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Federal Appeals Court Rules Planned Philadelphia Safer Injection Site Violates Drug Law [FEATURE]

With a decision Tuesday, the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals has brought to a screeching -- if hopefully temporary -- halt for efforts to establish a groundbreaking permitted safer injection facility in the city of Philadelphia. In the case of US v. Safehouse, the nonprofit group set to run the site, the court held that allowing the supervised onsite consumption of illegal drugs "will break the law" because it conflicts with a 35-year-old amendment to the Controlled Substances Act aimed at crack houses.

The Vancouver safer injection site. We still can't have those in America. Yet. (vcha.ca)
Never mind that the city is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic and needs to try something new after decades of failed prohibitionist drug policies. The sanctity of the drugs laws must be maintained, the court held: "Though the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law," it opined.

This is just the latest twist in the years-long effort to address an opioid overdose outbreak in the city that began about a decade ago, with overdose deaths nearly doubling between 2009 and 2018 and numbering more than a thousand a year every year since 2016. The crisis led to the formation of a Mayor's Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia, which issued a final report and recommendations in 2017 calling on the city to consider rolling out overdose prevention services, including safe injection sites, or, as Safehouse refers to them, overdose prevention sites.

Safehouse was formed to make that possibility a reality. Led by Jose A. Benitez, the executive director of the harm reduction group Prevention Point Philadelphia, Safehouse picked up a powerful ally in board member Ed Rendell, the former governor of the state and mayor and district attorney of Philadelphia. With Rendell's clout, the organization had overcome local obstacles and was preparing to open the first legal safe injection site in the country when Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department struck.

The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a civil lawsuit in February 2019 asking a federal judge to find safe injection sites illegal under the Controlled Substance Act's "crack house" statute, throwing plans to open up into limbo. Eight months later, the court held that "the ultimate goal of Safehouse's proposed operation is to reduce drug use, not facilitate it, and accordingly, [the "crack house" statute] does not prohibit Safehouse's proposed conduct."

A February 2020 ruling from the same court reiterated the legality of safe injection sites in the Eastern District, but that summer, the judge ordered Safehouse to pause amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the police violence protests. Meanwhile, the US Attorney appealed the ruling that the proposed safe injection site was legal, with oral arguments held in November, and the 3rd Circuit's decision issued this week.

The Justice Department pronounced itself pleased.

"The Court's decision reaffirms that 'safe' injection sites are a violation of federal law," said Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in a statement. "The Department supports efforts to curb the opioid crisis ravaging this country, but injection sites are not the solution. There are more productive ways to address drug abuse, and today's ruling by the Third Circuit has confirmed that these sites are illegal and therefore not the answer."

"The rule of law is still alive and well in Philadelphia -- having been re-affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which held that it is a federal crime to open a heroin injection site or 'consumption room' for illegal drug use," added US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain. "The 3rd Circuit's opinion is a faithful reading of the statute's plain language and is consistent with Congress's intent to protect American neighborhoods from the scourge of concentrated drug use."

Reform advocates saw it quite differently.

"As the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the already devastating overdose crisis, the Third Circuit's reversal of the earlier court's decision -- which held that safe consumption sites do not violate federal law -- will inevitably result in the unnecessary loss of countless lives," Lindsay LaSalle, managing director of policy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), said in a statement. "The 3rd Circuit's decision is misguided -- it is abundantly clear that Congress never intended to criminalize legitimate public health interventions through [the 'crack house' statute]."

The 3rd Circuit's decision is precedential, meaning it holds throughout the district, which includes Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the US Virgin Islands. But other jurisdictions, such as San Francisco and New York City, where similar efforts are underway, are not bound by it, and DPA is encouraging groups pursuing such efforts to "continue to work toward authorization and implementation of supervised consumption sites to address the overdose crisis in their cities and states."

There may be help coming in the new Congress and Biden administration as well. Advocates say they will seek action in Congress to clarify that safer injection facilities should be permitted, and from the Biden Justice Department to provide guidance to US Attorneys to lay off on them.

Federal Appeals Court Rules Safe Injection Sites Illegal, Most Think Marijuana Is Safer than Alcohol, More... (1/13/21)

A federal appeals court has put the kibosh on a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site, a Michigan prosecutors says no more magic mushrooms prosecutions, and more.

Preparing to inject at the Vancouver safe injection site. A federal appeals court rules we can't do that here. (vcha.ca)
Marijuana Policy

New Survey Finds Majority of Americans View Marijuana as Less Dangerous Than Alcohol. Survey data published in the journal Addictive Behavior finds that a majority of Americans believe marijuana has less potential for abuse than either alcohol or prescription drugs. "This study found that more than half of respondents perceived CBD, THC, hemp, and marijuana as having medical use," the authors wrote. "They also perceived the potential for abuse of CBD, THC, hemp, and marijuana as significantly less than potential for abuse of commonly prescribed anti-anxiety and pain medications." As for alcohol: "A majority of the public perceives THC and marijuana as grouped together with prescription medications rather than with illicit substances and as having more medical value and less abuse potential than alcohol," the researchers wrote.

Psychedelics

Michigan Prosecutor Will No Longer Try Cases Involving Marijuana, Magic Mushrooms, Other Entheogens. New Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor) prosecutor Eli Savit on Tuesday unveiled two policy directives explaining that he will do longer prosecute criminal cases involving the possession of marijuana, magic mushrooms, and other entheogens. Savit pointed to the disproportionate consequences for people of color as being a factor in his decision, and he also cited the medical benefits of both marijuana and natural psychedelics. He also clarified that cultivation of magic mushrooms for personal use will not be prosecuted.

Asset Forfeiture

South Carolina Supreme Court to Hear Asset Forfeiture Appeal on Wednesday. The state Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the constitutionality of civil asset forfeiture. Last year, a lower court ruled the practice unconstitutional, but prosecutors quickly appealed. Now, the Institute for Justice, a leading national advocate of ending civil asset forfeiture, is on the case. "Tomorrow, the court has an opportunity to put an end to civil forfeiture once and for all," said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert Frommer, who will argue the case. "Lower courts have rightly found that civil forfeiture is unconstitutional, and we're confident that the state supreme court will agree."

Harm Reduction

Third Circuit Court of Appeals Rules Safe Injection Sites Violate Federal Law. The Third Circuit ruled Tuesday that it is a federal crime to open a supervised injection site or "consumption room" for illegal drug use. Local nonprofit Safehouse planned to open the nation's first such consumption room in the City of Philadelphia, where individuals would be invited to inject heroin and use other drugs under supervision. But the Third Circuit ruled that doing so "will break the law" because Safehouse knows and intends that visitors to its consumption room will have a significant purpose of using illegal drugs. In agreeing with the government's interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act, the Court explained that, "[t]hough the opioid crisis may call for innovative solutions, local innovations may not break federal law."

International

Mexico Publishes Regulations for Medical Marijuana. The Mexican government on Tuesday published the regulations for medical marijuana supply in the country. The move comes three years after the country passed a law permitting the use of medical marijuana. Under the regulations, there will be space to research marijuana's medical applications and for the development of marijuana-based pharmaceuticals.

Drugs and the Year from Hell: The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2020 [FEATURE]

What a year! Pandemic, civic unrest, national elections -- 2020 has been a year of tumult that can't be done with soon enough. But when it comes to drug policy, it wasn't all bad; in fact, a lot of it was pretty darned good. Some of it however was quite tragic Here's our year-end round up of the biggest drug policy stories of the year.

Update: The 2020 top ten list now goes to eleven, with Congress removing the drug conviction question from the federal financial aid for college form. See below.

The Pandemic

Just as it has infiltrated just about every aspect of American life, the coronavirus pandemic has been felt in the world of drugs and drug policy. Social distancing requirements early in the pandemic, precisely at the time drug reform initiative campaigns were typically in the midst of signature-gathering drives proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

It has also infiltrated jails and prisons. One in five prisoners in the US has had COVID-19, according to The Marshall Project. 1,700 of them have died from it. Prison wardens have worsened the situation by blocking congressionally legislated compassionate releases for prisoners. Second waves are now hitting the nation's penal institutions. And most vaccinations in the prisons have been for staff, not prisoners. With drugs directly accounting for about one-in-four prisoners, COVID-19 in the prisons is partly a drug war story.

Amidst the layoffs, shutdowns, and social distancing imposed by the pandemic, drug use jumped. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug test results and found large increases in the use of four illicit drugs during the coronavirus pandemic. The lab found a 32.0% increase for non-prescribed fentanyl over the same period last year, a 20.0% increase for methamphetamine, a 10.1% increase for cocaine, and a 12.5% increase for heroin.

In September, a study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Network found that drug test positivity rates for cocaine, fentanyl, heroin and methamphetamine ha increased nationwide during the pandemic. That same month, in a new study, Millennium Health reported that urine samples from across the US came back positive at a rate 20% higher in the early weeks of the pandemic compared to the same period before the pandemic began ratcheting up in early March. The pandemic almost certainly also has had an impact on fatal drug overdoses (see below).

One of the most striking impacts of the pandemic has been on policing. Early on, big cities began to forego drug arrests and prosecutions as a discretionary luxury they could no longer afford as they struggled with the coronavirus. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, police or prosecutors announced they would not arrest or would not prosecute small-time drug possession cases. In March, prosecutors from more than 30 cities, including Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis signed on to an open letter urging local governments to make change in the face of COVID-19. They called for police to adopt "cite and release policies for offenses which pose no immediate physical threat to the community, including simple possession of controlled substances." They also called for the release of people being held solely because they can't come up with cash bail and for reducing jail and prison populations "to promote the health safety, staff, those incarcerated, and visitors." These were not intended as permanent moves, but perhaps politicians, police and prosecutors will take the opportunity to break their addiction to punishing drug users and sellers by going cold turkey amidst the pandemic. That would be a silver lining to the current crisis.

Advocates for marijuana legalization folded the pandemic into their arguments for ending federal marijuana prohibition. More than 30 state attorneys general cited the pandemic in calling for Congress to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow state-legal marijuana businesses to gain access to banking and financial services. The House HEROES Act coronavirus relief bill, passed in May, included a handful of criminal justice and drug policy reforms, mostly aimed at reducing the prison population during the pandemic, but also included that marijuana banking language.

COVID was also cited as making it even more imperative to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884). Over the summer, as the pandemic simmered, a coalition of justice and drug reform groups called on Congress to pass the bill, arguing that legalization was especially urgent in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. Given the current situation, "marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the war on drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before," they wrote in a letter to Congress.

That was followed by an even broader assemblage of 125 religious, human rights, and drug reform groups calling for passage of the bill. "[T]he circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward," the groups said. The MORE Act passed in December.

The Long, Hot Summer Uprising Against Police Violence and Racism

It all started with that horrid video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer over an alleged miniscule offense, but as people took to the streets all over the country, the name Breonna Taylor also loomed large. The totally innocent 26-year-old black EMT was gunned down by Louisville police in a misbegotten "no-knock" drug raid (it might be more accurate to call them "home invasion raids") in March, and her killing not only powered months of street demonstrations in her hometown, it also engendered howls of outrage and promises of reform from politicians around the land. And it brought heightened scrutiny to business as usual in the war on drugs.

As the streets overflowed in May, nearly four dozen members of Congress called for an independent investigation of the raid, calling Taylor's death "an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability." That was followed by a bevy of bills in Congress, including the Justice in Policing Act, which would ban no-knock warrants in federal drug cases. House Democrats pushed the bill through in three weeks in June. Republicans in the Senate responded with Sen. Tim Scott's Justice Act, which wouldn't ban no-knock raids, but would increase federal reporting requirements for no-knock raids and use of force. But the GOP bill never moved in Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate. As with so many measures passed by the House, McConnell's domain was where a congressional response to the crisis went to die.

But some states and localities actually enacted laws or ordinances aimed at reining in no-knocks. The Louisville Metro Council banned no-knock search warrants by unanimously passing "Breonna's Law" in June. Other cities, including Indianapolis, Memphis, Minneapolis, San Antonio and Santa Fe moved to either restrict or ban no-knocks. And while several states saw efforts to ban no-knocks, the only state where it's come to fruition so far is Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed into law House Bill 5099, which bars police from breaking into a home or business to conduct a raid without first announcing their presence.

In Historic Move, House Votes to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

Breaking almost but not entirely along party lines, the House voted on December 4 to approve the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 (HR 3884). The MORE Act would effectively end federal pot prohibition by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act's list of scheduled substances and eliminating federal criminal penalties for its possession, cultivation and sale.

The bill would not affect state laws that criminalize marijuana, but it would end the conflict between states that have already legalized marijuana and federal law. The bill also includes strong social equity provisions, including the creation of a fund to support programs and services for communities devastated by the war on drugs, a provision for expungement of past federal marijuana offenses, and a provision that bars the federal government from discriminating against people for marijuana use. The latter would protect immigrants from being deported for past marijuana convictions and would ensure that earned benefits are not denied to marijuana users.

The historic vote marks the first time either chamber of Congress has voted for legalization. But there is virtually no chance that the Republican-led Senate will take up -- let alone approve -- the measure in the remaining days of this session, meaning this is a battle that will continue in the next Congress.

Here Comes Psychedelic Drug Law Reform

Denver made history in May 2019 by becoming the first locality in the US to effectively decriminalize a psychedelic drug -- psilocybin-bearing magic mushrooms -- and as a psychedelic reform movement has spread across the land, this year saw more important advances. As the year went on, three more cities -- Ann Arbor, Oakland, and Santa Cruz -- passed similar ordinances.

Then on Election Day, voters in Oregon approved the groundbreaking Measure 109, the Psilocybin Services Act, with 56 percent of the vote. It will create a program to allow the administration of psilocybin products, such as magic mushrooms, to adults 21 and over for therapeutic purposes. People will be allowed to buy, possess, and consume psilocybin at a psilocybin services center, but only after undergoing a preparation session and under the supervision of a psilocybin service facilitator.

On the East Coast, Washington, DC, voters approved Initiative 81, the Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Policy Act of 2020, with 74 percent of the vote. The measure will have police treat natural plant medicines (entheogens) as their lowest law enforcement priority. The measure also asks the city's top prosecutor and its US Attorney to not prosecute such cases.

This string of psychedelic reform victories has generated momentum that is likely to result in more pushes in more places next year and beyond. Since Election Day, activists in San Francisco and Washington state have announced plans for decriminalization, a New Jersey state senator has filed a bill to downgrade the offense of magic mushroom possession, and a California state senator has announced he plans to file a bill. that would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics. And that's before the new year even begins.

Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs

With the passage by voters of Measure 110, the Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, Oregon broke new ground by becoming the first state to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The quantities decriminalized are up to one gram of heroin, up to one gram of or five pills of MDMA, up to two gram of meth, up to 40 units of LSD, up to 12 grams of psilocybin, up to 40 units of methadone, up to 40 pills of oxycodone, and up to two grams of cocaine. That's thousands of drug arrests that now will not occur in Oregon -- and now Oregon can set an example for other states to follow.

Red State or Blue State, Voters Choose Legal Marijuana When Given the Chance

The November election saw marijuana legalization on the ballot in four states and medical marijuana on the ballot in two states. They all won. Evenly-divided Arizona saw Proposition 207: The Smart & Safe Arizona Act, cruise to victory with 60 percent of the vote, while in blue New Jersey, Public Question 1 garnered a resounding 67 percent.

The really surprising results were in two red states: In Montana, Constitutional Initiative 118 and its companion Initiative 190 won with 58 percent and 57 percent of the vote, respectively, while in South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote. Both those states are Trump country, with the president taking 57 percent in the former and 62 percent in the latter.

It was the same story with medical marijuana too, as Mississippi approved Initiative 65 with 74 percent of the vote, while South Dakota's Measure 26 won with 70 percent. Marijuana for adult use in now legal in 15 states and medical marijuana is now legal in 38.

Attack of the Progressive Prosecutors

The November elections didn't just end the reign of Donald Trump and bring drug reform victories at the state level, they also ushered in a new crop of progressive prosecutors who will have the ability to affect the conduct of the war on drugs at the local level. Led by George Gascon, who was elected prosecutor of the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles, and running on progressive platforms that included confronting police misconduct, ramping down the war on drugs, and shrinking prison populations, progressives won prosecutor races in Detroit (Oakland County), Orlando, and two large Colorado districts that had been held for decades by Republicans. Progressives didn't win everywhere they ran, but the shift from "law and order" district attorneys toward progressives that began with Kim Foxx in Chicago and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia really gathered momentum this year.

A Tough Year for Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites -- or supervised injection sites or safe consumption sites, take your pick -- are a proven harm reduction intervention with 120 in operation in 10 countries around the world, but no legal ones operating in the US. It looked like that would change in 2020, but it didn't. A proposed site in Philadelphia got the final go-ahead from a federal judge in February, but the local US Attorney then won a stay blocking it, with a hearing on that stay held in October and the decision from the bench still pending. Things were also looking good in San Francisco after the Board of Supervisors okayed a three-site pilot program in June, but the state-level bill that would have allowed the city to proceed, Assembly Bill 362, died in the Senate after passing the Assembly. A similar fate befell a Massachusetts safe injection site bill, House Bill 4723, which managed to win a committee vote but then stalled. Maybe next year.

Asset Forfeiture Reforms

Asset forfeiture, especially civil asset forfeiture (without a criminal conviction), is increasingly unpopular, with 35 states and the District of Columbia approving reforms between 2014 and 2019. A November poll found that only 26% support allowing police to seize cash or property from someone without a criminal conviction. Some 59% of respondents oppose "allowing law enforcement agencies to use forfeited property or its proceeds for their own use." Opposition to equitable sharing, a federal program that allows state and local police to evade state laws against civil asset forfeiture, was even higher, with 70% against the program.

Here are some reasons why: In March, in Georgia,the Department of Revenue got caught spending millions of dollars in seized cash on "engraved firearms, pricey gym equipment, clothing, personal items, even $130 sunglasses." That same month, in Michigan, the Macomb County prosecutor was hit with a slew of criminal charges for allegedly taking funds seized from drug and other suspects for his own personal use, including a personal security system for his house, country club parties, campaign expenses and to buy flowers and make-up for his secretaries. In July, in Chicago, the city agreed to a $5 million payout to settle a class action lawsuit filed by two people whose vehicle was seized after a passenger was arrested for marijuana possession. The settlement will apply to hundreds of other cases where drivers had their vehicles impounded as part of drug cases. Also in Michigan, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office faces a similar lawsuit for seizing thousands of cars and other property belonging to residents without criminal convictions.

Such abuses helped New Jersey become the 36th asset forfeiture reform state when Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday (D) signed into law a bill mandating comprehensive disclosure and transparency requirements for the system of civil asset forfeiture. Unfortunately, the few remaining non-reform states are tough nuts to crack, as we saw with reform bills killed in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But, hey, at least Tyson Timbs, the Indiana man whose seized Land Rover resulted in a 2019 Supreme Court decision scaling back civil asset forfeiture, finally got his Land Rover back -- six years after it was seized over a drug bust.

America Keeps ODing

Amidst all the death in the pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of drug overdose deaths got short shrift this shift, but Americans are continuing to die by the tens of thousands. In July, the CDC reported preliminary data showing that after declining for the first time in decades in 2018, fatal ODs rose 4.6% in 2019. There's a lag in data for this year, but initial reports suggest bad news ahead. In July, the specialty laboratory Millennium Health reported that its analysis of more than half a million urine drug found large increases in the use fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. That same month, the Washington Post reportedthat fatal ODs have jumped and keep jumping during the pandemic. The Post's data showed overdose deaths up 18% in March, 29% in April, and 42% in May. The Post pointed to continued isolation, economic devastation, and disruptions in the drug trade as contributing factors.

Update 12/22: This year the top ten domestic stories goes to eleven, with the infamous "Aid Elimination Penalty" of the Higher Education Act set for repeal, as part of the massive spending bill sent to the president on the night of Monday the 21st. The provision barred students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid for college, for varying lengths of time. The spending bill also restores Pell Grant eligibility to prisoners.

Our own organization campaigned for many years for the law's repeal, through the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform and the John W. Perry scholarship fund. Extensive media coverage made the law controversial, and in 2006 it was scaled back to be limited to drug offenses committed while a student was in school and receiving federal aid. In 2010 legislation to limit its reach further passed the House of Representatives.The provision stayed on the radar for members of Congress and their staffs, and yesterday it got done.

Senate Approves Marijuana Research Bill, ICC Philippines Examination Progresses, More... (12/16/20)

A California bill would put an end to mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, Toronto is moving to open safe injection sites in select homeless shelters, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte may make it to the Hague yet. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Research Bill. With a favorable vote Tuesday night, the Senate has passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act (S.2302). It would ease the application process for marijuana researchers and would prod the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop medicines derived from marijuana. The House passed a separate marijuana research bill last week. The passage of bills in both chambers means there is still a chance that a marijuana research bill could still pass in the remaining days of the session.

Sentencing

California Bill Would Repeal Mandatory Minimums for Nonviolent Drug Offenses. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) last week introduced Senate Bill 73, which would repeal mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. "We are living with the consequences of bad, racist policies enacted in the 1970s and 80s, which disproportionately criminalize and harm Black and brown communities," Wiener said in a statement. "Our drug laws are a stain on California, and we must stop hurting communities and wasting valuable resources jailing people who have committed nonviolent drug offenses." The bill would give judges discretion to sentence such offenders to probation when appropriate. Under current law, a number of nonviolent drug charges come with mandatory sentencing provisions.

International

Toronto Plans to Open Safe Injection Sites in Homeless Shelters. Canada's largest city is moving to set up overdose prevention centers that include safe injection facilities in homeless shelters. The city will spend almost $8 million on a new "multi-pronged strategy" known as the Integrated Prevention and Harm Reduction Initiative (iPHARE). More than $3 million of that money will go to expanded harm reduction services, including safe injection sites in selected shelters across the city. The sites will only be open to residents of the shelters. Between April 1 and September 30, at least 132 people died of drug overdoses in the city.

Mexico President Blames Small "Mistakes" for Delays in Marijuana Legalization Bill. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that small errors in drafting the long-awaited marijuana legalization bill were the cause of the delay in passing the bill this month. He said legislators had requested a delay in the bill's Supreme Court-imposed Tuesday deadline to deal with it. "The period was practically over but they are matters of form and not substance," he said. "It is nothing more than a matter of mistakes that were made, lack of precision on quantities and there can be no contradictions in the law itself," Lopez Obrador said, referring to how much marijuana citizens can possess legally.

International Criminal Court Says Preliminary Examination of Filipino Drug War Shows Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity. In a report released this week, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for the International Criminal Court (ICC) said a preliminary examination found there was "reasonable basis to believe" Filipino forces committed crimes against humanity in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody crackdown on drug users and sellers that has led to thousands of killings since 2016. While OTP noted that Philippines officials have claimed the deaths were justified, it said that "such narrative has been challenged by others, who have contended that the use of lethal force was unnecessary and disproportionate under the circumstances, as to render the resulting killings essentially arbitrary, or extrajudicial, executions."

The examination now moves to its final stage, admissibility, looking at whether the Philippine justice system has is responding to the killings in a legitimate way. If the Philippines can't or won't hold perpetrators accountable, the court can take the case. Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has promised a decision will be by mid-2021 over whether to seek authorization from the court to open a formal investigation. She has also pointedly warned that the court's resources fall badly short of what's needed to carry out their mission, which affect how cases are prioritized.

SD Poll Has Both Legal Pot, MedMJ Initiatives Winning; Canada Sees First Legal Magic Mushroom Harvest, More... (10/26/20)

A new poll has both of South Dakota's marijuana initiatives winning, a Glasgow activist who runs an unauthorized mobile safe inject site has been arrested but is unbowed, and more.

Psilocbyin molecule. Canada has just seen its first legal harvest of psychoactive mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Poll Has Narrow Lead for Marijuana Legalization, Big Lead for Medical Marijuana. A Sioux Falls Argus-Leader/KRLO-TV poll has support for the Constitutional Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative at 51%, with 44% opposed, and only 5% undecided. The same poll also asked respondents about the Measure 26 medical marijuana initiative and shows it with a much larger lead, with 74% supporting it only 23% opposed, with 3% undecided.

International

Canada Sees First Legal Magic Mushroom Harvest. Numinus Wellness, Inc., a Vancouver-based company, had completed the first ever legal harvest of psilocybin mushrooms in the country. The company was issued the first license to produce and extract psilocybin from mushrooms by Health Canada back in June. "The first harvest of legally grown Psilocybe mushrooms is a significant milestone for the whole industry" said CEO Michael Tan. "Now, we can progress with research and development of standardized cultivation, extraction, and testing methods and exploring product formulations to support safe, evidence-based, accessible psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, as well as build a sequenced spore library." 

Canada Health Minister Calls on Alberta to Keep Prescription Heroin Program Going. Health Minister Patty Hajdu is calling on the government of Alberta to keep open its program providing pharmaceutical grade heroin and Dilaudid to patients diagnosed with severe opioid misuse disorder. Provincial Premier Jason Kenney has said he intends to stop funding the program in the spring. "We are disappointed by this decision from the Alberta government, and we urge them to reconsider," said a spokesperson for Hajdu.

Scottish Safe Injection Site Van Operator Arrested. Peter Krykant, who operates a mobile safe injection site was arrested last Friday by Glasgow police after they searched his van. But he was not arrested for violating the Misuse of Drugs Act. Instead he was charged with obstructing police who sought to search the van. Glasgow is at the center of the country's deepening opioid use crisis and the worst HIV epidemic in more than 30 years. An unbowed Krykant says only a change in the law to allow legal consumption of heroin and cocaine would allow for the issue to be fully addressed./p>

Bipartisan Policy Center Recommends Safe Injection Sites, Marijuana Busts Declined Last Year, More... (10/2/20)

The House includes marijuana banking language in its latest COVID relief bill, pot busts declined last year, an Arizona poll is looking good for marijuana legalization there, and more.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signs a pack of marijuana business bills. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

After Climbing Three Years in a Row, US Marijuana Arrests Fell by 18% Last Year. According to the just-released FBI Uniform Crime Report 2019, there were some 545,600 marijuana arrests in the US last year, 92% of them for simple possession. That's an 18% decline from 2018. Marijuana arrests peaked at nearly 873,000 in 2007.

House Democrats Include Marijuana Safe Harbor in Latest COVID Relief Bill. The House is including language to allow financial services for the marijuana industry in its latest $2.2 trillion COVID relief bill. It does so by including the text of the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595) within the relief bill. No word yet on how the Republican-led Senate will respond.

Arizona Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A new statewide poll of likely voters has support for the Prop 207 legalization initiative at 57%, with 38% opposed. The numbers are basically unchanged from the same poll in August, which had 57% in favor, with 37% opposed.

California Governor Signs Four Bills Affecting Marijuana Industry. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law four bills relating to the marijuana industry. Assembly Bill 1458 eases requirements for edibles manufacturers, Assembly Bill 1525 lets the state or local governments share financial information with the consent of marijuana licensees, Senate Bill 67 establishes marijuana appellations, and Senate Bill 1244 clarifies that marijuana labs may tests samples provided by law enforcement in a bid to reduce illicit cultivation.

Colorado Governor Mass Pardons People Busted for Marijuana Possession. Gov. Jared Polis (D) on Thursday signed an executive order pardoning people convicted of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana prior to legalization. "We are finally cleaning up some of the inequities of the past by pardoning 2,732 convictions for Coloradans who simply had an ounce of marijuana or less. It's ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970's has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success," Polis said. "Today we are taking this step toward creating a more just system and breaking down barriers to help transform people's lives as well as coming to terms with one aspect of the past, failed policy of marijuana prohibition."

Harm Reduction

Bipartisan Policy Center Report: Use Federal Money for Syringe Exchange Programs. The Bipartisan Policy Center released a report Wednesday looking at how federal money is being used to combat the opioid epidemic. The report recommended states do more to combat rising overdose deaths, including adding more syringe exchange programs to help reduce overdose deaths and disease transmission. "(Syringe exchange services) don't increase drug use, but rather facilitate entry into treatment as well as access to naloxone, which, as you know, is a lifesaving antidote for an opioid overdose," BPC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anand Parekh said.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Killed, Good Polls on MS MedMJ and DC Natural Psychedelic Initiatives, More... (9/3/20)

There are good polling results for medical marijuana in Mississippi and a natural psychedelic initiative in DC, Pennsylvania's top elected officials call for marijuana legalization, and more.

A psilocybin molecule. The plant-based drug would be effectively decriminalized if a DC initiative passes. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Governor, Lt. Governor Call on Legislature to Legalize Marijuana. Governor Tom Wolf (D) and Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D) called Thursday for the General Assembly to go beyond medical marijuana and legalize marijuana outright, not just medical, in Pennsylvania. According to the governor's office, legalization will provide a revenue stream that will help the state's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Poll Has Very High Support for Medical Marijuana Initiative. Polling firm FM3 Research recently conducted a survey of state voters and found a whopping 81% supported legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Voters will have the chance to vote on two competing initiatives, one championed by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, and another watered-down created by state legislators. The survey found voters preferred the original initiative, Initiative 65, over the watered-down one, Alternative 65A.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Killed. Legislative leaders in Sacramento last week killed Assembly Bill 362, which would have allowed the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to establish safe injection sites in a bid to reduce drug overdoses. The bill had already passed the Assembly but was shelved in the Senate.

Psychedelics

DC Poll Has Solid Support for Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative. A new poll of DC residents has support for Initiative 81 at 60%, up nine points since the poll was last conducted in April. The measure would make natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority in the nation's capital.

International

Australian Officials Ponder Allowing MDMA, Magic Mushrooms for Mental Health Treatment. The country's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is seeking feedback on a proposal to legalize MDMA and psilocybin -- the active ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for mental health treatment purposes. Mind Medicine Australia, a non-profit that advocates for new treatments for depression and PTSD has asked the regulator to allow psychiatrists to use MDMA and the hallucinogenic psilocybin in therapy sessions.

House Passes Bill to Block DOJ Meddling in State Marijuana Programs, Scots Want Safe Injection Sites, More... (7/30/20)

The House has voted to block the Justice Department from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs, a populous Maryland county moves to end no-knock raids for drugs, and more.

Marijuana Policy

House Passes Measure to Protect State Marijuana Laws from Federal Interference. The House on Thursday took up an amendment to protect all state, territorial, and tribal marijuana programs from interference by the Justice Department. The amendment passed on a voice vote.

Law Enforcement

Maryland's Montgomery County Bans No-Knock Raids for Drugs, Restricts Use of Force. The Montgomery County Council approved changes to the county police department's use of force policy on a unanimous vote Wednesday. No-knock raids would be banned except when involving crimes of violence, and chokeholds and other restraints would also be banned. "When there is state-sanctioned violence and discrimination, people feel it and that's why we've awoken right now," Councilman Will Jawando, one of the lead sponsors of the bill, told the council Wednesday. "Drug possession or distribution would not be allowed under this bill," Jawando said. "The vast majority of cases for no-knock warrants in the county are for drug possession." Actually, only about 40% of no-knock raids in 2017 and 2018 were for drug offenses, but this measure would eliminate those. County Executive Marc Elrich, who voiced support for police reforms earlier this summer, is expected to sign the bill.

International

New Zealand Roadside Drug Testing Bill Proposed. Police Minister Stuart Nash is pushing a proposed new law that would give police the power to conduct random, suspicionless roadside drug testing of drivers. Under the new bill, police will be able to saliva-test drivers for commonly used drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, opiates and benzodiazepines. "Under this law, drivers who test positive for the presence of drugs will be fined, immediately suspended from driving for 12 hours, and lose half their demerit points," Nash said. "Drivers would also face harsher criminal penalties where blood tests confirm impairing levels of drugs in their system, or drugs combined with alcohol." Specific criminal limits for different drugs would be set later, giving an expert review panel time to weigh in. The bill is set for a first reading next week.

Scots Back Safe Injection Sites, Poll Finds. A majority of people in Scotland support setting up safe injection sites, according to a poll published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The study, conducted by academics in Glasgow and Liverpool, questioned more than 1,500 people in Scotland and found 61% agreed with introducing the facilities, while 15% were against and 24% unsure. The poll comes as proposals to set up a safe injection site in Glasgow have been blocked by the British Home Office in London.

SF Supes Approve Safe Injection Site Measure, OK Pot Init Can Start Collecting Signatures, More... (6/24/20)

The Kansas City and Los Angeles city councils advance marijuana measures, San Francisco supervisors approve a measure to allow safe injection sites, marijuana legalization is advancing in the Isreali Knesset, and more.

Safe injection sites could be coming to San Francisco--if the state and federal governments clear the way. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma Supreme Court Clears Marijuana Legalization Initiative for Signature-Gathering. The state's high court has ruled that the initiative, State Question 807 to legalize marijuana may proceed to the signature-gathering stage. The initiative would legalize marijuana for adults over 21 and impose a 15% marijuana sales tax. Supporters would have to gather about 178,000 signatures of registered voters in 90 days to qualify the question for the ballot.

Kansas City Ordinance Removing Marijuana Prosecutions and Penalties Wins Committee Vote. An ordinance that would remove marijuana prosecutions and penalties from the city code was passed out of the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee Wednesday on a 4-2 vote and now heads for a full city council vote on July 9.

Los Angeles Ordinance to Reset Legal Marijuana Market Wins Committee Vote. The city council's Rules Committee voted Tuesday to approve a series of changes to help the city's struggling legal marijuana market, including strengthening programs aimed at helping operators from communities that suffered most from the nation's war on drugs. One proposed change would limit delivery licenses only to businesses that meet social equity benchmarks until 2025. The committee also approved allowing businesses to relocate while being licensed, clarify what employees are required to have background checks and streamline the application process.

Harm Reduction

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Approves Bill to Allow Safe Injection Sites. The Board on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow nonprofits to operate safe injection sites in the city. The legislation, backed by Mayor London Breed, passed the Board unanimously. It creates a system for issuing permits to nonprofits who want to undertake such activities. There are still obstacles to overcome, though. A state bill, Assembly Bill 362, which would authorize the city to open a safe injection site, has yet to pass the Senate, and the Trump administration remains opposed to any such moves.

Sentencing Reform

California's Prop 47 Reduced Racial Disparities in Arrests and Jailings, Study Finds. A study by the Public Policy Institute of California has found that Prop 47,  the 2014 ballot measure that lowered penalties for many property and drug crimes in California, has reduced but not eliminated the gap between African Americans and whites in arrests and jailings. In the first two years after Prop 47 went into effect, racial disparities in arrests for crimes covered by the initiative dropped 24.4%, while disparities in booking dropped 36.2%. But for drug crimes, the decline in racial disparity was even more stark, about 55%.

International

Israeli Knesset Gives First Approval to Marijuana Legalization Bills. The full Knesset voted Wednesday to advance a pair of bills that would legalize marijuana. That's only the first step in a legislative process that could take months to reach fruition. Under the bills, possession of up to 50 grams and up to two marijuana plants in a private place would not be a crime. Possessing more than the legal limit would result in a large fine, and public use would be prohibited.

Dem Congresswomen File COVID Decarceration Bill, Vancouver Activists Rally for Safe Drug Supply, More... (6/23/20)

Iowa's capital and largest city moves toward marijuana law reform, Vancouver activists march to demand a safe drug supply, progressive Democratic congresswomen roll out a public health-minded bill to reduce incarceration, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver. Now activists are calling for a safer drug supply, too. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Des Moines Creates Task Force to Study Marijuana Decriminalization. Iowa's capital and largest city is moving toward making enforcement of marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority. On Monday night, the city council took the first step in that process by voting unanimously to create a task force to study marijuana decriminalization. That task force will study the issue and make recommendations to the council by October 1. The resolution was part of an anti-racial profiling ordinance also unanimously passed by the council Monday.

Psychedelics

Iowa Amendment to Decriminalize Psilocybin Defeated. State Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) last week filed an amendment to a budget bill that would have removed psilocybin and psilocin from the state's controlled substances list. But members questioned how germane the amendment was to the budget bill and the presiding officer agreed, ruling the measure "not germane." Still, it got a vote and was handily defeated,76-17. Shipley last year filed a bill to legalize psilocybin and MDMA for medical use.

Sentencing Policy

Democratic Congresswomen File Bill to Dismantle Mass Incarceration. Last week, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (MI), Ayanna Pressley (MA), and Barbara Lee (CA) introduced the as yet unnumbered Dismantle Mass Incarceration for Public Health Act, which would require the release of eligible individuals who are currently in custody in a jail or prison during the COVID-19 crisis and for one year after the crisis ends. "This pandemic should not be a death sentence for anyone," said Congresswoman Tlaib. "We already know that Black and Brown folks are disproportionately affected by this virus outside prison walls. We also know that they’ve been disproportionately incarcerated for decades. These factors make for a unique urgency to get this bill passed, so we ensure incarcerated individuals and their loved ones have a fighting chance to see each other again."

International

Vancouver Activists Rally and March in Downtown Eastside for Safe Drug Supply. With last month being the deadliest for drug overdoses in years with more than 170 dead in the city, Vancouver activists rallied and marched through the Downtown Eastside, the epicenter of hard drug use in the city, to demand access to a safe supply of drugs for users. While acknowledging federal and provincial government efforts to ease access to such drugs, lockdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in interruptions to the drug supply and led to the local manufacture of substitutes cut with more dangerous and toxic ingredients. The rally was led by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).

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