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ND Legal Pot Initiative Qualifies for Ballot, Appalachian Senators Call for More Drug War, More.. (8/16/22)

A South Dakota marijuana legalization initatiive draws organized opposition, Mexico's week of cartel violence raises questions, and more.

North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

North Dakota Becomes Fifth State to Put a Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the Ballot This Year. The secretary of state's office announced Tuesday that a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by New Approach North Dakota has qualified for the November ballot. Similar measures have already qualified for the ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, and South Dakota, while an effort in Oklahoma awaits a final signature count. The initiative would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over. They would be able to purchase, possess, transport, and distribute up to an ounce and 500 milligrams of THC. There is also a home grow provision allowing for up three plants. The initiative also envisions a commercial sector licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

South Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaigns Sees Organized Opposition Emerge. Even as the sponsors of the IM 27 marijuana legalization initiative gear up to free the weed for the second time in two years (the 2020 victory was annulled by the state Supreme Court at the behest of GOP Gov. Kristi Noem), organized opposition is emerging. In late July, a group calling itself Protecting South Dakota's Kids filed paperwork with the state as a statewide ballot question committee. It is led by Jim Kinyon, with Fred Deutsch as treasurer. Deutsch is a Republic legislator who is fiercely anti-marijuana. "Legal marijuana will destroy our communities," says the group's website. "Protecting South Dakota Kids is a grassroots coalition made up of concerned citizens, healthcare professionals, pastors, educators, treatment providers, law enforcement, and other professionals." But IM 27 backers don’t seem too concerned: "Quite a few politicians, including Governor Noem, have realized that disrespecting the will of the people is not a great political strategy," said campaign spokesman Matt Schweich. "We want to earn every vote we can and we want to exceed the 54% outcome in 2020." 

Law Enforcement

Appalachian Senators Call for More Drug War. In a Tuesday letter to Dr.Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), a bipartisan group of senators from Appalachian states called for "additional assistance to combat drug-trafficking in the Appalachian region." The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty (both R-TN). They want more resources and more designations of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs). "These additional federal resources, allocated to areas deemed as critical drug trafficking regions, are essential in eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences. ONDCP has the statutory authority to create new HIDTAs and add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it has received a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies," the senators said in a press release. "Despite the enormous need, historically the Appalachian HIDTA has only gained approval for approximately 30 percent of petitions submitted. In the most recent round of designations, no counties within the Appalachian HIDTA – which encompasses Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Southwest Virginia – received the sought-after designation. This fact, juxtaposed with the region’s manifest need, suggests strongly that the process of awarding needs to be revisited."

International

Mexico's Week of Cartel Violence Shakes Administration. Last week was a week of chaos as  Mexican drug cartels ran amok in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez as well as in the states of Coahuila, Guanajauto, and Jalisco, and that has left the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) looking for answers. AMLO himself suggested the attacks were part of a political conspiracy: "I don’t know if there was a connection, a hidden hand, if this had been set up,” he said. “What I do know is that our opponents, the corrupt conservatives, help in the black propaganda." And Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval claimed the cartels lashed out because they feel they have been weakened. That may be a more plausible explanation than AMLO's. While AMLO took office in 2018 pledging "hugs not bullets" for violent drug trafficking organizations, in the past year his strategy has shifted Last year, Mexican soldiers were criticized for simply sitting in their bases and watching as cartels battled each other, but this year has seen more attempt to capture major traffickers, including the capture of Rafael Caro Quintero, and more meth lab busts. "There has been a change in the strategy in fighting drug cartels. Andrés Manuel has been very much criticized recently for his ‘hugs, not bullets’ strategy," security analyst David Saucedo said. "I think that due to pressure from Joe Biden, he is changing that and agreeing to capture high-profile drug traffickers. The narco-terrorism of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is a reaction to the president’s change in strategy," Saucedo said. "If the Mexican president continues with this strategy of capturing high-ranking members of the Jalisco cartel, the Jalisco cartel is going to respond with acts of narcoterrorism in the states it controls as part of its vast empire."

House Approves SAFE Banking Again, Colombia Cocaine Production Down Slightly, More... (7/15/22)

The NYPD reverses course on testing cops for marijuana, Colorado's governor signs an executive order protecting marijuana-using workers from discrimination, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Coca and cocaine production remained relatively stable at high levels last year. (Pixabay)
House Approves More Marijuana Amendments as Part of Defense Spending Bill. The House on Thursday approved a half dozen marijuana amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, including amendments to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses and allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The banking amendment came from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and contains the language of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has been included in other omnibus spending bills only to be stripped out in conference committee by Senate leadership, which is still holding out for a full-fledged marijuana legalization bill.

Colorado Governor Issues Executive Order to Protect Marijuana Users from Workplace Discrimination. Gov. Jared Polis (D) has issued an executive order designed to protect workers from being punished or denied a professional license for using, possessing, or growing marijuana. The order includes people from other states. "The exclusion of people from the workforce because of marijuana-related activities that are lawful in Colorado, but still criminally penalized in other states, hinders our residents, economy and our State," said Polis. The order also directs the state Department of Regulatory Agencies to not provide information to aid in professional investigations related to legal marijuana-related activities in the state.

NYPD Says It Will Stop Testing Cops for Weed, Then Reverses Course. The NYPD on Wednesday announced it would quit drug testing officers for marijuana, only to reverse course within a matter of hours. "The New York City Law Department has directed the NYPD to cease all random, scheduled and pre-employment testing for marijuana," an NYPD spokeswoman said early Wednesday. "The Department will continue to administer marijuana screenings to personnel when there are indications of impairment and is reviewing its current policies in light of this directive." But later in the day, an NYPD spokesman said that the department was in discussions with the Law Department about possible conflicts with federal law and that in the meantime, it was back to the old policy. "While these discussions continue, there is no change in NYPD policies, procedures, or testing protocols regarding the use of Marijuana by uniformed members of the service," the spokesperson announced.

International

Colombian Coca, Cocaine Production Fell Slightly Last Year, Drug Czar's Office Says. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) reported Thursday that Colombia had seen slight reductions in coca cultivation and cocaine production in 2021. Estimated coca cultivation dropped from 600,000 acres to 578,000, while estimated cocaine production dropped from 994 tons in 2020 to 972 tons last year. Despite billions of dollars in US anti-drug and counter-insurgency funding over the past several decades, Colombia remains one of the world's top cocaine producer, with leftist rebel factions, former rightist paramilitaries, and criminal gangs competing earn black market profits from the trade. ONDCP also reported that Peruvian cocaine production and coca cultivation dropped slightly as well last year, but production was up slightly in Bolivia, leaving global cocaine production at near record levels.

Supreme Court Rules for Crack Prisoners, CO Psychedelic Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/28/22)

A major Swiss bank gets convicted of cocaine money laundering, a House committee wants a GAO report on federal psilocybin policy, and more.

Something good came out of the US Supreme Court on Monday. (Pixabay)
Psychedelics

House Appropriations Committee Calls for Review of Federal Psilocybin Policy. In reports accompanying new spending bills, the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, as well as letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries and using hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics. The report for the spending bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze barriers to state, local, and tribal programs using psilocybin. The committee said the GAO should study the impact of federal drug prohibition in jurisdictions that allow psilocybin. The call comes as a psilocybin reform movement is gaining momentum across the country.

Colorado Activists Turn in Signatures for Psychedelic Initiative. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, the group behind an initiative to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin "healing centers," announced Monday that it had turned in 222,648 raw signatures. The campaign only needs 124,632 valid voter signatures, and this cushion of nearly 80,000 excess raw signatures suggests that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT, and psilocyn for people 21 and over. It does not set specific possession limits, nor does it envision recreational sales. The measure would also place responsibility for developing rules for a therapeutic psilocybin with the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Drug Policy

At Oversight Hearing, Director of National Drug Control Policy Highlighted Biden-Harris Administration's Commitment to Tackling Overdose and Addiction Crisis. On Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing with Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), to examine the federal government's response to the overdose and addiction crisis, including the Biden-Harris Administration's 2022 National Drug Control Strategy.

During the hearing, Director Gupta highlighted illicit drug seizures at the southern border and disruption of drug trafficking across the US; the need to expand treatment services; steps such as telehealth services to expand access to care for people in underserved communities; and overdose prevention efforts funded by the bipartisan Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. Gupta and committee members also highlighted Chairwoman Maloney's Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Weigh New Factors in Crack Cocaine Cases. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the First Step Act allows district court judges to consider post-sentencing changes in law or fact in deciding whether to re-sentence people convicted under the harsh crack cocaine laws of the past.

While the penalties are still harsh, they are not quite as much as they were prior to passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the ratio of quantity triggers for the worst sentences for powder vs. crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The First Step Act made those sentencing changes retroactive, giving prisoners the chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision was 5-4, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's liberal minority in the opinion.

The case is Concepcion v. United States, in which Carlos Concepcion was sentenced to 19 years for a crack offense in 2009, a year before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. He sought resentencing "as if" the Fair Sentencing Act provisions "were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." That is proper, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion: "It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court's discretion to consider information is restrained. Nothing in the First Step Act contains such a limitation."

International

Swiss Court Convicts Credit Suisse of Cocaine Money-Laundering. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has found the bank Credit Suisse guilty of failing to prevent money-laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking organization. One former bank employee was convicted of money-laundering in the case against the country's second-largest bank. The trial included testimony about murders and cash-filled suitcases. The court held that Credit Suisse demonstrated deficiencies in both the management of client relations with criminal groups and the implementation of money-laundering rules. "These deficiencies enabled the withdrawal of the criminal organization's assets, which was the basis for the conviction of the bank's former employee for qualified money laundering," the court said. Credit Suisse said it would appeal.

Peru Announces Plan to Buy Up Entire Illegal Coca Crop, NH Senate Kills Legal Pot Bills Again, More... (4/29/22)

The White House announces more money for drug law enforcement, GOP senators file a bill to reduce but not eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more.

British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie -- busted on drug charges in Florida (bvi.gov.vg)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Again Rejects Marijuana Legalization Bills. The Senate on Thursday rejected two different marijuana legalization bills. House Bill 1598 would have created a state-run monopoly for retail marijuana sales, while House Bill 629 would have legalized personal possession and home cultivation of the plant. In recent years, the House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills, only to see them die in the Senate. On reason is paternalistic politicians like Sen. Bob Guida (R-Warren), who said he was "proud" of defeating legalization. "It may be what people want, but it's not what we as a Senate should enable them to do because it will cause harm," he said.

Law Enforcement

White House Announces $275 Million for Law Enforcement in HIDTAs. The White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) announced Thursday that it has allocated $275 million for law enforcement in designate High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to tackle black market opioid trafficking. ONDCP said the funds would go to 33 regional HIDTAs to "reduce violence associated with drug trafficking, improve interdiction efforts through enhanced data sharing and targeting, and dismantle illicit finance operations." Some of the money will also support public health and safety partnerships, like the Overdose Response Strategy, which works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce overdose. But the bulks of the money is going to prohibitionist law enforcement.

Sentencing

GOP Senators File Bill to Reduce but Not Eliminate Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Stiffen Some Penalties. US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) to introduce the SMART Cocaine Sentencing Act, which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders tried in federal courts. The bill would reduce the current crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1. It would reduce the volume required to trigger five-year mandatory minimum sentences for powder cocaine from 500 grams to 400 grams, and from 5 kilograms to 4 kilograms for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. For crack cocaine, the volume triggering a five-year mandatory sentence would be increased from 28 grams to 160 grams; the volume for the 10-year mandatory sentence would be lifted from 280 grams to 1,600 grams.

International

British Virgin Islands Leader Busted in Florida Drug Sting Operation. The elected head of government of the British Virgin Island, Premier Andrew Fahie, was arrested in a drug sting operation in Florida Thursday. Fahie went down after an undercover informant posing as a member of the Sinaloa Cartel sought his help in moving cocaine through the territory and on to the United States and Fahie agreed to help in return for $500,000 paid up front and accepted $20,000 in cash as good faith money. The Caribbean island nation's port director and her son were also charged. Fahie and the other two all face charges of conspiracy to import at least five kilograms of a cocaine mixture and conspiracy to launder money.

Mexico Sends 200 More Soldiers to Tijuana to Fight Cartel Violence. Mexico has deployed an additional 200 National Guard troops to join the 3,500 already deployed in the border city of Tijuana, which has been ravaged by prohibition-related violence in recent weeks. "The conflict over control of production, distribution and sales of drugs led by organized delinquents within the state of Baja California has generated a large number of homicides as a result of these activities,"said General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, the head of the Mexico's National Guard in Baja California. The soldiers will man vehicle checkpoints across the city. But the entry of Mexican soldiers into areas of cartel violence has often led to more -- not less -- violence.

Peru Announces Plans to Buy Up Entire Illicit Coca Crop. The government has announced a plan to buy up the nation's entire supply of illegal coca leaf as part of its battle against drug trafficking. The Andean nation is one of the world's three major cocaine producers, along with Bolivia and Colombia. The country has a legal coca market and produced an estimated 160,000 tons of coca leaf last year, but 95 percent of that was grown illegally and was destined for illegal markets, where it was converted into about 400 tons of cocaine. The country's coca monopoly, ENACO, has 95,000 registered licit coca growers, but there are an estimated 400,000 illicit coca growers that the government wants to bring into the fold. "It is imperative, for at least a year, to buy coca leaf from existing registered producers and from those that will make up the newly created register," Cabinet Chief Anibal Torres said on Wednesday when presenting the initiative. The plan would also end the military occupation of the VRAEM (Valleys of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers), the country's main coca production area, which has had a military presence since 2006.

White House Drug Strategy Embraces Harm Reduction, But Prohibitionist Impulse Remains Strong [FEATURE]

The Biden White House sent its first National Drug Control Strategy to Congress on April 21. It breaks positive new ground by explicitly acknowledging harm reduction measures to prevent overdose and blood-borne diseases among drug users. At at the same time, though, it also relies heavily on the destructive and counterproductive pursuit of failed prohibitionist drug policies -- and funds more law enforcement much more heavily than harm reduction.

The strategy comes out just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that drug overdose deaths hit an all-time high of 106,000 in the year ending last November. The administration is responding with what it calls a "whole of government" approach to the crisis.

"The strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking," the White House said. "It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers' profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts. Saving lives is our North Star, and the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy calls for immediate actions that will save lives in the short term and outlines long-term solutions to reduce drug use and its associated harms, including overdose."

While the strategy includes long-familiar categories such as drug treatment, prevention, supply reduction, and criminal justice and public safety, it also emphasizes an evidence-based approach, "building a recovery-ready nation," and for the first time, harm reduction.

"The Biden-Harris Administration's efforts focus on meeting people where they are and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services," the White House said. "Specifically, the strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the US system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country."

The strategy calls for "the coordinated use of federal grant funds for harm reduction," and the administration last year broke new ground with a $30 million grant program for harm reduction providers. But in a sign of continued reliance on traditional law enforcement priorities, the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA. Those figures were released as part of the White House's FY 2023 budget released last month.

"Responding effectively to the illicit production, trafficking, and distribution methods of domestic criminal organizations and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) is a significant challenge and remains a Biden-Harris Administration priority," the White House said.

That kind of talk suited mainstream Democrats just fine.

"Illicit drugs cause immeasurable pain and loss in our communities. As the Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, I've pressed for an updated federal plan to tackle them," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). I've been clear that the plan must include a more coordinated approach to cracking down on drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, especially the ways in which they launder and protect their ill-gotten gains using US rule of law and financial networks; and more and better cooperation with our international partners to reduce the supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs and to levy tougher sanctions against transnational drug syndicates. I'm pleased to see my priorities reflected in this new strategy, and I look forward to working with the Biden administration to deliver on those priorities."

Whitehouse also lauded the strategy's "tearing down barriers to treatment, including expanding access to life-saving naloxone and medication-assisted treatment; improving our data collection systems to better understand the effects of our intervention efforts."

Reform advocates offered praise -- sometimes lukewarm -- for the administration's tentative embrace of harm reduction, but blasted its reliance on tired, failed drug war paradigms.

In its analysis of the strategy, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it "a major step forward" and lauded the administration for "focusing on ensuring access to treatment for substance use disorders and highlighting the crucial role of harm reduction services." But WOLA also noted that, "when measured against the scale of the nation's overdose problems and the urgency of the needs, Biden's new plan appears quite timid."

WOLA also warned that the strategy's "positive innovations regarding investment in treatment and harm reduction strategies risk being undermined by a continued commitment to the kinds of policies that have exacerbated the present crisis and that continue to absorb the lion's share of resources, namely, drug criminalization at home and wildly exaggerated expectations for what can be achieved through supply control efforts abroad."

Similarly, the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute called the attention to harm reduction a "positive," but noted steps that it did not take, such as making the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone available over-the-counter and repealing the so-called Crack House Statute that stands in the way of federal approval of safe injection sites.

"On a negative note," Cato observed, "the remainder of the new report calls for doubling down on interdiction, border control, and other law enforcement measures aimed at curtailing the supply of illicit drugs -- as if repeating the same failed strategies of the past half century, only with more gusto, will somehow work."

So there it is: The Biden administration's first crack at a national drug strategy deserves kudos for its embrace of harm reduction and evidence-based approaches, but beyond that, it is pretty much more of the same old same old.

White House Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Nixed, More... (4/21/22)

A pair of companion marijuana legalization initiatives are cleared for singature-gathering in Oklahoma, SAMSHA mantains a firm line on drug testing rules, and more.

A needle exchange. The White House is emphasizing harm reduction measures to take on the overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would have legalized marijuana and had it sold at state-owned retail outlets, House Bill 1598. The bill could still come up for a Senate floor vote, but the committee vote likely signals the end of the road for this legislative session. The House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills in recent years, only to see them die in the Senate. And even if something were to make it to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), he remains opposed to legalization. At least one senator indicated he was stuck in a time warp: "Why would we want to join the herd of introducing to our culture legalization of a substance that is unquestionably a gateway drug?" asked Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren).

Ohio Lawmakers File Marijuana Legalization Bill That Mirrors Ongoing Legalization Initiative. Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrance Upchurch, have filed a marijuana legalization bill with the same language as the legalization initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMTA). CRMTA's initiative passed an initial signature threshold, starting a process where the legislature has four months to either pass legalization or let it go to the voters in November (provided CRMTA succeeds in another round of signature-gathering), but there is little indication that the Republican-controlled legislature is going to act on it.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature-Gathering. The state Supreme Court has cleared the way for two companion marijuana legalization initiative campaigns to begin signature-gathering. State Question 819 and the companion State Question 818, would amend the state constitution to protect the right of residents age 21 and older to use marijuana. Because they amend the constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering hurdle than State Question 820, which has already been cleared for signature-gathering. It needs about 90,000 signatures within 90 days to qualify for the ballot, while State Questions 819 and 820 will need about 178,000 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House released the 2022 National Drug Control StrategyThursday, focusing on treating drug addiction and fighting drug trafficking. The strategy calls for expanded harm reduction interventions, such as drug test strips, needle exchanges, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new strategy is “the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and service,” the White House said. But the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA, maintaining a law enforcement emphasis. Those figures were released as part of the FY 2023 budget released last month.

Drug Testing

SAMSHA Cuts No Slack for Medical Marijuana, Accidental Exposures in Updated Federal Drug Testing Rules. In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a pair of notices about proposed changes to drug testing policies. One new notice clarifies that having a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test. The secondnew notice states that passive exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke or accidental ingestion of foods containing marijuana are not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test. These are proposed rules, and  there is a 60-day public comment period on the proposals is open until June 6.

Washington Drug Decrim Init Ready for Signature Gathering, Crack Pipe Funding Furor, More... (2/9/22)

Thailand removes cannabis from its schedule of controlled substances (but marijuana legalization is still down the road a bit), a Washington state drug decriminalization initiative is cleared to begin signature gathering, and more.

A broken crack pipe. Bowing to noise from the right, the Biden administration won't fund harm reduction kits with them. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Bill Would Protect Workers from Being Fired for Off-Job Marijuana Use. Rep. Brianna Titone (D-Arvada) has filed a bill, House Bill 1152, that would bar employers from either refusing to hire or firing workers because of their off-duty marijuana use. The measure also includes a provision requiring employers to consumer medical marijuana at work, with some exemptions for safety-sensitive positions. "Marijuana is legal in Colorado," said state Rep. Titone. "And what people do in their spare time that doesn't impact their work shouldn't really be a problem for them. They should be able to enjoy the legal things that we have here in Colorado and not be penalized for it." The state Supreme Court has previously ruled on the side of employers on the issue, particularly in the 2015 case of Brandon Coats v. Dish Network.

Drug Policy

Washington Drug Decriminalization, Treatment Initiative Ready to Begin Signature Gathering. A drug decriminalization and treatment funding initiative that was filed last month by the group Commit to Change WA, which is backed by the state ACLU, is ready to begin signature gathering in a bid to qualify for the November ballot. The move comes after a Monday deadline for challenges to its ballot title passed without any challenges. The initiative would remove the state's existing penalties for drug use and possession, expunge past drug use and possession convictions, and appropriate more than $100 million a year for drug prevention, treatment, outreach, and recovery, including at least $10 million a year for harm reduction. The campaign now has until July 8 to come up with 324,516 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.

Harm Reduction

Cowed by Criticism from the Right, Biden Administration Drops Funding for Safer Crack Pipes. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Dr. Rahul Gupta announced that a harm reduction grant program for drug users will not fund safer pipes for crack or meth smokers. "No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits," Gupta and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

There is $30 million in federal funding for harm reduction, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration had listed "safe smoking kits/supplies" among the items that could be purchased with taxpayer money. Other items included included overdose prevention drugs, medication lockboxes, test kits for infectious diseases, and syringe disposal containers. The tender did not actually mention pipes, but it did trigger online reports that the Biden administration was using taxpayer dollars to buy "crack pipes."

International

Thailand Officially Drops Cannabis from List of Controlled Substances. As of today, cannabis is no longer a Category 5 controlled substance. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul signed a ministerial announcement officially removing it on Tuesday. The delisting means that all parts of the plant can be legally consumed, but THC extracts above 0.2 THC will remain illegal. The change will go into effect in 120 days. This means that production of hemp and hemp-based CBD products can commence, but it will still be against the law to grow and consume marijuana until a bill is submitted to parliament in order to establish a regulatory framework for production and sales.

DOJ Signals Openness to Safe Injection Sites, Congressional Commission Issues Overdose Strategy Report, More... (2/8/22)

Pennsylvania sees its first ever legislative debate on marijuana legalization, Tennessee sees a slew of marijuana-related bills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Sees First Legislative Debate on Marijuana Legalization. For the first time ever, Keystone State lawmakers took up the topic of marijuana legalization as the Senate Law & Justice Committee held a hearing on Monday. The hearing was on a proposal from committee Chair Sen. Mike Regan (R-York County), but focused largely on unsafe practices in the industry and products going through existing black markets. The committee heard from lawmakers, medical marijuana industry representatives, and law enforcement officials. Another, bipartisan marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 473, which includes expungement and social equity provisions, is also before the committee. No votes were taken. Regan said the committee would hold another hearing in coming months to see what "trials and tribulations" other states had endured.

Tennessee Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Lawmakers in the Volunteer State are facing a slew of marijuana legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana bills filed this session. So far, the legislative web site shows at least 28 bills, most of them addressing legalization. The state is one of seven that have allowed for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but that is as far down the road as the legislature has gone so far. An attempt to decriminalize marijuana possession was killed last session, as was a broader medical marijuana bill.

Opioids

Congressional Commission Urges Five-Pronged Strategy to Confront Overdose Crisis. A bipartisan congressional commission. the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking released a report Tuesday calling for a multipronged strategy to confront the nation's overdose crisis. The commission called for the strategy to be based around five pillars: Restoring the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to cabinet rank, disrupting the drug supply through better coordinated law enforcement, demand reduction through treatment and harm reduction measures, using diplomatic means to cut off the supply of fentanyl precursor chemicals, and developing surveillance tools to monitor new drug trends. In other words, new, improved drug war, albeit with a slightly gentler touch regarding harm reduction.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Signals It Could Allow Safe Injection Sites. In a statement to the Associate Press, the Justice Department said it is "evaluating" the harm reduction intervention and seeking guidance from regulators on "appropriate guardrails." That is a drastic change from the Trump administration, under which the department successfully sued to block a Philadelphia safe injection site, and is the first hint, after months of silence, that DOJ is open to safe injection sites. "Although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety," DOJ said in the statement last Friday.

DOJ isn't the only federal government entity to edge closer to supporting safe injection sites. In December, the National Institutes of Health mentioned them in a call for harm reduction research, and that same month, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Dr. Rahul Gupta said he was "interested in looking at the science and data behind all of the emerging harm reduction practices."

House Advances SAFE Banking Act (Again), MI Psychedelic Legalization Initiative Filed, More... (2/3/22)

Mountains of meth are being cooked up in Myanmar's Shan state, UNODC reports. (dea.gov)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana Banking on Voice Vote, Final Approval with Roll Call Vote Expected Today. The House on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a marijuana banking amendment to a science and technology bill, with a roll call voice vote expected Thursday. The amendment is the SAFE Banking Act, which is aimed at providing access to financial services for state-legal marijuana businesses. The measure has repeatedly been approved by the House, most recently as part of a defense appropriations bill, but Senate negotiators more interested in passing a full-on marijuana legalization bill killed it then.

Bipartisan Coalition of House Members Call for Quick Vote on Marijuana Legalization. A bipartisan group of House members sent a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday demanding that Congress move "expeditiously" to pass a bill to legalize marijuana. The bill in question is the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), which passed the House in 2020 and passed the House Judiciary Committee this session, but has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote.

The MORE ACT is "is foundational in righting systemic injustices and removing barriers for families and individuals nationwide" and so it should be "expeditiously considered by the House and Senate," the letter said. The letter was led by Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) and cosigned by Reps. Nikema Williams (D-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marie Newman (D-IL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Dean Phillips (D-MN), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Angie Craig (D-MN) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).

Drug Policy

Grassley, Whitehouse Implore Biden Administration to Quickly Release National Drug Control Strategy for 2022. On Wednesday, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), co-chairs of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, pushed the Biden administration to finish its work on and release the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. Their bipartisan letter comes after Dr. Rahul Gupta -- Director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) -- indicated last week that their 2022 strategy could be delayed until the end of June, far past the statutorily required date of February 7, 2022.

"We are pleased that your office is taking a thoughtful look and share your sentiments, especially in light of the record overdose deaths. Despite this, we are disappointed in the delay. The Strategy is critical in informing the federal government's approach to drug enforcement, prevention, and treatment. Now more than ever, a timely and whole-of-government Strategy is necessary," the senators wrote.

Psychedelics

Michigan Activists File Psychedelic Legalization Ballot Initiative. The national group Decriminalize Nature, its state affiliate, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) have filed paperwork for an initiative to legalize the possession, cultivation, and non-remunerated sharing of psychedelics, as well as setting up a system to enable therapeutic and spiritual use. The measure would legalize a broad range of psychedelics for people 18 and over. Sales would be allowed to provide psychedelics to people whose doctors have issued written recommendations for them.

International

Colombian Army Kills Nine in Raid on Gulf Clan Cartel. Defense Minister Diego Molina announced late Tuesday evening that at least nine people were killed in an army raid on the Gulf Clan Cartel in northwest Colombia. The raid took place in Ituango, a Gulf Clan stronghold. The Gulf Clan is a major drug trafficking organization, considered responsible for about a third of the cocaine being smuggled out of the country. It's leader, Dario Antonio Usuga, also known as Otoniel, was arrested in October in a raid involving 500 police and military, an event that President Ivan Duque said marked "the end" of the Guld Clan. Apparently not quite yet.

Myanmar Illicit Drug Production Surges Since Coup. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said this week that political turmoil and instability in the wake of a military coup has resulted in massive increases in drug production and trafficking in the country. Last month alone, authorities in Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar seized a mind-boggling 90 million methamphetamine tablets and 4.4 tons of crystal meth, with the bulk of it reportedly produced in Myanmar's Shan state. "Meth production increased last year from already extreme levels in northern Myanmar and there is no sign it will slow down," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's regional representative in Southeast Asia.

Senate Names Meth an "Emerging Drug Threat," UFCW Marijuana Industry Unionization, More... (12/14/21)

A bad batch of synthetic cannabinoids is sickening people in Florida, Chicago is handing out fentanyl test strips in a bid to bring down record overdose numbers, and more.

Meth seized in Nebraska. No, it was not cooked by Breaking Bad's Heisenberg. (netnebraska.org)
Marijuana Policy

UFCW Gains Another Victory in Marijuana Industry Unionization Drive. An ongoing drive by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) gained another victory this week as 70 employees of the four-store Sweet Flower Cannabis chain in Southern California voted to join the union. The chain just got a license for a fifth shop in Culver City, and staff there will also be able to join the union under a labor peace agreement. The UFCW has won several other unionization votes in California this year, as well as at pot businesses in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The union represents about 10,000 workers in the industry. The Teamsters are also active in unionizing the industry, winning victories in California and Illinois.

Methamphetamine

Senate Passes Grassley, Feinstein Methamphetamine Bill. The Senate on Monday passed the Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021 (S. 854), legislation introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill designates methamphetamine as an emerging drug threat and directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to implement a plan to address the rising use of methamphetamine. The bill "requires ONDCP to develop, implement and make public, within 90 days of enactment, a national emerging threats response plan that is specific to methamphetamine." The same bill passed the Senate last year but failed to move in the House.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Severe Bleeding From 'Spice' Synthetic Cannabinoid Leaves 35 Hospitalized in Florida. At least 35 people in the Tampa Bay area have recently been hospitalized with severe bleeding after ingesting the synthetic cannabinoid "Spice," the state's poison control center reported. Victims have reported bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, vomiting blood, blood in urine and stool, and heavy menstrual bleeding -- symptoms associated with a condition known as coagulopathy, where the blood's ability to clot is impaired.

The exact cause of the bleeding was not stated. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "...chemicals [in synthetic marijuana] are often being changed as the makers of spice often alter them to avoid drug laws, which have to target certain chemicals." Similar reactions in a 2018 incident involving Spice were attributed to the chemical brodifacoum having been added.

Florida has not legalized marijuana and allows only limited access to medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Now Passing Out Free Fentanyl Test Strips. With fentanyl now linked to most opioid overdose deaths in the city, the Chicago Department of Health has begun offering free fentanyl test strips to the public. The program first began in October, and so far, more than 7,000 strips have been distributed, mostly through harm reduction organizations. The Cook County Department of Public Health is also distributing fentanyl test strips in the city and its suburbs. Cook County registered a record number of opioid-related deaths in 2020.

Drug War Issues

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