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More Than 300,000 Pot Arrests in 2020, FDA Points Toward OTC Naloxone, More... (11/17/22)

Congress passes a marijuana research bill, a bipatisan pair of senators file a psychedelic research and rescheduling bill, and more,

The FDA is moving to make the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone over-the-counter. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Despite Legalization in Nearly Half the Country, More Than 300,000 People Were Arrested for Marijuana in 2020. Some 317,79 people were arrested on marijuana charges in 2020, according to the FBI. That is a 36 percent decline from 2019, but it still the equivalent of arresting every resident of a mid-size city such as Orlando, Corpus Christi, or Riverside, California. The marijuana arrest figure is also for the first time not the most common cause for a drug arrest, with 36 percent of drug arrests for stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, compared to 27 percent for arresting marijuana. Black Americans continued to bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement, accounting for 38 percent of all pot arrests despite making up only 13 percent of the population.

Congress Passes Marijuana Research Bill. With a final vote in the Senate Wednesday, both houses of Congress have approved the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (HR 8454). The bill now goes to the desk of President Joe Biden (D). If he signs it, it will open the way to further research into the medical benefit of marijuana and CBD. Under the bill, the DEA must allow registered entities to manufacture, distribute, dispense, and possess marijuana for research purposes. "There is substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits. Our bill will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications,: said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who introduced the bill along with Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI). Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) introduced the bill in the House.

Harm Reduction

FDA Announces Preliminary Assessment that Certain Naloxone Products Have the Potential to be Safe and Effective for Over-the-Counter Use. The US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday issued a Federal Register notice, Safety and Effectiveness of Certain Naloxone Hydrochloride Drug Products for Nonprescription Use, that may help facilitate the development and approval of certain nonprescription naloxone drug products, including through the switch of certain naloxone drug products from prescription status to nonprescription status. Naloxone is a medicine that can help reduce opioid overdose deaths and when administered timely, usually within minutes of the first signs of an opioid overdose, can counter the overdose effects. "Today’s action supports our efforts to combat the opioid overdose crisis by helping expand access to naloxone," said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. "The agency will keep overdose prevention and reduction in substance use disorders as a key priority and area of intense strategic focus for action as rapidly as possible."

Psychedelics

Cory Booker, Rand Paul File Bill to Reschedule Psychedelic Breakthrough Therapies and Remove Research Barriers. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill on Thursday that would require the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to transfer breakthrough therapies like psilocybin and MDMA from Schedule I to II, while also removing research barriers for strictly controlled substances, the Breakthrough Therapies Act. The move came on the same day that House lawmakers announced the formation of psychedelic caucus aimed at promoting new treatments from currently controlled substances. The bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to create a procedure where current Schedule I drugs could be designated as breakthrough therapies could be transferred to a lower schedule that would make it easier to research them and promote drug development.

Colombia President's Drug War Heterodoxy Draws Critics, Belgian Drug Trafficker Threats, More... (9/27/22)

Singapore arrests its citizens for doing drugs outside the country, Colombian President Petro's frank talk about the need for a new model drug policy is activating critics, and more.

Cocaine prohibiion is getting some renewed attention these days. (Pixabay)
Foreign Policy

Pair of GOP Senators Question Colombian President's Commitment to Cooperating with US on Drugs. Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have sent a letter to Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONCDP -- the drug czar's office), expressing their concerns with Colombian President Gustavo Petro's drug policy changes and intentions to modify extradition policy with the United States. They are upset that Petro has initiated peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), which they specify is "a left-wing Foreign Terrorist Organization" and that he has resumed diplomatic relations with neighboring Venezuela, or "the Maduro narco-regime," as they put it.

"Petro's favorable actions toward actors working closely with drug traffickers in our hemisphere call into question the Colombian president's commitment to cooperating with the United States to prevent the flow of drugs crossing our border," they charged. They also took issue with Petro's proposal to limit extradition to people who refused to cooperate with the Colombian state, saying it "incentivizes criminals to avoid extradition by bribing or coercing the sitting political regime."

The Colombian president has vocally called for an end to the US's current drug policy in Colombia and his government is considering -- but has not yet enacted -- significant drug policy reforms, such as decriminalizing small-scale coca production.

Colombia Ex-President Warns Petro's Call to Change Course in Drug War Could Make Country a "Narco-State." Ivan Duque, the rightist predecessor to current Colombian President Gustavo Petro, has warned that Petro's call to make a radical change in the war on drugs could turn the country into a "narco-state" that could threaten the security of the US and other countries in the region.

"Now, what worries me is that there is now the possibility of getting into the permission, or the legalization of cocaine and consumption," said Duque. "I think that it will be very bad for Colombia and that will be very bad for the countries in the hemisphere, and I think that could generate also a major security threat to the United States. So by no means I'm in favor of the legalization of the cocaine trade… But I also have to say it, Colombia cannot turn into a narco state. I think the world now has unified in the concept of prohibition, and I think if just one country, let's say Colombia, decides to legalize cocaine, it'll turn itself into a narco state."

The Petro government has so far rejected cocaine legalization, but it is considering the decriminalization of small-scale peasant coca cultivation.

International

Belgian Prime Minister Condemns Threats Against Justice Minister from Drug Traffickers. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Saturday condemned serious threats against the country's justice minister as "totally unacceptable" after a car containing firearms was found near his home. Belgian media says the threats could involve kidnapping by drug traffickers, who have been angered by a recent ramping up of Belgian enforcement activity after an unprecedented flare-up of violence among traffickers this summer. Belgium and the neighboring Netherlands are the main European hubs for cocaine trafficking, with 90 tons of the drug being seized in the Belgian port of Antwerp last year.

Singapore Arrests Citizens for Using Drugs in Other Countries. The city-state's Central Narcotics Bureau announced Saturday that authorities had arrested 41 citizens so far this year for using drugs outside the country. Under Singaporean law, citizens who use drugs outside the country face the same punishment as those caught using drugs inside the country. A first offense can garner up to 10 years in prison, but most people charged with the crime are sent to rehabilitation if there are no other charges against them. The policy is in line with the city-state's draconian drug policies, which include the death penalty for trafficking as little as 15 grams of heroin or 500 grams of marijuana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Increase in Injection Drug Use, House Passes Another Spending Bill with SAFE Banking, More... (7/18/22)

British Tories audition a new scheme for punishing drug users that effectively decriminalizes somebody's first two drug busts, a new study finds racial disparities in Pennsylvania marijuana arrests are increasing, and more.

The number of Americans injecting drugs increased five-fold in the past decade. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Defense Spending Bill with Marijuana Amendments. The House last Thursday approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes nine amendments pertaining to marijuana and other drug policies. Included in the House version of the bill is language from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, language allowing Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to allow medical marijuana recommendations, and two psychedelic research amendments. The SAFE language, which the legal marijuana industry is clamoring for, has been passed in the House as part of several earlier omnibus spending bills, only to be killed in the Senate by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his allies, who have been holding out for passage of a full-blown marijuana legalization bill. We shall see if it turns out any differently this time.

Black Pennsylvanians See More Racial Bias in Marijuana Arrests. A new study from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) finds that racial disparities in marijuana arrests jumped upward in 2020, even though overall pot arrests declined. Black Pennsylvanians were five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana statewide. The largest disparity was in Cumberland County, where Blacks were 18 times more likely to be arrested for pot than Whites. "I will say that the numbers moving in the wrong direction is certainly a concern," said Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Meredith Buettner. "This is all the more reason that we really need to dig into adult use policy here in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians." The Republican-controlled state legislature has so far blocked any moves toward legalization.

Drug Policy

CDC Finds Huge Increase in Number of People Injecting Drugs. A new study from the Coalition for Applied Modeling for Prevention (CAMP) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a rapid increase in the number of people shooting up drugs in the past decade. The most recent data, from 2018, put the number of injection drug users at about 4 million, five times the number in 2011, the last previous estimate. The study also found that overdoses -- both fatal and non-fatal -- had also increased dramatically, with deaths related to injection drug use rising threefold during that period, which was before the current spike in overdose deaths, now around 100,000 a year. For every fatal injection drug overdose, there were 40 non-fatal ones, the study found. The CDC estimates that a third of people who inject drugs share syringes, needles or other drug injection equipment.

International

British Tories Plan to Punish Drug Users, Could Seize Their Drivers' Licenses, Passports. The Home Office has announced a scheme to punish drug users in a bid to "tackle the scourge of drug abuse in society." Under the "three-strikes" proposal, first-time illicit drug offenders, including marijuana offenders, would have to pay for and attend a drug awareness course. A second offense would merit a formal warning, another drug awareness course, and up to three months of mandatory random drug testing. For a third offense, people would be criminally charged and, upon conviction, could be banned from nightclubs and other entertainment venues and could have their drivers' licenses and passports confiscated. But, hey, that is effectively decriminalization for the first two offenses. The proposal will now undergo a three-month consultation period before being amended or implemented as is.

Germany Takes First Steps Toward Legal Weed, Australia's NSW AG Calls for Drug Decriminalization, More... (6/13/22)

Brazil's annual march for marijuana is back, a bill legalizing medical marijuana just landed in the Ukrainian parliament, and more.

Up to a gram of cocaine (and other drugs) could be decriminalized in Australia's New South Wales. (Pixabay)
International

Australia's New South Wales Attorney General Proposes Drug Decriminalization. Saying that the state's drug policies are "clearly not working," New South Wales Attorney General Mark Spearman has proposed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs. Reports list a threshold of one gram for amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamine, as well as threshold amounts for Ecstasy, ketamine, and LSD, but not for opiates. It is unclear if opiates will be decriminalized as well. Under the proposal, police would the discretion to issue up to two fines to an individual, with the fine waived if the person undertakes counseling or some other health intervention. The move comes just days after the Australiana Capital Territory (Canberra) announced it was moving to decriminalization. The proposal comes more than two years after a special commission on methamphetamine addiction issued a report  calling for reforms, but the state government had yet to act on that report—until now.

Brazilians March for Marijuana Legalization. After a two-year hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil's annual "Marcha da Macohna" (March for Marijuana) returned over the weekend, with hundreds of people marching in Sao Paulo. Marijuana has been decriminalized since 2006, but remains illegal and use is allowed only for medical reasons. "We really need to have marijuana legalized because that way it will be accessible to anyone. It's not fair for a child to have 80 seizures a day and not have access to the treatment because the family can't pay for the treatment with cannabidiol. They don't have access to it, said demonstrator Barbara Gael. "Yes, legalize it, because all uses are medicinal, even smoking for those who have pain, for example, will relieve the pain. It’s past time to legalize. We’re way behind on this, it’s fundamental."

Germany Moves Toward Marijuana Legalization. The Health Ministry announced Monday that it will begin a series of expert hearings on marijuana legalization beginning Tuesday. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has promised to enact legalization, and the hearings will see more than 200 witnesses from the fields of law and medicine, as well as officials from various levels of government and international experts. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he planned to draw up legislation in the second half of the year, after the hearings finish up.

Ukraine Medical Marijuana Bill Goes to Parliament. The executive branch has filed a medical marijuana bill, No. 7457, with the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. The draft law regulates marijuana for medical, industrial, scientific, and technical purposes in order to create conditions for expanding patient access to the plant, including for post-traumatic stress disorders linked to the Russian invasion of the country. The bill does not legalize marijuana for recreational use. 

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

NY Marijuana Arrests Up in Smoke, TX MJ Poll, First SD MedMJ Patient Card, More... (11/23/21)

St. Louis aldermen move to end fines for marijuana possession and allow personal cultivation, New York marijuana arrests are declining dramatically, and more.

The medical marijuana program is up and running in South Dakota. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York State Marijuana Arrests Nearly Vanish After Legalization. Since marijuana became legal in the state in March, marijuana arrests have shrunk to extremely low levels. According to data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, only 116 people were arrested on marijuana charges from April through October. In 2017, there were more than 28,000 pot possession arrests alone. By 2020, after lawmakers moved to reduce marijuana penalties, there were only 2,720 arrests. And now the state is on track to reduce that number by 90 percent this year.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization, Even Majority Support Among Republicans. A new poll from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University has support for marijuana legalization at 67 percent, with even 51 percent of Republicans in support. That Republican support number is important since Republicans control the state legislature, and polling like this could prod the party to get on board with the public. The poll also asked about legalizing other substances, such as meth and heroin, but found little support with only 16 percent in favor.

St. Louis Aldermen Move to Decriminalize Pot Possession, Cultivation. The city's Board of Aldermen voted last Friday to give preliminary approval to a measure to decriminalize marijuana in the city. The measure needs one more vote by the board to go into effect. Under the proposed ordinance, people 21 and over could possess up to two ounces without any penalty. The ordinance also mandates that "no resources" be spent to punish adults for growing up to six plants. The measure also has the support of Mayor Tishaura Jones (D), whose office said the "intention is to free up police resources so they don't even have to worry about arresting someone for a victimless crime." In 2018, the board voted to make pot possession a civil infraction with a maximum $25 fine.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Program Issues First ID Cards. The state has issued its first medical marijuana ID cards, the state Health Department's Medical Cannabis Program announced last Friday. The first card issued went to a resident of Day County. "Today marks the culmination of months of hard work in preparation for the kickoff of a responsive and efficient medical cannabis program for eligible South Dakotans," said Geno Adams, Medical Cannabis Program Administrator. "In the months ahead, we will continue to ensure that patients and their caregivers, can continue to obtain medical cannabis permits in accordance with their written certifications."

Patients, caregivers, and medical providers who wish to get more information on how to participate in South Dakota's medical cannabis program can visit: MedCannabis.sd.gov. The site features a "Frequently Asked Questions' section, as well as a section for establishments, that is continuously updated by the Department. All patients and caregivers who apply and are issued a medical cannabis card will also receive a flyer with helpful tips on the importance of safe and responsible storage of their medical cannabis at their homes. To view the flyer, click here.

Oregon Drug Decrim is Slashing Drug Arrests, Massively Funding Services [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move a year ago now, Oregon voters approved decriminalization for personal use amounts of all illicit drugs, with Measure 110 passing with a healthy 59 percent of the vote. That made the state the first in the US to make this dramatic break with decades of the war on drugs. Now, as other states pondering a similar move look for evidence to bolster their case, some of the initial results in Oregon are looking pretty impressive.

Oregon's Mt. Hood. (David Mark/Pixabay)
Measure 110 promised not only thousands fewer drug arrests, but also a turn from the punitive to the compassionate -- providing hundreds of millions of dollars for greatly expanded access to evidence-informed drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reduction services, without raising taxes to do so. Services would be funded through excess marijuana tax revenue (over $45 million) and savings from no longer arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting people for drug possession. State analysts estimated the excess marijuana tax revenue alone should result in over $100 million in funding for services in the first year and up to $129 million by 2027.

The state analysts were off the mark. Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), whose legislative action arm, Drug Policy Action spearheaded the successful campaign, and the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to implement treatment, harm reduction, and support programs, announced they had secured funding of $302 million over the next two years. That's over $150 million a year, including $30 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of this year.

That initial round of grants went to 70 organizations in 26 of the state's 36 counties, with these results:

  • 33 harm reduction and addiction recovery service providers expanded access to treatment services for indigent, uninsured individuals.
  • 52 organizations hired peer support specialists -- a role that addiction medicine experts have long heralded as essential to one's recovery journey.
  • 32 service providers added recovery, supportive and transitional housing services.
  • 30 organizations increased harm reduction services, which include life-saving interventions like overdose prevention; access to naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine; as well as drug education and outreach.

"We were about to have to close our doors in Wasco County, which would have been devastating to the people that depend on us for support there, but thanks to Measure 110 passing, we were not only able to get the funding we needed to stay open, but also to expand the services and spectrum of care we were able to provide our clients," said Monta Knudson, Executive Director of Bridges to Change, a nonprofit that offers peer recovery support, housing and treatment services in the state.

"Addiction has touched us all somehow, some more personally and heartbreakingly than others," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Too many of us have lost loved ones to addiction, or struggled with it ourselves. COVID-19 has made things much worse, decreasing access to care during a time when Oregonians need these services more than ever before. That's why we celebrate the great strides made when it comes to addressing Oregon's addiction crisis, while recognizing that there's still much work to be done. Our immediate focus is to ensure every Oregonian knows these critical harm reduction and recovery services are being invested in and expanded so that they will be available to anyone who wants and needs them, and that they can feel comfortable and safe accessing them."

But while the huge expansion of treatment, harm reduction, and related social services is undeniably a good thing, drug decriminalization is ultimately about getting people out of the criminal justice system by not getting them sucked into it in the first place. It's looking like Measure 110 is achieving that goal.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and while it is too early to have precise numbers, thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

"A year ago, Oregonians voted yes on Measure 110 to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services. Now, because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing," said DPA Executive Director Kassandra Frederique. "Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need. And while the devastation of 50 years of cruel and counterproductive policies can’t be erased overnight, by all metrics we hoped to achieve, and what voters asked for, we are going down the right path."

A number of states -- including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas -- the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to similarly remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services since the passage of Measure 110. These initial results should provide plenty of ammunition for advancing those campaigns.

Baltimore No Drug Possession Arrest Policy is Working; Naloxone Shortages, Price Hikes Amid Overdose Surge, More... (10/19/21)

The South Dakota legislature continues to tangle with marijuana policy, Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature is dithering on making fentanyl test strips legal, and more.

A manufacturing issue at Pfizer is contributing to naloxone shortages and price hikes. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon County Asks for National Guard Help to Fight Illegal Marijuana Grows. With unlicensed marijuana grows and marijuana grows disguised as hemp operations running rampant in southern Oregon, commissioners in Jackson County have asked Gov. Kate Brown (D) to send in the National Guard "to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis." The move came last week, the same day police near Medford raided a site that had 17,500 pot plants and two tons of processed marijuana. That was only the latest massive bust in Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties this year, which act as a northern extension of California's Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. In both southern Oregon and northern California, marijuana cultivation has been entrenched for half a century. Gov. Brown has rejected the request for National Guard troops but could reconsider next year, her office said.

South Dakota Lawmakers Ponder Bill to Scrap Medical Marijuana Law but Legalize Adult Use. The legislature's Adult-Use Marijuana Committee on Tuesday is considering a bill that would undo the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law but would instead legalize the use and possession of marijuana by people 21 and over. The bill was drafted by committee chair Rep. Hugh Bartels (R), who characterized it as a compromise between factions that oppose and support legalization. Voters also approved legalization last year but allied of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) filed suit to block it. That case remains before the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, local activists have begun a signature-gathering drive to put a new legalization initiative on the ballot next year. Under the Bartels bill, people 21 and over could possess up to an ounce of weed and up to 22 grams of waxes, oils, and edibles, but home cultivation would not be allowed. Bartels said the medical marijuana law would not be needed if his bill passed, but the Health Department would issue medical marijuana cards for patients under 21.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone Price Soars, Shortages Occur Amid Overdose Surge. As the nation confronts all-time high overdose deaths, the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone is increasingly scarce and increasingly expensive. Harm reduction and other community groups are now paying as much as 30 times more for the life-saving medication—when they can obtain it at all. "Not having this life-saving medication to reduce overdose deaths, during a time when we’re seeing the greatest increase we’ve ever seen, is a public health crisis," said Amanda Latimore, director of the Center for Addiction Research and Effective Solutions. "There hasn’t been a more important time than right now to have an overdose reversal drug available. And now that we’re seeing this shortage, we can expect even more fatal overdoses," she said. The shortages are a result of manufacturing problems at Pfizer, which has been providing the drug at low cost to harm reduction groups, and are expected to be resolved by year's end. But in the meantime, other pharmaceutical manufacturers could have ramped up production, but have not done so, no have they cut prices. The reason? "Profit. There’s no other way to put it," said Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pennsylvania's Republican-Dominated Legislature Stalls on Allowing Fentanyl Test Strips. Under current state law, fentanyl test strips are considered drug paraphernalia and are illegal, but even as the state and the nation face unprecedented numbers of opioid overdose deaths, the Republican-dominated state legislature is sitting on bills that would amend the law to allow people to use the test strips. House Bill 1393 and its companion measure, Senate Bill 845, are both languishing in committee. While the legislature dithers, the state attorney general, the Philadelphia DA, and the Philadelphia mayor have announced a commitment to not prosecute people for possessing fentanyl test strips.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore’s No-Prosecution Policy for Low-Level Drug Possession and Prostitution Finds Almost No Rearrests for Serious Offenses. A new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Baltimore’s no-prosecution policy for minor drug possession and prostitution, enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, led to fewer new low-level drug and prostitution arrests, almost no rearrests for serious crimes for those who had charges dropped, and fewer 911 calls. The findings suggest the new policies did not result in increased public complaints about drug use or sex work, and that those who had charges dropped did not go on to commit serious crimes. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore would stop prosecuting low-level drug and drug paraphernalia possession and prostitution in March 2020, chiefly as an infection-reduction measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later she announced that the policy would remain in place—even after the pandemic winds down—as a way of reducing the burdens on city police and on the poorer, predominantly Black city residents who are traditionally arrested for such crimes. The report’s key findings, covering the 14 months following the policy change (April 2020 to May 2021), include:

  • An estimated 443 new drug/paraphernalia-possession and prostitution arrests were averted as a result of the new no-prosecution policy, 78 percent of which were averted in the Black community. This analysis was based on Baltimore Police Department arrest data.
  • Of the 741 people whose drug and prostitution charges were dropped, six—less than 1 percent—had new arrests for serious crimes during the study period. This analysis was based on Maryland Courts Judicial Information System data.
  • Calls to 911 about drug/paraphernalia and prostitution declined significantly in the post-policy change period.

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll, UN Report on Arbitrary Detention in War on Drugs, More... (10/15/21)

Baltimore drug arrests are down dramatically thanks to a policy shift by the local prosecutor, Virginia has sealed the records of more than 64,000 small-time pot-dealing charges, and more.

More than 90,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period ending in March 2021. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Seals 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges. The state has sealed records of more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges, the legislature's Cannabis Oversight Commission heard Thursday. They have been scrubbed from the state's criminal records database, which is used by employers to screen job applicants. Another 333,000 simple possession convictions have also been sealed. The state was ordered to expunge the records as part of the marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll. Drug overdose deaths, primarily but not exclusively around opioid use, hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported. That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, but the number could go even higher because the numbers are only provisional, and the CDC has estimated predicted overdose deaths during this period would total more than 99,000. The big jump in fatal drug overdoses came as the country was in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and as fentanyl pervades ever more illicit drug markets—including being used as a cut in non-opioids, such as meth and cocaine—but also reflects a two-decade old trend of rising overdose deaths.

Baltimore Drug Possession Arrests Are Just About Extinct. Baltimore Police on Thursday released data showing that both felony and misdemeanor drug arrests are down, with the latter down dramatically. So far this year, police have arrested 796 people on drug felonies, down 19 percent from the 978 arrests during the same period last year. But when it comes to drug misdemeanors, police have arrested only 38 people so far this year, down a whopping 91 percent from the 445 during the same period last year. The declines are a direct result of a policy decision made last year by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to stop prosecuting certain drug offenses, including drug possession. Conservative local media is criticizing the policy, saying that it has allowed open-air drug dealing to flourish, but the police, the mayor's office, and Mosby's office all say open-air drug markets remain a priority.  

Recent UN Report on Arbitrary Detention and Drug Policies Underscores Urgent Need for Reform, Includes Call for Drug Decriminalization. A recent United Nations human rights report details the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the drug war in countries around the world. The report from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) finds that arbitrary detention in drug cases is swelling jail and prison populations precisely as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic highlights the need to reduce prison overcrowding. Arbitrary detention can include people arrested without a proper warrant or detained in ways that do not respect procedural rights. The report notes that states are required to uphold human rights obligations under international law, but that relying on harsh drug war policies creates sustained violations of those policies. "People who use drugs are particularly at risk of arbitrary detention," the report said, pointing to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru, where people arrested on drug charges are automatically jailed pending trial, but also cited the use of torture, particularly in Mexico. The report ends with 17 recommendations, starting with a call to UN members to "decriminalize the use, possession, acquisition or cultivation of drugs for personal use, including the possession of associated paraphernalia." Other recommendations include calling for an end to drug courts, ending the participation of the military in drug enforcement operations, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to cultivate and use plants traditionally grown for spiritual, medicinal, and cultural purposes.

Drug War Issues

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