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White House Preps for MDMA Therapy Approval, MO Legalization Init Could Come Up Short, More... (7/28/22)

South Dakota's first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary opens, the FDA is moving toward approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Legalizing them could be on the ballot in Medford, Oregon, this November. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Needs More Signatures as Deadline Looms. Legal Missouri, the group behind an initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, handed in more than twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the November election, but may still come up short because of the state's requirement that it meet signature thresholds in each of the state's congressional districts. The group is 1,144 signatures short in the 7th Congressional District and 1,573 short in the 6th. The campaign says it is double-checking signature counts from local election authorities in hopes of making up the shortfall. Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) will announce by August 9 whether or not the campaign has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota's First State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The Unity Road Dispensary in the small town of Hartford opened its doors for business Wednesday, becoming the first state-licensed dispensary to open after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020. But it is not the first dispensary in the state: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened Native Nations Cannabis in July 2021, saying it did not need to wait for the state to license it because it is on sovereign Native American territory. Another has since opened on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Psychedelics

Biden Administration Preparing for FDA Approval of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD. The Department of Health and Human Services released a letter Wednesday that described the Food and Drug Administration's "anticipated approval… within approximately 24 months" of psychedelic-assisted therapies. The letter said that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is exploring establishment of a Federal Task Force to address the complex issues associated with the commercialization of psychedelic medicines, including clinical, regulatory, and public policy matters.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which has pioneered clinical trials on MDMA, was pleased: "We applaud the Biden Administration for taking psychedelic-assisted therapies, and their potential to treat life-threatening mental health conditions, seriously. A Federal Task Force on psychedelic-assisted therapies should take a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring that red tape, administrative delays, or insurance coverage questions don't leave Americans suffering as they seek to access approved treatments," said MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin.

Doblin continued, "For the first time, research that has been driven by philanthropists could additionally be supported by the same types of Federal grants that have funded other health care revolutions and develop patient access strategies that prioritize public benefit over profit. For decades, we have been making the case for what the Administration is now acknowledging: psychedelic-assisted therapies may become a key in addressing the most urgent mental health challenges of our time and reducing needless suffering."

Medford, Oregon, City Council Ponders Psilocybin Legalization. In a surprise move, the city council has scheduled a study session about psilocybin for tonight's meeting. No vote on an ordinance is expected, but the city council said it wants the study session to make an informed decision about putting an ordinance on the November ballot.

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

New Poll Could Bolster Vermont Drug Decrim Push [FEATURE]

A recent poll could help breathe new life into a Vermont campaign to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that died in the House earlier this year. The poll, from Data for Progress and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found a whopping 84 percent of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

The legislature didn't get a decrim bill done this year, but a new poll bodes well for the future. (Creative Commons)
Support for decriminalization included a majority of voters across all major demographic groups and party affiliations. The poll also found that 81 percent of voters support reframing the state's approach to drug use as a health issue with a focus on reducing the harms of addiction and offering health and recovery services.

"With Vermont having one of the highest increases in overdoses in the country last year, it's clear that the existing approach of criminalizing people who use drugs isn't working to keep people safe. In fact, it has only made things worse," said DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner. "This survey makes it abundantly clear that Vermont voters want a different approach - one focused on health rather than arrest and punishment."

Overdoses are not the only issue plaguing the state's enforcement of drug prohibition. Last November, the Council of State Governments (CSG) issued a report on Vermont prosecutions and court outcomes that found pronounced racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions. That report found that Black people are over 14 times more likely to be charged with drug felonies that White people. The report also found that Black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison for certain felony offenses -- including drug offenses -- while White defendants more often receive alternatives to imprisonment.

That CSG report was buttressed by years of statewide police data that consistently shows Black motorists being stopped, searched, and cited at higher rates even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than Whites.

"For anyone committed to advancing racial justice in their communities, these findings are critically important and should be acted on immediately," ACLU of Vermont (ACLU-VT) Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said at the time. "They show that extreme racial disparities in Vermont state prosecutions and sentencing decisions are real, and can't be attributed to racist tropes about 'out-of-state drug dealers' when they are, in fact, the result of systemic racism in state prosecutors' offices and courthouses. These findings also help to explain why, year after year, Vermont's prisons have some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

That report helped spur both the creation of broad coalition to push for drug decriminalization, @DecriminalizeVermont, which consists of the ACLU-VT, Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

"Reforming our criminal justice system requires a fundamental shift away from criminalizing behaviors that need not involve police, prosecutors, and incarceration," said the ACLU-VT. "While Vermont has decriminalized possession of marijuana, there is still progress to be made in finally treating substance use disorder as the public health issue that it is. Vermont needs to decriminalize other drug offenses and better account for substance abuse disorder in related offenses, such as trespassing, sex work, and writing bad checks."

The CSG report also prompted a push in the state legislature to get a decriminalization bill passed. That bill, H.644, was cosponsored by nearly one-third of the House, with 42 Democrats, Progressives, and Independents signing on. It was designed to set up a board of drug policy experts to determine threshold levels for personal use amounts, which would then be decriminalized, and to establish a drug treatment referral system to help people access treatment services.

"The whole question of arresting and prosecuting drug possession -- we're not seeing a lot of value. In fact, we're seeing a lot of harm historically," said bill cosponsor Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).

The bill was introduced on January 14 and got a series of House Judiciary Committee hearings in the next month at which several coalition members testified.

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

"Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice," said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. "We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session."

But that is as far as it went. After the hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Washington) never put the bill up for a committee vote. It died when the legislature adjourned in May.

But now, given that new polling data, there is more evidence than ever that Vermonters are ready for a change.

"What's clear from this poll is that Vermont voters want to prioritize preventing overdose and ending the harms of criminalization, and they want their elected officials to take leadership on this," said DPA's Gardner.

The push for decriminalization may have been thwarted this year, but it isn't going to go away. Look for another attempt next year, and those poll numbers can only help.

Fed Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in WV Lawsuit, CA Kills Marijuana Cultivator Tax, More... (7/5/22)

A Washington state county commissioner demonstrates her cluelessness about harm reduction, Senate drug warriors file the END FENTANYL Act, and more.

pain pills (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Ending Cultivation Tax on Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 195, a wide-ranging bill to restructure the state's legal marijuana system whose most striking feature is the removal of the wholesale tax on marijuana growers. The aim of the bill is to provide relief to the struggling industry and further erode the marijuana black market. The bill also shifts collection of the state's 15 percent excise tax from the distributor level to the retail level, and it freezes the excise tax for at least the next three years. Aiming at unlicensed operators, the bill allows for fines of up to $10,000 per day for property managers who knowingly rent or lease space to unlicensed marijuana businesses. It also includes $40 million in tax credits, half for equity operators and half for microbusinesses. Social equity operators will also be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit and will be able to keep 20 percent of excise tax revenues for reinvesting in their businesses.

Opiates and Opioids

Bipartisan Group of Senate Drug Warriors File END FENTANYL Bill. Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) have filed the cutely-acronymed Eradicating Narcotic Drugs and Formulating New Tools to Address National Yearly Losses of Life (END FENTANYL) Act (Senate Bill 4440). The bill would require the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to update its policies at least once every three years to ensure drug interdiction guidance is up to date. The legislation was prompted by a 2019 GAO report, Land Ports of Entry: CBP Should Update Policies and Enhance Analysis of Inspections, which found drug interdiction guidance has not been updated in 20 years. Scott used a press release about the bill to slam President Biden for his "failed open border policies" even though DEA figures show that 80 percent of fentanyl comes through ports of entry, not in the backpacks of refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented border crossers.

Federal Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in West Virginia Lawsuit. A federal judge ruled against West Virginia plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking damages from three major drug distributors who they accused of causing a public health crisis by distributing 81 million pills in eight years in one county hard hit by opioid addiction. Cabell County and the city of Huntington had sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp.

Plaintiffs argued that the companies sent a "tsunami" of prescription pain pills into the county and that their conduct was unreasonable, reckless, and disregarded the public health. "The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law," US District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. "In view of the court's findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants' favor. Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants," Faber wrote, noting that the plaintiffs supplied no evidence that the companies distributed opioids to any entity that was not properly registered with the DEA or the state Board of Pharmacy. The city and the county had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have gone toward opioid efforts. The goal of the 15-year abatement plan would have been to reduce overdoses,

Harm Reduction

WA County Commissioner Fears "Normalization" of Naloxone. Amanda McKinney, a Republican Yakima County Commissioner, is concerned that the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone will be "normalized." She was responding to a presentation by the Board of Health about the increase in drug overdose deaths and the district's overdose awareness campaign, but zeroed in on one sentence: Among the goals of the campaign was "Increase awareness and education about the benefits of naloxone to normalize its use."

That set off McKinney: I'm really concerned about that last slide where it says normalize use. I would really like for us to expand on what that means," McKinney said. "I'm just wondering if there is a better term than normalize, 'cuz normalize to me means we're accepting this and promoting this as part of our daily lives and I think that that word is inappropriate."

Apparently unfamiliar with the notion of harm reduction, she also questioned the effectiveness of needle exchanges and fentanyl test strips. "I'd really like to know what the effectiveness is of fentanyl testing strips and syringe exchange services for actually successfully getting people off and away from being someone who is a habitual drug user," McKinney said. "I question those methods as being methods that are successful in getting people actually off the drugs." Following McKinney's comments, Health District Director Andre Fresco explained that harm reduction's primary goal is not to end drug use, but to save lives, and added that the district is involved in efforts to get people off drugs.

Marijuana Banking Protections Again Excluded from Spending Bill, House Approves Easing Bupe Access, More.... (6/24/22)

The Mississippi Supreme Court upholds a black man's life sentence for marijuana possession, a Senate committee clears the way for people who have used marijuana to get jobs in the intelligence community, and more.

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Provision Stripped from Omnibus Stimulus Bill, New Banking Measure Introduced. A conference committee of lawmakers has stripped the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) out of the final version of an omnibus economic stimulus bill. The act was included in the House version of the bill, but not the Senate's. The move marks yet another defeat for efforts to provide protections for financial institutions that do business with state-legal marijuana businesses as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) holds out for full-blown marijuana legalization. Meanwhile, a new bill similar to the SAFE Banking Act, the Capital Lending and Investment for Marijuana Businesses (CLIMB) Act, has been introduced with bipartisan support.

Senate Committee Approves Measure to Allow People Who Used Marijuana to Work in Intelligence Agencies. The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would allow intelligence agencies to hire people who have used marijuana in the past. The committee advanced the annual intelligence authorization bill, which included the marijuana provision. The move is "a common-sense change to ensure the IC can recruit the most capable people possible," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). National security officials have complained for years that the lifetime prohibition of marijuana use has limited the pool of qualified applicants to the intelligence agencies.

Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds Man's Life Sentence for Marijuana Possession. The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a life sentence for Allen Russell after he was found guilty of possessing 43 grams of marijuana. Such an offense normally carries a three-year sentence, but Allen was sentenced under the state's habitual offender law. He had previously been convicted twice of burglary and once of being a convict in possession of a firearm. The high court ruled that the sentence did not amount to cruel and unusual punishment and was in line with state law. Do we have to mention that Allen is black?

Drug Treatment

House Passes Bill to Remove Barriers to Medication-Assisted Treatment. The House on Wednesday approved the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (HR 2482), which seeks to address outdated federal regulations that hamper doctors from being able to prescribe drugs such as buprenorphine that are used to treat opioid use disorder. The bill is part of a larger package that also eliminated barriers to accessing methadone, as well increasing funding and training for people with mental health and substance use disorders to enter the workforce. Current federal requirements that doctors receive a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine have left many rural counties without effective access to the drug.

Chicago Expands Drug Diversion Program, Thailand Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect, More... (6/9/22)

Nominees to the US Sentencing Commission vowed to the Senate Judicary Committee that they would implement reforms in the First Step Act, Ukraine moves to allow medical marijuana, and more.

Law Enforcement

Chicago Mayor Announces Expansion of Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program. Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent David O. Brown, and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Allison Arwady on Wednesday announced the expansion of eligibility for the Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program. The program is an initiative that diverts individuals who are arrested for the possession of controlled substances into substance use treatment in lieu of felony charges. The new criteria will now expand to individuals who have not been arrested in Chicago for a violent crime within the past ten years and were in possession of two grams or less of any controlled substance. Additional drugs beyond heroin also now qualify for this d.iversion initiative. These drugs include fentanyl, morphine, ketamine, and methamphetamine, among other controlled substances as identified by Illinois law. The original program criteria for participants were limited to those arrested in possession of one gram or less of only heroin or cocaine and who had no prior violent arrest history. The initial evaluation findings of the program showed there was an almost 50% reduction in future arrests among the first 1,000 participants, 25% of whom were connected with treatment for the very first time.

Sentencing Policy

US Sentencing Commission Vows to Implement Criminal Justice Reform Law. Seven Biden administration nominees to the US Sentencing Commission told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that they will prioritize implementing the 2018 First Step Act, which aims to reduce harsh sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reduce recidivism. The commission lost its quorum in 2019, just a month after President Trump signed the bill into law, preventing it from implementing changes to sentencing guidelines. President Trump nominated new commission members, but the Senate never acted on those nominations, mission, leaving the commission unable to act on the reforms.

International

Ukraine to Legalize Medical Marijuana. The government has advanced a draft medical marijuana bill, with the Cabinet of Ministers approving the draft and sending it to the parliament for approval. Health Minister Viktor Liashko, cited the Russian invasion of the country in announcing the move: "We understand the negative consequences of the war on the mental health camp, "Liashko wrote. "We understand the number of people who will require medical treatment in the last breath. The bill envisions allowing only low THC marijuana for medical use and would strictly regulate the cultivation, production, and sale of medical marijuana products, as well as authorizations and licenses for the cultivation and scientific research.

Thailand's Marijuana Legalization Now in Effect; First Country in Asia to Free the Weed. As of today, people in Thailand are free to grow unlimited amounts of marijuana as the plant is now removed from the country's narcotics list, but smoking weed in public is still an offense. Sales began immediately at Bangkok shops. "We've been waiting for 43 years, since 1979,"said Chaiwat Banjai, one of the owners of Highland Cafe, where sales took place. It was that year that Thailand enacted the Narcotics Act, which outlawed cannabis and its derivatives. "Now, weed is legal. Weed is finally legal. We never thought we'd come so far like this." The government also opened the prison doors to marijuana offenders, releasing more than 3,000 of them, amending sentencing for a thousand more, and dropping charges against people currently charged with marijuana offenses. But the law only legalizes marijuana extracts containing less than 0.2 percent THC, meaning that while people can grow all the plants they want, consuming what they produce will remain technically illegal, as is the case with sales now (but that doe not appear to be stopping them). The parliament is currently considering a bill to regulate the sale and consumption of marijuana.

Taliban Launch Opium Poppy Eradication Campaign, NY Safe Injection Site Bill Dies, More... (6/6/22)

Five Texas cities will vote on non-binding marijuana reform measures this fall, the New York legislative session ends without passing a safe injection site bill, and more.

Afghan opium poppies (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

New York Bill to Crack Down on Illicit Marijuana Possession and Sales Dies. The Senate last week approved Senate Bill 9452, which would expand the state Office of Cannabis Management's authority to seize illicit marijuana and the Department of Taxation and Finance's authority to civilly penalize people for selling marijuana illegally. But the bill died without action in the Assembly as the legislative session came to an end. The bill aimed at "grey market" operators -- retail outlets that are selling weed without being licensed. No licenses for pot shops have been issued yet. The bill would have made it a Class A misdemeanor for distributors and retailers to sell weed without a license. Fines for possession of illicit marijuana would have doubled to $400 per ounce of flower and $1,000 for each illicit plant.

Five Texas Cities Will Vote on Marijuana Reforms. Ground Game Texas, which is pushing for marijuana reform across the state, announced last Friday that it had gathered enough signatures to qualify a non-binding decriminalization initiative in the Central Texas town of Harker Heights, bringing to five the number of towns in the state that will have a chance to vote on marijuana reform this year. The other cities are Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos in Central Texas and Denton in North Texas.

Harm Reduction

New York Safe Injection Site Bill Dies as Session Ends. A bill that would have paved the way for safe injection sites in the state, Assembly Bill 224, had died as the legislative session ends. The bill managed to win an Assembly committee vote, but went no further. Other harm reduction bills also died, including one that would require treatment providers to offer clients access to buprenorphine (Senate Bill 6746) and another that would have decriminalized buprenorphine (Assembly Bill 646). On the other hand, a bill that would eliminate copays at methadone clinics for people with private insurance (Senate Bill 5690) passed.

International

Afghan Taliban Launch Campaign to Eradicate Poppy Crop. Two months after issuing an edict banning opium poppy cultivation in the country, the Taliban has announced it has begun a campaign to eradicate poppy production, with the goal of wiping out the country's massive yield of opium and heroin. For all of this century, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium and heroin producer, accounting for more than 80 percent of global output. People violating the ban "will be arrested and tried according to Sharia laws in relevant courts," said Taliban deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund. But with the country in profound economic crisis after the departure of Western troops and economic aid last summer, the ban threatens one of the country's most vibrant economic sectors and the livelihoods of millions of poor farm and day laborer families. "If we are not allowed to cultivate this crop, we will not earn anything," one farmer told the Associated Press. Nonetheless, "We are committed to bringing poppy cultivation to zero," said Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Advances, NC MedMJ Bill Advances, More... (6/2/22)

There will be no psychedelic legalization initiative in Michigan this year, Massachusetts agrees to pay millions to thousands of people convicted of drug offenses based on chemical analyses by disgraced state crime lab chemists, and more.

The Insite safe injection site in Vancouver. Could something similar be coming to California? (vch.ca)
Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Advances to Senate Floor Vote. The Compassionate Use Act, Senate Bill 711, was unanimously approved by the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday, clearing the way for a final Senate floor vote, which could happen as soon as today. If and when the bill passes the Senate, it then goes to the House, and if approved by the House, it would go to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (D), who has said he supports medical marijuana. The bill would create a commission to issue 10 medical marijuana supplier licenses, with each supplier able to operate eight retail shops. Patients would be limited to a 30-day supply of medical marijuana.

Psychedelics

Michigan Activists Come Up Short on Psychedelic Legalization Initiative, Now Aim at 2024. Activists with Decriminalize Nature and Students for Sensible Drug Policy who have been engaged in signature-gathering to put a psychedelic legalization initiative on the November ballot announced Wednesday that they have come up short for this year and are now aiming at 2024. They had until June 1 to come up with 340,047 valid voter signatures, but only had two months to do so after getting a later start. The normal signature-gathering period is 180 days. Activists declined to say how many signatures they had gathered, but said signatures already gathered would still be valid for the 2024 push as long as they are handed in during this election cycle.

Criminal Justice

Massachusetts Agrees to Repay Thousands of Defendants Convicted on Evidence Analyzed by Disgraced State Crime Lab Chemists. The state has agreed to repay millions of dollars in fees and fines paid by some 30,000 defendants whose drug convictions were overturned because they relied on testing done by disgraced state crime lab chemists Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak. Both women served state prison time for falsifying lab results. The settlement is expected to cost the state about $14 million. Each wrongfully convicted defendant will receive hundreds of dollars -- and potentially more. The state has agreed to refund 10 types of fees and fines, including probation supervision fees, victim witness fees, court costs, DNA test fees, drug analysis fees, and driver's license reinstatement fees, among others. The settlement must still be approved by a judge.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Treatment Bill Fails. A bill that would have authorized a three-county pilot program that imposed coerced drug treatment for people with drug-motivated felony crimes, Assembly Bill 1928, failed to get a House floor vote by last week's legislative deadline and is now dead for the session. Bill proponents argued that it would allow people to get treatment in a secure facility instead of just being warehoused in prison. The bill passed the Assembly Health Committee in March but then stalled.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill to set up a pilot program to allow certain localities in the state to open safe injection sites, Senate Bill 57, was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee Wednesday and now heads for an Assembly floor vote. The measure has already passed the Senate, but if it passes in the Assembly, it will have to go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote because changes have been made in the Assembly.

RI Legal Pot Bill Heads for Final Votes Next Week, FL Governor Signs Fentanyl Murder Bill, More... (5/20/22)

A Delaware bill to tax and regulate marijuana comes up short but remains alive after a parliamentary manuever, Michigan uses court settlements to fund a massive response to the opioid crisis, and more.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a punitive fentanyl bill into law. (fl.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Legal Marijuana Regulation, Sales Bill Falls Short—For Now. A bill that would have created a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales, House Bill 372, failed in the House Thursday even though it won a majority of votes. The bill needed a two-thirds majority in the House because it had tax provisions, but cam up short on a 23-15 vote. But the bill is not dead because sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark), changed his vote to "no," which gives him three legislative days to rescind the roll call vote and bring the bill forward for reconsideration before the end of this year’s legislative session. With Osienski voting "yes" next time, along with a bill supporter who missed the vote because he is sick with COVID, the bill has the votes to pass next time.

Rhode Island Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for House, Senate Floor Votes Next Week. With approval Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary and House Finance committees, an amended marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 2430, is now headed for final floor votes in the House and Senate, which are scheduled for next Tuesday. As well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, the bill contains social equity components and allows for automatic expungement of past marijuana possession offenses.

Opiates and Opioids

Florida Governor Signs Bill to Make Murder Charges Easier in Drug Overdose Deaths. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has signed into law House Bill 95, which would make it easier for prosecutors to seek first-degree murder charges against drug sellers if an overdose leads to someone's death. Currently, drug sellers face life in prison or the death penalty if the drug they sold verifiably caused the death of a consumer, but prosecutors complained it was hard to win convictions in cases involving multiple controlled substances and/or alcohol. Under the new law, prosecutors will only have to show that the drug was a "substantial factor" in the person's death. As the session wound down, legislators also added language that increased mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking between 4 and 14 milligrams of fentanyl and its analogs from three to seven years, and for trafficking between 14 and 28 milligrams of fentanyl to 15 to 20 years. They also stripped out a provision that would have legalized fentanyl test strips, signaling no room for compassion but plenty of space for punishing policies.

Michigan Governor Signs Bills Aimed at Opioid Crisis. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law a package of bills that invest $800 million in treatment, prevention, and mental health in response to the opioid crisis. Senate Bills 993, 994, and 995 will handle the disbursement of settlement funds from lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as creating an Opioid Advisory Committee to help craft policies to prevent, treat, and support people using opioids. "The opioid crisis touches families across our state, which is why it’s so crucial to ensure that Michiganders facing substance use issues have the support and resources they need to get better," said Governor Whitmer. "The legislation I signed today will be instrumental in preventing more deaths and will provide Michigan families impacted by the devastating opioid epidemic with some semblance of relief. These funds will bring millions of dollars to support our neighbors, family, and friends in treatment and recovery. I will continue to work with anyone who wants to help those who are struggling."

White House Drug Strategy Embraces Harm Reduction, But Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Strong [FEATURE]

The Biden White House sent its first National Drug Control Strategy to Congress on April 21. It breaks positive new ground by explicitly acknowledging harm reduction measures to prevent overdose and blood-borne diseases among drug users. At at the same time, though, it also relies heavily on the destructive and counterproductive pursuit of failed prohibitionist drug policies -- and funds more law enforcement much more heavily than harm reduction.

The strategy comes out just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 106,000 in the year ending last November. The administration is responding with what it calls a "whole of government" approach to the crisis.

"The strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking," the White House said. "It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers' profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts. Saving lives is our North Star, and the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for immediate actions that will save lives in the short term and outlines long-term solutions to reduce drug use and its associated harms, including overdose."

While the strategy includes long-familiar categories such as drug treatment, prevention, supply reduction, and criminal justice and public safety, it also emphasizes an evidence-based approach, "building a recovery-ready nation," and for the first time, harm reduction.

"The Biden-Harris Administration's efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services," the White House said. "Specifically, the strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the US system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country."

The strategy calls for "the coordinated use of federal grant funds for harm reduction," and the administration last year broke new ground with a $30 million grant program for harm reduction providers. But in a sign of continued reliance on traditional law enforcement priorities, the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA. Those figures were released as part of the White House's FY 2023 budget released last month.

"Responding effectively to the illicit production, trafficking, and distribution methods of domestic criminal organizations and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) is a significant challenge and remains a Biden-Harris Administration priority," the White House said.

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

"Illicit drugs cause immeasurable pain and loss in our communities. As the Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I've pressed for an updated federal plan to tackle them," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). I've been clear that the plan must include a more coordinated approach to cracking down on drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, especially the ways in which they launder and protect their ill-gotten gains using US rule of law and financial networks; and more and better cooperation with our international partners to reduce the supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs and to levy tougher sanctions against transnational drug syndicates. I'm pleased to see my priorities reflected in this new strategy, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration to deliver on those priorities."

Whitehouse also lauded the strategy's "tearing down barriers to treatment, including expanding access to life-saving naloxone and medication-assisted treatment; improving our data collection systems to better understand the effects of our intervention efforts."

Reform advocates offered praise -- sometimes lukewarm -- for the administration's tentative embrace of harm reduction, but blasted its reliance on tired, failed drug war paradigms.

In its analysis of the strategy, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it "a major step forward" and lauded the administration for "focusing on ensuring access to treatment for substance use disorders and highlighting the crucial role of harm reduction services." But WOLA also noted that, "when measured against the scale of the nation's overdose problems and the urgency of the needs, Biden's new plan appears quite timid."

WOLA also warned that the strategy's "positive innovations regarding investment in treatment and harm reduction strategies risk being undermined by a continued commitment to the kinds of policies that have exacerbated the present crisis and that continue to absorb the lion's share of resources, namely, drug criminalization at home and wildly exaggerated expectations for what can be achieved through supply control efforts abroad."

Similarly, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the attention to harm reduction a "positive," but noted steps that it did not take, such as making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available over-the-counter and repealing the so-called Crack House Statute that stands in the way of federal approval of safe injection sites.

"On a negative note," Cato observed, "the remainder of the new report calls for doubling down on interdiction, border control, and other law enforcement measures aimed at curtailing the supply of illicit drugs -- as if repeating the same failed strategies of the past half century, only with more gusto, will somehow work."

So there it is: The Biden administration's first crack at a national drug strategy deserves kudos for its embrace of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches, but beyond that, it is pretty much more of the same old same old.

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