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Chronicle Book Review: "Transforming the War on Drugs" [FEATURE]

Transforming the War on Drugs: Warriors, Victims and Vulnerable Regions edited by Annette Idler and Juan Carlos Garzon Vergara (2021, Oxford University Press, 584 pp., $34.95 PB)

If you have been watching the growing fissures and fractures in the global prohibitionist consensus embodied in the United Nation's three-treaty international drug control regime (IDCR) and are expecting the whole thing to come crashing to the ground sometime soon, don't hold your breath. That is the message that comes through loud and clear in Transforming the War on Drugs, an essential collection that comprehensively analyzes the past and present of global drug policy and points the way to a different, better future.

As the contributors make clear, while the IDCR is suffering well-earned stresses, especially around its failure to succeed on its own terms -- reducing drug use and the drug trade -- and while the "Vienna consensus" may be fraying, the global reform movement that has been building since the failure of the 1998 UN General Assembly Session (UNGASS) on Drugs to meet its goal of eradicating drug use within a decade has yet to jell.

As Monica Serrano explains in "A Forward March Halted: The UNGASS Process and the War on Drugs," while Latin American nations such as Colombia and Mexico called for a reconsideration of the IDCR, paving the way for the 2016 UNGASS, they did not succeed in building alliances with other nations that could push the process forward. That was not only because of deficiencies in those countries' efforts, but also because, despite the ever-increasing calls for change, a majority of countries around the world still subscribe to the law enforcement-heavy tenets of the global drug prohibition regime.

That is despite the now quite clearly understood harms that the IDCR imposes on different countries and groups around the world. Whether it is enabling the rise of violent drug trafficking organizations, destroying the livelihoods of poor drug crop farmers, creating horrendous human rights violations, filling prisons around the world, or creating needless suffering for drug users, the international response to drug use and trafficking is creating real, calculable negative consequences.

As coeditor Annette Idler demonstrates in "Warriors, Victims, and Vulnerable Regions," the heedless harshness of the IDCR is embedded in its very DNA. From the beginning, the US "war on drugs" model and the rhetoric of drugs as "evil" and an existential threat to the security of nation-states has excused the sort of "state of emergency" measures -- criminalization, law enforcement crackdowns, militarization -- that, while not even managing to make countries more secure, manages to bring not security but insecurity to communities and drug using individuals.

Other contributors to the volume make that point in great detail in case studies of Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean, West Africa, the Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan), the Golden Triangle, and Russia. How can one argue that drug prohibition has brought security to Mexico, with thousands of killings each year and police forces so corrupted you don't know which department is working for which cartel? Likewise, West Africa, where drug prohibition has so corrupted some governments that "the state becomes a threat to its own self"?

Given current events, the case of Russia is particularly interesting. It is one of the staunchest supporters of the current IDCR, but not just because of its inherent authoritarianism. Russia didn't really have a significant drug control regime until the post-Soviet era of the 1990s, and then it modeled its apparatus on that of the DEA. But even though it looked to the West for drug war expertise, its drug concerns were primarily domestic: It has one of the world's most serious heroin problems, one driven by supply rather than demand, contributor Ekaterina Stepanova explains. That supply is coming from Afghanistan, and Russian addicts account for about one quarter of all Afghan heroin production. One more reason for Russia to be unhappy with the US and NATO, who, in two decades of occupying Afghanistan, never effectively suppressed the poppy crop.

One of the more fascinating chapters is on rethinking the metrics of measuring success in drug policy. Instead of measuring "securitized" items such as acres of drug crops eradicated, the amount of drugs seized, the number of traffickers arrested -- all of which really measure repressive enforcement activity -- contributors Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre argue for new metrics for a new framework for evaluating drug policies. With broad goals of improving the health and welfare of the population and enhancing the safety and security of people who use drugs and the broader public, instead of measuring busts and seizures, we should be quantifying metrics for decriminalizing drug use (is it decriminalized, how many legislative measures are aimed at it, how many civil society groups are involved, how many people are being arrested and imprisoned) and curbing drug harms through public health measures (number of drug overdose deaths, number of other drug-related deaths, prevalence of drug-linked infectious disease). This really make sense if we are actually interested in improving lives as opposed to the quixotic quest to eliminate drug use.

There is a whole lot more to this volume. It is a comprehensive, systematic effort to theoretically, conceptually, and empirically investigate the effects of the IDCR and offer a more human alternative. Anyone seriously interested in working to understand and change the global drug prohibition regime need a well-thunbed copy of this on his bookshelf.

VT House Approves Bill to Cut Drug Sentencing, FL House Republicans Kill Fentanyl Test Strip Bill, More... (3/22/22)

A New Hampshire marijuana legalization bill takes another key step toward passage, there's a push for drug decriminalization in Maine, and more.

More states are taking up bills to legalize fentanyl test strips in a bid to reduce overdoses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill; It Now Heads for Second House Floor Vote. A bill to create a legal marijuana market through state-run dispensaries that has already passed the House once has now been amended and approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, which took it up because it involved economic components. The bill, House Bill 1348, is now set for a second House floor vote, and if the amended measure is approved, will then head t the Senate.

Drug Policy

Maine ACLU, Center for Economic Policy Release Report Calling for Drug Decriminalization. The Maine chapter of the ACLY and the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) released a report Monday recommending the decriminalization of drug use and possession in the state, A Better Path for Maine: The Case for Decriminalizing Drugs. The report highlights the cost of criminalizing drug use, the impact on incarcerated individuals for drug possession and use, and challenges with the legal system associated with drug criminalization. "In addition to the very real toll that the war on drugs inflicts on Mainers' physical and mental wellbeing, collectively we pay millions of dollars each year in financial costs," James Myall, an economic policy analyst at MECEP, said. "Year over year, Maine has prioritized incarcerating and criminalizing people who use drugs over making treatment for drug use more available. Not only is this approach ineffective, but it's extremely costly."

Vermont House Approves Bill to Cut Maximum Drug Sentences, Review Laws on Drug Possession. The House last Friday approved House Bill 505, which would cut maximum sentences for drug offenses and set up a board to review existing drug possession laws. The bill drops some drug offenses, such as possession of small amounts of heroin, from felonies to misdemeanors. It also eliminates the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. It would also create a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board, a move first proposed in House Bill 644, a broader bill that would decriminalize drug possession but which has failed to move out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Harm Reduction

Florida House Republicans Kill Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips. A bill to legalize fentanyl test strips as part of the effort to reduce drug overdose deaths in the state was killed earlier this month by House Republicans. The bill had passed out of the Senate as part of broader legislation, but when it came before the House on March 11, the last day of the session, the Republicans who control the House voted on a voice vote to strip the fentanyl test strip language from the broader bill, which they then passed.

Tennessee Legislator Approves Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Both chambers of the legislature have approved a bill that would remove fentanyl test strips from the state's definition of illegal drug paraphernalia, House Bill 2177. Legislators were moved to act after fentanyl overdose deaths jumped 46 percent between 2018 and 2019 and more than 700 people died of drug overdoses in Nashville alone last year. "If we can save one life, I think that this bill is worth it, because overdose cases are out of control," said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). "If we can help them at least not take something that could kill them — one pill and it could kill — then that’s what I want to be able to do." The bill

now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R). A spokesperson said he plans to sign it into law.

Executions of Drug Offenders Surged Last Year, Pot Industry Push for SAFE Banking Act, More... (3/21/22)

A suburban Atlanta prosecutor's big to clamp down on Delta-8 THC products runs into a judicial roadblock, the University of Michigan SSDP chapter is spearheading a municipal drug decriminalizaiton resolution, and more.

Marijuana industry execs are swarming Capitol Hill in a last-ditch bid to win passage of the SAFE Banking Act. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Industry Pushing Hard to Get Banking Measure Passed Before Midterms. More than 20 head executives of major marijuana companies have unleashed a lobbying blitz on Congress in a bid to get the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996) passed before the November midterms. They worry that if Republicans take over after the November elections, passage of the bill would be doomed. Passage of the bill has been blocked by the Democratic Senate leadership, which is holding out for a yet-to-be finalized marijuana legalization bill from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The marijuana companies say that while they also support legalization, they do not see the votes to pass it this year. "We want comprehensive reform, but we also recognize that with the potential for the House and Senate to change hands, we have an opportunity now to pass impactful legislation, and if we fail to do that, it could be years until we get something done," said Jared Maloof, CEO of Ohio-based medical marijuana company Standard Wellness.

Georgia Judge Blocks DA's Efforts to Ban Delta-8, Delta-10 Cannabis Extracts.  Suburban Atlanta Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gaston has been blocked from enforcing a ban on cannabis extracts contained Delta-8 and Delta-10 by an order from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall. Last Friday, Schwall issued a 30-day restraining order barring Gwinnet County from prosecuting people for possessing or selling the extracts. The two cannabinoids are similar to THC (Delta-9 THC), but have less powerful psychoactive effects, and they inhabit a hazy legal status. In January, Austin-Gaston said that possessing, selling, or distributing such products are felony offenses and raided two distributors, seizing millions of dollars worth of product, charging at least one person with a felony. Her actions are blocked as part of a lawsuit brought by two owners of a Gwinnet County vape story chain, who are seeking to have the extracts declared legal in the state.

Drug Policy

University of Michigan Students Push Ann Arbor Drug Decriminalization Resolution. The university chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy has launched a campaign to decriminalize the possession of drugs and their small-scale distribution. After consulting with community members, the group has drafted the Ann Arbor Resolution to Advance Sensible Drug Policy, which will be put before the city council. After consultation with stakeholders, the resolution sets a suggested permitted amount of 15 grams of any drug, much higher than other decriminalization measures. While drug laws are generally set by the state and federal governments, the resolution, if adopted, would make drug possession the lowest law enforcement priority and ban the use of city funds to enforce the prohibition on drug possession.

International

Executions for Drug Convictions Surged in 2021; Most Are Kept Secret. According to a new report from Harm Reduction International, The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2021, at least 131 people were executed for drug offenses last year, but "this number is likely to represent only a fraction of all drug-related executions carried out globally." Even so, it is nearly four times the number of executions reported in 2020. HRI named Iran and China as definitely carrying out drug executions last year, and it suspects that Vietnam and North Korea did as well, but cannot confirm that because of government secrecy. The report identifies "High Application States" where "executions of individuals convicted of drug offenses were carried out, and/or at least 10 drug-related death sentences per year were imposed in the past five years." Along the countries mentioned above, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore all make this rogue's gallery. At least 3,000 people are on death row for drugs worldwide, the report found, with at least 237 drug death sentences issued last year in 16 countries. 

Congress Blocks DC Pot Sales, OK House Approves Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill, More... (3/10/22)

A Missouri marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, a Maryland drug decriminalization gets one, too, and more.

Republican opposition in the narrowly-divided Senate killed DC's bid to finally be able to have legal marijuana sales. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill that would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over got a hearing Tuesday, with some legalization supporters urging legislators to pass the bill in order to head off a legalization initiative campaign that would give current medical marijuana businesses the first crack at recreational sales and keep intact the state's ability to limit licenses. The bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Defiance), the Cannabis Freedom Act (House Bill 2704) was heard in the House Public Safety Committee, but no vote was taken. The bill would allow for the home cultivation of up to 12 flowering plants, would not limit licenses, and would allow retail sales to be taxed at up to 12 percent.

New York's First Marijuana Sales Permits Will Go to People Previous Marijuana Convictions. In an effort to redress the inequities of the enforcement of marijuana prohibition, state officials said Wednesday that the first licenses to sell recreational pot in the state will go to people who have marijuana-related convictions or people with a parent, legal guardian, child or spouse convicted of a marijuana-related offense. "Social equity" applicants will get first crack at the first 100 or 200 pot shop licenses. It is unclear just how many retail licenses will be issued.

Congress Keep Rider Barring DC from Allowing Legal Marijuana Sales. Much to the dismay of DC leaders, the omnibus spending package unveiled Wednesday retains the congressional rider barring the District from allowing the commercial sale of marijuana, which is already legal there. Senate Democrats had removed the rider last year, but this year, congressional Republicans refused to vote for a budget that eliminated "legacy riders" like the one from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) blocking DC pot sales.

.Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Conference Committee Votes to Limit Medical Marijuana Cardholders to Growing Two Flowering Plants, Two Immature Ones. A legislative conference committee has voted to limit the number of plants patients or caregivers may grow at home to two flowering and two immature plants. The committee approved an amendment to that effect from Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) after earlier defeating an amendment from him that would have banned home growing altogether. South Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana at the polls, approving an initiative that set a floor—three plants—but not a ceiling, as this move does.

Psychedelics.

Oklahoma House Passes Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill. The House voted 62-30 to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin and authorize research on the psychedelic for a variety of medical conditions by approving House Bill 3414. The bill would make possession of psilocybin punishable by no more than a $400 fine. It also authorizes research on psilocybin and psilocin at institutions in the state to treat 10 different conditions, including PTSD, depression, and addiction. The bill now moves to the Senate, which, like the House, has a Republican supermajority.

Drug Policy

Maryland Drug Decriminalization Bills Get Committee Hearings. A pair of drug decriminalization bills, House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 784, got hearings Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee. The bills would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, two grams of meth or cocaine, 1.5 grams of crack, one gram of heroin or ecstasy (or five tabs), and 40 tablets of oxycodone. Possession would be punishable by a $100 fine for first and second offenses. People caught possessing drugs other than marijuana would be required to enroll in a drug education program and undergo a mental health and drug abuse assessment. Similar legislation died in the committee last year, but House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair David Moon (D-Montgomery) is supporting it this year. No vote was taken. 

RI Drug Decrim Bill Filed, Myanmar Drug Trade Ramping Up Amidst Civil War, More... (3/8/22)

Oklahoma Republicans move to take on what they see as an out of control medical marijuana system, Afghan farmers are planting more opium poppies this year, and more.

Opium production is surging in Afghanistan's poppy heartlands of Helmand and Kandahar. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma GOP Lawmakers Move to Rein in "Wild West" Medical Marijuana System. The House's Republican Caucus on Monday rolled out a package of bills aimed at reining in the state's free-wheeling medical marijuana program. The move comes after state agents seized more than 150,000 marijuana plants in a bust last month. "We have seen black market elements competing with legitimate Oklahoma businesses. They are putting our citizens at risk. They're doing things in an illegal, unethical manner," said Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City). The package of 12 bills includes full implementation of a seed to sale system, grants to county sheriffs to fund law enforcement, making the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority a stand-alone agency, provisional licensing with pre-licensing inspections, separate licensing for wholesalers, tough electrical and water data reporting by growers, annual inspection, and more. "If you're an illegal operator of the state of Oklahoma, your time is up," warned Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-District 16).

Drug Policy

Rhode Island Drug Decriminalization, Therapeutic Psilocybin Bills Filed. Lawmakers filed a pair of drug reform bills last week, one of which, House Bill 7896, would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of all drugs except fentanyl, while the second bill, House Bill 7715, would allow doctors to prescribe psilocybin and would decriminalize psilocybin and buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is an opioid often used as a harm reduction tool to help people transition away from more addictive compounds. The broader decriminalization bill, would make possession of up to an ounce of any drug other than fentanyl a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first offense and up to $300 for subsequent offenses.

Psychedelics

Missouri GOP Lawmaker Files Therapeutic Psychedelics Bill. State Rep. Tony Lovasco (R) on Tuesday filed House Bill 2850, which would legalize a range of natural psychedelics for therapeutic use and decriminalize small-time possession. Under the bill, patients with specified conditions such as treatment-resistant depression, PTSD, and terminal illnesses access to substances such as psilocybin, DMT, mescaline, and ibogaine at designated care facilities or the patients' or caregiver's residence. Patients would be allowed to possess and use up to four grams of the substances. The bill decriminalizes the possession of less than four grams outside the medical model but makes possession of more than four grams a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

International

Afghan Opium Production Surges in Kandahar and Helmand. Opium and other drugs are being sold in open markets, and farmers in the country's opium heartland of southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces are sowing more poppies this year amidst the country's economic collapse after the Taliban's seizure of power last summer and the subsequent withdrawal of all Western assistance to the country. "There is nothing else to cultivate. We were growing wheat before. This year -- we want to cultivate poppy. Previously they were asking for bribes every day but we don't have that problem this year," one farmer said. "If we don't cultivate poppy, we don't get a good return, the wheat doesn't provide a good income," farmer Mohammed Kareem said. "There are no restrictions this year. If the Taliban wanted to ban it, they must let us grow it this year at least," added farmer Peer Mohammad.

Myanmar Militias, Rebel Armies Ramp Up Drug Dealing Amidst Civil War. Armed groups on both sides of Myanmar's civil war are ramping up drug production amidst the turmoil, with much of the methamphetamine and heroin supply going to Asian countries through the porous Laotian border, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) official said this week. The $60 billion trade based largely in Shan state is now going into overdrive, he said. "Seizures in Laos and Thailand are off the charts and it is not because of suddenly improved law enforcement -- some other countries' seizures are up too, but in Thailand and Laos the connection to trafficking patterns and locations in Shan is very clear," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

NY Marijuana Licensing and Equity Bill Goes to Governor, Italian High Court Throws Out Plants Referendum, More... (2/17/22)

An Alabama marijuana decriminalization bill advances, so does a Hawaii bill that would legalize marijuana for people over 65, and more.

There are moves afoot to ease access to medical marijuana for senior citizens. (Sandra Yruel/DPA)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 160 on a 5-4 vote. The bill, filed by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D), would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces and make possession of more than two ounces a misdemeanor punishable only by a maximum fine of $250. A second offense would net a $500 fine, while a third offense would be considered a Class D felony, but still punishable only by a $750 fine. The bill also provides a mechanism for expungement of past offenses. A similar measure passed the committee last year, only to die without a floor vote.

New York Legislature Approves Marijuana Licensing and Equity Bill. The Senate and the Assembly have both approved Assembly Bill 1248, the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The measure provides provisional marijuana cultivation and processing licenses for existing hemp businesses if they take steps to promote equity in the nascent industry. The measure passed the Senate on a 50-13 vote Tuesday and passed the Assembly on a 99-43 vote Wednesday. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Senate Committee Approves Bill to Legalize Marijuana for People 65 and Over. In a bid to ease access to medical marijuana for senior citizens, the Senate Health Committee approved a bill that would allow people 65 and over to automatically qualify for medical marijuana regardless of whether they have a qualifying condition, in effect legalizing possession for seniors. The bill passed the committee on a 3-0 vote. It would alter the state's medical marijuana law by adding to the language requiring that patients be diagnosed "as having a debilitating medical condition" that medical marijuana will be available to anyone "who has reached the age of sixty-five."

DC Mayor Signs Bill to Let People Over 65 Get Medical Marijuana Without a Doctor's Recommendation. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has signed into law the Medical Marijuana Patient Access Extension Emergency Amendment Act of 2022, which will allow people 65 and over to self-certify their eligibility for medical marijuana without getting a doctor's recommendation. The bill also creates a medical marijuana tax holiday coinciding with 4/20 and extends the registration renewal deadline for patients.

International

Italian Constitutional Court Vetoes Plants Referendum. The Constitutional Court on Wednesday threw out a proposed referendum to decriminalize marijuana, psilocybin and some other plants, with cultivation legalized, saying that it included other substances considered to be hard drugs. "This is enough to make us violate multiple international obligations," said Giuliano Amato, the Constitutional Court president. The decision prompted the ire of referendum advocates, who had gathered more than half a million signatures in just about one week to place the measure before voters. The decision was "a terrible blow to democracy," said lawmaker Riccardo Magi, a leading advocate.

Psychedelic Reform Possibilities in 2022 [FEATURE]

Activists in Denver opened psychedelic floodgates for the United States with their successful psilocybin decriminalization initiative in 2019. Since that time, the trickle of bills and initiatives seeking to undo the criminalization of psychedelics has turned into a torrent.

Is it the year of the magic mushroom? (Creative Commons)
In 2020, Oregon and Washington, DC broke things open even wider with Oregon's therapeutic psilocybin initiative and DC's entheogenic plant decrim. (Oregon also passed the broader general drug decrim initiative). A number of towns and cities, most notably in California, Massachusetts, and Michigan, have subsequently enacted psychedelic reforms.

This year, psychedelic reform measures are popping up like mushrooms after a rain shower, with serious decriminalization or legalization efforts in several states, and either therapeutic or study efforts (or therapeutic study efforts) in many more. Many, perhaps most, of these bills will not pass this year, but then, legislating controversial topics is seldom a single-year process. Initiatives probably have a better chance of success -- provided they can make it to the ballot.

With a big tip of the hat to Ballotpedia and Marijuana Moment, here's is what we've got going in 2022:

California

There are two different paths to psychedelic legalization this year, one via the legislature and one as a potential November ballot initiative.

Senate Bill 519 would legalize the possession and unremunerated sharing of psilocybin (2 grams, or 4 grams of magic mushrooms), psilocin, DMT (2 grams), LSD (0.01 gram), MDMA (4 grams), and mescaline for people 21 and older. The bill passed the Senate last year, but sponsor Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) put it on pause, signaling he needed more time to build support in the Assembly.

Regardless of what happens in Sacramento, activists with Decriminalize California have drafted the California Psilocybin Initiative of 2022 , which "decriminalizes under state law the cultivation, manufacture, processing, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, and retail sale of psilocybin mushrooms, the hallucinogenic chemical compounds contained in them, and edible products and extracts derived from psilocybin mushrooms."

Whether the initiative will qualify for the ballot will be known soon; campaigners have only until March 13 to come up with 623,212 valid voter signatures. As of mid-February, they had not reported gathering 25 percent of the signatures, as is required when that benchmark is reached, so that is not a good sign.

Colorado

New Approach PAC, which supported the Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative in 2020, as well as various marijuana legalization initiatives, is supporting a pair of psychedelic reform initiatives, both known as the Natural Medicine Healing Act. The first would legalize the possession, cultivation and an array of entheogenic substances, as well as establish a regulatory model for psychedelics therapy. The other would initially legalize psilocybin and psilocin alone for personal adult use while and allow for their sale and administration in a therapeutic setting.

Meanwhile, activists with Decriminalize Nature Boulder County have filed the Legal Possession and Use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi initiative, which would allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT. The initiative would also allow psychedelic services for therapeutic, spiritual, guidance, or harm reduction purposes with or without accepting payment.

Both initiatives will need 124,632 valid voter signatures by August 8 to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida

State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Brook (D) has filed Senate Bill 348, which would require the state to research the medicinal benefits of psychedelic substances such as ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin. The bill directs the state Health Department to "conduct a study evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of alternative therapies" such as those substances, "in treating mental health and other medical conditions," such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. A companion version of the bill, House Bill 193 has been filed in the House. Neither has moved since last fall, though.

Hawaii

A bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic effects of psilocybin mushrooms, Senate Bill 3160, won approval in the Senate Health Committee this month and now awaits a Senate floor vote. Companion legislation, House Bill 2400, is awaiting action in the House.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 738 would decriminalize psilocybin by removing from the state's schedule of controlled substances and requiring the establishment of therapeutic psilocybin treatment centers, which was filed more than a year ago, awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Iowa

There are a trio of psilocybin bills that are all technically still alive, although they were filed a year ago and have yet to see action. House File 549 would deschedule psilocybin, but a Public Safety subcommittee recommended indefinite postponement last March, and it remains postponed indefinitely. House File 636 would set up a regime for therapeutic psilocybin, and House File 480 would decriminalize certain psychedelics for use by a patient diagnosed with a terminal illness or a life-threatening disease or condition. Neither of those bills have moved out of committee.

Kansas

House Bill 2465 would decriminalize the possession of less than 100 grams of psilocybin and make possession of more than 100 grams a misdemeanor. The bill would also legalize the home cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms. Introduced last month, the bill is now before the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

Maine

Legislative Document 1582 would enact "the Maine Psilocybin Services Act, which establishes a regulatory framework in order to provide psilocybin products to clients in Maine." Although it is not yet officially dead, it failed to get reported out of the House Health and Human Services Committee earlier this month.

Maryland

A pair of complementary bills, House Bill 1367and Senate Bill 709, would create "the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Alternative Therapies Fund to support the study of the effectiveness of and improving access to alternative therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans." While there has been a Senate hearing on its bill, neither bill has moved out of committee yet.

Massachusetts

House Bill 1494would establish an interagency task force to study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi. It is currently before the Judiciary Committee.

Michigan

Sen. Jeff Irwin (D) filed Senate Bill 631 last September. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, and delivery of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics, such as mescaline and psilocybin. The bill would free people from criminal liability except for "receiving money or other valuable consideration for the entheogenic plant or fungus." In other words, no commercial sales, but people can charge a "reasonable fee for counseling, spiritual guidance, or a related service that is provided in conjunction with the use of an entheogenic plant or fungus under the guidance and supervision of an individual providing the service."

Meanwhile, activists with Decriminalize Nature, Decriminalize Nature Michigan, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy earlier this month filed the Michigan Initiative for Community Healing, which would legalize the use and possession of a broad range of natural entheogens and allow for "supervision, guidance, therapeutic, harm reduction, spiritual, counseling, and related supportive services with or without remuneration."

The measure has yet to be approved for signature gathering -- a decision on that will come next month -- and if and when it is, it will need 340,047 valid voter signatures by May 27 to qualify for the November ballot.

New Hampshire

A bipartisan group of legislators have filed House Bill 1349-FN, which would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to 12 grams of 'shrooms, enough for several psychedelic experiences. The clock is ticking on this one; it must clear Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee by March 10 or it dies.

New York

Assemblyman Pat Burke (D) has filed a bill, Assembly Bill 8569, that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and create facilities where the mushrooms could be grown and provided to patients. It is a set-up similar to what Oregon voters approved last year. The bill provides a list of qualifying medical conditions but also says psilocybin could be recommended "for any conditions" certified by a practitioner. The Department of Health would be responsible for providing a training course for practitioners and licensing the psilocybin centers.

Meanwhile, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D/WF) has filed Assembly Bill 6065, which decriminalizes psilocybin. That bill has been referred to Assembly Health Committee.

Oklahoma

State Reps. Daniel Pae (R) and Logan Phillips (R) have filed a pair of bills that would promote research into psilocybin's therapeutic potential, and one of them would also decriminalize small-time possession of the drug. The bills are designed to give lawmakers different options to reach similar objectives, but Pae's bill would also decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce and half of psilocybin. Pae's bill, House Bill 3414, has been referred to House Public Health Committee, while Phillips' bill, House Bill 3174, =has been referred to House Rules Committee.

Pennsylvania

Rep. Tracy Pennicuick (R-Montgomery County) filed House Bill 1959, "Providing for research and clinical studies of psilocybin, for duties of Department of Health, for duties of institutional review boards, for duties of authorized psilocybin manufacturers, for duties of approved investigators and for reports" last October. It was referred to the House Health Committee, where it has remained ever since.

Utah

Rep. Brady Brammer (R-Highland) has filed House Bill 167, which would create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force that would "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." Although not mentioned specifically in the bill, supporters say psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, is the drug most likely to be considered by the task force. The bill passed the House last week and now heads for the Senate.

Vermont

Rep. Brian Cins (D/P) filed House Bill 309, "An act relating to decriminalizing certain chemical compounds found in plants and fungi that are commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes" 51 weeks ago. It has sat in the House Judiciary Committee without moving ever since, although it did get a hearing in January.

Virginia

In January, the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee voted to delay consideration of a bill to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics, House Bill 898, until 2023. The move came even after the bill was amended by its sponsor, Del. Dawn Adams (D), to only apply to medical practitioners and people using psychedelics with a practitioner. The object for the delay is to build support and try again next year. A similar bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 262, remains alive.

Washington

State Senators Jesse Salomon (D) and Liz Lovelett (D) have introduced a bill that would allow people to use psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactive ingredients in magic mushrooms, with the assistance of a trained and state-licensed psilocybin services administrator. The bill, Senate Bill 5660, is titled the Psilocybin Wellness and Opportunity Act. People would have to go to a licensed service center to partake, unless they suffer certain medical conditions or are unable to travel, in which case they could receive psilocybin at home and meet remotely with a facilitator. The bill got a Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee hearing earlier this month, but remains in committee.

There is also likely to be a ballot initiative to broadly decriminalize drugs in 2022, similar to what neighboring Oregon voters passed in 2020. That effort, which was foiled in 2020 because of the pandemic, is being led by Commit to Change WA.

Challenge to DEA Tryptamines Ban Will Get Hearing, VA Senate Approves Early Marijuana Sales, More... (2/15/22)

A marijuana legalization bill gets filed in Missouri, a marijuana decriminalization bill is filed in Wyoming, and more.

Tryptamines. The DEA wants to ban five of the psychedelic substances, but the ban is being challenged. (streetdrugs.org)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Ron Hicks (R) on Tuesday filed a marijuana legalization bill, the Cannabis Freedom Act. Under the act, people 21 and over can possess an unlimited amount of marijuana, grow up to 12 plants, and/or purchase marijuana from licensed retailers. The bill also contains expungement provisions and resentencing for people currently behind bars on pot charges. The state Department of Agriculture would have responsibility for setting up rules and regulations. The bill is House Bill 2704.

Virginia Senate Approves Bill to Start Legal Marijuana Sales September 15. The state Senate voted Tuesday to pass a bill allowing legal marijuana sales to begin on September 15. That bill is Senate Bill 391. Sales were originally set to begin on January 1, 2024, but this bill allows sales at existing medical dispensaries to commence in September, with a full retail market taking shape in 2024. The bill now heads to the GOP-controlled House of Delegates, where its fate is uncertain.

Wyoming Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Rep. Mark Baker (R-Green River) has filed a marijuana decriminalization bill, House Bill 106. The bill removes criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession but faces a high hurdle for passage. Because this is a budget session, the bill must get a two-thirds introductory vote in the House to be considered. The bill would decriminalize the possession of up to three ounces.

Psychedelics

Judge Grants Hearing for Opposition to DEA Proposal to Criminalize 5 More Psychedelics. A federal judge has granted a hearing to petitioners challenging the DEA's recent proposal to add five psychedelic compounds to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The agency announced plans in January to criminalize 4-Hydroxy-N,N-diisopropyltryptamine (4-OH-DiPT), 5-Methoxy-alphamethyltryptamine (5-MeO-AMT), N-Isopropyl-5-Methoxy-N-Methyltryptamine (5-MeO-MiPT), N,N-Diethyl-5-methoxytryptamine (5-MeO-DET), and N,N-Diisopropyltryptamine (DiPT); not just for possession, distribution, import, export or manufacturing, but even research, instructional activities and chemical analysis.Administrative Law Judge Teresa A. Wallbaum issued an order Tuesday for a May 4 hearing date after receiving four different requests from industry entities and researchers.

MD Lawmakers Take Up Marijuana Legalization, Former Honduras Prez Detained on US Drug Charges, More... (2/15/22)

The Oregon Health Authority has released draft rules for therapeutic psilocybin, the New Mexico legislature approves legalizing fentanyl test strips, and more.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Senator Rick Singleton (R) has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate Bill 160 would make first offense possession of more than two ounces a misdemeanor but with a maximum penalty of a $250 fine, a second offense would be a $500 fine, and a third offense would merit a felony charge and a $750 fine but no jail time. Possession of less than two ounces would also be subject to a $250 fine but would only be an infraction. Under current state law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Maryland Lawmakers Begin Work on Marijuana Legalization as Plans for Referendum Quicken. Lawmakers in Annapolis have begun working on a pair of bills aimed at legalizing marijuana in the state. The first bill, House Bill 1, sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, would put the question of legalization before the voters in November, while the second bill, House Bill 837, also from Clippinger, provides a framework for lawmakers to come up with a scheme for taxation and regulation.

If the referendum bill is approved by both lawmakers and voters, possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana would become a civil violation punishable by only a $100 fine starting January 1, 2023. And expungement of past possession convictions would be automatic. The legislation would also require the state to conduct a "disparity study" to evaluate barriers groups may face in gaining access to the legal industry.

Psychedelics

Oregon Releases Draft Rules for Therapeutic Use of Psilocybin. The state health department has released draft rules for the therapeutic use of psilocybin. The move is in response to the passage of Measure 109 in November 2020, which gave the state two years to come up with a framework for regulating magic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. While most of the draft rules deal with how to credential and evaluate training programs for those administering psilocybin, one rule specifies that only one species of mushroom, psilocybe cubensis, will be allowed. Growers would not be allowed to use dung or wood chips to cultivate mushrooms or make synthetic psilocybin and would also not be able to make products that might appeal to children, such as "products in the shape of an animal, vehicle, person or character."

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Legislature Approves Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The state Senate on Monday gave final approval to House Bill 52, which legalizes test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl. The move is a bid to reduce overdoses. Overdoses linked to fentanyl began climbing in the state in 2019. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who supports it.

International

Former Honduran President Detained on US Drug Charges. Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who left office less than a month ago, has been detained by Honduran authorities to face extradition to the US to face drug charges. An extradition request presented to the Honduran Supreme Court accuses Hernandez of participating in a "violent drug-trafficking conspiracy" that transported 500 tons of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela to the US since 2004. His brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, is already doing a life sentence in the US for drug trafficking, and so is another trafficker, Geovanny Fuentes, who implicated Hernandez in the conspiracy. It is not clear if or when Hernandez will be extradited; the Supreme Court judge who will hear his case is affiliated with his political party and has a history of freeing suspects in corruption cases.

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.

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