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Record Overdose Death Numbers Prompt Calls for Harm Reduction, Drug Decriminalizaion [FEATURE]

On May 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the most overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year. The figure marks a 15 percent increase over 2020, with the number of overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999. And this is only provisional data; the actual death toll could be even higher.

More people died of drug overdoses last year than from gunfire and traffic accidents combined, and the ever-rising death toll is leading to ever-louder calls for effective policy prescriptions and harm reduction interventions to reduce the carnage.

Opioids were implicated in nearly 80,000 overdose deaths, with synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and its derivatives, involved in more than 68,000. Cocaine was mentioned in more than 23,000 overdose deaths and psychostimulants, primarily methamphetamine, mentioned in more than 30,000.

To its credit, the Biden administration has recognized the urgency of the problem, embracing harm reduction interventions such as needle exchanges, drug testing, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in its 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The strategy includes $30 million for harm reduction grants, but also $300 million increases for the DEA and Customs and Border Patrol. While the prohibitionist impulse remains strong, at least the administration has explicitly recognized the need for harm reduction.

But that isn't enough, advocates say.

"New data from CDC has confirmed our worst fears. The combined pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly potent illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed and under-resourced public health system have driven the overdose crisis to catastrophic levels," said Daliah Heller, Vice President of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, in a statement.

>Vital Strategies is a global public health organization that in February, launched "Support Harm Reduction," a campaign to highlight five key interventions for preventing overdose that many people in the United States still don’t have access to: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers. 

>"What we’re doing now isn’t working, because the decades-old punitive response to drug use still predominates: The transition to a health-first, harm reduction approach has been slow and piecemeal," Heller continued. "Anemic levels of funding and policy support are woefully insufficient to stem the tide of overdose we are experiencing. These data are an urgent call to action for government at all levels: we need to mount a massive public health response to overdose that centers harm reduction and support instead of criminalization and punishment for people who use drugs.  

"Far too few people have access to any of the five key interventions we know will reduce overdose deaths," Heller added. "Most of these services are available in some form, in some locations in the majority of states, but they all need to be massively scaled up with an emergency investment. Until such actions are taken, the continued escalation of this overdose crisis seems inevitable," she said.

"The devastating rise in overdose deaths is falling most heavily on Black and Indigenous communities, where the need for relief now is more urgent than ever before," Heller noted. "A massive surge in funding and support for a harm reduction public health response will save lives immediately, engaging people who use drugs with lifesaving resources and support. The time for action is now."

Likewise, the new CDC numbers prompted the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) to call on Congress to urgently support harm reduction services and move toward drug decriminalization.

"Once again, we are devastated by these numbers," said Jules Netherland, DPA Managing Director of the Department of Research & Academic Engagement. "Over 107,000 of our friends, family and neighbors lost their lives to drug overdose last year. And sadly, we know the numbers will only continue to climb unless our policymakers actually do what is necessary to curb them. The United States has spent over 50 years and well over a trillion dollars on criminalization - and this is where it has gotten us. It's clearly not working. It's time we start investing where it actually matters - in our communities, specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities where we are now seeing the sharpest rise in overdose deaths. The evidence shows us, that in order to actually make a difference, we have to replace these approaches with those centered in public health, such as drug decriminalization coupled with increased access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction services, overdose prevention centers, and legal regulation and safer supply to reduce the likelihood of accidental overdose," Nederland said.

It is time for safe injection sites, too, DPA insisted.
 
"We are grateful that the Biden Administration has embraced harm reduction as part of their National Drug Control Strategy, but we need to see that commitment met with Congressional funding and a massive scaling up of these health services," Nederland said. "It's also essential that Overdose Prevention Centers be implemented, which decades of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies and utilization in over 14 countries show us are one of the most effective ways to save lives now. While it may not always be politically convenient, it’s time to be guided by the evidence about what works. Overdose deaths are avoidable and a policy failure—it’s time we stop recycling the same policies that got us here and take the actions that are necessary to save lives."

Drug Overdose Deaths Hit Another Record High, DE Legal Pot Bill Goes to Governor, More... (5/16/22)

Gavin Newsom attempts to lend a hand to California's embattled legal marijuana growers, Ohioans will have to wait another year to vote on marijuana legalization, the first British drug checking service is set to open, and more.

More than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, the CDC reports. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor's Budget Would Give Growers a Break by Eliminating Cultivation Tax. With wholesale marijuana prices cratering and growers screaming for help, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has included the elimination of the marijuana cultivation tax in his proposed FY 2022-2023 budget released Friday. That would eliminate one of the four taxes on marijuana—the cultivation tax of $10 an ounce for dry-weight flowers paid by growers, a state excise tax paid by retailers, a local excise tax paid by retailers, and the state sales tax. Despite cutting the cultivation tax, Newsom's budget still includes $670 million in annual funding for services currently funded by marijuana tax revenues. Newsom's proposal must be approved by the legislature and would go into effect July 1 if it is.

Delaware Legislature Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a final vote by the Senate last Thursday, the legislature has approved a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 371. The bill would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of weed by people 21 and over. But the fate of the bill is uncertain given Gov. John Carney's (D) staunch opposition to legalization, which he has called a "bad idea." If, however, Carney does veto the bill, it would need a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers, which is achievable. But the last time the legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto was 45 years ago.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Vote Delayed Until 2023. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol announced last Friday that it will forego attempting to get a vote on its marijuana legalization initiative this year after state officials agreed to allow the campaign to keep more than 140,000 signatures it had gathered this year and use them to get on the ballot next year. The move came after House Republicans said the group handed in signatures too late to qualify for this year. The group is undertaking an initiated statute campaign under which it gathers enough signatures to place the issue before the legislature and if the legislature does not enact legalization, it would go before voters. But now, it will go before voters next year—provided the campaign comes up with a second round of signatures—not this year.

Overdoses

Drug Overdoses in 2021 at Highest Level on Record According to CDC, Driven by Opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data last Wednesday showing that drug overdoses had hit 107,622 in 2021, an all-time high. The figure is 15 percent higher than the previous year and represents a 49 percent increase in overdose deaths since 2019. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl were implicated in two-thirds of overdose deaths.

International

United Kingdom's First Drug Checking Service to Open This Month. The British Home Office has approved the nation's first drug checking service, where illicit drugs can be tested for purity, strength, and contaminants. The move is aimed at reducing the harms associated with high-risk drug taking and at providing a fuller picture of the illicit drug market. The drug checking will be undertaken by a harm reduction organization called The Loop, working with the Bristol Drugs Project and the People's Republic of Stokes Croft, a community organization. The service is set to begin May 28 and will run once a month, with additional operating hours to be scheduled around significant local events, such as concerts and festivals. 

White House Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Nixed, More... (4/21/22)

A pair of companion marijuana legalization initiatives are cleared for singature-gathering in Oklahoma, SAMSHA mantains a firm line on drug testing rules, and more.

A needle exchange. The White House is emphasizing harm reduction measures to take on the overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would have legalized marijuana and had it sold at state-owned retail outlets, House Bill 1598. The bill could still come up for a Senate floor vote, but the committee vote likely signals the end of the road for this legislative session. The House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills in recent years, only to see them die in the Senate. And even if something were to make it to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), he remains opposed to legalization. At least one senator indicated he was stuck in a time warp: "Why would we want to join the herd of introducing to our culture legalization of a substance that is unquestionably a gateway drug?" asked Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren).

Ohio Lawmakers File Marijuana Legalization Bill That Mirrors Ongoing Legalization Initiative. Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrance Upchurch, have filed a marijuana legalization bill with the same language as the legalization initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMTA). CRMTA's initiative passed an initial signature threshold, starting a process where the legislature has four months to either pass legalization or let it go to the voters in November (provided CRMTA succeeds in another round of signature-gathering), but there is little indication that the Republican-controlled legislature is going to act on it.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature-Gathering. The state Supreme Court has cleared the way for two companion marijuana legalization initiative campaigns to begin signature-gathering. State Question 819 and the companion State Question 818, would amend the state constitution to protect the right of residents age 21 and older to use marijuana. Because they amend the constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering hurdle than State Question 820, which has already been cleared for signature-gathering. It needs about 90,000 signatures within 90 days to qualify for the ballot, while State Questions 819 and 820 will need about 178,000 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House released the 2022 National Drug Control StrategyThursday, focusing on treating drug addiction and fighting drug trafficking. The strategy calls for expanded harm reduction interventions, such as drug test strips, needle exchanges, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new strategy is “the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and service,” the White House said. But the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA, maintaining a law enforcement emphasis. Those figures were released as part of the FY 2023 budget released last month.

Drug Testing

SAMSHA Cuts No Slack for Medical Marijuana, Accidental Exposures in Updated Federal Drug Testing Rules. In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a pair of notices about proposed changes to drug testing policies. One new notice clarifies that having a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test. The secondnew notice states that passive exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke or accidental ingestion of foods containing marijuana are not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test. These are proposed rules, and  there is a 60-day public comment period on the proposals is open until June 6.

MA Drug Courts Agree to Allow Medication-Assisted Treatment, CT Psychedelic Treatment Bill Advances, More... (3/28/22)

Illinois Senate Democrats roll out a pair of bills to fight the opioid overdose crisis, South Dakota's governor vetoes a bill removing old pot charges from public background checks, and more.

Buprenorphine. This and other Medications for Opioid Use Disorder will now be allowed in Bay State drug courts. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Governor Vetoes Bill to Automatically Remove Old Marijuana Charges from Background Checks. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) has vetoed Senate Bill 151, which would have automatically removed marijuana charges and convictions more than five years old from public background checks. The bill also required that past offenders have fulfilled their sentences and have no later arrests. In her veto statement, Noem said, "It also essentially codifies a convicted person's ability to be dishonest about their previous arrest and conviction by not requiring disclosure of the prior drug conviction." The bill did not pass with veto-proof majorities.

Psychedelics

Connecticut Lawmakers Advance Psychedelic-Assisted Treatment for Veterans. A bill that would allocate $3 million to help veterans and other disadvantaged people gain access to psychedelic-assisted therapies is advancing. House Bill 5396 passed the Public Health Committee on a unanimous vote last Friday and has now been referred to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysisprior to a House floor vote.

Drug Courts

Feds Reach Settlement with Massachusetts Drug Court Over Discriminating Against People with Opioid Use Disorder. The US Attorneys Office in Boston announced last Thursday it had reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Trial Court to resolve charges its drug court discriminated against people with Opioid Use Disorder, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Federal prosecutors argued that the drug court discriminated against people taking Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone, by barring or pressuring them to stop using those medications in order to participate in the drug court program. Under the new agreement, all 25 state drug courts will allow the use of MOUDs, with decisions about their use taken only by licensed practitioners or licensed opioid treatment programs. "The opioid crisis has impacted nearly every household and family unit in the Commonwealth. My family is no exception. Sadly, in Massachusetts per capita rates of opioid-related deaths are above the national average. To combat this public health crisis we need to be doing everything possible to save lives. That includes ensuring access to all forms of medical treatment for OUD," said United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins. "We commend the Massachusetts Trial Court for working with us to implement a policy that sets a standard for other state courts across our country to follow. This policy helps ensure that the court system leaves MOUD treatment decisions to trained and licensed medical professionals."

Harm Reduction

Illinois Democrats Roll Out Pair of Bills to Address Overdose Crisis. Senate Democrats last Thursday unveiled a pair of bills that take aim at the state's opioid overdose crisis, where deaths related to synthetic opioids have increased nearly 25-fold since 2013. Sen. Laura Ellman (D-Naperville) is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 17, a Good Samaritan law that would grant immunity from prosecution for possession of small amounts of fentanyl that for people suffering from an overdose or for people seeking to aid them. And Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) is the Senate sponsor of House Bill 4556, which would allow pharmacists and medical professionals to dispense fentanyl test strips and other drug-testing supplies to anyone who wants them. adulterant testing supplies to any person without persecution for possessing drug testing supplies.

VT House Approves Bill to Cut Drug Sentencing, FL House Republicans Kill Fentanyl Test Strip Bill, More... (3/22/22)

A New Hampshire marijuana legalization bill takes another key step toward passage, there's a push for drug decriminalization in Maine, and more.

More states are taking up bills to legalize fentanyl test strips in a bid to reduce overdoses. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill; It Now Heads for Second House Floor Vote. A bill to create a legal marijuana market through state-run dispensaries that has already passed the House once has now been amended and approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, which took it up because it involved economic components. The bill, House Bill 1348, is now set for a second House floor vote, and if the amended measure is approved, will then head t the Senate.

Drug Policy

Maine ACLU, Center for Economic Policy Release Report Calling for Drug Decriminalization. The Maine chapter of the ACLY and the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) released a report Monday recommending the decriminalization of drug use and possession in the state, A Better Path for Maine: The Case for Decriminalizing Drugs. The report highlights the cost of criminalizing drug use, the impact on incarcerated individuals for drug possession and use, and challenges with the legal system associated with drug criminalization. "In addition to the very real toll that the war on drugs inflicts on Mainers' physical and mental wellbeing, collectively we pay millions of dollars each year in financial costs," James Myall, an economic policy analyst at MECEP, said. "Year over year, Maine has prioritized incarcerating and criminalizing people who use drugs over making treatment for drug use more available. Not only is this approach ineffective, but it's extremely costly."

Vermont House Approves Bill to Cut Maximum Drug Sentences, Review Laws on Drug Possession. The House last Friday approved House Bill 505, which would cut maximum sentences for drug offenses and set up a board to review existing drug possession laws. The bill drops some drug offenses, such as possession of small amounts of heroin, from felonies to misdemeanors. It also eliminates the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. It would also create a Drug Use Standards Advisory Board, a move first proposed in House Bill 644, a broader bill that would decriminalize drug possession but which has failed to move out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Harm Reduction

Florida House Republicans Kill Bill to Legalize Fentanyl Test Strips. A bill to legalize fentanyl test strips as part of the effort to reduce drug overdose deaths in the state was killed earlier this month by House Republicans. The bill had passed out of the Senate as part of broader legislation, but when it came before the House on March 11, the last day of the session, the Republicans who control the House voted on a voice vote to strip the fentanyl test strip language from the broader bill, which they then passed.

Tennessee Legislator Approves Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Both chambers of the legislature have approved a bill that would remove fentanyl test strips from the state's definition of illegal drug paraphernalia, House Bill 2177. Legislators were moved to act after fentanyl overdose deaths jumped 46 percent between 2018 and 2019 and more than 700 people died of drug overdoses in Nashville alone last year. "If we can save one life, I think that this bill is worth it, because overdose cases are out of control," said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). "If we can help them at least not take something that could kill them — one pill and it could kill — then that’s what I want to be able to do." The bill

now goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Lee (R). A spokesperson said he plans to sign it into law.

Open Air Weed Market Emerges in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, AL Fentanyl Test Strip Bill Passes, More... (3/14/22)

Congressional Democrats gathered in Philadelphia last Thursday to talk about marijuana legalization, the Washington legislature has approved $200,000 for psilocying research, and more.

Fentanyl test strips.Bills to legalize them are popping up in numerous states. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Democrats Elevate Marijuana Equity Issues at Retreat Panel Focused on Legalization. At a policy retreat in Philadelphia last Thursday, congressional Democrats heard from a panel on advancing marijuana reform with a heavy emphasis on social equity issues. The panel was chaired by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who led the discussion on how the people most impacted by drug prohibition can benefit from legalization. "The congresswoman’s feeling is still that racial justice and restorative justice needs to be at the centerpiece of any cannabis legislation that we put forward," said a staffer at the meeting. The bill getting the most attention was Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), which advocates are pushing for a floor vote this month.

Open Air Weed Market Emerges in Manhattan's Washington Square Park as Legal Marijuana Sales Still Not Allowed. Regulations for legal marijuana sales in the state are still being developed, but that is not stopping weed entrepreneurs from selling it openly in what has developed into an open air marijuana market in Lower Manhattan's Washington Square Park. Of course, people have been selling weed in the park for decades, but now the scene is more open than ever, with vendors hawking pre-rolled joints and offering multiple strains. "It’s got an old hippie vibe," said one visiting customer, amidst psychedelically decorated card tables filled with product. "The designs could do with a bit of work. But you don’t really have to advertise weed."

Harm Reduction

Alabama Lawmakers Pass Bill Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. With a final vote in the House last Thursday, the legislature has approved Senate Bill 168, which amends the state's existing drug paraphernalia law to allow people to use fentanyl test strips to test street drugs before they use them. Lawmakers cited the rising toll of fentanyl overdose deaths as they approved the bill. The bill is now on the desk of Governor Kay Ivey (R).

Psychedelics

Washington State Lawmakers Approve $200,000 in Psilocybin Research Funding. Legislators last Thursday approved a budget bill that includes $200,000 for a new workgroup to study issues around legalizing psilocybin services in the state. The Psilocybin Wellness Workgroup would be tasked with drafting a "report on psilocybin services wellness and opportunities in consultation with stakeholders." Much of the group's work would focus on analyzing and possibly amending a stalled Senate bill  that would have legalized "supported psilocybin expereinces by adults 21 and older.

MD Lawmakers Take Up Marijuana Legalization, Former Honduras Prez Detained on US Drug Charges, More... (2/15/22)

The Oregon Health Authority has released draft rules for therapeutic psilocybin, the New Mexico legislature approves legalizing fentanyl test strips, and more.

Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed. Senator Rick Singleton (R) has filed a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Senate Bill 160 would make first offense possession of more than two ounces a misdemeanor but with a maximum penalty of a $250 fine, a second offense would be a $500 fine, and a third offense would merit a felony charge and a $750 fine but no jail time. Possession of less than two ounces would also be subject to a $250 fine but would only be an infraction. Under current state law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Maryland Lawmakers Begin Work on Marijuana Legalization as Plans for Referendum Quicken. Lawmakers in Annapolis have begun working on a pair of bills aimed at legalizing marijuana in the state. The first bill, House Bill 1, sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, would put the question of legalization before the voters in November, while the second bill, House Bill 837, also from Clippinger, provides a framework for lawmakers to come up with a scheme for taxation and regulation.

If the referendum bill is approved by both lawmakers and voters, possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana would become a civil violation punishable by only a $100 fine starting January 1, 2023. And expungement of past possession convictions would be automatic. The legislation would also require the state to conduct a "disparity study" to evaluate barriers groups may face in gaining access to the legal industry.

Psychedelics

Oregon Releases Draft Rules for Therapeutic Use of Psilocybin. The state health department has released draft rules for the therapeutic use of psilocybin. The move is in response to the passage of Measure 109 in November 2020, which gave the state two years to come up with a framework for regulating magic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. While most of the draft rules deal with how to credential and evaluate training programs for those administering psilocybin, one rule specifies that only one species of mushroom, psilocybe cubensis, will be allowed. Growers would not be allowed to use dung or wood chips to cultivate mushrooms or make synthetic psilocybin and would also not be able to make products that might appeal to children, such as "products in the shape of an animal, vehicle, person or character."

Harm Reduction

New Mexico Legislature Approves Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The state Senate on Monday gave final approval to House Bill 52, which legalizes test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl. The move is a bid to reduce overdoses. Overdoses linked to fentanyl began climbing in the state in 2019. The bill has already passed the House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who supports it.

International

Former Honduran President Detained on US Drug Charges. Former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who left office less than a month ago, has been detained by Honduran authorities to face extradition to the US to face drug charges. An extradition request presented to the Honduran Supreme Court accuses Hernandez of participating in a "violent drug-trafficking conspiracy" that transported 500 tons of cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela to the US since 2004. His brother, Juan Antonio Hernandez, is already doing a life sentence in the US for drug trafficking, and so is another trafficker, Geovanny Fuentes, who implicated Hernandez in the conspiracy. It is not clear if or when Hernandez will be extradited; the Supreme Court judge who will hear his case is affiliated with his political party and has a history of freeing suspects in corruption cases.

MS Lawmakers Reach Agreement on MedMJ Bill, Seattle City Council Approves Psychedelic Decrim, More... (1/26/22)

Thailand takes another big step toward marijuana decriminalization, San Francisco is turning a blind eye to drug use at a Tenderloin services center, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms got some attention in Seattle, Oklahoma City and Richmond this week. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Medical Marijuana Bill. House and Senate lawmakers announced Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on medical marijuana legislation and were preparing to finalize details of the legislation this week before sending the bill to Gov. Tate Reeves (R). The bill was amended in the House to reduce the amount of medical marijuana available each month for patients, in line with the concerns of Gov. Reeves. The agreement comes more than a year after voted approved a medical marijuana initiative only to see it overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Ohio Bill to Add Autism as Medical Marijuana Qualifying Condition Advances. The House Health Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 60, which would add autism spectrum disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The bill now heads to the House Rules and Reference Committee, which decides which bills get a floor vote. Bill cosponsor Rep. Bill Seize (R-Cincinnati) said he was optimistic the bill would get a floor vote. "This is a good, bipartisan bill," he said, pointing out that 14 other legislators from both parties are cosponsors.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Republicans File Bills to Decriminalize Psilocybin, Encourage Research on Medical Benefits. State Reps. Daniel Pae (R) and Logan Phillips (R) have filed a pair of bills that would promote research into psilocybin's therapeutic potential, and one of them would also decriminalize small-time possession of the drug. The bills are designed to give lawmakers different options to reach similar objectives, but Pae's bill would also decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce and half of psilocybin.

Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill to Next Year. The House Courts of Justice Subcommittee has voted to delay consideration of a bill to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics, House Bill 898, until 2023. The move came even after the bill was amended by its sponsor, Del. Dawn Adams (D), to only apply to medical practitioners and people using psychedelics with a practitioner. The object for the delay is to build support and try again next year. A similar bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 262, remains alive.

Seattle City Council Approves Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution. The city council on Monday night approved a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of activities around psychedelic drugs, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline. It was already Seattle policy not to arrest or prosecute people for personal drug possession, but this resolution further protects the cultivation and sharing of psychedelic plants for reasons of "religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices."

Harm Reduction

Wisconsin Legislature Passes Bill to Decriminalize Fentanyl Test Strips. Both the House and the Senate have approved a bill that would decriminalize fentanyl test strips. Under current law, the overdose prevention tool is considered drug paraphernalia. At least one public health initiative, Vivent Health (formerly the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin), has already distributed nearly 46,000 test strips anonymously, with no questions asked.

San Francisco Allowing People to Use Drugs Inside New Tenderloin Treatment Linkage Center. The city is turning a blind eye to drug use in an outdoor area of the mayor's new Tenderloin Linkage Center in United Nations Plaza. At the center, the city offers basic hygiene services, food, clothing, and referrals to treatment and housing services inside the building. The drug use is going on in a fenced-in area outside the building. Critics have accused the city of running an "illicit drug consumption site," but a spokesman for Mayor London Breed (D) said that the "emergency initiative is about doing everything we can to help people struggling with addiction, and getting them connected to services and treatment. As part of that, the linkage center is serving as a low-barrier site to bring people off the street."

International

Thai Narcotics Control Board Approves Marijuana Decriminalization. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul announced Wednesday that the Narcotics Control Board had approved the removal of marijuana from the country's list of controlled substances. The delisting will next be formally singed by Charnvirakul and will go into effect 120 days after notice is published in the government gazette. The move definitely clears the way for the cultivation and production of medical marijuana and hemp, but it was unclear is marijuana possession would no longer be an arrestable offense.

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Harm Reduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Psychedelics

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

Harm Reduction

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

International

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

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

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