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Overdoses Hit Another All-Time High, DE Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance, More... (4/14/22)

Tennessee lawmakers approve a bill allowing retroactive cuts for people sentenced under the state's old school zone drug sentencing enhancement laws, the Pennsylvania Senate has approved a bill protecting banks and insurers who do business with marijuana businesses from being hassled by state regulators, and more. 

More than 106,000 people died of drug overdoses in a 12-month period, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance. After an earlier attempt to pass marijuana legalization foundered, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski (D) tried again, presenting two bills: House Bill 371 would simply legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and needs only a majority vote to pass. House Bill 372 would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and needs three-fifths to pass. House Bill 371 was approved by the House Health and Human Development Committee Wednesday, while House Bill 372 was approved by the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Senate Approves Marijuana Banking Bill. The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1167, which would protect banks and insurers from being penalized by state financial regulators for working with state-legal medical marijuana businesses. The bill flew through the Senate, passing through two committees in recent days before passing on a 46-3 vote. The bill now heads to the House. "Federal prohibition has forced the cannabis industry to deal with cash, as proceeds may be considered a federal crime," DiSanto said on the floor on Wednesday, adding that the cash-intensive nature of the existing marketplace "makes dispensaries a target for armed robbery."

Public Health

CDC Reports Yet Another Record Number of Drug Overdose Deaths. The nation's overdose crisis continues, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting Wednesday that according to new provisional data, 106,854 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in November 2021. Overdose deaths jumped 16 percent over the previous 12-month period and have more than doubled since 2016. Synthetic opioids, predominantly fentanyl, were implicated in about two-thirds of those deaths over the past year. But the number of deaths from stimulants has also nearly doubled in the past two years. Five states accounted for one-third of all overdose deaths: California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.

Sentencing Policy

Tennessee Lawmakers Approve Bill Allowing People Imprisoned for School Zone Drug Offenses to Seek Sentence Cuts. With final votes in the House and Senate this week, lawmakers have approved House Bill 1449, which would allow people sentenced to long prison terms under the state's draconian school zone sentencing enhancement laws to go to court to seek shorter sentences. Since the 1980s, anyone caught selling drugs withing 1,000 feet of a school, park, daycare, public library, or recreation center faced long years in prison. Last year, legislators approved a bill to shrink the zone to 500 feet and give judges the discretion not to add extra years if they don't think children were put in danger. But there were 300 people already stuck in prison under the old rules, and this bill makes updated sentencing criteria retroactive. The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R), who has not said whether he would sign the legislation, but who ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and has already offered to fast-track clemency applications for those still doing time under the old law. 

SD Marijuana Legalization Advances, Congress Extends Fentanyl Analog Criminalization Again, More... (2/18/22)

the latest victim of the drug war (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Kentucky Democrats Roll Out Marijuana Legalization Bill. A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday rolled out a bill that would legalize sales, expunge marijuana crimes, treat people with medical marijuana, and tax sales for recreational use. They are calling it the "L.E.T.T.'s GROW" act (Senate Bill 186). If passed, it would create a Cannabis Control Board of seven members to establish regulations from seed to sale. The state hasn't managed to get even a medical marijuana bill passed yet, but the Democrats say legalization's economic benefits could make it attractive.

South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted 5-3 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 3, which would legalize marijuana in the state. The bill would legalize the possession of up to two ounces by people 21 and over, but possession of between four ounces and one pound would be a misdemeanor and possession of more than one pound would be a Class 5 felony. There is no provision for home cultivation. The state Department of Revenue would be responsible for regulating the adult-use program and promulgating rules related to issues such as transportation and registration. State voters approved marijuana legalization in 2020, only to see it overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Tribe Aids Legal Defense of Customers Arrested by State, Local Police. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reported this week that more than a hundred people who have tribal medical marijuana cards have been arrested since it opened the state's first dispensary last year. State officials do not recognize cards issued by the tribe, and local police departments have arrested non-tribe members carrying cards and medical marijuana. "They're taking the cards and handing out fines," Tribal chairman Tony Reider said. "But most we don't know about, because most people are just paying the fines." Last year, the tribe promised to aid customers facing legal problems, and this week, it said it is currently engaged in defending at least 10 active marijuana cases involving non-members. "I don't think the state has the authority to revoke a license issued by another jurisdiction," said tribal Attorney General Seth Pearman.

Opioids

Congress Extends Trump-Era Fentanyl Analog Criminalization for Sixth Time. A group of leading civil rights advocates, grassroots community leaders, and policy experts strongly criticized the inclusion of a provision in the stopgap spending bill passed by Congress that would extend the temporary classification of fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs, opting for indiscriminate criminalization over proven public health solutions. The temporary order will now last until March 11. Congress has repeatedly acted to extend it instead of investing in public health and harm reduction solutions, and President Biden is advocating for making the classification permanent -- despite promising real criminal justice reform.

International

US Suspends Mexican Avocado Exports Over Drug Cartel Threats. The US government has banned all imports of Mexican avocados after an agricultural inspector was threatened by a suspected drug cartel enforcer. Control of the avocado trade in Michoacan is contested by growers and differing drug trafficking cartels, especially the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The threat came last Saturday via text message, one day before Mexican growers launched an expensive Superbowl ad. Guacamole lovers, act now! Prices could rise.

CDC Prepares New Opioid Prescribing Guidelines, OH Senate Won't Take Up Legalization Voter Init, More... (2/10/22)

The South Carolina Senate approves a medica marijuana bill, a new Rand study tracks opioid prescribing declines, and more.

Opioid pain prescribing practices are in the news. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Ohio GOP Senate Leader Says He Will Not Bring Marijuana Legalization Initiative to a Vote. State Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) says he will not bring the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's marijuana legalization initiative to a vote in the Senate. Under Ohio law, petitioners who collect the requisite number of valid voter signatures for a ballot initiative then place the proposal before the legislature, which has four months to act on it. If the legislature refuses to act on the proposal or rejects it, petitioners can undertake a second round of signature gathering and, if successful, present the issue to directly to the voters.

"I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position," Huffman said. "I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it." While the Coalition has yet to comment on Huffman's remarks, it has previously indicated it will indeed proceed to that second round of signature gathering. They will need to come up with 132,887 valid voter signatures to make the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill. After the debate on medical marijuana made it to the Senate floor last week, the Senate on Wednesday approved the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act (Senate Bill 150). The bill gets a final vote in the Senate Thursday, before heading to the House, where its fate is unclear. Whether House Speaker Jay Lucas (R) will let the bill move in his chamber remains uncertain. And Gov. Henry McMaster (R) remains noncommittal on whether he would sign the bill, saying "that would depend on a lot of things."

Opioids

Opioid Prescribing Declines, but Cuts Are Not Uniform Across Locations, Age Groups, or Type of Prescriber. The volume of prescription opioids dispensed from retail pharmacies declined by 21% from 2008 to 2018, but the decline was not uniform across geographic areas, among types of patients, or by type of prescriber, according to a new RAND Corporation study. The study, published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, is the first to examine the decline in opioid prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies based on both volume and potency of the drugs dispensed.

The study found that over the study period, per capita MME (morphine milligram equivalents) volume declined the most in metropolitan counties (more than 22%) and in counties with higher rates of fatal opioid overdoses (a 35% decline). Substantial variation existed both within and across states. In some states, MME volume per capita increased in multiple counties. In many other states, there were both counties with increases and others with substantial decreases. Counties that experienced substantial decreases in per capita MME often were adjacent to counties with per capita increases.

Most clinical specialties recorded declines in the MME volume per practicing clinician. The greatest decrease in MME volume per practicing clinician was among adult primary care physicians (40% decline) and pain specialists (15% decline) -- the clinicians with the highest MME volume per clinician in 2008 -- 2009. The greatest percentage decrease was among emergency physicians (71% decline) -- clinicians who are likely prescribing opioids predominantly to patients experiencing acute pain in acute care settings.

"These results suggest the effects of clinician and policymaker efforts to reduce opioid prescribing have affected populations differently," Stein said. "Future efforts to enhance clinically appropriate opioid prescribing may need to be more clinically nuanced and targeted for specific populations."

CDC Proposes New, Slightly Looser Opioid Prescribing Guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday released new draft guidelines for prescribing opioids for pain relief. The new guidelines remove previously recommended ceilings on doses for chronic pain patients, leaving it instead for doctors to use their own best judgment. But they also urge doctors to first resort to "nonopioid therapies" for both chronic and acute pain.

The new guidelines are the first comprehensive revisions of the CDC's 2016 guidelines, and attempt to find the proper balance between alleviating severe pain and exposing patients to the perils of opioids. The new guidelines have now been published in the Federal Register and are open for comments. Comment here.

DOJ Signals Openness to Safe Injection Sites, Congressional Commission Issues Overdose Strategy Report, More... (2/8/22)

Pennsylvania sees its first ever legislative debate on marijuana legalization, Tennessee sees a slew of marijuana-related bills, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Pennsylvania Sees First Legislative Debate on Marijuana Legalization. For the first time ever, Keystone State lawmakers took up the topic of marijuana legalization as the Senate Law & Justice Committee held a hearing on Monday. The hearing was on a proposal from committee Chair Sen. Mike Regan (R-York County), but focused largely on unsafe practices in the industry and products going through existing black markets. The committee heard from lawmakers, medical marijuana industry representatives, and law enforcement officials. Another, bipartisan marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 473, which includes expungement and social equity provisions, is also before the committee. No votes were taken. Regan said the committee would hold another hearing in coming months to see what "trials and tribulations" other states had endured.

Tennessee Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. Lawmakers in the Volunteer State are facing a slew of marijuana legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana bills filed this session. So far, the legislative web site shows at least 28 bills, most of them addressing legalization. The state is one of seven that have allowed for the use of CBD cannabis oil, but that is as far down the road as the legislature has gone so far. An attempt to decriminalize marijuana possession was killed last session, as was a broader medical marijuana bill.

Opioids

Congressional Commission Urges Five-Pronged Strategy to Confront Overdose Crisis. A bipartisan congressional commission. the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking released a report Tuesday calling for a multipronged strategy to confront the nation's overdose crisis. The commission called for the strategy to be based around five pillars: Restoring the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to cabinet rank, disrupting the drug supply through better coordinated law enforcement, demand reduction through treatment and harm reduction measures, using diplomatic means to cut off the supply of fentanyl precursor chemicals, and developing surveillance tools to monitor new drug trends. In other words, new, improved drug war, albeit with a slightly gentler touch regarding harm reduction.

Harm Reduction

Justice Department Signals It Could Allow Safe Injection Sites. In a statement to the Associate Press, the Justice Department said it is "evaluating" the harm reduction intervention and seeking guidance from regulators on "appropriate guardrails." That is a drastic change from the Trump administration, under which the department successfully sued to block a Philadelphia safe injection site, and is the first hint, after months of silence, that DOJ is open to safe injection sites. "Although we cannot comment on pending litigation, the Department is evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety," DOJ said in the statement last Friday.

DOJ isn't the only federal government entity to edge closer to supporting safe injection sites. In December, the National Institutes of Health mentioned them in a call for harm reduction research, and that same month, Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Dr. Rahul Gupta said he was "interested in looking at the science and data behind all of the emerging harm reduction practices."

Officials Now Say Fentanyl-Tainted Marijuana Scare a False Alarm, Competing CO Psychedelic Inits, More...(2/1/22)

A Calfornia Republican lawmaker wants to go back to the bad old days, Colorado now sees competing psychedelic legalization initiatives, and more.

fentanyl (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California GOP Bill Would Make Unlicensed Marijuana Cultivation a Felony Again. Assemblyman Thurston Smith (R-Riverside) has filed a bill that would recriminalize growing marijuana plants without a license, Assembly Bill 1725. The bill would make growing more than six plants without a license a felony punishable by up to three years in jail. Smith said his bill was aimed at enormous illegal grow operations. "These illicit growers have been operating with impunity, knowing that the law allows them to grow with barely a hindrance. For far too long, (state lawmakers in) Sacramento (have) been soft on crime, and the illicit market has exploded with massive unlicensed grows popping up all around the state." The bill faces long odds in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Massachusetts Marijuana Host Community, Social Equity Bill Advances. The Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy took up legislation aimed at putting tighter rules on legally required contracts between hosts communities and marijuana businesses and establishing a Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund. The measure, House Bill 174 faced no opposition in the committee. The bill is a priority of House Speaker Ron Mariano (D), and takes on aspects of the state's pot laws that both regulators and the industry have said need to be addressed.

"The gap between the law's stated commitment to equity and the on-the-ground reality of the industry shows just how much work we have left to do," Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said. "There's universal agreement about the problems: high costs of entry and lack of access to capital create a near-impossible barrier for many talented entrepreneurs. This bill addresses both sides of that coin. I'm thrilled we're finally advancing it."

Opioids

Connecticut Scare on Fentanyl-Tainted Marijuana Mostly Unfounded, State Says. The state Department of Health reported in November that nearly 40 overdoses were linked to fentanyl-tainted marijuana, but it now turns out that there was only one case -- and that case was most likely caused by accidental contamination. In the original report, the state said there had been 39 overdoses believed linked to fentanyl-tainted marijuana, that the patients required revival with naloxone, and they "denied any opioid use and claimed to have only smoked marijuana." But the health department says at least 30 of the 39 had histories of opioid use.

The department also said that only one marijuana sample tested positive for fentanyl. "Based on the information gathered since the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl, the CT ORS [Connecticut Overdose Response Strategy] assesses that the positive confirmation of marijuana with fentanyl was likely accidental contamination and an isolated incident," a department spokesman said. Boyle wrote in an email to Hearst Connecticut Media. The contamination likely occurred when the dealer "failed to clean their instruments before processing the marijuana and cross-contaminated it with fentanyl," he said.

Psychedelics

Colorado Sees Second Psychedelic Initiative Filed. Activists with Decriminalize Nature Boulder County have filed an initiative that would allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT. The initiative would also allow psychedelic services for therapeutic, spiritual, guidance, or harm reduction purposes with or without accepting payment. A separate psychedelic initiative backed by New Approach PAC and David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap company, the Natural Medicine Health Act, envisions a two-tiered regulatory model where only psilocybin would be legalized and regulated for therapeutic purposes until June 2026, after which regulators could add other psychedelics.

NYC Naloxone Vending Machines, No More New Orleans Marijuana Tickets, More... (1/10/22)

A Kentucky GOP lawmaker is trying once again to get a medical marijuana bill passed, a pair of Florida lawmakers file identical bills to legalize fentanyl test strips, and more.

Life is now a bit easier in the Big Easy. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Months After City Council Pardons Small-Time Marijuana Offenses, New Orleans Police Finally Quit Citing People. The New Orleans Police Department last Friday announced that when it comes to marijuana offenses, the agency will "no longer issue citations for simple possession alone." The move came only after a local media outlet published a story, "Despite council ordinance, people still forced to appear in court on simple possession of marijuana citations." The city council had unanimously approved an ordinance removing all criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession back in August, but the department kept citing people for it anyhow -- until now.

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Republican Files Medical Marijuana Bill. State Rep. Jason Nemes (R) is renewing his efforts to get a medical marijuana bill passed. After having been rebuffed in past sessions, he is back again this year with House Bill 136, which would create a restrictive medical marijuana program that would allow neither home cultivation nor the smoking of marijuana flowers. Patients could vape whole-plant products, though. Specific rules for the program -- such as qualifying conditions -- would be set by regulators after the bill is passed, but the following conditions will be included: any type of cancer, epilepsy and seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, nausea or vomiting and chronic, severe, intractable or debilitating pain.

Harm Reduction

Florida Lawmakers File Identical Bills to Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. State Rep. Andrew Learned and state Sen. Shevrin Jones have filed identical bills to decriminalize a life-saving tool, known as fentanyl testing strips, for preventing opioid overdose.

The two bills, House Bill 6101 and Senate Bill 1668, would remove drug testing equipment from Florida's legal definition of drug paraphernalia, which currently includes "all equipment, products, and materials of any kind which are used, intended for use, or designed for use in planting, propagating, cultivating, growing, harvesting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, producing, processing, preparing, testing, analyzing, packaging, repackaging, storing, containing, concealing, transporting, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance."

Under current state law, possession of fentanyl test strips is a misdemeanor and distribution, even by harm reduction groups, could be charged as a felony.

New York City to Install Naloxone Vending Machines in Bid to Reduce Overdoses. City health officials last month published a Public Health Vending Machine Initiative to install ten vending machines with the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in them. "The purpose of this RFP is to support low-barrier access to overdose prevention and harm reduction supplies," the department said. The machines will also dispense sterile syringes and other wellness goods, such as safe sex items and toiletries.

The machines will be installed in all five boroughs of the city in neighborhoods most impacted by drug overdoses. The request for proposals has a response due date of January 20 and a contract start-up date of February 7. The program will run through June at a cost of $730,000.

Study Confirms Safety of Group Psychedelic Sessions, MS Lawmakers to Take Up MedMJ Again, More... (1/5/22)

Wyoming marijuana legalization activists are forced to turn their aim to 2024, a New Mexico bill to legalize fentanyl test strips is coming, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wyoming Activists to Focus on 2024 for Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana Initiatives. Having decided they cannot gather enough voter signatures in time to put marijuana decrim and medical marijuana initiatives on the 2022 ballot, reformers are turning their attention to 2024. They cited poor weather conditions, the pandemic, and slow action on their petitions by state officials for coming up short for this year. They would have needed 41,776 valid voter signatures by next month to make the 2022 ballot, and only have about 30 percent of that number at this point.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Convenes, Is Set to Take Up Medical Marijuana. The legislature is back in session, and medical marijuana is on the front burner. Voters approved medical marijuana at the polls in November 2020, only to have the results nullified by the state Supreme Court, and lawmakers have vowed to enact the will of the voters by passing a medical marijuana bill. It was supposed to have been done in a special session late last year, but Gov. Tate Reeves (R) never called it because he was unsatisfied with the proposed legislation. Now, the legislature will give it another try.

Psychedelics

Psilocybin Clinical Trial Confirms Safety of Group Psychedelic Sessions. A new study published in the The Journal of Psychopharmacology found no detrimental effects from administering psilocybin in a group setting. The study reported the results of a large clinical trial checking on both short- and long-term effects of administering the drug. While researchers in the 1960s studied the effects of psychedelics when administered in a group setting, since interest in medicinal applications of psychedelics rebounded in recent years, almost all research has focused on the administration of the drugs to individuals.

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Attorney General to Push Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Faced with a 25 percent increase in drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, Attorney General Hector Balderas (D) says he is getting behind pending legislation to make fentanyl test strips legal. Under current state law, they are considered drug paraphernalia. State Rep. Tara Lujan (D-Santa Fe) says she will file the bill this week and that it also has the support of the governor and the state health department.

International

Abu Dhabi Court Sentences Two Filipinos to Death for Drug Dealing. The Abu Dhabi Criminal Court has sentenced two unnamed Filipinos to death after convicting them of possessing and selling "narcotics and psychotropic substances."

The death sentences contradict the position of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as in this 2019 statement: "As part of the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) does not support the use of the death penalty. Just last December [2018], more countries than ever before -- 121 Member States -- supported a General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The three international drug control conventions, which form the foundation of the global drug control system that has been agreed by nearly every country in the world, cannot be used to justify the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences alone. Application of the death penalty may also impede international cooperation to fight drug trafficking, as there are national laws that do not allow the exchange of information and extradition with countries which may impose capital punishment for the offences concerned. The dangers posed by illicitly-trafficked drugs are evident and lives are at stake. But use of the death penalty cannot provide durable solutions or protect people."

More Fentanyl Than Heroin Seized at Border Last Year, Marijuana Legalization Bills in Maryland and South Dakota, More... (1/4/22)

It's January, and state legislatures are gearing up to deal with marijuana, a New York state inspector general's report unearths serious problems with prison drug testing, and more.

Part of a 254-pound shipment of fentanyl seized at the border. (CBP)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Lawmaker Pre-Files Legislation to Place Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization on State's 2022 Ballot. Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), chairman of the House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup that formed last summer to study adult-use legalization in Maryland, has pre-filed House Bill 1. If approved by three-fifths of the state House and Senate, the bill would ask voters the following referendum question: "Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Maryland?" The bill will be formally introduced when the legislative session opens on January 12.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Comes Up Short on Signatures, Has Only Days Left. The secretary of state's office has informed the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol that it had gathered only 119,825 valid voter signatures when it needed 132,887 to get to the first stage of the "initiated statute" process. That means the Coalition now has until January 13 to come up with 13,062 more valid voter signatures. If the campaign meets that hurdle, the legislature would have four months to address the underlying marijuana legalization legislation. If the legislature fails to act or rejects it, supporters can collect another 132,887 signatures to place it on the statewide ballot, likely in November 2022. The initiative would allow people 21 and older to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.

South Dakota Lawmakers Have Marijuana Legalization Bill Ready to Go. With the legislative session set to open next week, state legislative leaders are ready to advance a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 3, that was drafted by a marijuana working group and approved by the legislative leadership. The bill would restore the will of the voters, who approved legalization at the ballot box in 2020 only to have it thrown out as unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. Legalization isn't the only marijuana-related item on lawmakers' minds; of 38 pre-filed bills, 25 deal with marijuana, mostly with medical marijuana, which voters already approved last year and which the state has moved ahead on.

Drug Testing

New York State Inspector General Investigation Determines Hundreds of Incarcerated New Yorkers Denied Due Process and Endured Severe Punishment as a Result of Egregious Administrative Failure in Drug Testing Program. State Inspector General Lucy Lang announced Tuesday that incarcerated people across the state were subjected to internal penalties including solitary confinement, had their sentences lengthened, parole hearings delayed, family visitation privileges revoked, and suffered other punishments, based upon a highly flawed drug testing program between January and August 2019 administered by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

Lang's investigation found that these sanctions, which impacted more than 1,600 people during that eight-month period, were based upon preliminary positive results for the presence of the opioid buprenorphine, without obtaining confirmation by more specific alternative tests as was required by the instructions provided by the manufacturer, Microgenics Corporation. DOCCS then failed to properly investigate the reason for a significant spike in positive test results after the implementation of the new tests or take prompt corrective action upon being presented with scientific evidence that many of the results were false positives.

The investigation also found that representatives from Microgenics frustrated the efforts of the incarcerated people who attempted to challenge their charges at administrative hearings by providing false or misleading information about the tests' reliability. Changes are being made as a result of the investigation, including an end to the use of solitary confinement for failing a drug test.

Opioids

US Customs and Border Protection Seized More Fentanyl Than Heroin at the Border Last Year. In Fiscal Year 2021, which ran from October 2020 to September 2021, US Customs and Border Protection seized more at least 11,200 pounds of fentanyl at the border, more than double the 5,400 pounds of heroin seized. CBP also seized 319,447 pounds of marijuana, 97,638 pounds of cocaine, 190,861 pounds of methamphetamine, and 10,848 pounds of ketamine, for the fiscal year 2021. The seizure figures come as fentanyl is implicated in about two-thirds of the record wave of drug overdose deaths plaguing the US this year.

Groups Call on Congress to Reject Biden Fentanyl Scheduling Proposal, FL MedMJ Privacy Protection Bill Filed, More... (12/3/21)

A new bipartisan federal bill aims to help states and localities with marijuana expungement efforts, New York state adjusts its COVID quarantine policies for drug treatment facilities, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogs are the subject of a battle over draconian emergency scheduling. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Bill to Incentive State-Level Expungements Filed. Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed a bill Thursday that would provide incentives for state and local governments to expunge marijuana arrest and conviction records in their jurisdictions. The bill is the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act. It would create a State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program that would help fund administrative costs in identifying clearing eligible cases at the rate of $2 million a year through 2032.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Bill to Protect Patient Privacy Filed. A bill to protect patient privacy by blocking the scheduled repeal of an exemption from public records requirements for certain information held by the state Department of Health relating to patients, caregivers, & qualified physicians for medical use of marijuana was filed Thursday. HB 7005 was filed by the House Government Operations Subcommittee. A companion bill is pending in the Senate.

Drug Treatment

New York to Alter Covid-Related Policy That Hindered the Work of Drug Treatment Facilities. For months, the state's Office of Addiction Services and Support (OASAS) has had a policy requiring drug treatment admitting new patients for long-term care for 14 days after a COVID case was discovered on the property. Drug treatment providers say the rule has hindered their work, and OASAS has now responded to their complaints. Now, it is altering the policy to review COVID positives in those facilities on a "case by case" basis. "At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic this policy was issued consistent with CDC and DOH guidance. It is specific to OASAS congregate settings since the population we serve is high-risk because of high rates of co-morbidities, lower vaccination rates, and high turnover rates in these facilities. People with an SUD diagnosis are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, including hospitalization and death. We have since updated our policy to make these decisions on a case by case basis," OASAS said.

Sentencing

Groups Say Congress Should Reject Biden's Harmful Sentencing Proposal on Fentanyl-Related Drugs. A coalition of civil rights and drug reform advocacy groups called Thursday for Congress to reject the Biden administration's proposal to permanently reclassify fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs, calling the approach toward the synthetic opioids a dangerous continuation of the so-called war on drugs that will do little to quell what is a public health issue. The Biden proposal would a Trump-era policy would continue by permanently placing fentanyl-related substances, or fentanyl analogues, into Schedule I -- a designation that currently covers substances including ecstasy and heroin, is aimed at drugs with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," and can lead to stiffer penalties. "Congress must chart a new course to save lives," said Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement noting the record number of drug overdose deaths, which have been driven in part by fentanyl. "The only way forward," she said, "is moving health-centered legislation that can provide lifesaving harm reduction services and evidence-based treatment for people who use drugs. Anything less is not a solution -- it's a cop-out for Congress."

First Actual Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Case -- Or Not? -- ICC Temporarily Suspends Philippines Probe, More... (11/22/21)

An Illinois judge rules the odor of raw marijuana is no longer a basis for a vehicle search, an Ohio move to legalize marijuana is nearing its signature-gathering goal, and more.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, orchestrator of tens of thousands of drug war murders
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Health Officials Confirm First Actual Case of Marijuana Laced with Fentanyl. While scattered police departments have previously reported cases of marijuana laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl, those claims have never panned out. But now, top Connecticut health officials say it has turned up there. After nearly 40 cases of reviving apparent overdose victims with the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone who reported using only marijuana since July, the state Department of Public Health announced last Thursday that it had found fentanyl in a marijuana sample it tested. "This is the lab-confirmed case of marijuana with fentanyl in Connecticut and possibly the first confirmed case in the United States," said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD.

Is it what it seems? Harm reductionionists have posited on email lists that it is likely to be a case of surface contamination, and noted that fentanyl requires a vaporize at different temperatures.

Illinois Judge Rules Smell of Marijuana No Longer Provides Basis for Vehicle Search. A district court judge in Whiteside County has ruled that the odor of raw marijuana alone does not provide probable cause for a warrantless search of a vehicle. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana has not been a criminal offense since June 2019, but police officers continued to use the smell of weed as a reason to search vehicle during traffic stops. But Judge Daniel P. Dalton ruled that "there are a number of wholly innocent reasons a person or the vehicle in which they are in may smell of raw cannabis." Judge Dalton ruled that "the court finds the odor of raw cannabis alone is insufficient to establish probable cause." This is only a district court opinion, and the state can appeal if it chooses.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Petition Nearing Enough Signatures to Force Legislature to Act. The state Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is pushing a signature-gathering campaign for an initiated statute that would force lawmakers to act on legalization or send the issue to a popular vote, says it is nearing the required 133,000 valid voter signatures to force the issue. If they reach that signature goal, the General Assembly would have four months to act on the proposal. If lawmakers fail to act or reject legalization, petitioners would then have to gather more signatures to send the issue to the voters in the next general election. The proposal would legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, set up a system of retail sales, and allow people to grow up to two plants of their own.

International

International Criminal Court Temporarily Suspends Probe into Human Rights Violations in Philippines Drug War. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has temporarily suspended a formal investigation into human rights abuses during outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs and drug users. The move comes after the Philippines government filed a request for deferral, saying its own investigations into drug war killings were underway.

"The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan wrote. Khan wrote that he would seek more information from the Philippines. Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2018 and had vowed that it would not cooperate with the ICC, but has allowed severely limited investigations into several dozen killings out of the thousands admitted by the government and the more than 30,000 claimed by human rights groups.

Those groups called on the ICC to get back to investigating Duterte: "We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration," said the National Union of People's Lawyers, which represents some victims' families. The national justice system is "extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims", the statement said. The Duterte government's claim that existing legal mechanisms could bring justice to Duterte's victims was "absurd," said Human Rights Watch. "Let's hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is," said Brad Adam, HRW Asia director.

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