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Chronicle Book Review: "Psychedelic Justice"

Chronicle Book Review: Psychedelic Justice: Toward a Diverse and Equitable Psychedelic Culture (A Chacruna Anthology) by Beatriz Labate and Clancy Cavnar, eds. (2021: Synergetic Press, 237 pp., $19.95 PB)

The world and culture of psychedelics is undergoing rapid change. From the decriminalization of entheogenic plants in various US locales to the rise of ayahuasca tourism in the Amazon, from the stunning advances in psychedelic-assisted therapies to the equally stunning gusher of corporate capital investment in potential psychedelic gold mines, the Psychedelic Renaissance is most definitely upon us.

But as psychedelics come in from the cold, psychedelic culture is increasingly feeling growing pains, with any number of conundrums, controversies, and contradictions. How does Indigenous knowledge and practice of sacred plant medicines (ayahuasca, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms) translate into Western medical science? How does a scene dominated by straight White guys move toward diversity and equity? How can psychedelics retain their transformative power if and when they become commodified corporate products? And how can the movement deal with sleazy -- if not downright criminal -- operators in its midst?

Who better to tackle these issues than the good folks at the Chacruna Institute of Psychedelic Plant Medicines? Founded by Brazilian anthropologist and anthology co-editor Beatriz (Bia) Labate, the institute "produces high-quality research on plant medicines and psychedelics and helps propagate academic knowledge in more accessible formats," according to its web site. It also tries to bridge the gap between traditional ceremonial use and clinical and therapeutic settings and seeks to "foster cultural and political reflections on the field of psychedelic science and facilitate conversations about controversial topics that have been simmering on the sidelines as psychedelics go mainstream."

Edited by Labate and Chacruna co-founder and board member psychologist Clancy Cavnar, Psychedelic Justice is one of the fruits of those labors, and boy is it juicy! One could be forgiven for assuming a tome such as this would be dry and tendentious, but one would be mistaken. Some 30 contributors from across the psychedelic specturm take on the heavy questions surrounding the realm, and they do so with verve and flair. The pieces are almost uniformly passionate, provocative, and insightful, and they dig down deep into the issues percolating in the psychedelic space.

The book is divided into thematic sections -- Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity; Perspectives on Cultural Appropriation, Colonialism, and Globalization of Plant Medicines; Psychedelics and Western Culture; Queer; Sex and Power; and Sustainability, Policy and Reciprocity -- with multiple authors and points of view in each section. Although diverse viewpoints are represented, the contributors are collectively members of the broad psychedelic community and appear united in wanting to not lose that underlying transformative potential that so characterizes psychedelics and differentiates them from other classes of drugs.

Whether it is a critique of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy (like psychotherapy in general) as too invested in the individual dealing with his problems to take on the social causes of those problems, a skeptical examination of the burgeoning psychedelic conference scene, or a jeremiad against the failures of "White feminism," Psychedelic Justice and its contributors are down for radical cultural transformation.

And that includes some form of policing the burgeoning commerce in psychedelics. Whether its is abuses and neglect in the unregulated ibogaine treatment industry or the predatory practices and sexual exploitation of clients by some ayahuasca shamans (both traditional and neo-), Psychedelic Justice demands the community find a way to weed out such behavior. Sexual abuse by therapists is bad enough; sexual abuse by therapists while clients are under the influence of powerful mild-altering drugs is potentially even more shattering.

One nit I want to pick is that the book's emphasis is overwhelmingly on spiritual and/or therapeutic use. There is little discussion of issues surrounding recreational use, and it almost seems as if some contributors think using merely to enjoy the psychoactive effects is not worthy. But I would wager that the vast majority of psychedelic drug users are not doing so primarily for spiritual or therapeutic purposes, but because they enjoy the sensations. I could be wrong, though.

Still, Psychedelic Justice is an invaluable contribution. It demands to be read by anyone who claims to have an interest in psychedelics, plant medicines, or, more broadly, social justice under capitalism. It will provide you with plenty to ponder.

FL Decrim Bill, UAE Drug Reform, Guide for Psychedelic Churches, More... (11/29/21)

The Chacruna Institute releases a guide for psychedelic churches, the Justice Department says the Bureau of Prisons short-changed up to 60,000 First Step Act prisoners on their earned-time credits, and more.

Dubai skyline (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills for 2022. State Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) announced Monday that she is pre-filing two parallel bills to legalize marijuana. One bill would proceed along the statutory legislative route, while the other would ask legislators to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, which would then go before the voters. "I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law," Kulkarni said. "First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement. Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent."

Psychedelics

Chacruna Institute Releases Guide to Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Best Practices for Psychedelic Plant Medicine Churches. The Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines has released its comprehensive Guide to RFRA and Best Practices for Psychedelic Plant Medicine Churches. This free publication aims to inform churches using psychedelic plant medicine as a sacrament on how to better establish their operation and rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

"This Guide is written to simply explain the laws and basic information needed by a psychedelic plant medicine church to make informed decisions and understand its rights and risks by operating in the United States," said Allison Hoots, member of Chacruna's Council for the Protection of Sacred Plants. The guide is a comprehensive resource on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and how a church using psychedelic plant medicine as sacrament can be informed by the law in terms of its operation and establishing its rights under RFRA. Download it here.

Drug Policy

Florida Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Decriminalize All Drugs. State Rep. Dotie Joseph (D) has filed a drug decriminalization bill, the "Collateral Consequences of Convictions and Decriminalization of Cannabis and All Drugs Act" (House Bill 725). The bill would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by no more than a $50 fine and automatically expunge past arrest and conviction records if the offense is more than a year old. The bill adds that the legislature prioritizes "rehabilitative health intervention in lieu of criminalization for personal usage of controlled substances, including but not limited to stimulants including cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, heroin, fentanyl, depressants or benzodiazepines, and other addictive controlled substances." To that end, charges "associated with the personal usage and possession of controlled substances that do not involve production, distribution or sale shall be decriminalized in favor of civil fines and referral for drug rehabilitation."

Sentencing

Justice Department Finds Federal Bureau of Prisons Failed to Apply Earned Time Credits to First Step Act Prisoners. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has released a report charging that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) failed to properly credit up to 60,000 federal prisoners with time served under the First Step Act's recidivism programs. "We are concerned that the delay in applying earned time credits may negatively affect inmates who have earned a reduction in their sentence or an earlier placement in the community," Horowitz wrote in the report. Under the First Step Act, inmates who completed a recidivism program could receive time-served credit, but the BOP told the inspector general the credits were not applied becausethey "must be negotiated with the national union because it would create changes to conditions of employment, including determinations and application of earned time credits for inmates, for Unit Team staff working in BOP institutions who are bargaining unit employees," according to the report.

International

United Arab Emirates Enacts Drug Reforms. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dramatically amended its drug laws to allow for drug treatment instead of prison for first-time offenders. The new law mandates the creation of specialized treatment and rehabilitation units throughout the country, where judges can place offenders instead of in prison. The new law also changes the UAE's stance toward foreigners who get caught carrying food items or other products containing drugs (mainly marijuana). Under the old law, deportation was mandatory in such cases, but now people caught with such items will face no charges, but the items will be seized. The new law also increases penalties for some repeat offenders and imposes a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for anyone "who induced, incited or facilitated drug use for another person." The new law goes into effect January 2.

SD MJ Legalization Init Thrown Out, New Zealand Legalizes Drug Checking, More... (11/24/21)

A federal jury finds major drugstore chains culpable in two Ohio counties' opioid crisis, St, Louis decriminalizes marijuana possession, and more.

drug checking kits (SSDP)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Supreme Court Throws Out Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the voter-approved Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative violates the state constitution because it violated a provision limiting constitutional amendments to one subject. The court held that encompassing medical marijuana and recreational marijuana as well as setting out a taxation and regulatory structure made the amendment too broad to be considered a single subject.

While the ruling derails legalization for now, it may not be derailed for long. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the group behind Amendment A, is already undertaking a signature-gathering drive to get another, single-issue initiative on the 2022 ballot, and the state legislature has already committed to taking up marijuana legalization in the legislative session that begins in January.

St. Louis Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. The city's Board of Alderman voted unanimously Tuesday night to repeal an ordinance making it illegal to possess 35 grams or less of marijuana, and to bar police from enforcing state and federal law against small amounts or paraphernalia. Mayor Tishaura O. Jones (D) says she will sign the bill as soon as it reaches her desk.

Opioids

Ohio Jury Finds Drugstore Chains Culpable in Opioid Crisis. A federal jury has found that three major retailers -- CVS, Walgreens and Walmart -- helped flood two Ohio counties with opioids, contributing to the area's opioid crisis. The two counties, Lake and Trumbull, argued that the pharmacies did not do enough to stop large quantities of opioids from reaching the black market, and the jury agreed. Two other pharmacy chains -- Giant Eagle and Rite Aid -- previously settled with the counties for undisclosed amounts.

The counties' attorneys estimated the opioid epidemic cost each one more than a billion dollars. "For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law," the counties' legal team said. "Instead, these companies responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal, secondary market. The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance."

No mention was made about the need to protect chronic pain patients from the spillover effects from opioid crackdowns. In 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control issued a statement detailing ways in which its 2016 guidance on pain prescribing had been misapplied to harmfully restrict patients' access to pain medications.

International

New Zealand Becomes First Country to Legalize Drug Checking. With a vote in parliament this week, New Zealand has made permanent and explicitly legal a pilot drug checking program. The pilot program approved last December was set to expire next month. The Health Ministry had recommended in April that the program be made permanent after data showed high percentages of people who took advantage of the drug checks changed their behavior and better understood the potential harms. The bill creates broad legal protections for people offering and using drug checking services.

NY Marijuana Arrests Up in Smoke, TX MJ Poll, First SD MedMJ Patient Card, More... (11/23/21)

St. Louis aldermen move to end fines for marijuana possession and allow personal cultivation, New York marijuana arrests are declining dramatically, and more.

The medical marijuana program is up and running in South Dakota. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New York State Marijuana Arrests Nearly Vanish After Legalization. Since marijuana became legal in the state in March, marijuana arrests have shrunk to extremely low levels. According to data compiled by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, only 116 people were arrested on marijuana charges from April through October. In 2017, there were more than 28,000 pot possession arrests alone. By 2020, after lawmakers moved to reduce marijuana penalties, there were only 2,720 arrests. And now the state is on track to reduce that number by 90 percent this year.

Texas Poll Shows Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization, Even Majority Support Among Republicans. A new poll from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University has support for marijuana legalization at 67 percent, with even 51 percent of Republicans in support. That Republican support number is important since Republicans control the state legislature, and polling like this could prod the party to get on board with the public. The poll also asked about legalizing other substances, such as meth and heroin, but found little support with only 16 percent in favor.

St. Louis Aldermen Move to Decriminalize Pot Possession, Cultivation. The city's Board of Aldermen voted last Friday to give preliminary approval to a measure to decriminalize marijuana in the city. The measure needs one more vote by the board to go into effect. Under the proposed ordinance, people 21 and over could possess up to two ounces without any penalty. The ordinance also mandates that "no resources" be spent to punish adults for growing up to six plants. The measure also has the support of Mayor Tishaura Jones (D), whose office said the "intention is to free up police resources so they don't even have to worry about arresting someone for a victimless crime." In 2018, the board voted to make pot possession a civil infraction with a maximum $25 fine.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Program Issues First ID Cards. The state has issued its first medical marijuana ID cards, the state Health Department's Medical Cannabis Program announced last Friday. The first card issued went to a resident of Day County. "Today marks the culmination of months of hard work in preparation for the kickoff of a responsive and efficient medical cannabis program for eligible South Dakotans," said Geno Adams, Medical Cannabis Program Administrator. "In the months ahead, we will continue to ensure that patients and their caregivers, can continue to obtain medical cannabis permits in accordance with their written certifications."

Patients, caregivers, and medical providers who wish to get more information on how to participate in South Dakota's medical cannabis program can visit: MedCannabis.sd.gov. The site features a "Frequently Asked Questions' section, as well as a section for establishments, that is continuously updated by the Department. All patients and caregivers who apply and are issued a medical cannabis card will also receive a flyer with helpful tips on the importance of safe and responsible storage of their medical cannabis at their homes. To view the flyer, click here.

OR Has Another $270 Million for Drug Treatment Programs, Germany to Legalize Marijuana, More... (11/19/21)

Germany is moving to legalize marijuana, DC is moving to legalize marijuana sales, and more.

Employers are beginning to move away from drug testing workers and job applicants, a new survey finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC Council Holds Hearing on Legal Marijuana Sales Bill. The DC Council on Friday held its first public hearing on a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana in the District. Marijuana has been legal in the District since voters approved Initiative 71 in 2014, but not sales, which has instead emerged as a sort of gray market via the practice of "gifting" marijuana. There is widespread support for legalizing sales, from Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to members of the Council. That would require ending a six-year-old congressional prohibition on sales, which Democrats are already moving to repeal, but which may not happen this year. And then there's the possibility that Republicans can take back control of the House next year and reinstate the ban. But at the Council, the debate is now underway.

Drug Testing

Survey: Nearly One-in-Ten Employers Dropping Drug Testing Requirements to Attract Workers. A survey of some 45,000 employers in North America and Europe finds that about one out of 10 are dropping drug testing requirements as a way to attract new hires and keep current employees. Nine percent of those responding said they had "eliminated job screenings or drug tests" as a way to either attract or keep their employees. Sixty-nine percent of respondents acknowledged experiencing "difficulty" in filling staffing positions in the current job market, a 15-year high. The increasing number of states that have legalized marijuana is also having an impact, with Amazon dropping pre-employment marijuana testing in June, and a number of cities and states have enacted policies restricting testing for marijuana.

Drug Treatment

Oregon Set to Spend $270 Million on Drug Treatment Centers as Part of Decriminalization Law. The state Oversight and Accountability Council, created as part of the successful Measure 110 drug decriminalization initiative passed last November, is set to distribute $270 million to groups treating people addicted to drugs. The council has now opened the grant process for groups to seek a share of those funds, which come from legal marijuana tax revenues as mandated by Measure 110. Meanwhile, the council is continuing to craft rules for the new Behavioral Health Resource Networks to increase access to treatment and other services. "Our vision is that by funding BHRNs, there will be a collaboration of networks that include culturally and linguistically specific and responsive, trauma-informed and gender affirming care that will meet the needs of anyone seeking services who have been negatively affected by substance use and the war on drugs," said Oversight & Accountability Tri-chair LaKeesha Dumas.

International

German Coalition Parties Agree to Legalize Marijuana. The three parties set to form the country's next governing coalition have agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats are prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. Legalization would ensure quality control, protect minors, and prevent the distribution of contaminated products, the paper said. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

Oregon Drug Decrim is Slashing Drug Arrests, Massively Funding Services [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move a year ago now, Oregon voters approved decriminalization for personal use amounts of all illicit drugs, with Measure 110 passing with a healthy 59 percent of the vote. That made the state the first in the US to make this dramatic break with decades of the war on drugs. Now, as other states pondering a similar move look for evidence to bolster their case, some of the initial results in Oregon are looking pretty impressive.

Oregon's Mt. Hood. (David Mark/Pixabay)
Measure 110 promised not only thousands fewer drug arrests, but also a turn from the punitive to the compassionate -- providing hundreds of millions of dollars for greatly expanded access to evidence-informed drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reduction services, without raising taxes to do so. Services would be funded through excess marijuana tax revenue (over $45 million) and savings from no longer arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting people for drug possession. State analysts estimated the excess marijuana tax revenue alone should result in over $100 million in funding for services in the first year and up to $129 million by 2027.

The state analysts were off the mark. Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), whose legislative action arm, Drug Policy Action spearheaded the successful campaign, and the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to implement treatment, harm reduction, and support programs, announced they had secured funding of $302 million over the next two years. That's over $150 million a year, including $30 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of this year.

That initial round of grants went to 70 organizations in 26 of the state's 36 counties, with these results:

  • 33 harm reduction and addiction recovery service providers expanded access to treatment services for indigent, uninsured individuals.
  • 52 organizations hired peer support specialists -- a role that addiction medicine experts have long heralded as essential to one's recovery journey.
  • 32 service providers added recovery, supportive and transitional housing services.
  • 30 organizations increased harm reduction services, which include life-saving interventions like overdose prevention; access to naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine; as well as drug education and outreach.

"We were about to have to close our doors in Wasco County, which would have been devastating to the people that depend on us for support there, but thanks to Measure 110 passing, we were not only able to get the funding we needed to stay open, but also to expand the services and spectrum of care we were able to provide our clients," said Monta Knudson, Executive Director of Bridges to Change, a nonprofit that offers peer recovery support, housing and treatment services in the state.

"Addiction has touched us all somehow, some more personally and heartbreakingly than others," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Too many of us have lost loved ones to addiction, or struggled with it ourselves. COVID-19 has made things much worse, decreasing access to care during a time when Oregonians need these services more than ever before. That's why we celebrate the great strides made when it comes to addressing Oregon's addiction crisis, while recognizing that there's still much work to be done. Our immediate focus is to ensure every Oregonian knows these critical harm reduction and recovery services are being invested in and expanded so that they will be available to anyone who wants and needs them, and that they can feel comfortable and safe accessing them."

But while the huge expansion of treatment, harm reduction, and related social services is undeniably a good thing, drug decriminalization is ultimately about getting people out of the criminal justice system by not getting them sucked into it in the first place. It's looking like Measure 110 is achieving that goal.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and while it is too early to have precise numbers, thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

"A year ago, Oregonians voted yes on Measure 110 to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services. Now, because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing," said DPA Executive Director Kassandra Frederique. "Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need. And while the devastation of 50 years of cruel and counterproductive policies can’t be erased overnight, by all metrics we hoped to achieve, and what voters asked for, we are going down the right path."

A number of states -- including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas -- the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to similarly remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services since the passage of Measure 110. These initial results should provide plenty of ammunition for advancing those campaigns.

New Gallup Poll Shows Continuing Strong Support for Pot Legalization, Mexico Michoacan Massacre, More... (11/4/21)

A Congressional Research Service report shows easy off-ramp for federal pot prohibition, a new Gallup poll shows marijuana legalization retains strong majority support, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll Sees Continuing Strong Majority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Gallup poll released Thursday has marijuana legalization maintaining record-high levels of support with 68 percent of respondents in favor—the same percentage as when Gallup last polled in November 2020. Only 32 percent favored continuing marijuana prohibition, giving legalization two-to-one support. "As was the case in 2020, solid majorities of U.S. adults in all major subgroups by gender, age, income and education support legalizing marijuana," Gallup said. "Substantive differences are seen, however, by political party and religion." Support for legalization was highest among Democrats (83 percent), followed by independents (71 percent) and Republicans (50 percent).

Congressional Research Service Report Provides Pathway for Presidential Administration to Deschedule Marijuana. A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) outlines pathways for the Biden (or any other) administration to unilaterally end marijuana prohibition and issue a general amnesty for federal marijuana crimes by acting administratively to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). "The President could pursue the appointment of agency officials who favor descheduling, or use executive orders to direct DEA, HHS, and FDA toconsider administrative descheduling of marijuana," the CRS report advised. "The notice-and-comment rulemaking process would take time, and would be subject to judicial review if challenged, but could be done consistently with the CSA’s procedural requirements.The Biden administration has officials in place who are sympathetic to legalization, but the president himself has no sign of going further than decriminalization, not legalization.

Ohio Towns Split on Marijuana Reform Ballot Measures. More than a dozen Ohio cities had marijuana reform measures on the ballot Tuesday and seven of them voted to approve local measures to decriminalize marijuana. Before Tuesday, 22 cities and counties across the state had adopted similar marijuana reform measures. The most common initiative language was "shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?" Voters in Martins FerryMurray CityNew LexingtonNewStraitsville, RaylandTiltonsville and Yorkville approved the decriminalization proposals, while voters in BrooksideDillonvaleLaurelvilleMcArthurMorristownMount Pleasant and Powhatan Point rejected the reform measures.

International

Mexico's Michoacan Sees New Massacre, 11 Killed Near Tarecuato. Michoacan state prosecutors announced late Monday that police had found the bullet-riddled bodies of five men and six boys near the town of Tarecuato in the north of the state near the border with the state of Jalisco. The area has been a hotbed of bloody conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local criminal gangs. Tarecuato is not from the municipality of La Barca, where clandestine mass graves have been unearthed, and also near to the avocado-producing regions of the state, which are the target of organized crime extortion efforts.

Detroit Voters Approve Psychedelic Reform, Philadelphia Voters Approve Pot Legalization Measure, More... (11/3/21)

Election Day brought a pair of big city victories for drug reform, Mississippi's governor wants a more restrictive medical marijuana proposal before he will call a special session, and more.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is trying to tighten the screws on medical marijuana legislation. (nga.org)
Marijuana Policy

Philadelphia Voters Approve Referendum Calling for Statewide Marijuana Legalization. Voters on Tuesday approved a referendum calling for statewide marijuana legalization by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. The referendum adds a section to the city charter, saying "the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes." The referendum is non-binding but adds pressure on the legislature to act. Republicans control both houses of the legislature and have so far blocked action on marijuana legalization, but last month, a bipartisan legalization bill was formally introduced.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Governor Wants Tighter Limits on Medical Marijuana Before He Will Call a Special Session to Pass It. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said Monday he wants to reduce the amount of medical marijuana that people can buy and reduce the allowable level of THC in it before he will move forward to call a legislative special session to create a medical marijuana program. "If we’re going to have a medical marijuana program, we need to get it done right," said Reeves. "I think getting it done right is more important than getting it done quick." Voters approved medical marijuana via an initiative a year ago, but the state Supreme Court threw out that victory, invalidating the state's initiative process as it did so. The legislature then failed to pass a make-up bill during the regular session. Reeves has said he will call a special session, but now is demanding these new restrictions.

DC Council Approves Bill to Aid Struggling Dispensaries. The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at helping the city's dispensaries, which have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic. The new bill allows patients whose cards have expired since March 2020 to continue using them through January 2022 and creates a two-year medical marijuana card, as opposed to the current one-year card. The bill also doubles the amount of marijuana a patient can purchase at one time from four ounces to eight.

Psychedelics

Detroit Voters Approve Psychedelic Decriminalization Measure. Voters in Michigan's largest city approved a ballot measure to essentially decriminalize psychedelics by an unofficial tally of 61 percent to 39 percent. The initiativesays the city will "decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults." The new policy will also "make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority." Detroit now joins the Michigan communities of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Grand Rapids in having approved psychedelic reform. Meanwhile, a bill to legalize the cultivation, possession, and delivery of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics is before the state Senate.

Opioid Makers Win One in California Court, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (11/2/21)

The DC council retreats from language that would have threatened a crackdown on the city's marijuana "gift economy," a California court rules in favor of opioid manufacturers in a rare victory for the industry, and more.

Marijuana Policy

JAMA Study Finds Legalizing or Decriminalizing Marijuana Reduces Race-Based Arrests. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds that states that legalize or decriminalize marijuana see "large reductions in race-based arrests among adults" while those states that do not continue to see "increases in arrest rate disparities." Legalization was associated with 561 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 185 fewer arrests per 100,000 White people, while decriminalization was associated with 449 fewer arrests per 100,000 Black people and 117 for White people. On the other hand, "cannabis arrests for adults and youth increased over time in states that did not implement a cannabis policy change," the study concluded. "Overall, results revealed that states that implemented a cannabis policy change saw large decreases in arrests compared with states that had no policy reform," the researchers concluded.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Rep. Tim Egan (D-Grafton) has filed a bill that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot and allow for home grows of up to three mature plants. The bill also envisions a system of taxed and licensed marijuana production and sales. While the House passed a similar bill last year, legalization efforts in the state face an obstacle in Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who has historically opposed legalization.

DC Council Removes Marijuana Bill Language That Threatened Crackdown on Unregulated Market. A provision of a DC marijuana bill that could have led to a crackdown on the city's unregulated marijuana "gift economy," which skirts the ban on legal retail sales, was removed Monday as the council prepares to vote on the measure on Tuesday. The move came after strong criticism from activists, who argued that targeting those currently providing marijuana would perpetuate systemic racial inequalities that marijuana legalization is supposed to reduce. There are currently estimated to be dozens of grey market pot shops and more than a hundred delivery services operating in the city.

Opioids

California Judge Rules for Drug Makers in Lawsuit Over Opioid Crisis. A California state judge has handed a rare victory to opioid manufacturers by rejecting the legal argument successfully employed against the industry in thousands of cases charging that it substantially contributed to an opioid epidemic that has taken more than half a million lives since the late 1990s, when the appearance of OxyContin marked the beginning of the current wave. "There is simply no evidence to show that the rise in prescriptions was not the result of the medically appropriate provision of pain medications to patients in need," wrote Judge Peter Wilson of Orange County State Superior Court. The counties of Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and Orange and the city of Oakland had sued four opioid manufacturers—Johnson & Johnson, Teva, Allergan, and Endo Pharmaceuticals—charging that their manufacturing and distribution of opioids constituted a "public nuisance, but Judge Wilson held that even if the companies were found to have created false or misleading marketing, "any adverse downstream consequences flowing from medically appropriate prescriptions cannot constitute an actionable public nuisance."

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction, Poll Shows Support for DC Drug Decrim, More... (10/27/21)

Arkansas could soon see two seperate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns, a new poll shows DC voters are ready for drug decriminalization, and more.

HHS says there were 840,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2019. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launched. And then there were two. Activists with Arkansas True Grass already have a marijuana legalization initiative in the signature gathering phase, and now, a former state House minority leader has announced the formation of a new advocacy group, Responsible Growth Arkansas, to push a second legalization effort. That former lawmaker, Democrat Eddie Armstrong, says his proposed initiative would "allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state." Armstrong has yet to file an initiative text with state officials but promised more information in coming weeks. Statutory initiatives require 71,321 valid voter signatures. If Armstrong's initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, it would need 89,151 valid voter signatures. In either case, signature gathering must be complete by next July.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bills to Restrict Cultivation by Caregivers Advance. A package of bills that would limit the amount of medical marijuana that caregivers can grow is headed for the House floor. Under the package, caregivers would have to obtain a new specialty medical marijuana grower license and comply with a variety of new regulations. Under current rules, caregivers can grow up to 72 plants and must register with the state, but do not need a license. Under the bill package, caregivers could grow only 24 plants without a license. Because the package of bills alters the voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana initiative, it must garner 75 percent of the vote in both houses to pass.

Drug Policy

DC Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Poll Finds. Just a week after activists announced a push for drug decriminalization in the nation's capital, a new poll finds very strong support for the notion. The poll had 83 percent saying the DC Council should pass an ordinance to "remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of commonly-used controlled substances consistent with personal use." That includes 65 percent who strongly support the far-reaching reform. The reform is being pushed by a coalition called DecrimPovertyDC, which includes groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Harm Reduction

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction Measures. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday outline the Biden administration's approach to reducing drug overdoses and committed to more federal support for measures such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. The strategy also includes expanding medication-based treatment, reducing "inappropriate" opioid prescribing (which could drive users into the more dangerous black market), and more support for drug treatment. Becerra even expressed some openness to safe injection sites: "When it comes to harm reduction, we are looking for every way to do that. … We probably will support the efforts of states that are using evidence-based practices and therapies." According to an HHS report released Wednesday, 840,000 people died of drug overdoses from 1999 to 2019. Becerra's comments reflect a statement of priorities for the administration’s first year released in March by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Drug War Issues

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