Safer Injection Sites

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RI Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites, Federal Pot Prosecutions Plummet, More... (7/8/21)

The Congressional Black Caucus wants some justice for marijuana deportees, South Dakota's state governmnt is at war with itself over medical marijuana cards from a reservation dispensary, and more.

You can now become an FBI agent if it has been at least a year since you last toked up. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Black Caucus Members Ask Biden to Reverse Marijuana Deportation Cases. In a Wednesday letter to President Biden authored by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and signed by 30 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the federal representatives urged him to reopen some deportation cases, including those involving marijuana. "We are grateful for President Biden's commitment to redressing racial injustice, particularly after the last four years of the Trump Administration's racist and xenophobic immigration agenda," the lettert says. "One critical step toward honoring that commitment is ensuring that people who were unjustly deported can be fairly and efficiently considered for return to their families and communities in the United States." The letter cited the cases of two military veterans who served honorably but were deported over years-old marijuana convictions. But it's not just veterans: "Untold numbers of others have been similarly wronged, from US veterans who served their country to longstanding neighbors who found themselves deported because of contact with the US criminal legal system -- a system acknowledged to unfairly and disproportionately target and discriminate against Black and Brown people," they wrote.

FBI Loosens Marijuana Employment Policy for Agents. In a sign of changing attitudes toward marijuana, the FBI has quietly loosened its employment restrictions for new agents who have used marijuana in the past. Under previous agency rules, marijuana use within the past three years was disqualifying; under the new rules, only marijuana use within the past one year is disqualifying. Neither will past underage use be automatically disqualifying, but "adjudicative personnel will evaluate the candidate by using the 'whole-person concept.'" For other drugs, the FBI's rule that use within the past 10 years is disqualifying remains unchanged.

Federal Marijuana Trafficking Convictions Have Fallen Dramatically Following Enactment of Statewide Legalization Laws. A new fact-sheet from the US Sentencing Commission shows a dramatic drop in federal marijuana trafficking convictions since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the herb. Just over 1,000 people were sentenced on federal marijuana trafficking, down 67% since 2016 and down more than 80% since 2012. "These trends illustrate the fact that state-legal domestic cannabis production has supplanted the foreign market and that marijuana law enforcement is becoming less of a federal priority in an age where the majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal," NORML's Deputy Director Paul Armentano said."

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Becomes First State to Approve Safe Injection Sites. Gov. Daniel McKee (D) has signed into law a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

International

Scotland to Provide Heroin Addiction Drug in Prisons Countrywide after Successful Pilot Program. A once-monthly injectable form of buprenorphine marketed a Buvidal will be available for heroin-addicted prisoners across the country after a pilot program using the drug proved overwhelmingly successful. The shot will replace daily doses of methadone. The Scottish Health and Social Care Analysis Hub reported positive results from the pilot program, which began as a response to the pandemic, and now the government is allocating $5.5 million to expand it.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year, Drug Czar's Office Seeks Input on Harms of Drug Policies, More... (7/7/21)

The punishment of Olypmic athlete Sha'carri Richardson for testing positive for marijuana draws intense interest and criticism, New Mexico drug dogs are getting laid off in the wake of legal pot, and more.

New Mexico drug dogs are being forced into retirement by marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Drug Dogs Face Retirement in Wake of Marijuana Legalization. Drug-sniffing police dogs in the state are being forced into retirement because they have been trained to alert on any drug, including marijuana, and cannot be retrained. As the Tucumcari Police Department noted as it announced the retirement of its drug dog, Aries: "With the legalization of recreational marijuana, K9 Aries is unable to continue his function as a narcotics detection dog." Other cities and towns are doing the same thing, and so is the State Police, which will be retiring all nine of its current drug dogs. "Once the new canines are trained, the handlers will have the option of retiring their current assigned canine to their home, or we will look at other options to the likes of donating them to other law enforcement entities outside of the state of New Mexico who have yet to legalize marijuana," the State Police said.

Drug Policy

Drug Czar's Office Seeks Comment on How Drug Policies Create Systemic Barriers for Underserved Communities. In a notice published in the Federal Register Wednesday, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said it is seeking comment on whether existing federal drug control policies create "systemic barriers to opportunities for underserved communities" and to better promote equity in future programs. Although the agency has embraced some progressive drug policy positions, such as pushing for broader access to buprenorpine, this level of acknowledgment of harms caused by drug policy marks a change of direction.

The agency didn't take the action independently. Rather, it is part of a broader executive order requiring agencies to seek feedback and "assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups. Such assessments will better equip agencies to develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all," ONDCP explained. Comments on how ONDCP can better achieve equity are being accepted at [email protected] through August 6.

Drug Testing

Sha'Carri Richardson Out of Olympics After Positive Marijuana Test. Star athlete Sha'Carri Richardson was disqualified last week from the Tokyo Olympics' women's 100 meter race after testing positive for marijuana after the qualifying run, and now will completely miss the games after being left off the team chose for the women's relay race. Her disqualification has caused howls of outrage, with some commentators calling it racist, and even President Biden, who initially responded with "the rules are the rules," suggesting the rules need to change. Richardson said she smoked marijuana to cope with the death of her biological mother and did so in Oregon, where it is legal, but she took responsibility for her actions: "I know what I did," Richardson said. "I know what I'm supposed to do... and I still made that decision."

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Delayed to Next Year. The Assembly Health Committee has informed Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) that his bill to allow a safe injection site pilot program, Senate Bill 57, which is billed as an "overdose prevention program," will not get a hearing until January. The state is in the first year of its two-year legislative session, so the bill is not dead, just delayed. "While I'm extremely disappointed that we are experiencing another delay in passing this life-saving legislation -- which has passed both the Senate and Assembly twice in different forms over the past five years -- I continue to be optimistic that we'll pass SB 57 and get it signed into law," said Weiner. "San Francisco and other California cities are experiencing record overdose deaths, and safe consumption sites are a proven strategy to save lives and help people into recovery. I am deeply committed to this legislation -- as is our broad coalition -- and I look forward to moving SB 57 forward in January." The bill has already passed the Senate.

RI Legislature Passes Safe Injection Site Bill, CA Coerced Treatment Bill Advances More... (7/2/21)

The Mississippi Supreme Court continues to smack down the will of the people on medical marijuana, a coerced drug treatment bill advances in California to the dismay of reformers, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver has been operating successful for years. Now, Rhode Island wants to emulate it.
Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Approves Bill to Give Caregivers, Patients Input in Medical Marijuana Regulations. A bill that would require the state's Office of Marijuana Policy, which regulates both medical and recreational marijuana, to work with patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana enterprises in crafting regulations has passed both houses of the legislature. LD 1242 was passed as an emergency measure and has been enacted as law without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), effective July 1. The bill was a response to proposed rules changes announced earlier this year by the Office of Marijuana Policy, which caregivers and the industry found onerous, including 24/7 surveillance and requiring growers to use the state's inventory tracking system, as is done with adult use marijuana. "This gives the people that are in the industry the real power in making and designing the laws and the rules that we will work around," said Susan Meehan, a medical marijuana caregiver, and chairperson of the Maine Cannabis Coalition.

Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Throwing Out Medical Marijuana Initiative Victory. In a two-page decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court has rejected a call for it to reconsider its May decision throwing out a voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. In that decision, which essentially invalidated the state's initiative process, the court held that because the state constitution called for signatures to be gathered in all five of the state's congressional districts, the initiative was unconstitutional because the state has had only four congressional districts since redistricting in 2000. In its decision this week, the court said that the parties asking for a reconsideration should have done so last November and that "the present motion for leave to intervene is not well take and should be denied." There is pressure on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to enact the will of the voters, but he has yet to do so.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Drug Treatment Bill Advances. A bill that would let Yolo County create a locked drug treatment facility for people convicted of "drug-motivated felonies" has already passed the Assembly and this week was approved nearly unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1542 would not be used for people simply convicted of drug possession or other misdemeanors, and those eligible would be "assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment." Those found suitable "would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well." While the bill has strong political support in Sacramento, there is strong opposition in the treatment and reform community. Even Human Rights Watch has weighed in, writing:"It [the bill] runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people." The bill is now headed to the Senate Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Safe Injection Site Pilot Program. With a final vote Thursday, the state legislature has approved a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill -- if enacted into law -- would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, Marijuana Gets Legalized in Three States This Week, More... (6/30/21)

South Dakota gingerly enters the medical marijuana age, governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania sign bills that will ease burdens on patients, and more.

New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Okays Telehealth Prescriptions for Medical Marijuana. Governor Phil Murphy (D) has finally signed a bill allowing health care providers to recommend medical marijuana via telehealth. He originally vetoed SD 619/A 1635 back in April after criticizing it for including a 270-day waiting period before going into effect. The legislature then amended the bill and got rid of that waiting period so it will go into effect immediately. The amended bill also removed language requiring an in-person doctor visit before initiating telehealth.

North Carolina

North Carolina Compassionate Use Act Wins First Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 711, the Compassionate Use Act. The measure would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes and set up a system of taxed and regulated medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. It must also pass the Senate finance, health care, and rules and operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday signed into law House Bill 1024, which updates the state's medical marijuana law to protect patient safety standards and product quality, as well as empowering the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board to consider adding new qualifying medical conditions. "It's been five years since Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana, and in that time the Department of Health has examined the program's successes and challenges and made important recommendations on improving the law," Gov. Wolf said. "This legislation provides important updates to our state's medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have improved access to medication."

South Dakota

South Dakota State Troopers Will No Longer Arrest People with Less Than Three Ounces of Weed -- If It's Medical. With medical marijuana becoming legal in the state as of July 1, the office of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has announced that state Highway Patrol troopers will no longer arrest people possessing up to three ounces of "natural and unaltered marijuana" as long as they have a patient card, or even if they don't, if they claim the marijuana is for medical use and offer some sort of documentation. Meanwhile, the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, has announced it will no longer make arrests for small-time pot possession. "Even if you don't have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it's a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter," Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said. In a state where people are still arrested for testing positive for marijuana, this is progress.

South Dakota Tribe Opens First Medical Marijuana Dispensary in the State. While the state's medical marijuana program, approved by voters last November, is not set to go into operation until next year, medical marijuana became legal in the state on July 1, and the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe isn't waiting for state regulators. The state's first medical marijuana dispensary opened on the reservation that same day. The tribe requires customers to first obtain a medical marijuana ID card through its medical marijuana program, which is independent of the program being crafted by the state Health Department. That is leading some skeptics to fear that non-tribe members could face problems with state law enforcement even though the Noem administration last week released Highway Patrol guidelines saying troopers would not arrest people with unexpired medical marijuana cards provided they possessed less than the legally allowed three ounces.

CT Becomes Latest State to Legalize Marijuana, DEA Denies FL Church's Ayahuasca Exemption, More... (6/23/21)

House Democrats look to end the ban on legal marijuana sales in the nation's capital, the Rhode Island Senate approves a marijuana legalization bill, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. The Los Angeles city council supports a similar effort in California. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

House Democrats File Bill to End DC Marijuana Sales Ban. House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Subcommittee Chairman Mike Quigley (D-IL) filed a wide-ranging bill Wednesday that would lift the ban on legal marijuana sales in the District of Columbia, as well as providing protection to financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana firms. The ban, in the form of a rider to the annual DC appropriations bill in Congress, was imposed in 2014, with the effort led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), before city residents even voted for marijuana legalization later that year. It has remained in place ever since.The move comes even though President Biden specifically did not remove the congressional rider banning sales in his budget proposal last month. The bill is set to be voted on in the subcommittee Thursday, with the full Appropriations Committee taking it up next Tuesday, setting up a potential conflict with the Biden administration.

Connecticut Legalizes Marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) on Tuesday signed a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 1201, making the state the 19th to end marijuana prohibition and the fourth to do this year, after New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. The bill legalizes the possession of up to one and a half ounces by people 21 and over, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce with strong social equity provisions. The law takes effect on July 1, when using recreational marijuana becomes legal, but marijuana business licenses are not expected to be issued until the end of next year.

Rhode Island Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The state Senate voted Tuesday night to approve an amended version of Senate Bill 568, which would legalize the possession, purchase, and cultivation of cannabis for personal use for adults 21 and older.The bill would also create a Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the legal marijuana market, tax marijuana sales at 20%, and create a social equity program to aid communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition. A House marijuana legalization bill filed at the end of May remains stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. The clock is ticking: The session ends in one week on June 30.

Ayahuasca

DEA Denies Religious Use Exemption to Florida Ayahuasca Church. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has officially denied the Soul Quest Church's request for a religious exemption allowing it to continue to legally provide ayahuasca, a substance containing the Schedule I drug DMT, for religious purposes. The church has been distributing ayahuasca and other substances to paying customers and gained unwanted scrutiny after a man died during an ayahuasca retreat in 2018. After that death, the DEA ordered the church to shut down its ayahuasca distribution, but the church has refused, instead fighting the order in the courts. Now, after the DEA decision, a federal judge is expected to rule soon on that decision, which could end the church's run. The church is relying on a generous interpretation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, under which both peyote use by the Native American Church and ayahuasca use by the Brazil-based church the Union of the Vegetable has been allowed. 

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Harm Reduction

Los Angeles City Council Endorses Statewide Safe Injection Site Bill. The city council on Tuesday approved a resolution supporting a bill that would legalize pilot safe injection sites in a number of California cities, Senate Bill 57. The support comes as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, especially among the homeless, for whom the overdose rate jumped 33% in the first six months of last year. The bill has already passed the state Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety and Health committees. Even if the bill were to become law, it faces possible federal obstacles. When harm reductionists in Philadelphia sought to open a safe injection site, the Trump administration successfully blocked them in federal district court. The Biden administration has not made clear what its stance on the issue is.

NC Black Man Killed By Cops Was Fleeing Drug Raid, CA Senate Approves Safe Injection Sites, More... (4/23/21)

US-Mexico law enforcement cooperation in battling Mexican drug cartels is at a standstill, a Montana marijuana legalization implementation bill is heading for House and Senate floor votes, and more.

Andrew Brown. Unarmed man killed by North Carolina police as he fled drug raid. (family photo)
Marijuana Policy

Montana Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bill. The Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law has approved House Bill 701, which is aimed at implementing the state's voter-approved marijuana legalization law. The committee approved more than 30 amendments to the bill addressing multiple aspects of legalization implementation. The bill will now head to House and Senate floor votes.

Harm Reduction

California Senate Approves Safe Injection Site Bill. The state Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 57, sponsored by Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco). The bill would legalize safe injection sites as pilot programs in Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco. The bill now heads to the Assembly, and even if approved there and signed into law, it still faces federal hurdles too.

Law Enforcement

Unarmed Black Man Killed By North Carolina Cops Died Fleeing Drug Raid. Andrew Brown, the Elizabeth City, North Carolina, man killed by sheriff's deputies on Tuesday, died after being shot as he attempted to flee the scene in his vehicle. His killing by Pasquotank County deputies has sparked continuing protests, and the sheriff's office is being pressed to release deputies' body cam footage. Witnesses said deputies began shooting at Brown as he started to drive away from law enforcement. The sheriff said all three deputies on the scene fired their weapons.

US Investigations into Drug Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Former and current officials in both the US and Mexico told Reuters that the fight against Mexican drug trafficking organizations has "ground to a halt" because of strained relations between the two counties. The freeze came after DEA agents arrested a Mexican general who was later released under pressure from Mexico, but that raid sparked the Mexican Congress to enact a new law requiring US drug agents to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom the Americans regard as corrupt. As a result, investigators from both countries have paused their cooperation out of fear that cases could be compromised or informants killed.

International

Colombia Indigenous Community Attacked for Anti-Coca Stance. An indigenous community in the township of Caldono in Cauca province is under attack from armed leftist and rightist groups tied to the coca and cocaine trade. Last Tuesday, indigenous governor Sandra Liliana Peña Chocue, who opposed coca crops in indigenous lands, was assassinated, and last Thursday, at least 31 members of the community were wounded when one of the armed groups opened fire on them as they manually eradicated coca crops.

Biden's Drug Policy Priorities Are a Small Step in the Right Direction, But Old Attitudes Linger [FEATURE]

On April 1, the Biden 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. The result is a definite mixed bag: a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, along with an acknowledgement of harm reduction and a nod in the direction of racially-sensitive criminal justice reform, but also a reflexive reliance on prohibitionist drug war policies both at home and abroad.

And nothing about the most widely used illicit drug by far: marijuana. The word "marijuana" appears not once in the heavily annotated 11-page document, and the word "cannabis" only once, in the title of an academic research paper about the onset of teen drug use in the footnotes. That's perhaps not so surprising, given that, in response to a reporter's question, Vice President Harris said last week the administration was too busy dealing with other crises to worry about making good its campaign pledges about marijuana reform.

What is on the administration's mind is "the overdose and addiction crisis." Citing ever-increasing drug overdose deaths, the statement says "addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for [the] administration." But the solution is not to imprison drug users, with the statement noting that "President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead." (Underlying that seemingly humane approach is the errant presumption that all or most drug users are addicts in need of treatment when, depending on the drug, only between one in five and one in 10 drug users fit that dependent or problematic drug user description.)

Here are the Biden administration's drug policy priorities, all of which are gone into in detail in the statement:

  • Expanding access to evidence-based treatment;
  • Advancing racial equity issues in our approach to drug policy;
  • Enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts;
  • Supporting evidence-based prevention efforts to reduce youth substance use;
  • Reducing the supply of illicit substances;
  • Advancing recovery-ready workplaces and expanding the addiction workforce; and
  • Expanding access to recovery support services.

Prioritizing treatment, prevention, and recovery is bound to be music to the ears of advocacy groups such as Faces and Voices in Recovery (FAVOR), whose own federal policy and advocacy priorities, while focusing on specific legislation, lean in the same direction. But the group also advocates for harm reduction practices the administration omits, particularly supervised consumption sites. FAVOR noted the administration's statement without comment.

As with the failure to even mention marijuana, the Biden administration's failure to include supervised consumption sites in its embrace of harm reduction -- it is wholeheartedly behind needle exchanges, for example -- is another indication that the administration is in no hurry no rush down a progressive drug reform path. And its prioritizing of supply reduction implies continued drug war in Latin America ("working with key partners like Mexico and Colombia") and at home, via support of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) and "multi-jurisdictional task forces and other law enforcement efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organizations." Prohibition is a hard drug to kick.

Still, naming advancing racial equity issues as a key priority is evidence that the Biden administration is serious about getting at some of the most perverse and corrosive outcomes of the war on drugs and is in line with its broader push for racial justice, as exemplified by Executive Order 13985, "Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government," issued on Biden's first day in office. And it is in this context that criminal justice system reform gets prioritized, although somewhat vaguely, with the promise of the creation of an "interagency working group to agree on specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform."

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has some specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform, too, and they go far beyond where the administration is at. In its 2020 Roadmap for the incoming administration released in November, the group calls for federal marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, and a slew of other criminal justice and policing reforms ranging from ending mandatory minimum sentencing and the deportation of non-citizens for drug possession to barring no-knock police raids, ending the transfer of military surplus equipment for counter-narcotics law enforcement, and dismantling the DEA. And the federal government should get out of the way of supervised consumption sites, or in DPA's politically attuned language "overdose prevention centers."

"We're glad the administration is taking important steps to address the overdose crisis -- by increasing access and funding to harm reduction services and reducing barriers to life-saving medications -- especially as people are dying at an alarming rate. We also appreciate their commitment to studying how to advance racial equity in our drug policies and best implement innovative practices on the ground. But it's clearly not enough. We need action," DPA Director of the Office of National Affairs Maritza Perez said in a statement responding to the administration's statement. "Black, Latinx and Indigenous people continue to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the name of the drug war, and yet, the administration has chosen to prioritize increased funding for law enforcement. We need supervised consumption sites, not more money for police."

"And while we commend the Administration for taking steps to reduce employment discrimination, unless we address the biggest barrier for people trying to get a job -- past drug convictions and arrests -- we will still be left with significant inequities and racial disparities in the workplace," Perez continued. "It's time we get serious about saving lives and repairing the damage that has been caused by the drug war, particularly on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. We can start by passing federal marijuana reform and ending the criminalization of people for drugs in all forms."

Young drug reformers also had a few bones to pick with the administration's priorities. In their own statement in response to the administration, Students for Sensible Drug Policy applauded priorities such as more access to treatment and more research on racial equity, it complained that the administration priorities "fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country" -- especially those who use drugs non-problematically.

"There are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs," SSDP said. "Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity."

Although only time will tell, for drug reformers, the Biden administration is looking like a step in the right direction, but only a step, and its policy prescriptions are limited by a vision of drug use rooted in the last century. Perhaps they can be pressured and prodded to plot a more progressive drug policy path.

Rahul Gupta Could Be Next Drug Czar, Federal Marijuana Banking & Insurance Bills Filed, More... (3/19/21)

White House staffers get fired or suspended for past marijuana use, NYC mayoral candidates call for safer injection sites, more.

Former West Virginia Health Commissioner Rahul Gupta has emerged as a leading candidate to head the ONDCP.
Marijuana Policy

Biden White House Fires Five, Sidelines Dozens of Staffers for Past Marijuana Use. Five White House staffers have been fired and dozens more suspended, asked to resign, or shifted to remote work programs because of past marijuana use -- even in states where it is legal. Some staffers said they felt sandbagged, saying transition officials had told them some past marijuana use would be overlooked. White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to initial reports on this story with this statement: "In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use. While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated," Psaki said.

SAFE Banking Act Introduced in House. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) has reintroduced the Safe Banking Act, which would protect financial service institutions doing business with marijuana companies and third-party vendors from federal money laundering prosecutions. The bill was unable to pass in the last Congress, but now Democrats control both chambers, so prospects are looking up.

Bipartisan Marijuana Insurance Bill Introduced in Senate. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Rand Paul (R-KY) have filed a bill that would allow legal marijuana and related businesses to have access to insurance, the Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act of 2021. The bill passed the House in September 2019, but was stalled in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Stanton) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 150. The measure would legalize marijuana like alcohol, allowing people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and setting up a system of taxed and regulated production, processing, and sales. The bill is now before the House Health and Human Services Committee.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee on a narrow 5-4 vote Thursday, a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill12, is now headed for a Senate floor vote. The legislative session ends on Saturday.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Study Bill Advances in House. The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 82, which would authorize funding for a report on medical marijuana. In committee, the bill was amended to send a copy of that report to the Joint Judiciary Committee and the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee during the interim.

Drug Policy

Former West Virginia Health Official Rahul Gupta Emerges as Leading Candidate for Drug Czar. Former West Virginia Health Commissioner and current top health official at the March of Dimes Rahul Gupta has emerged as a leading candidate to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to "four people with knowledge of the selection process who spoke on condition of anonymity."

Under Gupta's leadership, the WV Bureau of Public Health decertified a well-regarded syringe exchange program that had served the city of Charleston, leading to an HIV outbreak the CDC described as the "most concerning" in the nation. Some advocates have speculated that Gupta's hands may have been tied on the matter, however, and note significant progress for harm reduction in the state during his tenure.

Gupta is an ally of key Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). But whoever is nominated will not be a Cabinet member. President Obama demoted the office from the Cabinet in 2009, and neither he nor President Trump restored it. President Biden is not going to restore it either, his administration has said.

Rhode Island Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Six Democratic state senators have filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, Senate Bill 604. The bill would replace criminal penalties for drug possession with a $100 civil fine. It is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Harm Reduction

New York City Mayoral Candidates Call for Safe Injection Sites. A half dozen Democrats vying for the party's mayoral nomination have said they support safe injection sites or "overdose prevention centers" to deal with the city's opioid overdose crisis. Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang each said they would create safe injection sites, though Garcia said she would defer to affected communities. Only one, finance executive Ray McGuire, said he did not support the idea.

DEA Releases Annual Drug Threat Assessment, RI Senate Approves Safer Injection Sites, More... (3/2/21)

The DEA points to Mexican drug cartels as the nation's greatest criminal drug threat, senators in Washington state move to reinstate the state's invalidated felony drug possession law, Dallas police are pushing to stop making small-time pot possession arrests, and more.

A California bill would end almost all marijuana drug testing for employees. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would End Most Workplace Marijuana Drug Tests. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hollywood) has introduced AB 1256, which would bar employers from using past evidence of marijuana use, such as hair or urine tests, to discriminate against employees. The bill is supported by CA NORML. "It is those tests that we want to ban, because they don't detect anything related to impairment," the group's longtime director Dale Gieringer said. The tests can show whether someone has used marijuana in the past, but not whether they are currently intoxicated.

Dallas Police Push No Arrests for Marijuana Possession Up to Two Ounces. Dallas Police are proposing to the city council Tuesday that it adopt a policy of no longer ticketing or arresting people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana. Pot busts accounted for 7% of all arrests in the city during the first three weeks of February, and 80% of those pot arrets were for fewer than two ounces. The proposal goes before the council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Safe Consumption Sites for Illegal Drugs. The state Senate last week quietly approved SB 0016, which would authorize the creation of "Harm Reduction Centers" where drug users could inject drug under medical supervision. The bill would create an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state Health Department on regulating safe injection sites. A companion bill, HB 5245, though, is stuck in the House Committee on Health and Human Services, which has not set a date to vote on it.

Drug Policy

Washington State Senators Bill File to Bring Back Drug Possession Felony Crimes. Just days after the state Supreme Court threw out Washington's felony drug possession law, a pair of Democratic state senators, Mark Mullet and Steve Hobbs, have filed legislation to make possession of a controlled substance a felony again, SB 5468. The court threw out the law because it did not require prosecutors to prove that someone "knowingly" possessed drugs; this bill would merely add "knowingly" to the statute.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment Tuesday. The agency said that "the opioid threat remains at epidemic levels, affecting large portions of the country. Meanwhile, the stimulant threat, including methamphetamine and cocaine, is worsening both in volume and reach, with traffickers selling increasing amounts outside of traditional markets." DEA also pointed the finger at Mexican "transnational criminal organizations" as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Washington House Approves Bill to Ban Chokeholds, No-Knock Warrants. The House on Saturday approved HB 1054, which would ban police from using chokeholds and using no-knock search warrants. The bill is now being considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

NM & UT Safe Injection Site Bills, FL & GA Therapeutic Psilocybin Bills, More... (1/27/21)

There's a marijuana legalization bill filed in Maryland, a second Houston police officer has been indicted on murder charges in a misbegotten drug raid that left two innocent citizens dead, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George's County) has filed House Bill 32, which would legalize marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce. The bill calls for tax revenues from pot sales to be invested in the state's historically black colleges.

Psychedelics

Florida Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill Coming Soon. State Rep. Michael Grieco (D-Miami Beach) is set to introduce a bill that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state. The bill is expected to be filed this week. "I know at least two people personally who have gone through microdosing sessions, and they claim it's completely cured their depression," Grieco said. "All this would be doing is creating a controlled environment, where folks can potentially address an issue. We should not be afraid of trying new things, especially if it's controlled and safe."

Hawaii Therapeutic Psilocybin Bill Filed. A bill to legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes has been filed. Senate Bill 738 would direct the state Health Department to "establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn," the psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms. The bill would also remove the two substances from the Schedule I of the state's controlled substances list.

Drug Testing

Atlanta Mayor Takes Executive Action Abolishing Pre-Employment Drug Screens for Many Public Employees. Saying municipal drug testing requirements are "outdated and costly barriers to onboarding new talent in the city of Atlanta," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) has issued an executive order suspending pre-employment drug tests for city employees not in safety-sensitive positions. Atlanta now joins other major cities, such as New York City and Washington, DC, in eliminating a drug testing requirement as a condition of employment.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Overdose Bill Would Provide for Safe Injection Sites. Rep. Debbie Armstrong (D-Albuquerque) has filed House Bill 123, which would give localities the authority to set up overdose prevention programs, including safe injection sites, that meet state Health Department guidelines. "Overdose prevention programs in hundreds of other cities across the world have proven to link people who use drugs to treatment and other services, reduce overdose deaths, prevent transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and reduce street-based drug use and syringe disposal," says Armstrong. "If we are serious about reducing overdoses, and helping people to feel safe, supported and cared for in order to engage in treatment and recovery, then we have a responsibility to create overdose prevention programs here in New Mexico."

Utah Overdose Bill Would Provide for Safe Injection Sites. State Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D-Salt Lake City) has filed House Bill 146, which creates an "overdose prevention site," a place for people with substance use disorder to be monitored while actively using opioid drugs. In other words, a safer injection site. "This is in no way, shape, or form a policy that condones drug use or says that it is permissive to do so," she said. "I hope people will look at this with an open mind," she said. She filed the same bill last session, but it went nowhere.

Law Enforcement

Houston Cop Indicted on Murder Charge in Fatal Botched 2019 Drug Raid. Fallout from a misbegotten 2019 drug raid that left a Houston couple dead in their own home continued Monday, as a grand jury indicted Officer Felipe Gallegos on a charge of murder. That now makes 12 officers who have been charged in the incident, with Gallegos being the second one charged with murder. Retired officer Gerald Goines was charged with murder last year as prosecutors accused him of lying to get a search warrant.

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