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NE MedMJ Initiatives Get Rolling, Temporary Fentanyl Analog Ban Extended, Ecuador Prison Riot, More... (10/1/21)

The city of Raleigh pays out to people framed and jailed on drug charges, civil rights and drug reform groups criticize the inclusion of fentanyl analog scheduling in a stopgap spending bill, and more.

Afghan opium prices are up as actors worry about a Taliban ban on the poppy. (UNODC)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Advocates Launch Signature Drive for Medical Marijuana Ballot Measures. Activists organized as Nebraska Medical Marijuana on Friday rolled out a pair of medical marijuana initiatives, with signature gathering set to begin Saturday. Supporters will have until next July to gather the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The effort comes after the Republican-led legislature has repeatedly blocked medical marijuana and after the state Supreme Court blocked a medical marijuana from the 2020 ballot even though it had met signature requirements. The court held that initiative violated the state's one-topic rule for initiatives. This time, activists have split the proposal into two initiatives, the Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which would protect patients and caregivers from prosecution, and the Medical Cannabis Regulation Act, which would set up a state regulatory system.

Drug Policy

Civil Rights, Drug Reform Groups Criticize Stopgap Spending Bill for Extending Schedule I Status for Fentanyl-Related Drugs. Civil rights activists and drug policy experts said Friday they were disappointed that the stopgap spending bill passed by Congress Thursday extends the temporary classification of fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I drugs. The measure would "disproportionately impact people of color through harsher criminal penalties and expand mass incarcertation," the groups said, calling for health-centered policies including expanded access to harm reduction and treatment.

Law Enforcement

Raleigh, North Carolina, to Pay $2 Million to People Framed on Drug Charges. The city of Raleigh has agreed to pay 15 plaintiffs $2 million to settle a federal civil right lawsuit that charged officers worked with a confidential informant to frame people on drug trafficking charges. The civil rights lawsuit filed in April sought policy changes and actual and punitive damages from the city of Raleigh, Officer Omar Abdullah and seven of his colleagues, including a sergeant and a lieutenant. The suit was filed by a dozen people who were arrested after the snitch claimed they sold him heroin, and in one case, marijuana, but the drug turned out to be fake. Lawyers for the plaintiffs warned the city that more is coming: "We have informed the City of at least six additional potential plaintiffs who were harmed by this scheme. These individuals are all women and children who were detained or had guns pointed at them during SWAT style raids of their homes," they wrote. "We intend to seek justice for them as well." The original 15 plaintiffs spent a collective 2 ½ years in jail before charges were dismissed.

International

Afghan Opium Prices Rise in Wake of Taliban Take Over, Fears of Ban. The price of opium has tripled in Afghanistan took over last month and announced a possible ban. Farmers at markets in Kandahar province reported the price surge. Buyers are anticipating an opium shortage because of the possible ban "and that's driven up prices," one farmer said. The Taliban banned opium in 2000 in a bid to cultivate Western support, but every year since then, Afghanistan has been the world's leading opium producer. That Kandahar farmer doesn't think the Taliban "can eradicate all opium in Afghanistan," but is enjoying the high prices.

Mexican Drug Cartel Struggle Leads to Deadly Ecuador Prison Riot. At least 116 inmates have been killed in the Litoral prison in Guayaquil in rioting this week linked to a bitter struggle between rival Mexican cartels over cocaine trafficking routes through the country. The prison gangs doing battle with each other with machetes, guns, and grenades inside the penitentiary are linked to either the Sinaloa or the Jalisco New Generation cartels. This is the third major outbreak of prison violence in the country this year, with 79 killed in gang fights in three prisons in February and 22 more killed at Litoral in July.

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.

Congress to Temporarily Extend Fentanyl Analogue Ban, House to Vote on Marijuana Banking, More... (9/22/21)

Protections for banks dealing with state-legal marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote as part of a defense spending bill, the Congress is poised to temporarily extend the ban on fentanyl analogues, and more.

Overdose deaths rose while opioid prescriptions declined. Go figure. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Amendment to Protect Banks That Service Marijuana Industry Will Get House Vote. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to provide protections to financial institutions that service the state-legal marijuana industry. The amendment is identical to the SAFE Banking Act, which has already passed the House four times. A House floor vote could come as soon as this week. But advocates were disappointed that other reform measures, including an amendment to promote research into the therapeutic uses of certain psychedelics, were rejected by the committee. Adding non-related amendments to spending bills that are difficult to vote against is often used to get legislation passed that is otherwise stalled.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bipartisan Bill to Remove DUI Penalties for Medical Marijuana Users Filed. State Reps. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia} and Todd Polinchock (R-Bucks) have introduced legislation that would ensure the rights of the more than 500,000 medical cannabis patients in Pennsylvania, protecting them from DUI penalties. Under current state law, the presence of marijuana metabolites, which remain present for days or weeks after ingestion, is considered evidence of impairment. "A medical cannabis user can take a miniscule amount of medicine for their ailment and weeks later, with traces of cannabis still in their system, be subject to arrest on a DUI charge if pulled over -- not because they've driven impaired, but because our state laws haven't caught up with the science," Rabb said. "And, if you think you don't know someone who falls into this category -- a person who has been prescribed medical cannabis and who drives and is fearful of the potential DUI charge they could face -- you're wrong. I am a card-carrying medical cannabis patient, and I drive regularly, including in and around Philadelphia and to Harrisburg conducting the people's business."

Opioids

Congress to Temporarily Extend Fentanyl Analogue Ban. Rather than make a final decision on whether to make permanent a ban on fentanyl analogues, the House is preparing to vote to extend a temporary ban set to expire October 22, pushing the expiration date to January 28 as part of a stopgap spending bill. The White House has asked Congress to permanently schedule all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I, but advocates and some lawmakers say such a move is wrongheaded and will lead to over-policing. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has made such arguments and says he is "not a fan" of extending the deadline. "We have consistently said that this anti-science policy must expire," Maritza Perez, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs, said. "This extension will hopefully give Congress ample time to come up with a public health solution that is desperately needed to save lives."

Overdoses Climbed as Opioid Prescriptions Declined, AMA Report Finds. Both fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses have increased over the past decade, even as physicians have prescribed 44 percent fewer opioids during the same period, the American Medical Association said in a new report. The report cited the rise of prescription drug monitoring programs as a key factor in reducing prescribing. The AMA said lawmakers need to "act now" to address the overdose crisis. "The nation's drug overdose and death epidemic has never just been about prescription opioids," said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD. "Physicians have become more cautious about prescribing opioids, are trained to treat opioid use disorder and support evidence-based harm reduction strategies. We use PDMPs as a tool, but they are not a panacea. Patients need policymakers, health insurance plans, national pharmacy chains and other stakeholders to change their focus and help us remove barriers to evidence-based care." The AMA is calling for an end to requiring prior authorization for medications to treat opioid use disorder, evidence-based care including opioid therapy for patients with pain, and support for harm reduction services, such as needle exchanges and the wide distribution of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

The Taliban Says It Will Stop the Opium Trade, But Is That Likely? [FEATURE]

One of the first announcements the Taliban made as it seized power in Afghanistan last month was that they were going to end illicit drug production. But, as with other promises of change from the Taliban -- like women's rights or press freedoms -- there is a whole lot of skepticism about the claim.

Afghan opium harvest
At its first press conference in Kabul after entering the city and solidifying their control over the country, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed that their new government would not let Afghanistan become a full-fledged narco-state: "We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community that we will not have any narcotics produced,"Mujahid said. "From now on, nobody's going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling."

But in addition to the general skepticism about the Taliban's plans for the country, the notion of them imposing a ban on opium production runs afoul of economic and political realities on the ground. The challenge is that the opium crop is a key component of the Afghan economy, accounting for somewhere between seven and 11 percent the country's Gross Domestic Product, and bringing in as much as $2 billion in 2019, more than Afghanistan's entire licit agricultural sector.

It is also a job creator in a country where opportunities are scarce. The opium harvest employs the equivalent of 119,000 full-time jobs, not counting the farmers themselves and their family members. The broader opium economy also supports untold thousands in the domestic trade (opium traders, heroin producers, domestic dealers) and as service providers for that trade (packers, transporters), as well as internationally connected individuals working in the international trade. The opium economy is especially strong in areas of key Taliban support, such as Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south.

Afghanistan has accounted for between 80 percent and 90 percent of global opium production throughout this century, a pattern that began, ironically enough, in the 1980s, when the CIA waged a secret war against the Soviet occupation of the country and enlisted both Islamic radicals and the opium trade in the battle. Opium "is an ideal crop in a war-torn country since it requires little capital investment, is fast growing and is easily transported and traded,"the State Department reported in 1986.

As noted by global drug historian Alfred W. McCoy, author of the groundbreaking "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade,"in a 2018 article:

"As relentless warfare between CIA and Soviet surrogates took its toll, Afghan farmers began to turn to opium 'in desperation', since it produced 'high profits' that could cover rising food prices. At the same time, the state department reported that resistance elements took up opium production and trafficking 'to provide staples for [the] population under their control and to fund weapons purchases'."

"As the mujahideen guerrillas gained ground against the Soviet occupation and began to create liberated zones inside Afghanistan in the early 1980s, the resistance helped fund its operations by collecting taxes from peasants who grew the lucrative opium poppies, particularly in the fertile Helmand valley. Caravans carrying CIA arms into that region for the resistance often returned to Pakistan loaded down with opium -- sometimes, reported the New York Times, 'with the assent of Pakistani or American intelligence officers who supported the resistance.'"

And nearly four decades later, Afghanistan remains the world's number one supplier of opium and its derivative, heroin, with the latter going into the veins of habitues from Lahore to London. And now, with the withdrawal of the West and all its billions of dollars of economic assistance and with the key role opium plays in the economy, the Taliban is going to ban it?

It would be a risky move for the Taliban, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

"The Taliban can risk a ban, but it would be politically costly in ways that are more complex than in 2000 [when they also banned it] and it could lead to tremendous destabilization,"she told the Chronicle in a phone interview. "This is a country where 90 percent of the population lives in poverty. It's also a situation where many mid-level Taliban commanders are dependent on opium for their income and livelihoods for their fighters. To impose a ban would require the Taliban to maintain a high level of aggression, which would create political fissures and fractures and would play into the hands of other actors. One reason local warlords didn't fight the Taliban this summer was that the Taliban was promising them access to the local economy, and in many places, that means opium."

Even in the best of circumstances, replacing a lucrative illicit economy with legal alternatives is a long-term project, and these are not the best of circumstances, to say the least.

"The Afghan economy is more or less tanking,"Felbab-Brown said. "A massive influx of foreign aid has been an inescapable component of the economic life of the country, and now, the Taliban does not have any way of dealing with stopping opium by delivering alternative livelihoods. Even if they had a well-designed program, you are looking at decades to suppress it,"she said.

Still, the Taliban has done it before.

"When it comes to banning opium, we are looking at a possible replay of the 1990s,"said Felbab-Brown. "What the Taliban want is international recognition. In the 1990s, they kept promising they would ban poppies in return for international recognition, but then said they could not do it because they could not starve their people, until in 2000, they did it. Will they risk that again? My expectation is that we are going to see the same bargaining with the international community, but as I said, if the Taliban does try to do a ban, they will struggle to enforce it."

The Taliban also face a possible loss of the opioid market share if they enact a ban and then change their mind because of adverse circumstances, Felbab-Brown said.

"The difference now is the synthetic opioids,"she said, alluding to the production of fentanyl and its derivatives coming from Chinese and Indian chemical factories. "If the Taliban move to ban and then decide it is too difficult to sustain politically or financially, it might not find it easy to just return to the same markets; the European markets, for instance, could be snatched away by synthetic opioids."

As for how the much vaunted "international community"should approach Afghan opium production, that's a complicated question.

"There is no unity in the international community on how to deal with Afghanistan,"Felbab-Brown said. "The Chinese and Iranians are warming up to the Taliban, and the Russians will be urging the Taliban to go for a ban. I suspect the ban talk is mainly to satisfy the Russians. But we should not be pushing the ban; that would be catastrophic in terms of humanitarian consequences."

Afghan government and Western efforts to suppress the opium trade proved futile throughout the Western occupation, and now the likelihood of any sort of robust international campaign to suppress Afghan poppies appears next to nil. Outside of legalization of the trade, which does not appear even remotely likely, the only alternative for suppressing opium production is to cajole farmers to grow other crops in a bid to wean them off the poppy, but even those sorts of programs are now in question.

"Should the international community be working with the Taliban to try to implement alternatives livelihoods?"asked Felbab-Brown. "It's a difficult question and can't be considered in isolation. It will be part of the bargaining over a whole set of policies, including women's rights and human rights."

Uncertainty abounds over what the Taliban's opium policy will actually look like. In the meantime, the farmers are planting the seeds for next year's crop right now.

CT Legal Pot Sales Could Be Delayed, CA Hemp Bill Goes to Governor's Desk, More... (9/10/21)

There are signs South Dakota is moving away from harsh drug sentencing, GOP conservatives stick up for mandatory minimum fentanyl analog sentences, and more.

Marijuana Policy

hemp field (Creative Commons)
Connecticut Official Hints Launch of Legal Marijuana Sales Could Be Delayed. Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull said Wednesday that regulators working to implement legal marijuana sales still have details to work out before accepting applications and hinted that the roll-out of legal sales could be delayed. The state enacted marijuana legalization on July 1, and legal sales were originally set to begin in the summer of 2022. But Seagull said that likely will not happen: "We've been suggesting that there will likely be sales by the end of 2022, and we're still aspiring for that," Seagull said. "Obviously, we have to see how things play out in the next few months."

Hemp

California Hemp Regulation Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. Both the state Assembly and the state Senate this week approved a hemp regulation bill, Assembly Bill 45, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). The bill would allow hemp extracts, including CBD, to be added to food, beverage, and cosmetic products; establish new rules for hemp farmers and businesses; require out-of-state hemp imports meet new state standards; and limit the sale of intoxicating THC isomers such as delta-8 THC to legal marijuana sales channels, among other provisions.

Drug Policy

South Dakota Attorney General Weighs In on Ballot Measures to Reduce Penalties for Drug Ingestion, Possession. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) is weighing in on potential ballot measures that would reduce the penalty for unlawful drug ingestion from a felony to a petty offense and the penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. He sent separate statements to the secretary of state's office last week laying out language for altering the state's current harsh drug laws. The first proposed measure would reclassify the illegal possession of all controlled drugs or substances as class one misdemeanors, regardless of how their scheduled drug status in state law. That means instead of facing up to five years in prison, people caught with drugs would face a maximum of one year. The second ballot measure, focusing on the state's unique ingestion law, would drop the potential penalty from prison time to a $25 fine. No campaign has yet emerged to begin the process of qualifying such initiatives for the 2022 ballot.

Opioids

Congressional Republicans Attack Biden on Fentanyl Analog Scheduling, Claiming Plan is Soft on Drug Dealers. Ranking Republican members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees sent a letter to the White House Thursday criticizing the Biden administration's proposal to permanently schedule fentanyl analogs because, they said, it was too easy on drug dealers. "While we support permanent scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, other aspects of the administration's proposal would shield drug traffickers from pushing poisonous drugs into our communities rather than hold them accountable by imposing existing penalties," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). "We are particularly concerned that the provisions removing mandatory minimum penalties for fentanyl-related substance offenses would hinder prosecutorial efforts against serious drug traffickers and could even incentivize sophisticated criminal organizations to import and traffic fentanyl-related substances." Jordan and Grassley also asked for a list of stakeholders that influenced the administration's proposal, as well as "a list of examples in which federal law enforcement authorities have found that mandatory minimum penalties associated with fentanyl-related substances have supported criminal investigations to pursue high-level drug traffickers."

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.

Thai Parliament Approves Drug Reform Bill, US Reform Groups Urge DOJ to End Fentanyl Analog Scheduling

Drug reform, civil rights, and other groups urge the Justice Department to end the punitive emergency scheduling of fentanyl and its analogs, a North Carolina medical marijuana bill advances, and more.

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

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to approve a revised bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, Senate Bill 711. The committee had already approved the bill but had to take it up again after it was revised in a separate committee. Now, it goes before one final committee, the Senate Health Care and Rules Committee before heading for a Senate floor vote. The bill would allow patients with one of a list of "debilitating medical conditions" to use medical marijuana. The bill will now also allow patients with terminal illnesses with less than six months to live and those in hospice care to use medical marijuana. Patients could possess up to an ounce and a half but would not be able to grow their own. Medical marijuana would be provided by up to 10 growers, each of which could operate up to four dispensaries.

Opioids

More Than 140 Groups Urge DOJ to End Over-Criminalization of Fentanyl-Related Substances. Some 142 drug reform, criminal justice, religious, civil liberties, and other groups have written to Attorney General Merrick Garland to urge the Biden administration to let the Trump administration's temporary "classwide" emergency scheduling of fentanyl-related substances expire on October 22. The groups also asked the administration to engage in more interactions with stakeholders before it finalizes its recommendations to Congress, complaining that the coalition had only been granted one half-hour "listening session" with the working group studying the topic. "The class wide scheduling policy must expire," the groups wrote. "Class wide scheduling would exacerbate pretrial detention, mass incarceration, and racial disparities in the prison system, doubling down on a fear-based, enforcement-first response to a public health challenge. The policy could also lead to over-criminalization and prosecutorial misconduct. Under the class wide control, any offense involving a 'fentanyl-related substance' is subject to federal criminal prosecution, even if the substance in question is helpful or has no potential for abuse. Failure to define with specificity through our laws what is or is not illegal will lead to miscarriages of justice."The groups also argued that class wide scheduling will not help curb overdose rates or curb the supply of fentanyl or its analogs.

International

Thai Parliament Approves New Drug Law Emphasizing Prevention and Treatment. The parliament on Tuesday gave final approval to a new drug law that emphasizes prevention and treatment rather than punishment for small-scale drug users while also introducing tougher measures against organized crime. The omnibus bill first approved by the cabinet in 2019, consolidates more than 20 existing laws relating to drugs, ranging from sentencing for drug possession and distribution to asset forfeiture. "The new law shifts away from the old concept that emphasises only suppression because more suppression has not resulted in drug eradication," said Chatchawan Suksumjit, a senator who chaired a joint parliamentary committee overseeing changes to the new narcotic laws. "Punishment will now be divided between low level, which means drug users, who will systematically receive treatment rather than prison, while high level offenders will face more severe punishment," he said. Drug offenders make up more than 80% of Thailand's 300,000 prisoners. The new law could result in reduced sentences for up to 50,000 of them once it becomes law after winning royal endorsement later this year.

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids, Chiapas Militia Emerges to Fight Cartels, More... (7/23/21)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez files an amendment to encourage psychedelic research, President Biden says he will stay tough on Chinese opioid exports, and more.

President Biden vows to keep pressuring China on opioids, but a better approach may be to ramp up harm reduction here.
Psychedelics

AOC Files Amendment to Promote Psychedelic Research in Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has for the second time filed an amendment to a multi-agency appropriations bill that aims to promote research into psychedelics such by removing a rider than has been in effect since 1996 that bars the use of federal dollars "any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I." A description of the amendment says it is designed to allow "United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that have been shown to be effective in treating critical diseases. She introduced an earlier version of the amendment in 2019 only to see it voted down in a bipartisan and overwhelming fashion, but has a lot has changed in the realm of psychedelics since then.

Foreign Policy

Biden Vows to Continue Pressure on China over Opioids. At a town hall meeting in Cincinnati Wednesday, President Joe Biden vowed to continue "this encounter with China" over opioids, saying that his administration is "addressing the opioid issue" by increasing the number of people in the Justice Department. Biden has repeatedly criticized China, which is a major source of fentanyls and precursor chemicals that go into Mexico and from there into the US, accusing it of failing to crack down on drug trafficking. China banned two fentanyl precursors in 2018, but has not taken additional steps since then.

"I don't think we can do much to delay the export of these drugs in these countries, said Ben Westhoff, author of Fentanyl, Inc., arguing instead for enhanced harm reduction measures at home. In that book, Westhoff put the number of Chinese chemical companies at more than 400,000.

International

Mexico's Chiapas State Sees Formation of Militia to Counter Drug Cartels. A newly formed and heavily armed indigenous militia announced its presence by marching masked and armed through the streets of Pantelho in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas last weekend. The militia, calling itself "El Machete," said in an online manifesto that it is a "David" fighting against the "Goliath" of drug cartels and their assassins, and that it seeks peace, democracy, and justice. While self-defense militias to fend off organized crime have been sporadically active in states such as Michoacan and Guerrero for years, "El Machete" is the first such group to emerge in Chiapas, which attracts competing drug trafficking groups because of its location on the Guatemalan border, and which was the birthplace of the Zapatista uprising back in 1994.

Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed in House, MD Governor Vetoes Paraphernalia Decrim, More... (5/28/21)

The proposed Biden budget retains the ban on selling and taxing marijuana in Washington, DC, marijuana consumption lounge bills are moving in California and Nevada, and more.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has vetoed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of drug paraphernalia. (Creative Commons
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in House. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D=NY) reintroduced a marijuana legalization bill Friday morning, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement (MORE) Act. The House passed a similar version of the bill last year, only to see in die in the GOP-led Senate. This year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he will filed a legalization bill shortly.

Biden Budget Keeps Ban on DC Marijuana Sales. President Biden's first proposed budget retains congressionally imposed on selling and taxing marijuana in the nation's capital. House Democrats could ignore that that proposal and vote to undo the budget rider that blocks the District from moving forward, but that could get complicated in the evenly divided Senate.

California Assembly Approves Bill to Allow Food and Drink Sales at Marijuana Consumption Lounges. The Assembly on Thursday approved Assembly Bill 1034, which would alter the state's marijuana laws, which already allow consumption lounges, to allow those lounges to sell non-marijuana foods and drinks. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Nevada Assembly Approves Marijuana Consumption Lounge Bill. The Assembly on Thursday approved Assembly Bill 341 on a 29-12 vote. The bill would allow existing pot retailers to open a consumption lounge at one of its facilities. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado Bill with Stricter Rules for Medical Marijuana Wins Committee Vote. After a lengthy hearings, the House Public& Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee unanimously approved a bill, House Bill 1317, proposing stricter rules for medical marijuana patients and physicians, as well as new packaging requirements for commercial marijuana concentrate and state-funded research into the mental-health effects of potent marijuana products. The bill now goes before the House Finance Committee.

Florida Supreme Court Upholds Restrictive Medical Marijuana Rules. In a ruling Thursday, the state Supreme Court upheld the state's restrictive medical marijuana rules, rejecting a challenge from a grower who was denied a license. The grower had argued that the state's regulation did not comply with the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana. A 2017 law created steep barriers to entry in the industry by mandating that licensees had to operate in every aspect of the business.

Drug Policy

Federal Bill to Make Fentanyl Schedule I Filed in House. A bipartisan pair of congressmen filed the Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting (FIGHT) Fentanyl Act on Thursday. The drug and its analogs have been temporarily placed in Schedule I, a classification that was set to expire earlier this month, but was extended to October 2022. This bill, and companion legislation already filed in the Senate, would make the move permanent.

Illinois Legislature Approves Bill Restoring Food Stamp Benefits for Drug Felons. With a vote in the Senate Thursday, the legislature has approved House Bill 88, which would provide that a conviction for a drug crime would no longer make people ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (food stamps) benefits. The ban is federally imposed, but contains a provision allowing states to opt out from enforcing it, and nearly all states have.

Harm Reduction

Maryland Governor Vetoes Drug Paraphernalia Decriminalization Bill. Governor Larry Hogan (R) vetoed a bill that would have decriminalized the possession of drug paraphernalia on Wednesday, Senate Bill 420. He cited public safety concerns in his veto message. But bill sponsor Senator Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) has vowed to override the veto. The bill passed with a veto-proof majority in the House, but not the Senate.

OD Deaths Hit Record High During Pandemic, Campaign to End Crack Cocaine Sentence Disparity, More... (4/14/21)

Washington's governor commutes some drug possession sentences after the state's Supreme Court voids its felony drug possession law, the St. Louis County Council votes to decriminalize pot possession, the Orleans Parish prosecutors is not going to try most drug possession cases anymore and more.

There's a move afoot in Congress to finally end the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Poll Finds Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization, Expungement. As legislators ponder whether to make Connecticut the next state to legalize marijuana, a new poll from Sacred Heart University shows strong popular support for the move. The poll had support at 66%, with 62% saying that if marijuana is legalized, those with prior marijuana convictions should have their records expunged.

St. Louis County Council Votes to Decriminalize Pot Possession. The council Tuesday night approved a resolution reducing the penalty for possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana to a fine of less than $100. The previous penalty had been up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.The Maplewood City Council also passed legislation Tuesday night to decriminalize marijuana possession.

Medical Marijuana

North Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. A medical marijuana bill with bipartisan has been filed in the Senate. Senate Bill 711, the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, would protect doctors and patients from civil and criminal penalties for using or recommending medical marijuana and would allow the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana in the state. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations.

Drug Policy

Orleans Parish District Attorney Will No Longer Charge Small-Time Drug Possession Offenses, Except for Heroin and Fentanyl. The Orleans Parish District Attorney's office has adopted a policy of refusing to prosecute charges for possession of small amounts of drugs. New Orleans police may continue to arrest people for small-time possession, but they will not be prosecuted for "an amount intended for personal use." But there is one big exception: Heroin and fentanyl charges will continue to be prosecuted.

Pardons and Commutations

Washington Governor Commutes Sentences After Felony Drug Possession Law Thrown Out. In the wake of a state Supreme Court decision voiding the state's felony drug possession law, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced Tuesday that he had commuted the sentences of 13 prisoners who were incarcerated on drug possession charges. More commutations are coming, his office said.

Sentencing

Coalition Asks Judiciary Committee Chairs to Eliminate Crack-Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity. More than two dozen think tanks and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum have banded together to call on the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees to end the crack-powder cocaine federal sentencing disparity by passing Senate Bill 71, the EQUAL Act. Sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and make that change retroactive.

Biden Administration Supports Temporary Extension of Ban on Fentanyl Analogues. The Justice Department said Monday it would support a bill that would extend a temporary ban on fentanyl analogues for another seven months. The Trump-era ban is set to expire next month without action by Congress. The department said it would "work with Congress to seek a clean, seven-month extension to prevent this important law enforcement tool from lapsing." The move has been opposed by criminal justice reform groups some researchers, who worry it could incite mass incarceration and make research more difficult. The department acknowledged these concerns, saying it intends to "address legitimate concerns related to mandatory minimums (prison terms) and researcher access to these substances."

Public Health

Drug Overdoses Hit Record High During Pandemic. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that more than 87,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period that ended in September. That's the largest number for any year since the opioid epidemic began in the mid-1990s. The biggest jump in deaths took place in April and May, in the depths of pandemic lockdowns and attendant fear and stress.

Drug War Issues

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