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Harm Intensification

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CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll, UN Report on Arbitrary Detention in War on Drugs, More... (10/15/21)

Baltimore drug arrests are down dramatically thanks to a policy shift by the local prosecutor, Virginia has sealed the records of more than 64,000 small-time pot-dealing charges, and more.

More than 90,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the period ending in March 2021. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Virginia Seals 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges. The state has sealed records of more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges, the legislature's Cannabis Oversight Commission heard Thursday. They have been scrubbed from the state's criminal records database, which is used by employers to screen job applicants. Another 333,000 simple possession convictions have also been sealed. The state was ordered to expunge the records as part of the marijuana legalization bill passed earlier this year.

Drug Policy

CDC Reports Record Drug Overdose Toll. Drug overdose deaths, primarily but not exclusively around opioid use, hit an all-time high in the year ending in March 2021, with 96,779 overdose deaths reported. That's an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous 12-month period, but the number could go even higher because the numbers are only provisional, and the CDC has estimated predicted overdose deaths during this period would total more than 99,000. The big jump in fatal drug overdoses came as the country was in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic and as fentanyl pervades ever more illicit drug markets—including being used as a cut in non-opioids, such as meth and cocaine—but also reflects a two-decade old trend of rising overdose deaths.

Baltimore Drug Possession Arrests Are Just About Extinct. Baltimore Police on Thursday released data showing that both felony and misdemeanor drug arrests are down, with the latter down dramatically. So far this year, police have arrested 796 people on drug felonies, down 19 percent from the 978 arrests during the same period last year. But when it comes to drug misdemeanors, police have arrested only 38 people so far this year, down a whopping 91 percent from the 445 during the same period last year. The declines are a direct result of a policy decision made last year by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to stop prosecuting certain drug offenses, including drug possession. Conservative local media is criticizing the policy, saying that it has allowed open-air drug dealing to flourish, but the police, the mayor's office, and Mosby's office all say open-air drug markets remain a priority.  

Recent UN Report on Arbitrary Detention and Drug Policies Underscores Urgent Need for Reform, Includes Call for Drug Decriminalization. A recent United Nations human rights report details the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the drug war in countries around the world. The report from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) finds that arbitrary detention in drug cases is swelling jail and prison populations precisely as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic highlights the need to reduce prison overcrowding. Arbitrary detention can include people arrested without a proper warrant or detained in ways that do not respect procedural rights. The report notes that states are required to uphold human rights obligations under international law, but that relying on harsh drug war policies creates sustained violations of those policies. "People who use drugs are particularly at risk of arbitrary detention," the report said, pointing to countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru, where people arrested on drug charges are automatically jailed pending trial, but also cited the use of torture, particularly in Mexico. The report ends with 17 recommendations, starting with a call to UN members to "decriminalize the use, possession, acquisition or cultivation of drugs for personal use, including the possession of associated paraphernalia." Other recommendations include calling for an end to drug courts, ending the participation of the military in drug enforcement operations, and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to cultivate and use plants traditionally grown for spiritual, medicinal, and cultural purposes.

NY Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Curbing OD Crisis, CA Governor Signs Hemp Regulation Bill, More... (10/8/21)

Another poll has two-thirds support for freeing the weed, Oklahoma activists file initative petitions to legalize marijuana, and more.

Hemp products like these will be regulated under a new California law just signed by Gov.Gavin Newsom (D). (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Yet Another Poll Finds Supermajority Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Harris Research poll has 66 percent of respondents supporting marijuana legalization, with millennials (79 percent) and Generation X (76 percent) being the most supportive. For Baby Boomers, slightly less than half supported legalization. The findings are in line with other recent polls showing a supermajority for legalization.

Oklahoma Activists File Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana Regulation Initiative Petitions. Activists organized as Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action have filed a pair of petitions related to marijuana policy. Question 817 would legalize marijuana for people 21 and over, while Question 818 would replace the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with a stand-alone agency. The group now has 90 days to come up with 178,000 valid voter signatures in order to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Hemp

California Governor Signs Hemp Regulatory Bill. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday signed into law Assembly Bill 45, which creates a comprehensive regulatory framework for the manufacture and distribution of hemp-derived products in the nation's most populous state. The bill allows for the sale of smokeable hemp products, as well as hemp-infused foods and drinks. The bill should also provide clarity to consumers, reassuring them that products are independently tested and properly labeled. Because the law was passed as an emergency measure, it goes into effect immediately.

Opioids

New York Governor Signs Package of Bills Aimed at Blunting Overdose Crisis. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) on Thursday signed into law a package of bills designed to ease the overdose epidemic in the state. One bill eases access to the opioid overdose drug naloxone, another allows for the use of medication-assisted treatment in state prisons, a third decriminalizes the sale and possession of needles and syringes, a fourth creates an online directory of naloxone distributors, and the fifth creates a judicial diversion program for some felony offenders. "Addiction can impact any family, suddenly and harshly - those who find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle are there through no fault of their own," Governor Hochul said. "This is a personal battle for me and I am proud to be able to combat the opioid crisis by signing these bills into law. There is no shame in seeking help for substance use and I want to let all New Yorkers know that we are here for you. Treatment should always be accessible for those who need it."

DEA Warning on Counterfeit Pills Containing Meth, Fentanyl; Marijuana Arrests Drop Dramatically, More... (9/28/21)

Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce a marijuana legalization bill, a top Florida Democrat introduces a psychedelic research bill, and more.

Counterfeit Adderall pill. Be careful out there! (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Arrests Fall Precipitously Nationwide in 2020. Marijuana arrests declined by 36% from 2019 to 2020, according to new data released Monday in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Police arrested an estimated 350,150 people for marijuana offenses in 2020. Of those, 91% were for simple possession. In 2019, 545,602 people were arrested for marijuana offenses. The 2020 arrest figures are the lowest registered since the early 1990s and down more than 50 percent from their 2008 peak, when they totaled more than 800,000. Last year's decline came as state-level legalization continued to expand, but also as police in many jurisdictions pulled back in response to the COVID pandemic.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Roll Out Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D) on Tuesday formally introduced a marijuana legalization bill, HB 2050, with a strong emphasis on social equity. "We think we have the industry standard," Wheatley said at a press conference with supporters. "You’ve heard me over and over again, year after year, talk about this important issue. For some, it’s an economic question. For others, it’s a question around access and opportunity. But the baseline of why I’ve been harping on this for as long as I have is the social and criminal justice reform aspects." The bill would allow people 21 and over to buy and possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to three mature and three immature plants with a permit. It would also free marijuana prisoners and expunge records of past pot offenses. Fifteen percent of marijuana tax revenues would go to community reinvestment, another 15 percent for substance treatment programs, and 70 percent for the state's general fund. Similar legislation is being drafted in the state Senate, but the legislature remains in the control of Republicans, who have so far opposed advancing any legalization measures.

Drug Policy

DEA Warns of Sharp Increase in Fake Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyl and Meth. The DEA "warns the American public of the alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine. International and domestic criminal drug networks are mass-producing fake pills, falsely marketing them as legitimate prescription pills, and killing unsuspecting Americans. These counterfeit pills are easy to purchase, widely available, and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. Pills purchased outside of a licensed pharmacy are illegal, dangerous, and potentially lethal. This alert does not apply to legitimate pharmaceutical medications prescribed by medical professionals and dispensed by pharmacists." The DEA reported a more than four-fold increase in seizures of counterfeit pills containing at least two milligrams of fentanyl, which is considered a deadly dose. The DEA warned that not only prescription opioids are being counterfeited but that methamphetamine is also being pressed into counterfeit pills. The number of drug overdose deaths last year reached 93,000, the highest number ever.

Psychedelics

Florida Democrat Files Psychedelic Research Bill. State Senate Minority Leader Lauren Brook (D) last Friday filed a bill to require the state to research the medicinal benefits of psychedelic substances such as ketamine, MDMA, and psilocybin. The bill directs the state Health Department to "conduct a study evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of alternative therapies" such as those substances, "in treating mental health and other medical conditions," such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. A companion version of the bill has been filed in the House.

Meth Deaths Were on Rise Before Pandemic, Scotland Moves Toward "De Facto" Drug Decrim, More... (9/23/21)

Violence continues in Colombia's coca producing regions, marijuana researchers appeal a US 9th Circuit Court dismissal of their rescheduling petition, and more.

Meth-related overdose deaths tripled between 2015 and 2019, new research finds. (DEA)
Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Researchers Ask 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to Reconsider Failed Classification Appeal. Researchers and veterans seeking to see marijuana federally reclassified have asked the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its dismissal of their petition last month. A three-judge panel in August held that plaintiffs Dr. Sue Sisley and the Scottsdale Institute had not yet exhausted all administrative options to get the DEA to reschedule marijuana. But the plaintiffs argue that controlling Supreme Court precedent holds that federal judges cannot force litigants to pursue all administrative appeal avenues before turning to the courts for redress. The case is Suzanne Sisley et al. v. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration et al., case number 20-71433.

Methamphetamine

Meth Deaths Tripled in Years Before Arrival of Pandemic. Methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled among adults aged between 18 and 64 from 2015 to 2019, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The study pointed to more frequent meth use and mixing of drugs as possible reasons for the increases. The number of people using meth increased by 43 percent, but overdose deaths from stimulant drugs other than cocaine increased by 180 percent during the same period. While meth has traditionally been a drug associated with middle-aged white people, it is now spreading to other groups, such as Native Americans, and Black meth use disorder without injection increased 10-fold during that period.

International

Colombia Drug Traffickers Kill Five Soldiers. The Gulf Clan, Colombia's most powerful drug trafficking group, is being blamed for an attack Tuesday on the armed forces in a coca-growing region of Cordoba department that left five soldiers dead and tree more injured. Soldiers were patrolling in a vehicle when they were attacked with "explosive artifacts by presumed members... of the Gulf Clan." Leftist FARC dissidents, rightist paramilitaries, and criminal drug trafficking organizations all compete for control of the lucrative coca and cocaine business there.

Scotland Moves Toward De Facto Drug Decriminalization. Scottish police can now issue a formal warning for possession of Class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, instead of arresting and prosecuting people caught with personal use amounts of such drugs, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain told members of the Scottish Parliament. Conservatives called the move "de facto decriminalization," but it's actually more like discretionary decriminalization since police could still file drug possession charges. Police already are able to issue warnings for possession of Class B and C drugs. Bain said she decided to expand that policy so "officers may choose to issue a warning for simple possession offences for all classes of drugs," and also refer people accused of drug offenses to "diversion," where they are handled by social work teams instead of the criminal justice system. The move comes as the country confronts Europe's highest drug overdose rate and saw more than 1,300 drug overdose deaths last year.

Congress to Temporarily Extend Fentanyl Analogue Ban, House to Vote on Marijuana Banking, More... (9/22/21)

Protections for banks dealing with state-legal marijuana businesses will get a House floor vote as part of a defense spending bill, the Congress is poised to temporarily extend the ban on fentanyl analogues, and more.

Overdose deaths rose while opioid prescriptions declined. Go figure. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Amendment to Protect Banks That Service Marijuana Industry Will Get House Vote. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to provide protections to financial institutions that service the state-legal marijuana industry. The amendment is identical to the SAFE Banking Act, which has already passed the House four times. A House floor vote could come as soon as this week. But advocates were disappointed that other reform measures, including an amendment to promote research into the therapeutic uses of certain psychedelics, were rejected by the committee. Adding non-related amendments to spending bills that are difficult to vote against is often used to get legislation passed that is otherwise stalled.

Medical Marijuana

Pennsylvania Bipartisan Bill to Remove DUI Penalties for Medical Marijuana Users Filed. State Reps. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia} and Todd Polinchock (R-Bucks) have introduced legislation that would ensure the rights of the more than 500,000 medical cannabis patients in Pennsylvania, protecting them from DUI penalties. Under current state law, the presence of marijuana metabolites, which remain present for days or weeks after ingestion, is considered evidence of impairment. "A medical cannabis user can take a miniscule amount of medicine for their ailment and weeks later, with traces of cannabis still in their system, be subject to arrest on a DUI charge if pulled over -- not because they've driven impaired, but because our state laws haven't caught up with the science," Rabb said. "And, if you think you don't know someone who falls into this category -- a person who has been prescribed medical cannabis and who drives and is fearful of the potential DUI charge they could face -- you're wrong. I am a card-carrying medical cannabis patient, and I drive regularly, including in and around Philadelphia and to Harrisburg conducting the people's business."

Opioids

Congress to Temporarily Extend Fentanyl Analogue Ban. Rather than make a final decision on whether to make permanent a ban on fentanyl analogues, the House is preparing to vote to extend a temporary ban set to expire October 22, pushing the expiration date to January 28 as part of a stopgap spending bill. The White House has asked Congress to permanently schedule all fentanyl-related substances as Schedule I, but advocates and some lawmakers say such a move is wrongheaded and will lead to over-policing. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has made such arguments and says he is "not a fan" of extending the deadline. "We have consistently said that this anti-science policy must expire," Maritza Perez, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs, said. "This extension will hopefully give Congress ample time to come up with a public health solution that is desperately needed to save lives."

Overdoses Climbed as Opioid Prescriptions Declined, AMA Report Finds. Both fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses have increased over the past decade, even as physicians have prescribed 44 percent fewer opioids during the same period, the American Medical Association said in a new report. The report cited the rise of prescription drug monitoring programs as a key factor in reducing prescribing. The AMA said lawmakers need to "act now" to address the overdose crisis. "The nation's drug overdose and death epidemic has never just been about prescription opioids," said AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD. "Physicians have become more cautious about prescribing opioids, are trained to treat opioid use disorder and support evidence-based harm reduction strategies. We use PDMPs as a tool, but they are not a panacea. Patients need policymakers, health insurance plans, national pharmacy chains and other stakeholders to change their focus and help us remove barriers to evidence-based care." The AMA is calling for an end to requiring prior authorization for medications to treat opioid use disorder, evidence-based care including opioid therapy for patients with pain, and support for harm reduction services, such as needle exchanges and the wide distribution of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone.

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.

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.

Naloxone Shortage Looms, MS MedMJ Effort Drawing Near to Special Session, More... (8/11/21)

Wisconsin Democrats cross the state line to an Illinois pot shop to roll out their marijuana legalization bill, there's bad news for people who might need the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and more.

The opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Supplies are running short after a manufacturing problem. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Wisconsin Democrats Unveil Marijuana Legalization Bill—At Illinois Dispensary. Democratic lawmakers crossed the state line to use an Illinois marijuana sales outlet as the backdrop for their rollout of a marijuana legalization bill Tuesday. Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) are filing a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and set up a system of taxed and regulated sales. But the bill's prospects are iffy at best in the GOP-controlled state legislature, which has fended off similar efforts for the past eight years. "However you feel about cannabis use, keeping it illegal isn’t helping anything. It’s only hurting. The people of Wisconsin are ready for legalization," Spreitzer said.

Medical Marijuana

Mississippi Lawmakers "Very, Very Close" to Deal on Medical Marijuana. Senate and House negotiators working on a medical marijuana program to replace the one approved by voters but killed by the state Supreme Court, say they are "very, very close" to having a draft bill that could prompt a special legislative session as early as this month. "I believe we have basically most of the major issues resolved,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven), who’s leading the Senate’s medical marijuana work. "… We’re very, very close." Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who has the sole authority to call a special session, has said he is willing to do, but not until the House and Senate have reached broad agreement on a proposal.

Harm Reduction

Naloxone Shortage Looms. Pfizer, the maker of single-dose injectable naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, has halted production of the drug since April because of an unspecified manufacturing issue, and that is making the life-saving drug more difficult to obtain and more expensive in the midst of an opioid overdose crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives in the last year. Pfizer offers the drug at a discount to a national buyers' club of harm reduction programs, but says it may be February before it can meet demand again. That effectively means the life-saving drug will have to be rationed until then. "Who do you stop supplying? Jennifer Plumb of Utah Naloxone said. "Who do you stop prioritizing? Who do you stop making sure has naloxone?"

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.

Drug War Issues

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