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Psychedelics

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House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, Bolivia Coca Growers Clash, More... (9/29/21)

Grand Rapids, Michigan, endorses a symbolic psychedelic reform, the House votes to end the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, and more. 

A crack cocaine user. Harsh federal crack penalties fell disproportionately on the Black community. (Creative Commons)
Psychedelics

Grand Rapids is Latest Michigan City to Endorse Psychedelic Decriminalization. The Grand Rapids City Commission on Tuesday approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of natural psychedelics, such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. The resolution says "those seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi should have the freedom to explore these healing methods without risk of arrest and prosecution." It passed 5-2, but activists were disappointed because the resolution merely expresses support for future reforms and does not make psychedelics a lowest law enforcement priority. Still, Grand Rapids joins a growing number of Michigan communities that have endorsed psychedelic reform, including Ann Arbor, and Detroit voters will have a chance to endorse psychedelic decriminalization with a measure that will appear on the ballot in November.

Sentencing Policy

House Passes Bill to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. The House on Tuesday passed HR 1693,  the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act of 2021or the EQUAL Act of 2021. The bill seeks to redress one of the gravest injustices of the drug war by eliminating the federal sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses. The vote was 361-66, with all 66 "no" votes coming from Republicans. Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, signed into law by Ronald Reagan, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence. The overwhelming majority of people federally prosecuted under the crack provision were Black, even though crack use was enjoyed by people from all races. The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reduced that disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and a 2018 criminal justice reform bill signed by Donald Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Senate version, S. 79, will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to pass. It currently has three GOP cosponsors: Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). Look for our feature article on the bill later today.

International

Bolivia Coca Growers Conflict Turns Violent. A power struggle among coca grower factions in La Paz has seen street fighting, volleys of tear gas and slingshot, clashes among grower factions and between growers and police. On Monday, a building near the central coca market in La Paz, control over which is being contested by the factions, went up in flames amid the clashes. Last week, several police vehicles were burned during similar protests. One grower faction, led by Arnold Alanes, the head of the coca management agency Adepcoca, is aligned with the governing Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, while the other faction, led by government critic Armin Lluta, says MAS and former President Evo Morales are trying to seize greater control of the trade. But Alanes says he is being attacked because he is trying to eradicate corruption.

DEA Warning on Counterfeit Pills Containing Meth, Fentanyl; Marijuana Arrests Drop Dramatically, More... (9/28/21)

Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a marijuana legalization bill, a top Florida Democrat introduces a psychedelic research bill, and more.

Counterfeit Adderall pill. Be careful out there! (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Arrests Fall Precipitously Nationwide in 2020. Marijuana arrests declined by 36% from 2019 to 2020, according to new data released Monday in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Police arrested an estimated 350,150 people for marijuana offenses in 2020. Of those, 91% were for simple possession. In 2019, 545,602 people were arrested for marijuana offenses. The 2020 arrest figures are the lowest registered since the early 1990s and down more than 50 percent from their 2008 peak, when they totaled more than 800,000. Last year's decline came as state-level legalization continued to expand, but also as police in many jurisdictions pulled back in response to the COVID pandemic.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Roll Out Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D) on Tuesday formally introduced a marijuana legalization bill, HB 2050, with a strong emphasis on social equity. "We think we have the industry standard," Wheatley said at a press conference with supporters. "You’ve heard me over and over again, year after year, talk about this important issue. For some, it’s an economic question. For others, it’s a question around access and opportunity. But the baseline of why I’ve been harping on this for as long as I have is the social and criminal justice reform aspects." The bill would allow people 21 and over to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three mature and three immature plants with a permit. It would also free marijuana prisoners and expunge records of past pot offenses. Fifteen percent of marijuana tax revenues would go to community reinvestment, another 15 percent for substance treatment programs, and 70 percent for the state's general fund. Similar legislation is being drafted in the state Senate, but the legislature remains in the control of Republicans, who have so far opposed advancing any legalization measures.

Drug Policy

DEA Warns of Sharp Increase in Fake Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyl and Meth. The DEA "warns the American public of the alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. International and domestic criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills, falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, and killing unsuspecting Americans. These counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. Pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal. This alert does not apply to legitimate pharmaceutical medications prescribed by medical professionals and dispensed by pharmacists." The DEA reported a more than four-fold increase in seizures of counterfeit pills containing at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a deadly dose. The DEA warned that not only prescription opioids are being counterfeited but that methamphetamine is also being pressed into counterfeit pills. The number of drug overdose deaths last year reached 93,000, the highest number ever.

Psychedelics

Florida Democrat Files Psychedelic Research Bill. State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Brook (D) last Friday filed a bill to 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 has been filed in the House.

House Marijuana Legalization Bill to Get Judiciary Committee Vote This Week, Seattle Psychedelics, More... (9/27/21)

Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts lawmakers take up safe injection site and drug decriminalization bills during a virtual hearing today, Connecticut medical marijuana patients will be able to grow their own beginning this Friday, and more.

Marijuana legalization is moving in the House. (Creative Commons)
Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill to Get House Judiciary Committee Vote This Week. The House Judiciary Committee announced last Friday that it will vote on on Chairman Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), this week. A committee press release said it will be among a dozen pieces of legislation taken up on Wednesday, including Nadler's bill to "decriminalize marijuana federally and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs." A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Republican-controlled Senate. This year, however, Democrats control the Senate, so there is optimism the bill could actually pass this year. Whether President Biden would then sign remains in question.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Patients Will Be Able to Grow Their Own Beginning This Week. As of this coming Friday, medical marijuana patients will be able to grow their own medicine at home as a provision of the state's marijuana legalization law goes into effect. That legalization law also drops the requirement that patients designate a dispensary for their purchases and sets up a committee of physicians to decide a variety of issues related to medical marijuana. Now (or very shortly), patients will be able to grow up three mature and three immature plants at home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household. People who are not registered patients will have to wait for 2023 to be able to grow their own personal use pot.

Harm Reduction

Massachusetts Lawmakers Take Up Safe Injection Sites Today. Lawmakers are holding a daylong virtual hearing on a pair of bills, SB 1258 and SB 1272 that would pave the way for the introduction of safe injection sites in the state. During the hearing, lawmakers will also take up the topic of drug decriminalization. The idea of supervised sites has the support of groups like the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Hospital Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts but remains legally iffy in terms of federal law. When safe injection site supporters in Philadelphia tried to open a site during the Trump administration, a federal appeals court shut them down, citing a 1988 law aimed at crack houses. Those advocates have now appealed to the US Supreme Court, It remains to be seen whether the high court will take up that appeal.

Psychedelics

Seattle City Council Takes First Step Toward Decriminalizing Psychedelic Plants and Fungi. A city council committee last Friday took up a resolution to decriminalize the possession, cultivation, and sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi by declaring such activities as among the city's lowest law enforcement priorities. The council's Public Safety and Human Services Committee held the hearing and heard from supporters, including Councilmember Andrew Lewis. The committee held no vote, but committee Chair Lisa Herbold said the full council will take up the resolution in coming weeks. "Hopefully the city—as tends to be the case on many impactful progressive issues in the state of Washington—can lead the way on setting the table for an important conversation many communities around the country are having," Lewis 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.

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Held Over, TX MedMJ Expansion Goes into Effect Wednesday, More... (8/30/31)

A Philadelphia site injection site that was blocked by a federal appeals court is asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, a third marijuana legalization initiative campaign emerges in Missouri, and more.

California psychedelic decriminalization will have to wait until next year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Sees Third Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Emerge. And then there were three. A group calling itself Legal Missouri 2022 filed a marijuana legalization initiative proposal last week that would allow people 21 and over to purchase at least three ounces of marijuana, tax sales at 6% with an additional local option of up to 3%, and allow people to grow up to six mature and six immature plants, but only after registering with the state. Another group, Fair Access Missouri, is pushing a number of initiatives, including several that would set up a system of legalized marijuana sales, but none of those proposals have yet passed muster for the secretary of state's office. Yet another group, New Approach Missouri, is also working on a 2022 initiative after their 2020 effort was thwarted by coronavirus restrictions during signature gathering. To qualify for the 2022 ballot, initiatives will have to get 171,592 valid voter signatures by early July 2022.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Medical Marijuana Expansion Goes into Effect This Week. A law approved by the legislature earlier this year that expands the use of medical marijuana in the state goes into effect on Wednesday. The expansion will now allow veterans who suffer from PTSD, cancer patients, and people suffering other specified medical conditions to join the list of qualifying conditions. The new law also raises the dosage limit of THC from .5% to 1%.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Held Over for Next Year. The bill to decriminalize the possession of a number of psychedelics in the state, Senate Bill 519, is being held over to next year after stalling in the Assembly. In a statement last Thursday, bill sponsor state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced the bill will be shelved even though the "groundbreaking legislation moved significantly farther than anticipated." More time is needed to "lay educational groundwork with members and the public to ensure the bill’s success" and that the delay will allow supporters to "capitalize on the momentum from this year while building support in the Assembly for next year."

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia Safe Injection Site Proponents Appeal to Supreme Court After Lower Court Ruling Halted Their Project. Safehouse, the group that was set to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia before being blocked last year by a federal court ruling, has filed a petition with the US Supreme Court asking it to take up the case. In the earlier case, the Trump administration sided strongly with federal prosecutors to block the site from opening; now the question is what stance the Biden administration will take. The administration has broadly embraced harm reduction, but President Biden has yet to weigh in on safe injection sites.  In what could be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years, Safehouse is taking a significant risk by going before a very conservative Supreme court. Having the administration on its side could only help its prospects.

OH Marijuana Legalization Measure Takes Small Step Forward, Portland Psychedelic Push, More... (8/23/21)

An Ohio effort to legalize marijuana cleared an initiial hurdle last Friday, Wyoming marijuana legalization and medical marijuana advocates will begin signature gathering next month, and more.

Wyoming marijuana initiatives face real hurdles in getting to the ballot, but activists are trying. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio Attorney General Okays Marijuana Legalization Measure's Summary Language. State Attorney General Dave Yost (R) last Friday certified summary language for a proposed marijuana legalization initiative that would direct the state legislature to take up the issue and ultimately present the issue directly to voters if the legislature rejects or refuses to act on legalization. Now, the measure goes before the Ohio Ballot Board, which will determine whether it contains a single law, a requirement for state ballot initiatives. If it gets past the Ballot Board, signature gathering could then begin. Supporters would need 132,887 valid voter signatures from voters in at least half of the state's 88 counties. If signature gathering goals are met, the legislature would have four months to approve legalization. If it fails to do so, supporters could then collect another 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before Ohio voters during the next election.

Wyoming Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives Signature Gathering to Begin Next Month. After the state attorney general's office last week approved the wording of proposed marijuana legalization and medical marijuana initiatives, supporters are gearing up to begin signature gathering next month. "We’ll be hitting events, going door to door. We intend to get it all wrapped up by February," Wyoming NORML Executive Director Bennett Sondeno said. Wyoming's signature requirements are tough: Proponents must gather valid signatures from 15% of voters in the previous general election from each of at least 16 of the state’s 23 counties. There have been nine different initiative efforts in the past 25 years; none qualified for the ballot. The last initiative to actually make the ballot and pass was a railroad safety initiative in 1992.

Psychedelics

Portland, Oregon, Activists Push to Decriminalize Psychedelic Cultivation, Gifting, and Community Ceremonies. Portland activists who say they want to fill a gap left when state voters approved both psilocybin therapy and drug decriminalization are making a push to have the city commission pass a resolution to decriminalize the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics. The Plant Medicine Healing Alliance (PMHA) says the policies leave some important activity at risk of criminalization. The new local resolution they are asking the the City Commission to pass would make it so that activities such as gifting and community-based ceremonies involving entheogenic substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine would be made among Portland’s lowest law enforcement priorities. The proposal would affirm peoples’ "right to cultivate, prepare, possess, or administer entheogenic substances, especially for community healing or a good faith religious or spiritual practice." In a nod to indigenous groups, the PHMA is excluding peyote from its list because of concerns about the sustainability of the limited peyote crop.

Chronicle Book Review: "This Is Your Mind on Plants" by Michael Pollan

Chronicle Book Review:This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan (2021, Penguin Press, 274 pp., $28.00 HB)

A long time ago, in the days of Ronald Reagan, I once fell into conversation with an indigenous campesino at a rustic roadside café on a lonely road through the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Oaxaca, long notorious for its marijuana cultivation. We conversed in Spanish, a second language for both of us, about peasant life thereabouts and, eventually, about la mota.

One remark he made has stayed with me to this day: "How can a plant be illegal?" he wanted to know. This was not a question of understanding legal systems, but of wrapping his native head around the arrogant Western notions that plants -- an essential part of nature and the source of much healing -- are "good" or "bad" and that we can decree part of nature to be a crime.

Renowned foodie and plant author Michael Pollan has long dealt with that question, not so much wrestling with it as observing and noting the absurd, arbitrary, capricious, and historically-contingent laws privileging some psychoactive plants -- coffee or tea, anyone? -- while demonizing and even criminalizing others. He took on marijuana (as well as apples, potatoes, and tulips) in The Botany of Desire (2002) and plant- and fungi-based psychedelics (as well as synthetics) in How to Change Your Mind (2018).

And now he's back with This Is Your Mind on Plants, in which he examines our relationship with four psychoactive plants -- opium, caffeine, and the mescaline-bearing cacti peyote and San Pedro. Pollan recognizes that such plants are not good or bad, but good and bad -- they can heal and stimulate and they can addict and kill (or in the case of psychedelics, really mess with your head) -- and relates how the original Greek word for drug, pharmakos, meant both medicine and poison. Prohibitions crush such subtle understandings beneath demonizing dogma. As Pollan notes in his introduction:

But the blunt instrument of a drug war has kept us from reckoning with these ambiguities and the important questions about our nature they raise. The drug war's simplistic account of what drugs do and are, as well as its insistence on lumping them all together under a single meaningless rubric, has for too long prevented us from thinking about the meaning and potential of these very different substances. The legal status of a molecule is one of the least interesting things about it. Much like a food, a psychoactive drug is not a thing -- without a human brain, it is inert -- but a relationship; it takes both a molecule and mind to make anything happen.

The legal status of a molecule may not be of much interest to Pollan -- he acknowledges his privilege as he admits he's not really afraid of getting busted for the peyote cactus in his Berkeley garden -- but it has cast shadows over some of his research, particularly his chapter on his experience growing opium poppies, written in the 1990s and originally published with some "how to" pages removed out of fear of possible federal persecution.

Opium poppies, the plants that produce morphine and all its derivatives, such as heroin, are legal to buy and grow in the United States. But make that first cut on a mature seed pod to release the opium sap and you could find yourself looking at a federal drug manufacturing charge. Or, worse yet, have the feds think you know too much about how you get morphine from your pretty flowers and you could get yourself arrested for possessing legal poppy straw that you bought at the local flower shop.

That's what happened to Jim Hogshire, author of Opium for the Masses, the book that inspired Pollan's opium article in the first place. Hogshire's persecution, which occurred as Pollan was growing his own poppies, made him acutely concerned about the legal status of the molecule and the murky borderlines where one transforms from avid gardener into drug manufacturer.

The chapter is a chilling reminder of Clinton-era war on drugs paranoia, but also of DEA stupidity. While quietly seeking to suppress a handful of amateur poppy-growing gardeners, it was busily ignoring what would prove to be the actual opium epidemic of our time, the prescription opioids. The same year the feds were going after the gardeners, is also the year when PurduePharma rolled out Oxycontin, followed by years of aggressive marketing that had a skewing physician perceptions about when or for how long this useful but also abusable medication should be prescribed.

Pollan quit drinking coffee for his chapter on caffeine. He writes that he usually takes drugs he writes about because he feels he has to to understand them, but that with coffee, to which he like hundreds of millions of others around the planet is addicted, he felt that he had to experience life without the miracle molecule. It didn't go well, but he survived to tell the tale.

And it's a tale, of coffee's role in the making of industrial civilization. Caffeine, after all, Pollan notes, made the night-shift possible, improved concentration, and increased worker productivity. Of course, it's a legal drug! That despite it occasionally being banned, the denizens of European coffeeshops being suspected of being quite clear-headed, argumentative, and capable of political subversion, not to mention the mingling of classes that went on. With coffee, England roused itself from its alcoholic haze and went on to conquer the world.

In his chapter on mescaline, Pollan writes about his adventures with the San Pedro cactus, a mescaline-bearing succulent like peyote (although not as potent), which, unlike peyote, is legal in the United States. But as with his experiment with poppy growing back in the '90s, Pollan runs into legal ambiguity: When does growing a San Pedro cross the line into manufacturing mescaline?

To be accurate, peyote is not completely illegal in the US. Bizarrely enough, it is a substance whose legality is not determined by itself but by who is consuming it. If you are a member of the Native American Church, it is legal. If you're not, it's not. That's weird, but it does at least protect the ability of Native Americans to consume peyote, which is central to their religious practice.

Pollan does well in navigating the complexities of using substances that come from long traditions of indigenous use, and grasps the point made by the church that the best thing white people can do for peyote is leave it alone. That has led to conflict with groups like Decriminalize Nature, which want to legalize plant-based psychedelics, or entheogens, for everyone. Pollan handles that division with aplomb and respect, much as he does with the entire book. This isn't really a book about drug policy, but it is a wonderful book about some very special plants and the role they play.

September Will Be Psychedelic Awareness Month in Ann Arbor, US Afghan Opium Fiasco, More... (8/18/21)

Pennsylvania's medical marijuana advisory board rejects five potential qualifying conditions, it will be Psychedelic Awareness Month next month in Ann Arbor, and more.

Harvesting opium poppies in Afghanistan. Nearly $9 billion in US anti-drug aid couldn't stop it. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Board Rejects Adding New Qualifying Medical Conditions. The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Tuesday voted to reject adding five medical conditions to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use. Those conditions were traumatic brain injury, hepatitis, Hepatitis C, chronic insomnia that isn’t responding to other treatments and major depressive disorder that isn’t responding to other treatments. The board has already approved 23 serious medical conditions for medical marijuana use, but board members were concerned the applications for traumatic brain, hepatitis, and Hepatitis C were "overly broad" and cited worries that juveniles with traumatic brain injuries could qualify for medical marijuana. With chronic insomnia and major depressive, the board concluded there was no evidence that medical marijuana would benefit patients with those conditions.

Psychedelics

Ann Arbor Declares September Will Be Psychedelic Awareness Month. The city council voted Monday to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. The move comes nearly a year after the council voted to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics and passed on a unanimous vote. "Practices with entheogenic plants/fungi have been considered sacred to human cultures and human relationships with nature for thousands of years," the resolution says. The measure also says the city council "advocates increased awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of entheogens for mental health, personal and spiritual growth, as well as honoring the long standing ancestral practices and relationships with these entheogens."

Foreign Policy

The US Spent Nearly $9 Billion to Suppress Afghan Opium; It Remains World's Largest Opium Producer. As the two-decade American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end, it is worth noting that the US tried throughout the occupation to quash the country's opium crop, spending $8.9 billion over the years to do so. To no avail: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports that Afghanistan has accounted for more than 80% of global opium production throughout this century and that opium cultivation in the country rose from 150,000 acres in 2002 to more than 450,000 last year.

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."

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

Psychedelics

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

International

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

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