Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance

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

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

buprenorphine (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Drug Treatment

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

TX GOP Opposes Marijuana Legalization, British Prescription Heroin Shortage, More... (6/21/22)

Pennsylvania takes a step toward legalizing fentanyl test strips, Thailand moves to block minors from using marijuana or hemp, and more.

Prescription herion (diamorphine). Supplies are running low in Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas GOP's New Platform Opposes Marijuana Legalization. At its state convention in Houston last weekend, the Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank opposing marijuana legalization, even though recent polling shows two-thirds of all Texans and 51 percent of Republicans favor it. The convention did, however, endorse moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The party also adopted several other drug policy planks, including opposing needle exchange programs, requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "terrorist organizations," and encouraging "faith-based rehabilitation."

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, City Council Ponders Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution. Two members of the city council filed a resolution to decriminalize "entheogenic plants," including peyote and magic mushrooms, last Wednesday. The council members are Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan. It was a grassroots efforts backed by "many Missoulians," said Carlino. "We’ve heard comments in support of this resolution from veterans who have experience with this in treating PTSD. We’ve heard comments of support from therapists, doctors and dozens and dozens of community members." The council has yet to act on the resolution, which would block Missoula police from arresting people for growing, possessing, or gifting entheogens. The police department adamantly opposes the move.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania House Passes Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The House has unanimously approved a bill to legalize fentanyl strips, House Bill 1393. It does so by removing the test strips from the state's definition of drug paraphernalia. Supporters say the change in the law will allow drug users to avoid overdoses by testing their drugs without fear of being arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia. Philadelphia Mayor John Kenney (D) decriminalized fentanyl test strips in that city in August 2021 and Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) has said his office "will not prosecute individuals simply for possessing fentanyl test strips." This legislation would bring state law in line with what is increasing becoming public policy in the state. Companion legislation is now set to move in the Senate.

International

Thailand to Restrict Marijuana Use to Adults After Complaints. Facing with a rising chorus of complaints after the country liberalized its marijuana laws earlier this month, Thai officials announced last Thursday that they will issue rules limiting access to marijuana and hemp to people 20 years of age and older. People under that age will need permission from a doctor to use such products. The move came amid media  reports that two teenage students were hospitalized for marijuana "overdoses." The government is also going to move to limit marijuana consumption in public and to control cannabis in food.

British Prescription Heroin Shortage Wreaking Havoc with People on Maintenance Regime. British drug non-profits are warning that people on prescription heroin (diamorphine) maintenance are now relapsing because of a nationwide shortage of all doses of the prescription drug. Pharmacists are reporting that patients who had been stable on prescription heroin for 10 or 15 years are deteriorating because they cannot access their medication. The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that

5mg, 30mg, 100mg and 500mg injections of diamorphine are currently out of stock. "These are patients that have been on prescriptions for 20 years and have been very stable and working, living their lives, and are closely monitored to ensure they’re not on other drugs," said Clare Robbins of the drug charity Release. "The majority we are supporting at the moment have now relapsed, often for the first time in 10 or 15 years and that’s really devastating for them," she said. "These people have built relationships with their pharmacists over 10 to 15 years and I’ve had pharmacists on the phone who are quite distressed about seeing their patient deteriorate." Only two companies supply prescription heroin in the United Kingdom, and the supply chain has been wobbly since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020. 

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

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

Afghan opium poppies (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

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

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White House Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Nixed, More... (4/21/22)

A pair of companion marijuana legalization initiatives are cleared for singature-gathering in Oklahoma, SAMSHA mantains a firm line on drug testing rules, and more.

A needle exchange. The White House is emphasizing harm reduction measures to take on the overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would have legalized marijuana and had it sold at state-owned retail outlets, House Bill 1598. The bill could still come up for a Senate floor vote, but the committee vote likely signals the end of the road for this legislative session. The House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills in recent years, only to see them die in the Senate. And even if something were to make it to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), he remains opposed to legalization. At least one senator indicated he was stuck in a time warp: "Why would we want to join the herd of introducing to our culture legalization of a substance that is unquestionably a gateway drug?" asked Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren).

Ohio Lawmakers File Marijuana Legalization Bill That Mirrors Ongoing Legalization Initiative. Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrance Upchurch, have filed a marijuana legalization bill with the same language as the legalization initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMTA). CRMTA's initiative passed an initial signature threshold, starting a process where the legislature has four months to either pass legalization or let it go to the voters in November (provided CRMTA succeeds in another round of signature-gathering), but there is little indication that the Republican-controlled legislature is going to act on it.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature-Gathering. The state Supreme Court has cleared the way for two companion marijuana legalization initiative campaigns to begin signature-gathering. State Question 819 and the companion State Question 818, would amend the state constitution to protect the right of residents age 21 and older to use marijuana. Because they amend the constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering hurdle than State Question 820, which has already been cleared for signature-gathering. It needs about 90,000 signatures within 90 days to qualify for the ballot, while State Questions 819 and 820 will need about 178,000 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House released the 2022 National Drug Control StrategyThursday, focusing on treating drug addiction and fighting drug trafficking. The strategy calls for expanded harm reduction interventions, such as drug test strips, needle exchanges, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new strategy is “the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and service,” the White House said. But the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA, maintaining a law enforcement emphasis. Those figures were released as part of the FY 2023 budget released last month.

Drug Testing

SAMSHA Cuts No Slack for Medical Marijuana, Accidental Exposures in Updated Federal Drug Testing Rules. In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a pair of notices about proposed changes to drug testing policies. One new notice clarifies that having a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test. The secondnew notice states that passive exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke or accidental ingestion of foods containing marijuana are not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test. These are proposed rules, and  there is a 60-day public comment period on the proposals is open until June 6.

DOJ Issues Guidance on Legal Protections for People on MAT, NJ Recreational Pot Sales Coming Soon, More... (4/12/22)

An Oklahoma psychedelic research bill advances minus a decriminalization provision, Mississippi regulators roll out initial guidelines for the state's medical marijuana programs, and more.

The DOJ issues guidance on legal protections for people undergoing medication-assisted treatment. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Regulators Okay First Recreational Marijuana Sales. The state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission on Monday opened the way to recreational marijuana sales by approving seven medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to anyone 21 or over. The commission's executive director, Jeff Brown, said retail licenses could be issued within a month, once dispensaries pay fees and undergo compliance checks. The move comes more than a month after the state blew through a February 22 deadline for dispensaries to begin selling to adults. The commission had been concerned about maintaining adequate supplies for patients, but those concerns seem to have been assuaged. "All of the (dispensaries) here, we believe have proven and have shown that they have adequate supply for their medical patients, that they are willing to put in place the necessary mechanisms to protect that supply, and ensure that medical patients are not impacted,” Brown said.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Program Rules and Regulations Released. The state Health Department on Monday released preliminary rules and regulations for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. These beginning measures address qualifying conditions, obtaining registry and identification cards, and how to certify as a practitioner, among other things. The list of qualifying conditions includes cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer’s, agitation of dementia, PTSD, autism, pain refractory to opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease, or severe injury; chronic medical treatment that causes cachexia or wasting, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or chronic pain. Patients may only get recommendations from doctors with whom they have an existing relationship and will pay $25 for a 1-year ID card. Those applications will be available on or before June 2.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Senators Approve Psilocybin Research Bill but Remove Decriminalization Language Approved by House. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve a bill passed by the House that would allow eligible research and medical institutions to cultivate and administer psilocybin for research purposes, but only after amending it to remove a provision that decriminalized the possession of the drug. House Bill 3414 "came over [from] the House—it had some decriminalization elements in there," Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R) said on Monday, adding that lawmakers had "worked a lot with it, trying to make sure that we clean it up." They did that by erasing the decriminalization provision. “That no longer exists," he said. "This is just for a university study."

Drug Treatment

US Department of Justice Issues Guidance Concerning Legal Protections for Individuals Recovering from Opioid Use Disorder. The Justice Department published guidance last week explaining how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who are in treatment or recovery for opioid use disorder (OUD), including those who take prescription medications as part of that treatment. The guidance says those people are considered disabled under the ADA, that they may be prescribed medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, among others; and that employers may not discriminate against them if they are in treatment and using those drugs. The guidance also notes that while employers may conduct drug testing, they may not fire or refuse to hire people legally using those medications—unless the use renders the person unable to safely or effectively perform the job. DOJ said the guidance "is part of the department’s comprehensive response to the opioid crisis, which promotes prevention, enforcement and treatment" and lists several civil rights lawsuits it is pursuing over such discrimination.

DEA Commits to Expanding Medication-Assisted Treatment, Human Rights Watch Calls for End to US Pot Prohibition, More... (3/23/22)

Rhode Island lawmakers are trying to thrash out agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Policy Project releases a report on the states lagging behind on marijuana reform, and more.

Buprenorphine. The DEA says it is commited to expanding medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as bupe. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Human Rights Watch Calls on US to End Marijuana Prohibition Now. Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal government to legalize marijuana as "a much-needed move toward a US drug policy grounded in human rights, harm reduction, and health." The group noted that in the last Congress, the House passed the historic Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and said a House floor vote on this year's version of the bill, HR 3617 is "an urgent step toward advancing long overdue reforms in the criminal justice system and beyond." It also called on members of Congress to "heed the call of a diverse coalition of organization and cosponsor the bill. House leadership should immediately bring the bill to a floor vote," the group said.

Marijuana Policy Project Releases Report on the States Lagging Behind on Marijuana Reform. Recognizing the 50-year anniversary of the report issued by the Shafer Commission, which investigated the effects of cannabis use on specific communities and found that small amounts of cannabis do not harm society and should not result in criminalization or jail time, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) released a new report on Tuesday, Behind the Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail. The report examines the laws that lag the furthest behind public opinion: the 19 states and federal government, which have not even "decriminalized" simple possession of cannabis. In those states, it examines penalties for simple possession, arrest rates, and racial disparities in arrests and provides a glimpse at some of the damage inflicted by draconian laws. It also reviews unsolved crime rates in the states that continue to use limited law enforcement resources to arrest and jail adults for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Meet to Ponder Competing Marijuana Legalization Proposals. The House Finance Committee met on Tuesday to discuss competing marijuana legalization proposals from the House and Senate leadership and Gov. Dan McKee (D). McKee proposed a legalization plan in his budget package, House Bill 7123, while the legislative leaders are backing Senate Bill 2430. At the hearing, advocates complained of inadequate equity provisions in the Senate bill, with members saying they were open to feedback. The governor's bill on the other hand, has provisions to automatically expunge past convictions.

Drug Treatment

DEA Commits to Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Wednesday announced the Drug Enforcement Administration’s continued commitment to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment to help those suffering from substance use disorder. "In this moment, when the United States is suffering tens of thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths every year, the DEA’s top priority is doing everything in our power to save lives," said Administrator Milgram. "Medication-assisted treatment helps those who are fighting to overcome substance use disorder by sustaining recovery and preventing overdoses. At DEA, our goal is simple: we want medication-assisted treatment to be readily and safely available to anyone in the country who needs it." The agency has recently been championing a number of initiatives to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid-related substance use disorder, including a loosening of restrictions around buprenorphine and methadone prescribing, reaching out to pharmacists and practitioners to let them know DEA supports medication-assisted treatment, and increasing the number of mobile methadone clinics. 

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures, Ukraine War Deepens Suffering of Drug Users, More... (3/18/22)

Medical marijuana bills advance in Georgia and Kentucky, Honduras' former "narcopresidente" is a step closer to being extradited to the United States on drug charges, and more. 

Fomer Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez can be extradited to face US drug charges, a court there ruled. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Governor Has "Concerns" About Marijuana Legalization Bill's Cannabis Control Commission. Gov. Dan McKee (D) has "significant constitutional concerns" with Senate Bill 2430, the marijuana legalization bill backed by House and Senate leadership. The concerns are around the proposed three-member cannabis control commission's members are to be appointed—and removed if necessary. The governor's office argues that the bill would give the Senate "unfettered discretion" on whether to remove a commissioner, which is says is a violation of the separation of powers. But one of the key sponsors of the bill, which was crafted after long deliberation, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston), said the governor's objection is not an insurmountable obstacle. "It’s not a big impediment," said Miller. "It’s solvable." 

Medical Marijuana

Georgia House, Senate Pass Separate Medical Marijuana Bills. The House approved a bill to revamp the state's dysfunctional medical marijuana system, House Bill 1425 on Tuesday. The bill would allow the provision of low-THC cannabis oil "from any available legal source" by August 1 and begin providing it to patients now on the state registry by August 15. The state had passed a low-THC cannabis oil law in 2015, but legal challenges have left Georgians without any legal supply. The Senate, meanwhile, approved its own medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 609, which would require the medical cannabis commission to issue its initial licenses by May 31. Tuesday was the last day for bills to pass their original chamber, so both bills remain alive.

Kentucky House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Thursday approved House Bill 136, which would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The legislation now heads to the Senate. This is the third try for bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who got a similar bill through the House in 2020 only to see in die in the Senate and whose 2021 effort got nowhere in the midst of the pandemic. The bill now heads to the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield (R) says he will back it despite personal reservations.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures. Decriminalize California, the group behind a psilocybin legalization initiative campaign, announced Wednesday that it had failed to gather enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The all-volunteer effort faltered during the winter outbreak of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. "We were doing great there collecting and then in mid-December just about everyone of our core volunteers got COVID and most of the events we were scheduled at either closed, postponed or had an extremely weak turnout," campaign manager Ryan Munevar said in an email to supporters. The group will now do fundraising in coming months to determine whether it is feasible to start a second effort in either June or October of next year for 2024.

International

At Urging of US, CND Acts Against Precursor Chemical Used to Produce Illicit Fentanyl. The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted Friday to control three chemicals used by drug traffickers to produce illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is driving overdose deaths in the United States. At the request of the United States, and with the recommendation of the International Narcotics Control Board, the Commission’s Member States voted unanimously to take international action and control the acquisition, production, and export of three precursors used to manufacture illicit fentanyl and its analogues. "President Biden has made clear that ending the overdose epidemic is a top priority. As part of the Administration’s efforts to reduce the supply of illicit fentanyl driving overdose deaths, the United States called on the global community to regulate three chemicals commonly used to produce it, and today that call was answered," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). "This new action makes it more difficult for drug traffickers to obtain and use these chemicals for illicit purposes. It will also help disrupt synthetic drug trafficking that not only leads to deaths caused by overdose, but also corruption, drug-related violence, and insecurity. The collective work of the international community to address global drug-related challenges has never been more important. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to building on today’s progress."

Honduran Judge Okays Extradition of Former President to Face US Drug Charges. A judge in Honduras has ruled the former President Juan Orlando Hernandez can be extradited to the United States to face drug charges. Hernandez was president from 2014 until last month, after he lost an election, and was considered a US ally even though federal prosecutors alleged he was involved in drug trafficking throughout his presidency. He was detained last month by the new government at the request of the US. The "narcopresidente" has until Saturday to appeal the Wednesday ruling, after which he could be extradited. Meanwhile, he remains in prison in Honduras.

War Deepens Suffering for Ukraine's Drug Users. Drug users in the country are facing shortages of methadone and street drugs as the Russian military campaign in the country disrupts daily life. "Today, I went around five pharmacies where I used to get methadone on prescription. None were open. Another place was open today, but there was a queue of at least 200 people and I didn’t want to go into withdrawal right there, and so I went home," one drug user said. In the city of Kyiv, there were 45 fee-based centers serving opioid-dependent patients each; now they are all closed after the doctors evacuated. Similar clinics in the Crimean Peninsula were shut down when Russian forces took over in 2014; since then, of approximately 800 Crimean methadone patients, at least 80 have killed themselves, died of fatal overdoes, or died of other narcotic causes. 

RI Drug Decrim Bill Filed, Myanmar Drug Trade Ramping Up Amidst Civil War, More... (3/8/22)

Oklahoma Republicans move to take on what they see as an out of control medical marijuana system, Afghan farmers are planting more opium poppies this year, and more.

Opium production is surging in Afghanistan's poppy heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma GOP Lawmakers Move to Rein in "Wild West" Medical Marijuana System. The House's Republican Caucus on Monday rolled out a package of bills aimed at reining in the state's free-wheeling medical marijuana program. The move comes after state agents seized more than 150,000 marijuana plants in a bust last month. "We have seen black market elements competing with legitimate Oklahoma businesses. They are putting our citizens at risk. They're doing things in an illegal, unethical manner," said Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City). The package of 12 bills includes full implementation of a seed to sale system, grants to county sheriffs to fund law enforcement, making the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority a stand-alone agency, provisional licensing with pre-licensing inspections, separate licensing for wholesalers, tough electrical and water data reporting by growers, annual inspection, and more. "If you're an illegal operator of the state of Oklahoma, your time is up," warned Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-District 16).

Drug Policy

Rhode Island Drug Decriminalization, Therapeutic Psilocybin Bills Filed. Lawmakers filed a pair of drug reform bills last week, one of which, House Bill 7896, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of all drugs except fentanyl, while the second bill, House Bill 7715, would allow doctors to prescribe psilocybin and would decriminalize psilocybin and buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is an opioid often used as a harm reduction tool to help people transition away from more addictive compounds. The broader decriminalization bill, would make possession of up to an ounce of any drug other than fentanyl a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first offense and up to $300 for subsequent offenses.

Psychedelics

Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Therapeutic Psychedelics Bill. State Rep. Tony Lovasco (R) on Tuesday filed House Bill 2850, which would legalize a range of natural psychedelics for therapeutic use and decriminalize small-time possession. Under the bill, patients with specified conditions such as treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, and terminal illnesses access to substances such as psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and ibogaine at designated care facilities or the patients' or caregiver's residence. Patients would be allowed to possess and use up to four grams of the substances. The bill decriminalizes the possession of less than four grams outside the medical model but makes possession of more than four grams a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

International

Afghan Opium Production Surges in Kandahar and Helmand. Opium and other drugs are being sold in open markets, and farmers in the country's opium heartland of southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces are sowing more poppies this year amidst the country's economic collapse after the Taliban's seizure of power last summer and the subsequent withdrawal of all Western assistance to the country. "There is nothing else to cultivate. We were growing wheat before. This year -- we want to cultivate poppy. Previously they were asking for bribes every day but we don't have that problem this year," one farmer said. "If we don't cultivate poppy, we don't get a good return, the wheat doesn't provide a good income," farmer Mohammed Kareem said. "There are no restrictions this year. If the Taliban wanted to ban it, they must let us grow it this year at least," added farmer Peer Mohammad.

Myanmar Militias, Rebel Armies Ramp Up Drug Dealing Amidst Civil War. Armed groups on both sides of Myanmar's civil war are ramping up drug production amidst the turmoil, with much of the methamphetamine and heroin supply going to Asian countries through the porous Laotian border, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) official said this week. The $60 billion trade based largely in Shan state is now going into overdrive, he said. "Seizures in Laos and Thailand are off the charts and it is not because of suddenly improved law enforcement -- some other countries' seizures are up too, but in Thailand and Laos the connection to trafficking patterns and locations in Shan is very clear," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction, Poll Shows Support for DC Drug Decrim, More... (10/27/21)

Arkansas could soon see two seperate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns, a new poll shows DC voters are ready for drug decriminalization, and more.

HHS says there were 840,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2019. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launched. And then there were two. Activists with Arkansas True Grass already have a marijuana legalization initiative in the signature gathering phase, and now, a former state House minority leader has announced the formation of a new advocacy group, Responsible Growth Arkansas, to push a second legalization effort. That former lawmaker, Democrat Eddie Armstrong, says his proposed initiative would "allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state." Armstrong has yet to file an initiative text with state officials but promised more information in coming weeks. Statutory initiatives require 71,321 valid voter signatures. If Armstrong's initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, it would need 89,151 valid voter signatures. In either case, signature gathering must be complete by next July.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bills to Restrict Cultivation by Caregivers Advance. A package of bills that would limit the amount of medical marijuana that caregivers can grow is headed for the House floor. Under the package, caregivers would have to obtain a new specialty medical marijuana grower license and comply with a variety of new regulations. Under current rules, caregivers can grow up to 72 plants and must register with the state, but do not need a license. Under the bill package, caregivers could grow only 24 plants without a license. Because the package of bills alters the voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana initiative, it must garner 75 percent of the vote in both houses to pass.

Drug Policy

DC Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Poll Finds. Just a week after activists announced a push for drug decriminalization in the nation's capital, a new poll finds very strong support for the notion. The poll had 83 percent saying the DC Council should pass an ordinance to "remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of commonly-used controlled substances consistent with personal use." That includes 65 percent who strongly support the far-reaching reform. The reform is being pushed by a coalition called DecrimPovertyDC, which includes groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Harm Reduction

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction Measures. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday outline the Biden administration's approach to reducing drug overdoses and committed to more federal support for measures such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. The strategy also includes expanding medication-based treatment, reducing "inappropriate" opioid prescribing (which could drive users into the more dangerous black market), and more support for drug treatment. Becerra even expressed some openness to safe injection sites: "When it comes to harm reduction, we are looking for every way to do that. … We probably will support the efforts of states that are using evidence-based practices and therapies." According to an HHS report released Wednesday, 840,000 people died of drug overdoses from 1999 to 2019. Becerra's comments reflect a statement of priorities for the administration’s first year released in March by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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