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House HEROES Act COVID Relief Bill Calls for Prisoner Releases, Marijuana Banking [FEATURE]

When, in mid-May, House Democrats rolled out the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, the latest congressional response to the coronavirus pandemic, they also included a handful of criminal justice and drug policy reforms in the broad-ranging, 90-page, $3 trillion bill. Most of those reforms are aimed at shrinking the prison population in this time of public health crisis, but also on the list is language that would finally allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and other financial services.

The bill passed the House on Friday, but faces clouded prospects in the Senate.

The spread of the coronavirus within the federal prison system is a real concern. The story of the first female federal prisoner to die of the coronavirus, South Dakota Native American Andrea Circle Bear, brought media attention to the plight of federal prisoners. Sent into the federal system on a two-year drug charge in March, the pregnant Circle Bear came down with coronavirus symptoms within a week, gave birth to a premature baby via c-section while on a ventilator, then died three days later on April 4.

But by then, 31 other federal prisoners had died of the disease. And as of May 14, the federal prisoner death toll had risen to 51, with more than 3,600 inmates infected across the system.

Facing the carceral coronavirus crisis, the Justice Roundtable, a broad-based coalition of more than 100 organizations working to reform federal criminal justice laws and policies, released a set of recommendations for supporting prisoner releases as a public safety response to the pandemic. Those included spending $12 billion on supporting access to housing for released prisoners and another $1 billion incentivizing states and localities to release prisoners and support critical reentry services, as well as ending federal bans on various forms of assistance for people with criminal records, making Medicaid available before prisoners hit the streets, ensuring that people impacted by the criminal justice system get access to federal relief funds, and spending another $650 million to expand federal workforce and educational programs for former prisoners.

The HEROES Act does not do all that, but in Title II it does provide $250 million for reentry programs and another half-billion for efforts to reduce the spread of the virus among arrestees and prisoners at all levels. There is also another $200 million for the Bureau of Prisons to response to the crisis, with funding for medical testing and services and necessary protective supplies.

And there is more. Incorporating various already existing pieces of legislation, Title XI of the act (Prisons and Jails) is the Emergency Community Supervision Act, which during a declared emergency related to communicable diseases "mandates the release into community supervision of federal prisoners and pretrial detainees who are non-violent and, for instance, pregnant women, older prisoners and detainees, and those with certain medical conditions."

Title XI also modifies probation and supervised release policies to reduce unnecessary in-person contact with probation officers, mandates pretrial release of non-violent defendants without cash bail, and gives federal courts more authority to reduce sentences and order compassionate release for prisoners, with a special provision for elderly prisoners.

On another important drug policy front, the HEROES Act incorporates wholesale the SAFE Banking Act, which provides much needed access to the banking and financial services sector for the state-legal marijuana industry. Republicans are already sniping at that, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell complaining about a provision that would fund studies about diversity and inclusion in the industry.

"There's a lot in this bill," said Kara Gotsch, who heads up federal advocacy for the Sentencing Project, a Washington, DC-based criminal justice reform group and member . "What's critical is to address the inability to do social distancing within correctional facilities," she said.

"We've had a huge spread of the virus in prisons -- not just federal, but state and local, too. Letting those people out into home confinement is critical not just to their health, but also for the health of the people who might stay behind. It creates space, an opportunity to follow the guidelines," Gotsch continued.

The HEROES Act is the work of House Democrats, and while it passed the House, that's only half the battle. In what is certain to be a titanic political struggle, Senate Republicans are pondering their own version of yet another massive coronavirus relief package. In such a huge -- and hugely important -- struggle, the fate of some federal prisoners and legal marijuana entrepreneurs may not loom large, but it hangs in the balance.

"It's clear that McConnell doesn't have the same sense of urgency to move another stimulus package, but I think the pressure is going to increase on the Senate to take some action," said Gotsch. "This pandemic and its consequences are not going away, and the consequences are severe -- more and more people are likely to be infected and lose their lives."

And that means Gotsch and the other criminal justice reform advocates will be hard at work in the coming weeks to see that as many of the House-passed reform measures make it into the final bill as possible.

"I'm hopeful we could see the Senate moving in June, and as far as our priorities are concerned, I'm hopeful we'll can get some of those provisions in the final package," said Gotsch. "We'll be taking the next few weeks to talk to and educate Senate offices. Federal judges are growing increasingly frustrated with the Justice Department's obstruction on compassionate release and its stinginess on home confinement, which is having a disastrous effect. Our goal is to get the word out to Senate staff to make them aware of how dire the situation really is."

She pointed to the sad story of Andrea Circle Bear.

"I think that galvanized a lot of people," said Gotsch. "She puts a human face on the concerns we've been trying to articulate about the tragic circumstances the prisons are facing. With more education and as these tragic stories come to light, I think we'll be able to get some change."

Traffic Searches Decline with Marijuana Legalization, But Racial Disparities Persist, More... (5/8/20)

A new study reports that driving while black is still a thing even in legal marijuana states, Joe Biden touts some coercive, but non-carceral approaches to drug offenders, and more.

Driving while black is still a thing even in legal marijuana states. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Study: Police Make Fewer Traffic Stops Following Marijuana Legalization, But People of Color Still Disproportionately Targeted. A study reported in the journal Nature: Human Behavior finds police are less likely to search vehicles for contraband where marijuana has been legalized. Focusing on Colorado and Washington, the study found that "after the legalization of marijuana, the number of searches fell substantially" in those two states compared to 12 states that had not enacted legalization. But the study also found that racial disparities persisted even in the legal states: "We found that white drivers faced consistently higher search thresholds than minority drivers, both before and after marijuana legalization," the study reported. "The data thus suggest that, although overall search rates dropped in Washington and Colorado, black and Hispanic drivers still faced discrimination in search decisions."

Maryland Governor Vetoes Bill Shielding Marijuana-Related Convictions from Public View. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has vetoed House Bill 83, which would block old marijuana possession cases from showing up in state case search records, shielding an estimated 200,000 marijuana possession convictions from public view. In his veto statement, Hogan admitted vetoing the measure (and several other criminal justice reform bills) out of political spite, because the House had failed to pass a bill he wanted, the Violent Firearms Offender Act. "While the Senate approved the package by a wide margin, the House failed to act upon it [the Violent Firearms Offenders Act of 2020]," Gov. Hogan wrote. "Therefore... I have vetoed... House Bill 83."

Drug Policy

Joe Biden's Drug Policy Will Emphasize Drug Courts, Drug Treatment Over Incarceration. In his "Plan for Black America" released this week, presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden identified the criminal justice system and drug law enforcement as disproportionately targeting black Americans. When it comes to enforcing drug laws for drugs other than marijuana -- which he says he wants to decriminalize -- he is calling for people not to be imprisoned for drug possession but instead diverting "individuals to drug courts and treatment." Both drug courts and court-ordered drug treatment have been criticized as overly punitive and coercive.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

MA Judge Upholds Recreational Pot Shop Ban; Mexican Cartels Hand Out Food, Supplies Amidst Crisis, More... (4/17/20)

Sorry, Massachusetts, no legal pot sales for you for now; Mexican drug cartels and El Chapo's daughter are currying favor by handing out food and supplies amidst the pandemic, and more. 

"El Chapo"-branded face masks being distributed in Mexico by a company owned by his daughter. (Facebook)
Massachusetts Judge Upholds State Ban on Recreational Pot Shops. A Suffolk County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that Gov. Charlie Baker (R) acted within the law when he shut down recreational marijuana businesses as part of a broader stay-at-home order issued to address the coronavirus pandemic. Pot businesses filed suit to overturn the ban, which they argued was arbitrary since Baker's order allowed medical marijuana and liquor outlets to remain open, but Suffolk Superior Court Judge Kenneth Salinger agreed with Baker's argument that the shops would attract out of state visitors: "It was reasonable for the governor to be concerned that the relatively few adult-use marijuana establishments in Massachusetts are more likely than liquor stores or [medical marijuana treatment centers] to attract high volumes of customers, including people traveling from other states," Salinger wrote. "The governor’s decision to treat medical marijuana facilities and liquor stores differently than adult-use marijuana establishments has a rational basis and therefore is constitutional."

International

British Columbia Rolls Out Safe Drugs for Street Users. Last month, the Canadian government urged provinces to lower barrier to prescription medications as part of the effort to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic, and now British Columbia is becoming the first province to apply those guidelines to people using street drugs. Healthcare providers are 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 hopes to lower a sudden spike in drug overdose deaths that coincided with the coronavirus outbreak in Vancouver.

Mexican Drug Cartels Hand Out More Coronavirus Aid. One of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's daughters and several Mexican drug trafficking organizations have been handing out aid packages to help poor residents get through the coronavirus pandemic. Guzman's daughter Alejandrina is seen in Facebook videos filling boxes with slick logos and an image of her father with food and toilet paper. The video narrator calls them "Chapo's provisions." The boxes were distributed in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The products are made for El Chapo 701, a legal business run by his daughter. But other active cartels are also handing out goods to local residents in some areas in a bid to gain public support. In one case, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel can be seen handing out packages of food and supplies labeled: "From your friends, CJNG, COVID-19 contingency support." The Gulf Cartel did a similar free distribution of supplies to poor residents of Victoria, Tamaulipas, last week. 

 

 

Call to Ease Access for Opioid Disorder Treatment During Crisis, DC Patients Get MedMJ Delivery, More... (4/15/20)

DC medical marijuana patients can now get home delivery and curbside pickup, Montana activists are suing the state to be able to do electronic signature gathering during the pandemic, calls mount to free a jailed Bolivian coca grower union leader, and more.

Montana activists are suing to be able to do electronic signature gathering for a pair of legalization initiatives. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Legalization Campaign Sues for Electronic Signature Gathering During Pandemic. The campaign manager for New Approach Montana and two in-state political figures have filed a lawsuit against the state charging that prohibiting electronic signature gathering during the coronavirus pandemic is unconstitutional. New Approach Montana is behind a pair of legalization initiatives: a constitutional initiative (Ballot Issue 11) that would set 21 as the legal age when people can use marijuana and a statutory initiative (Ballot Issue 14)  that would set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Not allowing for electronic signature gathering would violate the "constitutional rights of Plaintiffs and the people of Montana to amend the constitution and enact laws by initiative, as well as the rights of Plaintiffs and the people of Montana under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution," the lawsuit argues.

Medical Marijuana

Washington, DC, Okays Home Delivery, Curbside Pickup. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the city Department of Health announced an emergency rule Monday that allows medical marijuana patients to have their medicine delivered. The new rule also allows for curbside pickup as a social distancing measure.

Harm Reduction

Activists Call for Big Changes to Ease Access to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment. The Urban Survivors Union, a national drug user group, is calling on regulators to relax rules around the prescription and dispensing of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder. While government agencies such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Drug Enforcement Agency, Medicare and Medicaid recently announcing policy shifts that permit more flexible prescribing and dispensing of MAT, as the union notes, "clinics have been either reluctant or resistant to fully implement them to the extent allowable under the law." The group, along with a lengthy list of signatories, is advocating for no discharging of people from treatment except for violent behavior, allowing people to request larger doses of MAT, coronavirus testing for people in treatment, among other recommendations.

International

Bolivia Faces Mounting Calls for Release of Afro-Bolivian Coca Union Leader. Activists are calling for the release of Elena Flores, the first woman and first Afro-Bolivian leader of the local coca growers' union. She has been behind bars for a month as part of a crackdown on social movements and indigenous groups by the government the rightist interim government that took power late last year after then-President Evo Morales, also a coca grower union leader, was forced from office by street protests and the loss of support of the military and police. Flores is one of three imprisoned Bolivian women, along with the former head of the Supreme Electoral Board and former President Morales' lawyer, whose release is being demanded by more than 160 organization, academics, trade unions, and activists worldwide.

AMA Releases Recommendations for Opioid Use Disorder, Pain During COVID-19, More... (4/9/20)

The AMA makes some progressive recommendations on dealing with opioid use disorder and pain in the time of the pandemic, Massachusetts recreational pot retailers sue to become "essential" businesses, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to impact drug policy. (CDC)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Recreational Marijuana Retailers Sue Governor to Become Essential During Pandemic. Five in-state recreational marijuana dealers have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in a bid to get their businesses deemed "essential" and allowed to open during the coronavirus pandemic. Baker had declared them non-essential and ordered them shut down until at least May 4. The stores are seeking an injunction to allow all 43 of the state's recreational retailers to reopen. Baker has argued that because the state is the only one in the region that allows recreational sales, open pot shops would draw customers from other states, undercutting social distancing measures. "Significant numbers of the customers who procure cannabis at recreational marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts are not from Massachusetts," he said.

Harm Reduction

AMA Releases Recommendations for Opioid Use Disorder, Pain During COVID-19. The American Medical Association (AMA) has released policy recommendations to help meet the needs of patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) and chronic pain. The recommendations aim to sustain "harm reduction efforts in communities across the United States." First, the AMA called for medications used in the treatment of addiction, as well as treatments for overdoses to be deemed essential services to ensure that patients with OUD continue to have access to care. This designation can improve access to crucial medications that may be difficult to obtain in cities with formal shelter-in-place or quarantine orders. They also suggested that criminal justice measures, such as drug testing, counseling, and reporting requirements, be curtailed to ensure that patients do not lose public benefits or become incarcerated. Second, the AMA urged policymakers to increase protections for patients with pain disorders by waiving limits on prescriptions for controlled substances. For patients with chronic pain, they suggested waiving testing and in-person counseling requirements for refills, allowing consultation via telephone, and offering home delivery options for medications. Finally, the AMA raised the question of harm reduction. To prevent overdoses and quell the spread of infectious disease, the AMA proposed that policymakers reduce barriers to accessing critical supplies by designating harm reduction organizations as essential services. They also advocated for assistance designated for harm reduction organizations to maintain adequate availability of naloxone in affected communities.

International

Ontario Allows Marijuana Delivery and Curbside Pick-up from Authorized Retail Stores During COVID-19. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is authorizing cannabis retail stores in Ontario to offer delivery and curbside pick-up services. This new temporary measure is the result of an emergency order introduced Thursday by the Government of Ontario to help fight against the illegal cannabis market. The order will last for 14 days, with the possibility of an extension if the government's Emergency Order on business closures is extended.

MO and OK Inits Could Fall Victim to Pandemic, COVID-19 Spreads Behind Bars, More... (3/30/20)

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on state-level marijuana legalization initiatives, Pennsylvania says needle exchanges are "life-sustaining" during the pandemic, Vancouver moves to allow "safe supply" of regualted drugs during the crisis, and more.

COVID-19 is in the nation's jails and prisons.
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Likely to Fall Victim to Coronavirus Pandemic. Missourians for a New Approach, the folks behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, are warning that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean that the effort will not be able to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign needs 160,000 valid voter signatures by May 3, but at this point has only 60,000 raw signatures. "Yes, it's a terrible setback," said Dan Viets, board chair of the group. "When there's no public gatherings, when people stay in their homes… it's very difficult to find voters."

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative in Doubt as State Shuts Down Signature Gathering. The campaign to put a marijuana legalization initiative, State Question 807 is likely to fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a 30-day statewide emergency declaration, Secretary of State Mike Rogers has ordered a pause to all initiative signature gathering activities. The campaign needs to collect 178,000 signatures in 90 days to qualify for the November ballot. It would be "really difficult, if not impossible to imagine a scenario in which an initiative petition campaign could responsibly and feasibly collect the signatures necessary in order to make the 2020 ballot if that campaign doesn't already have the signatures on hand," said campaign spokesman Ryan Kiesel.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Needle Exchanges Are "Life-Sustaining," State Says. Needle exchanges are technically illegal in the state, but the state Department of Health has deemed them a "life-sustaining" service, allowing them to stay open amid the shutdown of other businesses and nonprofits. Some 20 such programs operate in the state, and advocates are hoping this designation could lead to their legalization down the line.

Incarceration

Coronavirus Spread Accelerates in US Jails and Prisons. Jails and prisons across the US are reporting an accelerating spread of COVID-19 with more than 226 inmates and 131 staff with confirmed cases. In New York City alone, at least 132 inmates and 104 jail staff have been infected. Jails and prisons are responding in varying ways, including releasing thousands of inmates from detention, some with little or no screening before they are released.

International

Vancouver Moving to Allow Take-Home Doses of Regulated Drugs. Canada's British Columbia is moving to provide drug users with take-home supplies of regulated substances, including opioids, stimulants, tobacco, and alcohol. Vancouver has long called for "safe supply" for drug users, but the combination of two public health crises -- the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose epidemic -- has finally made it a reality, with the city drafting new guidelines to allow the practice. "These guidelines enable us to provide a safe supply for people and to ensure that they're able to comply with our public-health advice around isolation or quarantine, should that be required," said Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Recent changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines made the move possible.

Mexican Opium Poppy Cultivation Drops 9%, UNODC Says. The land area under opium poppy cultivation decreased by 9% between July 2017 and June 2018, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday. Land under cultivation fell from 78,000 acres to 70,000 acres. Poppy cultivation was centered in the Golden Triangle region of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range, Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua meet, but was also grown in northern Nayarit and in the Sierra Madre del Sur of Guerrero. Analysts said the likely explanation for the decrease was a sharp decline in opium gum prices caused by rising demand for synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Baltimore & Philadelphia to End Drug Arrests Due to COVID-19, SAMSHA Eases Opioid Treatment Rules, More... (3/23/20)

Baltimore and Philadelphia stop drug arrests in a bid to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, SAMSHA eases opioid maintenance treatment rules for the same reason, and more.

The coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on drug policy issues. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the Hartford Courant and Sacred Heart University has 63.4% of state residents in favor of ending marijuana prohibition. The poll comes as lawmakers push to advance a legalization bill backed by Gov. Ned Lamont (D). The poll found that 34.4% "strongly support" legalization, while 29.9% "somewhat support" it.

Iowa Poll Has First Time Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll has 53% support for marijuana legalization, the first time the Iowa Poll has registered majority support for the move. As recently as 2013, only 29% supported legalization.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Still on the Agenda. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Monday that marijuana legalization remained a priority despite the coronavirus crisis. Asked about his legislative priorities during a briefing on the crisis, Cuomo said "I want to do legalizing marijuana," adding that he also wants to achieve a controversial bail reform measure through the budget.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The state Senate last week approved a medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 165. The measure would allow people with a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana for 15 conditions - including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain. It also would let them purchase cannabis products at one of 34 licensed dispensaries. It now goes to the House.

Hemp

Idaho House Kills Hemp Legalization Bill. Lawmakers in the House State Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to kill Senate Bill 1345, which would have legalized industrial hemp production in the state. Although the bill had passed the Senate, it ran into opposition from anti-cannabis activists and law enforcement, who warned that it could lead to a "hemp-marijuana culture" in the state.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports 4% Decline in Opioid, Heroin Overdose Deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that overall overdose death rates nationwide dropped 4.1% from 2017 to 2018. Deaths from heroin use dropped by 4%, while prescription opioid deaths dropped by 13.5%. "Decreases in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids and heroin reflect the effectiveness of public health efforts to protect Americans and their families," Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, said in a press release. "While we continue work to improve those outcomes, we are also addressing the increase in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids. We must bring this epidemic to an end," Redfield said. Synthetic opioid deaths were actually up 10%.

Baltimore to End Most Drug Prosecutions Amid Coronavirus Outbreak. In a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) is moving to dismiss pending charges against most people accused of drug offenses. According to her guidance to staff, things like drug possession, attempted drug distribution, prostitution, traffic offenses and public urination are among the offenses that shouldn't land people being bars at this point. "This policy is in place for now as an attempt to save lives," Mosby said. "We will assess the policy at a later date and time when this global pandemic is over."

Philadelphia Police Halt Drug Arrests During Coronavirus Outbreak. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw last week ordered the department to begin delaying arrests for low-level offenses, including drug offenses. Crimes including theft, burglary, prostitution, stolen automobiles, vandalism, and certain economic crimes will no longer automatically result in detention. Instead, officers will temporarily detain suspects to identify them, then release them with an arrest warrant issued at some later date.

Drug Treatment

SAMHSA Eases Opioid Treatment Rules in Response to Coronavirus. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced policy changes easing the rules for home treatment of opioid use disorder as a response to the coronavirus crisis. The agency issued a directive allowing some patients in opioid treatment programs to take home a 28-day supply of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine. For less stable patients, SAMSHA is authorizing a 14-day take-home supply.

International

Paraguay Issues First Medical Marijuana Licenses. Late last month, the government issued its first medical marijuana licenses. Twelve pharmaceutical companies received licenses to import seeds for the domestic cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, which will be provided free to eligible patients.

Mexico Legal Marijuana Bill Advancing, OR Drug Decriminalization Init Moving, More... (3/6/20)

Boston's first pot shop is set to open Monday, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs again postpones a vote on classifying marijuana, and more.

Viva Mexico! (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Court Rules Smell of Marijuana in Vehicle by Itself Not Grounds for Search. A California appellate panel has ruled that now that marijuana is legal, the smell of marijuana in a car stopped for other reasons isn't enough to justify a full-blown search of the vehicle. "Marijuana and alcohol now receive similar treatment under the law," said the Appellate Division of Alameda County Superior Court in a ruling barring evidence of a loaded handgun that police found during the search in question. The ruling was issued in December and was published by the state courts this week as a precedent for future cases.

Boston's First Pot Shop Set to Open Monday. Three and a half years after voters approved marijuana legalization, Boston is about to get its first marijuana retail outlet. Pure Oasis will open Monday in Dorchester. It is the first shop to be approved by the state's Cannabis Control Commission.

Drug Policy

Oregon Drug Decriminalization Measure Rapidly Gathers Signatures for November Ballot.  A campaign to put a drug treatment and drug decriminalization initiative, the "Drug Treatment and Recovery Act" ( IP 44), on the November ballot has already collected 125,000 raw signatures, the Drug Policy Alliance, which is financing the campaign, announced Thursday. The measure needs 112,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. It has until May to turn in more signatures.

International

UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs Once Again Postpones Key Marijuana Vote. The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has decided to delay until December a vote due to take place this week on the potential global rescheduling of cannabis. The CND, whose meeting in Vienna ended today, was due to vote on a set of recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) to loosen restrictions on marijuana and related substances like CBD and THC. This is the second time the CND has refused to vote on the recommendations, which the WHO first presented in January 2019.

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. Three Senate committees on Thursday approved a draft legalization bill, bringing it one step closer to passage. Ajoint meeting of the Justice, Health and Legislative Studies committees approved the bill "in general," meaning that individual articles within it remain open for debate and amendment. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own. It would also establish a legal market for marijuana that would see 40% of production licenses go to people in communities affected by drug trafficking. Bill specifics will be debated by those same committees and then in a plenary session of the Senate, which could see a final vote as soon as next week. The measure would then go to the Chamber of Deputies. The Supreme Court has issued an April 30 deadline to end marijuana prohibition.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a funder of StoptheDrugWar.org.

DEA Proposes Mobile Methadone Programs, Honduran President Took Drug Bribes, More...(3/5/20)

The DEA proposes allowing mobile methadone treatment programs, US prosecutors say the Honduran president took bribes from drug traffickers, Major League Baseball loosens up on marijuana use by players, and more.

Major League Baseball is loosening up on players' marijuana use. (Scott Slade/Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Major League Baseball to Allow Players' Marijuana Use. Major League Baseball has liberalized its stance on marijuana use by players. Under a memo released last month, players can now consume marijuana without risk of discipline, although they can't come to work under the influence and they can't enter into commercial agreements with marijuana companies. The league removed marijuana from its list of controlled substances last year.

Asset Forfeiture

Georgia Bill Would End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have filed House Bill 1086, which would end civil asset forfeiture in the state. It has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill amends state law to require that criminal proceedings be concluded before any civil forfeiture proceedings could take place, unless the property owner or interest holder waives the right to wait for criminal proceedings to conclude. The bill would also prohibit civil forfeiture proceedings from moving forward in the event of a dismissal or acquittal of criminal charges. Current law allows civil forfeiture proceedings even if a person is acquitting of a crime or charges are dismissed. 

Drug Treatment

DEA Proposes Allowing Mobile Methadone Programs. The DEA has filed a notice in the Federal Register that it is considering a proposed rule that would "revise the existing regulations for narcotic treatment programs (NTPs) to allow a mobile component associated with the registered program to be considered a coincident activity. The NTP registrants that operate or wish to operate mobile components (in the state that the registrant is registered in) to dispense narcotic drugs in schedules II-V at a remote location for the purpose of maintenance or detoxification treatment would not be required to obtain a separate registration for a mobile component. This proposed rule would waive the requirement of a separate registration at each principal place of business or professional practice where controlled substances are dispensed for those NTPs with mobile components that fully comply with the requirements of the proposed rule, once finalized. These revisions to the regulations are intended to make maintenance or detoxification treatments more widely available, while ensuring that safeguards are in place to reduce the likelihood of diversion." There are still 53 days to comment on the rule, which can be done at the link above.

Harm Reduction

Arizona House OKs Bill Legalizing Needle Exchange Programs. The House on Wednesday approved House Bill 2608, which would legalize needle exchange programs in the state as part of an effort to reduce disease and overdoses among illicit drug users. The bill now heads to the Senate.

International

Honduran President Took Bribe from Drug Traffickers, US Prosecutors Charge. Honduran President Juan Orlando Sanchez agreed to shield a drug trafficker from prosecution and offered to let him use the country’s armed forces for security in exchange for a $25,000 bribe, prosecutors in Manhattan federal court alleged Tuesday. The drug kingpin, Daniel Fuentes Ramirez, was arrested in Miami on weapons and cocaine conspiracy charges. Last fall, President Sanchez's brother, a former Honduran senator, was convicted in New York on cocaine conspiracy charges.

Chronicle AM: Philly Safe Injection Site Could Open Soon, VT House Approves Pot Sales Bill, More... (2/27/20)

The Vermont House has passed that bill to allow taxed and regulated marijuana sales, a California bill would allow paying meth users not to use, the INCB issues its annual report, and more. 

Crystal meth. A California bill would allow payments to meth users to stop using. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Wants to "Harmonize" Medical, Adult Use Marijuana Programs. The Office of Marijuana Policy told state lawmakers Wednesday that it wants the medical and adult-use programs to abide by the same state rules whenever possible. It introduced a bill to apply the same plant size restriction, labeling rules, manufacturing safety and background checks to both programs. The plan is generating pushback from small operators, who say the plan would drive up prices and force them out of business.

Vermont House Approves Marijuana Sales Bill. The House on Wednesday voted 90-54 to approve Senate Bill 54, which would tax and regulate legal marijuana sales in the state. The Senate approved the bill with a veto-proof margin last year, the first year of the biennial session. Since it was amended in the House, the House and the Senate will have to reconcile differences before sending the bill to the governor's desk.

Methamphetamine

California Bill Would Pay Meth Users Not to Use. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed Senate Bill 888, which would make public funding available for programs that provide financial incentives to participants to stop using drugs. The bill would expand substance abuse treatment options that qualify for Medi-Cal, the program that provides health care to the poor, to include contingency management programs that use vouchers or small cash awards to motivate people to stay off drugs. Weiner said he was motivated by a growing methamphetamine problem in the city.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Could Open as Early as Next Week. Officials with Safehouse, the nonprofit group that is moving to open a safe injection site, said Wednesday that the facility could be open as soon as next week. The announcement came hours after a federal judge ruled that it would not violate federal law. It would be the first legally permitted safe injection site in the country. But US Attorney William McSwain said the government will seek to stop the site from opening, as the government intends to appeal the judge’s decision.

International

International Narcotics Control Board Issues Annual Report. The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has released its INCB Annual Report 2019, which examines the global drug control situation and makes recommendations to national governments and international organizations. Among other things, the report said the INCB wants more done to ensure pain relief medications are available to everyone who needs them and it warns of the "dangers" of non-medical marijuana developments, i.e. the trend toward marijuana legalization.  

Drug War Issues

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