Harm Intensification

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CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, CT Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (4/7/21)

New York police will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, the Montana House passes a trio of competing legalization implementation bills, a cartel massacre in Mexico leaves more than two dozen dead, and more.

LSD and other psychedelics would be decriminalized under a bill advancing in California. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. A marijuana legalization bill supported by Governor Ned Lamont (D), House Bill 5853, passed the General Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. But lawmakers cautioned that changes are coming to the bill as it winds through the committee process. The bill awaits further action in the Senate.

Montana House Advances Three Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bills. The House on Tuesday approved three competing Republican-backed bills for regulating legal marijuana after voters approved it in November. The bills all departed from the voter-approved initiative, which called for legal sales to begin next January and for many revenues to be used for conservation efforts. Republican legislative leaders urged lawmakers to approve all three, arguing that doing so would give the Senate more options as it considers its course of action.

New York Police Will No Longer Be Able to Search Vehicles Solely Because of the Smell of Marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana possession now in effect, police in the state will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of weed. More than three ounces of marijuana -- the personal possession limit -- will have to be visible to create the probable cause required to do a search. "While law enforcement across the state are continuing to review and discuss the ramifications of the new laws, what is clear is the fact we cannot search vehicles based on the odor of cannabis or even witnessing small quantities of cannabis," said Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone.

New Orleans City Council to Take Up Marijuana Decriminalization Resolution. Council President Helena Moreno and five council members have filed a resolution to support an effort in the state legislature to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. "This is just common sense at this point, from criminal justice reform to job creation to funding critical needs," said Moreno. "It addresses a fundamental source of racial and economic inequity in our criminal justice system. Public support for decriminalization is finally catching up to the truth: black and brown communities bear the brunt of marijuana enforcement, disrupting lives and reinforcing existing biases while failing to make any appreciable effect on public safety. And because of this reality, the taxation piece must be a thoughtful one. Investment in communities of color must be prioritized… Let's do this, the time is now."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Advances A bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of several psychedelic drugs, Senate Bill 519, passed its first legislative hurdle Tuesday as it won approval in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It now heads for the Assembly Health Committee before going for an Assembly floor vote. "By decriminalizing we're not inviting people to use. We're taking, instead of a criminal approach to drug use, a health-minded approach," bill sponsor state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the committee before the vote.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Naloxone in Schools Bill Advances. A bill to allow schools to get overdose reversal drugs has passed the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 205, amends an existing law allowing school officials to have Epi-Pens on hand to prevent anaphylactic shock to add auto-injector devices containing drugs such as naloxone.

Vermont Buprenorphine Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Human Services Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 225, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the opioid-addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill passed unanimously in committee and now heads for a House floor vote.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second Committee Vote in As Many Days. The Second Legislative Studies Committee approved a rapidly-advancing marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, one day after it won approval in the Justice Committee. It must still get through the Health Committee, which could happen as early as Wednesday, clearing the way to a final Senate vote as early as Thursday.

Mexico Cartel Massacre Leaves 27 Dead in Michoacan. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is being blamed for the mass killing of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacan, last week. The Citizens' Intelligence Unit said that member of United Cartels had surrendered to the CJNG and were subsequently executed. And now, someone has stolen 26 of their bodies and eight decapitated heads from the local morgue.

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

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

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

Drug Policy

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

NY Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization into Law, Biden White House Sets Drug Policy Priorities, More... (4/1/21)

The Biden administration has filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting an effort to expand sentencing reductions under the 2018 First Step Act, the New Mexico legislature has voted to legalize marijuana, and more.

New York State Capitol
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization, Governor Will Sign Bill. New Mexico has become the second state in as many days to see lawmakers approve marijuana legalization. New York did it on March 30, and with the approval of House Bill 2, the Cannabis Regulation Act, and Senate Bill 2, the Expungement of Certain Criminal Records Act, by legislators in Santa Fe, New Mexico got it done on March 31. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supported the effort and says she will sign the bills into law.

New York Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill into Law. One day after the legislature passed Senate Bill 854, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed it into law Wednesday. That makes the state the 15th to legalize marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

North Dakota Legislature Approves Asset Forfeiture Reporting Bill. The state Senate on Wednesday approved House Bill 1480, which would impose new reporting requirements for property seized by police. The bill would require more information be provided in courts' forfeiture judgments, including where the seizure took place, the alleged crime, and the outcome of the case. The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Doug Burgum (R), who has three legislature days to either sign or veto it.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases First Year Drug Policy Priorities. Citing the nation's "overdose and addiction crisis," the Biden administration on Thursday laid out a set of drug policy priorities for its first year. "President Biden has made clear that addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for his administration… President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead. The President has also emphasized the need to eradicate racial, gender, and economic inequities that currently exist in the criminal justice system."

Sentencing

Biden Administration Urges Leniency for Harsh Crack Sentences. The Biden administration on Wednesday filed a brief with the Supreme Court endorsing an effort by low-level crack cocaine offenders to obtain reduced sentences. The brief urged the court to widen eligibility for sentence reductions for some drug offenses under the 2018 First Step Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case, Tarahrick Terry v. U.S., No. 20-10482, on May 4.

Rahul Gupta Could Be Next Drug Czar, Federal Marijuana Banking & Insurance Bills Filed, More... (3/19/21)

White House staffers get fired or suspended for past marijuana use, NYC mayoral candidates call for safer injection sites, more.

Former West Virginia Health Commissioner Rahul Gupta has emerged as a leading candidate to head the ONDCP.
Marijuana Policy

Biden White House Fires Five, Sidelines Dozens of Staffers for Past Marijuana Use. Five White House staffers have been fired and dozens more suspended, asked to resign, or shifted to remote work programs because of past marijuana use -- even in states where it is legal. Some staffers said they felt sandbagged, saying transition officials had told them some past marijuana use would be overlooked. White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to initial reports on this story with this statement: "In an effort to ensure that more people have an opportunity to serve the public, we worked in coordination with the security service to ensure that more people have the opportunity to serve than would not have in the past with the same level of recent drug use. While we will not get into individual cases, there were additional factors at play in many instances for the small number of individuals who were terminated," Psaki said.

SAFE Banking Act Introduced in House. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) has reintroduced the Safe Banking Act, which would protect financial service institutions doing business with marijuana companies and third-party vendors from federal money laundering prosecutions. The bill was unable to pass in the last Congress, but now Democrats control both chambers, so prospects are looking up.

Bipartisan Marijuana Insurance Bill Introduced in Senate. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Rand Paul (R-KY) have filed a bill that would allow legal marijuana and related businesses to have access to insurance, the Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act of 2021. The bill passed the House in September 2019, but was stalled in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Stanton) has filed a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 150. The measure would legalize marijuana like alcohol, allowing people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce and setting up a system of taxed and regulated production, processing, and sales. The bill is now before the House Health and Human Services Committee.

New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads for Senate Floor Vote. After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee on a narrow 5-4 vote Thursday, a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill12, is now headed for a Senate floor vote. The legislative session ends on Saturday.

Medical Marijuana

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Study Bill Advances in House. The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 82, which would authorize funding for a report on medical marijuana. In committee, the bill was amended to send a copy of that report to the Joint Judiciary Committee and the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee during the interim.

Drug Policy

Former West Virginia Health Official Rahul Gupta Emerges as Leading Candidate for Drug Czar. Former West Virginia Health Commissioner and current top health official at the March of Dimes Rahul Gupta has emerged as a leading candidate to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), according to "four people with knowledge of the selection process who spoke on condition of anonymity."

Under Gupta's leadership, the WV Bureau of Public Health decertified a well-regarded syringe exchange program that had served the city of Charleston, leading to an HIV outbreak the CDC described as the "most concerning" in the nation. Some advocates have speculated that Gupta's hands may have been tied on the matter, however, and note significant progress for harm reduction in the state during his tenure.

Gupta is an ally of key Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). But whoever is nominated will not be a Cabinet member. President Obama demoted the office from the Cabinet in 2009, and neither he nor President Trump restored it. President Biden is not going to restore it either, his administration has said.

Rhode Island Drug Decriminalization Bill Filed. Six Democratic state senators have filed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, Senate Bill 604. The bill would replace criminal penalties for drug possession with a $100 civil fine. It is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Harm Reduction

New York City Mayoral Candidates Call for Safe Injection Sites. A half dozen Democrats vying for the party's mayoral nomination have said they support safe injection sites or "overdose prevention centers" to deal with the city's opioid overdose crisis. Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang each said they would create safe injection sites, though Garcia said she would defer to affected communities. Only one, finance executive Ray McGuire, said he did not support the idea.

With Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform Bill, Canada Seeks an Off-Ramp from the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

On February 16, Canada's governing Liberal Party finally moved to enact long-promised reforms to criminal justice by introducing a sweeping new bill that would make arrests for drug possession only one option for police, end all mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, end some other mandatory minimums, and open the way for conditional (probationary) sentences for a variety of offenses. But is it enough?

Canadian parliament building, Ottawa (Creative Commons)
The government's move comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces mounting pressure for reform on two fronts. First, Canada is facing an unprecedented drug overdose crisis, with the province of British Columbia especially hard-hit. Last year, the provincial Coroners Service reported, BC saw a whopping 1,716 drug overdose deaths, up a startling 74 percent over 2019. The province has always been on the cutting edge of drug reform in Canada, and spurred by the crisis, BC formally asked the federal government in early February for an exemption to the country's drug laws to allow it to decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs. That request is still being considered by Ottawa.

But the pressure for drug decriminalization isn't just coming from British Columbia, it's coming from inside the criminal justice system. In July 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called for drug decriminalization, recommending the "current enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system." The following month, the federal prosecution service issued a directive permitting prosecution of drug cases only in the most serious cases.

And public opinion supports decriminalization. An Angus Reid poll released after the government announced the new bill found that seven out of 10 Canadians felt the country's opioid crisis had worsened in 2020, and 59 percent supported the decriminalization of all illegal drugs.

Second, just as last summer's massive protests in the United States channeled and amplified long-standing demands for racial and social justice here, so they echoed north of the border. Canada has its own not-so-noble history of racism and discrimination, and the number of Black and Indigenous people swept up in the country's criminal justice system demonstrates that the legacy of the past continues to this day.

Indigenous people make up 5% of the Canadian population but accounted for 25% of all federal prisoners in 2019. Similarly, Black Canadians accounted for about 3% of the population but more than 7% of prisoners that year. As the Justice Ministry noted in a 2017 report, after Conservatives passed tough anti-crime measures early this century, Black and Indigenous were disproportionately targeted for mandatory minimum sentencing in the decade ending in 2017. And as the Office of the Correctional Investigator reported, non-white inmates are more likely to sent to maximum security prisons, have forced used against them, and be denied parole.

As the government rolled out the bill, C-22, "An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act," Justice Minister David Lametti made clear that not just public health but also racial justice was on its mind.

Trudeau had asked him to "address systemic inequities in the criminal justice system," he told a press conference. "We are turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy," he added. "It was an approach that did not make our communities safer. It did not deter criminals. It did not make the justice system more effective or more fair. Its singular accomplishment has been to incarcerate too many Indigenous people, too many Black people and too many marginalized Canadians."

The bill envisions reforms in policing, prosecuting, and sentencing drug offenders and sets out statements of principle for dealing with drug offenses, including "problematic drug use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue," state actors should recognize human rights and harm reduction imperatives, and criminal sanctions are stigmatizing and not consistent with public health practice.

Under these principles, when encountering people using or possessing drugs, police would be granted the discretion to "consider whether it would be preferable... to take no further action, or warn the individual, or, with the consent of the individual, to refer the individual to a program or to an agency or other service provider in the community that may assist the individual."

Similarly, the bill mandates the prosecutors open drug possession cases only when a warning, referral, or alternate measures are "not appropriate, and a prosecution in appropriate in the circumstances." And it gives judges much broader discretion to order probationary sentences instead of confinement.

C-22 looks as if it were designed to cut off inputs to the Canadian prison system at every level of the system. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has represented Toronto's Beaches-East York riding (district) since 2015 and is a longtime proponent of full drug decriminalization, says that is exactly what it is supposed to do.

He filed private member's bills this session for decriminalization (C-235) and for an evidence-based diversion model (C-236) to reduce drug arrests and prosecutions. It is that latter bill that the government has now largely adopted as C-22.

"I favor drug decriminalization because the war on drugs is an absolute failure that harms the people we want to help," he told the Chronicle. "Our opioid crisis has taken more than 16,000 lives since 2016, and there is systemic racism in the criminal justice system, including around drug charges."

"My goal was to call for full decriminalization, with a second bill to show the government if they weren't inclined to favor decriminalization, here's an alternative that would get us closer to the goal and would be more politically feasible. This bill seriously restricts the discretion of police and prosecutors to proceed, according to a set of principles that will ensure a stronger focus on human rights and harm reduction," he said. "It doesn't go as far as I want it to go, but it is unquestionably a step forward. It will be virtually impossible for the state to move forward with drug possession charges and prosecutions."

Donald Macpherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and author of Vancouver's groundbreaking Four Pillars drug strategy in the 1990s, has a more jaundiced view of both the Liberals and C-22.

"The things that are in this bill are all things the Liberals promised when they were elected in 2015, and if they had done this then it would have been seen as a good move, getting rid of egregious stuff the Harper government had implemented," he told the Chronicle. "But now, the discussion has moved so far that even police chiefs are calling for decriminalization. It's too little, too late."

Even the limited support he gave the bill was filled with caveats.

"Overall, though, it is a good thing, it is incremental progress, getting rid of the mandatory minimums is probably the most powerful aspect in terms of criminal law," McPherson conceded. "But the bill was supposed to deal with the disproportionate impact of drug law enforcement on people of color, and it won't do it. There will be more probationary sentences and more alternatives to imprisonment, but arrests and prosecutions will be 'at the discretion of' and Black and Indigenous people will now be caught up in kinder, gentler diversion programs."

Still, passage of C-22 would be a step in the right direction, Macpherson said.

"It is preparing the ground for the next step, full decriminalization, which I think is now inevitable. The harms of criminalization in Canada are now so evident to everyone that the question now is not whether to but how to," he said. "We saw this with cannabis -- at a certain point, the change in the discourse was palpable. We're now at that point with drug decriminalization."

Long-time Vancouver drug user activist Ann Livingston, cofounder of the pioneering Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and currently executive project coordinator for the BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors, had an even more jaundiced view than Macpherson, scoffing at more police discretion and expanded probationary sentences.

"I'm glad to see the mandatory minimums gone, but the Liberals want more police, and we say don't do us any more favors," she told the Chronicle. "And the police have always had discretion to not make drug arrests; they just never exercise it. And probation -- many of the people in jail are there for probation violations, even administrative ones, like missing appointments."

For Livingston, the cutting edge is now no longer criminal justice reforms or even decriminalization but creating a safe supply of currently illegal drugs. Limited opioid maintenance programs, including heroin, are available in the city, but they aren't enough, she said.

"Here in British Columbia, we had 900 COVID deaths last year and 1,700 overdose deaths. What we need is a safe drug supply," she argued. "We have to have clear demands and what we are demanding is a pure, safe supply of heroin, cocaine, and crystal meth. This is a crisis; this is the time to do this drug law stuff right. And to get serious. The feds tell us they place no barriers on heroin prescribing, but then they fight about who is going to pay for it."

If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals think passing C-22 is going to quiet the clamor for more fundamental change in Canadian drug policies, they should probably think again.

Canada

Biden AG Nominee Addresses Marijuana & Mandatory Minimums, El Chapo's Wife Busted at Dulles, More... (2/23/21)

Republcan legislators continue to try to wreak havoc with voter-approved marijuana initiatives, Judge Merrick Garland speaks out on marijuana and sentencing policy at his confirmation hearing, and more.

Attorney General nominee Judge Merrick Garland, here chatting with Sen. Chuck Schumer. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Biden Attorney General Nominee Sets Gentler Line on Marijuana, Cites Discriminatory Enforcement. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's pick as attorney general, said Monday that prosecuting people complying with state marijuana laws is not "a useful use of limited resources" and that there is "a question of prioritization about resources and discretion" around the issue. Garland was responding to a question from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He also said during the hearing that the enforcement of marijuana prohibition is a "perfect example" of how the criminal justice system is racially biased and imposes disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

Montana GOP Bill Would Delay Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization. Saying the voters' decision to legalize marijuana with a quick timeline "doesn't make any sense," State Representative Bill Mercer (R) has filed a bill that would push back the October 1 deadline until sometime in 2023. The bill is set to be heard this week in the House Business and Labor Committee.

Medicial Marijuana

South Dakota Medical Marijuana Supporters Float Compromise to Forestall GOP Effort to Delay Implementation. Supporters of the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law are seeking to scale back Republican efforts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program. Lawmakers are considering House Bill 1100, which would form an interim committee to essentially rewrite the voter-approved law. The proposal moves back the deadline for implementing much of the measure to next January during the 2022 legislative session.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Illinois Bill Would Give Protection to Overdose Victims. Representative Janet Yang Rohr (D-Napierville) has filed House Bill 3445, which would mandate that people seeking assistance for a drug overdose would not be criminally charged or prosecuted if they make a good faith effort to seek drug treatment. It also includes language protecting parolees from having their status revoked in case of an overdose. The bill would expand a Good Samaritan law passed in 2012 to include the person who is actually overdosing.

Law Enforcement

El Chapo's Wife Busted on Drug Trafficking Charges at DC Airport. Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of imprisoned Mexican drug trafficking kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was arrested Monday night after flying into Dulles International Airport. She faces federal charges of conspiring to help distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana in the US. She is accused of helping El Chapo continue to run his enterprise while behind bars. She is a joint US and Mexican citizen.

Sentencing

Biden Attorney General Nominee Endorses Ending Mandatory Minimums. Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, said Monday that he agrees with a Biden administration policy of ending the use of mandatory minimum sentences. His comments came in response to a question from Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and can be heard at the 28-minute mark of the linked video.

CA Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed, NJ Marijuana Mess Continues, More... (2/18/21)

A Minnesota marijuana legalization bill moves, Wisconsin's governor calls for legal marijuana, the South Dakota House quashes telehealth for medical marijuana patients, and more.

(Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. The House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee voted 10-7 Wednesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, House File 600. The bill advanced on a partisan vote, with all Republicans opposed. Republicans control the state Senate, making the bill's prospects cloudy.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Standoff. Efforts to advance marijuana legalization implementation legislation remained stymied Thursday after a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a "cleanup" bill was cancelled for the second day in a row. Legislators and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) remain at loggerheads over how to handle underage marijuana possession. Now, Murphy will likely have to decide whether to approve two pending bills or veto them, which would contradict his campaign promise to legalize marijuana, as well as contradicting the will of the voters, who approved it in a referendum in November. "The governor has two bills on his desk that he has articulated problems with, and it doesn't appear that the Legislature is going to solve those problems," said Bill Caruso, an attorney and founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. The governor's deadline to act is noon Friday, although that could be pushed back to Monday.

Wisconsin Governor's Budget Plan Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Tuesday released a budget plan that includes legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana. The move comes despite strong resistance in the Republican-controlled state legislature. "The Governor believes it is time to join other states, including two of our neighbors, who have legalized recreational marijuana," an explanatory document from his office said. The proposal would allow adults to possess up to two ounces and grow up to six plants at home.

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota House Votes to Deny Telehealth for Medical Marijuana. The House voted 38-30 on Wednesday to defeat House Bill 1147, which would have allowed medical marijuana patients to use telehealth to consult with practitioners in order to obtain recommendations. One Republican opponent called the idea "premature," while another called it "not ready for prime time." South Dakota okayed medical marijuana with 69% of the vote in November.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Filed. State Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) filed Senate Bill 519, which would decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelic drugs in the state. "People should not be going to jail for possessing or using drugs," Wiener said. "It's a health issue, not a criminal issue, and I hope that we get all the way there." The bill would also expunge criminal records for people convicted of psychedelic possession offenses and create a task force to address regulatory issues.

Asset Forfeiture

South Dakota Bill Would Limit Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 164, which would bar asset forfeiture in drug cases where the amount of the drug in question was no more than a personal use amount. The bill would originally have banned asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction but was amended in committee to strip out that section. Under the bill, it would take at least half a pound of marijuana to trigger asset forfeiture. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Arizona Senate Committee Approves Legalizing Drug Testing Strips. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee has approved Senate Bill 1486, which would legalize the use of test strips that can detect the presence of fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid which accounts for a majority overdose deaths in the US, mostly by people who didn't know they were taking it. The test strips are currently considered illegal drug paraphernalia. The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote.

Book Review: Drug Use for Grown-Ups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AZ "Drug Trafficking Homicide" Bill Filed, HI Marijuana Legalization, Decrim Bills Advance, More... (2/17/21)

Hawaii legislators take up marijuana reform bills, Maryland legislators take up marijuana legalization, and more.

Fentanyl and its analogues are the object of a harsh new drug sentencing proposal in Arizona. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Hawaii Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. The Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee voted on Tuesday to approve a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 767. It would legalize possession of one ounce of marijuana or less by anyone who is 21 years old or older.

Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Advances. The Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs also voted on Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 758 would increase from 3 grams to 1 ounce the minimum amount of marijuana that a defendant must possess to be charged with a petty misdemeanor. It would also permit persons previously convicted of possessing 1 ounce or less of marijuana to have the conviction expunged from their criminal record.

Maryland Legislators Hold First Committee Hearing on Marijuana Legalization. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 32. No vote was taken. Another marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 708, is set to be heard in committee on March 4. HB 32 would legalize up to four ounces of pot by adults, allow home cultivation, allow an unlimited number of microbusiness licenses. That is the main difference with SB 708.

Sentencing Policy

Arizona Bill Would Charge Those Who Provide Drugs Linked to Overdoses with Murder. People who sell or share drugs linked to overdose deaths could face as much as 25 years in prison under a measure, House Bill 2779, that would create the crime of "drug trafficking homicide." The bill would also make people convicted under the charge ineligible for probation or early release. And it would create tougher mandatory minimum sentences for people caught selling or even possessing small amounts of heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues.

Canada Considers Decrim, DOJ Rescinds Sessions-Era Sentencing Guidance, More... (1/29/21)

State legislatures are dealing with marijuana bills, the Justice Department reverts to less harsh charging and sentencing policies, and more.

Faced with a spiraling drug overdose crisis, the Canadian federal government ponders drug decriminalization. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Idaho Bill to Amend Constitution to Bar Marijuana Legalization Advances. The measure, a joint resolution, would ban all psychoactive drugs not already legal in the state, but was inspired by fears of marijuana legalization. It was approved Friday in the Senate State Affairs Committee on a party line vote. To become law, the measure would have to pass both the House and the Senate with a two-thirds majority and then be approved by a simple majority of the electorate in the November 2022 general election.

New Hampshire Marijuana Legalization, Home Cultivation Bills Killed. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to retain a marijuana legalization bill, effectively killing it for the rest of the legislative session. The committee also voted to kill a bill that would allow home cultivation of marijuana.

New Jersey Home Cultivation Bill Filed. Even as the legislature and the governor continue to spar over bills decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana after voters approved it in November, Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Bergen) has filed S 3407 (not yet available on the legislative website), which would legalize the cultivation of up to six plants by individuals once a legalization bill is signed into law. "The people of New Jersey made it clear in November that they want to lift the prohibition on cannabis," Cardinale said in a statement. "Since then, the Legislature has spent three months fumbling around with what should have been a simple task, and complicated the legalization effort with countless fees, licensing and extra layers of bureaucracy."

Pennsylvania Governor Calls for Adult-Use Marijuana Legalization in 2021 Agenda. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) is calling for marijuana legalization as part of his 2021 agenda, which was released Thursday. "The revenue generated from legalization will be used to support historically disadvantaged small businesses through grant funding and provide them the assistance they need to build back from the economic crisis and strengthen our economy," Wolf said. "Additionally, a portion of the revenue will support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana."

Medical Marijuana

North Dakota Lawmakers Kill Home Cultivation for Medical Marijuana Patients. A bill that would have allowed registered medical marijuana patients to grow their medicine was unanimously defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Sentencing Policy

Justice Department Rescinds Harsh Charging and Sentencing Policy, Reverts to Obama-Era Policy. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson has revoked harsh Justice Department guidance to federal prosecutors imposed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017. Wilkinson reverted to guidance issued by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010, which, in a bid to reduce imprisonment, directed prosecutors to do an individualized assessment of relevant facts in deciding what cases to charge and what sentences to seek. That guidance, though, does not include a 2013 Holder memo directing prosecutors not to seek mandatory minimum sentences in some drug cases.

International

Canada Ponders Drug Decriminalization in Bid to Fight Overdoses. The Canadian federal government is pondering whether to decriminalize drug possession in a bid to tamp down rising drug overdose numbers, a government official told Reuters this week: "A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that decriminalization was under consideration and that discussions with Vancouver were under way but would not comment further." Vancouver has already called on the federal government to let it decriminalize drugs inside the city limits.

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