America is well-trodden ground, but Hertzberg brings both new revelations and a new perspective to the subject. The drug reform movement's archvillain, Harry Anslinger, the master of Reefer Madness propaganda, becomes more than one-dimensional as Hertzberg tells the story of his strict scientific approach to opioids. As head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Anslinger enlisted a Committee on Drug Addiction to closely study opioids, and those scientists even developed their own new opioids (they were market flops), as well as closely measuring the addictive potential of other potential new opioid products. Here, Anslinger was acting not as the heavy-handed lawman, but as the protector of white market consumers.

And as he tells the story of pharmaceutical companies continually coming up with new psychoactive products, patterns begin to occur. After the original drug prohibition laws a century ago effectively suppressed opioid use for decades, the pharmaceutical companies came up with barbiturates in the 1930s, amphetamines in the 1940s and 1950s, benzodiazepines in the 1970s and 1980s, before hitting it big again with opioids in the OxyContin-led bonanza beginning in the 1990s and lingering like a bad hangover to the present day. In all those cases, the profit motives of the drug makers overwhelmed regulatory structures designed to protect those good, deserving consumers of the white market -- even as the drug companies demonized black market drug users for causing the problems.

Given this history of pharmaceutical and regulatory fecklessness, Hertzberg comes to a shocking, but not really surprising conclusion: Left to their own devices, profit-drive drug companies peddling addictive products will function in ways that are incompatible with the public health. In Hertzberg's words:

"Profit-driven drug markets follow a predicably damaging cycle. Companies hype new medicines as safe and beneficial and sell with insufficient regard for consumer safety; a health crisis ensues as consumers are left ill-equipped to make informed decisions; authorities respond with consumer protections and destructive drug wars; the pharmaceutical industry devises strategies to circumvent the new restrictions and start the cycle again. After umpteen repetitions of this cat and mouse game, it may be time to acknowledge the impossibility of establishing a safe, for-profit market for addictive drugs. Alternatives exist: state monopolies, for example, or public utility models. We need to consider these and other creative ideas for dramatically minimizing or even eliminating profit from psychoactive capitalism."

Whether a shift to models of that type is what's needed, or just better regulation, is a question for debate. But it's clear that ending drug prohibition isn't enough. Reimagining the white market is necessary, too.

OR Decrim In Effect, Senate Leadership Marijuana Legalization Plan, More...(2/1/21)

Oregon becomes the first state to implement drug decriminalization, Virginia marijuana legalization bills are moving, a New Jersey bill could help break the marijuana legalization impasse there, and more.

Drug arrests are expected to drop by more than 90% after decriminalization went into effect today in Oregon. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Leadership Coalition Announces Intention to Release Comprehensive Legislation to End Marijuana Prohibition. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday (D-NY) issued a joint statement declaring their intention to release a draft discussion bill outlining how best to legalize and regulate cannabis and cannabis commerce in a post-prohibition America. "The War on Drugs has been a war on people -- particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs," the senators said. "We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority. In the early part of this year, we will release a unified discussion draft on comprehensive reform to ensure restorative justice, protect public health and implement responsible taxes and regulations. Getting input from stakeholder groups will be an important part of developing this critical legislation."

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) filed a marijuana legalization bill, HF 600, on Monday. "This bill is ready to go from the Minnesota House," Winkler said at a press conference. "Our priorities are to end the black market" and provide a "safe, regulated marketplace." The bill includes social equity components, expungement of marijuana arrest records, on-site consumption, delivery services, and a ban on local prohibitions. It also allows for the home cultivation of up to eight plants, up to four of which can be flowering.

New Jersey Assembly Committee Approves Bill on Teen Pot Possession. The Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee last Friday approved A5342, which sets penalties for minors caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Disagreements between Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and key legislators on the issue have delayed final passage of marijuana decriminalization and legalization implementation bills that passed weeks ago. It is hoped that once the bill passes, those measures can now get the governor's signature.

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bills Moving Fast as Deadline Approaches. The House version of the marijuana legalization bill, HB 2312, passed out of the House Courts of Justice Committee on Sunday and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee. If approved there, it would then head for a House floor vote. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday approved the Senate version of the bill, SB 1406. It now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee and, if passed there, to a Senate floor vote. Since last Friday, the bills have passed through a total of five committees and subcommittees.

Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Goes into Effect. A drug decriminalization initiative approved by voters in November went into effect effective Monday. Now, possession of small amounts of illicit substances is punishable only as a citation with a fine. The fine can be avoided by undergoing a chemical dependency assessment. Possession of less than a gram of MDMA or heroin, two grams of meth or cocaine, 12 grams of psilocybin, and 40 units of LSD, methadone, or oxycodone, is now decriminalized. The measure also includes funding for increased drug treatment access.

Canada Considers Decrim, DOJ Rescinds Sessions-Era Sentencing Guidance, More... (1/29/21)

State legislatures are dealing with marijuana bills, the Justice Department reverts to less harsh charging and sentencing policies, and more.

Faced with a spiraling drug overdose crisis, the Canadian federal government ponders drug decriminalization. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Idaho Bill to Amend Constitution to Bar Marijuana Legalization Advances. The measure, a joint resolution, would ban all psychoactive drugs not already legal in the state, but was inspired by fears of marijuana legalization. It was approved Friday in the Senate State Affairs Committee on a party line vote. To become law, the measure would have to pass both the House and the Senate with a two-thirds majority and then be approved by a simple majority of the electorate in the November 2022 general election.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization, Home Cultivation Bills Killed. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to retain a marijuana legalization bill, effectively killing it for the rest of the legislative session. The committee also voted to kill a bill that would allow home cultivation of marijuana.

New Jersey Home Cultivation Bill Filed. Even as the legislature and the governor continue to spar over bills decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana after voters approved it in November, Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) has filed S 3407 (not yet available on the legislative website), which would legalize the cultivation of up to six plants by individuals once a legalization bill is signed into law. "The people of New Jersey made it clear in November that they want to lift the prohibition on cannabis," Cardinale said in a statement. "Since then, the Legislature has spent three months fumbling around with what should have been a simple task, and complicated the legalization effort with countless fees, licensing and extra layers of bureaucracy."

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization in 2021 Agenda. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is calling for marijuana legalization as part of his 2021 agenda, which was released Thursday. "The revenue generated from legalization will be used to support historically disadvantaged small businesses through grant funding and provide them the assistance they need to build back from the economic crisis and strengthen our economy," Wolf said. "Additionally, a portion of the revenue will support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Lawmakers Kill Home Cultivation for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would have allowed registered medical marijuana patients to grow their medicine was unanimously defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Sentencing Policy

Justice Department Rescinds Harsh Charging and Sentencing Policy, Reverts to Obama-Era Policy. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson has revoked harsh Justice Department guidance to federal prosecutors imposed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017. Wilkinson reverted to guidance issued by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010, which, in a bid to reduce imprisonment, directed prosecutors to do an individualized assessment of relevant facts in deciding what cases to charge and what sentences to seek. That guidance, though, does not include a 2013 Holder memo directing prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimum sentences in some drug cases.

International

Canada Ponders Drug Decriminalization in Bid to Fight Overdoses. The Canadian federal government is pondering whether to decriminalize drug possession in a bid to tamp down rising drug overdose numbers, a government official told Reuters this week: "A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that decriminalization was under consideration and that discussions with Vancouver were under way but would not comment further." Vancouver has already called on the federal government to let it decriminalize drugs inside the city limits.

White House Kills Expanded Buprenorphine Access (At Least for Now), Mexican Poppy Farmers Tell Army to Get Lost, More... (1/28/21)

A challenge to South Dakota's voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative gets its day in court, the Biden administration rolls back a Trump administration expansion of buprenorphine prescribing, and more.

Mexican opium poppy farmers are demanding the army quit destroying their crops and leave the area. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Judge Hears Arguments on Marijuana Amendment. A state judge in Pierre presided over nearly three hours of arguments Wednesday from attorneys challenging and defending the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization constitutional amendment. The constitutionality of the amendment is being challenged by the head of the Highway Patrol and the Pennington County sheriff, with the support of Gov. Kristi Noem (R). Ironically, Noem's attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, is part of the team defending the amendment. The judge said she would issue a written opinion but gave no timeline for doing so.

Tennessee Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) has filed HB413, which would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and allow for the casual exchange of small amounts of marijuana as long as no cash changes hands.

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Bill to Allow Patient Home Grows Gets Hearing. The state Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. The measure would limit home cultivation to eight plants in an enclosed and locked facility. Representatives of both law enforcement and the state's medical marijuana regulatory agency expressed concerns about a lack of control over patient grows. No vote was taken.

Drug Treatment

Biden Kills Trump Administration Plan to Loosen Buprenorphine Prescribing. The Biden administration on Wednesday said it was canceling a late move by the Trump administration to loosen restrictions on physicians prescribing buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. "On January 14, 2021, HHS announced forthcoming Practice Guidelines for the Administration of Buprenorphine for Treating Opioid Use Disorder," the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said. "Unfortunately, the announcement was made prematurely. Therefore, the Guidelines previously announced cannot be issued at this time." But, the administration added, it would continue working to "increase access to buprenorphine, reduce overdose rates and save lives." The Trump move had been widely hailed by physicians and drug treatment advocates.

International

Mexico Opium Growers Demand Army Quit Destroying Their Crops, Leave Area. Opium farmers in Guerrero's Tierra Caliente municipality are demanding that the army quit destroying their crops and leave the area after troops last weekend destroyed more than 125 acres of poppies. "The soldiers are still here destroying [the crops] and what we want is for them to go," one farmer said. He said farmers are creating a list of demands for President Lopez Obrador and Guerrero Governor Hector Astudillo. "We're going to give the government a few days to attend to us," the farmer said.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A North Carolina cop gets 'roided, a Baltimore cop is the latest to go down in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, and more.

In Clayton, North Carolina, a former Clayton police officer was arrested January 19 for making and selling a muscle growth-promoting steroid. Owen Phillips, 40, went down after local police and prosecutors asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into allegations he neglected his official duties and was dealing steroids. He is charged intent to manufacture, sell and deliver testosterone; sale and delivery of testosterone; and manufacture of testosterone. He had been named the Clayton Police Department's Officer of the Year in 2015 and the Town of Clayton's Employee of the Year in 2017. He resigned from the department in August, days before the investigation against him was opened.

In Angola, Louisiana, an Angola State Prison guard was arrested January 20 after he was caught bringing marijuana into the prison hidden in a disinfectant wipe container. Guard Janice Coney, 52, a 15-year veteran, is charged with bringing contraband into a prison and possessing an illegal drug.

In Baltimore, a former Baltimore police officer was sentenced Tuesday to more than a year in federal prison for his role in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Victor Rivera, 48, was part of a group of crooked cops who seized cocaine and then sold it through their informants and split the proceeds. Rivera went down for lying to the feds about it: He was convicted of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer in connection with a scheme to sell 3 kg of cocaine seized during a Baltimore police investigation in 2009.

Medical Marijuana Update

A federal bill to protect veterans who use medical marijuana gets filed, so does a Florida bill to protect public employees who use medical marijuana, and more.

National

Bill to Protect Veterans Who Use Medical Marijuana Filed in House. Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) has filed a bill to protect military veterans who are using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws from being penalized. HR 430 would also clarify that Department of Veterans Affairs doctors can discuss the benefits and risks of medical marijuana with their patients. The bill is now before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

California

California Governor Issues Executive Order to Prevent Medical Marijuana ID Cards from Expiring During Pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday signed an executive order extending the validity of medical marijuana ID cards. The order extends the validity of any cards that would have expired since March 4, 2020, when the state entered a coronavirus state of emergency. They will remain valid until the governor's order is rescinded or the state of emergency is ended.

Florida

Florida Bills to Protect Public Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana Filed. State Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Palm Beach) and Rep. Nick Duran (D-Miami) have filed bills that aim to protect state and local government employees from any form of retaliation for using medical marijuana. The identical bills are SB 692 and HB 335.

Kentucky

Kentucky Sees Second Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Steve West (R-District 27) has filed Senate Bill 92, which would allow a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. Earlier, Rep. Jason Nemes (R-33rd District) refiled House Bill 136, a separate medical marijuana legalization proposal that stalled in the legislative last year.

Nebraska

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Senator Anna Wishart (D-Lincoln) has filed Legislative Bill 474, which would create a system of regulated medical marijuana distribution for qualifying patients. She filed a similar bill two years ago, which was defeated. A medical marijuana initiative last year qualified for the ballot but was thrown off by the state's Supreme Court.

NM & UT Safe Injection Site Bills, FL & GA Therapeutic Psilocybin Bills, More... (1/27/21)

There's a marijuana legalization bill filed in Maryland, a second Houston police officer has been indicted on murder charges in a misbegotten drug raid that left two innocent citizens dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George's County) has filed House Bill 32, which would legalize marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. The bill calls for tax revenues from pot sales to be invested in the state's historically black colleges.

Psychedelics

Florida Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill Coming Soon. State Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami Beach) is set to introduce a bill that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state. The bill is expected to be filed this week. "I know at least two people personally who have gone through microdosing sessions, and they claim it's completely cured their depression," Grieco said. "All this would be doing is creating a controlled environment, where folks can potentially address an issue. We should not be afraid of trying new things, especially if it's controlled and safe."

Hawaii Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill Filed. A bill to legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has been filed. Senate Bill 738 would direct the state Health Department to "establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn," the psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms. The bill would also remove the two substances from the Schedule I of the state's controlled substances list.

Drug Testing

Atlanta Mayor Takes Executive Action Abolishing Pre-Employment Drug Screens for Many Public Employees. Saying municipal drug testing requirements are "outdated and costly barriers to onboarding new talent in the city of Atlanta," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) has issued an executive order suspending pre-employment drug tests for city employees not in safety-sensitive positions. Atlanta now joins other major cities, such as New York City and Washington, DC, in eliminating a drug testing requirement as a condition of employment.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Overdose Bill Would Provide for Safe Injection Sites. Rep. Debbie Armstrong (D-Albuquerque) has filed House Bill 123, which would give localities the authority to set up overdose prevention programs, including safe injection sites, that meet state Health Department guidelines. "Overdose prevention programs in hundreds of other cities across the world have proven to link people who use drugs to treatment and other services, reduce overdose deaths, prevent transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and reduce street-based drug use and syringe disposal," says Armstrong. "If we are serious about reducing overdoses, and helping people to feel safe, supported and cared for in order to engage in treatment and recovery, then we have a responsibility to create overdose prevention programs here in New Mexico."

Utah Overdose Bill Would Provide for Safe Injection Sites. State Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D-Salt Lake City) has filed House Bill 146, which creates an "overdose prevention site," a place for people with substance use disorder to be monitored while actively using opioid drugs. In other words, a safer injection site. "This is in no way, shape, or form a policy that condones drug use or says that it is permissive to do so," she said. "I hope people will look at this with an open mind," she said. She filed the same bill last session, but it went nowhere.

Law Enforcement

Houston Cop Indicted on Murder Charge in Fatal Botched 2019 Drug Raid. Fallout from a misbegotten 2019 drug raid that left a Houston couple dead in their own home continued Monday, as a grand jury indicted Officer Felipe Gallegos on a charge of murder. That now makes 12 officers who have been charged in the incident, with Gallegos being the second one charged with murder. Retired officer Gerald Goines was charged with murder last year as prosecutors accused him of lying to get a search warrant.

NJ AG Extends Moratorium on Minor Marijuana Prosecutions, New Plant Medicine Coalition Eyes Congress, More... (1/26/21)

Delaware's auditor says marijuana legalization is a no-brainer, a second medical marijuana bill is filed in Kentucky, Bay State pot shop owners drop a lawsuit after getting their fingers burned, and more.

Peyote. A new activist group, the Plant Medicine Coalition, is eyeing psychedelic reform at the federal level. (Creative Commons
Marijuana Policy

Delaware State Auditor Issues Report Recommending Marijuana Legalization. The Office of the Auditor of Accounts has issued an analysis that finds legalization would yield $43 million in marijuana tax revenues and create 1,400 new jobs in the state in the next five years. "Legalization done right in our view would allow Delaware to establish a policy framework to suppress the black market, curb usage through regulation for minors and collect revenue on a market demand that seems only to be increasing," the report concludes. "It would also provide a new revenue stream and new potential for economic growth. Additionally, it would eliminate arrests and keep people out of prison. Each year that we fail to capitalize on this opportunity means more money could flow to neighboring states instead of being invested here. It is time Delaware pursue legalizing marijuana."

Massachusetts Pot Shop Association Drops Lawsuit Over New Delivery Rules After Backlash from Members, Social Equity Advocates. The Commonwealth Dispensary Association announced Monday that it is dropping a lawsuit aimed at blocking new rules permitting home deliveries. The group has faced an exodus of members and criticism from social equity advocates over its challenge to the new rules, which will create new marijuana delivery and courier licenses. Those licenses will be available only to participants in the Cannabis Control Commission's social equity program.

New Jersey Attorney General Extends Order Halting Marijuana Prosecutions. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D) has extended his order halting prosecutions for small-time marijuana possession offenses until the end of March. The move comes as a pair of bills that would launch a legal marijuana industry and decriminalize pot possession sit on Gov. Phil Murphy's (D) desk. "As we continue to await anticipated final action on the pending cannabis legalization and marijuana decriminalization legislation, I am instructing all New Jersey municipal, county, and state prosecutors to seek an additional adjournment, until at least March 31, 2021, of any juvenile or adult case involving any of the following charges, alone or in combination with each other, where there are no other pending charges," he said in a letter last Friday.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Sees Second Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Steve West (R-District 27) has filed Senate Bill 92, which would allow a full-fledged medical marijuana program in the state. Earlier, Rep. Jason Nemes (R-33rd District) refiled House Bill 136, a separate medical marijuana legalization proposal that stalled in the legislative last year.

Psychedelics

Psychedelic Reform Movement Takes Aim at Congress. After seeing success at the state and local level in recent years, the psychedelic reform movement is setting its sights on Congress. A newly formed Plant Medicine Coalition, headed by Melissa Lavasani, who led the DC campaign to effectively decriminalize plant-based psychedelics, will be prodding lawmakers to make federal funds available for research into the therapeutic potential of such substances.

Study Finds Meth Deaths Rose Steadily in Recent Years, USSC Charts Rise in Federal Fentanyl Cases, More... (1/25/21)

Marijuana legalization bills are filed in Florida and Hawaii, a bill to protect medical marijuana-using veterans is filed in Congress, and more.

Federal fentanyl prosecutions are rising rapidly, the US Sentencing Commission reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Marijuana Legalization Bills Filed. State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) have filed companion marijuana legalization bills, HB 343 and SB 710, respectively. The bills would "establish a robust and free-market regulatory approach to the governance of cultivation, processing, and retail sales of both medical and adult-use marijuana." They would legalize up to 2.5 ounces for people 21 and over.

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A marijuana legalization bill was filed last week in Honolulu. The bill, SB 704, would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, as well as legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and allowing for the personal cultivation of up to six plants, of which three can be mature.

Washington State Home Cultivation Bill Advances. A bill that would allow people to grow their own weed at home, HB 1019, was approved by the House Commerce and Gaming Committee on a 7-2 vote last Friday. Although the state has legalized marijuana, home cultivation remains a felony. This bill would allow people to grow up to six plants and keep the fruits of their harvest.

Medical Marijuana

Bill to Protect Veterans Who Use Medical Marijuana Filed in House. Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) has filed a bill to protect military veterans who are using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws from being penalized. HR 430 would also clarify that Department of Veterans Affairs doctors can discuss the benefits and risks of medical marijuana with their patients. The bill is now before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

US Sentencing Commission Finds Big Increases in Fentanyl Prosecutions. In a report released Monday, the US Sentencing Commission finds that while fentanyl and fentanyl analogues account for only 5.8% of federal drug trafficking cases, the number of fentanyl cases has doubled each fiscal year since 2015 and the number of fentanyl analog cases has doubled each fiscal year since 2016. Fentanyl cases jumped from 24 to 886, a whopping 3,592% increase, while analog cases jumped from four to 233, an even larger 5,725% increase.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine Overdose Deaths Have Risen Sharply, Study Finds. A study supported by the National Institutes of Health finds that meth overdose deaths rose sharply nationwide between 2011 and 2018, with the death rate rising from 4.5 to 20.9 per 100,000 among people aged 25 to 54. The numbers rose across all racial and ethnic groups, but American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest death rates overall. The research was conducted at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Japan Considers Harsher Marijuana Penalties, Mexico-DEA Tensions Continue, More... (1/22/21)

California's governor signs an executive order preventing medical marijuana ID cards from expiring during the pandemic, Mexico continues to rage against the abortive DEA arrest of its former defense minister, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador continues to hammer the US and the DEA over the abortive Cienfuegos arrest. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote, Avoids Bid to Strip Out Home Cultivation. The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee voted Friday to advance Gov. Northam's (D) marijuana legalization bill, SB 1406. Committee approval came after two different votes to eliminate home cultivation came up short. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Issues Executive Order to Prevent Medical Marijuana ID Cards from Expiring During Pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday signed an executive order extending the validity of medical marijuana ID cards. The order extends the validity of any cards that would have expired since March 4, 2020, when the state entered a coronavirus state of emergency. They will remain valid until the governor's order is rescinded or the state of emergency is ended.

Florida Bills to Protect Public Employees Who Use Medical Marijuana Filed. State Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Palm Beach) and Rep. Nick Duran (D-Miami) have filed bills that aim to protect state and local government employees from any form of retaliation for using medical marijuana. The identical bills are SB 692 and HB 335.

International

Japan Considers Harsher Penalties for Marijuana. Faced with rising youth marijuana use, the Health Ministry has convened a panel of experts to discuss revisions to the country's Cannabis Control Law, a draconian measure that punishes marijuana possession by up to five years in prison and cultivation by up to seven years. Marijuana use, though, is not currently criminalized, and the panel is considering whether to make ingestion a crime.

Mexico Calls for DEA Internal Probe of "Fabricated" Case Against Former Defense Minister. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday said the US DEA should conduct an internal investigation into how it created what he called a "fabricated" case against former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested by DEA agents in Los Angeles last October on drug conspiracy charges only to be freed after charges were dropped following howls of protest from Mexico. "I am not going to go to any international body, but I respectfully believe that agency should do an internal investigation and clarify what happened, who made the file, who gave the order to apply it," said Lopez Obrador, referring to the DEA.

First Federal Marijuana Reform Bill of 2021 Filed, VA Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (1/21/21)

It's an all marijuana news day: The first federal marijuana reform bill of the new session has been filed, a draft of the Connecticut governor's marijuana legalization bill is now circulating, and more.

Marijuana is on the mind of governors and state legislators. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

First Federal Marijuana Reform Bill of 2021 Filed. Rep. Greg Staube (R-FL) has filed a bill, HR 365, which would not end federal marijuana prohibition but would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Staube filed an identical bill last session.

Connecticut Governor Circulates Draft of Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) is circulating a draft of a proposed marijuana legalization bill and seeking feedback from state agencies as he prepares to try to push it through later this year. According to the draft legislation, there would be a taxed and regulated legal market, with taxes set at $1.25 per gram of wholesale marijuana, and trimmed buds would be subject to another tax of fifty cents per gram. Retail purchasers would also pay the state's 6.35% sales tax and a 3% surcharge. The draft also would provide automatic expungement of old marijuana possession offenses.

Maryland Senate Panel Hears Bill to Expand Marijuana Decriminalization. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday took up a bill to expand the state's marijuana decriminalization law. House Bill 324 / Senate Bill 143 would nearly triple the amount decriminalized from 10 grams to one ounce (28 grams). No vote was taken.

Virginia Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee's subcommittee on marijuana voted Wednesday to approve Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) marijuana legalization bill, SB 1243, but only after accepting a package of amendments in committee. One amendment was to make an independent agency responsible for regulating marijuana, which would likely delay the timeline for sales from 2023 to 2024. The bill now heads to the full Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee, as well as the Judiciary and Finance committees.

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