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Record Overdose Death Numbers Prompt Calls for Harm Reduction, Drug Decriminalizaion [FEATURE]

On May 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the most overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year. The figure marks a 15 percent increase over 2020, with the number of overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999. And this is only provisional data; the actual death toll could be even higher.

More people died of drug overdoses last year than from gunfire and traffic accidents combined, and the ever-rising death toll is leading to ever-louder calls for effective policy prescriptions and harm reduction interventions to reduce the carnage.

Opioids were implicated in nearly 80,000 overdose deaths, with synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and its derivatives, involved in more than 68,000. Cocaine was mentioned in more than 23,000 overdose deaths and psychostimulants, primarily methamphetamine, mentioned in more than 30,000.

To its credit, the Biden administration has recognized the urgency of the problem, embracing harm reduction interventions such as needle exchanges, drug testing, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in its 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The strategy includes $30 million for harm reduction grants, but also $300 million increases for the DEA and Customs and Border Patrol. While the prohibitionist impulse remains strong, at least the administration has explicitly recognized the need for harm reduction.

But that isn't enough, advocates say.

"New data from CDC has confirmed our worst fears. The combined pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly potent illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed and under-resourced public health system have driven the overdose crisis to catastrophic levels," said Daliah Heller, Vice President of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, in a statement.

>Vital Strategies is a global public health organization that in February, launched "Support Harm Reduction," a campaign to highlight five key interventions for preventing overdose that many people in the United States still don’t have access to: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers. 

>"What we’re doing now isn’t working, because the decades-old punitive response to drug use still predominates: The transition to a health-first, harm reduction approach has been slow and piecemeal," Heller continued. "Anemic levels of funding and policy support are woefully insufficient to stem the tide of overdose we are experiencing. These data are an urgent call to action for government at all levels: we need to mount a massive public health response to overdose that centers harm reduction and support instead of criminalization and punishment for people who use drugs.  

"Far too few people have access to any of the five key interventions we know will reduce overdose deaths," Heller added. "Most of these services are available in some form, in some locations in the majority of states, but they all need to be massively scaled up with an emergency investment. Until such actions are taken, the continued escalation of this overdose crisis seems inevitable," she said.

"The devastating rise in overdose deaths is falling most heavily on Black and Indigenous communities, where the need for relief now is more urgent than ever before," Heller noted. "A massive surge in funding and support for a harm reduction public health response will save lives immediately, engaging people who use drugs with lifesaving resources and support. The time for action is now."

Likewise, the new CDC numbers prompted the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) to call on Congress to urgently support harm reduction services and move toward drug decriminalization.

"Once again, we are devastated by these numbers," said Jules Netherland, DPA Managing Director of the Department of Research & Academic Engagement. "Over 107,000 of our friends, family and neighbors lost their lives to drug overdose last year. And sadly, we know the numbers will only continue to climb unless our policymakers actually do what is necessary to curb them. The United States has spent over 50 years and well over a trillion dollars on criminalization - and this is where it has gotten us. It's clearly not working. It's time we start investing where it actually matters - in our communities, specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities where we are now seeing the sharpest rise in overdose deaths. The evidence shows us, that in order to actually make a difference, we have to replace these approaches with those centered in public health, such as drug decriminalization coupled with increased access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction services, overdose prevention centers, and legal regulation and safer supply to reduce the likelihood of accidental overdose," Nederland said.

It is time for safe injection sites, too, DPA insisted.
 
"We are grateful that the Biden Administration has embraced harm reduction as part of their National Drug Control Strategy, but we need to see that commitment met with Congressional funding and a massive scaling up of these health services," Nederland said. "It's also essential that Overdose Prevention Centers be implemented, which decades of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies and utilization in over 14 countries show us are one of the most effective ways to save lives now. While it may not always be politically convenient, it’s time to be guided by the evidence about what works. Overdose deaths are avoidable and a policy failure—it’s time we stop recycling the same policies that got us here and take the actions that are necessary to save lives."

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.

Singapore Hangs Second Drug Convict in a Month, New Yorkers Support Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/27/22)

A Connecticut bill to eliminate commercial marijuana gifting passes the House, a new poll shows strong support for medical marijuana in North Carolina as the legislature considers a bill, and more.

Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, executed Wednesday in Singapore for 1.5 ounces of heroin. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Bill to Eliminate Commercial Marijuana Gifting, Allow Physicians' Assistants to Write Medical Marijuana Recommendations Passes House. The House voted Tuesday to approve House Bill 5329, which would originally have barred the gifting of marijuana by anyone, but has been amended to allow social gifting and has seen the criminal penalties for commercial gifting removed. Advocates had argued that the ban on social gifting would hurt patients who may rely on it to get their medicine. The bill also will allow physicians' assistants to recommend medical marijuana to patients. It now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Poll Has Supermajority for Medical Marijuana, Majority for Legalization. A poll from WRAL News shows that 72 percent of state voters want medical marijuana legalized and 57 percent want full adult legalization. Those supermajorities for medical marijuana include 73 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, while 63 percent of Democrats and only 45 percent of Republicans want full adult legalization. The poll comes as a medical marijuana bill, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 711) is before the Senate, where it went through several committees last yar and is now back before the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Harm Reduction

New Yorkers Support Safe Injection Sites, Poll Finds. A new poll from Data for Progress found majority support for safe injection sites among likely voters in the state. A whopping 80 percent of Democrats and even 43 percent of Republicans favored the harm reduction intervention, creating an overall level of support at 64 percent. This was an online poll, which generally skews younger than traditional phone surveys, but Data for Progress did not provide an age breakdown of the numbers.

International

Singapore Executes Malaysian Man with Mental Disabilities on Drug Charges. The city-state has gone ahead with the execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam after a long international campaign for clemency failed. Dharmalingam, 34, got caught bringing 1.5 ounces of heroin into Singapore in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010. Singapore halted executions during the coronavirus pandemic but started them up again with the hanging of another drug offender on March 30. Singapore has some of the toughest drug laws in the world, with a mandatory death sentence for trafficking more than a half ounce of heroin. Dharmalingam's lawyers had tried numerous appeals, noting that he had an IQ of 69 and that his mental condition had deteriorated in prison, and garnered extensive international support for clemency, to no avail. "Hanging an intellectually disabled, mentally unwell man because he was coerced into carrying less than three tablespoons of diamorphine is unjustifiable and a flagrant violation of international laws that Singapore has chosen to sign up to," said Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty group Reprieve.

Amendments Fly as House Legal Pot Vote Looms, Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking, More... (3/30/22)

A Maryland marijuana legalization bill advances, New Mexico pot shops will open starting Friday, a Georgia therapeutic psychedelic study bill advances, and more.

The House is set to vote on the MORE Act this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers File Various Amendments to House Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a House floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) set for this week, proposed amendments are coming fast and furious. They will be taken up by the House Rules Committee Wednesday. Most of the proposed amendments seek to impose restrictions on the bill, such as requiring completion of various certain studies before legalization, limiting expungement provisions, or maintaining certain penalties. One, though, would provide relief for people denied security clearances because of past marijuana convictions.

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 833, that would only take effect if voters approved a related ballot question in November. A slightly different version of the bill passed the House last month, so a conference committee will have to hash out the differences. The panel did not act on House Bill 1, which would establish the November referendum. The legislature faces a deadline at the end of the week. Lawmakers will only have the chance to override a possible veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) if they get bills to his desk this week.

New Mexico Recreational Pot Shops Can Open Their Doors on Friday. The state legislature legalized marijuana last year, and beginning on Friday, the first recreational marijuana sales in the state can begin. New Mexicans could legally possess and use marijuana since last June, but had no place to legally purchase recreational marijuana—until now. State officials have issued more than 200 licenses for retail pot shops. When they open later this week, adults will be able to purchase two ounces of weed at a time.

Opiates and Opioids

California Fentanyl Crisis Prompts Flurry of Bills. Lawmakers are responding to a surge in fentanyl-related overdoses with a number of bills, some punitive, but others embracing harm reduction interventions. Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) has filed Assembly Bill 2246, which would increase penalties for possession and distribution, including a sentence of 20 years to life for someone who sold fentanyl that resulted in a fatal overdose. Assembly Member James Ramos (D-Highland) has field Assembly Bill 1628, which would require companies such as Snapchat to implement policies that prohibit the sale of fentanyl and other controlled substances on their platforms. Senate Bill 864 would require hospitals to test drug screening urine samples for fentanyl, Senate Bill 1350 would require warnings to people convicted of drug distribution offenses that they could be charged with manslaughter of murder in the event of a fatal overdose, while Assembly Bill 1673 would set up a California Fentanyl Task Force to produce statewide statistics and ramp up public awareness. On the harm reduction side, Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 57 would authorize pilot safe injection site program in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. That bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Psychedelics

Georgia Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill Advances. The House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee voted Tuesday to approve House Resolution 896, which would create a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and make recommendations for legislation. The bill is couched as an effort to address the need for effective treatments for depression and PTSD for military veterans. It now heads to the House Defense and Veteran Affairs Committee.

International

Colombia Coca Zone Battle Sees 11 FARC Dissidents Killed. The Colombia Army said Tuesday its soldiers had killed at least 11 FARC dissidents in open combat n Puerto Leguizamo municipality in Putumayo province near the borders with Ecuador and Peru. The area has extensive coca plantings and cocaine-producing laboratories and is contested by various armed actors. The FARC dissidents are former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who rejected the FARC's demobilization under a 2016 peace deal with the government.

Mexico Attack Leaves at Least 20 Dead in Michoacan. Presumed cartel gunmen attacked spectators at a cockfighting pit in the town of Las Tinajas Sunday, leaving at least 20 people dead and several more wounded. "It was a massacre of one group by another," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference, expressing his regret at the deaths. The state of Michoacan and neighboring Guanajuato have been plagued by cartel violence for years, with the most recent mass killing leaving 17 people dead only weeks ago. Earlier this month, the mayor of Aguilla, Michoacan, was gunned down, and days later, journalist Armando Linares was killed in Zitacuaro. Most of the violence is between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local gangs, but some of it is between different factions of that same cartel.

Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking. Closing its ears to pleas for leniency, including from the UN Human Rights Office, Singapore on Wednesday executed Abdul Kahar Othman, 68, for drug trafficking. The hanging marked the first execution in the country since it halted them due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last execution took place in November 2019. Kahar, from a poor family, had struggled with addiction all his life and spent much of his adult life behind bars. He was convicted of drug trafficking in 2013. Another execution may be looming. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, has been on death row since 2010 for trying to smuggle 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. He lost his final appeal on Tuesday. 

NJ Governor Signs Syringe Access Expansion Bills, Thailand to Decriminalize Marijuana, More... (1/18/22)

It's January, and the marijuana bills are coming fast and furious, a Utah bill would create a psychedelic therapy task force, and more.

Louisiana US Senate candidate Gary Chambers fires up for his first campaign ad. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Democrats are back once again with a marijuana legalization bill. State Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) has filed House Bill 150, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but bans people from growing their own. The bill also envisions a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce and includes a small social equity provision that would earmark a portion of pot taxes for aiding communities most hard hit by the war on drugs. But the bill's prospects are cloudy since it would need a supermajority to pass the legislature and would then face a governor reluctant to sign it.

Louisiana US Senate Candidate Smokes Blunt in Campaign Ad. Democratic US Senate candidate Gary Chambers on Tuesday released his first campaign ad, a video showing him smoking a marijuana blunt and calling for its legalization. "Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana," said Chambers in the video. "States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren't dealers but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me," he goes on. In a tweet accompanying his ad, Chambers added: "I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology." He is running to challenge sitting US Senator John Kennedy (R).

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment Bill Filed. Delegate Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) has filed House Bill 1, a marijuana legalization bill with a twist: It takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which would have to win a supermajority of both the House and Senate before going to voters at the polls during a general election. The measure would legalize marijuana possession for people 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. If it gets past the legislature, voters would be asked: "Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in the State of Maryland?" Recent polls show roughly two-thirds of Marylanders are ready to free the weed.

Psychedelics

Utah Bill Would Create Psychedelic Task Force. Rep. Brady Brammer (R-Highland) has filed House Bill 167, which would create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force that would "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." The task force would be co-chaired by the head of the state Health Department and the head of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and would also include a licensed psychiatrist; a licensed psychologist; a representative from the Utah Medical Association, someone who researches and studies neuroscience and mental health; a health system representative; and a patient who is knowledgeable about using a psychotherapy drug, among others. Although not mentioned specifically in the bill, supporters say psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, is the drug most likely to be considered by the task force.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Syringe Access Expansion Bills into Law. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Tuesday signed into laws a pair of bills that will ease access to syringes. The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) removes authority to approve and close syringe access programs (SAPs) from local municipalities and places that authority with the New Jersey Department of Health, aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) decriminalizes possession of syringes and allows for expungement of previous convictions. By shifting authority from municipalities to the New Jersey Department of Health, this legislation effectively prevents the Atlantic City SAP, called the Oasis Drop-In Center and operated by South Jersey AIDS Alliance, from being closed by the Atlantic City Council. In July 2021, the Atlantic City Council voted to remove municipal approval from the SAP over the objections of people who use drugs, people living with HIV, local and statewide advocates, and the Murphy administration.

International

Canadian Harm Reductionists Sue Alberta Over Policy to Require Safe Injection Site Users Show Health ID Cards. Harm reduction groups are taking legal action to try to block the province of Alberta from requiring that people using a safe injection site show their Health Canada identification cards. The policy is set to go into effect on January 31, and harm reductionists say it will create a barrier to using the service and increase the risk of fatal overdoses. The Alberta Court of Appeal has agreed to an emergency hearing on January 27. This latest move comes after a provincial judge earlier this month dismissed an injunction that would have blocked implementation of the new rule.

Thailand to Decriminalize Marijuana. The Thai Food and Drug Administration is set to propose removing marijuana from the country's list of proscribed drugs on Wednesday, clearing the way for Health Minister Anutin Charmvirakul to grant final approval. "While the law change will allow all parts of cannabis to be bought, sold and used, recreational use will likely remain controlled as marijuana extracts with higher tetrahydrocannabinol levels that get people high will still be regulated," said Chaiwat Sowcharoensuk, an analyst at Krungsri Research. "Producers of soaps, beauty products and cosmetics from marijuana will likely be the ones to benefit the most from the decriminalization."

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

Whew! Another year to put in the rear view mirror, but not before we reflect on the year that was. It was a year of tragic overdose death numbers and groundbreaking responses; it was a year of advances on marijuana reform in the states but statemate in Congress; it was a year of psychedelic advance in the states and cities -- but not enough political will to reform policing, at least not federally.

As always, there was a lot going on in the realm of domestic drug policy, and here are ten of the year's most important stories. Check back next week for our Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021.

1. Fentanyl, Pandemic Drive Drug Overdose Deaths to Record High

The nation either neared or surpassed the one millionth drug overdose death since 1999 in 2021. Driven largely by two factors -- pandemic-related isolation and lack of access to treatment services, and the increasing presence of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply -- overdose deaths hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported.

That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in October. And as if that were not bad enough, CDC reported in November provisional estimates that drug overdose deaths had topped 100,300 in the period from May 2020 to April 2021 -- the highest one-year overdose death toll ever.

As for that million overall dead figure, the CDC reported that through 2019 the toll had reached 841,000. We are now two years past that, and while that figure hasn't been officially recorded, just adding up the numbers makes it likely that we have already reached that horrific benchmark.

2. Nation's First Official Safe Injection Site Opens in New York City

The legality of safe injection sites -- where drug users can consume their substances in a clean, well-lit place under medical supervision -- remains unsettled under federal law, but officials in New York City decided they couldn't wait. In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who began calling for them in 2018, and the city Health Department announced that "the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center [safe injection site] services in the nation have commenced."

The move was quickly lauded by editorials in leading newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and by Christmas Eve, the city reported that 59 overdoses had already been reversed amid 2,000 visits to the facilities. Meanwhile, a safe injection site in Philadelphia whose opening was blocked in January by a federal appeals court after the Trump administration Justice Department moved against it, is awaiting a March filing by the Biden administration to see if it will take a more positive position allowing the facility to open.

Bills to allow safe injection sites were introduced in a number of states, including California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Utah, although only the Rhode Island bill passed and was signed into law. Still, the opening of the New York City facilities is a historic harm reduction first for the United States, and a likely harbinger of more to come.

3. Marijuana Reform Progress in the States

Nearly half the population now lives in legal marijuana states after five states this year joined the 13 others that had previously done so, mostly at the ballot box. But the states that legalized it this year all did so via the legislative process. Those are Connecticut (Senate Bill 1201), New Jersey (Assembly Bill 21/Senate Bill 21 and Assembly Bill 897), New Mexico (House Bill 2), New York (Senate Bill S854A), and Virginia (House Bill 2312/Senate Bill 1406).

This movement comes as marijuana legalization continues to garner strong public support, with a November Gallup poll reporting "a new high" of 68 per cent report. There was other marijuana-friendly legislative action in the states as well: Louisiana decriminalized it, four states (Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, Virginia) passed expungement laws, Alabama approved medical marijuana (although not in smokeable form), and 17 states approved medical marijuana expansion laws. Weed is on a roll.

4. Democrats Haven't Got Federal Marijuana Legalization Done, and It's Not Looking So Great for Next Year, Either

With Democrats in control of Congress after the November 2020 elections, hopes were high that this could be the year federal marijuana prohibition would be ended. The House had already passed a legalization bill at the end of the last Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) was pushing for it, and even if President Biden opposed full legalization and would only go as far as supporting decriminalization, that was a bridge that could be crossed when we came to it.

Now, at the end of 2021, that bridge is still a ways down the road. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), passed the House of Representatives a year ago. But that was a different Congress, meaning it has to pass the House again. In this Congress it's only passed the Judiciary Committee, in late September, and hasn't moved since. On the Senate side, Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) rolled out an initial draft of their legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in mid-July, but have yet to formally file legislation.

One big reason for the impasse is that Democrats are at odds among themselves, tussling over whether to hold out for full legalization replete with social equity measures, or to go for incremental measures in the meanwhile, such as banking access for state-legal cannabusinesses through the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996). That bill passed the House and was inserted into the annual defense funding bill, only to be removed at the insistence of Senate leadership in the former camp, including Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The fight over how to approach marijuana reform federally has split not only the Democrats, but also the drug reform movement, with groups like the Drug Policy Alliance calling for not passing banking except as part of a full legalization bill, while NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project lobbied hard for the SAFE Act.

As the year came to an end, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) told the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that Congress would take up marijuana reform in the spring. But with an election year looming, Congress evenly divided, and not even all Democratic senators sure votes on marijuana legalization, Congress looks more likely to be nibbling at the edges of federal pot prohibition rather than ending it -- or perhaps to do nothing. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills filed, from expungement to veterans' access to easing research barriers and more. In 2021, nibbling at the edges may be the best we can do.

Meanwhile, in November, a GOP legislator, Sourth Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace filed her own bill, the States Reform Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level. It would do so by removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, leaving it up to the states to set their own marijuana policies. The bill would also set a three percent federal excise tax, and release and expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana offenses. Mace said her bill represented a compromise that could gain support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Last year's mass mobilization around George Floyd's death has yet to translate to new laws restraining police misbehavior. (CC)
5. Even in the Wake of George Floyd, Police Reform Can't Move in the Senate

Following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police and the massive mobilizations it generated, the impetus grew to reexamine and reform police practices. The spirit of reform in response to the crisis took root in both houses and both parties, with Republican South Carolina Senator Tim Scott filing a tepid Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act last year. But that bill lacked key provisions demanded by Democrats, such as an end to qualified immunity for police officers in civil lawsuits, and it died at the end of the last session.

That spirit of reform was embodied in February, when the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (HR 1280), sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). That bill would make it easier to convict a police officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution and limit qualified immunity as a defense against liability in a private civil action against an officer. It also restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds and creates a National Police Misconduct Registry, among other provisions.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) envisioned something similar in the Senate when in June he announced his framework for comprehensive police reform legislation. Like the House bill, it too reformed qualified immunity so that people could actually recover damages from police who violate their constitutional rights. It too would make it easier to federally prosecute police misconduct. And it too would create a National Police Misconduct Registry, as well as banning racial profiling and providing incentives for states to adopt policies banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and other airway-restrictive holds in their use-of-force policies.

Booker and Scott would become the point men in a month's long effort to craft a police reform bill with bipartisan support over the course of the summer. But by September, the negotiations had hit a dead end, with Booker telling reporters: "We weren't making progress -- any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform to America's policing," he said. And with that, federal police reform was dead for the year.

One of the irresolvable issues was qualified immunity, on which Scott and the Republicans refused to budge. Instead, in a statement noting the end of negotiations, Scott claimed "Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement" and then, with a complete unawareness of irony, complained about using "a partisan approach to score political points."

So far in the Congress, it has been justice delayed. Will it end up being justice denied? There is still a year left in the session, so stay tuned.

6. The Biden Administration's Partial Embrace of Harm Reduction

From the outset, the Biden administration is proving to be the friendliest ever toward harm reduction, even though it has yet to acknowledge one of the most effective harm reduction interventions: safe injection sites (or "supervised consumption sites" or "overdose prevention centers"). The first signal came in March, when the administration included nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services in the coronavirus relief bill. The bill allocated $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

Then, on April 1, the administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like as it released the congressionally-mandated Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One. That document contains a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, but also prioritizes "enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts." The same month, it allowed federal funds to be used to buy rapid fentanyl test strips.

After a quiet summer, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra made news in October when he announced the department's overdose prevention strategy and committed to more federal support for harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. He even suggested the agency might be open to safe injection sites, but in a sign of the delicacy of the subject in this administration, HHS quickly walked back the comments: "HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites," the statement read. "The issue is a matter of ongoing litigation. The Secretary was simply stressing that HHS supports various forms of harm reduction for people who use drugs."

In November, the administration released model naloxone legislation. The administration on Wednesday released model legislation to help states improve access to naloxone treatment for opioid overdoses. The model bill encourages people to obtain naloxone, protects them from prosecution when administering it, requires health insurance to cover it, and provides increased access to it in schools and correctional facilities.

Also in November, that $30 million from the coronavirus relief bill got real when SAMHSA announced it had launched $30 million harm reduction grant funding opportunity to "help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use."

The Biden administration is clearly moving in the direction of harm reduction, but where it comes down on safe injection sites is still muddy. The Justice Department is preparing a brief in the case of Safehouse, a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site that was blocked from opening after the Trump administration Justice Department persuaded the 3rd US Circuit Court of appeals that it violated the Controlled Substance Act's "crack house" provision. That brief will be a key indicator of whether the administration is prepared to fully embrace harm reduction, but we are going to have to wait until next year to find out.

7. Oregon Leads the Way on Drug Decriminalization, Others Are Vying to Follow

With the November 2020 passage of Measure 110 with 59 percent of the vote, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession, and by year's end, the initial results were looking pretty good. Because the measure tapped into marijuana tax revenues to fund treatment and harm reduction services, those programs are getting a hefty $302 million in much needed funding over the next two years.

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

In the wake of the Oregon vote, a number of other states saw decriminalization bills introduced -- Florida, Kansas, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington -- and so did Congress, when Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO in June filed the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decrim. DPRA is the first time decriminalization bill to be introduced in Congress.

Also on the decrim front this year, efforts are underway in Washington, DC and Washington state to put initiatives on the ballot next year. The public seems to be ready: A summer poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71 percent of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed and 59 percent supported decriminalizing drug possession. A slightly earlier ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll around the same time had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting decrim. Decriminalization is starting to look like an idea whose time has come.

8. Conservative State Supreme Courts Negate the Will of the Voters

The November 2020 elections resulted in a clean sweep for drug reform initiatives, with marijuana legalization being approved in four states and medical marijuana in two states. But in two cases, marijuana legalization in South Dakota and medical marijuana in Mississippi, Republican-dominated state Supreme Courts moved to effectively negate the will of the voters.

In South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote, but acting at the behest of South Dakota anti-marijuana Republican Governor Kristi Noem, a county sheriff and the head of the Highway Patrol sued to block the measure. They won in circuit court and won again when the state Supreme Court threw out Amendment A, ruling it unconstitutional because it violated a provision limiting constitutional amendments to one subject. Noem's victory may prove ephemeral, though: The activists behind Amendment A are already collecting signatures for a 2022 initiative, and the state legislature didn't even wait for the Supreme Court decision to decide it is ready to legalize marijuana in the next session.

In Mississippi, Initiative 65 won with 74 percent of the vote, but a Republican local official successfully challenged it, and in May, the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court threw it out -- managing to wipe out the state's initiative process as it did so. Under the state constitution, initiative campaigns are required to get one-fifth of signatures from each of five congressional districts, which seems straightforward enough. The only problem is that since congressional reapportionment after the 2000 census, the state only has four districts, making it impossible for any initiative to comply with the constitutional language.

The state has seen numerous initiatives since 2000, with none of them challenged. When faced with the conundrum, the Supreme Court could have found that constitutional language "unworkable and inoperable on its face," but instead pronounced itself bound to find Amendment 65 "insufficient" because it cannot meet the five-district requirement.

The legislature has been working to craft a medical marijuana bill, but Republican Governor Tate Reeves is not happy with the legislative language and has refused to call a special session on medical marijuana. Mississippians will have to wait for 2022.

9. House Votes to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, But Senate Dallies

In September, in an effort to undo one the gravest examples of racially-biased drug war injustice, the House voted to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. HR 1693, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021, passed on a vote of 361-66, demonstrating bipartisan support, although all 66 "no" votes came from Republicans. Amidst racially-tinged and "tough on drugs" political posturing around crack use in the early 1980s, accompanied by significant media distortions and oversimplifications, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, cosponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Under that bill, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence.

While race neutral on its face, the law was disproportionately wielded as a weapon against African-Americans. Although similarly small percentages of both Blacks and Whites used crack, and there were more White crack users than Black ones, Blacks were seven times more likely to be imprisoned for crack offenses than Whites between 1991 and 2016. Between 1991 and 1995, in the depths of the drug war, Blacks were 13 times more likely to be caught up in the criminal justice meat grinder over crack. And even last year, the US Sentencing Commission reported that Black people made up 77 percent of federal crack prosecutions.

After years of effort by an increasingly broad alliance of drug reform, racial justice, human rights, religious and civic groups, passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act took a partial step toward reducing those disparities. The FSA increased the threshold quantity of crack cocaine that would trigger certain mandatory minimums -- instead of 100 times as much powder cocaine than crack cocaine needed, it changed to 18 times as much.

The 2018 FIRST STEP Act signed by President Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. And now, finally, an end to the disparity is in sight. The Senate version of the bill is S. 79, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by fellow Democrat Dick Durbin (IL) and GOP Senators Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). After the vote, they prodded their Senate fellows to get moving. But the Senate bill has yet to move after being filed 11 months ago.

10. Psychedelic Reform Movement Broadens in States and Cities

The movement to ease or undo laws criminalizing psychedelic substances continued to broaden and deepen in 2021. Detroit and Seattle joined Denver and Oakland in the ranks of major cities that have embraced psychedelic reform, with the Seattle city council approving a psychedelic decrim measure in October and Detroit voters approving a psychedelic decrim measure in November.

A number of smaller towns and cities went down the same path this year too, including Cambridge, Massachusetts in February, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in September (joining Ann Arbor), Easthampton, Massachusetts in October (joining Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville), and Port Townsend, Washington, in December.

Psychedelic reform bills are now making their way to statehouses around the country, with bills showing up in eight states by March and a handful more by year's end. Most of them have died or are languishing in committee, and a much-watched California psychedelic decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 519, has been pushed to next year after passing the state Senate only to run into obstacles in the Assembly. Two of them passed, though: New Jersey S3256, which lessens the penalty for the possession of any amount of psilocybin from a third degree misdemeanor to a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, became law in February. Then Texas House Bill 1802, which would expand research on therapeutic psychedelics, became law in June.

Meanwhile, building on Denver's pioneering psilocybin decriminalization in 2019, a national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed therapeutic psychedelic and full psilocbyin legalization initiatives aimed at 2022. Oakland activists have announced a "Go Local" initiative under which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from community-based local producers. The move aims to build on the city's current psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, passed in 2019.

NYC Safe Injection Sites Already Saving Lives, Commutations for Drug Prisoners Could Be Coming, More... (12/23/21)

An Iowa Republican legislative leader shoots down Democrats' plan for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, it's the time of year for presidential pardons and commutations, and more.

New York city safe injection sites have already reversed 59 overdoses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Iowa Republican Leader Shoots Down Democrats' Plan for Marijuana Constitutional Amendment. Yesterday, we noted a call by a trio of Iowa Democratic state senators for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. It didn't take long for a key Republican to shoot it down. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Brad Zaun of Urbandale said he had no intention of bringing the proposal for a vote and derided marijuana legalization as a "gimmick." Republicans control both the governor's office and the legislature.

Harm Reduction

New York City Safe Injection Sites Are Already Saving Lives. The NYC Health Department announced Tuesday that the nation's first sanctioned safe injection site has already been heavily utilized and saved dozens of lives. The department announced that 59 overdoses had been reversed at the sites, which have seen more than 2,000 visits from people seeking a safe, secure place to shoot up.

These initial results are "promising" and demonstrate how the sites "reduce needless suffering and avoidable deaths," said Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. "The simple truth is that Overdose Prevention Centers save lives -- the lives of our neighbors, family and loved ones."

A day earlier, the New York City Board of Health unanimously approved a resolution that touts evidence supporting the efficacy of a harm reduction approach to drug use and endorses the city's move to authorize safe consumption sites. The resolution urges "the federal government and New York State provide authorization of such overdose prevention centers and continue to expand funding and support for harm reduction services and medications for opioid use disorder treatment."

The Trump administration moved to block a safe injection site from opening in Philadelphia. It is not yet clear what the position of the Biden administration will be, but advocates are waiting for a Justice Department response in the pending Philadelphia case for a hint of what is to come. The Philadelphia safe injection site, Safehouse, is waiting for the DOJ to submit its position to an appeals court, but in what advocates see as a positive sign, the date for DOJ to do that has been pushed back from November 5 to March 7, 2022.

Sentencing

White House Says Biden Has "Every Intention" of Commuting Sentences for Some Drug Prisoners. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Biden has "every intention of using his clemency power" this year but was non-specific about when that might happen. When asked at a press briefing if there were any plans for commutations, Psaki said: "I don't have anything to preview at this time. I would just reiterate that the president has every intention of using his clemency power," she said. "And there has been some reporting which is accurate out there about looking at nonviolent drug offenders, but I don't have anything to update you on at this point in time."

CO Psychedelic Initiatives Filed, San Francisco State of Emergency Over Drugs & Crime in Tenderloin, More... (12/20/21)

Joe Manchin thinks his constituents would use child tax credit payments to buy drugs, a state of emergency in San Francisco could clear the way for a safe injection site, and more.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) apparently doesn't think too highly of his constituents. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Will Take Up Marijuana Reform in the Spring. In a memo to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus last Thursday, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) wrote that so-far stalled marijuana reform legislation would be taken up in the spring. "The growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows that Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people," they said. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills before Congress, ranging from full-out legalization to bills seeking to ease access to financial services for state-legal marijuana enterprises, as well as narrower bills dealing with topics such as legal marijuana sales in Washington, DC, and opening up opportunities for research on PTSD, among others.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Patients Can't Buy as Much Marijuana as Recreational Users. Second Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez ruled last Thursday that medical marijuana patients cannot purchase the same amount as non-patients when recreational-use sales begin. In so ruling, he rejected a claim from a medical marijuana patient that he should be able to buy as much marijuana as a non-patient consumer. "Petitioner has failed to establish that he, as well as qualified patients, qualified caregivers, and reciprocal patients, have a clear legal right to purchase an additional two-ounces of medical cannabis, tax free, at this time, under the Cannabis Regulation Act," Chavez wrote. Under the state's medical marijuana program, patients are allowed to purchase just over seven ounces in a 90-day period. The state Medical Cannabis Program has proposed upping that limit to 15 ounces.

Psychedelics

Colorado Activists File Psychedelic Therapeutic and Full Psilocybin Legalization Initiatives. A national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed two separate psychedelic reform initiatives -- both with the same title, the Natural Medicine Healing Act -- one of which would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and the other which would create a system of licensed businesses to produce natural entheogens for therapeutic use at "healing centers." The campaign builds on psilocybin decriminalization in Denver in 2019, the first such move in the country. Meanwhile, Oregon voters approved therapeutic psilocybin last year.

Drug Policy

Joe Manchin Privately Told Colleagues Parents Use Child Tax Credit Money on Drugs. Among Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) reasons for announcing he would not support President Biden's Build Back Better bill was one that he didn't say out loud: That "he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs instead of providing for their own children," the Huffington Post has reported, citing "two sources familiar with the senator's comments." The child tax credit has provided families with $300 a month per child, cutting childhood poverty rates nearly in half. The Post reported that "Manchin's comments shocked several senators," but are in line with other reported comments that he thought people would use proposed sick leave to go hunting. It also echoes long-standing conservative talking points about welfare.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Mayor Declares State of Emergency in the Tenderloin. Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency in the city's Tenderloin district last Friday aimed at combatting rising crime, drug use, and homelessness there. The declaration allows city officials to suspend zoning laws to create a site that would offer shelter and mental health services to people suffering from drug addiction. Fully one quarter of all overdose deaths in the city last year took place in the Tenderloin. The move comes after the city Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of a building in the Tenderloin to house a proposed safe injection site. The declaration also takes aim at crime in the neighborhood. "We are in a crisis and we need to respond accordingly," Breed said. "Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled on our streets."

Malta Legalizes Marijuana, NY GOP US Reps Back Bill to "Defund de Blasio's Injection Sites," More... (12/15/21)

A therapeutic psilocybin bill is filed in New York, the prosecutor in Arizona's second most populous county is at least temporarily not prosecuring drug possession cases, and more.

flag of Malta
Psychedelics

New York Assemblyman Files Bill to Allow Therapeutic Psilocybin Use. Assemblyman Pat Burke (D) has filed a bill that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and create facilities where the mushrooms could be grown and provided to patients. It is a set-up similar to what Oregon voters approved last year. The bill provides a list of qualifying medical conditions but also says psilocybin could be recommended "for any conditions" certified by a practitioner. The Department of Health would be responsible for providing a training course for practitioners and licensing the psilocybin centers.

Harm Reduction

New York GOP US Representatives Back Bill to Defund Safe Injection Sites. Republican members of the state's congressional delegation are lining up behind a bill from one of their own, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island), that aims to cut funding for group and governments that open safe injection sites. The bill is a response to the opening this month of the first officially acknowledged safe injection sites in the US in New York City. Her bill, the Defund de Blasio's Injection Sites Act of 2021 is being cosponsored by New York Republican Reps. Andrew Garbarino, John Katko, Claudia Tenney. And Lee Zeldin. They argue that safe injection sites violate the Controlled Substances Act, citing an appeals court ruling in January that blocked the opening of such a site in Philadelphia. "Gifting money to heroin shooting galleries that only encourage drug use and deteriorate our quality of life is an egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars," Malliotakis said, reprising a longstanding conservative position that does not recognize any benefit from such harm reduction practices.

Law Enforcement

Amidst Surging COVID Cases, Arizona's Pima County Will No Longer Prosecute Drug Possession Cases. Pima County (Tucson) Attorney Laura Conover (D) announced Tuesday that she will temporarily stop prosecuting drug possession cases because of pandemic-related risks. She said the policy will be in effect for at least 60 days "to protect both Pima County jail employees and people who are detained against the surging threat of COVID." Also included are people caught with drug paraphernalia or those in "related personal-use incidents."

A sizeable percentage of (society) has expressed disinterest in the vaccine, depriving us of the herd immunity that would have put this virus behind us," Conover wrote in a memorandum to law enforcement officials. "COVID is now spreading inside the jail, putting people there at risk. The health and safety of our community are paramount." The move comes as county officials prepare to fire hundreds of corrections officers who refused to get vaccinated.

International

Malta Legalizes Marijuana, First European Union Nation to Do So. Members of the Maltese Parliament on Tuesday approved a bill legalizing marijuana, becoming the first European Union country to make the leap. The law allows citizens 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of marijuana and cultivate up to four plants at home, harvesting up to 50 grams from them. The law also allows nonprofit cooperatives to produce marijuana to be sold to members, with an upper limit on membership per coop of 500. President George Vella supported the measure and is set to sign it later this week.

LA Times Endorses Safe Injection Sites, New Zealand to Ban Cigarettes By Raising Legal Age, More... (12/9/21)

SAMHSA announces historic harm reduction grants, South Dakota marijuana legalization campaigners say their signature-gathering campaign is going well, Michigan's governor signs a bill easing burdens on medical marijuana growers, and more.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kools-cropped.jpg
These will be effectively banned in New Zealand as the country raises the legal smoking age each year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Legalization Campaign Has Collected 15,000 Signatures for 2022 Initiative. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), the campaign that has worked since 2019 to legalize recreational and medical cannabis in the state, announced Thursday that it has collected over 15,000 signatures for its proposed 2022 recreational cannabis legalization initiative. A 2022 initiated measure requires 16,961 valid signatures from registered South Dakota voters to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. The campaign says its goal is to gather 25,000 raw voter signatures. It has until May 3, 2022 to get them. The same group sponsored last year's Amendment A legalization initiative, which was recently ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. "In light of the extremely flawed Amendment A ruling, we hope that the South Dakota legislature will enact a cannabis legalization law in the upcoming session. But if that does not occur, we will give South Dakota voters the opportunity to approve legalization at the next election. We will not stop working until the will of the people is respected," said campaign spokesman Matthew Schweich.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Governor Signs Bill to Aid Medical Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has signed into law House Bill 4921, which amends the Michigan Medical Marijuana Licensing Act so that licensed growers only have to submit financial statements to regulators every three years instead of every year, as has been the case. Whitmer said the bill will make financial reporting easier for growers.

Harm Reduction

SAMHSA Announces Unprecedented $30 Million Harm Reduction Grant Funding Opportunity to Help Address the Nation's Substance Use and Overdose Epidemic. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is now accepting applications for the first-ever SAMHSA Harm Reduction grant program and expects to issue $30 million in grant awards. This funding, authorized by the American Rescue Plan, will help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use.

SAMHSA will accept applications from State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, Tribal organizations, nonprofit community-based organizations, and primary and behavioral health organizations. Providing funding and support for innovative harm reduction services is in line with the Biden-Harris Administration's ongoing efforts to address the overdose epidemic, and is a key pillar for the first time in the multi-faceted Health and Human Services' overdose prevention strategy announced in October.

This funding allows organizations to expand their community-based overdose prevention programs in a variety of ways, including distributing overdose-reversal medications and fentanyl test strips, providing overdose education and counseling, and managing or expanding syringe services programs, which help control the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. To apply to this grant funding opportunity, click here.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board Endorses Safe Injection Sites. Under the headline "New York City is saving people from drug overdose deaths. Why can't California?" the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times endorsed safe injection sites as an overdose prevention measure and called on the Biden administration to clarify that it supports the harm reduction measure: "The Biden administration could also help by giving a clear statement that it supports states taking action to curb drug overdoses and that it won't move to shut down the overdose prevention centers in New York City or anywhere else. That's really the only rational and humane course of action in the face of a plague of preventable deaths."

Washington State Senator Files Bill to Specify That Fentanyl Testing Equipment is not Drug Paraphernalia. State Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 5509, that would exempt fentanyl testing equipment from being defined as drug paraphernalia. State law currently defines paraphernalia as "testing equipment used, intended for use, or designed for use in identifying or in analyzing the strength, effectiveness, or purity of a controlled substance." But public health agencies and needle exchange programs are already distributing fentanyl test kits. This bill would align the law with reality. Honeyford should not be mistaken for a drug reformer; he is also planning to file a bill enabling prosecutors to charge people with murder if they sell drugs that result in a fatal overdose.

International

New Zealand to Ban Cigarettes by Constantly Rising Smoking Age. The country aims to eliminate cigarette smoking by raising the legal age for smoking, currently set at 18, by one year each year beginning in 2027. That means people born after 2009 will never be able to legally purchase cigarettes. New Zealand already boasts the world's highest cigarette prices at $24 a pack and is also planning to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes and cut back on the number of tobacco retailers. The plan does not have universal support, though. MP Karen Chour, of the libertarian-leaning Act Party, said the move would lead to a black market. "Prohibition has never worked -- in any time or place -- and it always has unintended consequences," she said.

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