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HI & NM Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, NJ Harm Reduction Bills, More... (3/10/21)

Marijuana legalization bills advance in Hawaii and New Mexico, a pot prisoners' group calls on President Biden to grant clemency to federal marijuana offenders, a California bill to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses advance, and more.

Marijuana legislation is popping up all over the place. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Last Prisoner Project Calls on Biden to Grant Clemency to Federal Marijuana Prisoners. The Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis-related criminal justice reform, has launched 'A Time To Heal,' an advocacy campaign calling on President Biden to leverage his clemency power to commute the sentences of thousands of people unjustifiably incarcerated due to federal marijuana-related violations. The advocacy organization is also encouraging the President to issue grants to the tens of thousands more still struggling because of the collateral consequences of a federal cannabis conviction. "President Biden himself has acknowledged that 'nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime'. We're encouraging him to turn his words into action and use the most immediate tool at his disposal to provide this desperately-needed relief," said project director of strategic initiatives Natalie Papillion.

Arkansas Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) on Monday filed SB499, which would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana an infraction punishable by a $200 fine. Possession is currently a Class A misdemeanor.

Hawaii Senate Approves Expanded Decriminalization, Marijuana Legalization Bills. The state Senate approved two separate marijuana policy reform bills on Tuesday. Senate Bill 767 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over, while Senate Bill 758 would expand the amount of marijuana that is currently decriminalized from three grams to 30 grams. Both measures passed by veto-proof margins. The bills now head for consideration by the House.

New Mexico Senate Committee Approves Two Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved a Senate bill to legalize marijuana, Senate Bill 288 on a unanimous vote and also approved a House bill to legalize marijuana, HB 12, on a 7-4 vote. Two other legalization bills were shelved by sponsors as the legislature seeks consensus on a final measure. The two remaining bills now head for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legislation must be approved there and on the Senate floor before the session ends on March 20.

New York Coalition Forms for Final Marijuana Legalization Push. Dozens of organized labor groups, progressive organizations, and businesses are set to launch on Wednesday a coalition to make a final push for the legalization of adult-use cannabis products in New York. All told, more than 40 groups are signing onto the coalition called New Yorkers for New Revenue & Jobs, highlighting what advocates contend is one of the main selling points of legalized marijuana in New York: the millions of dollars in revenue the measure would provide in the coming years for the state and local governments. The coalition includes the New York AFL-CIO, as well as the New York Cannabis Industry Association and the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Texas Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) filed a marijuana legalization bill, HB 3248, on Monday. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 2 ½ ounces and 10 ounces at home. It has not yet been assigned to a committee.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Cap THC Levels for Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. The House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee voted Tuesday to advance a bill that would cap THC levels in medical marijuana at 10% and 15% for edibles. The vote to advance HB 1455 came despite testimony from doctors and patients that the measure was an assault on medicine. It still needs to be approved by the House Health and Human Services Committee and the House Health Care Appropriations Committee before going to a House floor vote.

Psychedelics

New York Bill to Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms Filed. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D) filed a bill to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms on Monday. AO6065 is similar to legislation Rosenthal filed last year that went nowhere. It would remove psilocybin and psilocin from the state's list of controlled substances. It is now before the Assembly Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Coronavirus Relief Bill Includes Funding for Addiction Treatment, Harm Reduction. The American Rescue Plan Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed this week by Congress, includes nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said Wednesday. In addition to $1.5 billion for block grants for prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, the act includes $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

New Jersey Harm Reduction Bills Filed. Far-reaching harm reduction expansion legislation was introduced in the Senate Health Committee earlier today. The bill package, sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, would reduce overdose deaths, prevent infectious disease, and connect people who use drugs to non-judgmental support. It would do this by creating a statewide standing order for naloxone (brand name Narcan), the medicine that reverses an overdose (S3491); lifting the onerous municipal ordinance requirement that limits harm reduction services (S3009); decriminalizing syringes and expunging previous convictions (S3493); making HIV prophylaxis medication available at pharmacies without a prescription (S1039); and allowing harm reduction programs to offer mail-based services (S3065). Companion measures have been filed in the House.

Sentencing

California Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Advances. The Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to approve SB 73, which would repeal state laws enacted in the midst of the drug war that created mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses. It now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mexico Lower Chamber Takes Up Legal MJ Bill, WV Bill Extending Drug Sales Sentences Advances, More... (3/8/21)

Advocates for a Washington state bill that would decriminalize drug possession now emphasize treatment, the Russians warn against drug legalization efforts, Morocco moves toward legal medical marijuana, and more.

Mexico is on the verge of making the US the laggard when it comes to marijuana legalization in North America.
Drug Policy

Washington Decriminalization Bill Now Emphasizes Treatment. In the wake of a recent state Supreme Court ruling throwing out the state's felony drug possession law, proponents of a drug decriminalization bill, HB 1499, are now saying that decision is an opportunity to shift drug policy paradigms and are emphasizing the bill's drug treatment provisions. Bill cosponsor Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle) said behavioral health services and programs are not typically offered to people until after they have been arrested. "It is a disease, it is a disorder, and it is the only illness we treat with criminalization," Harris-Talley said. The bill has passed the House Public Safety Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee.

Sentencing

West Virginia Bill to Lengthen Supervision for Heroin, Fentanyl Sales Offenders Passes House. Delegate Brandon Steele's (R-Raleigh) HB 2257 passed the House last Friday. The bill would add up to 10 years of supervision for those convicted of methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl sales offenses. That would be in addition to any prison sentence. "The whole point of extended supervision is to watch someone who has a propensity to have a repeat crime of the same nature," said Steele before the vote. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

International

Mexico Chamber of Deputies Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Chamber of Deputies this week is finally taking up a marijuana legalization bill, but it has been significantly amended since passed by the Senate last year. The bill is getting a joint hearing Monday in the Health and Justice committees, with a vote expected Tuesday or Wednesday. The bill's main provisions -- legalizing up to an ounce for people 18 and older and allowing for the home cultivation of up to six plants -- remain unaltered, but deputies have amended the regulatory structure, rules for the commercial market and licensing policies, among other aspects.

Morocco Nears Final Vote on Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana. The Government Council is set to discuss a bill about "legal use of cannabis" for the third time on Thursday. If approved, the bill would allow the use of marijuana for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, as well as legalizing the production of hemp containing less than 0.2% THC, the current standard for the European Union.

Russia Warns More Effort Needed to Prevent Drug Legalization. Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev warned the 14th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice that the fight against drug legalization is faltering and more efforts are needed to maintain the prohibitionist status quo. "We insist on a comprehensive and balanced solution to the world drug problem on the basis of strict state compliance with obligations under the relevant UN conventions and the inadmissibility of drug legalization," Kolokoltsev said. Russia's anti-drug strategy officially considers drug legalization a national security threat.

Book Review: Drug Use for Grown-Ups

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, by Carl Hart (2021, Penguin Press, 290 pp., $28.00 HB)

Dr. Carl Hart is a one-man drug and drug user destigmatization machine. In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, the Columbia University psychology professor blasts drug prohibition as both an affront to the American dream of the pursuit of happiness and as a tool of racial oppression. And he makes a strong, informed argument that recreational drug use can be, and usually is, a good thing.

You could hardly find someone more qualified to make the case. Hart has spent years in the trenches of neuropsychopharmacology research, handed out drugs (or placebos) to thousands of research subjects, published numerous scientific papers and popular articles in the field, and risen to the top of his profession along the way. And here is his bottom line:

"[O]ver my more than 25-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning. Even 'recreational' drugs can and do improve day-to-day living... From my own experience -- the combination of my scientific work and my personal drug use, I have learned that recreational drugs can be used safely to enhance many vital human activities."

Hart is refreshingly -- and deliberately -- open about his own recreational drug use. Given the stigmatization and persecution of people identified as "drug users," he feels that justice demands privileged partakers come out of the closet and give voice to their own, non-destructive drug use histories as a necessary remedy for that demonization. He certainly does so himself, revealing a disciplined yet curious mind most definitely not averse to sampling various substances.

Those substances include heroin, which he describes as his current favorite drug, one that he's been using episodically for years now: "There aren't many things in life that I enjoy more than a few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day... Heroin allows me to suspend the perpetual preparation for battle that goes on in my head... The world is alright with me. I'm good. I'm refreshed. I'm prepared to face another day, another faculty meeting, another obligatory function. All parties benefit."

But Hart is not quite so mellow when it comes to people and institutions he sees as helping to perpetuate overly negative depictions of various drugs or the persecution of drug users. He rips into Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) over her "addiction is a brain disease" mantra and the rigid ideological control she has over research funding. He rips into journalists for uncritically and sensationally reporting salacious scientific findings about the evils of drugs that he argues are not supported by the evidence they are supposedly based on. He even calls Bernie Sanders "ignorant" (that word shows up more than a few times) for complaining that marijuana shouldn't be in the same drug schedule as "killer drugs like heroin."

Dr. Carl Hart (Columbia University)
Hart doesn't deny the potential dangers of drug use but makes the case that they are dramatically overstated. In that sense, Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a corrective to more than a century of anti-drug propaganda. In a deep dive into opioids, for instance, he notes that most opioid overdose deaths are actually opioid/benzodiazepines/alcohol deaths, and that a large number of them are due to ignorance (there's that word again) -- in that, in the black market that currently exists, drug users do not and cannot know what exactly is in that pill or powder they purchased.

As long as we are in a prohibition regime, the least we can do is widespread drug testing for quality control, as is done at some European music festivals, Hart argues. But that's the only kind of drug testing he's down with; he calls the urine drug testing industry "parasitic," a sobriquet he also applies to the drug treatment industry.

But hang on, he's not done yet. Although he is an advocate for harm reduction practices, he has a bone to pick with the term itself: It's too damned negative! Drug use doesn't typically involve harm, he argues, but pleasure-seeking. As I pondered this, I came up with "benefit enhancement" as an upbeat alternative to harm reduction, but Hart went with "health and happiness."

And he's got a bone to pick with "psychedelic exceptionalism," the notion, dear to folks like Decriminalize Nature, that psychedelics, or better yet, "plant entheogens," are somehow "better" than dirty old drugs like meth or heroin and thus deserve to be treated differently, more gently. He also snarks at the notion that taking drugs for spiritual or religious purposes is of a higher order than taking them for fun and rebels at the notion of having a shaman or guide during a tripping session: "Some people find this comforting. I find it creepy and have never done so myself."

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is bracing, informative, and provocative contribution to the literature. Even the most ardent drug reformers and defenders would benefit from reading it and reexamining their own assumptions. Maybe Carl Hart is onto something.

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

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

Pills, pills, pills. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

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

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

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

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

Psychedelics

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

Drug Policy

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

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

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

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Asset Forfeiture

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

Drug Testing

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

Drug Treatment

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

Foreign Policy

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

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

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

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

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

Medical Marijuana

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Treatment

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

International

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

Feds Loosen Up Buprenorphine Prescribing, VA Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (1/15/21)

State legislatures are beginning to turn their sights to marijuana legalization, the Trump administration loosens restrictions on prescribing buprenorphine for opioid use disorder, and more.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is supporting marijuana legalization. (virginia.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Indiana State Senator Proposes Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Senator Karen Tallian (D-District 4) has filed Senate Bill 223 to legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. She also filed Senate Bill 87, which would create a commission to regulate legal forms of cannabis, such as hemp and CBD.

New Mexico Governor Says Marijuana Legalization a Top Priority. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced Wednesday that marijuana legalization will be one of her top legislative priorities this year. In an outline of her proposal, she called for legalization "through legislation that protects the state's medical cannabis program, provides for workplace safety and roadway protections and enforcement and clear labeling of products." She said the same thing last year, but the legalization bill she supported was killed by a Senate committee.

Virginia Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A marijuana legalization bill supported by Governor Ralph Northam (D) was filed Wednesday. Filed by state Senators Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the bill would allow for licensed marijuana sales starting January 1, 2023. The bill would also allow for the personal possession of up to an ounce and envisions a 21% state tax rate, with localities being able to add another 3%.

Drug Policy

Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed in New York. Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) has filed S1284, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance and instead levy fines of $50. Similar measures are being considered by lawmakers in California, Virginia, and Washington, but have not yet been filed.

Drug Treatment

Trump Administration Will Let Most Doctors Prescribe Buprenorphine. Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir announced Thursday that the administration has shifted its addiction medicine policy to give more doctors more flexibility to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder. He cited rising drug overdoses and the coronavirus crisis. "Many people will say this has gone too far, but I believe more people will say this has not gone far enough," Giroir said. "This is a measured, logical, appropriate, evidence-based, and patient-centered intervention that may save tens of thousands of lives." Under the new policy, any doctor with a DEA prescriber license can treat up to 30 patients with buprenorphine, and doctors who have undergone training and receive a waiver can treat up to 275 patients.

International

France to Ask Public Opinion on Legalizing Marijuana. Parliament launched an online questionnaire on marijuana policy Thursday. The idea is to assess public sentiment on the issue before possible legislative actions. "The goal is to inform debate as much as possible. The success of the survey will depend on the largest number of people possible participating," said MP Robin Reda.

Marijuana Policy

Indiana State Senator Proposes Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Senator Karen Tallian (D-District 4) has filed Senate Bill 223 to legalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana. She also filed Senate Bill 87, which would create a commission to regulate legal forms of cannabis, such as hemp and CBD.

New Mexico Governor Says Marijuana Legalization a Top Priority. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced Wednesday that marijuana legalization will be one of her top legislative priorities this year. In an outline of her proposal, she called for legalization "through legislation that protects the state's medical cannabis program, provides for workplace safety and roadway protections and enforcement and clear labeling of products." She said the same thing last year, but the legalization bill she supported was killed by a Senate committee.

Virginia Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. A marijuana legalization bill supported by Governor Ralph Northam (D) was filed Wednesday. Filed by state Senators Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), the bill would allow for licensed marijuana sales starting January 1, 2023. The bill would also allow for the personal possession of up to an ounce and envisions a 21% state tax rate, with localities being able to add another 3%.

Drug Policy

Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed in New York. Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D) has filed S1284, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance and instead levy fines of $50. Similar measures are being considered by lawmakers in California, Virginia, and Washington, but have not yet been filed.

Drug Treatment

Trump Administration Will Let Most Doctors Prescribe Buprenorphine. Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir announced Thursday that the administration has shifted its addiction medicine policy to give more doctors more flexibility to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder. He cited rising drug overdoses and the coronavirus crisis. "Many people will say this has gone too far, but I believe more people will say this has not gone far enough," Giroir said. This is a measured, logical, appropriate, evidence-based, and patient-centered intervention that may save tens of thousands of lives." Under the new policy, any doctor with a DEA prescriber license can treat up to 30 patients with buprenorphine, and doctors who have undergone training and receive a waiver can treat up to 275 patients.

International

France to Ask Public Opinion on Legalizing Marijuana. Parliament launched an online questionnaire on marijuana policy Thursday. The idea is to assess public sentiment on the issue before possible legislative actions. "The goal is to inform debate as much as possible. The success of the survey will depend on the largest number of people possible participating," said MP Robin Reda.

CA "Contingency Management" Meth Treatment Bill Filed, NJ Marijuana Mess, More... (1/11/21)

Voter-approved marijuana legalization initiatives are running into problems with elected officials, federal prosecutors say the Honduran president was taking big bribes from drug traffickers, and more.

Can you pay people not to take meth? (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legislature Refuses to Fund Implementation of Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. The state's Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to refuse to allocate funds to the Department of Revenue to implement the voter-approved marijuana legalization plan. The department had sought $1.35 million to hire 20 staffers and cover administrative costs of getting the program up and running. Now, that means implementation of a legal marijuana market could be delayed.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Legislation Hits Snag. Bills to decriminalize marijuana and set up a taxed and regulated legal marijuana industry are in limbo after the governor and legislative leaders failed to reach agreement on how to punish underage pot smokers. A floor vote set for today has been postponed indefinitely until Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and Democratic leaders can reach some sort of agreement.

South Dakota Governor Uses Executive Order to Challenge Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) issued an executive order last Friday okaying a legal challenge to the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. She argued that the initiative "was not proper and violated the procedures set forth in the South Dakota Constitution." Her order also said Highway Patrol Superintendent Col Rick Miller, who earlier sued to block the initiative from being implemented, could do so because he is acting on her behalf.  At the same time, Noem's attorney general, Jason Ravnsborg, is defending the initiative in court.  

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Pre-Filed. Once again, state Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort County) has filed a medical marijuana bill, S 150, the Compassionate Care Act. Davis has filed similar bills for nearly a decade. This year could be the charm, he predicted. "The bill has been thoroughly vetted," said Davis. "It’s been looked at by the SC Medical Association. It has been looked at by law enforcement. We have a very good tightly regulated medical cannabis bill, and what it seeks to do is empower physicians."

Drug Treatment

California Lawmakers Seek to Expand Contingency Management Treatment for Meth. Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed legislation, Senate Bill 110 that seeks to expand contingency management as a treatment for methamphetamine addiction. Contingency management is controversial becomes it uses cash payments as incentives for users to stay off the drug, but it has been shown to be a proven treatment for meth and cocaine addiction. "We need to embrace this proven, effective approach to meth addiction, make it clearly legal and start reimbursing for it, so we can address this health epidemic," he said.

International

Amsterdam Mayor Wants to Ban Foreigners from Cannabis Coffee Shops. Mayor Femke Halsema has proposed allowing only Dutch residents to enter the city's famous cannabis coffee shops in what she said was an effort to blunt the flow of hard drugs and organized crime linked to the marijuana business. "The cannabis market is too big and overheated," Halsema said in emailed comments. "I want to shrink the cannabis market and make it manageable. The residence condition is far-reaching, but I see no alternative." She submitted her plan to the city council last Friday, setting the stage for an energetic political debate.

Honduran President Accused of Helping Drug Traffickers in US Court Filings. Federal prosecutors in New York City last week laid out evidence implicating Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez in drug trafficking. They accused him of using Honduran armed forces to protect large cocaine shipments in return for bribes. Prosecutors quoted Hernandez as saying he wanted the DEA to think Honduras was fighting drugs while he was instead going to "shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos." Honduras has received hundreds of millions of dollars in US anti-drug aid.

 

 



Year from Hell II: The Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

As we wave an eager goodbye to 2020 in the rearview mirror, it's time to assess the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to drug policy and drug reform at the international level. As in other realms of human behavior, the coronavirus pandemic is inescapable, but even as the pandemic raged, drug policy developments kept happening. Here are the biggest world drug policy stories of 2020:

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the World of Drugs

As with virtually every other aspect of human affairs, the year's deadly coronavirus pandemic impacted the world of drugs, from disruptions of drug markets and anti-drug policing to drug trafficking groups as social distancing enforcers, fallout on efforts to reform drug policies, and beyond.

Early on, there were reports that Mexican drug traffickers were raising wholesale meth and fentanyl prices because of disruptions in the precursor chemical supply, and that pandemic lockdowns had disrupted the cocaine supply chain, driving down the farmgate price for coca and endangering the livelihoods of nearly a quarter-million coca-producing families in the Andes.

But some things couldn't be disrupted: Just a day after closing its famous cannabis cafes in response to the pandemic, the Dutch reopened them as the government was confronted with long lines of people queuing up to score after the ban was initially announced. In France, the price of hashish nearly doubled in a week as increased border controls due to the pandemic put the squeeze on. By midyear, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported pandemic-related border closures, lockdowns, and flight shortages were making drugs more expensive and difficult to obtain around the world.

Those same drug organizations struggling with the pandemic took on roles normally assumed by government in some countries. In Mexico, the Gulf Cartel and Los Viagras handed out food to poor families in Tamaulipas and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel did the same in Guadalajara, spurring President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to acknowledge their efforts and implore them to knock it off and just stay home. Instead, the Sinaloa Cartel locked down the city of Culiacan, its home base, and patrolled the streets in heavily armed convoys to enforce a curfew. In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro drug gangs enforced social distancing and handed out cash and medications as the government of rightist authoritarian populist President Jair Bolsonaro was largely absent and in denial about coronavirus. In Colombia, with the government missing in action, drug gangs and armed groups enforced lockdown orders, even killing people who didn't comply, according to Human Rights Watch.

Some countries took positive steps to ameliorate these effects of the pandemic. In Great Britain, the government agreed to hand out methadone without a prescription to those already receiving it and shortly later began allowing monthly buprenorphine injections for heroin addicts. In Canada, British Columbia early on moved to increase a "safe supply" of drugs that registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses to prescribe, make more medications available, and expand eligibility to people who are at risk of overdose, including those who may not necessarily be diagnosed with a substance use disorder. The province followed that move by lowering barriers to prescription medications, increasing the supply of opiate maintenance drugs and even dispensing some of them via a unique vending machine. By providing a safe supply of legal drug alternatives, the province hoped to lower a sudden spike in drug overdose deaths that coincided with the coronavirus outbreak in Vancouver.

Not everybody let a measly little coronavirus get in the way of their drug war. In Colombia, President Ivan Duque ordered a nationwide lockdown in March, but exempted coca eradicators and launched a major offensive against small producer coca farms. And Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte let his drug war rage on in the midst of the pandemic despite imposing a national partial lockdown in March. At least nine people were killed by unknown gunmen in Cebu Province alone. "Reports of drug-related killings continuing amid the lockdown order are deeply concerning, but not surprising," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard of Amnesty International. "The climate of impunity in the Philippines is so entrenched that police and others remain free to kill without consequence." In September Human Rights Watch noted the pace of acknowledged drug war killings by police had doubled. Duterte has also threatened to have the police and military shoot people who violate quarantine.

The coronavirus also wreaked havoc with drug reform initiative signature gathering campaigns in the US, preventing several marijuana legalization and one drug decriminalization initiative from qualifying for the ballot this year, and played a role in delaying marijuana legalization in Mexico when its Senate shut down in the spring because of the pandemic.

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Votes to Remove Cannabis from Most Restrictive Drug Schedule

In an historic move on December 2, the 53 member states of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN body charged with setting drug policy, voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the United Nations' drug classification system as they met in Vienna. Cannabis was both a Schedule I and a Schedule IV drug under the international drug treaties. Schedule I includes "substances that are highly addictive and liable to abuse or easily convertible into those (e.g. opium, heroin, cocaine, coca leaf"), while Schedule IV includes Schedule I drugs with "particularly dangerous properties and little or no therapeutic value" (e.g. heroin, carfentanil).

The vote removing cannabis from Schedule IV means the global anti-drug bureaucracy now recognizes the therapeutic value of cannabis and no longer considers it "particularly liable to abuse and to produce ill effects." With medical marijuana legal in dozens of countries in; one form or another, the ever-increasing mountain of evidence supporting the therapeutic uses of cannabis, not to mention outright legalization in 15 American states Canada and Uruguay, with Mexico about to come on board, this decision by the CND is long past due, but nonetheless welcome.

The UN Common Position on Drug Policy Gains Traction

Change at the United Nations comes at a glacial pace, but it can and does come. The shift away from punitive, law enforcement-heavy approaches to drug use has been building for years and picked up steam at the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs in 2016 and advanced further with the adoption of the UN Common Position on Drug Policy in 2018.

That approach, which seeks to get all the UN agencies involved in drug policy, public health, and human rights on the same page, explicitly calls for the decriminalization of drug use and possession for personal use. Among the position's directions for action is the following: "To promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, and to promote the principle of proportionality, to address prison overcrowding and overincarceration by people accused of drug crimes, to support implementation of effective criminal justice responses that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards pertaining to criminal justice proceedings and ensure timely access to legal aid and the right to a fair trial, and to support practical measures to prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and torture."

At least 30 countries have instituted some form of drug decriminalization (although in many it is only marijuana that has been decriminalized), and the Common Position is providing breathing space for others that may be inclined to take the plunge. In 2020, the US state of Oregon broke ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the use and possession of all drugs, and just a few hundred miles to the north and across the Canadian border, the city council of Vancouver, British Columbia, voted to decriminalize and seek an exemption from the federal government to do so.

Decriminalization could also be around the corner in Norway, where a proposal first bruited in 2017 could pass some time next year. And Ghana (see below) has also effectively decriminalized drug use and possession. With a more consistent message from the UN, which the Common Position represents, we can expect further progress on this front in years to come.

The Philippine Drug War Faces Increasing Pressure

Four years into the government of Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines remains embroiled in a bloody war on drug users and sellers, but is facing increasing pressure from human rights groups, domestic critics, and international institutions over mass killings that are believed to now total more than 30,000. In a June report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said that tens of thousands of people had been killed in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drug users and sellers amid "near impunity" for police and the incitement of violence by top officials. The report said that rhetoric may have been interpreted as "permission to kill."

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for independent investigations into the killings and said her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or international efforts to establish accountability. Two months later, during the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet called for an end to the policies and rhetoric that led to abuse and killings. She acknowledged some small steps taken by the Duterte government but warned "there is clearly an urgent need to revoke the policies that continue to result in killings and other human rights violations, to bring to justice the perpetrators, and to halt the use of rhetoric inciting violence against people who use or sell drugs."

In October, Duterte said he accepted responsibility for drug war killings, but only those acknowledged by police, not the thousands committed by shadowy vigilantes. That same month, global civil society groups including StoptheDrugWar.org (the publisher of this newsletter) and Movement for a Free Philippines launched the Stand for Human Rights and Democracy campaign to keep the pressure on. The campaign launch included an "Autocrat Fair" demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC; and an accompanying video, "Trump and Duterte -- Allies in Violence." An event organized by StoptheDrugWar.org on December 22 discussed the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The pressure on the Duterte government only heightened at year's end, when the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor issued a report saying there was "reasonable basis to believe" Filipino forces committed crimes against humanity in Duterte's drug war. That leaves one stage left in the Office's "preliminary examination," admissibility. For the ICC to have jurisdiction, prosecutors must show that the Philippine justice system lacks a legitimate or capable response to the killings. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has promised a decision will be by mid-2021, when her term ends, over whether to seek authorization from the court to open a formal investigation. She has also pointedly warned that the court's resources fall badly short of what's needed to carry out their mission, which affects how cases are prioritized, and may affect whether the new prosecutor initiates cases.

Even as Drug War Violence Continues Unabated, Mexico is About to Become the World's Largest Legal Marijuana Market

There is no end in sight to Mexico's bloody drug wars. The year began with the announcement that 2019 was the most murderous year in recent history, with some 35,588 recorded homicide victims. As the year ends, 2020 appears on track to equal or surpass that toll, with the country registering about 3,000 murders a month.

As mass killing after mass killing took place throughout the year, the number of dead wasn't the only thing rising either. In January, the government announced that the number of "disappeared" people in the country was around 61,000, up from an estimated 40,000 in mid-2019. By July, the number of those officially missing had risen to 73,201 as prohibition-related violence ripped through the country.

While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came into office in 2018 critical of the role of the military in the drug war, and with a plan to reduce crime and violence by focusing on their root causes, in May he renewed orders keeping the military on the streets for another four years. "His security strategy is not working and that is why he has had to order with this decree for the Armed Forces to support public security," security specialist Juan Ibarrola told the Milenio newspaper at the time.

The following month, Lopez Obrador signaled that perhaps it wasn't security strategy that wasn't working, but drug prohibition. He released a plan to decriminalize drugs, and urged the US to do the same. Mexico's current "prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable," the plan said.

As the drug war chugged along, US-Mexico relations took a hit in October, when DEA agents arrested Mexico's former defense minister in Los Angeles on drug and money laundering charges. Loud protests from Mexico eventually resulted in his release, but in December, Mexican lawmakers chafing at US heavy-handedness voted to restrict the activities of foreign agents in the country.

Even as the drug wars rage, there is significant progress on another drug policy track. As the year comes to an end, Mexico is one vote in the Chamber of Deputies away from legalizing marijuana. The government-supported legalization bill, crafted in response to a ruling from the country's Supreme Court that said marijuana prohibition must end, passed the Senate in November after delays caused by political infighting and shutdowns due to the coronavirus.

Under an order from the Supreme Court, the Congress had until December 15 to act, but the Chamber of Deputies delayed the vote, saying it needed more time to study the bill, and the Supreme Court agreed to grant one more extension, giving the Chamber of Deputies until the end of the next legislative session in April to get the job done. President Lopez Obrador downplayed the delay, calling it a matter of "form not substance." And Mexico is waiting to inhale.

Bolivia display at the 2008 Commission on Narcotic Drugs
Bolivia Returns the Coca-Friendly Movement to Socialism to Power

Long-time Bolivian leader Evo Morales, a former coca growers union leader who won the presidency in 2005 and was reelected twice, was forced from office and fled the country after extended protests in the wake of disputed elections in November 2019. The self-appointed interim right-wing government worked to suppress Morales' Movement to Socialism and harassed harassed coca producers in the name of the war on drugs.

The coca growers stood firm, however mobilizing to blockade roads to protest delays in promised elections. When those elections finally came in October, voters returned the MAS to power, electing Morales' former economics minister, Luis Arce, without the need for a runoff election.

Arce said that while he has no problem with the United States, he will maintain Morales' coca policy, under which legal coca cultivation was allowed, and that he wants to expand the country's industrial coca production.

Colombia, Coca, Cocaine, and Conflict

Four years after the truce between the Colombian government and the leftist rebels of the FARC was supposed to bring peace to the country, peace remains elusive as the rightist government of President Ivan Duque continues to wage war against other leftist rebels, drug traffickers, and coca-growing peasants.

Under pressure from the US, the Duque government began the year by moving to resume the aerial spraying of coca fields. This plan was rejected by state governors, who said they supported alternative development and voluntary crop substitution and wanted President Duque to actually implement the 2016 peace accords.

Instead, the government attempted to pull out of a crop substitution monitoring program with the UN, preventing a pending evaluation of the effectiveness of planned forced coca eradication, although it later backtracked. That prompted coca farmers to call "bullshit" on Duque's duplicity, not only around crop substitution and eradication, but on the government's efforts to downplay a campaign of assassination against coca substitution leaders.

Indeed, human rights remained a major concern throughout the year, as a UN peace mission condemned a spike in massacres in August, and a month later, the International Crisis Group demanded the government stop the killing of activists. The group said the government must prioritize communities' safety over military operations against armed groups and coca eradication efforts. Human rights were no concern for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, who promised Colombia more anti-drug aid the following month.

On another track, efforts to reform the country's drug laws continue. Bills to legalize marijuana were defeated late in the year, as right-wing factions aligned with Duque killed them. A bill to legalize cocaine was introduced in December, with cosponsor Senator Ivan Marulanda saying the bill would allow a legal cocaine supply for Colombian cocaine users -- use and possession is legal in Colombia -- and that the government could buy up the entire coca crop.

The year ended as it began, with the government still talking about plans to restart aerial fumigation even it claimed it would meet its coca eradication goal. Meanwhile, coca and cocaine production remain at world-leading levels.

Progress in Africa

Attitudes towards drugs and drug users are changing in Africa, and 2020 saw significant advances. It was in July 2019 that health, drug control and population ministers from member states of the African Union met in Cairo to forge a continental action plan for adopting more balanced policies toward drug use.

At that meeting, the Union's Department for Social Affairs called on member states to adopt master plans for drug policy by 2023. Such plans create a national framework for deciding which agencies should deal with illicit drug use in a way that deals with both drug supplies and demand reduction and ensure that not just law enforcement but also treatment and rehabilitation issues are addressed.

Zimbabwe had begun work on its own master plan years earlier -- back in 1999 -- but that effort had stalled until 2016 when, thanks to a civil society group, the Zimbabwean Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), the effort was reignited. The country hasn't passed a reformist master plan yet, but thanks to years of organizing and alliance-building, reform is coming.

In July, ZCLDN and regional ally groups worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to draft treatment and rehabilitation guidelines that formally incorporated harm reduction practices, a big step forward. In September, the group brought together civil society groups and the government's inter-ministerial committee charged with creating the master plan, helping to lay the groundwork for the plan to be adopted early in 2021. But first, it has to be approved by the cabinet, the attorney general's office, and then parliament. The work was not finished in 2020, but it is well underway.

Meanwhile in West Africa, Ghana actually passed a major drug reform law, the Narcotics Control Commission bill, in March. It only took five years from the time the bill was first introduced. Drafted with the intent of treating drug use as a public health issue, the law effectively decriminalizes drug possession, replacing prison terms of up to ten years with fines of roughly US $250 to $1,000. The new law also clears the way for the implementation of harm reduction services, which had previously been outlawed. And it allows for the production of low-THC cannabis products, such as industrial hemp and CBD.

The colonial legacy weighs heavy on Africa, but when it comes to drug policy, African nations are beginning to forge their own, more humane paths.

Thanks to a Plant, Afghanistan Becomes a Meth Producer

For years now, Afghanistan has been the world's number one supplier of opium poppies and the heroin derived from it, accounting for about 90% of global production. Now the war-torn country is diversifying, becoming a big-time player in the methamphetamine trade thanks to a plant common in the country and low-tech techniques for using it to make meth.

That plant is ephedra, from which meth's key ingredient -- ephedrine -- is created, and in a November report, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned that while its findings were provisional, "the data reported here on the potential scale of ephedrine and methamphetamine production emanating from this remote corner of Afghanistan, the income it generates and the speed at which it has emerged are both surprising and worrying." The report cited seizures of Afghan meth in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia, and tax revenues in the millions for the Taliban.

New Zealand Narrowly Rejects Marijuana Legalization

New Zealand had a chance to become the next country to legalize marijuana but rejected it. Early on, polling suggested that a referendum to legalize marijuana faced an uphill battle, and as early election results came in in October, the polls proved accurate, with the referendum faltering with only 46% of the vote. In the final tally, the margin narrowed, but the referendum still lost narrowly, garnering 48% of votes.

Kiwis were not ready to become the second commonwealth country to legalize marijuana, after Canada, On the other hand, voters approved a referendum to allow voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill by a margin of two-to-one.

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