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Chronicle AM: Yang on Safe Injection Sites, Bloomberg on Marijuana, More... (12/5/19)

Michigan pot shops see high demand on opening day, Democratic contenders stake out drug policy positions, Maine finally has all pot business applications ready, and more.

Andrew Yang wants to decriminalize opiates and fund safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (vch.ca)

Marijuana Policy

Michael Bloomberg Backs Decriminalization as Marijuana Views Evolve Amid Presidential Run. Faced with criticism over his past positions on marijuana, former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg has now come out in support of decriminalization, which still leaves him lagging behind most of the Democratic pack. "He believes no one should have their life ruined by getting arrested for possession, and, as a part of his reform efforts that drove incarceration down by 40 percent, he worked to get New York State laws changed to end low-level possession arrests," a spokesman said. "He believes in decriminalization and doesn’t believe the federal government should interfere with states that have already legalized."

Maine Says All Marijuana Licenses are Now Available. More than three years after voters legalized marijuana, the state has finally made available all applications for marijuana cultivation, products manufacturing and retail facilities. That means the state could see pot shops open by the spring.

Michigan Pot Shops Forced to Impose Purchase Limits as Demand Overwhelms. High customer volume is forcing marijuana retailers to limit purchases so there will be enough weed to go around. The four shops that opened Sunday saw combined sales of $221,000 that first day. Each of the four shops has had to turn customers away, too. Some customers waited as long as four hours to get inside.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senator Introduces Bill Providing Broad Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users. A bill recently introduced by state Sen. Lori Berman (D) Would provide various protections to job applicants and employees who use medical marijuana. The measure is Senate Bill 962.

Harm Reduction

Andrew Yang Calls for Investments in Safe Injection Sites. Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang says he supports government funding for safe injections sites as part of an effort to counter the country's overdose epidemic. "I would not only decriminalize opiates for personal use but I would also invest in safe consumption sites around the country," Yang said Thursday.

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

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Dies, Mexico Cartels Wreak Havoc, More... (8/15/22)

Another Texas poll has solid majority support for marijuana legalization, cartel violence flares in Mexico, and more.

Mexican security forces deployed to several major cities to deal with cartel violence. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Another Texas Poll Has Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler has support for marijuana legalization at 55 percent. Support is even higher for medical marijuana at 72 percent. Legalization had the support of 65 percent of Democrats 63 percent of independents, but only 43 percent of Republicans. Recent state polls have consistently had majorities for legalization, but one poll released late last year had support even higher at 67 percent. Regardless of popular support, marijuana legalization has made no progress in the GOP-dominated state legislature.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Dies. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is walking away from his bill to decriminalize the possession of some psychedelics,  Senate Bill 519, after it was amended in committee to delete the language decriminalizing psychedelics. "I’ve now confirmed that SB 519—decriminalizing possession and use of small quantities of certain psychedelic drugs—was amended by the Assembly Appropriations Committee to remove the decriminalization aspect of the bill," Wiener said. :(SB 519) is limited to a study. While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs. Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up."

International

Mexico's Coahuila State Sees Clashes Between Security Forces, Cartel Gunmen. Mexican security forces killed seven members of a drug cartel Sunday after a convoy of cartel trucks rolled into the town of Villa Union and attacked the city hall on Saturday. Soldiers killed seven more cartel gunmen Saturday. The clashes also left four police officers and two civilians dead. Bullet-riddled trucks left abandoned on the streets carried the initials CDN, the Spanish initials for the Cartel of the Northeast.

Mexican National Guard Troops Swarm Tijuana After Cartels Shut Down City Friday Night. Armed and hooded men believed to be cartel operatives caused mayhem across the city Friday night, burning at least 15 cars and buses in the city and using them to block roadways. Nine more vehicle fires were reported in nearby in Mexicali, Rosarito Beach, Tecate and Ensenada. At the same time, The Jalisco New Generation Cartel declared it was implementing a curfew in the city. Now, the Mexican government has sent in 3,000 National Guard troops to restore order.

Mexican Cartel Wreaks Havoc in Guanajuato and Jalisco After Mexican Army Raids Gang Boss Meeting. An army raid at a meeting of drug gang bosses in the state of Jalisco last week has led to revenge attacks in that state and neighboring Guanajuato state. Drug cartel gunmen burned more than two dozen convenience stores and blocked roads with burning buses in a number of municipalities across the two states. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the initial raid had led to a shoot-out between police and gang members "this provoked protests of burned vehicles, not only in Jalisco, but also in Guanajuato." The US Consulate in Guadalajara warned Americans that: "Local authorities and media are reporting multiple road blockades, burning vehicles, and shootouts between Mexican security forces and unspecified criminal elements in various parts of the Guadalajara metropolitan area."

Mexican Troops Head to Ciudad Juarez After Cartels Clash in Deadly Prison Riot. Hundreds of Mexican soldiers were deployed to Ciudad Juarez Friday after a prison battle and shoot-outs between Los Chapos—members of the Sinaloa Cartel—and local gang Los Mexicles left 11 dead, most of them civilians, a day earlier. In the prison riot, two Mexicles were shot and killed, and afterwards they rampaged through the city, killing nine civilians including four employees of a radio station. 

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Makes the Ballot, But Not Everybody Is Happy [FEATURE]

Missourians will be voting on whether to free the weed in November. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Ashcroft certified that an initiative in the form of a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana had turned enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

That means voters in a trio of states will have their say on marijuana legalization in November. Similar initiatives in Maryland and South Dakota have already been approved. And there could be more: Signatures for marijuana legalization initiatives have already been turned in and are awaiting verification in North Dakota and Oklahoma, and Arkansas activists qualified for the ballot, too, only to see their efforts thrown out over the ballot title. They are appealing that decision.

"I encourage Missourians to study and educate themselves on any ballot initiative," Ashcroft said in a press release. "Initiative 2022-059 that voters will see on the November ballot is particularly lengthy and should be given careful consideration."

According to Legalize Missouri 2022, the group behind the initiative, it would allow "Missourians 21 years and older to possess, purchase, consume and cultivate marijuana," as well as providing for the automatic expungement of nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. People would be able to possess up to three ounces and grow up to six flowering plants, along with six immature plants, and six clones.

The would tax retail sales at 6 percent, with localities allowed to add a 3 percent sales tax. It also gives cities and counties the option of disallowing retail sales via a popular vote.

The measure also "seeks to broaden industry participation by small business owners and among disadvantaged populations, including those with limited capital, residents of high-poverty communities, service-disabled veterans, and those previously convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses." It would also allow existing medical marijuana operations to seek recreational sales licenses beginning December 8, with regulators allowed up to 60 days to approve them, giving them an effective head-start on newcomer competitors.

"Our statewide coalition of activists, business owners, medical marijuana patients and criminal justice reform advocates has worked tirelessly to reach this point, and deserves all the credit," said John Payne, Legal Missouri 2022 campaign manager said in a press release on Tuesday. "Our campaign volunteers collected 100,000 signatures, on top of paid signature collection. That outpouring of grassroots support among Missourians who want to legalize, tax and regulate cannabis made all the difference."

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and its state chapter supported the initiative and were part of that coalition.

"NORML’s Chapter leaders in Missouri played a major role in writing this initiative so that cannabis consumers’ interests are protected," Missouri NORML Coordinator and Legal MO '22 Advisory Board Chair Dan Viets said.

And national NORML was optimistic about November.

"Recent polling reveals that a majority of Missouri residents are ready and eager to end their state’s failed marijuana prohibition," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. "That is because Missourians, like the overwhelming majority of all Americans, recognize that prohibition is a disastrous and draconian practice best cast into the waste bin of history. Voters in the Show Me State want a sensible policy of legalization and regulation, and that is why we expect that they will overwhelmingly vote ‘yes’ on this initiative this fall."

But not everybody in the Missouri marijuana community is happy. The pro-legalization and criminal justice reform group Great State Strategies, led by lobbyist Eapen Thampy, has come out against the measure because it includes some criminal penalties, such as for smoking in a public place, and because of complaints over licensing.

"We oppose this initiative because it would create constitutional criminal penalties for marijuana possession and use and furthermore excludes those with felony marijuana charges from automatic expungement or release from prison," Thampy said in a statement. "Their licensing scheme is racist and offensive: instead of opening up the free market they create a second class, Jim Crow licensing structure that will be easily rigged by the major industry players."

Similarly, the Missouri Marijuana Legalization Movement, said it planned to campaign against the initiative, also citing the criminal penalties, as well as fears that giving the existing medical marijuana industry the first crack at recreational licenses would give it too much control over adult-use marijuana.

"Here we are still putting people in jail over dime bags while these rich men are making millions of dollars under these dispensaries and grow facilities," group founder Tim Gilio said.

Whether the concerns of the disgruntled activists will resonate with the voters remain to be seen, but now, the Show Me state has the chance to show the rest of the country where it stands.

Biden DOJ Opposes Gun Rights for MedMJ Patients, MO Legal Pot Initiative Qualifies, More... (8/10/22)

A  Florida marijuana legalization initiative campaign aimed at 2024 gets underway, a Colorado natural psychedelic initiative comes up short, and more.

Marijuana testing is contributing to the truck driver shortage. (Creative Commons)
Report: Spike in Marijuana Positives Fueling Truck Driver Shortage, Supply Chain Disruptions. Amid chronic shortages of long-haul truck drivers, federal data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) shows that more than 10,000 truck drivers have been ordered off the road after testing positive for marijuana just between January 1 and April 1 of this year. That is a 33 percent increase over the same period in 2021. DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has also doubled the frequency of drug testing of truck drivers. Under federal law, CDL licensed drivers are not permitted to consume cannabis under any circumstances, regardless of whether marijuana use is legal where they live. Currently, more than 89,000 commercially licensed truck drivers are barred from the road because of positive drug tests; more than half of them are for people testing positive for marijuana.

Florida 2024 Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launched. A group calling itself Smart & Safe Florida filed a marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2024 ballot Monday. The campaign is initially being bankrolled by Trulieve, the state's largest medical marijuana provider. The measure would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over and allow existing medical marijuana retailers to sell to the recreational market, which would benefit Trulieve. It includes a provision that allows for—but does not require—the state to issue additional retail licenses. It does not include provisions for expungement, social equity, or home cultivation. The campaign will need to come up with roughly 900,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. Previous initiative campaigns have been rejected by the state Supreme Court, but Smart & Safe Florida says its bare-bones initiative should be able to avoid or overcome legal challenges.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. A marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Legal Missouri 2022 has qualified for the November ballot, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced Tuesday. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment that would remove bans on the possession, manufacturing, and sales of marijuana from the state constitution for people 21 and over. Building on an earlier medical marijuana constitutional amendment, the measure would also increase the number of retail sales licenses. It also includes a provision for the expungement of records.

Medical Marijuana

Biden DOJ Says Medical Marijuana Patients Too "Dangerous" to Own Guns. The Justice Department on Monday sought to persuade a federal court to overturn a policy blocking medical marijuana patients from buying or owning guns. The department was responding to a lawsuit filed by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and several medical marijuana users that argues that the policy deprives patients of their 2nd Amendment rights. The Justice Department told the court that it would be too "dangerous to trust regular marijuana users to exercise sound judgment"around guns. The department also argued that gun rights are reserved for "law-abiding" people, noting that marijuana remains illegal under federal law. "This memorandum uses the phrase ‘medical marijuana’ for convenience, but Congress has found that marijuana ‘has no currently accepted medical use.'’

Psychedelics

Colorado Natural Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative Falls Short on Signatures. Campaigners for Initiative 61, "Legal Possession and Use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi," announced Monday that the measure would not qualify for the ballot. Monday was the last day to turn in signatures, and organizers said their all-volunteer signature-gathering campaign had come up short. Another psychedelic reform measure, Initiative 58, the "Natural Medicine Health Care Act," has already qualified for the November ballot. It would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin and allow for its use in state-regulated settings.

Chronicle Book Review: American Cartel

American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry, by Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz (2022, Twelve Press, 400 pp., $30.00 HB)

Phillip S. Smith, with contributions from David Borden

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/americancartel.jpg
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigative reporters Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz have been on the opioid beat for years, teaming up (with others) on the Post's "The Opioid Files" series, which was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2020. Now, with American Cartel, the pair provide a deeply-sourced account of how opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies waged an all-out campaign to fend off DEA efforts to stanch the flow of billions of opioid pain pills, and to evade any culpability, even as the overdose death toll mounted year by year.

The picture Higham and Horwitz paint of corporate and political malfeasance is damning. But the laser sharp focus with which they paint it, omits much of the context in which the opioid crisis has unfolded. And that context is also very important.

An article in yesterday's Guardian shows one of the reasons why. In much of the world, very few pain patients are able to access opioids at all. Much suffering results, sometimes leading to suicide attempts. Dr. MR Rajagopal, chair of Pallium India, told the Guardian, "Pain is not visible. It happens in hospital beds or patients' rooms and is not visible to the world. Addiction, on the other hand, is very visible in headlines which quote the US epidemic and overdose deaths. No one talks about the western European success over decades; all the news is about the opioid crisis in the USA. This means that when we try to have discussions, our work becomes harder because many minds are primed against opioids."

In other words, by speaking too solely to one side of an issue, one risks adversely impacting the other sides. Whether "opiophobia" is real or significant in the US is another question. Higham and Horwitz don't venture a view on this, at least not in American Cartel.

One entity that has warned about opiophobia (without using the term) is the US Centers for Disease Control. In a 2019 memo, CDC writes that a 2016 guidance the agency issued on prescribing opioids for chronic pain had seen "misapplication[s]" by some physicians that put patients at risk. The memo cites a New England Journal of Medicine commentary by the authors of the 2016 guidance. It warns against "hard limits" on opioid dosages or cutting patients off; abrupt tapering of prescriptions; applying the guidance to acute pain situations patients face in situations like active treatment for cancer or sickle cell anemia or post-operative care; and applying it to medication-assisted treatment prescriptions for addiction.

Technically the CDC memo addressed a period of a few years beginning in 2016. But the dynamics it describes are inherent risks in a situation where providers are charged with supplying a substance that's useful but also addictive and potentially deadly if misused, and for which they can be sanctioned professionally or even prosecuted and imprisoned if things go wrong or someone disagrees. Pharma-driven promotion of their new opioid products was a factor in driving up prescribing rates to where they reached. But a part of the increase was also the medical community reacting to a real problem of under-treatment or non-treatment of pain for some patients, a problem that coexists with over-prescribing to some other patients. That increase in turn came with a learning curve.

The authors also give short shrift to the impact of today's woes and inequalities in driving the so-called deaths of despair -- a concept coined by Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton -- alienation and anomie, helplessness and hopelessness afflicting many Americans who have been left behind in the modern economy, especially in the opioid use heartlands of the Midwest and Appalachia. The Midwest deindustrialized beginning in the 1970s, and both regions largely missed out on the tech boom of the '90s and '00s. Then came even more pain with the Great Recession, followed by COVID and more economic and social disruption. People there (and elsewhere) are dying not just of opioids, but of smoking, drinking, and suicide. Big Pharma is easily (and oh so deservingly) demonized, but the laser focus on the companies allows us not to have to look in the mirror about the pain our society produces.

That factors like these should play a role in the opioid crisis, though, doesn't exonerate Big Pharma. Rather, the misleading promotions of their products carried out by pharma, took an even greater toll due to the vulnerabilities those other factors had brought to the fore.

Meanwhile, the death toll continues to mount -- over 100,000 per year, and with a new record high every year. Prescription opioids still figure prominently in overdoses. But the greatest part of the problem by far is black-market fentanyl, used deliberately by some high tolerance heavy users of opioids, but primariy causing overdose as an adulterant in heroin, counterfeit prescription pills, and other street drugs, essentially a poisoning crisis. But as Higham and Horwitz note, that is part of a wave of opioid use that began with pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma taking Oxycontin onto the market in the late 1990s. The first decade of this century also saw other prescription opioids -- oxycodone, hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet, Opana, et al. -- hit the market.

Higham and Horwitz are fond of tossing around astounding numbers of pills produced by manufacturers or sold by certain pharmacies, such as Mallinckrodt producing 3.5 billion 30 milligram hydrocodone pills in one year, and critics could protest that those numbers need context, too. A prescription for a medication doesn't just have a number of pills to take. It specifies how large a dosage there is inside each pill. A smaller number of pills that each contain a higher dose might mean more than a larger number that each contain a smaller dose. And a higher dose prescription sometimes reflects a patient's tolerance to opioids built up through past medical (or non-medical) use. Maybe West Virginia didn't really need 81 million pain pills during a five-year span. But maybe it did. Without more information, it's just not clear what these numbers mean.

They do provide some context, though, for example by comparing pain pill sales across all drug stores in a region and pointing out anomalies not easily explainable by, say, differing rates of cancer or other serious illness. And they demonstrate that plenty of businesses -- from Big Pharma to the drug store chains and individual pharmacies -- were either in it for the money or at best screwed up, both through detailed analysis and telling anecdote. For example, there was the guileless Florida pharmacist who explains to investigators that she fills pain pill prescriptions all day long, but always keeps a certain number of pills on reserve "for my real pain patients."

When the DEA cracked down first on Wild West internet sales of opioids and then on the "pill mills," medical practices with perfunctory examinations and huge numbers of opioid prescriptions whose entire business model seemed to be writing opioid prescriptions, it succeeded in reducing access to those drugs. But the people using opioids didn't stop; they went to black market drugs, fueling first a resurgence in heroin use and now an opioid crisis driven by fentanyl.

A key figure in the tale is Joe Rannazzisi, who as head of DEA's Office of Diversion Control from 2006 to 2015 oversaw the agency's endless effort to ensure that prescribed opioids are only prescribed for legitimate medical purposes and not leaking into the black market. We are inclined to think of the DEA as a prohibitionist agency, but in this case, it is acting as a regulatory agency. And what Higham and Horwitz uncover is a case of regulatory capture -- when the industry being regulated manages to set the terms under which it is regulated, for its own benefit, not that of the public.

Rannazzisi and his team of DEA lawyers spent years going after opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy chains who were repeatedly (administratively) busted for failing to do due diligence about just who was buying their products. The companies would pay huge fines, promise not to do it again, and then continue to pump massive amounts of opioids through the supply chain.

The companies mobilized against Rannazzissi and his campaign, forming industry front groups, undertaking lobbying efforts, hiring legions of high-priced law firms, and crafting legislation that would rein in what they saw as an out-of-control agency. As Higham and Horwitz document in great detail, it worked.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), both of whom received substantial contributions from the industry, but written by industry lobbyists, the nicely named Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act removed from the DEA tools that Ranizzisi had been using to try to force drug distributors to monitor and report suspicious orders, such as the 1.2 million oxycodone tablets one distributor bought from Mallinckrodt in one day, only to order another 1.2 million the next day.

The bill passed, only to be drastically revised amidst scandal after an earlier Post report on the opioid bill derailed then-President Trump's effort to name Marino drug czar. But Higham and Horwitz also detail rot inside the DEA, where the industry managed to get to high-ranking officials who sidelined Rannazzisi, forcing him into retirement and forcing many of his team members into bureaucratic Siberia. It's an ugly little story of money and power, the sort that is all too common in Washington.

If the first part of American Cartel reads like a detective novel, the second part is more like a legal thriller, It covers the massive wave of civil lawsuits filed against the drug companies, and it is not particularly edifying reading. You see hundreds of high-powered attorneys from the country's top litigating firms -- including dozens of former DEA attorneys working now working for the industry they regulated -- facing off against armies of lawyers for the thousands of states, cities, and counties. You see massive settlements from the companies and massive damages wrested from companies that went to court and lost. While it is unclear just how the moneys won or negotiated by the various plaintiffs is actually being used to help people who suffered from the opioid crisis, what is clear is that it has been a bonanza for the legal profession, with winnings -- excuse me, earnings -- by attorneys reaching well over a billion dollars.

They weren't all in it for the money, though. Some, like West Virginia attorney Paul Farrell, whose state was one of the epicenters of the pain pill epidemic, were sickened by the toll of addiction they saw all around them. Not willing to settle for the pittance the town and county he represented would receive under a massive settlement agreed to by most of the suing entities, he gambled on going it alone against the drug distributors. As this book went to print in April, he was still waiting for a decision. Earlier this month, he lost, with a federal judge ruling that drug distributors were not responsible for the area's opioid crisis.

The litigation goes on, and the dying goes on. Sometimes the drug companies settle, sometimes they lose and have to pay even more. But sometimes they win.

The profit-driven wave of opioids that engulfed the country in the last couple of decades is not an anomaly. The pharmaceutical companies have a historical pattern of creating and marketing drugs that later wreak havoc. That's what they did with amphetamines, that's what they did with barbiturates, that's what they did with benzodiazepines. It's almost enough to make one wonder if profit-driven capitalist enterprises should be in charge of the nation's drug supply.

Read Higham and Horwitz's book. But read Case and Deaton's too. And when you see the next "pill mill" story, don't assume that it is, or isn't, what it seems.

White House Preps for MDMA Therapy Approval, MO Legalization Init Could Come Up Short, More... (7/28/22)

South Dakota's first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary opens, the FDA is moving toward approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Legalizing them could be on the ballot in Medford, Oregon, this November. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Needs More Signatures as Deadline Looms. Legal Missouri, the group behind an initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, handed in more than twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the November election, but may still come up short because of the state's requirement that it meet signature thresholds in each of the state's congressional districts. The group is 1,144 signatures short in the 7th Congressional District and 1,573 short in the 6th. The campaign says it is double-checking signature counts from local election authorities in hopes of making up the shortfall. Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) will announce by August 9 whether or not the campaign has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota's First State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The Unity Road Dispensary in the small town of Hartford opened its doors for business Wednesday, becoming the first state-licensed dispensary to open after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020. But it is not the first dispensary in the state: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened Native Nations Cannabis in July 2021, saying it did not need to wait for the state to license it because it is on sovereign Native American territory. Another has since opened on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Psychedelics

Biden Administration Preparing for FDA Approval of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD. The Department of Health and Human Services released a letter Wednesday that described the Food and Drug Administration's "anticipated approval… within approximately 24 months" of psychedelic-assisted therapies. The letter said that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is exploring establishment of a Federal Task Force to address the complex issues associated with the commercialization of psychedelic medicines, including clinical, regulatory, and public policy matters.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which has pioneered clinical trials on MDMA, was pleased: "We applaud the Biden Administration for taking psychedelic-assisted therapies, and their potential to treat life-threatening mental health conditions, seriously. A Federal Task Force on psychedelic-assisted therapies should take a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring that red tape, administrative delays, or insurance coverage questions don't leave Americans suffering as they seek to access approved treatments," said MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin.

Doblin continued, "For the first time, research that has been driven by philanthropists could additionally be supported by the same types of Federal grants that have funded other health care revolutions and develop patient access strategies that prioritize public benefit over profit. For decades, we have been making the case for what the Administration is now acknowledging: psychedelic-assisted therapies may become a key in addressing the most urgent mental health challenges of our time and reducing needless suffering."

Medford, Oregon, City Council Ponders Psilocybin Legalization. In a surprise move, the city council has scheduled a study session about psilocybin for tonight's meeting. No vote on an ordinance is expected, but the city council said it wants the study session to make an informed decision about putting an ordinance on the November ballot.

Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers, Senate Legalization Bill Gets Hearing, More... (7/27/22)

The House approves a medical marijuana research bill, Switzerland and Zimbabwe open up to medicinal cannabis, and more.

The ex-president offered a dark and dreary vision of America as he called for the death penalty for drug dealers. (CC)
Senate Democrats' Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. Led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY), one of the original cosponsors of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing Tuesday on the bill and the broader topic of marijuana legalization. The bill would legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge nonviolent marijuana convictions, and impose a federal tax on marijuana sales. Marijuana sales in states that have not legalized medical or recreational marijuana would remain a federal crime. States would still set their own marijuana policies. Sen. Booker said marijuana prohibition had "miserably failed," creating a "festering injustice" of racially disproportionate marijuana law enforcement. But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) opposed the bill, bizarrely arguing that legalization would benefit "gangs and cartels." No vote was taken, and the bill's future remains uncertain.

Medical Marijuana

House Approves Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Bill. The House on Tuesday approved HR 8454, the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act. The bill sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD) passed on a vote of 325-95, exceeding the two-thirds supermajority required for a vote that takes place under a procedure known as suspension of the rules. Under suspension of the rules, no amendments are allowed and debate is limited. The bill passed with unanimous Democratic support, but Republicans were split over it. "This bill makes it easier to do the necessary, rigorous medical research -- just like is done for any other drug that has a claim of efficacy in this country," Harris, who opposes legalization but favors expanded studies, said on the floor. "The American public deserves to know what medical marijuana is useful for because, for anyone with those conditions where it is found to be useful, it could be a godsend -- but for other conditions where the claims won't be found to be valid with rigorous research, it would be found to be ineffective."

Drug Policy

Trump Calls for Death Penalty for Drug Dealers. Former President Donald Trump called Tuesday for the death penalty for drug dealers during a speech that painted a dark portrait of contemporary America. "The penalties should be very, very severe. If you look at countries throughout the world, the ones that don't have a drug problem are ones that institute a very quick trial death penalty sentence for drug 'dealers," Trump said at the America First Policy Institute. "It sounds horrible, doesn't it? But you know what? That's the ones that don't have any problem. It doesnt take 15 years in court. It goes quickly, and you absolutely -- you execute a drug dealer, and you'll save 500 lives," Trump continued. "It's terrible to say, but you take a look at every country in this world that doesn't have a problem with drugs, they have a very strong death penalty for people that sell drugs," he said.

The former president, who is now under investigation for various crimes related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, unironically called for a broad and harsh crackdown on crime, including police cars parked on every corner, giving police greater qualified immunity, "We're living in such a different country for one primary reason: There is no longer respect for the law, and there certainly is no order. Our country is now a cesspool of crime," Trump said, calling for efforts to defeat violence and to "be tough and be nasty and be mean if we have to."

International

Switzerland Fully Legalizes Medical Cannabis and Allows Export. Beginning August 1, Swiss patients will be able to legally obtain medical marijuana with a medical prescription. Until now, patients were forced to seek individual permission from the Federal Office of Public Health. This comes after the Federal Council (the executive branch) amending the Swiss Narcotics Act approved by parliament in March 2021. Although cannabis for medical purposes will be legal next week, the law only allows products containing less than 1% THC, the limit set for the country's hemp industry. The new law also will allow for exports.

Zimbabwe Allows Cannabis Use in Medicines for First Time. The country's Medicines Control Authority has invited licenses cannabis and hemp producers, as well as importers, exporters, manufacturers, and retail pharmacists to apply for licenses to sell hemp-based products for use as medicines. "Unlicensed sellers of cannabis will be prosecuted for selling unapproved" medicines, the authority added. Would-be licensees must provide product samples and allow official inspections. The move is largely driven by the country's search for ways to boost income in its agricultural sector. The Treasury Department estimates the crop has the potential to reach $1.25 billion a year.

DEA Backs Off on Banning Five New Psychedelics, Colombia's ELN Hints at Peace Talks with New President, More... (7/25/22)

Signature gatherers are criss-crossing the Cowboy State for a pair of marijuana initiatives, the US and India sign a joint agreement on cooperating against the drug trade, and more.

tryptamine molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Signature-Gathering Drive Chugging Right Along. Organizers of a pair of marijuana initiatives, the Wyoming Patient Cannabis Act and the Wyoming Cannabis Amendments, are at the midpoint of an 18-month-long signature-gathering window and already have about 17,000 raw voter signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. They need 41,776 valid voter signatures to make the ballot. One initiative would legalize medical marijuana; the other would remove criminal penalties for possessing or using marijuana.

Psychedelics

DEA Reverses Course, Will Not Ban Five New Psychedelics. Back in January, the DEA announced that it was moving to place five new psychedelics, all tryptamines, on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. But there was significant public pushback on the proposed role, including at a DEA public hearing where researchers and advocates made the case for not regulating the substances. Last Friday, DEA announced it had withdrawn the potential rule. The five new psychedelics are 4-Hydroxy-N,N-diisopropyltryptamine (4-OH-DiPT), 5-Methoxy-alphamethyltryptamine (5-MeO-AMT), N-Isopropyl-5-Methoxy-N-Methyltryptamine (5-MeO-MiPT), N,N-Diethyl-5-methoxytryptamine (5-MeO-DET), and N,N-Diisopropyltryptamine (DiPT).

Foreign Policy

US, India Ink Agreement on Fighting Drug Traffic. The State Department announced last Friday that India and the United States have signed an Amended Letter of Agreement (ALOA) in the field of narcotics control and law enforcement cooperation. The signing took place during the third meeting of the India-US Counternarcotics Working Group (CNWG) held in New Delhi on July 7-8. "Representatives from relevant agencies responsible for law enforcement, policy formulation, drug demand reduction, and other drug-related matters, participated in the deliberations on wide-ranging issues related to drug demand, narcotics trafficking, regulatory and control efforts, and cooperation on enforcement and criminal investigations," the State Department said. Both countries agreed to increase coordination and information-sharing on the drug trade, as well as fighting unregulated chemicals and pharmaceuticals being diverted into the black market. They also agreed to include drug demand reduction topics in the working group.

International

Colombia's ELN Hints at Peace Talks with Incoming President. After the FARC laid down its arms in 2016 as part of an agreement with the Colombian government, the largest remaining leftist rebel group in the countryis the National Liberation Army (ELN). Now, ELN leader Eliécer Erlinto Chamorro says that the group is interested in reaching a peace deal with leftist incoming President Gustavo Petro. "We hear voices from the new government about a different policy against drug trafficking: 'the war on drug trafficking must be ended', for being a policy that did not produce positive results. We agree, but it is not enough," he explained. "The new government says it is interested in peace in Colombia, the ELN too. We have listened to their messages and we are in the best disposition to resume talks to fill peace, with contents of social justice and democracy," the revolutionary leader said. "It is about ending drug trafficking once and for all. To build that solution, the country can count on us," he added. The ELN is one of numerous armed actors on the left and right that have financed their activities through the drug trade.

AZ Churches Sue Feds Over Ayahuasca Seizures, Schumer's Legalization Bill Coming Within Days, More... (7/20/22)

Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejects medical marijuana but calls for "immediate" study, DC Mayor signs bill providing workplace protections for marijuana users, more.

Weed will be on the Senate's mind next week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Hearing on Marijuana as Filing of Legalization Bill Looms. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on "Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms." The hearing, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a strong proponent of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's pending legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, comes amid word that the bill will drop any day now. Schumer has blocked incremental marijuana reforms, such as the SAFE Banking Act, saying he wants a full-blown legalization bill.

Kentucky Democrats Announce Plan for Legalization Bill. Frustrated by the failure of the Republican-controlled state legislature to act even on medical marijuana, state Democrats announced Thursday they will be filing legislation to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. They said they would fill "LETT's Grow" bills in both house. LETT is short for Legalizing sales, Expunging crimes, Treating medical needs, and Taxing sales. "Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts of Newport. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."

DC Mayor Signs Bill Providing Workplace Protections for Marijuana Users, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law a bill that most employers from firing or refusing to hire workers because they use marijuana. The bill would "prohibit employers from firing, failing to hire, or taking other personnel actions against an individual for use of cannabis, participating in the medical cannabis program, or failure to pass an employer-required or requested cannabis drug test, unless the position is designated safety sensitive or for other enumerated reasons." There are exceptions for police, safety-sensitive construction workers, people whose jobs require a commercial drivers' license, and people who work with children or medical patients. The new law must still be approved by Congress before it can go into effect.

Psychedelics

Arizona Churches Sue Over Seizure of Sacramental Ayahuasca. Two Arizona churches, the Arizona Yagé Assembly and the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, have filed suit in federal court over the seizure of ayahuasca, a key element in their religious practice, by federal agencies. In separate lawsuits, the two churches charge that the federal government has violated the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law bars the government from burdening the exercise of religion unless there is a compelling government interest and only if that action if the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

The Church of the Eagle and the Condor says that US Customs and Border Protection has been seizing and destroying its ayahuasca since 2020. The churches say drinking ayahuasca is "an essential mode of worship" for members, but federal agencies say any possession of ayahuasca, a Schedule I substance, violates the Controlled Substances Act. "The church and its members are aware that their sacrament is proscribed by law, but they have partaken in their sacrament both before and after the United States made a credible threat of enforcement of the CSA against them," the suit says. "Plaintiffs are violating and intend to continue to violate applicable law, rather than compromise or terminate their sincerely held religious beliefs and practices."

International

Indonesia High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana But Calls for Immediate Study. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday nixed a judicial review of the country's drug law that could have opened the door for medical marijuana. Three mothers of children with cerebral palsy backed by civil society groups had sought the review, arguing that marijuana could be used medicinally to treat medical conditions. The court held there was insufficient research to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but called on the government to "immediately" conduct research on the medicinal use of the herb… The results of which can be used to determine policies, including in this case the possibility of changing the law," said judge Suhartoyo.

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.

Drug War Issues

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