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Amendments Fly as House Legal Pot Vote Looms, Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking, More... (3/30/22)

A Maryland marijuana legalization bill advances, New Mexico pot shops will open starting Friday, a Georgia therapeutic psychedelic study bill advances, and more.

The House is set to vote on the MORE Act this week. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Lawmakers File Various Amendments to House Marijuana Legalization Bill. With a House floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617) set for this week, proposed amendments are coming fast and furious. They will be taken up by the House Rules Committee Wednesday. Most of the proposed amendments seek to impose restrictions on the bill, such as requiring completion of various certain studies before legalization, limiting expungement provisions, or maintaining certain penalties. One, though, would provide relief for people denied security clearances because of past marijuana convictions.

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 833, that would only take effect if voters approved a related ballot question in November. A slightly different version of the bill passed the House last month, so a conference committee will have to hash out the differences. The panel did not act on House Bill 1, which would establish the November referendum. The legislature faces a deadline at the end of the week. Lawmakers will only have the chance to override a possible veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) if they get bills to his desk this week.

New Mexico Recreational Pot Shops Can Open Their Doors on Friday. The state legislature legalized marijuana last year, and beginning on Friday, the first recreational marijuana sales in the state can begin. New Mexicans could legally possess and use marijuana since last June, but had no place to legally purchase recreational marijuana—until now. State officials have issued more than 200 licenses for retail pot shops. When they open later this week, adults will be able to purchase two ounces of weed at a time.

Opiates and Opioids

California Fentanyl Crisis Prompts Flurry of Bills. Lawmakers are responding to a surge in fentanyl-related overdoses with a number of bills, some punitive, but others embracing harm reduction interventions. Assembly Member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine) has filed Assembly Bill 2246, which would increase penalties for possession and distribution, including a sentence of 20 years to life for someone who sold fentanyl that resulted in a fatal overdose. Assembly Member James Ramos (D-Highland) has field Assembly Bill 1628, which would require companies such as Snapchat to implement policies that prohibit the sale of fentanyl and other controlled substances on their platforms. Senate Bill 864 would require hospitals to test drug screening urine samples for fentanyl, Senate Bill 1350 would require warnings to people convicted of drug distribution offenses that they could be charged with manslaughter of murder in the event of a fatal overdose, while Assembly Bill 1673 would set up a California Fentanyl Task Force to produce statewide statistics and ramp up public awareness. On the harm reduction side, Sen. Scott Weiner's (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 57 would authorize pilot safe injection site program in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. That bill has passed the Senate and is now before the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

Psychedelics

Georgia Therapeutic Psychedelic Study Bill Advances. The House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee voted Tuesday to approve House Resolution 896, which would create a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin and make recommendations for legislation. The bill is couched as an effort to address the need for effective treatments for depression and PTSD for military veterans. It now heads to the House Defense and Veteran Affairs Committee.

International

Colombia Coca Zone Battle Sees 11 FARC Dissidents Killed. The Colombia Army said Tuesday its soldiers had killed at least 11 FARC dissidents in open combat n Puerto Leguizamo municipality in Putumayo province near the borders with Ecuador and Peru. The area has extensive coca plantings and cocaine-producing laboratories and is contested by various armed actors. The FARC dissidents are former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who rejected the FARC's demobilization under a 2016 peace deal with the government.

Mexico Attack Leaves at Least 20 Dead in Michoacan. Presumed cartel gunmen attacked spectators at a cockfighting pit in the town of Las Tinajas Sunday, leaving at least 20 people dead and several more wounded. "It was a massacre of one group by another," President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference, expressing his regret at the deaths. The state of Michoacan and neighboring Guanajuato have been plagued by cartel violence for years, with the most recent mass killing leaving 17 people dead only weeks ago. Earlier this month, the mayor of Aguilla, Michoacan, was gunned down, and days later, journalist Armando Linares was killed in Zitacuaro. Most of the violence is between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and local gangs, but some of it is between different factions of that same cartel.

Singapore Hangs Man for Drug Trafficking. Closing its ears to pleas for leniency, including from the UN Human Rights Office, Singapore on Wednesday executed Abdul Kahar Othman, 68, for drug trafficking. The hanging marked the first execution in the country since it halted them due to the coronavirus pandemic. The last execution took place in November 2019. Kahar, from a poor family, had struggled with addiction all his life and spent much of his adult life behind bars. He was convicted of drug trafficking in 2013. Another execution may be looming. A Malaysian man with mental disabilities, Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, has been on death row since 2010 for trying to smuggle 1.5 ounces of heroin into the city-state. He lost his final appeal on Tuesday. 

Senate Approves Marijuana Research Bill, UT Governor Signs Psychedelic Research Bill, More... (3/25/22)

A bill to establish the East Coast's first psychedelic medicine center is moving in Connecticut, Utah's Republican governor signs a psychedelic research bill, and more.

The Nebraska medical marijuana initiative campaign has taken a big fund-raising hit, but will soldier on.
Marijuana Policy

Senate Unanimously Approves Marijuana Research Bill. The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved a bill that aims to promote research into marijuana, the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act (S. 253). Sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the bill would ease the application process for researchers who want to study the plant. The bill also clearly states that doctors are allowed to discuss the pros and cons of marijuana with patients and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to report on potential health benefits of marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Campaign Takes Big Hit as Two Major Donors Die Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind an ongoing medical marijuana initiative campaign, has been wounded by the sudden death of one major donor in a plane crash and the diagnosis of terminal cancer in another major donor. The campaign described the losses as a "huge setback." The group has a $500,000 fund-raising goal by May 1, and as of the end of February, it had only $30,000 in the bank. In 2020, the group managed to raise $2.5 million for the signature drive and general election campaign, which it won, only to see the victory overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Psychedelics

Connecticut Bill to Create Psychedelic Medicine Center Advances. A bill that would create the first psychedelic medicine center on the East Coast has advanced in the House. The measure, House Bill 5396, which assumes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon approve MDMA and psilocybin as treatments for PTSD and depression, respectively, aims to provide those drugs for medicinal use to "qualified patients," which includes veterans, retired first responders, direct care health care workers, and people from "historically underserved communities." The bill passed out of the Joint Health Care Committee last week and is now before the Office of Legislative Research and Fiscal Analysis.

Utah Governor Signs Psychedelic Study Bill into Law. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) has signed into law House Bill 167, which will create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and possible regulations for their legal use. The bill had strong support in the legislature, passing each chamber with only one no vote. The bill will create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Taskforce to "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." The drugs the panel will consider are controlled substances "not currently available for legal use."

House to Vote on MORE Act Next Week, PA Psilocybin Bill Stalled by Worries Over Mushroom Overdoses, More... (3/24/22)

A spate of fatal pot shop robberies in Washington is leading to calls to pass the SAFE Act, the Mexican military sends reinforcements to Nuevo Laredo amidst continuing clashes, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Considered very non-toxic despite the worries of a Pennsylvania politician. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Set for House Floor Vote Next Week. Congressional leadership confirmed Thursday that the House will vote next week on whether to approve House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617). The House passed an earlier version of the bill last year, only to see it go nowhere in the then Republican controlled Senate. Pressure to get a House floor vote on the bill, which passed out of committee last September, has been mounting.

Washington State Marijuana Regulators to Host Roundtable on Retailer Safety in Wake of Three Deaths in Four Days in Pot Shop Robberies. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has announced that it will hold an online roundtable on marijuana retailer safety in the wake of a spate of deadly armed robberies at pot shops that have left three people dead in a four-day span. The LCB will meet with shop owners, elected officials, federal SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996)advocates, and others to discuss the public safety crisis. The marijuana industry nationwide has been clamoring for passage of the bill, which would give it access to banking and financial services and alleviate the need for marijuana retailers to deal exclusively in robber-tempting cash. There have been more than 50 robberies of marijuana businesses in the state so far this year, more than in all of 2021.

"The tragic events of the last week and the escalation of armed robberies over the last several months have demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to act," the LCB said. "The lack of banking services has become a catalyst for a very real public safety crisis in Washington State. Due to their forced reliance on cash transactions, cannabis retailers have increasingly become targets for armed robbers."

Psychedelics

Pennsylvania Psilocybin Research Bill Stalled as Committee Chair Worries About Mushroom Overdoses. A bill that aims to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms is in doubt after House Health Committee Chair Rep. Kathy Rapp (R) expressed concerns about magic mushroom overdoses. The measure, the Psilocybin Data Act (House Bill 1959), had already been amended to address Rapp's reservations, but bill sponsor Rep. Tracy Pennycuik (R) said Rapp "Shifted course due to an overdose death in her district" allegedly involving magic mushrooms. But magic mushrooms "are considered to be among the least toxic drugs known."

International

Mexico Sends Reinforcements to Nuevo Laredo After Continuing Clashes. Clashes between Gulf Cartel gunmen and the Mexican military that broke out last week after the arrest of cartel leader Juan Gerardo Trevino Chavez, "The Egg," have rocked the border town of Nuevo Laredo with explosions and machine gun fire have now prompted the military to send in reinforcements. Trevino Chavez was deported to the US and faces drug trafficking and money laundering charges. 

DEA Commits to Expanding Medication-Assisted Treatment, Human Rights Watch Calls for End to US Pot Prohibition, More... (3/23/22)

Rhode Island lawmakers are trying to thrash out agreement on a marijuana legalization bill, the Marijuana Policy Project releases a report on the states lagging behind on marijuana reform, and more.

Buprenorphine. The DEA says it is commited to expanding medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as bupe. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Human Rights Watch Calls on US to End Marijuana Prohibition Now. Human Rights Watch is calling on the federal government to legalize marijuana as "a much-needed move toward a US drug policy grounded in human rights, harm reduction, and health." The group noted that in the last Congress, the House passed the historic Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and said a House floor vote on this year's version of the bill, HR 3617 is "an urgent step toward advancing long overdue reforms in the criminal justice system and beyond." It also called on members of Congress to "heed the call of a diverse coalition of organization and cosponsor the bill. House leadership should immediately bring the bill to a floor vote," the group said.

Marijuana Policy Project Releases Report on the States Lagging Behind on Marijuana Reform. Recognizing the 50-year anniversary of the report issued by the Shafer Commission, which investigated the effects of cannabis use on specific communities and found that small amounts of cannabis do not harm society and should not result in criminalization or jail time, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) released a new report on Tuesday, Behind the Times: The 19 States Where a Joint Can Still Land You in Jail. The report examines the laws that lag the furthest behind public opinion: the 19 states and federal government, which have not even "decriminalized" simple possession of cannabis. In those states, it examines penalties for simple possession, arrest rates, and racial disparities in arrests and provides a glimpse at some of the damage inflicted by draconian laws. It also reviews unsolved crime rates in the states that continue to use limited law enforcement resources to arrest and jail adults for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.

Rhode Island Lawmakers Meet to Ponder Competing Marijuana Legalization Proposals. The House Finance Committee met on Tuesday to discuss competing marijuana legalization proposals from the House and Senate leadership and Gov. Dan McKee (D). McKee proposed a legalization plan in his budget package, House Bill 7123, while the legislative leaders are backing Senate Bill 2430. At the hearing, advocates complained of inadequate equity provisions in the Senate bill, with members saying they were open to feedback. The governor's bill on the other hand, has provisions to automatically expunge past convictions.

Drug Treatment

DEA Commits to Expanding Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Wednesday announced the Drug Enforcement Administration’s continued commitment to expanding access to medication-assisted treatment to help those suffering from substance use disorder. "In this moment, when the United States is suffering tens of thousands of opioid-related overdose deaths every year, the DEA’s top priority is doing everything in our power to save lives," said Administrator Milgram. "Medication-assisted treatment helps those who are fighting to overcome substance use disorder by sustaining recovery and preventing overdoses. At DEA, our goal is simple: we want medication-assisted treatment to be readily and safely available to anyone in the country who needs it." The agency has recently been championing a number of initiatives to expand access to medication-assisted treatment for those suffering from opioid-related substance use disorder, including a loosening of restrictions around buprenorphine and methadone prescribing, reaching out to pharmacists and practitioners to let them know DEA supports medication-assisted treatment, and increasing the number of mobile methadone clinics. 

Congress Passes, President Signs Omnibus Funding Bill That Has Reform Advocates Fuming [FEATURE]

The Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday has drug reform and civil rights groups fuming over both what was left out and what made the final cut. The bill extends class-wide scheduling and harsh criminal penalties for fentanyl-related substances, underfunds harm reduction services, and still includes a rider that bars the District of Columbia from taxing and regulating marijuana sales.

Drug reform and civil rights groups are directing some ire at Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
"We're deeply disappointed in House and Senate leadership for allowing this version of the bill to move forward and neglecting this rare opportunity to advance long overdue reforms," the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a press release after the bill passed Congress last week.

Congress ended up allocating a measly $18 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infectious Disease and the Opioid Epidemic program that supports needle exchange and overdose prevention program. While the figure is a $5 million increase over the last year, it fails to respond to urgent need to expand harm reduction services.

"With an overdose crisis that claimed more than 100,000 lives in 2021 alone, we urgently need to employ evidence-based services to save lives. Syringe services programs directly reach people at highest risk for overdose, HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as other harms associated with drug use. It's past time that lawmakers prioritize making more of these lifesaving harm reduction services available," said DPA deputy director of National Affairs Grant Smith.

While Congress is not paying enough attention to harm reduction, its move to extend the Trump-era temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances will only increase the harms of criminal justice system exposure for people of color while failing to address the overdose crisis, civil rights advocates said. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national groups, wrote a January letter to the White House opposing the move, and its members are not happy now.

"During the protests calling for police accountability and criminal-legal reform in 2020, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to pursue racial equity. This scheduling policy flies directly in the face of those promises," said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a press release following the vote. "For too long Black and Brown people and their communities have suffered from under-resourcing and over policing, due in large part to the war on drugs. Congress must stop trying to perpetuate mass incarceration and instead advance policies that actually help our communities navigate the overdose crisis as a public health issue."

"We are disappointed that Congress has continued the temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances instead of preventing opioid deaths through comprehensive legislation," said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. "We urge Congress to use this time to work on a permanent solution -- one that saves lives through public health measures, narrows the definition of fentanyl-related substances subject to criminal prosecution, and removes mandatory minimum punishments. We must change our current approach to this crisis in a way that addresses public safety needs and the needs of communities of color."

"It's hard to believe Congress extended this 'temporary' policy yet again. Overdoses have only skyrocketed since it came into force. It is time to let this expire now," said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. "Congress already has the tools they need to prosecute cases involving fentanyl-related substances. This cruel, over-broad approach hasn't helped, and continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities."

And then, there is the issue of marijuana in the nation's capital. DC residents overwhelmingly approved the Initiative 71 marijuana legalization measure in November 2014, but because the District, as a federal territory, cannot control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the District from being able to implement taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The "Harris rider," named after conservative Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), frustratingly remains intact despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

"We are very disappointed that Congress continues to prevent residents of DC from regulating cannabis despite their urgent and repeated requests for reform. Instead, Congress is forcing the District to maintain a gray market in which cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed by adults, but it cannot be legally sold, regulated, or tested, said Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project in a press release. "This places consumers at risk, and entrepreneurs who live in this minority-majority community are denied the ability to open businesses that are available in every other legal cannabis jurisdiction."

That's a whole lot of disappointment and frustration with the Democratic leadership of the Congress. There may be more to come. The SAFE Banking Act remains stalled, and even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) proposed marijuana legalization bill doesn't look like it has enough votes to pass. This could end up being a year to forget when it comes to responsible drug policies from Congress.

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.

Feds Approve "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment, DE Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies, More... (3/11/22)

A medical marijuana bill advances in Kentucky, congressional negotiators have slashed harm reduction funding in the final appropriations bill of the year, and more.

Congress appears ready to slash harm reduction funding in the face of an overdose epidemic. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Dies. House Bill 305, which would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state, is dead, coming up two votes short in a key vote Thursday. Those two votes belonged to Republican representatives who had previously said they would vote for the bill, but one did not vote, saying he had an unspecified conflict of interest, and the second voted "no" after submitting four amendments, three of which were rejected, and claiming his failed "prove that [Democrats] do not care about bipartisanship." Also, bill sponsor Rep. Ed Osieski (D) failed to switch his vote from "yes" to "no" before the vote ended, which would have allowed him to bring the bill back to the floor later in the legislative session. 

Medical Marijuana

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 15-1 to approve a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, clearing the way for a House floor vote, which could come as soon as next week. A similar bill passed the House in 2020, but did not get taken up by a Senate committee because of lack of support and the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. In a bid to win broader support, bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes (R) narrowed the bill this year by including provisions that ban smoking marijuana or growing it oneself, but Senate leadership still has "concerns."

Drug Treatment

Biden Administration Approves "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services has cleared the way for "contingency management" drug treatment, a somewhat controversial program that pays people with drug problems for not using drugs. The notion is supported by decades of research that shows giving people repeated small amounts of money for meeting recovery goals has a large impact on helping people remain sober. But the use of the program was limited by fears it would violate a federal law that forbids kickbacks to patients until the HHS inspector general's office issued an advisory legal opinion last week giving the okay. "Although the arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal anti-kickback statute if the requisite intent were present, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] will not impose administrative sanctions on requestor in connection with the arrangement," the opinion said.

Harm Reduction

Congress Proposes Cuts in Harm Reduction Funding in Final Spending Package. The final appropriations package released Wednesday dramatically shrinks the amount of funding lawmakers will send to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fight HIV/AIDS and drug overdoses. The House last July approved $69.5 million for the CDC's Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, which provides grants to private harm reduction programs. Then, last September, Senate Democrats released their version of the bill, cutting the funding down to $30 million. But now, House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a compromise that is even lower yet, $18 million. That's more than the $13 million allocated in the last year of the Trump administration, but only about one-quarter of what the House originally approved. 

Congress Blocks DC Pot Sales, OK House Approves Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill, More... (3/10/22)

A Missouri marijuana legalization bill gets a hearing, a Maryland drug decriminalization gets one, too, and more.

Republican opposition in the narrowly-divided Senate killed DC's bid to finally be able to have legal marijuana sales. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Bill Gets Hearing. A bill that would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over got a hearing Tuesday, with some legalization supporters urging legislators to pass the bill in order to head off a legalization initiative campaign that would give current medical marijuana businesses the first crack at recreational sales and keep intact the state's ability to limit licenses. The bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks (R-Defiance), the Cannabis Freedom Act (House Bill 2704) was heard in the House Public Safety Committee, but no vote was taken. The bill would allow for the home cultivation of up to 12 flowering plants, would not limit licenses, and would allow retail sales to be taxed at up to 12 percent.

New York's First Marijuana Sales Permits Will Go to People Previous Marijuana Convictions. In an effort to redress the inequities of the enforcement of marijuana prohibition, state officials said Wednesday that the first licenses to sell recreational pot in the state will go to people who have marijuana-related convictions or people with a parent, legal guardian, child or spouse convicted of a marijuana-related offense. "Social equity" applicants will get first crack at the first 100 or 200 pot shop licenses. It is unclear just how many retail licenses will be issued.

Congress Keep Rider Barring DC from Allowing Legal Marijuana Sales. Much to the dismay of DC leaders, the omnibus spending package unveiled Wednesday retains the congressional rider barring the District from allowing the commercial sale of marijuana, which is already legal there. Senate Democrats had removed the rider last year, but this year, congressional Republicans refused to vote for a budget that eliminated "legacy riders" like the one from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) blocking DC pot sales.

.Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Conference Committee Votes to Limit Medical Marijuana Cardholders to Growing Two Flowering Plants, Two Immature Ones. A legislative conference committee has voted to limit the number of plants patients or caregivers may grow at home to two flowering and two immature plants. The committee approved an amendment to that effect from Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-Florence) after earlier defeating an amendment from him that would have banned home growing altogether. South Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana at the polls, approving an initiative that set a floor—three plants—but not a ceiling, as this move does.

Psychedelics.

Oklahoma House Passes Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill. The House voted 62-30 to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin and authorize research on the psychedelic for a variety of medical conditions by approving House Bill 3414. The bill would make possession of psilocybin punishable by no more than a $400 fine. It also authorizes research on psilocybin and psilocin at institutions in the state to treat 10 different conditions, including PTSD, depression, and addiction. The bill now moves to the Senate, which, like the House, has a Republican supermajority.

Drug Policy

Maryland Drug Decriminalization Bills Get Committee Hearings. A pair of drug decriminalization bills, House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 784, got hearings Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee. The bills would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana, two grams of meth or cocaine, 1.5 grams of crack, one gram of heroin or ecstasy (or five tabs), and 40 tablets of oxycodone. Possession would be punishable by a $100 fine for first and second offenses. People caught possessing drugs other than marijuana would be required to enroll in a drug education program and undergo a mental health and drug abuse assessment. Similar legislation died in the committee last year, but House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair David Moon (D-Montgomery) is supporting it this year. No vote was taken. 

Poll Shows Strong Support for Legal Marijuana Banking Access, Police Paying Billions to Settle Misconduct Claims, More... (3/9/22)

The Washington Post has a major piece on police misconduct payouts, an expungement bill advances in California, and more.

A medicinal psilocybin task force bill advances in Hawaii. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Poll: Two Thirds of Americans Want Congress to Allow Licensed Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Services. A new poll from Morning Consult conducted on behalf of the American Bankers Association shows strong support for ending federal restrictions that block state-legal marijuana enterprises from accessing financial services. The poll found that 65 percent of respondents "support allowing cannabis businesses to access banking services (e.g., checking accounts, business loans) in states where cannabis is legal." An even higher number -- 68 percent -- said that Congress should pass legislation so those businesses can "access banking services and products in states" where it is legal. Backers of legislation that would do that, the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996), have, though, so far been thwarted by Senate leadership, which is more interested in trying to pass a full-on legalization bill.

California Marijuana Expungement Bill Wins Committee Vote. A bill that would automatically expunge past convictions for marijuana offenses that are no longer illegal if such expungements have not been challenged by prosecutors by January 1, 2023, Assembly Bill 1706, passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee Monday. It now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee before heading for a potential Assembly floor vote.

Psychedelics

Hawaii Senate Approves Psilocybin Task Force Bill. The Senate on Tuesday approved Senate Bill 3160, which would create a working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a long-term plan to ease access to psychedelics for medicinal use for people 21 and over. The bill passed on a unanimous 25-0 vote. It now goes to the House. "Because the State has a shortage of mental health professionals, the State should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its residents," the bill says.

Law Enforcement

Cops Paid Out More Than $ Billion in Last Decade to Settle Misconduct Claims, Many for Repeat Offenders. In a major investigative piece, the Washington Post reports that law enforcement agencies across the country have paid out more than $3.2 billion to settle misconduct claims -- with thousands of police officers repeatedly accused of wrongdoing. The Post found more than 7,600 officers whose misconduct resulted in more than one claim, with the cost of those claims from repeat offenders reaching $1.5 billion. More than 1,200 officers were the subjects of at least five settlements and more than 200 had 10 or more. The Post suggested that the pattern of repeat settlements showed a lack of police accountability that costs taxpayers.

White House Outlines Policies on Overdoses and Opioid Epidemic, GOP Legal Pot Bill Could Get Hearing, More... (3/3/22)

Costa Rica becomes the latest country to legalize medical marijuana, an Oklahoma psychedelic study bill is moving, and more.

President Biden used the SOTU to outline policies on overdoses and the opioid epidemic. (whitehouse.gov)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Congresswoman Says Her Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Get a Hearing. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who has filed the States Reform Act legalization bill (HR 5977), said Thursday that she has received reassurances that her bill will get a hearing even though her party is in the minority. She also said that there was "no quid pro quo" requiring her to support House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler's (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Expungement and Reinvestment (MORE) Act (HR 3617). "Personally, I want to respect the process and MORE is going to come up again and let Democrats do MORE Act. It'll die in the Senate," she said. "And so when that's done, we will do our hearing, and there was nothing done in exchange for it. I just made the ask and we're making it happen."

Opiates and Opioids

Sacklers and Purdue Pharma Reach New Deal with States Over Opioids. Members of the Sackler family, who founded Purdue Pharma, have announced a deal with a group of states that had resisted Purdue's bankruptcy plan. Under the deal, which would settle thousands of pending lawsuits for the company's role in the opioid crisis and still must be approved by a judge, the family agrees to pay an additional one billion dollars, bringing the total they have now agreed to pay to $6 billion. "While the families have acted lawfully in all respects, they sincerely regret that OxyContin, a prescription medicine that continues to help people suffering from chronic pain, unexpectedly became part of an opioid crisis that has brought grief and loss to far too many families and communities," they said in a statement. While Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal charges of minimizing OxyContin's risk of addiction and misleading marketing, no Sackler family member has ever been criminally charged or admitted wrongdoing.

Psychedelics

Oklahoma Bill to Study Therapeutic Psychedelics Advances. A bill that seeks to allow research into the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, House Bill 3414, has been approved by the House Public Safety Committee and now heads for a House floor vote. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Daniel Pae (R-Lawton), would allow the state's universities and other research institutions to begin studying psilocybin and psilocyn, the psychoactive substances in magic mushrooms.

Drug Policy

Biden Uses State of the Union to Outline Policies on Addiction and Overdose Epidemic. The president outlined his comprehensive approach, including increased funding for public health and supply reduction. He is requesting a historic $41 billion for drug policy efforts that will further these efforts, including $10.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services "to fund research, prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services, with a focus on meeting the needs of populations at greatest risk for overdose and substance use disorder." Overall, the president is proposing $23.5 billion for public health approaches to drug use and its consequences.

The Administration has prioritized funds for harm reduction. The American Rescue Plan included $30 million in support for harm reduction services -- a historic amount that will enhance interventions like syringe services programs. Additionally, CDC and the SAMHSA announced that federal funding may now be used to purchase fentanyl test strips in an effort to help curb the dramatic spike in drug overdose deaths.

The president also proposed spending $17.5 billion for supply reduction (read: enforcing drug prohibition), including $5.8 billion for interdiction efforts, an increase from the amount spent this year.

International

Costa Rica Legalizes Medical Marijuana. With the signature of President Carlos Alvarado on a revised medical marijuana bill, Costa Rica becomes the latest nation to legalize medical marijuana. Earlier in the year, Alvarado had vetoed the bill, but lawmakers made changes requested by the president. The bill also legalizes hemp, but not recreational marijuana. Alvarado is about to leave office, and the two presidential candidates seeking to replace him, José María Figueres and Rodrigo Chaves, have both spoken in favor of legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

New Zealand Medical Marijuana Patients Now Have Access to Smokeable Buds. Medical marijuana patients suffering from chronic pain will now be able to purchase smokeable buds after the Ministry of Health approved imports from an Australian firm. The buds are supposed to only be used to make a tea, but smoking or vaping them activates their soothing qualities more quickly, and patients and providers say it will be smoked and vaped.

Drug War Issues

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