Addiction Treatment

RSS Feed for this category

Biden to Sign Marijuana Research Bill This Week, Texas GOP Rep's Cartel Bill, More... (11/21/22)

A German provincial official seeks to scuttle the federal government's marijuana legalizattion plans, the first marijuana reform legislation passed by Congress is about to be signed into law, and more.

A conservative Texas congressman files yet another punitive bill aimed at the border. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Will Sign Marijuana Research Bill This Week, White House Says. A bill to remove hurdles to marijuana research that passed the House two months ago and the Senate last week will be signed into law this week, the White House said. The bill, HR 8454, is the first marijuana reform legislation to ever pass Congress. The bill will create a more efficient pathway for researchers seeking large quantities of marijuana and will require that the attorney general act withing 60 days to either approve an application or seek more information from the applicant. The bill will also allow researchers to grow their own marijuana.

Law Enforcement

Texas GOP Representative to File Bill to More Harshly Punish Cartels. Conservative Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) is set to file a bill that would significantly ramp up penalties for people involved with Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The "Declaring War on the Cartels Act" (not yet available on the congressional website) would make crimes related to drug trafficking, human smuggling, sex trafficking, violence, fraud, and immigration offenses committed by cartel members punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison. It would also bar cartel members and their families from admission to the US and allow for the revocation of naturalized citizenship and green cards for people convicted of such activity. It would also allow for the seizure of cartel funds, with those monies going into a special fund to increase enforcement against them. This is just the latest border bill Crenshaw has filed. He has also filed bills to allow for the longer detention of immigrant minors, ban asylum claims except at ports of entry, and to increase the number of ICE prosecutors.

 

International

Colombian Coca Grower Communities in Caqueta Declare Humanitarian Siege to Protest Forced Eradication. Coca growing communities in Caqueta state have mobilized to protest violent forced coca eradication and the national government’s failure five years after peace accords were signed to implement agreements for voluntary coca eradication and alternative development. More than 22,000 families signed up for that program, which is stalled. Peasants pointed to violent eradication campaigns in the Solano, Milán, La Montañita and El Pajuil areas in Caquetá. Peasant groups are calling for dialog to resolve issues that are pitting the peasantry against the military. The Colombian military claimed in August that forced eradication had ended, but the communities in Caqueta beg to differ.

 

Bavarian Health Minister Asks EU to Scuttle Germany’s Marijuana Legalization Plan. Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek met in Brussels with the European Union’s director-general for migration and home affairs last week in a bid to block the German federal government’s proposal to legalize marijuana. Holetschek is a member of the center-right Union bloc and strongly opposes Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s legalization blueprint. As part of that plan, the German proposal is being sent to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, to ensure it is compatible with EU and global drug laws. The German government says it will only move forward with legalization if the plan is approved by the EU. Holetschek warned that "the German government’s planned cannabis legalization doesn’t just endanger health, but I am convinced that it also violates European law."

Opiate Treatment Program (OTP) Barriers, Schumer Says Progress on SAFE Banking Act +, More... (11/1/22)

There's a drug crackdown going on in India's Punjab, Afghan drug prices are rising despite questions about whether the Taliban ban is actually happening, and more.

An Aghan opium poppy field. It is almost planting time again. Will the Taliban ban actually take place? Stay tuned. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

Schumer Says Senate Close to Passing Marijuana Banking, Expungements Bill After Talks with Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Sunday that Congress is "very close" to filing and then passing the SAFE Banking Act + bill, which includes provisions including banking protections for state-legal marijuana businesses and expungements of past marijuana convictions. Schumer cited progress he had made in talks with a "bunch of Republican senators."

Schumer had blocked earlier efforts to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which has passed the House seven times, but now appears ready to move on it as prospects for a broader legalization bill fade. "We are getting very close," Schumer said. "I am working in a bipartisan way with Democrats and Republicans to take the SAFE Banking Act, which allows financial institutions to involve themselves in cannabis companies and lend money to them -- but it also does some things for justice, such as expunging a record. So, expunging the records is important, and we're getting clos We may be able to get something done rather soon. I'm working with a bunch of Republican senators, a bunch of Democratic senators, to get something passed."

Drug Treatment

State Opioid Treatment Program Regulations Put Evidence-Based Care Out of Reach for Many. Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) are the only health care modalities that can offer methadone as well as buprenorphine and extended-release naltrexone to patients. They are the only facilities that can offer methadone, but federal and state rules not based on evidence are curtailing access to high-quality OTP care, the Pew Trust reports in new research.

Among barriers to OTP treatment, Pew found that 20 states require a new OTP to seek state approval baed on demonstrating a need for services before opening, seven states impose restrictive zoning rules on OTPS that don't apply to other health are facilities, 10 states don't allow clients to take medication home in the first 30 days of treatment, 48 states allow OTPs to throw patients out of the program for not being abstinent from opioids or other drugs, and 23 states specify a counseling schedule for patients rather than providing individualized care. Click on the link for methodology and a full data set.

International

Afghan Drug Prices Soared After Taliban Ban, Despite Little Evidence of Enforcement. Illegal drug prices have skyrocketed in Afghanistan since the Taliban banned the drug trade in April, even though there is only limited evidence that the militants are enforcing the ban. Opium prices have increased more than 50 percent, while methamphetamine prices have also risen, according to countrywide data gathered by the private, UK-based satellite imagery company Alcis. While analysts said the ban is not yet widely enforced, prices are rising based on fears of a future crackdown. A new opium poppy planting season is about to get underway, and it is unclear to what degree local Taliban commanders intend to or even can enforce a ban on poppy production. Satellite data, though, has shown a crackdown on ephedra (used to manufacture meth) markets and meth labs already underway.

But any crackdown would come in the face of a massive nationwide economic crisis that could drive people away from supporting the Taliban. "The things that people used to survive on in the face of a drugs ban -- in terms of joining the [army], working in the cities in construction -- those options are gone," David Mansfield, a researcher on the report and expert on Afghanistan's drugs trade, said. "Do local Taliban... press on this and risk increasing a humanitarian crisis, alienating a population, or do they let it ride because of the fear of resistance?"

India's Punjab Police in Massive Drug Crackdown. Police in the Punjab have arrested 6,997 drug smugglers since July and registered 5,436 FIRs (first information reports -- the initial report of a possible criminal offense), of which 580 are for possessing large quantities of drugs. The crackdown is part of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann's "war against the drug menace plaguing the state."

Between roadblocks and other searches, police have seized nearly 260 kilograms of heroin, as well as an additional 147.5 kilograms seized at the ports of Gujarat and Maharashtra. They also seized 300 kilograms of raw heroin, 197 kilograms of marijuana and nearly three million pills, capsules, and vials of pharmaceutical opioids. State police chief Gaurav Yadav has called on police to investigate all leads in every case no matter how small and to aggressively seize the assets of drug suspects.

The Public Stands Behind Oregon's Drug Decrim and Addiction Funding Law [FEATURE]

It has been nearly two years since Oregon voters approved Measure 110, a sweeping drug decriminalization and public health services funding initiative, and it still has strong public support. That could be because it is producing the kinds of results Oregonians want to see.

Measure 110 is bringing addiction recovery services not just to Portland, but to places like this, too. (Pixabay)
In voting for Measure 110, Oregonians sought to move the emphasis of drug policy from law enforcement to a public health approach, and that is what they are getting. Drug possession arrests, which had already dropped by half in 2020 because of the pandemic, significantly decreased after Measure 110 took effect on February 1, 2021, according to data from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, falling another 65 percent from the 2020 levels in the first six months of 2022.

And Measure 110, which tapped into marijuana tax revenues to fund a broad spectrum of addiction services -- from low-barrier drug treatment and peer support and recovery to overdose prevention and housing and employment support (but not drug treatment covered by Medicaid or insurance) -- is setting the stage for a massive expansion of those services by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the field.

Late last month, the Oversight & Accountability Council, the body tasked with overseeing the distribution of the funding, approved the remainder of the initial $302 million made available under Measure 110, and on Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority announced that it had finished awarding that money to more than 237 service providers in the form of grants.

With the state suffering more than a thousand overdose deaths in the past year, there is criticism that authorities have moved too slowly. Oregon Health Authority behavioral health director Steve Allen acknowledged as much, saying the agency had learned it needed to give more support and technical assistance to the volunteer committee tasked with grantmaking decisions.

"We understand the frustration this caused in our communities," Allen said. "When you do something for the first time you're going to make mistakes."

But now the money is out there, and it will help fund 237 service providers in 36 Behavioral Health Regional Networks (BHRNs), aimed at ensuring that help is available in even the most remote rural corners of the state. That includes 111 groups providing screening and behavioral health needs assessments, 112 groups doing individual intervention planning, 113 groups doing low-barrier drug treatment, 172 groups doing peer support and mentoring, 88 groups providing housing services, 84 groups providing harm reduction services, and 51 groups doing job support.

The money is going to allow these groups to expand their services by hiring and training new staff, securing additional facilities, buying vehicles for mobile support services, and even purchasing housing.

"Measure 110 changes the system so that there is no wrong door to access services," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Thanks to Measure 110, you don't have to get arrested before you are maybe offered help. Measure 110 is changing the addiction recovery service landscape so that regardless of the path, supportive services will be more readily available closer to home."

"It's been a long road, but we're ecstatic to see all of the Measure 110 funding for the 2021-2023 biennium finally being approved and going out to service providers to expand critical addiction services in Oregon communities. This is the first step in ensuring Oregon delivers on its promise of replacing a criminal legal approach to drugs with a public health approach and offering the rest of the country a glimpse of what is ultimately possible when we offer people support instead of punishment," said Kassandra Frederique, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which was a key supporter of Measure 110 and which is partnering with the Health Justice Recovery Alliance on implementation.

Even with the slow rollout, Oregonians are liking what they are seeing. A poll released this month by Data for Progress found majority support for Measure 110 in every region of the state -- even the conservative eastern an southwestern areas -- and a strong bipartisan majority who agree that problematic drug use should be treated as a public health issue, not one for the criminal justice system.

When asked whether Measure 110 should remain in place, 58 percent said yes. That included 82 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents, but only 31 percent of Republicans.

The polling suggests that tying drug decriminalization to the expansion of recovery services is key to getting it over the finish line. When asked about individual components of the program, 91 percent supported peer mentoring, 90 percent supported employment help, 86 percent supported funding addiction recovery, 84 percent supported housing assistance, but only 62 percent supported harm reduction measures and only 61 percent supported decriminalization itself.

It is almost as if Oregonians made a bargain with themselves: Give us strong measures to aid recovery and we will grudgingly accept such vanguard measures as harm reduction and decriminalizing drugs. These pollsresults should send a clear message to people contemplating future decrim initiatives about how to broaden support for them.

White House Issues Annual Drug Countries List, CA Governor Signs Forced Treatment Bill, More... (9/16/22)

A federal appeals court shoots down yet another effort to move marijuana off Schedule I, new research finds prentant Black women are more likely to be tested for marijuana, and more.

The annual list of naughty and nice drug producing and trafficking nations is released. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Challenge to Marijuana's Schedule I Classification. A group of defendants who had been convicted on federal marijuana charges had their bid to have the substance removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act shot down by the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals at the end of August. They had argued that the scheduling of marijuana had no rational basis because it does not meet the criteria for a Schedule I drug and the court should "strike the offending statutory classification as unconstitutional"and leave reclassification to Congress. But the appeals disagreed, ruling that there is a "conceivable basis" for the classification.

Blacks Disproportionately Drug Tested for Marijuana During Labor, Analysis Finds. A study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that patients ordered to undergo marijuana-specific drug screening during the labor and delivery process are disproportionately Black and are also likely to be on subsidized health insurance plans. The research assessed drug screening practices at one St. Louis hospital and found doctors ordered marijuana-related drug tests in 753 patients out of just under 4,000 deliveries. Seventy percent of those subjected to testing were Black. Marijuana tests were also more likely for those patients who were younger or on public insurance. Most subjected to testing came up negative, but of those who did positive, 90 percent were referred to child welfare authorities, even though there were no statistically significant differences between them and other mothers in terms of preterm birth rates or other indicators of natal health.

"Isolated marijuana use was a poor predictor of other substance exposure in our cohort, but a urine drug screening test result positive for marijuana exposed a historically underserved population that is already subject to pervasive systemic racism in the medical field to further stigmatization without changing outcomes. The utility of using isolated marijuana use as a criterion for urine drug screening appears limited in benefit but rife with inequitable potential to harm and should be carefully reconsidered in labor and delivery units for necessity," the authors concluded.

Drug Treatment

California Governor Signs Forced Drug Treatment Bill. To the dismay of drug reform and mental health advocates, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1338, the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Court Act, which create a civil court system in all counties that would force people who are experiencing substance use disorder and other mental health issues to undergo an involuntary court process and treatment plan. Although the CARE Act sailed through the legislature, the proposal was opposed by a wide range of advocates who feel it is a huge step in the wrong direction. It will take away people’s basic right to make their own decisions and force them into court-mandated treatment programs, which have been shown to often exacerbate harms while worsening existing health disparities and the overrepresentation of people of color in the criminal legal system. The CARE Act will fail to meet the urgent needs of our communities or offer a path to effective evidence-based treatment, recovery and other health services for Californians who are unhoused, struggling with substance use disorder, or experiencing other mental health issues, they argued.

Foreign Policy

White House Issues Annual List of Major Drug Trafficking and Producing Countries; Contains the Usual Suspects. The White House has released its annual Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2023 and has identified the following countries as major transit or drug producing countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. The annual exercise also designated four countries—Afghanistan, Bolivia, Burma, and Venezuela—as "having failed demonstrably to make substantial efforts during the previous 12 months to both adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements." Notably, all four of these countries are political foes of the US, unlike major drug producing and trafficking countries such as Colombia and Mexico, which are US allies.

Grassley, Whitehouse Lead Senate Caucus in Issuing Report onStrategies to Combat Money Laundering By Drug Cartels. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Co-Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RR), Chairman of the caucus, havereleased a bipartisan report entitled: Strengthening U.S. Efforts to Attack the Financial Networks of Cartels. The report offers recommendations for Congress and the Biden administration to reduce the supply of illicit drugs by closing loopholes in the U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) framework that enable narcotics traffickers to obscure and access their illicit proceeds.Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control members Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and James Risch (R-ID) have also endorsed the report.

Its recommendations include: Help partner nations strengthen their institutions to better defend against corruption and implement justice sector reforms; better track whole-of-government efforts to combat narcotics-related illicit finance;  deploy experts in narcotics-related illicit finance to assist partner nations; authorize innovative and effective programs to combat international money laundering, such as Trade Transparency Units; use regulatory authorities to close loopholes in the U.S. AML framework, including by: ensuring greater transparency in the cross-border transportation of stored value or prepaid access devices, and fully implementing the beneficial ownership requirements of the Corporate Transparency Act; aggressively investigate, prosecute, and pursue the maximum allowable criminal penalties for culpable banks, employees, and executives who fail to timely report suspicious transactions; and address vulnerabilities in the AML framework by swiftly enacting the Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Finance, and Counterfeiting Act. The report does not explain how these proposals to deepen the drug war would lead to any different result than decades of previous prohibitionist measures. 

California Governor Vetoes Bill Allowing Safe Injection Site Pilot Programs [FEATURE]

Despite past comments that he was "very open" to allowing safe injection sites to operate in the state, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday vetoed a bill that would do just that, Senate Bill 57. He cited "concerns" about its implementation.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) says he supports harm reduction but has "concerns." (gov.ca.gov)
Sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill would have allowed for safe injection pilot programs in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. In each of those jurisdictions, city councils or boards of supervisors had requested inclusion in the bill and were prepared to begin to implement the proven harm reduction intervention.

California embracing safe injection sites would have been a tremendous advance for harm reduction in the United States, where the first safe injection sites opened just months ago in New York City, and Rhode Island is the only other state to have okayed them. Such facilities have been operating for decades in Europe, Canada, and Australia and have a proven safety track record. At the 170 safe injection sites that have operated around the world, not a single overdose death has been reported. In New York City, in the first three months of operation, staff at these sites were able to halt over 150 overdoses.

The bill was supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, California Society of Addiction Medicine, National Harm Reduction Coalition, Healthright 360, Tarzana Treatment Center, and the California Association of Alcohol & Drug Program Executives.

Support for the bill was also heightened by significant increases in drug use and overdoses since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, with 711 deaths in total. In 2021, 640 people died of overdoses, and the city is on track to exceed that number this year. Statewide, approximately 10,000 people died of drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021.

In his veto message, Gov. Newsom maintained that he has "long supported the cutting edge of harm reduction strategies," but was "acutely concerned about the operations of safe injection sites without strong, engaged local leadership and well-documented, vetted, and thoughtful operational and sustainability plans."

He also left open the possibility that he could support similar legislation in the future, saying "We should strive to ensure our innovative efforts are well planned, even when they start as pilots, to help mitigate the potential for unintended impacts. Therefore, I am instructing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to convene city and county officials to discuss minimum standards and best practices for safe and sustainable overdose prevention programs. I remain open to this discussion when those local officials come back to the legislature with recommendations for a truly limited pilot program -- with comprehensive plans for siting, operations, community partnerships, and fiscal sustainability that demonstrate how these programs will be run safely and effectively."

Sen. Wiener and his allies, however, were not assuaged by Newsom's leaving the door open for future action.

"Today, California lost a huge opportunity to address one of our most deadly problems: the dramatic escalation in drug overdose deaths. By rejecting a proven and extensively studied strategy to save lives and get people into treatment, this veto sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to harm reduction," Wiener said in a statement Monday. "SB 57 is not a radical bill by any stretch of the imagination. It simply gives permission to cities -- each of which has requested that permission -- to pilot safe consumption sites and get people into treatment."

California risks being left in the lurch as other cities and states move to embrace the harm reduction intervention, he said.

"Other states and cities in the US are already moving forward with this proven health model. New York City, with the vocal support of Mayor Eric Adams, has successfully implemented safe consumption sites. Indeed, Mayor Adams is advocating to expand the sites to operate 24 hours a day, due to their success in reducing public drug use. Rhode Island passed a law authorizing safe consumption sites, and Massachusetts is moving in that direction. Philadelphia is on the verge of settling with the Biden administration to potentially allow it to open safe consumption sites consistent with federal law," Wiener said.

"Today's veto is tragic," Wiener continued. "For eight years, a broad coalition has worked to pass this life-saving legislation. Each year this legislation is delayed, more people die of drug overdoses -- two per day in San Francisco alone. While this veto is a major setback for the effort to save lives and connect people to treatment, we must not -- and will not -- let it end this movement. We'll continue to fight for an end to the War on Drugs and a focus on drug use and addiction as the health issues they are."

Wiener's allies in the coalition pushing for safe injection sites were equally appalled by Newsom's veto.

"We are incredibly disappointed and heartbroken that Gov. Newsom has put his own political ambitions ahead of saving thousands of lives and vetoed this critical legislation," said Jeannette Zanipatin, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which sponsored the bill. "Despite the governor's remarks, LA, San Francisco and Oakland have already designated this a priority by authorizing the programs locally and have been standing ready to implement them quickly. We have already engaged local stakeholders in a robust process and they have taken active steps towards implementation in order to be part of the pilot SB 57 would have put in place. We don't need additional processes. What we need is action. Without action, people are going to die," she said.

"While Newsom plays on the fears that an 'unlimited' number of Overdose Prevention Programs could have been opened, this would have been a limited pilot program that was only for five years and three jurisdictions, with an extremely thorough evaluation process. In 2021 alone, California lost over 10,000 residents to the overdose crisis, and we are continuing to see it disproportionately claim the lives of people of color throughout the state. Make no mistake, these deaths are 100 percent avoidable through common-sense, cost-effective measures, like SB 57, but because of his veto, people will continue to die alone and in the shadows."

"Harm reduction programs in three California cities were poised and ready to implement overdose prevention programs. Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco have done the groundwork, have local support, and this veto leaves entire communities of people who use drugs, the majority of them unhoused, without an essential lifesaving tool," said Laura Guzman, senior director of Capacity Building and Community Mobilization at the National Harm Reduction Coalition. "Newsom's veto of SB 57 comes at a time when we lose over 10,000 Californians every year to overdose and have skyrocketing racial disparities in deaths. This veto is completely unjustified."

"We are outraged that Governor Newsom has vetoed SB 57," said Tyler TerMeer, PhD, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "Given the number of fatal overdoses that continue to happen every day in San Francisco and across California, now is the time for us to take bold action in establishing lifesaving overdose prevention programs. We are sending an urgent message to our elected officials that preventing these programs from operating will cost lives."

The coalition formed to pass SB 57 isn't going anywhere, and this fight is far from over. Look for renewed efforts on both the legislative and consultative fronts to make California safe injection sites a reality.

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.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, Vaping, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safer Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School