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Marijuana Use at All-Time High Among Young Adults, Cartel Violence Sparks Protests in Mexico's Michoacan, More... (9/8/21)

The latest Monitoring the Future survey finds marijuana use is at an all-time high among young adults; Georgia's Tybee Island, home of the state's largest public beach, decriminalizes pot possession, and more.

Tybee Island, Georgia, where the city council just decriminalized pot possession. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Use at All-Time High Among College-Aged Adults in 2020. Marijuana use continued to rise among college students over the past five years and remained at historically high levels among same-aged peers who are not in college in 2020, according to survey results from the 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) panel study. This represents the highest levels of marijuana use recorded since the 1980s. The survey also found that marijuana vaping and nicotine vaping leveled off in 2020 after sharp increases reported every year since 2017 for both college students and same-aged respondents who are not in college. Among college students specifically, there was also a significant increase in the annual use of hallucinogens, and a substantial and significant drop in current alcohol use between 2019 and 2020. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study has been annually tracking substance use among college students and noncollege adults ages 19-22 since 1980. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, the survey is conducted annually by scientists at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor. Results are based on data from college students one to four years beyond high school graduation who are enrolled full-time in a two- or four-year college in March of the given year, compared with same-age high school graduates not enrolled full-time in college.

Georgia City, Home of State's Largest Public Beach, Decriminalizes Pot Possession. The city council in Tybee Island, home to the state's largest public beach, has approved an ordinance that imposes a maximum $150 fine for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, making pot possession no longer a criminal offense under the municipal code. Under state law, however, possession of up to an ounce remains a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. It is not clear how local police and prosecutors will handle such cases. Tybee Island is only the latest of more than a dozen other state cities and counties that have reduced penalties for marijuana possession.

International

Mexico's Michoacan Sees Protests Over Cartel Violence. Residents of the Tierra Caliente region of the central-western state of Michoacan, which has been the scene of ongoing clashes, blockades, and disruptions caused by competing criminal organizations, took to the streets over the weekend to demand military intervention to confront the cartels. "Hugs, not bullets doesn't work in Tepalcatepec, Aguililla and Coalcomán. The federal government is abandoning its people, massacred by the CJNG [Jalisco New Generation Cartel]," read one banner held up by protesters outside a military base in Apatzingán. "Hugs, not bullets" is a slogan of the policy of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of addressing the root causes of violence rather than confronting the cartels with force. The municipalities of Aguililla, Apatzingan, Buenavista, Coalcoman, and Tepalcatepec have been particularly hard-hit, where more than 3,000 fled the violence in August. In recent days, about 1,000 people have fled and taken shelter at a sports center in Tepalcatepec. "We're being displaced from our homes, we're afraid, they're throwing bombs and grenades at us," one woman told the newspaper Reforma at Sunday's protest." … [President] López Obrador must listen to us. We're hungry and cold, we're calling on the relevant authorities to support us, not just authorities of the state but also the United Nations and UNICEF… Children have no homes because [organized] crime has destroyed their homes with flamethrowers. We need help from… all the forces of Mexico…," she said.

NYC Marijuana Arrests Hit Single Digits, MI Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed, More... (9/7/21)

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds marijuana legalization has little impact on youth use rates, the number of marijuana arrests in New York City in the second quarter of 2021 totaled a whopping eight -- that's right, eight -- and more.

New York City pot smokers have good reason to smile these days. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

AMA Study Finds Marijuana Legalization Does Not Lead to Increased Youth Use. A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that the impact of marijuana legalization on adolescent marijuana consumption is "statistically indistinguishable from zero." The study analyzed federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 1993 through 2019 in 10 states that had legalized either medical marijuana or adult use. Marijuana legalization "was not associated with current marijuana use or frequent marijuana use," the researchers found. In fact, the researchers found youth use actually went down in medical marijuana states: "[M]edical marijuana law (MML) adoption was associated with a 6% decrease in the odds of current marijuana use and a 7% decrease in the odds of frequent marijuana use."

New York City Marijuana Arrests Hit Single Digits After Legalization. Marijuana arrests in New York City -- once the marijuana arrest capital of the world -- have dropped to single digits since marijuana legalization went into effect in the state on March 31. The city recorded only eight marijuana arrests in the second quarter of this year, down from 163 during the first quarter. That's a 95% decrease from what were already quite low arrest levels. All of the arrests were for possession of more than three ounces, and they reflected continuing racial disparities, but with such a small sample size, it is difficult to say anything definitive about that. Criminal court summonses for people who were given marijuana possession tickets but didn't pay them also decreased dramatically, from 3,700 in the first quarter to eight in the second quarter.

Psychedelics

Michigan Bill Filed to Legalize Possession, Cultivation of Psychedelics. Two Democratic state senators, Jeff Irwin and Adam Hollier, last Thursday filed a bill to legalize the possession, cultivation, and delivery of a variety of plant- and fungus-based psychedelics, such as mescaline and psilocybin, Senate Bill 631. The bill would amend state law so that people are exempted from prosecution for such activities as long as they are not "receiving money or other valuable consideration for the entheogenic plant or fungus." That means no commercial production and 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." Michigan has become a locus of the psychedelic decriminalization movement, with Decriminalize Nature chapters pushing local city councils to adopt reforms. In Ann Arbor, the city council approved psychedelic decriminalization last year and have designated this month as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. Similar moves are afoot in Grand Rapids, too.

Biden Asks Congress to Permanently Schedule Fentanyl Analogues, Seattle Task Force Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (9/3/21)

A Seattle task force calls for drug decriminalization, Vancouver activists seek permission to operate drug buyers' clubs, and more.

Congress must decide whether to permanently schedule fentanyl analogues as Schedule I substances. (Creative Commons)
Drug Policy

Biden's Acting Drug Czar Asks Congress for Opioid Crackdown Help. The Biden administration has asked Congress to permanently schedule illicit fentanyl analogues as Schedule I substances, alongside heroin and MDMA. Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Director Regina LaBelle made the request in a letter to Congress, saying the move would help law enforcement go after illicit opioid manufactures and dealers. Drug reformers had lobbied the administration not to take this step, and reacted unhappily (see below).

Civil Rights Leaders, Drug Policy Experts Denounce as Counterproductive Biden Recommendations on Fentanyl-Related Substances and Continued War on Drugs. In response to the recommendations presented to Congress by the ONDCP, HHS, and the Justice Department to permanently schedule fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs, civil rights leaders drug policy reform leaders including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Drug Policy Alliance issued the following statement:

"We cannot continue doing the same things and expect to get different results. Despite the Biden administration's stated commitment to criminal justice reform, and ending disparities in the system, the recommendation to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances echoes the failed drug policies of our past. Today's proposal is reminiscent of these policies, which led to over-policing and law enforcement, disproportionately impacted people of color, overcrowded prisons, and cost lives. The proposal is a major step backward in the fight to dismantle the harms of the past and save lives."

Seattle Task Force Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The city's Overdose Emergency Innovative Recovery (OEIR) task force is recommending the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs. The group, which was responding to the city council's request for policy advice on how to reduce overdose deaths, announced its recommendations at a Tuesday night event. It said that removing the penalties around drug possession -- or even legalizing and regulating them -- would "create opportunities for research and access to a regulated safe supply in a manner that is safest for everyone in the community." The task force also recommended expanding housing, treatment and harm reduction services, and working to reduce social stigma around substance abuse disorders. "Unlearning drug war propaganda of the last century will take time and patience," the group said in a summary document. "It will take an all hands on deck effort to end the stigmatization and harm that more than a century of prohibition has caused."

International

Vancouver Activists Formally Ask Canadian Government to Allow Buyers' Clubs for Hard Drugs. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) have formally asked the Canadian government to allow them to operate buyers' clubs for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine in order to produce users with a reliable "safe supply" of those drugs. The two groups submitted an open letter to Health Canada requesting a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs. "The DULF Fulfillment Center and Compassion Club model is saving lives right now," the letter states, "and will save more if we are permitted to continue our work with federal authorization. We are prepared to undertake such action, and hope that you will support our efforts. Lives depend on it." The letter requests a decision from Health Canada by October 15. If DULF and VANDU's request is granted, it will represent a historic milestone in international efforts to roll back the drug war. More importantly, it will have an immediate impact on the safety of compassion club members.

DEA to Review Foreign Operations, Vancouver Activists Plan Another "Safe Supply" Drug Giveaway, More... (8/26/21)

California wants to try a form of drug treatment where users are paid not to use, Vancouver activists plan to mark International Overdose Awareness Day with a "safe supply" drug giveaway, and more.

The DEA will review its international operations, although there is no sign it is looking at a paradigm shift.
Drug Policy

DEA Announces Review of International Operations. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday announced a comprehensive review of DEA’s international operations and foreign footprint, including administrative and financial support for those operations from DEA headquarters. Administrator Anne Milgram has recommended a top to bottom review of foreign operations that will be overseen by an independent team.  As part of the review, the team will talk to DEA personnel posted in DEA’s foreign offices and headquarters. DEA listed "international cartels, narco-terrorist violence, and precursor chemicals flowing from other countries" as global threats it faces. "This review will provide recommendations for my consideration upon completion.  Specifically, I expect the team to provide an assessment of DEA’s current international operational capacity, and to identify areas for improvement to ensure DEA’s international operations are impactful and effective, with the appropriate structures, procedures, and controls to ensure integrity and accountability," said Administrator Milgram. There is in indication the agency is undergoing a paradigm shift, though.

Drug Treatment

California Seeks Federal Permission to Do "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment. The state is seeking permission from the federal government to do "contingency management" drug treatment, in which users are paid money to stay sober, receiving increasing payments for each drug test passed. Such a program has been underway with military veterans for years, with research showing it is an effective way to get people off stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. Now, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is asking the federal government to allow the state to use federal tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid. Meanwhile, state Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 110, to do something similar. That bill has already passed the Senate with no  opposition and has a Republican co-sponsor in the Assembly, where it has already been approved by the Health Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee. Wiener’s bill would require California’s Medicaid program to pay for the treatment while Newsom’s plan would let counties choose whether to participate.

International

Vancouver Activists to Mark August 31 International Overdose Awareness Day by Handing Out Free "Safe Supply" of Drugs. A Vancouver-based safe supply advocacy group, the Drug Users Liberation Front (DULF), handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine during a July event to dramatize the need for a "safe supply" of drugs" as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, and now, they are getting ready to do it again. DULF says the July event showed the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. DULF will be joined at the Overdose Awareness Day Event by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), which has raised $13,000 to buy and test drugs to be distributed for free among registered VANDU members. "We recognize this a day to honor those we lost to the War on Drugs," said VANDU. "A senseless war fueled by colonial dispossession, racist violence, capitalist exploitation and police criminalization that has taken far too many lives.

Taliban Say No More Opium Production Under Their Rule, CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, More... (8/19/21)

The harm reduction group DanceSafe releases new test kits for cocaine and ketamine, a North Carolina medical marijuana bil is moving, and more.

Will Afghan poppy fields become a thing of the past? The Taliban say yes. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Ready to Advance in Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday accepted revisions to the Compassionate Care Act, Senate Bill 711, laying the groundwork for formal approval at a later meeting. The bill had already passed Judiciary and one more committee last month but was referred back to Judiciary this month to deal with revisions. The proposal would allow patients with specified "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana, but with revisions now includes patients with terminal conditions who have less than six months to live, as well as those who qualify for hospice care. Under the legislation, patients could possess up to one and a half ounces of cannabis, but home cultivation would not be permitted. The measure would provide for up to 10 medical marijuana suppliers, each of which could operate up to four dispensaries. Once the bill passes out of Judiciary, it must still be re-referred to the Health and Rules and Operations committees before heading for a floor vote.

Harm Reduction

DanceSafe Releases New Test Kit for Cocaine and Ketamine. DanceSafe, a nationally active and long-standing public health nonprofit, has released a new consumer drug checking kit that can reliably identify cocaine and ketamine, two of the most commonly used illicit drugs. The kit consists of two small bottles known together as Morris reagent. To use the kit, the user places one drop of liquid from each bottle onto a tiny amount of the drug and stirs the mixture with a toothpick for 20-30 seconds. The reaction turns bright blue in the presence of cocaine and purple in the presence of ketamine. The reagent can also detect two major ketamine analogues, DCK and 2-FDCK, which turn a navy blue color. Nearly all other drugs turn a dull green color, indicating a non-reaction. "This is a game changer," says Mitchell Gomez, DanceSafe’s Executive Director. "The cocaine and ketamine markets are highly adulterated, and this new test kit can help consumers avoid many of the counterfeit powders."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Advances. A bill to decriminalize the possession of many psychedelics, Senate Bill 519, passed a procedural hurdle in the Assembly on Monday, getting a second reading on the Assembly floor and being re-referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It now faces a "suspense hearing" August 26, after which it would head for a final Assembly floor vote if it passes. If it then passes the Assembly, it would go back to the Senate for approval of amendments made in the Assembly, all of which must be accomplished by September 10 in order to reach the governor's desk this year. If the bill doesn't advance by then, it would not be dead but wouldn't be acted on again until January. One amendment that irks advocates like Decriminalize Nature sets possession limits, such as two grams of DMT, four grams of mescaline, two grams of psilocybin, and four grams of magic mushrooms. The group has called for the bill to be tabled until the kerfuffle over possession limits is settle to its satisfaction, but bill sponsor Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco says he wants to move forward now while the bill has momentum.

International

Taliban Say No More Opium Production in Afghanistan Under Their Rule. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul Wednesday that there will be zero drug production or trafficking in the country in the near future. "There will be no drug production, no drug smuggling. We saw today that our young people were on drugs near the walls; this was making me very, very sad that our youth are addicted," Mujahid said. "Afghanistan will not be a country of cultivation of opium anymore, but we need international help for that. The international community needs to help us," he added. Throughout this century, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium producer, responsible for more than 80% of global supply with an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Afghans and produces a sizeable chunk of the country's Gross National Product. Wiping out opium production would create a huge economic disruption in the country, but the Taliban was able to do it in 2000, the year before they were overthrown by a US invasion.

New Orleans Decriminalizes Weed, PA Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Over MedMJ Discrimination, More... (8/6/21)

Life in the Big Easy just got a little easier, Ohio marijuana legalization activists will have to try again with that ballot summary language, and more.

The Mississippi River at New Orleans, where marijuana has just been decriminalized. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Attorney General Rejects Ballot Language for Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A campaign to legalize marijuana in the state will have to begin again after Attorney General Dave Yost (R) rejected the first batch of signatures handed in, saying the initiative petition improperly summarized how the state's law would change. In a letter to the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, Yost said the summary failed to make the standard of a "fair and truthful statement" of what the initiative would do. Among other things, he said the text failed to explain in detail that employers did not have to employ marijuana users and that the six-plant limit does not clearly explain that it applies to both cultivating and possessing the plant. Now, the Coalition will have to redraft and resubmit summary language and then gather initial signatures again. The campaign aims to prod the legislature to pass or reject marijuana legalization, and if the legislature rejects it, the issue could then go before voters after a second round of signature gathering.

New Orleans Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession, Pardons Old Convictions. The New Orleans City Council on Thursday voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and to pardon some 10,000 past convictions and pending cases. Councilmembers said the move would help the community gain trust with the police and it would allow police to focus on violent crime. Pot smoking in public is still prohibited, but will be ticketed as a smoke-free air act violation instead of a drug charge.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules Workers Can Sue Employers for Discrimination Over Medical Marijuana. A three-judge Superior Court panel ruled Thursday that the state's medical marijuana law allows workers and job applicants to sue employers for discrimination for firing or refusing to hire them because of their medical marijuana use. Although the 2016 Medical Marijuana Act does not explicitly create a private right to sue, the court held that because that law did not grant any state agency the power to enforce anti-discrimination provisions, it implicitly created such a right. The ruling came in the case of Pamela Palmiter, who sought to sue Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton for refusing to hire her after she failed a drug test for marijuana. The Pennsylvania decision is in line with a federal court decision in the state last December, and state and federal courts in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island have also ruled that those state laws allow workers to sue for discrimination.

House Approves Marijuana Measures, Three More Towns Move Toward Psychedelic Decrim, More... (8/5/21)

Activists in Ohio and Wyoming are gearing up for marijuana legalization pushes, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections is being sued over bad drug tests, and more.

Marijuana policy is getting some attention on Capitol Hill these days. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Approves Marijuana Banking, Employment, and DC Sales Provisions in Major Spending Bill. The House last week included spending bills for  the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development that include several marijuana reform provisions. One measure would provide protection for financial institutions doing business with state-legal marijuana companies, another would allow for the legalization of marijuana sales in Washington, DC, while a third would direct the federal government to reconsider policies that fire federal works for using state-legal marijuana. The spending bill will have to be reconciled with a Senate version before becoming law.

Ohio Activists Launch Legalization Campaign, Will Push Initiative That Legislature Must Address. A local activist group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), has launched an effort to persuade lawmakers to legalize marijuana by submitting a thousand signatures to the state attorney general's office for a marijuana legalization ballot initiative. Unlike a failed 2015 effort, this is a statutory initiative—not a constitutional one—and if organizers meet signature-gathering requirements of 132,887 valid voter signatures, the legislature would then have four months to approve, amend, or reject it. If lawmakers do not pass the initiative, organizers would have to then collect an additional 132,887 valid voter signatures to take it directly to voters in November 2022.

Wyoming Secretary of State Approves Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for Signature Gathering. Secretary of State Ed Buchanan (R) has conditionally certified two separate ballot initiatives, one to legalize medical marijuana and one to legalize recreational marijuana. That means signature gathering should get underway shortly. Organizers will need to gather 41,776 valid voter signatures for each initiative to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. They have 18 months to gather signatures, although will have to do so in less than that to make the November 2022 ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Senate Committee Approves Expanded Medical Marijuana Access for Veterans. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved an amendment designed to ease veterans' access to medical marijuana by allowing Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The measure sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) passed on a voice vote. "We have now 36 states that have medical cannabis, and our veterans want to know from their VA doctor what their thoughts are on the pros and cons or appropriate role or challenges of this particular strategy for treating a variety of issues, including PTSD," Merkley said. "I think it’s really important that we not force our veterans to be unable to discuss this issue with their doctors." The measure must still pass the Senate, and the amendment will have to survive a conference committee if it does pass the Senate.

Psychedelics

Three More Communities Move Toward Psychedelic Decriminalization. A trio of small communities—all bordering jurisdictions that have already enacted psychedelic reforms—are moving toward decriminalizing psychedelics. Easthampton, Massachusetts; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Arcata, California, are all entertaining ways of reducing criminal penalties for the possession or use of some psychedelics. Such measures have already been approved in Denver, three Boston suburbs, and Oakland and Santa Cruz, California. 18.

Drug Testing

Massachusetts Prison System Sued Over Unreliable Drug Tests That Put Inmates in Solitary. A class action lawsuitfiled by Justice Catalyst Law and Boston law firm accuses the state Department of Corrections of using a "notoriously unreliable" field drug test to detect contraband drugs that has led to public defenders of being falsely accused of sending drug-tainted mail to their clients and punishing falsely accused prisoners with solitary confinement. The lawsuit says the drug test, from the company Sirchie, which is designed to detect synthetic cannabinoids, is so prone to false positives that using it is akin to "witchcraft, phrenology or simply picking a number out of a hat." "We brought this lawsuit to protect disempowered people incarcerated by the DOC from the unconscionable decision to use these tests in the face of overwhelming evidence of their inaccuracy," Ellen Leonida, a partner at BraunHagey & Borden, said. "We also intend to hold the drug companies liable for knowingly profiting from the misuse of these tests and the misery they are causing."

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."

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