Harm Intensification

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CO Psychedelic Initiatives Filed, San Francisco State of Emergency Over Drugs & Crime in Tenderloin, More... (12/20/21)

Joe Manchin thinks his constituents would use child tax credit payments to buy drugs, a state of emergency in San Francisco could clear the way for a safe injection site, and more.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) apparently doesn't think too highly of his constituents. (senate.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Congress Will Take Up Marijuana Reform in the Spring. In a memo to the Congressional Cannabis Caucus last Thursday, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) wrote that so-far stalled marijuana reform legislation would be taken up in the spring. "The growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows that Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people," they said. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills before Congress, ranging from full-out legalization to bills seeking to ease access to financial services for state-legal marijuana enterprises, as well as narrower bills dealing with topics such as legal marijuana sales in Washington, DC, and opening up opportunities for research on PTSD, among others.

Medical Marijuana

New Mexico Judge Rules Medical Marijuana Patients Can't Buy as Much Marijuana as Recreational Users. Second Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin Chavez ruled last Thursday that medical marijuana patients cannot purchase the same amount as non-patients when recreational-use sales begin. In so ruling, he rejected a claim from a medical marijuana patient that he should be able to buy as much marijuana as a non-patient consumer. "Petitioner has failed to establish that he, as well as qualified patients, qualified caregivers, and reciprocal patients, have a clear legal right to purchase an additional two-ounces of medical cannabis, tax free, at this time, under the Cannabis Regulation Act," Chavez wrote. Under the state's medical marijuana program, patients are allowed to purchase just over seven ounces in a 90-day period. The state Medical Cannabis Program has proposed upping that limit to 15 ounces.

Psychedelics

Colorado Activists File Psychedelic Therapeutic and Full Psilocybin Legalization Initiatives. A national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed two separate psychedelic reform initiatives -- both with the same title, the Natural Medicine Healing Act -- one of which would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms and the other which would create a system of licensed businesses to produce natural entheogens for therapeutic use at "healing centers." The campaign builds on psilocybin decriminalization in Denver in 2019, the first such move in the country. Meanwhile, Oregon voters approved therapeutic psilocybin last year.

Drug Policy

Joe Manchin Privately Told Colleagues Parents Use Child Tax Credit Money on Drugs. Among Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) reasons for announcing he would not support President Biden's Build Back Better bill was one that he didn't say out loud: That "he thought parents would waste monthly child tax credit payments on drugs instead of providing for their own children," the Huffington Post has reported, citing "two sources familiar with the senator's comments." The child tax credit has provided families with $300 a month per child, cutting childhood poverty rates nearly in half. The Post reported that "Manchin's comments shocked several senators," but are in line with other reported comments that he thought people would use proposed sick leave to go hunting. It also echoes long-standing conservative talking points about welfare.

Law Enforcement

San Francisco Mayor Declares State of Emergency in the Tenderloin. Mayor London Breed (D) declared a state of emergency in the city's Tenderloin district last Friday aimed at combatting rising crime, drug use, and homelessness there. The declaration allows city officials to suspend zoning laws to create a site that would offer shelter and mental health services to people suffering from drug addiction. Fully one quarter of all overdose deaths in the city last year took place in the Tenderloin. The move comes after the city Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of a building in the Tenderloin to house a proposed safe injection site. The declaration also takes aim at crime in the neighborhood. "We are in a crisis and we need to respond accordingly," Breed said. "Too many people are dying in this city, too many people are sprawled on our streets."

Senate Names Meth an "Emerging Drug Threat," UFCW Marijuana Industry Unionization, More... (12/14/21)

A bad batch of synthetic cannabinoids is sickening people in Florida, Chicago is handing out fentanyl test strips in a bid to bring down record overdose numbers, and more.

Meth seized in Nebraska. No, it was not cooked by Breaking Bad's Heisenberg. (netnebraska.org)
Marijuana Policy

UFCW Gains Another Victory in Marijuana Industry Unionization Drive. An ongoing drive by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) gained another victory this week as 70 employees of the four-store Sweet Flower Cannabis chain in Southern California voted to join the union. The chain just got a license for a fifth shop in Culver City, and staff there will also be able to join the union under a labor peace agreement. The UFCW has won several other unionization votes in California this year, as well as at pot businesses in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. The union represents about 10,000 workers in the industry. The Teamsters are also active in unionizing the industry, winning victories in California and Illinois.

Methamphetamine

Senate Passes Grassley, Feinstein Methamphetamine Bill. The Senate on Monday passed the Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021 (S. 854), legislation introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill designates methamphetamine as an emerging drug threat and directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to implement a plan to address the rising use of methamphetamine. The bill "requires ONDCP to develop, implement and make public, within 90 days of enactment, a national emerging threats response plan that is specific to methamphetamine." The same bill passed the Senate last year but failed to move in the House.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Severe Bleeding From 'Spice' Synthetic Cannabinoid Leaves 35 Hospitalized in Florida. At least 35 people in the Tampa Bay area have recently been hospitalized with severe bleeding after ingesting the synthetic cannabinoid "Spice," the state's poison control center reported. Victims have reported bruising, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, vomiting blood, blood in urine and stool, and heavy menstrual bleeding -- symptoms associated with a condition known as coagulopathy, where the blood's ability to clot is impaired.

The exact cause of the bleeding was not stated. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "...chemicals [in synthetic marijuana] are often being changed as the makers of spice often alter them to avoid drug laws, which have to target certain chemicals." Similar reactions in a 2018 incident involving Spice were attributed to the chemical brodifacoum having been added.

Florida has not legalized marijuana and allows only limited access to medical marijuana.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Now Passing Out Free Fentanyl Test Strips. With fentanyl now linked to most opioid overdose deaths in the city, the Chicago Department of Health has begun offering free fentanyl test strips to the public. The program first began in October, and so far, more than 7,000 strips have been distributed, mostly through harm reduction organizations. The Cook County Department of Public Health is also distributing fentanyl test strips in the city and its suburbs. Cook County registered a record number of opioid-related deaths in 2020.

Move to Ease Research Burdens on Schedule I Drugs Gains DEA Support, Colombia Pill Testing, More... (12/7/21)

Language protecting banks doing business with state-legal marijuana firms has been removed from a defense spending bill, Canada's Alberta province is looking into establishing a safe drug supply, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Banking Language Now Not Included in Defense Bill. The House included language to protect financial institutions that deal with state-legal marijuana businesses in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which it passed in September, but now, after negotiations between the House and Senate, that provision has been stripped out. There is still, however, a chance it good be added back in before final votes in both chambers are taken. The House Rules Committee is meeting Tuesday, and Safe Banking Act sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who is a member of the committee, said he will file an amendment to restore banking language to the bill.

Drug Policy

DEA, NIDA Back White House Black to Ease Research Barriers on Marijuana, Psychedelics, and Other Schedule I Drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has proposed a plan to ease barriers to research for Schedule I drugs, and now both the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have said they are on board with the plan. In written testimony before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last Thursday, DEA said that "expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA's mission to protect public safety and health. DEA supports the administration's legislative proposal's expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research." NIDA Director Nora Volkow echoed the DEA support, saying existing procedures are "time consuming" and "cumbersome."

International

Canada's Alberta to Study Safe Drug Supply. The prairie province's United Conservative government has proposed that a committee of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) look into the pluses and minuses of offering pharmaceutical versions of opioids and other addictive substances to people dependent on them. "I want to look at objective evidence so both for and against," said Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions. "I want evidence to be presented at this committee, and I look forward to seeing their findings." The committee will be required to submit a report with recommendations by the end of April. Both the province of British Columbia and the city of Toronto are already moving forward with efforts to win a federal exemption to allow for the distribution of controlled substances in a bid to reduce drug overdoses from an unsecured supply.

Colombia Party Scene Has Pill Testing. A group that originated seven years ago with university students demanding pill and powder testing at parties is now actually doing drug purity testing at clubs and festivals -- without government support but also without government interference. The group, Echele Cabeza, is now doing about 250 tests a month. The costs are covered by event organizers, with additional funding from an NGO that helps drug users. New Zealand recently became the first country in the world to formally legalize pill testing.

Mexico Supreme Court Throws Out Law Making Growing Low THC Marijuana Illegal. Even as the Mexican congress stumbles toward Supreme Court-mandated marijuana legalization, the Supreme Court has now thrown out a law that made growing low-THC marijuana illegal. The law barred the cultivation of marijuana with less than 1 percent THC, but the court held that law unconstitutional. The national health agency, COFEPRIS, had interpreted the law to bar all marijuana cultivation except for medical and scientific purposes, but now companies will be able to cultivate the crop to produced low-THC CBD products such as tinctures, oils, and beverages.

First Actual Fentanyl-Laced Marijuana Case -- Or Not? -- ICC Temporarily Suspends Philippines Probe, More... (11/22/21)

An Illinois judge rules the odor of raw marijuana is no longer a basis for a vehicle search, an Ohio move to legalize marijuana is nearing its signature-gathering goal, and more.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, orchestrator of tens of thousands of drug war murders
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Health Officials Confirm First Actual Case of Marijuana Laced with Fentanyl. While scattered police departments have previously reported cases of marijuana laced with the powerful opioid fentanyl, those claims have never panned out. But now, top Connecticut health officials say it has turned up there. After nearly 40 cases of reviving apparent overdose victims with the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone who reported using only marijuana since July, the state Department of Public Health announced last Thursday that it had found fentanyl in a marijuana sample it tested. "This is the lab-confirmed case of marijuana with fentanyl in Connecticut and possibly the first confirmed case in the United States," said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD.

Is it what it seems? Harm reductionionists have posited on email lists that it is likely to be a case of surface contamination, and noted that fentanyl requires a vaporize at different temperatures.

Illinois Judge Rules Smell of Marijuana No Longer Provides Basis for Vehicle Search. A district court judge in Whiteside County has ruled that the odor of raw marijuana alone does not provide probable cause for a warrantless search of a vehicle. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana has not been a criminal offense since June 2019, but police officers continued to use the smell of weed as a reason to search vehicle during traffic stops. But Judge Daniel P. Dalton ruled that "there are a number of wholly innocent reasons a person or the vehicle in which they are in may smell of raw cannabis." Judge Dalton ruled that "the court finds the odor of raw cannabis alone is insufficient to establish probable cause." This is only a district court opinion, and the state can appeal if it chooses.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Petition Nearing Enough Signatures to Force Legislature to Act. The state Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is pushing a signature-gathering campaign for an initiated statute that would force lawmakers to act on legalization or send the issue to a popular vote, says it is nearing the required 133,000 valid voter signatures to force the issue. If they reach that signature goal, the General Assembly would have four months to act on the proposal. If lawmakers fail to act or reject legalization, petitioners would then have to gather more signatures to send the issue to the voters in the next general election. The proposal would legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, set up a system of retail sales, and allow people to grow up to two plants of their own.

International

International Criminal Court Temporarily Suspends Probe into Human Rights Violations in Philippines Drug War. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has temporarily suspended a formal investigation into human rights abuses during outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs and drug users. The move comes after the Philippines government filed a request for deferral, saying its own investigations into drug war killings were underway.

"The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request," ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan wrote. Khan wrote that he would seek more information from the Philippines. Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2018 and had vowed that it would not cooperate with the ICC, but has allowed severely limited investigations into several dozen killings out of the thousands admitted by the government and the more than 30,000 claimed by human rights groups.

Those groups called on the ICC to get back to investigating Duterte: "We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration," said the National Union of People's Lawyers, which represents some victims' families. The national justice system is "extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims", the statement said. The Duterte government's claim that existing legal mechanisms could bring justice to Duterte's victims was "absurd," said Human Rights Watch. "Let's hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is," said Brad Adam, HRW Asia director.

Capitol Hill Democrats Divided on Marijuana Reform Progress, Administration Releases Model Naloxone Legislation, More... (11/18/21)

South Dakota lawmakers are ready to take up marijuana legalization in the next session, the drug czar suggests the pandemic-related easing of methadone restictions could be made permanent, and more.

Drug czar Dr. Rahul Gupta is pushing harm reduction and is considering loosening methadone restrictions. (March of Dimes)
Marijuana Policy

Democratic Divisions Threaten Progress on Federal Marijuana Reforms. Democrats on Capitol Hill are finding it difficult to push forward with marijuana law reforms as they split on whether to pass a bipartisan bill to provide state-legal marijuana firms access to banking services or instead push a full-fledged marijuana legalization bill. Backers of the banking bill have tried to move it by attaching it to a must-pass defense spending bill, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is proving a roadblock. He is instead siding with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) as a cosponsor a marijuana legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

The Senate trio and their supporters argue that passing the banking bill first would make passing their broader bill more difficult. "To me, it wouldn't be a win," Booker said Tuesday. "It would be a setback for expunging the records of all of the people who are waiting for some kind of justice. And unfortunately, if you do that, the pressure won't be there to get it done." Those prioritizing the banking bill "are doing a big disservice to our ability to get restorative justice principles passed, and it's really unfortunate they can't see the urgency for the millions of Americans who are carrying criminal charges for nonviolent drug offenses involving marijuana and have had their lives destroyed because of a war on marijuana that has disproportionately impacted people of color." But supporters of the banking bill, the SAFE Banking Act, say it has bipartisan support that legalization lacks and the time has come for Congress to chipping away at pot prohibition.

South Dakota Top Lawmakers Officially Recommend Marijuana Legalization Bill for 2022 Session. The legislature's Executive Board, led by the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore, has unanimously approved a report from the Marijuana Interim Study Committee recommending that the legislature take up a bill to legalize marijuana during the 2022 session. Meanwhile, activists who ushered a marijuana legalization initiative to victory last year only to see it blocked in court (the state Supreme Court has yet to decide the case) are pushing to put another legalization initiative on the ballot next year, too. As drafted, the current version of the legislation approved in committee and by the executive board would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. The state Department of Revenue would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing marijuana business licenses. It does not include the right to grow your own.

Harm Reduction

Biden Administration Releases Model Naloxone Legislation. The administration on Wednesday released model legislation to help states improve access to naloxone treatment for opioid overdoses. The move comes as the nation recorded a record-high 100,000 drug overdose deaths in a one-year period ending in May. The model bill encourages people to obtain naloxone, protects them from prosecution when administering it, requires health insurance to cover it, and provides increased access to it in schools and correctional facilities. "This model law can help all states implement consistent, evidence-based policies to make naloxone always accessible to those who need it," said Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head Dr. Rahul Gupta. "We certainly hope that state leaders will carefully consider this model law, which can help save lives."

Drug Czar Wants to Expand Use of Addiction Medication. Dr. Rahul Gupta, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said Wednesday that the Biden administration is now considering making permanent the easing of restrictions on methadone that has occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. Patients must go to a clinic to have methadone administered but were allowed to take a supply home with them during the pandemic, and Gupta suggested that change could be here to stay. "Adoption of these services did increase access to opioid and substance use disorder treatment," Gupta said, so making the changes permanent is "under consideration and we remain pretty hopeful about it."

Drug ODs Top 100,000 in One Year, GOP Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed, More... (11/17/21)

A Czech marijuana magazine editor gets convicted of promoting "toxicomania," the DEA has to return money it stole from Americans in two separate cases, New Yorkers rally for sentencing reform, and more.

Another bumper crop of Afghan opium this year. (UNODC)
Marijuana Policy

GOP House Member Files Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the States Reform Act, which would legalize marijuana at the federal level. It would do so by removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, leaving it up to the states to set their own marijuana policies. The bill would also set a 3 percent federal excise tax and release and expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana offenses. Mace said her bill represented a compromise that could gain support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Wisconsin Bipartisan Bill Would Lighten (Most) Marijuana Penalties. Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) have filed a bill that would lessen penalties for marijuana possession in most of the state, but increase fines in some of the state's largest cities, including Madison and Milwaukee, where the fine for pot possession is $1 in the former and $0 in the latter. Under current state law, pot possession is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Under the new bill, the maximum penalty would be a $100 fine with no possibility of jail time. Marijuana reforms have so far gone nowhere in the Republican dominated legislature, which has refused to pass even medical marijuana.

Asset Forfeiture

DEA Forced to Return $100,000 Stolen from Two Victims. Twice in the past week, the DEA has been forced to return money it seized from travelers as they tried to board flights at domestic airports. Although it is not illegal to carry large sums of cash, in both cases, the DEA decided the cash had to have been illegally obtained and seized it. In one case, New Orleans resident Kermit Warren had $30,000 he was carrying to buy a tow truck seized by agents in Cincinnati. Only afte Warren's lawyers presented corroborating evidence to prosecutors back down, agree to return his seized money, and dismiss the case "with prejudice," being they cannot go after the money later. In the second case, with the same elements -- a US airport, a domestic flight, the presence of cash, and unsubstantiated claims about drug trafficking -- the DEA seized $69,000 from New York filmmaker Kedding Etienne. But Etienne, too, fought back and prevailed, but only after rejecting an offer to drop the case after the DEA skimmed 10% off the top.

Harm Reduction

US Overdose Deaths Topped 100,000 in One Year, CDC Says. An estimated 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period from May 2020 to April 2021, the highest one-year death toll ever, according to provisional estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a jump of 30 percent over the previous year. Experts point to the prevalence of fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply and the social isolation of the coronavirus pandemic as major drivers of the increasing toll. "This is unacceptable and it requites an unprecedented response," said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office). Fentanyl was implicated in nearly two-thirds of overdose deaths, other opioids in about 12 percent, and non-opioid drugs were implicated in about a quarter of the deaths.

Sentencing

New York Activists Rally for Sentencing Reforms. Activists rallied all across the state on Wednesday to demand sentencing reforms under the rubric Communities Not Cages. Arguing that current laws are unfair and disproportionately target communities of color. The campaign is also calling for the passage of a trio of reform bills, the Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act, the Second Look Act, and the Earned Time Act. The first would eliminate mandatory minimums and the state's three-strikes law, the second would allow imprisoned people to seek resentencing after serving either half of their sentence or 10 years, and the third would increase "good time" laws to allow prisoners to earn more time off their sentences.

International

Afghanistan's Opium Production Continues to Rise, UN Report Says. Even as the country's Western-backed government was crumbling in the face of a Taliban advance this past summer, Afghan opium production was on the increase, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday. The 2021 harvest was some 6,800 tons of opium, up 8 percent over 2020. That generated between $1.8 and $2.7 billion for the Afghan economy, but "much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan," it added. The Taliban has threatened to ban the crop, but faces the reality that opium -- which accounts for 10 percent of the national economy -- is a mainstay for thousands of families. "There is no work, all the families are in debt, and everyone's hope is opium," farmer Mohammad Wali explained.

Czech Marijuana Magazine Editor Convicting of Promoting "Toxicomania." Robert Veverka, the editor of the magazine Legalizace, and the magazine itself have been convicted in a district court in the town of Bruntal of inciting and promoting "toxicomania." Veverka was sentenced to 2 ½ years of probation, with a one-year jail sentence hanging over his head. Judge Marek Stach conceded that the magazine provided comprehensive information and expert opinion, as well as insight into medical marijuana, but ruled that some articles could "incite" readers to acquire the means to grow marijuana themselves.

CO Announces Stricter MedMJ Rules, German Coalition Nearing Marijuana Legalization Deal, More... (11/12/21)

A New Jersey judge's ruling keeps an Atlantic City needle exchange program alive (for now), the Scottish government is trying to find a way to open a safe injection site in Glasgow, and more.

Medical Marijuana

Colorado tightens its medical marijuana rules, mainly around concerns about youth, dabs, and wax. (Creative Commons)
Colorado Announces New, Stricter Medical Marijuana Rules. As of January 1, the rules for purchasing medical marijuana will be tightened. Among the changes: daily purchases of marijuana flower will be limited to two ounces and eight grams of concentrates, such as wax or shatter. For patient between ages 18 and 20, the limit will drop to two grams per day. The current purchase limit for concentrates is 40 grams per day. To enforce the daily limits, dispensaries will be required to input patient ID numbers on patients' medical marijuana cards. The rule changes come after the legislature passed a bill largely driven about concerns about young people using high-potency marijuana concentrates.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Judge Rules to Keep Atlantic City Needle Exchange Open -- At Least for Now. Judge Michael Blee of the Atlantic County Superior Court on Friday continued the restraints against Atlantic City enforcement of Ordinance 32 (which would terminate the city's syringe access services operated by South Jersey AIDS Alliance) until further order of the court. Judge Blee also ordered Atlantic City to provide the New Jersey Commissioner of Health with formal written notice of the adoption of Ordinance 32, together with pertinent documents from the litigation. He intends to issue a written opinion on the duration of the restraints no later than December 3.

"Syringe access is health care, period. Every day that the clients of South Jersey AIDS Alliance have access to lifesaving health care service is a day worth celebrating, and we're thrilled that our syringe services will continue operation for the time-being," said Carol Harney, Chief Executive Officer of South Jersey AIDS Alliance. "Our job is to show up for people living with HIV and living with a substance use disorder with the best public health tools we have, and there is no denying that syringe access is an essential service for Atlantic City residents."

International

Germany's Next Coalition Nears Deal on Legalizing Marijuana. The parties likely to form the next governing coalition -- the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats -- are close to a deal on legalizing marijuana. The parties are hammering out details, including rules for the use and sale of marijuana. But it's not a done deal yet, and the outcome could still change. Spokespeople for the three parties declined to comment on the negotiations. The effort comes as public support for marijuana legalization has hit 49 percent with 46 percent opposed -- the first time those in favor polled higher than those opposed.

Scottish Government Working on New Plan for Safe Injection Site in Glasgow. The Scottish government is "actively exploring" ways to open a safe injection site in Glasgow, Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney said Thursday. There are legal and political barriers to overcome. The comment comes after the current Lord Advocate said last week that even though a previous Lord Advocate had ruled in 2017 that such facilities violated the Misuse of Drugs Act, the issue "could be looked at again." But the notion still faces opposition from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and it is the British government that determines drug policy for the union. Some 1,339 people died of drug overdoses last year in Scotland, the seventh year in a row of rising overdose deaths.

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction, Poll Shows Support for DC Drug Decrim, More... (10/27/21)

Arkansas could soon see two seperate marijuana legalization initiative campaigns, a new poll shows DC voters are ready for drug decriminalization, and more.

HHS says there were 840,000 drug overdose deaths between 1999 and 2019. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Second Marijuana Legalization Initiative Campaign Launched. And then there were two. Activists with Arkansas True Grass already have a marijuana legalization initiative in the signature gathering phase, and now, a former state House minority leader has announced the formation of a new advocacy group, Responsible Growth Arkansas, to push a second legalization effort. That former lawmaker, Democrat Eddie Armstrong, says his proposed initiative would "allow the regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state." Armstrong has yet to file an initiative text with state officials but promised more information in coming weeks. Statutory initiatives require 71,321 valid voter signatures. If Armstrong's initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, it would need 89,151 valid voter signatures. In either case, signature gathering must be complete by next July.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bills to Restrict Cultivation by Caregivers Advance. A package of bills that would limit the amount of medical marijuana that caregivers can grow is headed for the House floor. Under the package, caregivers would have to obtain a new specialty medical marijuana grower license and comply with a variety of new regulations. Under current rules, caregivers can grow up to 72 plants and must register with the state, but do not need a license. Under the bill package, caregivers could grow only 24 plants without a license. Because the package of bills alters the voter-approved 2008 medical marijuana initiative, it must garner 75 percent of the vote in both houses to pass.

Drug Policy

DC Voters Support Drug Decriminalization, Poll Finds. Just a week after activists announced a push for drug decriminalization in the nation's capital, a new poll finds very strong support for the notion. The poll had 83 percent saying the DC Council should pass an ordinance to "remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of commonly-used controlled substances consistent with personal use." That includes 65 percent who strongly support the far-reaching reform. The reform is being pushed by a coalition called DecrimPovertyDC, which includes groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Harm Reduction

HHS Secretary Vows More Federal Support for Harm Reduction Measures. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday outline the Biden administration's approach to reducing drug overdoses and committed to more federal support for measures such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. The strategy also includes expanding medication-based treatment, reducing "inappropriate" opioid prescribing (which could drive users into the more dangerous black market), and more support for drug treatment. Becerra even expressed some openness to safe injection sites: "When it comes to harm reduction, we are looking for every way to do that. … We probably will support the efforts of states that are using evidence-based practices and therapies." According to an HHS report released Wednesday, 840,000 people died of drug overdoses from 1999 to 2019. Becerra's comments reflect a statement of priorities for the administration’s first year released in March by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Canada's Trudeau Urged to Decriminalize Drugs, Spain's Socialists Reject Marijuana Legalization, More... (10/21/21)

Britain's Labor leader rejects drug decriminalization, Spain's ruling Socialists reject marijuana legalization, Peruvian coca growers protest, and more.

International

British Prime Minister Says He Will Examine Latest Advice on Legalization of Psilocybin. In response to a question in Parliament from Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who said the drug had "exciting potential" and urged him to review the law to allow more research into psilocybin's therapeutic qualities, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday he would: "I can say that we will consider the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs recent advice on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs such as the one he describes, and we will be getting back to him as soon as possible." Psilocybin is currently a Schedule I substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which means it requires a Home Office license to conduct research, and Blunt and other campaigners want it moved to Schedule 2 to make it easier to conduct research.

British Labor Party Leader Says He Would Not Decriminalize Drugs. Asked if a Labor government would either decriminalize drugs, Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it would not. The comment comes after Scotland's Lord Advocate called for diverting from prosecution people caught with small amounts of drugs. Starmer criticized the notion even as he accused the Scottish National Party of having an "appalling" drug overdose death. When asked about the Lord Advocate's advice made sense, Starmer said: "The Lord Advocate has set up principles and we have not seen the detail yet, which will come out shortly. I do not think what happens in Scotland should be a general application across the UK. One of the benefits of devolution is to allow each of the nations to look separately in context to the challenges they have. But if I was prime minister of the UK I would not be introducing that."

Canadian Prime Minister Urged to Decriminalize Drug Possession. Nearly 70 organizations across the country, including the HIV Legal Network, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and the National Association of Women and the Law, have written a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau asking him he make drug policy reform a priority for his newly re-elected Liberal government. Even though  Trudeau's Liberal Party approved a decriminalization resolution in 2018, Trudeau has so far rejected the move, but pressure is rising along with the number of drug overdose deaths. The groups are calling for immediate drug decriminalization and a safe drug supply, saying that the overdose deaths are driven by "a contaminated drug supply and the stigma associated with drug use."

Costa Rica Congress Approves Medical Marijuana. The Congress on Tuesday approved the legalization of medical marijuana over opposition from President Carlos Alvarado. The law allows for the cultivation and processing of marijuana for medical use but does not allow for recreational use. Lawmakers are calling on Alvarado not to veto the bill. If he does, the bill would have to be passed again with a supermajority.

Peru Coca Farmers Protest Goverment Crop Eradication. Hundreds of coca leaf growers are in the fifth day of a highway blockade as they protest the destruction of their crops by the government. The protest began with the eradication of coca fields in Carabaya province, in the Puno region. Growing coca leaf is legal for farmers who are on a registered government list, but that list has not been updated since 1978. The demonstrators, who mainly voted for President Pedro Castillo, are calling on him to stop the eradication of unpermitted crops.

Spanish Socialist Party Votes Against Legalizing Marijuana. The ruling Socialist Party (PSOE) joined with rightist opposition groups in opposing a bill to legalize marijuana that was sponsored by its coalition partner Unidas Podemos. In opposing the measure, the Socialists aligned themselves with the conservative Popular Party and the extremist right Vox Party. That tactical alliance was able to defeat the bill 263-75. "This is not a question of the right or the left, it is a question of public health," said PSOE lawmaker Daniel Vicente in Congress, adding: "We are a government party."

Baltimore No Drug Possession Arrest Policy is Working; Naloxone Shortages, Price Hikes Amid Overdose Surge, More... (10/19/21)

The South Dakota legislature continues to tangle with marijuana policy, Pennsylvania's Republican-led legislature is dithering on making fentanyl test strips legal, and more.

A manufacturing issue at Pfizer is contributing to naloxone shortages and price hikes. (pa.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon County Asks for National Guard Help to Fight Illegal Marijuana Grows. With unlicensed marijuana grows and marijuana grows disguised as hemp operations running rampant in southern Oregon, commissioners in Jackson County have asked Gov. Kate Brown (D) to send in the National Guard "to assist, as able, in the enforcement of laws related to the production of cannabis." The move came last week, the same day police near Medford raided a site that had 17,500 pot plants and two tons of processed marijuana. That was only the latest massive bust in Jackson and neighboring Josephine counties this year, which act as a northern extension of California's Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. In both southern Oregon and northern California, marijuana cultivation has been entrenched for half a century. Gov. Brown has rejected the request for National Guard troops but could reconsider next year, her office said.

South Dakota Lawmakers Ponder Bill to Scrap Medical Marijuana Law but Legalize Adult Use. The legislature's Adult-Use Marijuana Committee on Tuesday is considering a bill that would undo the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law but would instead legalize the use and possession of marijuana by people 21 and over. The bill was drafted by committee chair Rep. Hugh Bartels (R), who characterized it as a compromise between factions that oppose and support legalization. Voters also approved legalization last year but allied of Gov. Kristi Noem (R) filed suit to block it. That case remains before the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, local activists have begun a signature-gathering drive to put a new legalization initiative on the ballot next year. Under the Bartels bill, people 21 and over could possess up to an ounce of weed and up to 22 grams of waxes, oils, and edibles, but home cultivation would not be allowed. Bartels said the medical marijuana law would not be needed if his bill passed, but the Health Department would issue medical marijuana cards for patients under 21.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone Price Soars, Shortages Occur Amid Overdose Surge. As the nation confronts all-time high overdose deaths, the opioid overdose reversal medication naloxone is increasingly scarce and increasingly expensive. Harm reduction and other community groups are now paying as much as 30 times more for the life-saving medication—when they can obtain it at all. "Not having this life-saving medication to reduce overdose deaths, during a time when we’re seeing the greatest increase we’ve ever seen, is a public health crisis," said Amanda Latimore, director of the Center for Addiction Research and Effective Solutions. "There hasn’t been a more important time than right now to have an overdose reversal drug available. And now that we’re seeing this shortage, we can expect even more fatal overdoses," she said. The shortages are a result of manufacturing problems at Pfizer, which has been providing the drug at low cost to harm reduction groups, and are expected to be resolved by year's end. But in the meantime, other pharmaceutical manufacturers could have ramped up production, but have not done so, no have they cut prices. The reason? "Profit. There’s no other way to put it," said Nabarun Dasgupta, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Pennsylvania's Republican-Dominated Legislature Stalls on Allowing Fentanyl Test Strips. Under current state law, fentanyl test strips are considered drug paraphernalia and are illegal, but even as the state and the nation face unprecedented numbers of opioid overdose deaths, the Republican-dominated state legislature is sitting on bills that would amend the law to allow people to use the test strips. House Bill 1393 and its companion measure, Senate Bill 845, are both languishing in committee. While the legislature dithers, the state attorney general, the Philadelphia DA, and the Philadelphia mayor have announced a commitment to not prosecute people for possessing fentanyl test strips.

Law Enforcement

Baltimore’s No-Prosecution Policy for Low-Level Drug Possession and Prostitution Finds Almost No Rearrests for Serious Offenses. A new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that Baltimore’s no-prosecution policy for minor drug possession and prostitution, enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, led to fewer new low-level drug and prostitution arrests, almost no rearrests for serious crimes for those who had charges dropped, and fewer 911 calls. The findings suggest the new policies did not result in increased public complaints about drug use or sex work, and that those who had charges dropped did not go on to commit serious crimes. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore would stop prosecuting low-level drug and drug paraphernalia possession and prostitution in March 2020, chiefly as an infection-reduction measure at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later she announced that the policy would remain in place—even after the pandemic winds down—as a way of reducing the burdens on city police and on the poorer, predominantly Black city residents who are traditionally arrested for such crimes. The report’s key findings, covering the 14 months following the policy change (April 2020 to May 2021), include:

  • An estimated 443 new drug/paraphernalia-possession and prostitution arrests were averted as a result of the new no-prosecution policy, 78 percent of which were averted in the Black community. This analysis was based on Baltimore Police Department arrest data.
  • Of the 741 people whose drug and prostitution charges were dropped, six—less than 1 percent—had new arrests for serious crimes during the study period. This analysis was based on Maryland Courts Judicial Information System data.
  • Calls to 911 about drug/paraphernalia and prostitution declined significantly in the post-policy change period.

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