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White House Preps for MDMA Therapy Approval, MO Legalization Init Could Come Up Short, More... (7/28/22)

South Dakota's first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary opens, the FDA is moving toward approval of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Legalizing them could be on the ballot in Medford, Oregon, this November. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Needs More Signatures as Deadline Looms. Legal Missouri, the group behind an initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, handed in more than twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the November election, but may still come up short because of the state's requirement that it meet signature thresholds in each of the state's congressional districts. The group is 1,144 signatures short in the 7th Congressional District and 1,573 short in the 6th. The campaign says it is double-checking signature counts from local election authorities in hopes of making up the shortfall. Secretary of State John Ashcroft (R) will announce by August 9 whether or not the campaign has qualified.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota's First State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens. The Unity Road Dispensary in the small town of Hartford opened its doors for business Wednesday, becoming the first state-licensed dispensary to open after voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2020. But it is not the first dispensary in the state: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened Native Nations Cannabis in July 2021, saying it did not need to wait for the state to license it because it is on sovereign Native American territory. Another has since opened on the Pine Ridge reservation.

Psychedelics

Biden Administration Preparing for FDA Approval of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD. The Department of Health and Human Services released a letter Wednesday that described the Food and Drug Administration's "anticipated approval… within approximately 24 months" of psychedelic-assisted therapies. The letter said that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is exploring establishment of a Federal Task Force to address the complex issues associated with the commercialization of psychedelic medicines, including clinical, regulatory, and public policy matters.

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which has pioneered clinical trials on MDMA, was pleased: "We applaud the Biden Administration for taking psychedelic-assisted therapies, and their potential to treat life-threatening mental health conditions, seriously. A Federal Task Force on psychedelic-assisted therapies should take a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring that red tape, administrative delays, or insurance coverage questions don't leave Americans suffering as they seek to access approved treatments," said MAPS founder and executive director Rick Doblin.

Doblin continued, "For the first time, research that has been driven by philanthropists could additionally be supported by the same types of Federal grants that have funded other health care revolutions and develop patient access strategies that prioritize public benefit over profit. For decades, we have been making the case for what the Administration is now acknowledging: psychedelic-assisted therapies may become a key in addressing the most urgent mental health challenges of our time and reducing needless suffering."

Medford, Oregon, City Council Ponders Psilocybin Legalization. In a surprise move, the city council has scheduled a study session about psilocybin for tonight's meeting. No vote on an ordinance is expected, but the city council said it wants the study session to make an informed decision about putting an ordinance on the November ballot.

CO Psychedelic Legalization Init Qualifies, Singapore Hangs Fifth in Four Months for Drug Offenses, More... (7/22/22)

Iowa's Democratic attorney general calls for legalizing fentanyl test strips, GOP senators file a bill to go after drug cartel "spotters," and more.

The Rio Grande River marks the US-Mexico border in this remote region of Texas. Can you spot any spotters? (Pixabay)
Drug Policy

GOP Senators File Bill to Target Cartel Spotters. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and cosponsors Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) have filed the Transnational Criminal Organization Illicit Spotter Prevention and Elimination Act, which "increases penalties for those who aid cartels in illegal activity by transmitting information about the positions of Border Patrol or destroying Border Patrol communication devices." The bill would stiffen penalties on spotters by increasing fines and imposing a maximum prison term of 10 years on those convicted of helping cartels.

Harm Reduction

Iowa Attorney General Calls for Legalizing Fentanyl Test Strips. Faced with rising drug overdose deaths in the state, Attorney General Tom Miller (D) said Thursday he wants to see legislation introduced next year to legalize fentanyl test strips. He also said he wants to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. "There's no one thing that's going to solve this problem, but the pieces of different solutions are going to really, really make the difference," Miller said. Miller's remarks came a week after Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) held a news conference about rising fentanyl overdoses and offered up a public messaging campaign aimed at younger Iowans. Iowa saw 470 drug overdose deaths last year, up from 419 in 2020 and 350 in 2019.

Psychedelics

Colorado Psychedelic Legalization Psilocybin Therapy Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. The Natural Medicine Health Act has qualified for the November ballot. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, backed by the national New Approach PAC, turned in about 100,000 more raw signatures than needed to qualify after a short, three-month signature-gathering campaign. The initiative would legalize possession of certain psychedelics, establish a therapeutic model for supervised psilocybin treatment and provide a pathway for record sealing for prior convictions. There are no explicit possession limits for natural psychedelics, including psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn. There is no provision for recreational sales. A second psychedelic legalization initiative, sponsored by Decriminalize Nature Colorado, that would simply allow people 21 and over to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT is still in the signature-gathering phase.

International

Singapore Hangs Drug Offender, Fifth Execution in Four Months. Singapore authorities executed Nazeri bin Lajim for heroin trafficking on Friday. It was the fifth execution in less than four months, all of drug offenders. "Five people have been hanged this year in Singapore, in a period of less than four months. This relentless wave of hangings must stop immediately. The use of the death penalty in Singapore, including as mandatory punishment for drug-related offences, violates international human rights law and standards," Amnesty International's death penalty expert Chiara Sangorgio said. "Everyone executed in Singapore in 2022 has been sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for drug-related offenses. Rather than having a unique deterrent effect on crime, these executions only show the utter disregard the Singaporean authorities have for human rights and the right to life. We call on governments, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the International Narcotics Control Board to increase pressure on Singapore so that international safeguards on the death penalty are respected and drug control policies are rooted in the promotion and protection of human rights. Singapore's highly punitive approach does neither."

Senate Democrats File Marijuana Legalization Bill, Bipartisan Psychedelics for Terminally Ill Bill Filed, More... (7/21/22)

Singapore is set to hang a drug offender today, Sensators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) filed a bill to allow the terminally ill to use certain psychedelics, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Senate Leadership Introduces Legislation to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), today introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). The legislation repeals the federal criminal prohibition of marijuana, provides deference to states' cannabis policies, and establishes mechanisms to help repair the harms associated with the racially and economically disparate enforcement of prohibition. The CAOA removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act schedule entirely, ending the threat of federal prosecution for possession and licensed commercial activity, and allows states to implement their own cannabis policies free of federal interference. It also eliminates many problems facing regulated state cannabis markets, including lack of access to financial services, the inability to deduct standard business expenses when filing federal taxes, and the lack of uniform national regulatory standards and guidelines. The legislation also directs funding to reinvest in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition and helps improve diversity and inclusion in regulated cannabis markets. The bill's prospects in the evenly-divided Senate are unclear, at best.

Psychedelics

Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Amend the Right to Try Act to Assist Terminally Ill Patients. US Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced legislation Thursday to clarify that the Right to Try Act should allow terminally ill patients to have access to Schedule I drugs for which a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed. Specifically, the Right to Try Clarification Act would remove any obstacle presented by the Controlled Substances Act with respect to Schedule I substances when they are used by doctors and patients in accordance with the federal Right to Try law. Companion legislation will be introduced in the House by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Nancy Mace (R-SC).

The federal Right to Try law permits patients who have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases or conditions, and who have exhausted all approved treatment options, access to certain treatments that have not yet received final FDA approval. In general, a drug is eligible for Right to Try use after a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed for that drug but prior to the drug being approved or licensed by the FDA for any use. In other words, in limited conditions involving life threatening illness and for drugs that have been proven to be safe, the federal Right to Try law removes the FDA out of doctor-patient decisions and reverts regulation back to the states. Under the terms of the federal Right to Try law, states remain free to permit or prohibit Right to Try use under their own laws.

International

Singapore Set to Hang Drug Offender Today. The city-state is set to hang 64-year-old Singaporean citizen Nazeri Lajim for drug trafficking today. This would be the fifth execution since March after a long pause in hangings during the coronavirus pandemic. He was handed the death sentence in 2017, some five years after being arrested during an anti-narcotics operation. Nazeri was found with two bundles of what was analyzed to be 35.41 grams of heroin, exceeding the 15 gram legal threshold for the imposition of the death penalty.

The country is increasingly out of step with its neighbors on drug policy. Thailand legalized most forms of marijuana last month, and Indonesia and Malaysia are discussing medical marijuana. The government defended its hardline approach: "It really is incumbent upon us to present the choices in very vivid terms and persuade our people, including young people, that we have to make the right choices for them and for society," said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Sudan Defense Lawyers Charge Political Detainees Forced to Undergo Drug Tests. The legal group Sudan's Emergency Lawyers, which defends people seeking to protest against rule by the military-dominated government, is charging that people being arrested at protests are now being subjected to unlawful drug tests. Detainees including at least 15 minors and six women were released after being beaten, assaulted and subjected to drug tests, the group said.

The lawyers said "what is really disturbing is that these people are now subjected to a drugs test," which they stressed "is completely contrary to the law". The lawyers say that those detained were not in possession of drugs and were not found in any suspicious situation that necessitates this procedure or would give authorities common cause. They pointed to the fact that any referral for examination must be made by the prosecution. "This procedure is purely criminal, it violates the rights of the detained, and it is against the principle of assumption of the accused's innocence, and completely contrary to the law. It degrades dignity and has a profound psychological impact," the lawyers added.

Rumors have been circulating that young protesters are using drugs, meth in particular, because they don't seem to show hunger or fatigue, but there has been no evidence to back up the rumors.

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.

Another Push for the SAFE Banking Act, NJ Magic Mushroom Legalization Bill Filed, More... (7/1/22)

The Ohio Supreme Court rejects a police backpack search for marijuana, the Massachusetts Senate has approved an asset forfeiture reform bill, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. It could be legal to grow, possess, and share them under a New Jersey bill. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Bipartisan Lawmakers File Marijuana Banking Amendment to Must-Pass Defense Bill in Latest Reform Push. Led by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-OR), sponsor of the House-passed version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1996), a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to attach that legislation to the must-pass bill. This is the second year Perlmutter has tried to get the SAFE Banking Act language into the defense spending bill. Passage of the bill in the Senate has been stymied by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has been blocking the incremental bill as he continues to push for a full-scale marijuana legalization bill. Perlmutter's amendment will be taken up in the House Rules Committee, and if approved as part of the spending bill in the House, would be subject to conference committee approval with Senate leaders.

Ohio Supreme Court Finds Marijuana Backpack Search Unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the state Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a woman for marijuana possession, ruling that a warrantless search of her backpack in her home violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Police came to the woman's home with an unrelated arrest warrant and searched her backpack while she was already handcuffed and sitting in a patrol car. They found 391 grams of mostly marijuana edibles and charged her with felony marijuana possession. Police and prosecutors argued that they had the right to search the backpack for weapons, but the justices held there was no rationale for a weapons search once the woman was detained. Police and prosecutors also argued that a bit of plastic baggie protruding from the backpack justified the search, but the justices rejected that as well. "When police search a bookbag in a home under circumstances that do not give rise to any exigency, they must follow the command of the Fourth Amendment: get a warrant," wrote Justice Patrick DeWine. The case goes back to lower courts for reconsideration.

Psychedelics

New Jersey Senate President Files Bill to Legalize Magic Mushrooms for Personal Use. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 2934, that would allow people 21 and over to "possess, store, use, ingest, inhale, process, transport, deliver without consideration, or distribute without consideration, four grams or less of psilocybin," the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms. People could legally grow, cultivate, or process the mushrooms capable of producing psilocybin on private property. The bill would also expunge past criminal offenses for magic mushrooms. "This bill is a recognition of evolving science related to psilocybin and its medical uses related to mental health, and if science can provide relief in any fashion with this natural substance under a controlled environment then we should encourage this science," Scutari said. In 2021, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill downgrading psilocybin possession from a third-degree crime to disorderly persons offense with a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Asset Forfeiture

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Reform Civil Asset Forfeiture. The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would raise the evidentiary standard for prosecutors to be able to pursue civil asset forfeiture. The bill, Senate Bill 2671, would raise the standard from the lowest legal standard -- probable cause -- to the "preponderance of evidence." The bill also bars asset forfeiture prosecutions for less than $250 and provides the right to counsel for indigent people in asset forfeiture cases. "We view ourselves as a socially progressive state with strong protection for civil liberties. But our current laws on civil asset forfeiture are anything but, and reforming in this area is long overdue," said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), lead sponsor of the bill.

CA Safe Injection Site Bill Nears Final Passage, PA MedMJ DUI Bill Advances, More... (6/30/22)

North Carolina permanently legaizes hemp at the last minute, a Missoula, Montana, entheogen decriminalization resolution is withdrawn for lack of support, and more.

The safe injection site in Vancouver. Similar facilities could be coming soon to California cities. (vcha.ca)
Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bill to Protect Patients from DUI Charges Advances. The Senate Transportation Committee has approved Senate Bill 167, which would protect state medical marijuana patients from wrongful convictions for driving under the influence. The bill advanced Tuesday on a unanimous vote. The bill would treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug, requiring proof of impairment that interferes with a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle before he could be charged with DUI. The state currently has a zero-tolerance DUI law that could expose patients to such charges for taking their medicine. There are some 700,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

Hemp

North Carolina Approves Permanent Hemp Legalization. Just two days before a previous law temporarily legalizing hemp production was set to expire, leaving an estimated 1,500 state hemp farmers in the lurch, the legislature gave final approval to a bill to make hemp legalization permanent, Senate Bill 455 on Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed the bill into law Thursday. The old law was set to expire Friday.

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution Shelved. A pair of city council members, Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan, earlier this month introduced a resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants in the city, but they have now shelved it after failing to gain enough support on the council to move it. Other council members cited scarce research on the plants' benefits, unresolved questions about law enforcement, and the potential threat to youth as reasons to oppose the resolution. The sponsors now say they will now regroup and seek to build council support before trying again.

Harm Reduction

California Safe Injection Site Bill Passes Assembly. The Assembly has approved Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) bill to allow safe injection site pilot programs in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles County. The bill foresees a five-year pilot program for each of those locales, all of which have formally requested to be included. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a final concurrence vote after changes were made in the Assembly and then to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). "Every overdose death is preventable," said Sen. Wiener. "We have the tools to end these deaths, get people healthy, and reduce harm for people who use drugs. Right now, we are letting people die on our streets for no reason other than an arbitrary legal prohibition that we need to remove. SB 57 is long overdue and will make a huge impact for some of the most vulnerable people in our community."

Supreme Court Rules for Crack Prisoners, CO Psychedelic Initiative Campaign Hands in Signatures, More... (6/28/22)

A major Swiss bank gets convicted of cocaine money laundering, a House committee wants a GAO report on federal psilocybin policy, and more.

Something good came out of the US Supreme Court on Monday. (Pixabay)
Psychedelics

House Appropriations Committee Calls for Review of Federal Psilocybin Policy. In reports accompanying new spending bills, the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a federal review of psilocybin policy, as well as letting researchers study marijuana from dispensaries and using hemp as an alternative to Chinese plastics. The report for the spending bill for Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to analyze barriers to state, local, and tribal programs using psilocybin. The committee said the GAO should study the impact of federal drug prohibition in jurisdictions that allow psilocybin. The call comes as a psilocybin reform movement is gaining momentum across the country.

Colorado Activists Turn in Signatures for Psychedelic Initiative. The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, the group behind an initiative to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin "healing centers," announced Monday that it had turned in 222,648 raw signatures. The campaign only needs 124,632 valid voter signatures, and this cushion of nearly 80,000 excess raw signatures suggests that the initiative will qualify for the November ballot. The measure would legalize the possession, use, cultivation, and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT, and psilocyn for people 21 and over. It does not set specific possession limits, nor does it envision recreational sales. The measure would also place responsibility for developing rules for a therapeutic psilocybin with the Department of Regulatory Agencies.

Drug Policy

At Oversight Hearing, Director of National Drug Control Policy Highlighted Biden-Harris Administration's Commitment to Tackling Overdose and Addiction Crisis. On Monday, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing with Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), to examine the federal government's response to the overdose and addiction crisis, including the Biden-Harris Administration's 2022 National Drug Control Strategy.

During the hearing, Director Gupta highlighted illicit drug seizures at the southern border and disruption of drug trafficking across the US; the need to expand treatment services; steps such as telehealth services to expand access to care for people in underserved communities; and overdose prevention efforts funded by the bipartisan Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022. Gupta and committee members also highlighted Chairwoman Maloney's Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.

Supreme Court Rules Judges Can Weigh New Factors in Crack Cocaine Cases. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the First Step Act allows district court judges to consider post-sentencing changes in law or fact in deciding whether to re-sentence people convicted under the harsh crack cocaine laws of the past.

While the penalties are still harsh, they are not quite as much as they were prior to passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the ratio of quantity triggers for the worst sentences for powder vs. crack cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The First Step Act made those sentencing changes retroactive, giving prisoners the chance to seek reduced sentences. The decision was 5-4, with conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining the court's liberal minority in the opinion.

The case is Concepcion v. United States, in which Carlos Concepcion was sentenced to 19 years for a crack offense in 2009, a year before passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. He sought resentencing "as if" the Fair Sentencing Act provisions "were in effect at the time the covered offense was committed." That is proper, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority opinion: "It is only when Congress or the Constitution limits the scope of information that a district court may consider in deciding whether, and to what extent, to modify a sentence, that a district court's discretion to consider information is restrained. Nothing in the First Step Act contains such a limitation."

International

Swiss Court Convicts Credit Suisse of Cocaine Money-Laundering. The Swiss Federal Criminal Court has found the bank Credit Suisse guilty of failing to prevent money-laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking organization. One former bank employee was convicted of money-laundering in the case against the country's second-largest bank. The trial included testimony about murders and cash-filled suitcases. The court held that Credit Suisse demonstrated deficiencies in both the management of client relations with criminal groups and the implementation of money-laundering rules. "These deficiencies enabled the withdrawal of the criminal organization's assets, which was the basis for the conviction of the bank's former employee for qualified money laundering," the court said. Credit Suisse said it would appeal.

TX GOP Opposes Marijuana Legalization, British Prescription Heroin Shortage, More... (6/21/22)

Pennsylvania takes a step toward legalizing fentanyl test strips, Thailand moves to block minors from using marijuana or hemp, and more.

Prescription herion (diamorphine). Supplies are running low in Great Britain. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Texas GOP's New Platform Opposes Marijuana Legalization. At its state convention in Houston last weekend, the Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank opposing marijuana legalization, even though recent polling shows two-thirds of all Texans and 51 percent of Republicans favor it. The convention did, however, endorse moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The party also adopted several other drug policy planks, including opposing needle exchange programs, requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as "terrorist organizations," and encouraging "faith-based rehabilitation."

Psychedelics

Missoula, Montana, City Council Ponders Psychedelic Decriminalization Resolution. Two members of the city council filed a resolution to decriminalize "entheogenic plants," including peyote and magic mushrooms, last Wednesday. The council members are Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan. It was a grassroots efforts backed by "many Missoulians," said Carlino. "We’ve heard comments in support of this resolution from veterans who have experience with this in treating PTSD. We’ve heard comments of support from therapists, doctors and dozens and dozens of community members." The council has yet to act on the resolution, which would block Missoula police from arresting people for growing, possessing, or gifting entheogens. The police department adamantly opposes the move.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania House Passes Fentanyl Test Strip Bill. The House has unanimously approved a bill to legalize fentanyl strips, House Bill 1393. It does so by removing the test strips from the state's definition of drug paraphernalia. Supporters say the change in the law will allow drug users to avoid overdoses by testing their drugs without fear of being arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia. Philadelphia Mayor John Kenney (D) decriminalized fentanyl test strips in that city in August 2021 and Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) has said his office "will not prosecute individuals simply for possessing fentanyl test strips." This legislation would bring state law in line with what is increasing becoming public policy in the state. Companion legislation is now set to move in the Senate.

International

Thailand to Restrict Marijuana Use to Adults After Complaints. Facing with a rising chorus of complaints after the country liberalized its marijuana laws earlier this month, Thai officials announced last Thursday that they will issue rules limiting access to marijuana and hemp to people 20 years of age and older. People under that age will need permission from a doctor to use such products. The move came amid media  reports that two teenage students were hospitalized for marijuana "overdoses." The government is also going to move to limit marijuana consumption in public and to control cannabis in food.

British Prescription Heroin Shortage Wreaking Havoc with People on Maintenance Regime. British drug non-profits are warning that people on prescription heroin (diamorphine) maintenance are now relapsing because of a nationwide shortage of all doses of the prescription drug. Pharmacists are reporting that patients who had been stable on prescription heroin for 10 or 15 years are deteriorating because they cannot access their medication. The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that

5mg, 30mg, 100mg and 500mg injections of diamorphine are currently out of stock. "These are patients that have been on prescriptions for 20 years and have been very stable and working, living their lives, and are closely monitored to ensure they’re not on other drugs," said Clare Robbins of the drug charity Release. "The majority we are supporting at the moment have now relapsed, often for the first time in 10 or 15 years and that’s really devastating for them," she said. "These people have built relationships with their pharmacists over 10 to 15 years and I’ve had pharmacists on the phone who are quite distressed about seeing their patient deteriorate." Only two companies supply prescription heroin in the United Kingdom, and the supply chain has been wobbly since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020. 

RI Legislators Take Up Legal Pot Bills This Week, Montreal to See Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy Clinic, More... (5/17/22)

Nebraska medical marijuana advocates and the ACLU sue over the state's initiative signature-gathering requirements, a Montreal clinic is about to become the first in Quebec to offer psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, and more.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has formed a commission to study the benefits of marijuana legalization. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Rhode Island Legislature Takes Up Marijuana Legalization Bills This Week. One of the state's best positioned to legalize marijuana this year is finally taking up the issue this week. Committees in both chambers will be voting on legalization bills this week: The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Senate Bill 2430, and the House Finance Committee will vote on House Bill 7593. Both bills would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over and would create a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce under a Cannabis Control Commission. They also have social equity provisions and would impose a 10 percent sales tax.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska ACLU, Medical Marijuana Campaigners Sue State Over Signature-Gathering Requirements. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and the ACLU of Nebraska said Monday they are filing a lawsuit challenging the state's initiative signature-gathering requirements as unconstitutional. State law requires that initiatives have signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in 38 out of 93 counties, which the ACLU called a roadblock in the petitioning process. The group said the requirements skew the system in favor of rural counties, violating both the First and the 14th Amendments. The lawsuit comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana struggles to come up with enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The group came up with enough signatures to make the ballot in 2020, only to have the measure thrown out by the state Supreme Court but lost significant funders this year.

International

Canada's Quebec to See First Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Facility Open Soon. The Mindspace by Numinus Clinic in Montreal has received permission from Health Canada to become the first health care facility in the province to legally use psilocybin to treat depression. The first clinic in the country to offer such services opened last month in British Columbia. The advances are coming after Health Canada restored its Special Access Program, which allows health care practitioners to request access to restricted drugs that have not yet been authorized for sale in the country. That program was abolished under the Conservatives in 2013 but restored by the Liberal government in January. Health Canada said it is weighing 13 more requests to operate similar service around the country.

London Mayor Sets Up Commission to Study Benefits of Legalizing Marijuana. London, England, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced the formation of a commission of independent experts to study the potential benefits of marijuana legalization. Under British law, marijuana remains an illicit Class B drug with severe criminal penalties still in place, especially for dealing. Khan's London Drug Commission will be headed by Lord Charlie Falconer, with research for the commission being led by University College London. Khan announced the formation of the commission during a visit to a marijuana retail shop in Los Angeles over the weekend. "The illegal drugs trade causes huge damage to our society and we need to do more to tackle this epidemic and further the debate around our drugs laws. That’s why I am here today in LA to see first-hand the approach they have taken to cannabis." Establishing a commission to examine the benefits of legalization was a key campaign pledge for Khan during last year's reelection campaign. 

DOJ Issues Guidance on Legal Protections for People on MAT, NJ Recreational Pot Sales Coming Soon, More... (4/12/22)

An Oklahoma psychedelic research bill advances minus a decriminalization provision, Mississippi regulators roll out initial guidelines for the state's medical marijuana programs, and more.

The DOJ issues guidance on legal protections for people undergoing medication-assisted treatment. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Regulators Okay First Recreational Marijuana Sales. The state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission on Monday opened the way to recreational marijuana sales by approving seven medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to anyone 21 or over. The commission's executive director, Jeff Brown, said retail licenses could be issued within a month, once dispensaries pay fees and undergo compliance checks. The move comes more than a month after the state blew through a February 22 deadline for dispensaries to begin selling to adults. The commission had been concerned about maintaining adequate supplies for patients, but those concerns seem to have been assuaged. "All of the (dispensaries) here, we believe have proven and have shown that they have adequate supply for their medical patients, that they are willing to put in place the necessary mechanisms to protect that supply, and ensure that medical patients are not impacted,” Brown said.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Medical Marijuana Program Rules and Regulations Released. The state Health Department on Monday released preliminary rules and regulations for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. These beginning measures address qualifying conditions, obtaining registry and identification cards, and how to certify as a practitioner, among other things. The list of qualifying conditions includes cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer’s, agitation of dementia, PTSD, autism, pain refractory to opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease, or severe injury; chronic medical treatment that causes cachexia or wasting, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or chronic pain. Patients may only get recommendations from doctors with whom they have an existing relationship and will pay $25 for a 1-year ID card. Those applications will be available on or before June 2.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Senators Approve Psilocybin Research Bill but Remove Decriminalization Language Approved by House. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve a bill passed by the House that would allow eligible research and medical institutions to cultivate and administer psilocybin for research purposes, but only after amending it to remove a provision that decriminalized the possession of the drug. House Bill 3414 "came over [from] the House—it had some decriminalization elements in there," Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R) said on Monday, adding that lawmakers had "worked a lot with it, trying to make sure that we clean it up." They did that by erasing the decriminalization provision. “That no longer exists," he said. "This is just for a university study."

Drug Treatment

US Department of Justice Issues Guidance Concerning Legal Protections for Individuals Recovering from Opioid Use Disorder. The Justice Department published guidance last week explaining how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people who are in treatment or recovery for opioid use disorder (OUD), including those who take prescription medications as part of that treatment. The guidance says those people are considered disabled under the ADA, that they may be prescribed medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, among others; and that employers may not discriminate against them if they are in treatment and using those drugs. The guidance also notes that while employers may conduct drug testing, they may not fire or refuse to hire people legally using those medications—unless the use renders the person unable to safely or effectively perform the job. DOJ said the guidance "is part of the department’s comprehensive response to the opioid crisis, which promotes prevention, enforcement and treatment" and lists several civil rights lawsuits it is pursuing over such discrimination.

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