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Vancouver Clinic Offers Take-Home Prescription Heroin, Nepal Marijuana Protest, More... (9/20/21)

Violence linked to cartel infighting continues to rock Mexico's state of Michoacan, a Vancouver clinic is now offering take-home prescription heroin to a small number of patients, and more.

Pharmaceutical heroin. Now available as a take-home prescription drug in Vancouver. (Creative Commons)
nternational

Vancouver Clinic Doing Take-Home Prescription Heroin. In a North American first, the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver has begun providing take-home medical grade heroin to a small number of addicted patients. The program began as an emergency response to the COVID epidemic, when the provincial health authority allowed clinic staff to deliver syringes filled with heroin to patients so they could stay isolated for 10 to 14 days. "Having done that and done that successfully without any problems, we were able to show and demonstrate the strict requirement of the medication to only be [administered] at the clinic was not necessary," said Dr. Scott MacDonald, head physician at the clinic. The program is currently serving only 11 patients, but MacDonald said expanding the program is a crucial step toward addressing the province's opioid crisis, which has seen more than a thousand overdose deaths so far this year. "Their lives can change dramatically. People can go from accessing street opioids, perhaps having unstable housing and unable to work to stabilized and being able to work, and some people working full-time," he said.

Mexico's Michoacan Sees More Cartel Violence. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) besieged the Michoacan municipality of Tepalcatepec last week, killing and beheading five local men who were manning a checkpoint aimed at keeping cartel gunmen out of town. The cartel had tried to seize control of the city but was met with resistance from local residents and the National Guard. Cartel gunmen then switched their focus to the community of La Estanzuela, located near the border between Tepalcatepec and the Jalisco municipality of Jilotlán. The CJNG has been trying to take control of the region for the past two years and is locked in battle with the Carteles Unidos over control of the region and the state.

Nepal Protest for Marijuana Legalization. Sparked by the September 6 arrest of prominent marijuana legalization advocate Rajiv Kafle for consumption, possession, and distribution of marijuana, a youth group from Kathmandu Valley staged a protest calling for legalization at Maitighar on Monday. Protesters chanted slogans and held up signs citing the medicinal and economic benefits of legalization. Nepal has a history of cannabis use dating back centuries and its charas was enjoyed by Western travelers on the Hippie Trail in the 1060s, but under US pressure canceled the licenses for all cannabis businesses in 1973, and then criminalized cannabis in 1976.

ICC Will Investigate Philippine Drug War Killings, KY Supreme Court Narrows Good Samaritan Law, More... (9/15/21)

Detroiters will vote on psychedelic decriminalization in November, the International Criminal Court takes a key step in the investigation of Philippine drug war killings, and more.

Filipino President Duterte is now in the International Criminal Court's hotseat. (Creative Commons)
Harm Reduction

Kentucky Supreme Court Narrows Good Samaritan Protections. In a decision late last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that a 2015 Good Samaritan law designed to protect overdose victims and the bystanders who seek assistance for them does not apply when the bystanders who call do not know for certain that a drug overdose has occurred. In the decision in Kentucky v. Milner, the court took up the separate cases of two people for whom assistance was called after they were found passed out in a car.

Both had indeed suffered drug overdoses and were revived, but they were then charged with various crimes, including possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Prosecutors argued that the Good Samaritan law did not apply because the bystanders did not see the people use drugs, did not know overdoses were occurring, and had no reason to believe the victims were at risk of arrest if authorities arrived.

The defendants' attorney said it would be unrealistic to expect bystanders to search an unconscious body for evidence of drug use before calling for help. "Requiring a Good Samaritan to be certain that an overdose was occurring before the exemption would apply would potentially expose both the person overdosing and the Good Samaritan to danger," attorney Steven Nathan Goens wrote in one of his briefs to the Supreme Court. But the court sided with prosecutors, effectively narrowing the scope of the law.

Psychedelics

Detroit Will Vote on Psychedelic Decriminalization in November. A proposed municipal initiative to decriminalize psychedelics has qualified for the November ballot in Detroit. The question voters will have to answer is: "Shall the voters of the City of Detroit adopt an ordinance to the 2019 Detroit City Code that would decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults and make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city's lowest law-enforcement priority?" Detroit is Michigan's largest city, but psychedelic reform has already taken place in the university town of Ann Arbor, which approved a lowest priority ordinance last year.

International

International Criminal Court Opens Official Investigation into Philippine Drug War Killings. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which finished a preliminary investigation into human rights abuses in President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs earlier this year, announced Wednesday that it has decided to open an official investigation not only into Duterte's drug war abuses but also into killings by death squads in Davao City when he was mayor and vice mayor. "For these reasons, the chamber hereby authorizes the commencement of the investigation into the Situation in the Philippines, in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 November 2011 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign," said the pre-trial chamber 1 of the ICC.

By deciding to move forward with an official investigation, the ICC is setting the stage for summons and arrests warrants if requested by Prosecutor Karim Khan. Recently retired Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who led the preliminary investigation, had asked for authorization to open an official investigation, saying there was copious evidence of human rights abuses, and the chamber agreed. "On the basis of the above, the Chamber concludes that there is a reasonable basis for the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation, in the sense that the crime against humanity of murder appears to have been committed, and that potential case(s) arising from such investigation appear to fall within the Court's jurisdiction," said the judges.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Wednesday's announcement: "The International Criminal Court's decision to open an investigation into brutal crimes in the Philippines offers a much-needed check on President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly 'war on drugs,'" said Carlos Conde, the rights group's senior Philippines researcher. "Victims' families and survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity could finally face justice." The Philippines government has acknowledged some 6,000 police or military drug war killings, but human rights groups say the true number could be north of 30,000.

Read more civil society reactions and other information on the web site of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC).

Biden Asks Congress to Permanently Schedule Fentanyl Analogues, Seattle Task Force Calls for Drug Decrim, More... (9/3/21)

A Seattle task force calls for drug decriminalization, Vancouver activists seek permission to operate drug buyers' clubs, and more.

Congress must decide whether to permanently schedule fentanyl analogues as Schedule I substances. (Creative Commons)
Drug Policy

Biden's Acting Drug Czar Asks Congress for Opioid Crackdown Help. The Biden administration has asked Congress to permanently schedule illicit fentanyl analogues as Schedule I substances, alongside heroin and MDMA. Acting Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) Director Regina LaBelle made the request in a letter to Congress, saying the move would help law enforcement go after illicit opioid manufactures and dealers. Drug reformers had lobbied the administration not to take this step, and reacted unhappily (see below).

Civil Rights Leaders, Drug Policy Experts Denounce as Counterproductive Biden Recommendations on Fentanyl-Related Substances and Continued War on Drugs. In response to the recommendations presented to Congress by the ONDCP, HHS, and the Justice Department to permanently schedule fentanyl analogues as Schedule I drugs, civil rights leaders drug policy reform leaders including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Drug Policy Alliance issued the following statement:

"We cannot continue doing the same things and expect to get different results. Despite the Biden administration's stated commitment to criminal justice reform, and ending disparities in the system, the recommendation to permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances echoes the failed drug policies of our past. Today's proposal is reminiscent of these policies, which led to over-policing and law enforcement, disproportionately impacted people of color, overcrowded prisons, and cost lives. The proposal is a major step backward in the fight to dismantle the harms of the past and save lives."

Seattle Task Force Calls for Drug Decriminalization. The city's Overdose Emergency Innovative Recovery (OEIR) task force is recommending the decriminalization of the possession of all drugs. The group, which was responding to the city council's request for policy advice on how to reduce overdose deaths, announced its recommendations at a Tuesday night event. It said that removing the penalties around drug possession -- or even legalizing and regulating them -- would "create opportunities for research and access to a regulated safe supply in a manner that is safest for everyone in the community." The task force also recommended expanding housing, treatment and harm reduction services, and working to reduce social stigma around substance abuse disorders. "Unlearning drug war propaganda of the last century will take time and patience," the group said in a summary document. "It will take an all hands on deck effort to end the stigmatization and harm that more than a century of prohibition has caused."

International

Vancouver Activists Formally Ask Canadian Government to Allow Buyers' Clubs for Hard Drugs. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) have formally asked the Canadian government to allow them to operate buyers' clubs for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine in order to produce users with a reliable "safe supply" of those drugs. The two groups submitted an open letter to Health Canada requesting a formal exemption from federal criminal drug laws so that no one is prosecuted for operating a "compassion club" to distribute those drugs. "The DULF Fulfillment Center and Compassion Club model is saving lives right now," the letter states, "and will save more if we are permitted to continue our work with federal authorization. We are prepared to undertake such action, and hope that you will support our efforts. Lives depend on it." The letter requests a decision from Health Canada by October 15. If DULF and VANDU's request is granted, it will represent a historic milestone in international efforts to roll back the drug war. More importantly, it will have an immediate impact on the safety of compassion club members.

DEA to Review Foreign Operations, Vancouver Activists Plan Another "Safe Supply" Drug Giveaway, More... (8/26/21)

California wants to try a form of drug treatment where users are paid not to use, Vancouver activists plan to mark International Overdose Awareness Day with a "safe supply" drug giveaway, and more.

The DEA will review its international operations, although there is no sign it is looking at a paradigm shift.
Drug Policy

DEA Announces Review of International Operations. The Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday announced a comprehensive review of DEA’s international operations and foreign footprint, including administrative and financial support for those operations from DEA headquarters. Administrator Anne Milgram has recommended a top to bottom review of foreign operations that will be overseen by an independent team.  As part of the review, the team will talk to DEA personnel posted in DEA’s foreign offices and headquarters. DEA listed "international cartels, narco-terrorist violence, and precursor chemicals flowing from other countries" as global threats it faces. "This review will provide recommendations for my consideration upon completion.  Specifically, I expect the team to provide an assessment of DEA’s current international operational capacity, and to identify areas for improvement to ensure DEA’s international operations are impactful and effective, with the appropriate structures, procedures, and controls to ensure integrity and accountability," said Administrator Milgram. There is in indication the agency is undergoing a paradigm shift, though.

Drug Treatment

California Seeks Federal Permission to Do "Contingency Management" Drug Treatment. The state is seeking permission from the federal government to do "contingency management" drug treatment, in which users are paid money to stay sober, receiving increasing payments for each drug test passed. Such a program has been underway with military veterans for years, with research showing it is an effective way to get people off stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, for which there are no pharmaceutical treatments available. Now, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is asking the federal government to allow the state to use federal tax dollars to pay for it through Medicaid. Meanwhile, state Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has filed a bill, Senate Bill 110, to do something similar. That bill has already passed the Senate with no  opposition and has a Republican co-sponsor in the Assembly, where it has already been approved by the Health Committee and is now before the Appropriations Committee. Wiener’s bill would require California’s Medicaid program to pay for the treatment while Newsom’s plan would let counties choose whether to participate.

International

Vancouver Activists to Mark August 31 International Overdose Awareness Day by Handing Out Free "Safe Supply" of Drugs. A Vancouver-based safe supply advocacy group, the Drug Users Liberation Front (DULF), handed out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine during a July event to dramatize the need for a "safe supply" of drugs" as the city faces a drug overdose crisis, and now, they are getting ready to do it again. DULF says the July event showed the "life-saving potential of a community-led response to the crisis of prohibition in Canada" as an alternative to Vancouver's proposed model of decriminalization. DULF will be joined at the Overdose Awareness Day Event by the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), which has raised $13,000 to buy and test drugs to be distributed for free among registered VANDU members. "We recognize this a day to honor those we lost to the War on Drugs," said VANDU. "A senseless war fueled by colonial dispossession, racist violence, capitalist exploitation and police criminalization that has taken far too many lives.

Gallup Says Nearly Half of US Adults Have Smoked Pot, Sri Lanka Drug War Abuses Called Out, More... (8/17/21)

Washington state's governor is moving to commute hundreds of drug possession sentences, a new Gallup poll has the number of Americans who admit ever using marijuana at an all-time high, and more.

The number of Americans who admit to having tried marijuana is at an all-time high, says Gallup. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Gallup Poll: Percent of US Adults Who Have Ever Smoked Pot at Highest Point Ever. A new Gallup poll has the percentage of US adults who have ever tried marijuana at 49%, the highest figure Gallup has recorded to date. In 1969, just 4% said they had tried it, with that figure rising to 20% in 1977, 30% in 1985, and 40% in 2015. But the number of people who say they currently "smoke marijuana" is much smaller, staying steady at between 11% and 13% after jumping from the 7% in 2013, the first year Gallup asked the question. Trends in marijuana use are generational, with only 19% of people over 75 having tried it, compared with about half of millennials (51%), Generation Xers (49%) and baby boomers (50%).

Drug Policy

Washington State Governor Unveils New Process to Commute Hundreds of Drug Possession Sentences. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Monday rolled out a new method for hundreds of people seeking to commute their sentences for low-level drug convictions to do so. The move comes after the state Supreme Court invalidated the state's drug possession law because it did not require people to knowingly possess, leading the state legislature to pass a bill allowing people caught with drugs to be referred to a health evaluation and possible drug treatment for their first two offenses. Now, the governor is pushing expedited clemency for those eligible under the new policy and those currently on probation or paroled for low-level drug possession can directly petition the governor for a commutation.

International

Human Rights Watch Calls for Suspension of International Assistance to Sri Lanka Police over Abuses in War on Drugs, Fight Against COVID. Human Rights Watch has called on international donors and "partners" of the Sri Lankan police to suspend assistance to them because they "are increasingly killing and abusing people under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic measures and an anti-drug campaign." The group cited recent police abuses including alleged extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention. It called on the government of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to "restore independent oversight of the police and meaningfully investigate and prosecute alleged police abuses." "Sri Lanka's police seem intent on building on their past record of serious abuses, instead of cleaning up their act," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The UN, UK, and others working with Sri Lankan law enforcement should recognize that without the political will to reform on Sri Lanka’s part, their engagement risks appearing to endorse abusive agencies." Human Rights Watch noted two cases in May where men in arrested on drug charges were fatally shot while in police custody. It also noted that the Sri Lankan government placed the police and the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board under the Defense Ministry last year. The police crackdown on drugs has allegedly involved planting drugs on suspects, torture, and other ill-treatment in police custody or at "rehabilitation" centers run by the Army. A new report from Harm Reduction International  found that "treatment" at those centers includes near-daily beatings and other physical abuses amounting to torture.

Magic Mushroom Shops Sprout in Vancouver, OH Activists Resubmit Marijuana Legalization Petition, More... (8/16/21)

California's Supreme Court says no pot for prisoners, the Philippine Justice Department makes an announcement but sheds no light, and more.

Shops in Vancouver are selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic delectables despite their being illegal to sell. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

California Supreme Court Rules No Pot for Prisoners. Inmates in the state prison system do not have the right to possess marijuana under Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot initiative that legalized marijuana in the state, the state Supreme Court ruled in a case last week. That decision reverses a 2019 lower court decision that held prisoners could possess marijuana behind bars but could not smoke or otherwise ingest it. "We agree with the Attorney General that if the drafters had intended to so dramatically change the laws regarding cannabis in prison, we would expect them to have been more explicit about their goals," wrote Associate Justice Joshua Groban in the 5-2 opinion. "While perhaps not illogical to distinguish between the possession and use of cannabis, it is nonetheless difficult to understand why the electorate would want to preclude laws criminalizing cannabis possession in prison, but permit laws criminalizing cannabis consumption in prison," he continued.

Ohio Activists Resubmit Marijuana Legalization Petition. An activist group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has resubmitted a marijuana legalization petition and required signatures after its first effort was rejected las week by Attorney General David Yost (R). "We appreciate the attorney general’s feedback on our initial filing and have fully addressed the issues flagged in this updated filing" coalition spokesman Tom Haren said. If and when the initiative is approved for signature gathering, the group will have to collect 132,887 valid voter signatures to put the proposed law before the legislature. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act on it, it could go before the voters after a second round of signature gathering.

International

Magic Mushroom Shops Sprout in Vancouver. A handful of shops selling magic mushrooms and other psychedelic substances are operating in Vancouver, British Columbia, even though selling magic mushrooms remains illegal in Canada. One such shop, the Coca Leaf Café & Mushroom Dispensary on East Hastings Street, is owned by long-time drug activist Dana Larsen. "We're sitting in a place that is unique in the world. There's nowhere else where you can get the same range of substances and things that we do right here," Larsen said. "Within a few years there’s going to be hundreds of mushroom and psychedelic dispensaries across Canada," Larsen predicted. It's not his first rodeo when it comes to promoting illicit drugs: He ran an illegal pot shop, gave out 5 million pot seeds during the 2016 "Overgrow Canada" campaign, and mailed grams of weed to Liberal politicians. Although he's operating without a license, he's not too worried, he said:  "I'm pretty good at finding that grey area where you can expand things but take a little risk, but maybe not get arrested," he said. "And even if that happened, a judge being like, ‘Yeah, Dana deserves to go to jail for a long time because he's selling people coca tea and a gram or two of psychedelic mushrooms,’ it’s just not going to happen." 

Philippine Justice Department Says It Has Finished Review of 52 Drug War Killing Cases. The Department of Justice panel that examined 52 cases of drug war killings forwarded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) says it has finished report. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he was going over the report, but there was no indication if or when the report is going to be made public. The review is part of a Filipino government effort to blunt a potential formal investigation by the International Criminal Court, which has completed a preliminary investigation and awaits a decision by prosecutors on whether to move ahead. But the 52 cases forwarded to the Justice Department represent only a tiny fraction of the more than 6,000 drug war killings for which the PNP took responsibility and an even tinier fraction of the total number of drug war killings, many conducted by shadowy vigilantes, a number human rights groups put at somewhere north of 30,000. For the latest on the horrendous human rights situation in the Philippines, see this recently released report from the Philippine Human Rights Information Center, The Killing State: Duterte's Legacy of Violence.

SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights

In countries throughout the world, drug war excesses violate human rights, in some cases challenging rule of law itself. This year the UN's UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development had a focus on Goal 16 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

The reduced-size in-person meeting was held at UN headquarters in New York. Parallel and side events to the went online instead. "SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights" was a parallel event to the HLPF, held on July 13, 2021 at 8:00am ET.

Our event discussed extrajudicial drug war killings, fair trial issues and the death penalty, as well as the use of legal harassment against critics of governments. The session discussed recent applications of international rule of law mechanisms including the ICC and Magnitsky laws.

Our speakers this year included Justine Balane, human rights activist from the Philippines; Iftitahsari, Researcher at the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, Indonesia; and Scott Johnston, Staff Attorney for Human Rights Accountability at the global NGO Human Rights First. The event was co-moderated by David Borden, Executive Director of DRCNet Foundation AKA StoptheDrugWar.org; and Marco Perduca, representing Associazone Luca Coscioni, who served in Italy's Senate from 2007-2013.

Our event elicited responses from the government on Indonesia, live during the Questions and Comments section; and from the government of the Philippines in writing later. We also had questions and comments from Kenzi Riboulet Zemouli of NGO FAAAT; iDEFEND Philippines Secretary General Rose Trajano; and Gang Badoy Capati, Executive Director of Rock Ed Philippines, who was a speaker on our 2021 HLPF event.

full event video (YouTube playlist):

full event video (single file):

Visit https://stopthedrugwar.org/global and https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines for information on our international programs.

ME Pioneers Texts Alert to Warn of Overdose Spikes, AR Pot Legalization Initiative Underway, More... (7/26/21)

Yet another study takes aim at the discredited "gateway theory," the Filipino president remains unrepentant and defiant over his record of drug war killings, and more.

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. Unrepentant to the bitter end. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

(Another) Study Finds Marijuana Not a Gateway Drug. Once again, a peer-reviewed academic study has found that marijuana is not a gateway to harder drug use. The study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh was published in the journal Health Economics and found that hospital admissions due to opioid use declined after marijuana was legalized at the state level, at least in the short term. "This isn’t trivial – a decline in opioid-related emergency department visits, even if only for six months, is a welcome public health development," said study lead author Coleman Drake, an assistant professor in the university’s department of health policy and management. The "gateway theory" that exposure to marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs has repeatedly been debunked, but still occasionally makes an appearance in the rhetoric of prohibitionists.

Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Getting Underway. A group of activists calling itself Arkansas True Grass is now gathering signatures aimed at putting a marijuana legalization initiative on the 2022 ballot. The initiative would legalize recreational marijuana and place its regulation under the authority of the state Agriculture Department. It would also expunge all prior marijuana convictions and allow for the cultivation of up to 12 plants at home. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which raises its signature-gathering requirement from 71,321 for statutory initiatives to 89,151 for constitutional amendments. The group has until July 2022 to come up with signatures.

Harm Reduction

Maine Becomes First State to Roll Out Text Alerts When Overdoses Spike. The state has begun a pilot program that lets anyone with a cellphone receive free text messages alerting them to spikes in overdoses in their area and the possibility that a lethal batch of drugs is on the market. The Spike text program was rolled out last month and was first activated last week in Portland, when three people suffered overdoses in a 24-hour period. The program is a joint project of the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Partnership to End Addiction, a national nonprofit. Maine is the first state in the nation to roll out such a program. The move comes after the state saw 502 people die of drug-related causes last year, the most ever in the state.

International

Colombia Removes Ban on Exports of Marijuana Buds. In a bid to boost its nascent legal marijuana industry, Colombia last Friday lifted a ban on exporting dried marijuana flowers, opened the way to expand medical marijuana sales, and streamlined regulatory procedures. "This means Colombia can enter to play a big role in the international market," President Ivan Duque said after signing the decree loosening the rules, adding the new rules would allow Colombia's cannabis industry to expand into food and drinks, cosmetics and other sectors.

Philippines President Taunts International Criminal Court During Last State of the Nation Address. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who proudly and publicly launched a murderous war on drug users and sellers when he took office in 2016, used the occasion of his last State of the Nation address to lash out at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has completed a preliminary investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war and has now requested an authorization to do a formal investigation, with Duterte clearly in the headlights. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to record his threats against those who would "destroy" the country, saying: "I never denied – and the ICC can record it – those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country." Duterte said. He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system "would take you months and years" and again told police to kill drug users and dealers. The Un High Commissioner for Human Rights has tallied at least 8,663 drug killings since the start of the anti-drug campaign, but human rights groups say the number could be as high as 30,000 if killings by shadowy vigilante groups are included.

Free Drugs Handed Out in Vancouver, NJ Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases with More to Come, More... (7/15/21)

Ohio sees its first full-fledged marijuana legalization bill, Mississippi is moving toward a legislative special session to address medical marijuana, legalization in Israel gets stalled, and more.

Welcome to the land of expungement. Nearly 88,000 old pot cases dismissed so far, with more to come. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Dismisses Nearly 88,000 Marijuana Cases. In accordance with the state's marijuana legalization law approved by voters last November, the New Jersey Courts announced Monday that they have vacated or dismissed nearly 88,000 marijuana cases, and that is only the first batch. Superior and municipal courts have identified another 270,000 cases eligible to be vacated, dismissed, and expunged.

Ohio Sees First Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Bill Filed. For the first time, the state legislature has a marijuana legalization bill before it after Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) have filed a bill that would allow for both personal and commercial cultivation, regulate marijuana commerce, and expunge the records of people previously convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. It's been five years since the Republican-dominated legislature passed a medical marijuana law to head off a proposed legalization initiative. Another bill filed this year, House Bill 210, would have allowed personal cultivation of marijuana plants and expungement of certain marijuana offenses, but not taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. That bill has not moved. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) remains opposed to legalization.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Legislature Could Hold Special Session on Medical Marijuana Next Month. Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R-District 48) said Wednesday that the legislature could be ready as early as next month to go into a special session to pass a medical marijuana bill. The legislature is acting after the state Supreme Court threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative because of a technical issue the legislature has failed to address for 20 years, essentially invalidating the state's initiative process. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has said he would call a special session only after lawmakers have reached an agreement on a bill in advance. White said both the House and the Senate have been working on the issue, and he believes they would have an agreement by mid-August.

International

Vancouver City Councilwoman, Activists Hand Out Free Drugs to Highlight Problem of "Safe Supply." Vancouver Councilwoman Jean Swanson and a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), joined forces Wednesday to hand out free cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to drug users in the city's Downtown Eastside. The drugs had been pre-tested to ensure they did not contain contaminants such as fentanyl. The move was undertaken to highlight the problem of the city's toxic illicit drug supply. Between January and May of this year, 851 people died of drug overdoses in the city, the highest number ever reported in the first five months of a calendar year. The city and the province of British Columbia are moving toward drug decriminalization and providing a "safe supply" of drugs to users, but activists accuse them of not doing enough. In a statement handed out at the event, the groups said the free drug handout was to "raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply."

Israel Marijuana Legalization Bill Vote Postponed as Arab Coalition Party Says It is Not Yet Ready to Support It. Israel's fractious and narrowly divided politics is having an impact on marijuana legalization legislation, as the ruling coalition has had to put off a Wednesday vote on a marijuana legalization bill after the Islamist Ra'am Party, which for the first time is part of a governing coalition, has said it needed more time to study the bill. Ra'am head Mansour Abbas asked bill sponsor New Hope Member of the Knesset Sharren Haskel for a two-week delay while his party studies the bill. It has been approved Sunday by Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but now faces at least the two-week delay and, if Ra'am cannot be convinced to support it, dying in the Knesset.

British Columbia Set to Begin "Safe Supply" of Drugs for Street Users, Biden Nominates New Drug Czar, More... (7/13/21)

Marijuana protections are advancing in congressional appropriations bills, former Drug Police Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelman starts a provocative new podcast on drugs, and more.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, nominated by President Biden to serve as drug czar. (March of Dimes)
Marijuana Policy

Congressional Committees Advance Marijuana Protections for Medical Programs and Universities in New Spending Bills. The House Appropriations Committee will take up a spending bill Thursday that includes riders that provide protections for states with medical marijuana programs and universities that conduct marijuana research after they were approved in subcommittee on Monday. The rider protecting has been approved in each Congress since 2014. The House in 2019 and 2020 also approved a rider protecting state recreational marijuana programs, but it is not clear yet whether that will be the case this year. Meanwhile, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill now includes a longstanding provision barring the DEA from interfering in hemp programs and a new provision that bars certain law enforcement grants to states and localities if they allow no-knock searches in drug cases.

Drug Policy

Biden Nominates Former West Virginia Health Official Rahul Gupta as Drug Czar. Ending months of speculation, President Biden has nominated Dr. Rahul Gupta to lead the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office). Currently the top health official at March of Dimes, Gupta is a primary care physician who previously served as West Virginia health commissioner. Drug reformers applauded his role in implementing and overseeing that state's medical marijuana program as head of the state Bureau for Public Health, but some harm reductionists have criticized him for overseeing the decertification of a needle exchange program that aimed to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as Hepatitis C and AIDS. Others, though, do not hold him responsible for the circumstances that led to the shutdown. He has not taken a public position on marijuana legalization.

Ethan Nadelman's New Podcast on Drugs Set to Begin. Ethan Nadelman, the founder and former longtime executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance before stepping down in 2017, is rolling out a new podcast series on drug policy, Psychoactive. The aim of the podcast is to open a deep national conversation about drugs, drug policy, and the human experience. The podcast, on IHeartRadio, launches on Thursday.

International

British Columbia Will Provide "Safe Supply" of Illicit Drugs to Street Users. A provincial policy directive in British Columbia will require all local health authorities to develop programs to provide pharmaceutical quality opioids and stimulants to street drug users in a bid to reduce overdose deaths. But which drugs are offered and who gets them will be at the discretion of local programs and doctors, which could be a barrier to expanding access. And they can only be provided in clinical or programmatic settings—no takeaway drugs. There are also signs some health care providers are reluctant to participate. 'Some key partners, including some prescribers, have expressed reservations about the approach outlined in this document, and others have noted that an approach that begins with programmatic settings will not provide broad access for people who use substances," the directive says. "We recognize that we have been unable to address all concerns, but we also recognize that we must start somewhere." The drugs will be covered by the province's prescription drug plan and will not be forced to enter into drug treatment. Safe supply is the idea that health care providers can lower or eliminate a person's dependence on illicit black market drugs and thus reduce overdose deaths and other harms.

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