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Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

Fatal Drug ODs Hit Record Last Year, Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (7/14/21)

There is now a marijuana legalization bill from the Senate majority leader, New York prisons face a second lawsuit over their crackdown on pain pill prescribing for inmates, and more.

CDC preliminary data has drug overdose deaths at more than 90,000 last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) held a press conference Wednesday to unveil their first draft of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. The bill would federally legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, let states set their own marijuana policies, expunge prior convictions and allow people to apply for resentencing, and end collateral consequences, such as people being deported for marijuana possession offenses. The bill, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, faces uncertain prospects in the narrowly divided Senate, and just minutes after the Wednesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the President Biden remains opposed to marijuana legalization. If the bill were to pass, it would have to be reconciled with the marijuana legalization bill passed by the House in December, the MORE Act (HR 3884). Look for out feature article on the rollout coming shortly.

Missouri Activists Take Initial Steps for 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A group calling itself Fair Access Missouri filed a petition Tuesday for a marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2022 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the possession of up to eight ounces for people 21 and over and allow residents to cultivate up to 25 square feet of flowering marijuana. It would also set up a system of licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and sales. Previous marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state have failed to meet signature-gathering requirements. This one is at the very beginning of the process, with the state now having 65 days to review the initial petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Former New York Prison Doctor Sues Over Restrictive Painkiller Policy. A doctor who formerly worked in the state prison system and says he faced harassment and was forced to quit for seeking appropriate pain relief for his inmate patients has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections, saying its policies leave patients suffering unnecessary agony. Four years ago, the department tightened its opioid prescribing policies amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, requiring prison doctors to get permission from medical administrators for prescribing certain medications, including not just opioids, but all gabapentine, Claritin-D, Robitussin DM, and the diarrhea drug Imodium. Dr. Michael Salvana charges in the lawsuit that the department violated his right to speak out against the policy and said his superiors' "inhumane” interference in his patients' care caused him to leave his role as facility director in central New York at Walsh Regional Medical Unit in Rome, New York, that has 125 beds for prisoners with complicated medical needs." The policy led to the "abrupt" cut off of "effective treatments for hundreds of inmates." Inmates in the state prison system have also failed a lawsuit charging they are being forced to live with untreated chronic pain because medications are now so difficult to obtain.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) psychedelic decriminalization bill, SB 519, has won a second committee vote in the Assembly after successfully passing out of the Senate. The Assembly Public Health Committee voted 8-4 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing psychedelics including psilocybin. But the committee amended the bill to set specific personal possession limits, leading the pro-psychedelic group Decriminalize Nature to call for it to be tabled, arguing that it is 'just a creative way to say when can law enforcement arrest you." The bill now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Jumped to More Than 90,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary statistics Wednesday showing that drug overdose deaths totaled more than 90,000 last year, the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Drug overdoses increased in every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, with big jumps in the South and the West. The year also saw the most fatal opioid overdoses in a year, the most fatal methamphetamine overdoses in a year, and the most deaths from fatal fentanyl overdose deaths in a year. "It’s huge, it’s historic, it’s unheard of, unprecedented, and a real shame," said Daniel Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies heroin markets. "It’s a complete shame." Social isolation, disrupted drug markets, and hampered access to drug treatment during the pandemic are getting some of the blame, but the pre-pandemic increase in fentanyl availability is also playing a role, as is the country's refusal to embrace harm reduction measures, such as safe injection sites and safe drug supplies.

ME Senate Defeats Drug Decrim Bill, House Approves Marijuana Research Language, More... (7/1/21)

Medical marijuana is now legal in South Dakota, Austin activists roll out a municipal marijuana decriminalization initiative, and more.

You can expect to see these continue in Maine after the Senate defeated drug decriminalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Passes Bill to Let Researchers Access Marijuana from State-Legal Dispensaries. The House on Thursday approved an omnibus transportation bill that also includes language allowing researchers to get marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to study impaired driving. The measure would mandate a federal report with recommendations for creating a national clearinghouse with different marijuana samples for researchers from non-legal states. A transportation bill with similar marijuana research language is also moving in the Senate. The passage of the bill would be especially significant given the federal government's long history of stymying medical research through its historic monopoly on marijuana for research purposes, which puts medical marijuana in the Catch-22 of not winning FDA approvals becuase there has not been enough research.

Texas Activists Unveil Austin Marijuana Decriminalization Ballot Initiative. A new progressive group, Ground Game Texas, on Wednesday rolled out a campaign to put an initiative to decriminalize marijuana possession and ban no-knock warrants on the ballot in the state capital, Austin. The city currently handles small-time pot busts by issuing tickets, but the proposed initiative would end both arrests and citations, as well as barring citations for paraphernalia or residues. "Marijuana reform is a winning issue and local efforts will drive voter engagement. State lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- failed us during the legislative session," said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. "Maybe this level of political pressure will get their attention and bring them on board with meaningful reform statewide." To get on the November ballot, advocates will need 20,000 valid voter signatures by July 20.

Medical Marijuana

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

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

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

Drug Policy

Maine Senate Votes Down Bill to Decriminalize Drug Possession. The Senate on Wednesday voted to kill a drug decriminalization bill, LD 967. The bill was opposed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) and by both some Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who argued that arresting and prosecuting drug users can help them get into treatment and stay straight. The bill had already passed the House amidst a drug overdose epidemic that saw deaths at a record rate in 2020 and early this year. "The Senate had an opportunity to provide people with desperately needed relief, and it failed," said Courtney Allen, policy director at the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project. "We need to change our drug laws if we want to save lives. LD 967 would have saved the state money and reinvested resources from the criminal system into access to recovery services. People need treatment and support to enter sustained recovery, not arrest and a criminal record."

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

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

New Jersey

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

North Carolina

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

Pennsylvania

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

South Dakota

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

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

FL Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Pot Initiative, ME Legislature Passes Drug Trafficking Reform Bill, More... (6/21/21)

Possession of more than two grams of heroin or fentanyl would no longer be considered prima facie evidence of drug trafficking in Maine after the legislature passes a reform bill, the Decriminalize Nature movement gets a Vermont chapter, and more.

Maine lawmakers move to rein in the state's harsh drug trafficking law. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative; Only One Remains Alive. The state Supreme Court last Thursday struck down a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Sensible Florida, the second time it has blocked a proposed 2022 initiative. The court held the initiative's ballot language was misleading because it said recreational use would be limited, but the actual language would allow for state and local governments to remove those restrictions. The state's Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, petitioned the court to block the initiative. An earlier initiative was struck own because it failed to mention marijuana would remain illegal under federal law. A third initiative, from Floridians for Freedom, remains alive. It includes language about marijuana remaining federally illegal and it is very short, leaving less room for the Supreme Court to rule it deceives voters. It needs a million valid voter signatures by February to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

Drug Policy

Maine Bill to Restrict Drug Trafficking Law Passes Legislature. A bill that would amend the state's harsh drug trafficking law to require that the state actually prove drug trafficking instead of charging a person with trafficking for merely possessing an amount of drugs above a certain limit, LD 1675, won final floor votes in the House and Senate last Friday and now heads to the desk of Gov. Janet Mills (D) . Current law makes possession of more than two grams or 90 wraps of heroin or fentanyl evidence of drug trafficking. The bill would also end the 3.5-to-1 state sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses.

Psychedelics

Vermont Decriminalize Nature Chapter Forms Amid Push to Decriminalize Natural Psychedelics. As the state legislature ponders a bill to decriminalize natural entheogens, House Bill 309, psychedelics advocates have formed a state chapter of the nationwide group Decriminalize Nature to help prod lawmakers to act. And they need the prodding: The bill has languished in the House Judiciary Committee since it was filed in February. "People are all about nature in Vermont and healing with beautiful nature," Decriminalize Vermont leader Carly Nix said. "And also, I already believe that people should be able to grow their own cannabis and heal with cannabis so this seems like a pretty natural next step."

International

Mexican Border Town of Reynosa Sees 14—Or is it 18?—People Killed by Presumed Cartel Gunmen. Gunmen in SUVs ranged across the border town of Reynosa, just across the Rio Grande River from McAllen, Texas, leaving a toll of at least 14 and as many as 18 dead. The likely perpetrators were warring factions of the Gulf Cartel, which has long dominated drug trafficking in Reynosa but has recently been riven by splits. The last two years have been the bloodiest yet in Mexico's drug war, with more than 34,000 people being killed in both 2019 and 2020, and the toll this year shows no signs of slowing. By contrast, when Mexico's prohibition-related violence earned sustained international attention during the 2012 presidential election year in the US and Mexico, the death toll was around 15,000. It has steadily increased ever since.

CT Set to Become 19th Marijuana Legalization State, Another Filipino "Narco Politician" Gunned Down, More... (6/17/21)

A minor civil asset forfeiture bill advances in Michigan, another new poll has strong support for drug decriminalization, and more.

A bill to legalize marijuana in Connecticut is now before the governor. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for Governor's Desk. With final votes in the House and Senate approving Senate Bill 1201, Connecticut is set to become the 19th state to legalize marijuana. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) had aired concerns about whether an equity program went too far in prioritizing marijuana business licenses for people with marijuana arrests or convictions—even if they were now wealthy—but late amendments in the legislature addressed those concerns, and he is now expected to sign the bill.

Asset Forfeiture

Michigan House Approves Minor Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform. On a vote of 108-1, the House on Tuesday approved House Bill 4240, which mandates the funds derived from civil asset forfeitures will be distributed "through the treasurer of the unit of government overseeing the law enforcement unit, so that they may be appropriated for uses that enhance enforcement of criminal laws." The bill comes after a scandal last year in which the former Macomb County prosecutor was charged with official misconduct and embezzlement of civil asset forfeiture funds while in office. The bill does not otherwise restrict civil asset forfeiture.

Drug Policy

Second Recent Poll Finds Strong Support for Ending War on Drugs. A new poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71% of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed, 59% supported decriminalizing drug possession, 60% support moving regulatory authority of drugs from the DEA to HHS, and even 55% support decriminalizing small-time drug sales. An ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll last week had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting drug decriminalization.

Law Enforcement

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Limited Policing Reforms. The Assembly has passed a package of bills approving police reform measures, including barring chokeholds unless an officer's life is under threat, requiring police who shoot someone to take a drug test, and tracking the use of no-knock warrants. But some Democrats said that failing to enact a complete ban on chokeholds and no-knock search warrants meant the Assembly was not seriously addressing the issue. Legislative leaders countered that the bills were a step in the right direction.

International

Another Filipino Accused of Being "Narco Politician" Shot Dead in Police Custody. Former Talitay Mayor Montasser Sabal was shot and killed by police Wednesday after they arrested him on drug trafficking charges. Police said he tried to grab a gun from officers while being brought to Manila. In May 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte identified 44 mayors and other elected officials as "narco politicians." More than 20 on the list have already been killed in similar circumstances. In cases where police ackowledge killing people in anti-drug operations during the Duterte drug war -- 6,117, a figure far lower than the 30,000 estimated by NGOs watching the situation, police claim those killed were resisting arrest ("nanlaban") in all but a few cases. In its request for authorization to investigate announced this week, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court wrote there is "a reasonable basis to believe that between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, members of Philippine security forces... deliberately killed thousands of civilians..."

Federal Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed, LA Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, More... (6/15/21)

An historic federal drug decriminalization bill is filed, the AMA speaks out for better drug treatment access in jails and prisons, and more.

You'll no longer go to jail for this in Louisiana--at least the first time you get caught. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill into Law. Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday signed into law a bill that decriminalizes the possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana, making a first offense punishable by no more than a $100 fine. Subsequent offenses could, though, earn jail time.

Rhode Island Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill advanced by Senate leadership. Gov. Daniel McKee (D) and House members have each also sponsored competing legalization bills.  

Drug Policy

Historic Federal Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) unveiled the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decriminalization. The bill would do away with federal criminal penalties for drug possession, a huge step away from drug war orthodoxy.In line with shifting from a law enforcement approach to drug use to a public health approach, the bill significantly would move regulation over drugs from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill also features a number of other provisions, from expunging past records and allowing currently serving inmates to seek resentencing to removing many of the collateral consequences of a drug possession conviction, such as the loss of voting rights and employment opportunities, the denial of public benefits such as food stamps, and deportation for non-citizens.

Drug Treatment

AMA Calls for Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Prisons and Jails. Physicians, residents, and medical students adopted policy during the first day of the Special Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates strengthening the efforts to increase access to evidence-based medical treatment for justice-involved individuals. Specifically, the policy expands and updates the AMA’s longstanding recommendations to require medication treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) as the standard of care for patients in jail and prison settings, including patients who are pregnant, postpartum, or parenting. The updated policy also reiterates the need for screening upon entry and post-incarceration treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

Historic Federal Drug Decriminalization Bill Introduced [FEATURE]

As Richard Nixon's self-declared "war on drugs" reaches its 50th birthday -- he declared drugs "public enemy number one" and pledged to "fight and defeat that enemy" at a June 17, 1971 press conference -- a pair of US representatives are ready to end the half-century campaign that has seen hundreds of billions of dollars burned, millions of people arrested, and relationships between communities and law enforcement strained, all without ever even coming close to defeating that "enemy."

Preempting the Nixonian half-centennial, on June 15, Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) unveiled the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decriminalization. The bill would do away with federal criminal penalties for drug possession, a huge step away from drug war orthodoxy.

And although the vast majority of drug possession arrests are conducted by state and local police under state drugs law -- there were more than 1.5 million drug arrests of all sorts in 2019 and the DEA accounted for only slightly more than 26,000 of them -- the bill is not merely symbolic. It would also penalize states that do not adopt decriminalization by limiting their access to funds from federal law enforcement grant programs.

In line with shifting from a law enforcement approach to drug use to a public health approach, the bill significantly would move regulation over drugs from the Justice Department to the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill also features a number of other provisions, from expunging past records and allowing currently serving inmates to seek resentencing to removing many of the collateral consequences of a drug possession conviction, such as the loss of voting rights and employment opportunities, the denial of public benefits such as food stamps, and deportation for non-citizens.

"The United States has not simply failed in how we carried out the War on Drugs -- the War on Drugs stands as a stain on our national conscience since its very inception," said Rep. Watson Coleman in a press release accompanying the roll-out of the bill.

"Begun in 1972 as a cynical political tactic of the Nixon Administration, the War on Drugs has destroyed the lives of countless Americans and their families. As we work to address the opioid epidemic, it is essential that we change tactics in how we address drug use away from the failed punitive approach to a health-based and evidence-based approach," Watson Coleman continued.

"Growing up in St. Louis, I saw the crack-cocaine epidemic rob my community of so many lives," said Rep. Bush in the joint press release. "I lived through a malicious marijuana war that saw Black people arrested for possession at three times the rate of their white counterparts, even though usage rates are similar. As a nurse, I’ve watched Black families criminalized for heroin use while white families are treated for opioid use. And now, as a Congresswoman, I am seeing the pattern repeat itself with fentanyl, as the DEA presses for an expanded classification that would criminalize possession and use. This punitive approach creates more pain, increases substance use, and leaves millions of people to live in shame and isolation with limited support and healing. It's time to put wellness and compassion ahead of trauma and punishment."

While the introduction of the bill is a historic first -- no other drug decriminalization bill has ever been filed in Congress -- the public is already on board and waiting for Congress to catch up. According to a June 9ance (DPA), which helped Reps. Bush and Watson Coleman draft the bill, 83 percent of respondents said the war on drugs has failed, 66 percent support "eliminating criminal penalties for drug possession and reinvesting drug enforcement resources into treatment and addiction services," 64 percent support ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, and 63 percent said drug use should be approached as a public health, not a law enforcement issue.

"This is a huge transformational shift, acknowledging that the majority of people who use drugs do not use them problematically," said Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for DPA's Office of National Affairs, during a June 15 virtual press conference on the bill. "As evidenced by 50 long years, criminalization and stigma don't make drug use disappear, they just make using drugs more dangerous. We cannot afford another 50 years of drug war violence and neglect. We must consider forging a new path that doesn't include putting people in cages.

Neill Franklin is a 34-year police veteran who for years commanded drug task forces in northeast Maryland. He recently retired as head of the pro-drug reform group the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), and continues to serve as a spokesperson and board member. LEAP's members are past and former members of law enforcement and prosecutors' offices. Franklin was also on the virtual press conference.

"During my career, I was personally responsible for arresting so many people just for possessing drugs," he said. "It's difficult for police to accept what we are now learning about this health issue of drug use, especially after we've been involved in this failed war on drugs for so long, but not one of us at LEAP disagrees with removing the medical issue of drug use from the police and placing it in the capable hands of practitioners and counselors."

Drug decriminalization is especially important now because of fraught relations between police and the communities they are supposed to serve, as evidenced by the mass protests occasioned by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year. Drug prohibition drives many of those tense interactions between police and people of color.

"This is critical for police reform in this country," Franklin continued. "The war on drugs is one of the main reasons we and our community members have conflicts. Searching our citizens day after day, looking for drugs, civil forfeiture, all that."

With only one state -- Oregon -- having so far embraced drug decriminalization, the feds could lead the way, Franklin added.

"With a federal policy of decriminalizing drugs and the people who use them, the states will follow," he predicted.

But with the first federal decriminalization bill just being introduced, the first hurdle is actually moving it. Reps. Bush and Watson Coleman are now busy seeking cosponsors and moving toward hearings as an initial step.

"We're in the process of arranging conversations, looking for a Senate sponsor and speaking with House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) about future hearings," said Watson Coleman during the virtual press conference. "We recognize that this is beyond urgent, and we'll be doing outreach on both the Senate and the House side.

Supreme Court Rejects Reduced Charges for Low-Level Crack Offenders, ICC Prosecutor Seeks to Open Philippine Drug War Investigation, More... (6/14/21)

Connecticut lawmakers will meet in special session this week in a bid to get marijuana legalization done, Wyoming activists began initiative campaigns for marijuana decriminalization and medical marijuana, and more.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has requested authorization to open a formal investigation of Phiiippines drug war abuses. (ICC)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Lawmakers to Take Up Marijuana Legalization in Special Session This Week. After failing to reach agreement on marijuana legalization legislation during the regular legislative session, lawmakers are set to return to Hartford this week to take up the issue. Democrats say they have the votes to pass it, despite Republican concerns.

Wyoming Marijuana Advocates Roll Out Medical Marijuana, Decriminalization Initiative Campaigns. Marijuana advocates and Libertarian Party members held a press conference outside the state capitol in Cheyenne as they turned in two ballot initiatives, one that would legalize medical marijuana and one that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Sentencing

Supreme Court Rejects Reduced Charges for Low-Level Crack Cocaine Offenders. The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the First Step Act does not apply to low-level crack cocaine offenders, even though supporters of the law said it was intended to do so. The court held that the language of the law meant it applied only to people convicted of possessing larger amounts of cocaine, not those arrested with only a small amount. The decision was unanimous.

International

International Criminal Court Likely to Proceed with Official Investigation of Philippine Drug War Killings. The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has concluded its preliminary examination into drug war-related abuses in the Philippines and decided there is sufficient evidence to request judicial authorization to proceed with an official investigation. "The situation in the Philippines has been under preliminary examination since 8 February 2018," said Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. "During that time, my Office has been busy analyzing a large amount of publicly available information and information provided to us under article 15 of the Statute. On the basis of that work, I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines 'war on drugs' campaign."

Idaho Activists Ponder Two Marijuana Initiatives for 2022, Asian Meth Boomed During Pandemic, More... (6/11/21)

Brazil's lower chamber of parliament approves a hemp and medical marijuana bill, a federal appeals court hears arguments in a marijuana rescheduling case, and more.

The global pandemic boosted meth production in Asia, a new UNODC report finds. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Appeals Court Hears Marijuana Rescheduling Arguments in Case Against DEA. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Thursday in a case pitting a group of scientists and military veterans against the DEA. The plaintiffs seek to force the DEA to formally reconsider marijuana's classification as a Schedule I drug.

Idaho Activists Eye Two 2022 Marijuana Initiatives. Gem State activists are aiming to get two marijuana-related initiatives on the 2022 ballot. One, called the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act, would set up a system of dispensaries for patients, who would not generally be allowed to grow their own. The other, the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act, would allow for people to possess up to three ounces of marijuana on private property or while driving in one's vehicle back from a legal weed shop in another state. Both initiatives face major challenges in what is arguably the most anti-marijuana state in the county.

International

Asian Meth Industry Boomed During Pandemic, UNODC Reports. Asian drug trafficking organization flooded markets with meth and other synthetic drugs even as the global economy ground to a halt last year because of the pandemic, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report Thursday. "While the pandemic has caused the global economy to slow down, criminal syndicates that dominate the region have quickly adapted and capitalized. They have continued to aggressively push supply in a conscious effort to build the market and demand," Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement provided to CNN.

Brazil Lower House Approves Bill Legalizing Hemp, Medical Marijuana Cultivation. The Chamber of Deputies' Special Commission on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow for the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal, veterinary, scientific, and industrial use despite the best efforts of allies of anti-reform President Jair Bolsonaro. Marijuana could be grown only by companies, patient associations, or NGOs -- not individuals. The bill now goes to the Senate.

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