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J&J and Drug Distributors Settle Opioid Lawsuits, SD Gov Cool to MJ Legalization Bill, More... (2/25/22)

An Idaho legislator worried that substitute teachers are selling drugs to kids gets a teacher testing bill out of committee, Tennessee is the latest state to see a fentanyl test strip legalization bill, and more.

Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Governor Suggests Possible Veto of Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) sounded skeptical of a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, which has just passed the Senate, at a Wednesday press conference. Noem did not give a direct answer when asked about the issue, saying "it's hard to talk in hypotheticals," and she's "not in favor of recreational marijuana." She added that, "I still believe I haven't seen anybody get smarter from smoking dope." Voters approved marijuana legalization in 2020, only to see their decision overturned by the state Supreme Court. The activists behind the 2020 campaign are now signature gathering for a new initiative, but say they will desist if a workable legalization bill becomes law.

Opiates and Opioids

Johnson & Johnson, Drug Distributors Reach Settlement Over Opioid Lawsuits. Three of the country's largest drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen -- and drug maker Johnson & Johnson announced Friday that they had reached a settlement with the vast majority of states and localities that had sued them over their role in the nation's early-century opioid crisis. The companies have agreed to pay out $26 billion to settle those thousands of claims, with the first checks set to go out in April with at least 85 percent of the payments dedicated to addiction treatment and prevention services. The distributors and Johnson & Johnson released statements Friday morning, noting that the deal is not an admission of wrongdoing and that they strongly dispute the allegations. The distributors said in a joint statement that they believed that "the implementation of this settlement is a key milestone toward achieving broad resolution of governmental opioid claims and delivering meaningful relief to communities across the United States that have been impacted by the epidemic."

Drug Testing

Idaho House Committee Advances Bill Requiring Drug Testing for Substitute Teachers. Ignoring the objections of state school officials, the House Education Committee voted 8-7 Thursday to approve a bill requiring mandatory pre-employment drug testing of all substitute teachers, at a time when school districts are scrambling for substitute teachers. School officials called the proposed law unworkable and noted that districts already have their own drug testing policies. "It is unnecessary, and further, we have a policy at the local level," Karen Pyron, superintendent of the Butte County School District, told the committee. "It adds cost and inconvenience and an additional burden to our rural schools," she said. But bill sponsor, Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) retorted that she had "tremendous concerns." Substitute teaching "is a very easy way to access children and sell drugs to them," she claimed. Her reasoning prevailed in the narrowly divided committee, and House Bill 651 now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Tennessee Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Filed State Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) has filed a bill to legalize fentanyl testing strips, Senate Bill 2427. They are currently considered drug paraphernalia under state law. "SB 2427 is very important for Tennessee, especially East Tennesse, where we've had a very large number of deaths from drug overdoses," said Briggs. "This bill legalizes a tool that can help save lives from drug overdoses in our state." The bill would sunset after three years unless it was renewed. The House Criminal Justice Committee is set to discuss the bill on March 2.

MD MJ Legalization Referendum Bill Advances, SD Senate Approves Legalization, More... (2/24/22)

A California bill would provide protections to workers for off-duty marijuana use, the New Mexico Supreme Court rules medical marijuana purchases are not subject to a state tax, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would Protect Marijuana Users from Employment Discrimination. Assembly Member Bill Quirk (D) has filed a bill, Assembly Bill 2188, that would bar employers from punishing workers for off-duty marijuana use. The bill would end discrimination against marijuana-using employees based on testing for metabolites, the non-psychoactive substances that can be detected in drug tests for days or weeks after marijuana use. The bill is supported by California NORML, which noted that "testing or threatening to test bodily fluids for cannabis metabolites is the most common way that employers harass and discriminate against employees who lawfully use cannabis in the privacy of their own homes."

Maryland House Gives Initial Approval to Marijuana Legalization Referendum Bill. The House on Wednesday gave initial approval to House Bill 1, which, if passed, would place before voters the following question: "Do you favor the legalization of adult -- use cannabis in the State of Maryland?" If voters approved it, the General Assembly would then be charged with writing the rules covering "use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis." The House also gave initial approval to House Bill 837, which includes measures to implement legalization if voters approve it. It sets 1.5 ounces as the legal possession limit for adults and decriminalizes between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces, as well as automatic expungement for past conduct made legal by the law. Final House floor votes on the two bills could happen as soon as Friday.

South Dakota Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, which would let people 21 and over possess up to an ounce purchased from licensed retailers. It does not allow for home cultivation. The bill now heads to the House. South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court. The organizers of that campaign are currently in a signature gathering campaign for a 2022 initiative, which would include home cultivation.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Supreme Court Rules Medical Marijuana Purchases Cannot Be Taxed. The state Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed a lower court ruling that marijuana purchases by medical marijuana patients are not subject to the state's gross receipts tax. Producers had sought tax refunds in 2014 and again in 2018, only to be denied by the state Taxation and Revenue Department. In 2020, the state Court of Appeals ruled that medical marijuana should be treated like prescription drugs, which are not taxed. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

NY Governor Signs Bill to Let Hemp Growers Grow Marijuana, Avocado Imports Resume After Cartel Threat, More... (2/23/22)

A new poll finds three out of four Floridans are ready to legalize marijuana, the Supreme Court asks the Justice Department to file a brief in a pair of medical marijuana workmen's compensation cases, and more.

Marijuana. It is popular in Florida. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll Finds Floridians Ready for Marijuana Law Reform. A new poll from the University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab revealed three in four Floridians are ready to legalize pot. Some 76 percent of respondents supported allowing people to legally possess small amounts of marijuana, with just 20 percent oppose. That same 76 percent support figure came among Democrats, while even among Republicans, support was at 64 percent. Among independent voters, support was at 90 percent. Despite strong support for legalization, there is no sign the GOP-dominated state legislature is ready to embrace it, leaving a 2024 initiative campaign as the most likely path to progress.

New York Governor Signs Bill Allowing Hemp Farmers to Grow Marijuana This Season. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) on Tuesday signed into law S08084A, which will allow existing licensed hemp farmers to grow and process marijuana for the adult market this year. Hochul said the bill would help establish a safe, equitable, and inclusive new industry. It creates a new Conditional Adult-Use Cannabis Cultivator license for hemp farmers who want to make the transition. Licensees will be required to create "safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly cultivation practices, participate in a social equity mentorship program, and engage in a labor peace agreement with a bona fide labor organization."

Medical Marijuana

Supreme Court Asks Feds to Weigh in on Medical Marijuana Workers Compensation Cases. The Supreme Court has asked the Justice Department to submit a brief in a pair of workmen's compensation cases revolving around medical marijuana. The question is whether federal law protects employers who do not cover medical marijuana costs for workers injured on the job even in states that require it. The answer will depend on an interpretation of the constitution's supremacy clause. The cases involve Minnesota workers who sought workers compensation for medical marijuana expenses after being hurt on the job. The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the claims were invalid because marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

International

US Resume Avocado Imports from Mexico, Paused by Potential Cartel Threat. Guacamole lovers, take heart! A week-long shutdown of avocado imports from Mexico prompted by threats to US Department of Agriculture inspectors in the state of Michoacan has ended. "The safety of USDA employees simply doing their jobs is of paramount importance," the agency said. "USDA is appreciative of the positive, collaborative relationship between the United States and Mexico that made resolution of this issue possible in a timely manner." The threats are being blamed on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which is fighting local cartels for control of not only drug trafficking but also control over the lucrative avocado crop in the area.

DE Marijuana Legalization Advances in House, AL Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Nears Final Vote, More... (2/22/22)

Bills to end civil asset forfeiture and block "equitable sharing" with the feds are filed in Tennessee, a Delaware marijuana legalization bill advances, and more.

Trucker shortage? 60,000 are sidelined because of testing positive for marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances in House. The House Appropriations Committee last Thursday quietly advanced a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 305. The committee "walked the bill," which allows the bill to advance without a public hearing. The bill has already been approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill now heads for a House floor vote. The last time a legalization bill got that far, back in 2018, it lost on the House floor by four votes. HB305 would allow legal personal possession of 1 ounce of marijuana for adults ages 21 or older and set up a framework for its taxation and sale. It allocates 30 retail sale licenses, 30 manufacturing licenses, 60 cultivation licenses and five testing licenses to be issued within 16 months of the bill's approval.

Opiates and Opioids

Alabama Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips Faces Final House Vote. A bill that would legalize fentanyl test strips, Senate Bill 168, has passed the Senate and two House committee votes and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill aims to address the state's opioid overdose crisis by allowing users to test their substances for the presence of the powerful opioid.

Asset Forfeiture

Tennessee Bills Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture, Opt State Out of Federal Program. A pair of Republican lawmakers have introduced companion bills aimed at ending civil asset forfeiture in the state and blocking state law enforcement from evading the law by handing cases off to the federal government under what is known as the "equitable sharing" program. Rep. Jerry Sexton (R) introduced House Bill 2525 and Sen. John Stevens (R) introduced the companion, Senate Bill 2545 earlier this month.

The opt-out from "equitable sharing" is particularly important given that a policy directive issued in July 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions greenlighting the practice remains in effect. The language in the bill on "equitable sharing" is quite direct: "A state or local law enforcement agency shall not transfer or offer for adoption property, seized under state law, to a federal agency for the purpose of forfeiture under the federal Controlled Substances Act, Public Law 91-513-Oct. 27, 1970, or other federal law." The bills are now in committee in their respective houses.

Drug Testing

Expert Blames Marijuana Testing for Drug Drivers as Leading Cause of Driver Shortage. Chris Harvey, the head of equity strategy at Wells Fargo, is blaming drug testing for making a major contribution to the truckdriver shortage that is causing problems in the supply chain and contributing to rising prices. "It's really about drug testing," Harvey said, speaking at an industry conference last week. "We've legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all... What we've done is we're excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry."

More than 60,000 truckers have been sidelined for testing positive for marijuana as of December under industry drug testing policies that have become stricter even as marijuana is broadly legalized. Under a 2020 law, all truck drivers who have failed a drug test must be listed in a federal database to block them from being hired by other companies. Some 110,000 truckers have tested positive, with 56 percent of them for marijuana use. There is currently a shortage of about 80,000 truckers.

Washington Drug Decrim Init Ready for Signature Gathering, Crack Pipe Funding Furor, More... (2/9/22)

Thailand removes cannabis from its schedule of controlled substances (but marijuana legalization is still down the road a bit), a Washington state drug decriminalization initiative is cleared to begin signature gathering, and more.

A broken crack pipe. Bowing to noise from the right, the Biden administration won't fund harm reduction kits with them. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Protect Workers from Being Fired for Off-Job Marijuana Use. Rep. Brianna Titone (D-Arvada) has filed a bill, House Bill 1152, that would bar employers from either refusing to hire or firing workers because of their off-duty marijuana use. The measure also includes a provision requiring employers to consumer medical marijuana at work, with some exemptions for safety-sensitive positions. "Marijuana is legal in Colorado," said state Rep. Titone. "And what people do in their spare time that doesn't impact their work shouldn't really be a problem for them. They should be able to enjoy the legal things that we have here in Colorado and not be penalized for it." The state Supreme Court has previously ruled on the side of employers on the issue, particularly in the 2015 case of Brandon Coats v. Dish Network.

Drug Policy

Washington Drug Decriminalization, Treatment Initiative Ready to Begin Signature Gathering. A drug decriminalization and treatment funding initiative that was filed last month by the group Commit to Change WA, which is backed by the state ACLU, is ready to begin signature gathering in a bid to qualify for the November ballot. The move comes after a Monday deadline for challenges to its ballot title passed without any challenges. The initiative would remove the state's existing penalties for drug use and possession, expunge past drug use and possession convictions, and appropriate more than $100 million a year for drug prevention, treatment, outreach, and recovery, including at least $10 million a year for harm reduction. The campaign now has until July 8 to come up with 324,516 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.

Harm Reduction

Cowed by Criticism from the Right, Biden Administration Drops Funding for Safer Crack Pipes. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Dr. Rahul Gupta announced that a harm reduction grant program for drug users will not fund safer pipes for crack or meth smokers. "No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits," Gupta and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

There is $30 million in federal funding for harm reduction, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration had listed "safe smoking kits/supplies" among the items that could be purchased with taxpayer money. Other items included included overdose prevention drugs, medication lockboxes, test kits for infectious diseases, and syringe disposal containers. The tender did not actually mention pipes, but it did trigger online reports that the Biden administration was using taxpayer dollars to buy "crack pipes."

International

Thailand Officially Drops Cannabis from List of Controlled Substances. As of today, cannabis is no longer a Category 5 controlled substance. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul signed a ministerial announcement officially removing it on Tuesday. The delisting means that all parts of the plant can be legally consumed, but THC extracts above 0.2 THC will remain illegal. The change will go into effect in 120 days. This means that production of hemp and hemp-based CBD products can commence, but it will still be against the law to grow and consume marijuana until a bill is submitted to parliament in order to establish a regulatory framework for production and sales.

Schumer Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Coming in April, Study Questions Reliability of Maternal Drug Testing, More... (2/7/22)

Wisconsin's governor vetoes a bill that would have dramatically hiked criminal penalties for butane marijuana extraction, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is now making bombs to deploy against the military, and more.

Marijuana legalization could be coming to the Senate in April. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Schumer Says He Aims to File His Marijuana Legalization Bill in April. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced last Friday that he plans to formally introduce his marijuana legalization bill in April. "In the coming weeks, we're ramping up our outreach -- and we expect to introduce final legislation. Our goal is to do it in April," Schumer said. "Then we begin the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York, to get the federal law done. As majority leader, I can set priorities. This is a priority for me." Schumer's bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), was first released in draft from last July, and advocates had grown increasingly impatient with the lack of movement since then, especially after he blocked passage of the SAFE Banking Act, which the House had approved and attached to a defense spending bill. But now, Schumer has signaled movement ahead.

Wisconsin Governor Vetoes Bill to Ramp Up Penalties for Marijuana Extraction. Gov. Tony Evers last Friday vetoed a bill that would have significantly increased criminal penalties for people using butane or similar fuels to process marijuana for extracts. The measure, Assembly Bill 440, would have made using butane to extract marijuana a Class E felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It is currently a Class I felony with a maximum 3 ½ year sentence. In his veto message, Evers said, "I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to increasing criminal offenses or penalties related to marijuana use," adding that "marijuana criminalization has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially in Wisconsin." Evers supports marijuana legalization, but has made no headway with the Republican-led legislature.

Drug Testing

Study Questions Reliability of Maternal Drug Testing. A study presented at 2022 Pregnancy Meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine last Friday is raising more questions about the drug testing of pregnant women after it found that maternal urine samples and samples of the meconium from their newborn babies frequently produce different results. That disagreement (or "discordance") could trigger inappropriate interventions by child protective services, including separation of infants from their mothers, the researchers said.

"There's a very big debate right now in the obstetrics and perinatology communities about the utility of biochemical testing and the identification of high-risk women," said lead author Cassandra Heiselman, DO, MPH, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, told Medscape Medical News. "We know that each biochemical test has limitations, which can include basically the inability to detect all substances, especially synthetic opioids like fentanyl, [and] the possibility for false results."

Ironically, marijuana use was the most common factor associated with a positive meconium test. "Some studies have shown cannabis use in the second trimester can show up in meconium testing even if the mother has stopped that behavior," Heiselman said. "Then there is also cross-reactivity with other substances that can lead to higher false positive results, especially in the urine toxicology."

International

Mexican Drug Cartel Turns to IEDs to Use Against Army as Drug War Rages On. In a first in Mexico's drug wars, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel has deployed homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against the Mexican military. The attacks came on Saturday in Tepalcatepec in the western state of Michoacan, which has been riven with criminal conflicts for months. The bombs were described as pipe bombs with a cone-shaped cap to direct the explosion. Local self-defense forces fighting the cartel said the bombs did extensive damage to a military armored vehicle. This is just the latest escalation for the cartel, which last month resorted to dropping bombs from drones on its rivals.

House Passes Bill With SAFE Banking, Psilocybin Rescheduling Petition Filed, More... (2/4/22)

A key Maryland legislator rolls out a marijuana legalization bill, the Utah legislature approves employment protections for medical marijuana cardholders, and more.

The ACLU and NAPW are sticking up for pregnant women subjected to non-consenual drug testing again. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Manufacturing, Technology Bill That Includes SAFE Banking Act. For the second time this session, the House has voted to include the SAFE Banking Act in a larger bill it passed. It passed earlier as part of a defense spending bill only to be stripped out by Senate leaders seeking instead to promote full-on marijuana legalization legislation. The House approved the America COMPETES Act, complete with the SAFE Banking Act amendment, Thursday night by a vote 222-210, mainly along party lines. The Senate has already passed its version of the America COMPETES Act, which does not include the SAFE Banking Act language. It will now be up to House and Senate negotiators to decide whether to include it in the final bill.

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A key member of the legislature, House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore) filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 837, on Thursday. Under the bill, Marylanders could possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana for recreational use. The bill would also automatically expunge convictions for simple possession. The bill also creates a plan for implementation of legalization, which is seen as a bridge to the House, whose leaders support a voter referendum on the issue. "While I feel strongly that the voters should decide this issue, it is the General Assembly that is charged with making sure we have a legally defensible, equity-driven plan in place should they choose legalization," said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

Virginia Coalition to Oppose Legal Marijuana Commerce Emerges. The usual suspects are back. A group of parents, substance abuse professionals, and law enforcement have created a coalition to try to block the state from establishing a legal marketplace for marijuana, as envisioned under the marijuana legalization bill passed last year. The doomsayers are being joined by Project SAM, a group that consistently opposes marijuana legalization. The new coalition claims that allowing legal marijuana sales will endanger Virginians. Their efforts may gain some traction in the legislature, which is now controlled by Republicans, as opposed to last year, when the Democrat-controlled body approved legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Legislature Approves Bill Affirming That Medical Marijuana Should Be Treated Like Any Other Prescription Drug. With a final vote in the House on Wednesday, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 46, which reaffirms that medical marijuana cardholders are entitled to protections from job actions related to their medical marijuana use. The bill came after the Utah Patients Coalition complained that some first responders were having problems with local governments for even having a medical marijuana card. It is now up to Governor Spencer Cox (R) to sign or veto the measure.

Psychedelics

Seattle Doctors Files DEA Petition to Reschedule Psilocybin for Medical Use. Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Seattle end-of-life care specialist, has filed a formal petition with the DEA seeking to remove psilocybin from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The petition asks the DEA to reschedule as a less-restricted Schedule II drug. The substance has a low potential for abuse and shows "exceptional promise in relieving debilitating symptoms in those with intractable and otherwise untreatable illness," including the severe anxiety and depression that can result from a terminal illness. "The original placement of psilocybin," the document says, "was the result of a substantial overestimation of the risk of harm and abuse potential, not rigorous science."

Joining the suit, attorneys general from eight US states and the District of Columbia filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the patients, noting the therapeutic potential of not only psilocybin but also other currently illegal drugs, including as MDMA. "Here, dying patients seek access to promising new treatments still in the investigative process -- access expressly permitted under both state and federal law -- to help them live in peace," the amicus brief said.

Utah Psychedelic Study Bill Wins House Committee Vote. The House Health and Human Services committee on Thursday approved House Bill 167, which would create a task force to study the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and make recommendations for their lawful use. The measure passed on a 10-1 vote and now heads for a House floor vote.

Drug Testing

Groups File Human Rights Complaint on Behalf of New Mother Over Non-Consensual Drug Test and False Positive. National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) and the ACLU of Illinois filed a charge of discrimination against Saint Alexius Hospital last week with the Illinois Department of Human Rights over a non-consensual drug test of a first-time mother before she went into labor. The test came back positive because of an Easter cake made with poppy seeds that the mother ate before entering the hospital, leading to the hospital initially holding the newborn in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and then requiring the family to have someone besides the mother with the child at all times for three months.

"Saint Alexius violated [this mother's] civil rights by subjecting her to a non consensual and medically unnecessary drug test," said Emma Roth, staff attorney at NAPW. "She will never be able to get back those precious first months with her baby. The fact that Ms. F. was reported on the basis of a false positive due to poppy seed consumption highlights the absurdity of Saint Alexius's non consensual testing and reporting practices. Yet routine drug testing and reporting of pregnant patients is never justified in light of the harmful consequences for families."

House Advances SAFE Banking Act (Again), MI Psychedelic Legalization Initiative Filed, More... (2/3/22)

Mountains of meth are being cooked up in Myanmar's Shan state, UNODC reports. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana Banking on Voice Vote, Final Approval with Roll Call Vote Expected Today. The House on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a marijuana banking amendment to a science and technology bill, with a roll call voice vote expected Thursday. The amendment is the SAFE Banking Act, which is aimed at providing access to financial services for state-legal marijuana businesses. The measure has repeatedly been approved by the House, most recently as part of a defense appropriations bill, but Senate negotiators more interested in passing a full-on marijuana legalization bill killed it then.

Bipartisan Coalition of House Members Call for Quick Vote on Marijuana Legalization. A bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday demanding that Congress move "expeditiously" to pass a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill in question is the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), which passed the House in 2020 and passed the House Judiciary Committee this session, but has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote.

The MORE ACT is "is foundational in righting systemic injustices and removing barriers for families and individuals nationwide" and so it should be "expeditiously considered by the House and Senate," the letter said. The letter was led by Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) and cosigned by Reps. Nikema Williams (D-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marie Newman (D-IL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Angie Craig (D-MN) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Drug Policy

Grassley, Whitehouse Implore Biden Administration to Quickly Release National Drug Control Strategy for 2022. On Wednesday, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, pushed the Biden administration to finish its work on and release the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. Their bipartisan letter comes after Dr. Rahul Gupta -- Director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) -- indicated last week that their 2022 strategy could be delayed until the end of June, far past the statutorily required date of February 7, 2022.

"We are pleased that your office is taking a thoughtful look and share your sentiments, especially in light of the record overdose deaths. Despite this, we are disappointed in the delay. The Strategy is critical in informing the federal government's approach to drug enforcement, prevention, and treatment. Now more than ever, a timely and whole-of-government Strategy is necessary," the senators wrote.

Psychedelics

Michigan Activists File Psychedelic Legalization Ballot Initiative. The national group Decriminalize Nature, its state affiliate, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) have filed paperwork for an initiative to legalize the possession, cultivation, and non-remunerated sharing of psychedelics, as well as setting up a system to enable therapeutic and spiritual use. The measure would legalize a broad range of psychedelics for people 18 and over. Sales would be allowed to provide psychedelics to people whose doctors have issued written recommendations for them.

International

Colombian Army Kills Nine in Raid on Gulf Clan Cartel. Defense Minister Diego Molina announced late Tuesday evening that at least nine people were killed in an army raid on the Gulf Clan Cartel in northwest Colombia. The raid took place in Ituango, a Gulf Clan stronghold. The Gulf Clan is a major drug trafficking organization, considered responsible for about a third of the cocaine being smuggled out of the country. It's leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, also known as Otoniel, was arrested in October in a raid involving 500 police and military, an event that President Ivan Duque said marked "the end" of the Guld Clan. Apparently not quite yet.

Myanmar Illicit Drug Production Surges Since Coup. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said this week that political turmoil and instability in the wake of a military coup has resulted in massive increases in drug production and trafficking in the country. Last month alone, authorities in Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar seized a mind-boggling 90 million methamphetamine tablets and 4.4 tons of crystal meth, with the bulk of it reportedly produced in Myanmar's Shan state. "Meth production increased last year from already extreme levels in northern Myanmar and there is no sign it will slow down," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's regional representative in Southeast Asia.

SAFE Banking Act Gets Another Chance in the House, Opioid Makers Settle with Native American Tribes, More... (2/2/22)

An Arizona judge upholds social equity provisions in the state's marijuana law, the SAFE Banking Act will get another House floor vote, and more.

Marijuana Policy

SAFE Banking Act Heading for Another House Floor Vote. The House Rules Committee has cleared the way for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to get another chance at passage. The bill, which aims to provide protections for financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana businesses, had passed out of the House as part of a defense appropriations bill but was killed by Senate negotiators who favored a vote on marijuana legalization first. Last week, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) offered it as an amendment to a large-scale tech and manufacturing research and innovation bill, and on Tuesday, the Rules Committee determined the proposal to be in order, meaning it will be taken up by the House as part of that larger bill.

Arizona Judge Upholds Rules for Social Equity Marijuana Licenses. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner on Tuesday threw out a lawsuit challenging the state's rules implementing a program aimed promoting social equity in the marijuana industry. The program is reserving 26 marijuana business licenses for "people from communities disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of previous marijuana laws." The lawsuit filed by the Greater Phoenix Urban League and a business argued that the rules lack a means to prevent license transfers and to ensure that profits remain in communities, but Judge Randall held that the rules satisfied the broad mandates under the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law.

Medical Marijuana

Minnesota Patients Can Buy Buds Beginning in March. Patients registered in the state's Medical Cannabis Program will be eligible to buy dried cannabis flower for smoking from the state's medical cannabis dispensaries starting March 1. In preparation for the change, registered patients interested in smokable cannabis can make an appointment for a consultation with a medical cannabis dispensary pharmacist beginning Feb. 1 so they will be pre-approved to buy pre-packaged dried flower and pre-rolls once available. Consultations, which can be in-person or virtual, are required when a patient changes the type of medical cannabis they receive. Smokable cannabis may be available a few days before March 1, if the state's relevant administrative rules are finalized early. Patients should check with their medical cannabis dispensary for further details. The sale of smokable cannabis is limited to patients and caregivers who are 21 years or older and who are registered with the Medical Cannabis Program.

Opioids

Drug Distributors, Johnson & Johnson Settles with Native American Tribes Over Opioid Distribution. Three drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen -- and drug manufacturer Johnson & Johnson have reached a $665 million settlement with Native American tribes regarding the flood of prescription opioids into Native communities. More than 400 tribes sued the companies for producing and shipping opioids to the tribes regardless of concerns about overdoses and other health issues. The companies maintain they followed federal law and did nothing wrong but agreed to the settlement anyway. The lawsuit is part of a broader push-back after an expansion of opioid prescribing in the late 1990s and early 200s that has seen numerous lawsuits against drug companies, as well as reductions in opioid prescribing, which has left some chronic pain patients in the lurch.

Officials Now Say Fentanyl-Tainted Marijuana Scare a False Alarm, Competing CO Psychedelic Inits, More...(2/1/22)

A Calfornia Republican lawmaker wants to go back to the bad old days, Colorado now sees competing psychedelic legalization initiatives, and more.

fentanyl (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California GOP Bill Would Make Unlicensed Marijuana Cultivation a Felony Again. Assemblyman Thurston Smith (R-Riverside) has filed a bill that would recriminalize growing marijuana plants without a license, Assembly Bill 1725. The bill would make growing more than six plants without a license a felony punishable by up to three years in jail. Smith said his bill was aimed at enormous illegal grow operations. "These illicit growers have been operating with impunity, knowing that the law allows them to grow with barely a hindrance. For far too long, (state lawmakers in) Sacramento (have) been soft on crime, and the illicit market has exploded with massive unlicensed grows popping up all around the state." The bill faces long odds in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Massachusetts Marijuana Host Community, Social Equity Bill Advances. The Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy took up legislation aimed at putting tighter rules on legally required contracts between hosts communities and marijuana businesses and establishing a Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund. The measure, House Bill 174 faced no opposition in the committee. The bill is a priority of House Speaker Ron Mariano (D), and takes on aspects of the state's pot laws that both regulators and the industry have said need to be addressed.

"The gap between the law's stated commitment to equity and the on-the-ground reality of the industry shows just how much work we have left to do," Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said. "There's universal agreement about the problems: high costs of entry and lack of access to capital create a near-impossible barrier for many talented entrepreneurs. This bill addresses both sides of that coin. I'm thrilled we're finally advancing it."

Opioids

Connecticut Scare on Fentanyl-Tainted Marijuana Mostly Unfounded, State Says. The state Department of Health reported in November that nearly 40 overdoses were linked to fentanyl-tainted marijuana, but it now turns out that there was only one case -- and that case was most likely caused by accidental contamination. In the original report, the state said there had been 39 overdoses believed linked to fentanyl-tainted marijuana, that the patients required revival with naloxone, and they "denied any opioid use and claimed to have only smoked marijuana." But the health department says at least 30 of the 39 had histories of opioid use.

The department also said that only one marijuana sample tested positive for fentanyl. "Based on the information gathered since the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl, the CT ORS [Connecticut Overdose Response Strategy] assesses that the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl was likely accidental contamination and an isolated incident," a department spokesman said. Boyle wrote in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media. The contamination likely occurred when the dealer "failed to clean their instruments before processing the marijuana and cross-contaminated it with fentanyl," he said.

Psychedelics

Colorado Sees Second Psychedelic Initiative Filed. Activists with Decriminalize Nature Boulder County have filed an initiative that would allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT. The initiative would also allow psychedelic services for therapeutic, spiritual, guidance, or harm reduction purposes with or without accepting payment. A separate psychedelic initiative backed by New Approach PAC and David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap company, the Natural Medicine Health Act, envisions a two-tiered regulatory model where only psilocybin would be legalized and regulated for therapeutic purposes until June 2026, after which regulators could add other psychedelics.

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