Harm Reduction

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Chronicle AM: Yang on Safe Injection Sites, Bloomberg on Marijuana, More... (12/5/19)

Michigan pot shops see high demand on opening day, Democratic contenders stake out drug policy positions, Maine finally has all pot business applications ready, and more.

Andrew Yang wants to decriminalize opiates and fund safe injection sites like this one in Vancouver. (vch.ca)

Marijuana Policy

Michael Bloomberg Backs Decriminalization as Marijuana Views Evolve Amid Presidential Run. Faced with criticism over his past positions on marijuana, former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg has now come out in support of decriminalization, which still leaves him lagging behind most of the Democratic pack. "He believes no one should have their life ruined by getting arrested for possession, and, as a part of his reform efforts that drove incarceration down by 40 percent, he worked to get New York State laws changed to end low-level possession arrests," a spokesman said. "He believes in decriminalization and doesn’t believe the federal government should interfere with states that have already legalized."

Maine Says All Marijuana Licenses are Now Available. More than three years after voters legalized marijuana, the state has finally made available all applications for marijuana cultivation, products manufacturing and retail facilities. That means the state could see pot shops open by the spring.

Michigan Pot Shops Forced to Impose Purchase Limits as Demand Overwhelms. High customer volume is forcing marijuana retailers to limit purchases so there will be enough weed to go around. The four shops that opened Sunday saw combined sales of $221,000 that first day. Each of the four shops has had to turn customers away, too. Some customers waited as long as four hours to get inside.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Senator Introduces Bill Providing Broad Employment Protections to Medical Marijuana Users. A bill recently introduced by state Sen. Lori Berman (D) Would provide various protections to job applicants and employees who use medical marijuana. The measure is Senate Bill 962.

Harm Reduction

Andrew Yang Calls for Investments in Safe Injection Sites. Entrepreneur and Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang says he supports government funding for safe injections sites as part of an effort to counter the country's overdose epidemic. "I would not only decriminalize opiates for personal use but I would also invest in safe consumption sites around the country," Yang said Thursday.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

CO Pot Sales Declining for Months, Biden Orders More Colombia Drug War, More... (8/11/22)

An Ohio harm reduction group is suing a state board over how $400 million in opioid settlement money is spent, an Uruguayan meth bust signals a possible shift in drug trafficking between Europe and South America, and more.

Joe Biden and new Colombian President Petro are not on the same page when it comes to drug policy. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Sales Decline for Fourth Straight Month. For the fourth month in a row, marijuana sales in Colorado have declined. Sales in June were just $146 million, a 1% decline from the previous month, but a 22 percent decline from June 2021. So far this year, pot shops sold more than $906 million worth of weed, down from $1.1 billion during the same period last year. This is not the first time there has been a four-month decline in sales; it also happened between August and November 2020. The state has collected more than $30 million in sales tax revenues in only two months so far this year. It collected more than $30 million every month last year.

Opioids

Ohio Harm Reduction Group Sues State Board Over Opioid Settlement Money. Harm Reduction Ohio has filed a lawsuit against a foundation set up by the state to spend more than $400 million that it won in settlements with opioid makers and distributors for drug treatment programs. The lawsuit demands that the foundation, the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, be more transparent about how it will spend that money. The state received $808 million in settlements, and the OneOhio Recovery Foundation gets half (the rest goes to state and local governments). Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon said the foundation's board is not following the state's open meetings law, and that could lead to future problems. "I say preschedule the indictments because in year eleven, if you’ve got $100 million to spend in a year, don’t have to follow ethics law, you can spend on whatever you want,"Cauchon said. "It’s a formula for cronyism written all over it." Cauchon also cited the board's makeup, which consists of appointees of Gov. Mike DeWine  (R), state lawmakers, and local government leaders, saying it’s important to include people with treatment and recovery program experience. "The combination of people in this case needs to include people who have suffered from opioids, the reason this money exists, and they have essentially been excluded entirely,"Cauchon said. "If you don’t know the population and you don’t know the issue, you can’t spend a half billion dollars wisely."

Foreign Policy

Biden Orders Continuation of Colombian Drug Interdiction Assistance. President Joe Biden has issued a memo directing the State and Defense departments to continue assisting Colombia to interdict aircraft "reasonably suspected to be primarily engaged in illicit drug trafficking in that country’s airspace," given the "extraordinary threat posed by illicit drug trafficking to the national security of that country." The president noted that Colombia "has appropriate procedures in place to protect against innocent loss of life in the air and on the ground in connection with such interdiction," and which includes "effective means to identify and warn an aircraft before the use of force is directed against the aircraft." The memo was issued Wednesday, just three days after Colombian President Gustavo Petro was sworn-in. Petro has called the US-led war on drugs "a complete failure and has pledged to maintain a ban on spraying coca crops with the herbicide glyphosate, putting the two countries at odds around drug policy.

International

Uruguay Makes Historic Seizure of European Meth. Uruguayan authorities seized 43 kilograms of methamphetamine on August 5 in what is believed to be the largest-ever shipment of European meth to reach Latin America. It is a bust that marks a potential shift in the trade in synthetic drugs between the two continents. Underground labs in Europe have traditionally shipped MDMA to Latin America (among other markets), while Europe has imported cocaine and methamphetamine from Latin America. But Mexican chemists may have accompanied Mexican meth going to Europe and shared their manufacturing skills with underground chemists there. Europe's meth production is still small compared to the mountains of meth produced in Mexico, but it is now competing in South American markets. And because of high prices for European meth, it is likely it is being traded for cocaine destined for Europe. 

Cheaper and More Accessible Naloxone In the Works, Colombian Drug War Critic is Now President, More... (8/8/22)

A Congressional Research Service report zeroes in on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Remedy Alliance is easing naloxone bottlenecks, and more.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Naloxone Access About to Get Easier. Thanks to an informal buyers' club for naloxone that has morphed into an entity known as the Remedy Alliance, access to inexpensive naloxone -- the opioid overdose reversal drug -- is getting easier. The Alliance credits two major developments for the urgently needed breakthrough. First, they have managed to reach agreements with drug manufacturers to get the drug at a discount rate, and second, they have restructured to a system that allows local harm reduction groups to order the drug through an online store, getting around a labyrinthine web of federal regulations that has bottlenecked the flow of the drug amidst the ongoing overdose crisis.

"We think this will totally change the landscape of naloxone in the United States,: said Nabarun Dasgupta, the nonprofit's board president and a scientist at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The group, formerly known as the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network Buyers Club, has already reversed thousands of opioid overdoses and distributed 1.3 million doses of naloxone last year. Now, the Alliance expects to distribute 2 million doses this year.

International

Ex-Leftist Rebel, Drug War Critic Assumes Office as Colombia's President. Gustavo Petro, a former member of the leftist M-19 guerrilla army, was sworn into office Sunday, helping to cement an emerging leftist bloc around the region, consisting of Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela and, most likely, Brazil after its October election. He said Colombia was getting a "second chance" to fight violence and poverty. He also said he was preparing to start peace talks with various armed groups around the country, and he called on the United States to change its prohibitionist approach to drug policy. "It's time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed," he said. "Of course, peace is possible. But it depends on current drug policies being substituted with strong measures that prevent consumption in developed societies."

Jalisco New Generation Cartel Present in 27 of Mexico's 37 States, Congressional Report Finds. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the country's most powerful, now operates in 27 states and Mexico City, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The report, "Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations," says that the CJNG is the dominant criminal force in six states: Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, Guerrero, Mexico, and Veracruz. It is weakest in Mexico's northwest, where the Sinaloa Cartel still dominates. CRS described the CJNG as an "extremely powerful cartel" that has a "reputations for extreme and intimidating violence." It also noted that the DEA "considers the CJNG a top US threat and Mexico's best-armed criminal group." "The CJNG built its dominance internationally first through extending its presence through a rapid expansion inside Mexico," CRS said. "In 2016, many analysts maintained the CJNG controlled a territory equivalent to almost half of Mexico. The group has battled Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel factions in Tabasco, Veracruz, and Guanajuato, as well as the Sinaloa… [Cartel] in the Baja Peninsula and Chihuahua." The CJNG's ambitious expansion campaign was characterized by high levels of violence, particularly in Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana.

By taking over key ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the CJNG has consolidated "important components of the global narcotics supply chain," the CRS said. "In particular, the CJNG maintains reported control over the ports of Veracruz, Manzanillo, and Lázaro Cárdenas, which has given the group access to precursor chemicals that flow into Mexico from China and other parts of Latin America," the report said. As a result, according to some analysts, the CJNG has pursued an aggressive growth strategy underwritten by US demand for Mexican methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl… Despite leadership losses, the CJNG has extended its geographic reach and maintained its own cohesion while exploiting the infighting among factions of the Sinaloa organization."

California is One Signature Away from Okaying Safe Injection Sites [FEATURE]

The nation's most populous state is on the verge of approving safe injection sites in some of its largest cities. A bill that would do just that, Senate Bill 57, narrowly won its final vote in the legislature Monday, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has previously signaled that he was "very open" to the law.

Vancouver's InSite safe injection site. Such facilities could be coming soon to some California cities. (vch.ca)
The bill authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) authorizes what it calls "overdose prevention programs" (or safe injection sites) as pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, the city of Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. In each of those jurisdictions, city councils or boards of supervisors have requested inclusion in the bill and will decide whether and how to participate. The pilot program will run for five years, through January 1, 2028.

The legality of safe injection sites under federal law remains unclear. During the Trump administration, the Justice Department strongly opposed them and successfully blocked an effort to open one in Philadelphia, but the Biden administration Justice Department has expressed openness to the harm reduction intervention.

That uncertainty did not stop New York City from opening the first government-approved safe injection sites last November or Rhode Island passing legislation and following suit in March, although the Rhode Island sites are being hobbled by a lack of funding after legislators mandated that no government funds be used to operate them. And that uncertainty has not deterred lawmakers in Sacramento, either.

The California bill overcame extensive pushback, primarily from law enforcement, which argued that the sites failed to provide a strong enough path to drug treatment. Similar objections killed three previous attempts to pass safe injection site legislation by Sen. Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), including a 2018 bill that passed the legislature only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

It was supported by a broad coalition of organizations including the Drug Policy Alliance, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, California Society of Addiction Medicine, National Harm Reduction Coalition, Healthright 360, Tarzana Treatment Center, and the California Association of Alcohol & Drug Program Executives.

Support for the bill was also heightened by significant increases in drug use and overdoses since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. San Francisco saw a record number of overdose deaths in 2020, with 711 deaths total. In 2021, 640 people died of overdoses, and the city is on track to exceed that number this year. Statewide, approximately 10,000 people died of drug overdoses from April 2020 to April 2021.

"California -- like our nation as a whole -- is experiencing a dramatic and preventable increase in overdose deaths, and we need every available tool to help people stay alive and get healthy," said Senator Wiener after the final vote. "Safe consumption sites are a proven model to help people avoid overdose deaths, reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, reduce syringe litter, and help people access treatment. This legislation isn't about whether we want people to use drugs. Rather, it's an acknowledgment that people *are* using drugs, and our choice is whether we want to make every effort to help them survive and get healthy. The time has come for California to adopt this proven overdose death prevention strategy."

Safe injection sites have been operating for decades in Europe, Canada, and Australia and have a proven safety track record. At the 170 safe injection sites that have operated around the world, not a single overdose death has been reported. In New York City, in the first three months of operation, staff at these sites were able to halt over 150 overdoses.

Safe injection sites are a proven harm reduction intervention that saves lives without increasing crime or disorder. The Biden administration does not appear to be inclined to claim they violate federal law and has made no move against the sites operating in New York and Rhode Island. It appears the path is open. All Gov. Newsom has to do is pick up his pen and sign the bill.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Goes to Governer, WV Cities and Counties Settle with Opioid Distributors, More... (8/2/22)

Louisiana police can no longer search homes based on the odor of marijuana without a warrant, there is good polling for marijuana legalization in Missouri, and more.

The Vancouver safe injection site. California cities could soon follow suit. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Louisiana Cops Can No Longer Use Marijuana Odor as Excuse to Search Homes. As of Monday, police in the state are prohibited from searching people's residences based on the odor of marijuana unless they have a warrant. That is because the legislature this year passed and the governor signed into law Act 473, which mandates that: "Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the odor of marijuana alone shall not provide a law enforcement officer with probable cause to conduct a search without a warrant of a person's place of residence." Another new law, this one banning vaping or smoking marijuana in a vehicle, also went into effect Monday.

Missouri Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new SurveyUSA poll of registered voters has support for marijuana legalization at 62 percent, including majorities of every demographic group except those over 65 and Republicans. While GOP voters did not show majority support, more Republicans supported legalization (47 percent) than opposed it (40 percent). The poll comes as marijuana legalization initiative awaits a decision a week from today on whether it has turned in enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Opioids

West Virginia Cities and Counties Settle with Drug Firms Over Opioid Crisis. A group of cities and counties that sued drug distribution firms, accusing them of fueling a deadly wave of opioid use, have settled with three distributors for $400 million. The companies, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, were facing imminent trial in state court when they settled. Last month, a federal judge ruled against Cabell County and Huntington in similar claims. They are not included in the settlement announced Monday and plan to appeal the ruling that rejected most arguments made against the drug companies.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would allow four safe injection site pilot programs to get underway is now on the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 57 got final approval in the Senate Monday. It had already passed the Senate earlier, but was amended in the House, necessitating a final concurrence vote. Under the bill, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Oakland, and San Francisco could open harm reduction centers as pilot programs lasting through January 1, 2028. "We're seeing an escalation in overdose deaths," Wiener said after Monday's vote. "These sites are a proven strategy to save lives and get folks into treatment. It's time." A similar bill passed in 2018, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D). If Gov. Newsom signs the bill, California would follow Rhode Island as states that have okayed safe injection sites. A municipal safe injection site program is currently underway in New York City.

Poll Finds Support for Psychedelic Research for Military Members, Federal Marijuana Expungement Bill Filed, More... (8/1/22)

Last weekend's Lollapalooza festival in Chicago featured not only music but harm reduction measures, a new poll finds support for federal -- as opposed to state-level -- marijuana legalization, and more.

Chicago officials handed out Narcan and fentanyl test strips at last weekend's Lollapalooza festival. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Federal Marijuana Expungement Bill Filed. Reps. Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-LA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) filed a bill last Friday that would pave the way for federal misdemeanor marijuana offenses to be expunged. The bill is the Marijuana Misdemeanor Expungement Act. "These misdemeanors -- even without a conviction -- can result in restrictions to peoples' ability to access educational aid, housing assistance, occupational licensing and even foster parenting," said Carter. "Delivering justice for our citizens who have been impacted by marijuana-related misdemeanors is a key component of comprehensive cannabis reform."

Americans Favor Federal Marijuana Legalization Mandate in Polling. Support for marijuana legalization remains high, but a new poll from The Economist and YouGov.com shows an increasing number of people want legalization to come from the federal government. Some 45 percent said the federal government should legalize it, while another 21 percent said legalization should primarily be left up to the states. Between them, that's two-thirds support for some form of freeing the weed. Only 20 percent thought "marijuana should be banned nationally."

Psychedelics

Poll Finds Majority Support Psychedelic Research for Military Members. A new poll from YouGov.com finds that 54 percent of respondents said they support "allowing research into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelic substances for active-duty military members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)." Support was strongest among Democrats (60 percent), followed by independents (54 percent) and Republicans (45 percent). Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) both sponsored psychedelic research amendments that made it into the 2023 Fiscal Year National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House earlier this month.

Opioids

City of Chicago Warned Lollapalooza Festivalgoers About Fentanyl. The city's Department of Public Health last Friday issued an alert on its social media accounts warning fans of the massive Lollapalooza music festival that ended Sunday that fentanyl can easily cause an overdose and that they should take steps to know what is in their drugs. The city cautioned that fentanyl is being found not only in heroin, but also non-opioid drugs such as meth, Ecstasy, and cocaine. "Every year, we see young people end up admitted to the hospital because they've experimented -- at a time when we really want people to have fun, but have fun safely," said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans

Chronicle Book Review: Opium's Orphans: The 200-Year History of the War on Drugs by P.E. Caquet (2022, Reaktion Books, 400 pp., $35.00 HB)

The history of drug prohibition is increasingly well-trodden territory, but with Opium's Orphans, British historian P.E. Caquet brings a fascinating new perspective embedded in a sweeping narrative and fortified with an erudite grasp of the broad global historical context. Although Asian bans on opium pre-dated 19th Century China (the Thai monarchy announced a ban in the 1400s), for Caquet, the critical moment in what became a linear trajectory toward global drug prohibition a century later came when the Qing emperor banned opium in 1813 and imposed severe penalties on anything to do with it, including possessing it. Precisely 100 years later, after two Opium Wars imposed opium on the empire followed by decades of diplomatic wrangling over how to suppress the trade (and for moralizing Americans, how to win favor with China), the 1913 Hague Opium Convention ushered in the modern war on drugs with its targeting not just of opium (and coca) producers or sellers but also of mere users for criminal prosecution. It urged countries to enact such laws, and they did.

What began at the Hague would eventually grow into an international anti-drug bureaucracy, first in the League of Nations and then in United Nations bodies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board. But it is a global prohibition regime that has, Caquet writes, straight-jacketed itself with an opium-based perspective that has proven unable or unwilling to recognize the differences among the substances over which it seeks dominion, reflexively resorting to opium and its addiction model. Drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, and marijuana don't really fit that model -- they are the orphans of the book's title -- and in a different world would be differently regulated.

But Opium's Orphans isn't just dry diplomatic history. Caquet delves deep into the social, cultural, and political forces driving drug use and drug policies. His description of the spread of opium smoking among Chinese elites before it spread into the masses and became declasse is both finely detailed and strangely evocative of the trajectory of cocaine use in the United States in the 1970s, when it was the stuff of rock musicians and Hollywood stars before going middle class and then spreading among the urban poor in the form of crack.

Along the way, we encounter opium merchants and colonial opium monopolies, crusading missionary moralists, and early Western proponents of recreational drug use, such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater author Thomas De Quincey and the French habitues of mid-19th Century hashish clubs. More contemporaneously, we also meet the men who achieved international notoriety in the trade in prohibited drugs, "drug lords" such as Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Pablo Escobar in Colombia and El Chapo Guzman in Mexico, as well as the people whose job it is to hunt them down. Caquet notes that no matter how often a drug lord is removed -- jailed or killed, in most cases -- the impact on the trade is negligible.

For Caquet, drug prohibition as a global phenomenon peaked with the adoption of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Coming as it did amidst a post-World War II decline in drug use around the world, the treaty criminalizing coca, cocaine, opium and opioids, and marijuana seemed to ratify a successful global prohibitionist effort. (In the US, in the 1950s, when domestic drug use was at low ebb, Congress passed tough new drug laws.) But before the decade was over, drug prohibition was under flamboyant challenge from the likes of LSD guru Timothy Leary and a horde of hippie pot smokers. The prohibitionist consensus was seeing its first cracks.

And the prohibitionist response was to crack down even harder, which in turn begat its own backlash. Drug use of all sorts began rising around the world in the 1960s and hasn't let up yet, and the increasingly omnivorous drug war machine grew right along with it, as did the wealth and power of the illicit groups that provided the drugs the world demanded. As the negative impacts of the global drug war -- from the current opioid overdose crisis in the US to the prisons filled with drug offenders to the bloody killing fields of Colombia and Mexico -- grew ever more undeniable, the critiques grew ever sharper.

In recent years, the UN anti-drug bureaucrats have been forced to grudgingly accept the notion of harm reduction, although they protest bitterly over such interventions as safe injection sites. For them, harm reduction is less of an erosion of the drug war consensus than all that talk of drug legalization. As Caquet notes, perhaps a tad unfairly, harm reduction doesn't seek to confront drug prohibition head-on, but to mitigate its harms.

The man is a historian, not a policymaker, and his response to questions about what to do now is "I wouldn't start from here." Still, at the end of it all, he has a trio of observations: First, supply reduction ("suppression" is his word) does not work. Sure, you can successfully wipe out poppies in Thailand or Turkey, but they just pop up somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle or Afghanistan. That's the infamous balloon effect. Second, "criminalization of the drug user has been a huge historical blunder." It has no impact on drug use levels, is cruel and inhumane, and it didn't have to be that way. A century ago, countries could have agreed to regulate the drug trade; instead, they tried to eradicate it in an ever-escalating, never-ending crusade. Third, illicit drugs as a group should be seen "as a historical category, not a scientific one." Different substances demand different approaches.

Opium's Orphans is a fascinating, provocative, and nuanced account of the mess we've gotten ourselves into. Now, we continue the work of trying to get out of that mess.

Australia's First Drug Checking Site Opens This Week, TX Bill Would Make Legal Pot a Local Option, More... (7/19/22)

There are marijuana reform rumblings in the Lone Star State, Ohio becomes the latest state to see a fentanyl test strip decrim bill, and more.

Texas State Capitol (Daniel Mayer, Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Texas Bill Would Let Cities, Counties Legalize Marijuana. State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez (D-Dallas) has filed a bill, House Bill 3248, that would let cities and counties the option of locally legalizing recreational marijuana use, possession, and sales. The bill would also impose a 10 percent tax on marijuana products, with 10 percent of that going to pay for regulation, another 10 percent to pay for marijuana testing and quality control, 20 percent to participating local governments for oversight, and the rest would go into the state school fund. "While Texas has made progress with the Compassionate Use Act, we have been left behind on a potential revenue source that would increase investments in public education, stop the unnecessary arrests for cannabis possession and create jobs in our state," González said. "We should allow our local communities to make the best decision for themselves in regards to cannabis legalization, and HB 3248 would allow that for adults 21 years or older." The bill faces long odds in the GOP-dominated legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Calls for Expanded Medical Marijuana Access. State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) says he supports the expansion of medical marijuana access and nodded toward other conservative states that have fully legalized medical use. Governments should only be able to make something illegal "for a powerful reason or set of fact," he wrote in a letter, comparing pot prohibition to the alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s. "As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm. Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable,"he wrote. It is time for all of us, including the Governor, members of the Texas Legislature and others to come together and set aside our political differences to have an honest conversation about cannabis: where we have been, where we are going and what role government should properly play," Miller ended his letter. "We owe it to our fellow Texans, especially those who are suffering, to lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas."

Harm Reduction

Ohio Bill Would Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. Ohio could become the latest state to decriminalize or legalize fentanyl test strips as a harm reduction measure aimed at reducing overdose deaths. State Rep. Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus) has filed House Bill 456 would decriminalize fentanyl drug testing strips. They are currently classified as drug paraphernalia, but that hasn't stopped them from beginning to pop up in bar bathrooms in Cincinnati. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is increasingly adulterating other illicit drugs or appearing as counterfeit prescription opioids. In Ohio, nearly two-thirds of 1,497 cocaine overdose deaths last year were caused by drugs laced with fentanyl. The bill has just been filed, but has garnered no opposition so far.

International

Australia's First Fixed Drug Checking Site to Open This Week in Canberra. Beginning on Thursday, Australia's capital city, Canberra, will host the country's first fixed location drug checking site. Previously, drug testing has twice been done at music festivals. The move comes as the Australian Capital Territory prepares to implement drug decriminalization. "This Australian-first program will help people who use drugs better understand or avoid unknown and potentially dangerous substances in illicit drugs," said ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

"We know the safest option is not to take drugs and this will always be our advice to the community. However we recognize some people will choose to use drugs and there is a need for initiatives that reduce the harms associated with drug use."

New Poll Could Bolster Vermont Drug Decrim Push [FEATURE]

A recent poll could help breathe new life into a Vermont campaign to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs that died in the House earlier this year. The poll, from Data for Progress and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) found a whopping 84 percent of Vermont voters support removing criminal penalties for small-time drug possession.

The legislature didn't get a decrim bill done this year, but a new poll bodes well for the future. (Creative Commons)
Support for decriminalization included a majority of voters across all major demographic groups and party affiliations. The poll also found that 81 percent of voters support reframing the state's approach to drug use as a health issue with a focus on reducing the harms of addiction and offering health and recovery services.

"With Vermont having one of the highest increases in overdoses in the country last year, it's clear that the existing approach of criminalizing people who use drugs isn't working to keep people safe. In fact, it has only made things worse," said DPA senior staff attorney Grey Gardner. "This survey makes it abundantly clear that Vermont voters want a different approach - one focused on health rather than arrest and punishment."

Overdoses are not the only issue plaguing the state's enforcement of drug prohibition. Last November, the Council of State Governments (CSG) issued a report on Vermont prosecutions and court outcomes that found pronounced racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions. That report found that Black people are over 14 times more likely to be charged with drug felonies that White people. The report also found that Black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison for certain felony offenses -- including drug offenses -- while White defendants more often receive alternatives to imprisonment.

That CSG report was buttressed by years of statewide police data that consistently shows Black motorists being stopped, searched, and cited at higher rates even though they are less likely to be found with contraband than Whites.

"For anyone committed to advancing racial justice in their communities, these findings are critically important and should be acted on immediately," ACLU of Vermont (ACLU-VT) Advocacy Director Falko Schilling said at the time. "They show that extreme racial disparities in Vermont state prosecutions and sentencing decisions are real, and can't be attributed to racist tropes about 'out-of-state drug dealers' when they are, in fact, the result of systemic racism in state prosecutors' offices and courthouses. These findings also help to explain why, year after year, Vermont's prisons have some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

That report helped spur both the creation of broad coalition to push for drug decriminalization, @DecriminalizeVermont, which consists of the ACLU-VT, Better Life Partners, End Homelessness Vermont, Ishtar Collective, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Next Generation Justice, Pride Center of Vermont, Recovery Vermont, Rights and Democracy (RAD), Vermont Cares, Vermont Legal Aid, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Vermont Interfaith Action, and the Women's Justice and Freedom Initiative.

"Reforming our criminal justice system requires a fundamental shift away from criminalizing behaviors that need not involve police, prosecutors, and incarceration," said the ACLU-VT. "While Vermont has decriminalized possession of marijuana, there is still progress to be made in finally treating substance use disorder as the public health issue that it is. Vermont needs to decriminalize other drug offenses and better account for substance abuse disorder in related offenses, such as trespassing, sex work, and writing bad checks."

The CSG report also prompted a push in the state legislature to get a decriminalization bill passed. That bill, H.644, was cosponsored by nearly one-third of the House, with 42 Democrats, Progressives, and Independents signing on. It was designed to set up a board of drug policy experts to determine threshold levels for personal use amounts, which would then be decriminalized, and to establish a drug treatment referral system to help people access treatment services.

"The whole question of arresting and prosecuting drug possession -- we're not seeing a lot of value. In fact, we're seeing a lot of harm historically," said bill cosponsor Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington).

The bill was introduced on January 14 and got a series of House Judiciary Committee hearings in the next month at which several coalition members testified.

If passed, H.644 would eliminate criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use; establish a treatment referral system by which Vermonters who need help with substance use disorders can access treatment services; set up a board of drug policy experts to determine appropriate personal use threshold levels for each drug; and create a financial incentive for people with substance use disorder to participate in a health needs screening.

"Our current drug laws are overly punitive and deeply harmful. Decriminalize Vermont is working to support a new approach that prioritizes public health and social justice," said Tom Dalton, Executive Director of Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform. "We are thrilled to see such a positive response to this bill so far this legislative session."

But that is as far as it went. After the hearings, House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Washington) never put the bill up for a committee vote. It died when the legislature adjourned in May.

But now, given that new polling data, there is more evidence than ever that Vermonters are ready for a change.

"What's clear from this poll is that Vermont voters want to prioritize preventing overdose and ending the harms of criminalization, and they want their elected officials to take leadership on this," said DPA's Gardner.

The push for decriminalization may have been thwarted this year, but it isn't going to go away. Look for another attempt next year, and those poll numbers can only help.

Fed Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in WV Lawsuit, CA Kills Marijuana Cultivator Tax, More... (7/5/22)

A Washington state county commissioner demonstrates her cluelessness about harm reduction, Senate drug warriors file the END FENTANYL Act, and more.

pain pills (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Ending Cultivation Tax on Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 195, a wide-ranging bill to restructure the state's legal marijuana system whose most striking feature is the removal of the wholesale tax on marijuana growers. The aim of the bill is to provide relief to the struggling industry and further erode the marijuana black market. The bill also shifts collection of the state's 15 percent excise tax from the distributor level to the retail level, and it freezes the excise tax for at least the next three years. Aiming at unlicensed operators, the bill allows for fines of up to $10,000 per day for property managers who knowingly rent or lease space to unlicensed marijuana businesses. It also includes $40 million in tax credits, half for equity operators and half for microbusinesses. Social equity operators will also be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit and will be able to keep 20 percent of excise tax revenues for reinvesting in their businesses.

Opiates and Opioids

Bipartisan Group of Senate Drug Warriors File END FENTANYL Bill. Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) have filed the cutely-acronymed Eradicating Narcotic Drugs and Formulating New Tools to Address National Yearly Losses of Life (END FENTANYL) Act (Senate Bill 4440). The bill would require the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to update its policies at least once every three years to ensure drug interdiction guidance is up to date. The legislation was prompted by a 2019 GAO report, Land Ports of Entry: CBP Should Update Policies and Enhance Analysis of Inspections, which found drug interdiction guidance has not been updated in 20 years. Scott used a press release about the bill to slam President Biden for his "failed open border policies" even though DEA figures show that 80 percent of fentanyl comes through ports of entry, not in the backpacks of refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented border crossers.

Federal Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in West Virginia Lawsuit. A federal judge ruled against West Virginia plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking damages from three major drug distributors who they accused of causing a public health crisis by distributing 81 million pills in eight years in one county hard hit by opioid addiction. Cabell County and the city of Huntington had sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp.

Plaintiffs argued that the companies sent a "tsunami" of prescription pain pills into the county and that their conduct was unreasonable, reckless, and disregarded the public health. "The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law," US District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. "In view of the court's findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants' favor. Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants," Faber wrote, noting that the plaintiffs supplied no evidence that the companies distributed opioids to any entity that was not properly registered with the DEA or the state Board of Pharmacy. The city and the county had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have gone toward opioid efforts. The goal of the 15-year abatement plan would have been to reduce overdoses,

Harm Reduction

WA County Commissioner Fears "Normalization" of Naloxone. Amanda McKinney, a Republican Yakima County Commissioner, is concerned that the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone will be "normalized." She was responding to a presentation by the Board of Health about the increase in drug overdose deaths and the district's overdose awareness campaign, but zeroed in on one sentence: Among the goals of the campaign was "Increase awareness and education about the benefits of naloxone to normalize its use."

That set off McKinney: I'm really concerned about that last slide where it says normalize use. I would really like for us to expand on what that means," McKinney said. "I'm just wondering if there is a better term than normalize, 'cuz normalize to me means we're accepting this and promoting this as part of our daily lives and I think that that word is inappropriate."

Apparently unfamiliar with the notion of harm reduction, she also questioned the effectiveness of needle exchanges and fentanyl test strips. "I'd really like to know what the effectiveness is of fentanyl testing strips and syringe exchange services for actually successfully getting people off and away from being someone who is a habitual drug user," McKinney said. "I question those methods as being methods that are successful in getting people actually off the drugs." Following McKinney's comments, Health District Director Andre Fresco explained that harm reduction's primary goal is not to end drug use, but to save lives, and added that the district is involved in efforts to get people off drugs.

Drug War Issues

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