Prescription Opiates

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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.

US Prison, Parole, Probation Population Continues Slow Decline; $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, More... (7/22/21)

Florida's Republican establishment may not be ready for marijuana legalization but the public is, the Justice Department drops an effort to send some First Step Act releasees back to prison, and more.

Drug distributors agree to pay out big-time for their role in the opioid crisis. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Florida Poll Shows Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has support for marijuana legalization at 59%. Two different efforts to get an initiative before the voters last year were quashed by the state Supreme Court, and the Republican-led state legislature this year passed a bill making it more difficult to finance initiatives, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. Translating public support into marijuana reform is going to be more difficult than ever now.

Opioids

Major Drug Distributors Reach Agreement on $26 Billion Opioid Settlement. The three largest US pharmaceutical drug distributors -- McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen -- and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson have reached an agreement with a group of state attorneys general to pay out $26 billion to settle lawsuits related to their roles in the widespread prescribing of prescription opioids and the subsequent wave of addiction and overdose deaths. "The numerous companies that manufactured and distributed opioids across the nation did so without regard to life or even the national crisis they were helping to fuel," said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the attorneys general from 15 states involved in the deal. "Today, we are holding these companies accountable and infusing tens of billions of dollars into communities across the nation." Responding to that wave of addiction and overdoses, the states and the federal government have moved to restrict opioid prescribing, even though chronic pain patients have found their access to their medications more difficult.

Sentencing

US Correctional Population Drops for 12th Straight Year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2019, the number of people in the US in jail or prison or on probation or parole was 6,344,000, down 65,200, or 1%, over the previous year and marking the 12th year in a row that that figure has declined. At the end of 2019, 4,357,700 people were under community supervision (probation or parole), while there were 2,086,000 people behind bars in jails or prisons. The BJS report did not discuss the types of offenses for which people were under correctional supervision, but a 2020 Prison Policy Initiative report found 190,000 doing time for drug offenses in state prisons, 157,000 in local jails, and 78,000 in the federal prison system, meaning drug prisoners account for about one-fifth of the US incarcerated population.

Justice Department Drops Appeal of First Step Act Releases. The Justice Department has dropped an effort to re-imprison four New Jersey men who were released from prison under the First Step Act's retroactive crack cocaine sentencing provision. The men had been released in November 2019 after serving more than 20 years on crack charges, but the Trump Justice Department then sought to send them back to prison. The Biden Justice Department had been under pressure from groups such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which applauded the decision, saying: "We raised this case among others with the Biden transition team as an appeal that should be dropped right away. It would have been cruel and unjust it would be to send these guys back."

Clarence Thomas Questions Federal Marijuana Prohibition, ONDCP Reports on Colombia Coca, More... (6/28/21)

A major pharmaceutical company settles with the state of New York over opioid distribution, Minnesota lawmakers are on the verge of passing policing reforms, and more.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas questions the viability of federal marijuana prohibition. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Clarence Thomas Says Federal Marijuana Prohibition May No Longer Make Sense. One the Supreme Court's most conservative justices said Monday that because marijuana is already legalized either medically or recreationally in a growing number of states, federal pot prohibition may no longer make sense. "A prohibition on interstate use or cultivation of marijuana may no longer be necessary or proper to support the federal government's piecemeal approach," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas as the high court declined to hear the appeal of a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary that was denied federal tax breaks. "Federal policies of the past 16 years have greatly undermined its reasoning," he said. "The federal government's current approach is a half-in, half-out regime that simultaneously tolerates and forbids local use of marijuana."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Johnson & Johnson Settles With New York for $230 Million, Agrees to Stop Selling Opioids. Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $230 million settlement with the state of New York over its role in the country's opioid crisis, which has led to nearly half a million dead of overdoses in the past two decades. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to not promote opioids and confirmed it has quit distributing them in the US. Pharmaceutical companies and distributors have faced a barrage of lawsuits over opioids, with governments arguing that the companies pushed the drugs and caused people to become addicted and then turn to illegal opioids as states and the federal government cracked down. The companies argued that they were distributing medically necessary opioids for people who need them. The crackdowns on opioid prescribing have left one group of people in particular in the lurch: chronic pain patients, who must seek opioids and doctors willing to prescribe them in large quantities in the midst of the retrenchment.

Law Enforcement

Minnesota Lawmakers Reach "General Agreement" on Policing Reforms. Legislative leaders of both the Democratic Farm Labor Party and the Republicans have reached "general agreement" on a broad-ranging police reform bill, leaders of both parties said late Saturday. Among other things, the bill would restrict the use of no-knock warrants, civil asset forfeiture reforms (but not an outright ban), reforms of fines and fee structures, restrict the use of confidential informants to better protect them, and make modifications to state police misconduct database to create an early warning system to keep bad cops off the street. The legislature is working under a deadline: If the broader public safety bill that includes the policing reforms is not passed by Wednesday, key government public safety functions, such as running state prisons and the State Patrol, would theoretically face shutdowns. But Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) said he will keep those operations functioning, even if that is legally questionable.

International

US Drug Czar's Office Says Colombia Coca Cultivation Expanded Last Year. Colombian coca cultivation increased 15% last year and potential cocaine production rose 7.9% to around a thousand metric tons, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), said Friday. The report from ONDCP differed from a report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released on June 9, which had a lower figure for crop cultivation but a higher figure -- 1,228 metric tons -- for potential cocaine production. In either case, Colombia remains the world's largest coca and cocaine producer, ahead of second place Peru and third place Bolivia.

Cuba Reiterates Zero Tolerance Drug Policies. Cuba used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on Saturday to make clear that its zero tolerance policy toward drug use, production, and trafficking remains unchanged. In a tweet, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez vowed that the island nations will never be a place to use, store, or traffic illicit drugs.

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.

ONDCP Says Overdoses Spiked During Pandemic, Poll Has 75% Opposed to Marijuana Prohibition, More... (4/2/21)

North Dakota lawmakers reject a bid to let voters decide on marijuana legalization, a West Virginia medical marijuana expansion bill remains alive, drug overdose deaths are up during the pandemic, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Poll Has Three-Quarters of Americans Opposing Pot Prohibition. A new The Hill/HarrisXDaily poll has only 25% supporting marijuana prohibition, while opponents of prohibition divided evenly between those who thought the federal government should legalize it (38%) and those who said leave it up to the individual states (37%).

Montana Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bills Head for House Floor Vote. House committees advanced three different bills aimed at creating a regulatory system for legal marijuana, House Bill 670, House Bill 701, and House Bill 707. The three bills all have different visions of what legal pot is going to look like, and all three would make significant changes from what voters approved if November. If none of them passes, the language of the successful legalization initiative would go into effect.

North Dakota Senate Kills Bid to Let Voters Decide Marijuana Legalization. After knocking back efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, the state Senate on Thursday also rejected a resolution that would have put the issue directly before voters on the 2022 ballot and required legislators to create a legal marijuana program if they passed it. That opens the door to at least one, possibly two, legalization efforts through the citizen initiative process.

Medical Marijuana

West Virginia Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill. On the last day to move bills out of their chambers of introduction, the Senate approved Senate Bill 231, which would expand the number of dispensaries in the state and the number of acceptable forms of medical marijuana. It also creates reciprocity with other medical marijuana states. The bill now moves to the House.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Spiked During Pandemic, ONDCP Says. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said Thursday that fatal drug overdoses jumped dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. "We lost 88,000 people in the 12-month period ending in August 2020," acting ONDCP director Regina LaBelle told reporters during a morning briefing. "Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are the primary drivers of this increase." That was up 27% over the previous 12-month period.

NY Legalizes Marijuana, US-Mexico Anti-Drug Cooperation at Standstill, WA Drug Decrim Bill Filed, More... (3/31/21)

The New York legislature approved marijuana legalization last night and the governor says he will sign the bill, a drug decriminalization bill has been filed in Washington state, North Carolina Republican senators head in the opposite direction when it comes to fentanyl, and more.

President Joe Biden is not leading the way on marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Still Opposed to Marijuana Legalization, Press Secretary Says. In response to a question from reporters about whether President Biden would support a push by Democratic senators to legalize marijuana federally, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the president "believes in decriminalizing the use of marijuana" and that his stance opposing legalization "has not changed."

Colorado Bill to Double Legal Possession Quantity Passes House. A bill that would double the amount of marijuana that it is legal to possess, House Bill 1090, passed the House on Tuesday. The bill would make possession of up to two ounces legal, as well as expanding opportunities for people with marijuana records to get those offenses expunged. The bill now heads for a Senate committee.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bills Advance in First Day of Special Session. Marijuana legalization has now been divided into two bills, both of which advanced Tuesday in the first day of special session called to get the legislation passed. The new House Bill 2, which would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for people 21 and over, passed both the House Taxation and Revenue committee and the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 2 is largely the same as House Bill 12, but has criminal justice provisions, including expungement, stripped out. Those provisions are now embodied in the new Senate Bill 2, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. The full Senate will take it up today.

New York Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization. After hours of debate Tuesday, the state Senate voted 40-23 to approve the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) (Senate Bill 854), which would immediately legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and set the stage for a taxed and regulated legal marijuana market. The House followed up hours later, approving the bill on a 100-49 vote. An embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) reached an agreement with legislative leaders on the bill over the weekend and has said he will sign it into law. Tuesday night, Cuomo said he looked forward to signing the bill. "New York has a storied history of being the progressive capital of the nation, and this important legislation will once again carry on that legacy," he said.

Virginia Governor Asks Legislature to Make Marijuana Legal in July, Not 2024. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has asked the legislature to amend the marijuana legalization bill it approved earlier this month by moving up the effective date for the legalization of marijuana possession to this coming July, instead of waiting for 2024. The move came on the last day for the governor to act on the bill. He also wants to move up allowing home cultivation of up to four plants per household as of July 1, 2021. The bill will now go back to the legislature for final approval.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote A Nebraska committee on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, Legislative Bill 474. The bill would allow patients with specified qualifying conditions to possess and purchase up to two and a half ounces of marijuana from licensed dispensaries. It would not, however, allow patients to smoke marijuana. The bill now heads for a final legislative floor vote.

South Carolina Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. The Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted 9-5 Wednesday to approve a medical marijuana bill, (Senate Bill 150/ House Bill 3361), clearing the way for a Senate floor vote next week. The bill would allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to access medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries.

Drug Policy

North Carolina Republican Senators' Bill to Increase Penalties for Fentanyl Possession Advances. A group of Republican state senators have filed Senate Bill 321, which would make possession of fentanyl a felony. Possession of fentanyl is currently a misdemeanor, but the bill would make it a Class I felony, putting it in the same class as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday and will be considered by one more committee Wednesday before being scheduled for a vote in the full Senate.

Washington State Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Senators Liz Lovelett (D) and cosponsors have filed Senate Bill 5476, which would decriminalize the possession of "personal use amounts" of drugs. The state is currently without a felony drug possession law after the state Supreme Court threw out that law earlier this month. The bill is now before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Foreign Policy

US Investigations into Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff with Mexico. Cooperation between US and Mexican authorities into Mexican drug cartels has come to a standstill since Mexico last December enacted a law requiring US officials to report their law enforcement contacts in the country to Mexican officials, whom they view as largely corrupt. Investigators on both sides of the border have paused cooperation over fears that the new disclosure rules could compromise cases or, worse yet, get Mexican officials helping the Americans killed. Drug raids on Mexican drug labs have largely stopped and US officials are having more difficulty tracking cocaine shipments through Mexico. The Mexican government acted in December after a retired Mexican general was arrested by the DEA in Los Angeles in October, then released after loud protests from Mexico.

House Passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, HI Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (3/5/21)

A Long Island doctor has been the first in New York to be charged with murder for his opioid prescribiing practices, there's strong popular support for marijuana legalizaion in Connecticut, and more.

The killing of George Floyd has now led to the House passage of a major policing reform bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved a marijuana decriminalization bill sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro). The bill would turn the current possession misdemeanor for less than two ounces into a violation with a maximum $250 fine. Possession of more than two ounces would be a misdemeanor, but punishable only with a fine. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Connecticut Poll Has Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A new poll from Sacred Heart University has support for marijuana legalization at 66%, with 38% strongly supporting and 28% merely supporting. The poll comes as Gov. Ned Lamont (D) seeks support for a marijuana legalization push.

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Senate Committee Vote. In a joint meeting Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees voted to approve Senate Bill 767, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over and create a path toward legal marijuana commerce. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Medical Marijuana

Tennessee Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday approved SB0854/HB0621, the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act. It is a full-fledged medical marijuana bill that would allow use of the substance for a set of specified qualifying medical conditions. The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

New York Physician Charged with Murder for Pain Pill Prescribing. A Long Island doctor, George Blatti, has become the first physician in the state to be charged with second-degree murder after police and prosecutors accused him of "depraved indifference" in prescribing opioid pain medications to his patients, including five who died of drug overdoses. Prosecutors characterized the 76-year-old physician as a "serial killer" who knowingly prescribed "huge" amounts of opioids to his patients.

Blatti's arrest is part of a larger trend of going after doctors for opioid prescribing. In 2011, 88 nationwide doctors faced criminal charges, civil lawsuits or medical suspensions over opioid prescribing; in 2019, that number had jumped to 477. Historically such prosecutions haven't always been reasonably targeted -- the '00s case of Dr. Frank Fisher is instructive -- and deciding whether a given prosecution of this type is a reasonable one can require extensive research.

Law Enforcement

House Passes George Floyd-Inspired Police Reform Bill. The House on Wednesday approved HR 1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on a 220 to 212 vote mainly along party lines. The measure had passed the House last year, but didn't move in the then Republican-controlled Senate. The bill would create a national database to track police misconduct, ban some no-knock warrants, ban chokeholds, and move to end racial and religious profiling. It would also weaken "qualified immunity" for police officers, lowering the bar for people to sue police for alleged civil rights violations. Now, the ball is in the Senate's court.

DEA Releases Annual Drug Threat Assessment, RI Senate Approves Safer Injection Sites, More... (3/2/21)

The DEA points to Mexican drug cartels as the nation's greatest criminal drug threat, senators in Washington state move to reinstate the state's invalidated felony drug possession law, Dallas police are pushing to stop making small-time pot possession arrests, and more.

A California bill would end almost all marijuana drug testing for employees. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Bill Would End Most Workplace Marijuana Drug Tests. Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hollywood) has introduced AB 1256, which would bar employers from using past evidence of marijuana use, such as hair or urine tests, to discriminate against employees. The bill is supported by CA NORML. "It is those tests that we want to ban, because they don't detect anything related to impairment," the group's longtime director Dale Gieringer said. The tests can show whether someone has used marijuana in the past, but not whether they are currently intoxicated.

Dallas Police Push No Arrests for Marijuana Possession Up to Two Ounces. Dallas Police are proposing to the city council Tuesday that it adopt a policy of no longer ticketing or arresting people caught with less than two ounces of marijuana. Pot busts accounted for 7% of all arrests in the city during the first three weeks of February, and 80% of those pot arrets were for fewer than two ounces. The proposal goes before the council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Safe Consumption Sites for Illegal Drugs. The state Senate last week quietly approved SB 0016, which would authorize the creation of "Harm Reduction Centers" where drug users could inject drug under medical supervision. The bill would create an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state Health Department on regulating safe injection sites. A companion bill, HB 5245, though, is stuck in the House Committee on Health and Human Services, which has not set a date to vote on it.

Drug Policy

Washington State Senators Bill File to Bring Back Drug Possession Felony Crimes. Just days after the state Supreme Court threw out Washington's felony drug possession law, a pair of Democratic state senators, Mark Mullet and Steve Hobbs, have filed legislation to make possession of a controlled substance a felony again, SB 5468. The court threw out the law because it did not require prosecutors to prove that someone "knowingly" possessed drugs; this bill would merely add "knowingly" to the statute.

Law Enforcement

DEA Releases 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. The DEA released its annual National Drug Threat Assessment Tuesday. The agency said that "the opioid threat remains at epidemic levels, affecting large portions of the country. Meanwhile, the stimulant threat, including methamphetamine and cocaine, is worsening both in volume and reach, with traffickers selling increasing amounts outside of traditional markets." DEA also pointed the finger at Mexican "transnational criminal organizations" as "the greatest criminal drug threat in the United States."

Washington House Approves Bill to Ban Chokeholds, No-Knock Warrants. The House on Saturday approved HB 1054, which would ban police from using chokeholds and using no-knock search warrants. The bill is now being considered by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Book Review: Drug Use for Grown-Ups

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, by Carl Hart (2021, Penguin Press, 290 pp., $28.00 HB)

Dr. Carl Hart is a one-man drug and drug user destigmatization machine. In his new book, Drug Use for Grown-Ups, the Columbia University psychology professor blasts drug prohibition as both an affront to the American dream of the pursuit of happiness and as a tool of racial oppression. And he makes a strong, informed argument that recreational drug use can be, and usually is, a good thing.

You could hardly find someone more qualified to make the case. Hart has spent years in the trenches of neuropsychopharmacology research, handed out drugs (or placebos) to thousands of research subjects, published numerous scientific papers and popular articles in the field, and risen to the top of his profession along the way. And here is his bottom line:

"[O]ver my more than 25-year career, I have discovered that most drug-use scenarios cause little or no harm and that some responsible drug-scenarios are actually beneficial for human health and functioning. Even 'recreational' drugs can and do improve day-to-day living... From my own experience -- the combination of my scientific work and my personal drug use, I have learned that recreational drugs can be used safely to enhance many vital human activities."

Hart is refreshingly -- and deliberately -- open about his own recreational drug use. Given the stigmatization and persecution of people identified as "drug users," he feels that justice demands privileged partakers come out of the closet and give voice to their own, non-destructive drug use histories as a necessary remedy for that demonization. He certainly does so himself, revealing a disciplined yet curious mind most definitely not averse to sampling various substances.

Those substances include heroin, which he describes as his current favorite drug, one that he's been using episodically for years now: "There aren't many things in life that I enjoy more than a few lines by the fireplace at the end of the day... Heroin allows me to suspend the perpetual preparation for battle that goes on in my head... The world is alright with me. I'm good. I'm refreshed. I'm prepared to face another day, another faculty meeting, another obligatory function. All parties benefit."

But Hart is not quite so mellow when it comes to people and institutions he sees as helping to perpetuate overly negative depictions of various drugs or the persecution of drug users. He rips into Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) over her "addiction is a brain disease" mantra and the rigid ideological control she has over research funding. He rips into journalists for uncritically and sensationally reporting salacious scientific findings about the evils of drugs that he argues are not supported by the evidence they are supposedly based on. He even calls Bernie Sanders "ignorant" (that word shows up more than a few times) for complaining that marijuana shouldn't be in the same drug schedule as "killer drugs like heroin."

Dr. Carl Hart (Columbia University)
Hart doesn't deny the potential dangers of drug use but makes the case that they are dramatically overstated. In that sense, Drug Use for Grown-Ups is a corrective to more than a century of anti-drug propaganda. In a deep dive into opioids, for instance, he notes that most opioid overdose deaths are actually opioid/benzodiazepines/alcohol deaths, and that a large number of them are due to ignorance (there's that word again) -- in that, in the black market that currently exists, drug users do not and cannot know what exactly is in that pill or powder they purchased.

As long as we are in a prohibition regime, the least we can do is widespread drug testing for quality control, as is done at some European music festivals, Hart argues. But that's the only kind of drug testing he's down with; he calls the urine drug testing industry "parasitic," a sobriquet he also applies to the drug treatment industry.

But hang on, he's not done yet. Although he is an advocate for harm reduction practices, he has a bone to pick with the term itself: It's too damned negative! Drug use doesn't typically involve harm, he argues, but pleasure-seeking. As I pondered this, I came up with "benefit enhancement" as an upbeat alternative to harm reduction, but Hart went with "health and happiness."

And he's got a bone to pick with "psychedelic exceptionalism," the notion, dear to folks like Decriminalize Nature, that psychedelics, or better yet, "plant entheogens," are somehow "better" than dirty old drugs like meth or heroin and thus deserve to be treated differently, more gently. He also snarks at the notion that taking drugs for spiritual or religious purposes is of a higher order than taking them for fun and rebels at the notion of having a shaman or guide during a tripping session: "Some people find this comforting. I find it creepy and have never done so myself."

Drug Use for Grown-Ups is bracing, informative, and provocative contribution to the literature. Even the most ardent drug reformers and defenders would benefit from reading it and reexamining their own assumptions. Maybe Carl Hart is onto something.

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