Safer Injection Sites

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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.)

Report on Options for Safe Injection Sites, Berkeley Could Decriminalize LSD, More... (11/28/22)

Irish opposition parties are talking drug reform, the Congressional Research Service issues a report on how to get around legal proscriptions on safe injection sites, and more.

LSD in blotter acid form. There is a proposal in Berkeley to decriminalize it. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Berkeley Ponders Becoming First City to Decriminalize Not Just Natural Psychedelics But LSD, Too. A proposed ordinance to decriminalize natural psychedelic drugs such as magic mushrooms that has been under study in the city for the past three years may be expanded to include the synthetic hallucinogen LSD as well. A pair of Berkeley community health commissioners are promoting the move, saying that LSD meets the definition of a psychedelic and that "nobody deserves to go to jail for having a psychedelic experience." They have now rewritten the 2019 proposed ordinance to include LSD, prompting Decriminalize Nature, the original sponsors o the ordinance to now oppose it. The Community Health Commission is set to vote Tuesday on whether to refer the rewritten ordinance to the city council. At least 15 towns or cities across the US have passed natural psychedelic decriminalization or lowest priority ordinances, but Berkeley's would be the first to include LSD.

Harm Reduction

Congressional Research Service Provide Options for Allowing Safe Injection Sites The service, a nonpartisan agency that provides information on all kinds of issues to Congress, has issued a report highlighting the "uncertainty" of the federal government's position on safe injection sites, but also pointing out that the facilities could operate securely if Congress passed legislation barring the Justice Department from interfering with them, similar to actions it has taken to allow state medical marijuana laws to be implemented. The Trump administration Justice Department filed a lawsuit to block a Philadelphia safe injection site from opening, and the Biden Justice Department has so far shown much less enthusiasm for attacking the harm reduction facilities, but their fate remains uncertain. While the Biden administration is evaluating the legality of the facilities, CRS said: "Congress could resolve that uncertainty by enacting legislation. If Congress decided to allow supervised consumption sites to operate, it could consider the breadth of such authorization. One option would be to exempt supervised consumption sites from CSA control entirely" Or Congress could approve a temporary spending bill rider "to exempt from federal prosecution facilities operating in compliance with state and local law, as it has done with state-sanctioned medical marijuana activities." A third option "would be for Congress to impose specific registration requirements for supervised consumption sites under the CSA, as it has done for entities that administer medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction," CRS continued. The report is Recent Developments in Opioid Regulation Under the Controlled Substances Act.

International

.Two opposition parties are championing major reforms in drug policy, albeit with two distinct proposals. People Before Profit's Gino Kenny has filed a private members' bill to decriminalize the possession of up to seven grams of marijuana, while the Labor Party is proposing a broader drug decriminalization bill. Kenny said marijuana prohibition is "a waste of time and resources" and that "there is a groundswell of opinion for a different narrative and a different status quo." The Labor Party, meanwhile is set to file its drug decriminalization bill Wednesday, with proponents arguing again that persecuting drug users was a waste of the police and the courts' time. But Minister of State at the Department of Health Frank Feighan said that the current government follows a drug strategy that embodies a "health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use," it has no plans to decriminalize any drugs. 

Iran Drug Executions Surge, Trump Baselessly Accuses Fetterman of Abusing Hard Drugs, More... (9/6/22)

Marijuana legalization initiatives in Arkansas and Missouri face challenges, California's governor signs a pair of medical marijuana bills, and more.

The ex-president baselessly accused Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of abusing hard drugs. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Tells State Supreme Court It Should Be on Ballot and Votes Counted. Responding to the State Board of Election Commissioners' decision to keep a marijuana legalization initiative off the November ballot because the measure's ballot title does not set a limit on THC in marijuana products, the initiative's backers, Responsible Growth Arkansas, told the state Supreme Court last Friday that it not only met but exceeded state requirements about informing voters about the subject of the initiative. After the commissioners initially blocked the measure, Responsible Growth Arkansas won a preliminary injunction keeping it on the ballot until the high court makes a final ruling, but the court also ruled that votes for and against the initiative would not be counted if it rules against the measure.

Missouri Lawmakers, Activists Urge Governor to Add Marijuana Legalization to Special Session, Urge Defeat of Initiative. A bipartisan group of lawmakers and activists called on Gov. Mike Parsons (R) to add marijuana legalization to the agenda of a legislative special session. They also announced the launch of a campaign to defeat a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment (Amendment 3) already approved for the November ballot. "Rather than settle for an ill-suited and monopolistic program shoehorned into our (state) constitution, the Missouri General Assembly has a unique opportunity to consider legislation that would legalize cannabis in a truly free market fashion," said state Rep. Tony Lovasco (R-O'Fallon). Some activists are unhappy with how the initiative would allow the state to continue to cap licenses to grow or sell marijuana and would give current medical marijuana businesses the first shot on the more lucrative recreational licenses. The special session begins next week.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana Patients from Healthcare Discrimination. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 1954, barring doctors from discriminating against patients based on a positive test for THC if the patient is a registered medical marijuana user. The bill adds that healthcare professionals cannot be punished for treating a patient who uses medical marijuana in compliance with state law. He also signed into law Senate Bill 988, which amends an existing law that permits registered patients to use medical marijuana products at hospitals. It would repeal a provision that currently requires that "health care facilities permitting patient use of medical cannabis comply with other drug and medication requirements."

Drug Policy

Donald Trump Baselessly Accuses Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Candidate of Abusing Hard Drugs. In a "Save America Rally" in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Saturday night, former President Donald Trump accused Democratic senatorial nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of abusing hard drugs without presenting any evidence that backed his claim. "Fetterman supports taxpayer-funded drug dens and the complete decriminalization of illegal drugs, including heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, and ultra-lethal fentanyl," Trump said. "By the way, he takes them himself." Fetterman's campaign responded with a statement that said in part, "more and more lies from Trump and Dr. Oz, another day, but it's the same crap from these two desperate and sad dudes." Fetterman supports marijuana legalization and has spoken in favor of drug decriminalization, as well as safe injection sites, which is what Trump was referring to when he mentioned "taxpayer-funded drug dens," but there is no evidence he is a hard drug user. He is running against Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom Trump was stumping for. 

International

Iran Drug Executions Are on the Rise Again. Human rights groups say that drug executions are on the rise in Iran. Prior to 2017, Iran executed hundreds of drug offenders each year, but that toll dropped dramatically after the Islamic Republic amended its anti-drug law that year. Thirty persons or fewer were executed for drug offenses in 2018, 2019, and 2020, but that number jumped to 126 last year and had already hit 91 so far this year. Iranian human rights groups say the rise in drug executions is part of a broader spike in executions that "represents a rapid escalation in state-sponsored violence, occurring within a context of raising political unrest in the nation."

(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 Foundationtakes 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.)

PA Pot Pardon Program Unveiled, New York City Rally for Safe Injection Sites Statewide, More... (9/2/22)

New York City's child welfare agency is still holding marijuana use against parents--especially black ones--San Francisco's new DA is approaching misdemeanor drug prosecutions much like the old one she accused of being "soft on crime," and more. 

San Francisco's Tenderloin is a drug hot spot. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York City Child Welfare Agency Still Citing Marijuana in Family Separations Despite Legalization and Policy Changes. Marijuana legalization went into effect in New York in March 2021, but court records and interviews with people involved show that the city's child welfare agency continues to use marijuana use by parents to take their children from them. Many interviewees were parents who said "it has felt impossible to extricate themselves from deeply rooted biases in the child welfare system surrounding marijuana use, specifically toward people of color." City child welfare authorities cite parental marijuana use to justify initial separations and prolong family separations by demanding drug testing or participation in drug treatment programs. All of the parents interviewed were black and all of them said marijuana was used against them because of their race. Child welfare said official policy is not to remove children solely on the basis of parental marijuana use, but families and attorneys say the agency does not follow the policy, pointing to petitions in which the only evidence of neglect cited was parental marijuana use.

Pennsylvania Announces Month-Long Pardon Project for People with Small-Time Marijuana Convictions. Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for US Senate in the state, who is running on a platform of marijuana legalization, announced a one-time, large-scale project to pardon people with past minor and non-violent marijuana convictions. The state Board of Pardons will accept applications for the PA Marijuana Pardon Project from Thursday, Sept. 1, through Friday, Sept. 30.  People who were convicted of simple marijuana possession or possession of marijuana for personal use are eligible for the pardons if they have no other criminal convictions. Those who do have additional convictions are invited to apply for clemency. The state estimates that "thousands" of people will qualify for the program.

Harm Reduction

New York City Harm Reductionists Take to Streets on International Overdose Awareness Day to Demand Safe Injection Sites Statewide. At least nine people were arrested outside Gov. Kathy Hochul's Manhattan office Wednesday as hundreds of people rallied to advocate for an expansion of safe injection sites statewide as they marked International Overdose Awareness Day. Two safe injection sites operate in New York City, but none in the rest of the state. Protestors changed "no more drug war" and blocked traffic, leading to the nine arrests. "It’s exhausting to keep experiencing loss after loss after loss, and to keep fighting without a proper response to this epidemic from politicians, said Alicia Singham Goodwin, drug policy campaign coordinator at VOCAL-NY, which helped organize the action. There were also actions to mark the day in Boston, New Hampshire, and California, where a coalition of more than 50 harm reduction groups rallied across the state and criticized Gov. Gain Newsom (D), who just a week ago vetoed a safe injection site pilot project bill. "Governor Newsom not only used his pen to cosign our participants to death, he did so while blaming his choice on our harm reduction infrastructure," said Soma Snakeoil, executive director of Sidewalk Project.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco's New DA Prosecuting Few Misdemeanor Drug Cases. After city voters ousted former DA Chesa Boudin for being "soft on crime," they expected a crackdown from his successor, Brooke Jenkins. But while police have brought three times as many drug cases to her office than in Boudin's time, about two-thirds of them are not being prosecuted. When it comes to misdemeanor offenses such as simple drug or paraphernalia possession, 99 percent of those cases are being dismissed, sent to another law enforcement agency, or recommended for probation or parole revocation. Jenkins spearheaded the recall effort against Boudin, but she looks to be just as "soft on crime" as Boudin was.

(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 Foundationtakes 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.)

Oklahoma Legalization Init May Miss November Ballot, San Francisco Could Open Safe Injection Sites, More... (8/24/22)

A bipartisan coalition of senators is demanding justice for another American medical marijuana user imprisoned in Russia, a Nebraska senator vows to file a medical marijuana bill next year after an initiative campaign came up short, and more.

Even though Gov. Newsom (D) vetoed a safe injection site bill, San Francisco may move forward anyway. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma's Use of Private Vendor to Count Signatures Could Cause Marijuana Legalization Initiative to Miss November Ballot. Yes on 820, the group behind the state's marijuana legalization initiative, is warning that the state's use of a private vendor for the first time to count signatures caused delays that may result in the measure being bumped from the November ballot. The initiative has met the signature threshold to qualify, but the count must now be approved by the state Supreme Court, and after that, a 10-day period for anyone to challenge the signatures. That is running up against a Friday election board deadline, and could keep the initiative off the ballot. "The last petition Oklahomans voted on took 17 days to count 313,000 signatures," Yes on 820 said. "In contrast, we submitted half that amount and it has taken three times as long. This delay means the election board may not receive the green light to print the ballot in time for voters to vote on it in November."

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska State Senator Pledges to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill After Initiative Campaign Come up Short. After a campaign to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot came up short on signatures, state Sen. Jen Day (D-Gretna) vowed to file a medical marijuana bill in the 2023 legislative session. She said she was also exploring the possibility of calling a special session this fail to take up the issue. "We will exhaust every measure possible to get Nebraskans the medical freedom they deserve and want," Day said. "We know that Nebraskans strongly support this."

Foreign Policy

Bipartisan Senators Demand Justice for Another US Citizen Imprisoned in Russia for Medical Marijuana. A bipartisan coalition of senators have sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken calling on the State Department to classify imprisoned US medical marijuana patient Marc Fogel as "wrongfully detained" in Russia, the same status that has been afforded to WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner. "Mr. Fogel's recent 14-year sentence to a maximum-security penal colony for possession of less than an ounce of medical marijuana can only be understood as a political ploy by Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime," the senators wrote. "Mr. Fogel, a 61-year-old with severe medical conditions, has already been detained for a year. The United States cannot stand by as Mr. Fogel wastes away in a Russian hard labor camp. As the US highlights Griner's unjust detention, Fogel's case "warrants the same degree of political attention and diplomatic intervention," the senators said.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Could Still Move Ahead with Safe Injection Sites Despite Veto of Bill. Although Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill to allow safe injection site pilot programs in Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco on Monday, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu said that he would support a nonprofit opening such a site in the city. "To save lives, I fully support a non-profit moving forward now with New York's model of overdose prevention programs," Chiu said in the statement. New York City has a nonprofit group running two safe injection sites. Two city nonprofits, HealthRight360 and the AIDS Foundation, said they are willing to operate sites, but need a location and funding, either from the city or from private donors, as is the case in New York City.

California is One Signature Away from Okaying Safe Injection Sites [FEATURE]

The nation's most populous state is on the verge of approving safe injection sites in some of its largest cities. A bill that would do just that, Senate Bill 57, narrowly won its final vote in the legislature Monday, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has previously signaled that he was "very open" to the law.

Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Such facilities could be coming soon to some California cities. (vch.ca)
The bill authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) authorizes what it calls "overdose prevention programs" (or safe injection sites) as pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, the city of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. In each of those jurisdictions, city councils or boards of supervisors have requested inclusion in the bill and will decide whether and how to participate. The pilot program will run for five years, through January 1, 2028.

The legality of safe injection sites under federal law remains unclear. During the Trump administration, the Justice Department strongly opposed them and successfully blocked an effort to open one in Philadelphia, but the Biden administration Justice Department has expressed openness to the harm reduction intervention.

That uncertainty did not stop New York City from opening the first government-approved safe injection sites last November or Rhode Island passing legislation and following suit in March, although the Rhode Island sites are being hobbled by a lack of funding after legislators mandated that no government funds be used to operate them. And that uncertainty has not deterred lawmakers in Sacramento, either.

The California bill overcame extensive pushback, primarily from law enforcement, which argued that the sites failed to provide a strong enough path to drug treatment. Similar objections killed three previous attempts to pass safe injection site legislation by Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), including a 2018 bill that passed the legislature only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

It was supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, California Society of Addiction Medicine, National Harm Reduction Coalition, Healthright 360, Tarzana Treatment Center, and the California Association of Alcohol & Drug Program Executives.

Support for the bill was also heightened by significant increases in drug use and overdoses since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, with 711 deaths total. In 2021, 640 people died of overdoses, and the city is on track to exceed that number this year. Statewide, approximately 10,000 people died of drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021.

"California -- like our nation as a whole -- is experiencing a dramatic and preventable increase in overdose deaths, and we need every available tool to help people stay alive and get healthy," said Senator Wiener after the final vote. "Safe consumption sites are a proven model to help people avoid overdose deaths, reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, reduce syringe litter, and help people access treatment. This legislation isn't about whether we want people to use drugs. Rather, it's an acknowledgment that people *are* using drugs, and our choice is whether we want to make every effort to help them survive and get healthy. The time has come for California to adopt this proven overdose death prevention strategy."

Safe injection sites have been operating for decades in Europe, Canada, and Australia and have a proven safety track record. At the 170 safe injection sites that have operated around the world, not a single overdose death has been reported. In New York City, in the first three months of operation, staff at these sites were able to halt over 150 overdoses.

Safe injection sites are a proven harm reduction intervention that saves lives without increasing crime or disorder. The Biden administration does not appear to be inclined to claim they violate federal law and has made no move against the sites operating in New York and Rhode Island. It appears the path is open. All Gov. Newsom has to do is pick up his pen and sign the bill.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Goes to Governer, WV Cities and Counties Settle with Opioid Distributors, More... (8/2/22)

Louisiana police can no longer search homes based on the odor of marijuana without a warrant, there is good polling for marijuana legalization in Missouri, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site. California cities could soon follow suit. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Cops Can No Longer Use Marijuana Odor as Excuse to Search Homes. As of Monday, police in the state are prohibited from searching people's residences based on the odor of marijuana unless they have a warrant. That is because the legislature this year passed and the governor signed into law Act 473, which mandates that: "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a search without a warrant of a person's place of residence." Another new law, this one banning vaping or smoking marijuana in a vehicle, also went into effect Monday.

Missouri Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll of registered voters has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, including majorities of every demographic group except those over 65 and Republicans. While GOP voters did not show majority support, more Republicans supported legalization (47 percent) than opposed it (40 percent). The poll comes as marijuana legalization initiative awaits a decision a week from today on whether it has turned in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Opioids

West Virginia Cities and Counties Settle with Drug Firms Over Opioid Crisis. A group of cities and counties that sued drug distribution firms, accusing them of fueling a deadly wave of opioid use, have settled with three distributors for $400 million. The companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, were facing imminent trial in state court when they settled. Last month, a federal judge ruled against Cabell County and Huntington in similar claims. They are not included in the settlement announced Monday and plan to appeal the ruling that rejected most arguments made against the drug companies.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow four safe injection site pilot programs to get underway is now on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 57 got final approval in the Senate Monday. It had already passed the Senate earlier, but was amended in the House, necessitating a final concurrence vote. Under the bill, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco could open harm reduction centers as pilot programs lasting through January 1, 2028. "We're seeing an escalation in overdose deaths," Wiener said after Monday's vote. "These sites are a proven strategy to save lives and get folks into treatment. It's time." A similar bill passed in 2018, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D). If Gov. Newsom signs the bill, California would follow Rhode Island as states that have okayed safe injection sites. A municipal safe injection site program is currently underway in New York City.

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Nears Final Passage, PA MedMJ DUI Bill Advances, More... (6/30/22)

North Carolina permanently legaizes hemp at the last minute, a Missoula, Montana, entheogen decriminalization resolution is withdrawn for lack of support, and more.

The safe injection site in Vancouver. Similar facilities could be coming soon to California cities. (vcha.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill to Protect Patients from DUI Charges Advances. The Senate Transportation Committee has approved Senate Bill 167, which would protect state medical marijuana patients from wrongful convictions for driving under the influence. The bill advanced Tuesday on a unanimous vote. The bill would treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug, requiring proof of impairment that interferes with a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle before he could be charged with DUI. The state currently has a zero-tolerance DUI law that could expose patients to such charges for taking their medicine. There are some 700,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

Hemp

North Carolina Approves Permanent Hemp Legalization. Just two days before a previous law temporarily legalizing hemp production was set to expire, leaving an estimated 1,500 state hemp farmers in the lurch, the legislature gave final approval to a bill to make hemp legalization permanent, Senate Bill 455 on Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the bill into law Thursday. The old law was set to expire Friday.

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Shelved. A pair of city council members, Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan, earlier this month introduced a resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants in the city, but they have now shelved it after failing to gain enough support on the council to move it. Other council members cited scarce research on the plants' benefits, unresolved questions about law enforcement, and the potential threat to youth as reasons to oppose the resolution. The sponsors now say they will now regroup and seek to build council support before trying again.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Passes Assembly. The Assembly has approved Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) bill to allow safe injection site pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. The bill foresees a five-year pilot program for each of those locales, all of which have formally requested to be included. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote after changes were made in the Assembly and then to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). "Every overdose death is preventable," said Sen. Wiener. "We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB 57 is long overdue and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

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.

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