Marijuana Policy

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CO Releases Annual Report on Marijuana Legalization, SC Governor Candidate Says Legalize It, More... (7/20/21)

A bill to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of state-legal marijuana users languishes in the House Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Democratic guberatorial candidate Joe Cunningham unveils a plan to legalize marijuana, and more.

The sky still hasn't fallen since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the latest state report finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

GOP Congressman's Bill Would Protect State-Legal Marijuana Users' 2nd Amendment Rights. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has this session filed a bill, HR 2830, aimed at protecting the gun rights of marijuana users in states where it is legal. The bill, also known as the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act, takes on the question on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) firearms transaction record that asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?" The question also includes a warning which states "the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside." The bill would amend US code by adding "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance" is not to include a person who uses state-legal marijuana. The bill was filed in late April and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has not moved.

Colorado Division of Criminal Justice Publishes Report on Impacts of Marijuana Legalization. The state Division of Criminal Justice's Office of Research and Statistics has published its latest legislatively-mandated "Impacts on Marijuana Legalization in Colorado" report, which presents data on marijuana-related topics including crime, impaired driving, hospitalizations, ER visits, usage rates, effects on youth, and more. Among other findings: Marijuana arrests have dropped by 68% since legalization, but Blacks remain twice as likely to be arrested on marijuana charges. Also, there have been increases in the prevalence of marijuana or marijuana in combination with other substances among drivers accused of DUI (but marijuana alone accounted for only 8.7% of all DUIs in 2020). There is a lot more in the report; click the link above to dive in.

South Carolina Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Calls for Marijuana Legalization. Democratic Party gubernatorial contender Joe Cunningham has unveiled a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his campaign to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster (R). The plan would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana for people 21 and over, raise revenues through taxation and regulation, and expunge records of prior marijuana offenses. "This will be a game changer in South Carolina," Cunningham said. "There are many reasons why you need to do this, but now is the time. This is what people want. If our politicians do not reflect the will of the people, we need to start with Governor McMaster and change politicians." The state has had Republican governors for decades and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. On marijuana policy, it is a laggard, having approved only one marijuana reform bill to allow for the use of low-THC CBD oils.

Surgeon General Say Don't Jail People for Pot, ME Law Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture, More... (7/19/21)

The AMA Advocacy Update chronicles one doctor's problems trying to prescribe for chronic pain and addicted patients, Maine becomes the fourth state to end civil asset forfeiture, and more.

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it is time to stop locking people up for marijuana. (hhs.gov)
Marijuana Policy

US Surgeon General Says Time to Stop Locking People Up for Marijuana. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday that it is time to stop locking up people for using marijuana. "When it comes to decriminalization, I don't think that there is value to individuals or to society to lock people up for marijuana use," Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in a CNN appearance. "I don't think that serves anybody well." His comments came in response to a question about a new draft marijuana legalization bill, and are in line with President Biden, who supports marijuana decriminalization, but not commercial legalization. "When it comes to marijuana, I think we have to let science guide us," Murthy said in the CNN interview. "And we know that the science tells us that there are some benefits to marijuana from a medical perspective but there are also some harms that we have to consider -- and we have to put those together as we think about the right policy."

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

AMA on a Doctor's Trials Trying to Treat Pain Patients in the Context of Arbitrary Policies. The American Medical Association (AMA) Advocacy Update has published a piece on the travails of southern Illinois family medicine and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Aaron Newcomb, whose patients found themselves unable to refill prescriptions after he was "blacklisted" by a pharmacy chain citing 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in the face of a rising opioid overdose death toll.

"When the CDC guidelines came down in 2016 basically saying we needed to take as many people as we could off opioids, I knew that my patients were in for a world of trouble," said Dr. Newcomb. "I was particularly concerned about my patients who were stable on low-dose opioid therapy for years. And my concerns have translated into an even worse reality for both me and my patients. Getting blacklisted by a national chain who had no clue about my practice was professionally wrong, but it also hurt my patients and my community."

Newcomb had to explain the nuances of pain prescribing to the pharmacy chain: "When they got back to us, they basically questioned a specific formulation of buprenorphine I was prescribing for stable patients with cost or tolerability problems that isn't a preferred type unless there is a clinical reason," Dr. Newcomb explained. "They were also concerned about opioid therapy in general as well as the dose of buprenorphine used to effectively treat patients, and their algorithm out of context painted a misrepresentative picture of my controlled-substance prescribing habits."

Newcomb was eventually able to get back in the chain's good graces and his patients are now receiving their medication, but his case illustrates the challenges faced by pain physicians and their patients in a time where the opioid-prescribing pendulum has swung so dramatically back to the conservative side.

Asset Forfeiture

Maine Becomes 4th State to End Civil Asset Forfeiture. A new law barring asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction went into effect without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), making Maine the fourth state to abolish the practice of civil asset forfeiture. The legislature earlier this year passed LD 1521, which fully repeals the state's civil forfeiture laws, while also strengthening the criminal forfeiture process. While touted as a tool against drug dealers, one report found that half of all forfeitures in the state were under $1,670 dollars. The other three states that have ended civil asset forfeiture are North Carolina (1985), New Mexico (2915) and Nebraska (2016).

International

Mexico President Makes Rare Call for Dismissal of a State Attorney General. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called last Friday for the resignation of Guanajuato state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa after the state registered 1,562 murders in the first five months of this year. That figure is higher than any other state, even though Guanajuato is only the country's sixth most populous states. He also suggested there was corruption or collusion with some of the drug cartels battling to control the state. "If he [Zamarripa] were the manager of a company, with this kind of performance they would have fired him," López Obrador said Friday. "When officials do not act with honesty, with rectitude, when there is no division between criminals and the authorities, no progress can be made." López Obrador said.

Zammaripe, who has been attorney general for 12 years, has been accused by businessmen and local experts of being close to the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which had such control over an oil refinery that it could brazenly steal fuel in and around the plant, leading to a federal troop deployment. "Carlos Zamarripa for many years protected El Marro," the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang who was arrested in 2020," said security expert David Saucedo. But now, said Saucedo, Zamarripa seems to have changed sides, expecting the Santa Rosa gang to fall apart as the Jalisco New Generation cartel moved in. Instead, the Sinaloa cartel sent reinforcements to assist the Santa Rosa gang, and the death toll has skyrocketed. "Definitely, Zamarripa is part of the problem," Saucedo said.

CA Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway, House Spending Bill Includes Needle Exchange Funding, More...7/16/21)

Maryland legislative leaders are lining up to support a voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year, the House Appropriations Committee is passing spending bills that include marijuana and other drug provisions, and more.

Psilocybin mushrooms could be legalized under a California initiative now getting underway. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

House Appropriations Committee Approves Spending Bills with Marijuana, Other Drug Provisions. The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday passed spending bills and related reports that include several marijuana and other drug policy provisions. The bill would extend a provision that blocks the Justice Department from intervening in state-legal medical marijuana programs, and advocates hope to broaden that to include state recreational marijuana programs later in the process. The bill also includes language to protect universities conducting marijuana research from being penalized and to encourage research on Schedule I drugs, as well as reports noting the pain-relieving qualities of kratom, the life-saving potential of safe injection sites (see below), and urging further work on developing THC impairment testing.

Key Maryland Politician Supports Marijuana Legalization Voter Referendum Next Year. State House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-District 10) has announced she will support a proposed voter referendum on marijuana legalization next year. In a statement, she said voters should decide on whether to legalize it. And she announced the formation of bipartisan working group to hash out details: "The House will pass legislation early next year to put this question before the voters but we need to start looking at changes needed to state law now," she said. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) has also expressed interest in legalization and previously chaired a joint House-Senate committee to explore the nitty-gritty of legalization.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative Gets Underway. Activists with the group Decriminalize California submitted a petition to state authorities Monday to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for "personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use" for adults 21 and older. The California Psilocybin Initiative would set no limits on personal possession -- an issue that has bedeviled the psychedelic decriminalization bill currently before the Assembly -- and would allow no sales or excise taxes except for mushrooms sold for dietary purposes. The initiative would also allow for full-fledged commerce in psilocybin mushrooms, including on-site consumption sites and would mandate that magic mushrooms be regulated as much as possible like other mushrooms, except for specialized labeling, and not subject to fees or licensing requirements beyond other mushrooms.

The state Attorney General's Office now has 30 days to review the initial petition. If and when it is accepted and assigned a ballot title and summary, the campaign will have 180 days to gather 623,212 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2002 ballot.

Harm Reduction

House Appropriations Committee for First Time Approves Funding for Needle Exchanges. The House Appropriations Committee has voted to allocate $69.5 million for needle exchange programs under the CDC[s Infectious Diseases and Opioid Epidemic Program, marking the first time it has explicitly funded such programs. The funding for the CDC program has also been boosted four-fold over the $13 million it was allocated last year. The move comes as the CDC announced this week that drug overdose deaths in the past year reached a record high of 93,000. Syringe services and harm reduction programs effectively help prevent drug overdoses. They have the knowledge, contacts, and ability to reach people who use drugs and provide naloxone and other overdose prevention resources. They also connect people to medical care and support, including substance use disorder treatment. This funding would assist these programs in preventing and reducing overdose deaths nationwide.

Here is what the committee said in an accompanying report:> "Overdose Prevention Centers. -- The Committee recognizes that overdose prevention centers, or supervised consumption sites, are part of a larger effort of harm reduction interventions intended to reduce the risk of drug overdose death and reduce the spread of infectious disease. The Committee directs NIH, in consultation with CDC, to provide a report to the Committee no later than 180 days after the enactment of this Act that provides an updated literature review and evaluation on the potential public health impact of overdose prevention centers in the US."

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

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

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

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

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

Medical Marijuana

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

International

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

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

Senate Democrats Roll Out Bill to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition [FEATURE]

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and his colleagues Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) rolled out an initial draft of their legislation to end federal marijuana prohibition, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Similar legislation, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is pending in the House, but prospects for the Senate bill are hazy. It would need 60 votes to pass, no Republicans have spoken in favor of it, and it is not even clear that all Democrats would vote for it.

And even if it were to pass, moments after a Wednesday press conference announcing the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters had opposed marijuana legalization in the past and "nothing has changed."

Still, the Senate Majority Leader putting his name on a marijuana legalization bill is a big deal, a sign of how far the issue has come.

According to a summary of the 163-page draft bill, the measure would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and shift regulatory authority over it from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration. Each state would determine its own marijuana policies, and federal criminal penalties would remain for growing, possessing, or distributing more than 10 pounds in violation of state or federal law.

The bill would set the legal age for purchase at 21 and limit purchases to 10 ounces "to prevent illegal actors from purchasing large quantities of cannabis at retail in a cannabis-legal state and illegally trafficking that cannabis into other states with the purpose of circumventing state-level laws relating to the sale, production, or taxation of cannabis."

The measure addresses social equity concerns by creating three grant programs -- one in the Justice Department and two in the Small Business Administration (SBA) -- to channel resources to people and communities adversely impacted by marijuana prohibition. The SBA grants to states and localities will be conditioned on the passage of state laws that expunge previous marijuana convictions.

The bill also calls for the automatic expungement of non-violent federal marijuana convictions and would give people currently serving federal sentences for marijuana convictions a sentencing review hearing that would essentially set them free: "After the sentencing hearing, courts shall expunge each arrest, conviction, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency for a non-violent federal cannabis offense, vacate the existing sentence or disposition of juvenile delinquency, and seal all records relating to a conviction or adjudication that has been expunged."

The act would see marijuana commerce federally taxed and regulated, with federal taxes beginning at 10% in year one and increasing to 25% by year five. In a boost to small producers, the first $20 million in sales would be eligible for a 50% rebate.

"I am proud to introduce our discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a legislative proposal aimed at finally putting an end to the federal prohibition of cannabis and addressing the over-criminalization of cannabis in a comprehensive and meaningful way," said Majority Leader Schumer in a statement announcing the bill. "The War on Drugs has too often been a war on people, and particularly people of color. Not only will this legislation remove cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances, but it will also help fix our criminal justice system, ensure restorative justice, protect public health, and implement responsible taxes and regulations."

"Cannabis prohibition, a key pillar of the failed War on Drugs, has caused substantial harm to our communities and small businesses, and especially for communities of color," said Senate Finance Committee Chair Wyden. "It's as simple as this: Senators Booker, Schumer and I want to bring common sense to the federal government, end prohibition and restore the lives of those hurt most and set them up for opportunity."

"For decades, our federal government has waged a War on Drugs that has unfairly impacted low-income communities and communities of color," said Senator Booker. "While red and blue states across the country continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government continues to lag woefully behind. It is time for Congress to end the federal marijuana prohibition and reinvest in communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs. I am proud to introduce this landmark piece of legislation with Senator Wyden and Majority Leader Schumer that will finally turn the page on this dark chapter in American history and begin righting these wrongs."

Marijuana and drug reform activists were generally pleased, although there were some quibbles. And since this is a first draft, now is the time for those quibbles to be heard.

"The days of federal prohibition are numbered," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a statement, adding that "the supermajority of Americans are demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition."

"For justice reform, for equity, for individual liberty, and countless other reasons, it is time to respect the will of the American people and legalize cannabis. I am heartened by the Booker, Schumer, Wyden bill draft, which is a promising first step towards Senate passage, and hopeful that it will lead to negotiations and bipartisan support for an inclusive and equitable legal cannabis industry," said Steven Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement.

But the Drug Policy Alliance, while pronouncing itself "grateful" for the bill emphasizing social equity, reparative justice and reinvestment, said in a statement more work needed to be done.

"[W]ork remains to ensure justice does not fall short, said Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for DPA. "To our dismay, the Senate draft contains exclusionary language that ended up getting added to the House-passed MORE Act last year that would continue to subject federal employees to drug testing and deny certain individuals -- who have already paid the highest price -- the opportunity to expunge their records. In order for this bill to truly end marijuana prohibition in a comprehensive way and begin to repair the egregious harms of the past, we cannot continue to make room for some to be left out because of laws that were unjust and racist to begin with. We call on the House to remove exclusionary language from the MORE Act and swiftly pass the bill and implore the Senate to also remove this language ahead of bill introduction."

The wall of federal marijuana prohibition may or not fall this year, but its foundations are rapidly decaying, and the issue is squarely before the Congress.

Medical Marijuana Update

Stay tuned to find out if a South Dakota tribe's medical marijuana cards are valid for non-members, and more.

Missouri

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota

South Dakota Attorney General at Odds with Highway Patrol over Medical Marijuana Cards from Reservation Dispensary. Although the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state Highway Patrol, said last week that it would still arrest non-tribe members with tribal medical marijuana cards, the state's top law enforcement official disagrees: "The tribe's right to self-governance also gives it the authority the set the parameters of its medical marijuana program," said Tim Bormann, chief of staff in the South Dakota Attorney General's Office. "It appears, at this time, that South Dakota law enforcement would have to accept a tribal-issued card." The position of the office is that arresting non-tribal members would violate the state's nascent medical marijuana law, which says that until the state Health Department makes applications available, "a valid written certification issued within the previous year shall be deemed a registry identification card for a qualifying patient."

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General's Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol's framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

Fatal Drug ODs Hit Record Last Year, Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill, More... (7/14/21)

There is now a marijuana legalization bill from the Senate majority leader, New York prisons face a second lawsuit over their crackdown on pain pill prescribing for inmates, and more.

CDC preliminary data has drug overdose deaths at more than 90,000 last year. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senate Majority Leader Rolls Out Draft Marijuana Legalization Bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) held a press conference Wednesday to unveil their first draft of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. The bill would federally legalize marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act, let states set their own marijuana policies, expunge prior convictions and allow people to apply for resentencing, and end collateral consequences, such as people being deported for marijuana possession offenses. The bill, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, faces uncertain prospects in the narrowly divided Senate, and just minutes after the Wednesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the President Biden remains opposed to marijuana legalization. If the bill were to pass, it would have to be reconciled with the marijuana legalization bill passed by the House in December, the MORE Act (HR 3884). Look for out feature article on the rollout coming shortly.

Missouri Activists Take Initial Steps for 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative. A group calling itself Fair Access Missouri filed a petition Tuesday for a marijuana legalization initiative aimed at the 2022 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment that would legalize the possession of up to eight ounces for people 21 and over and allow residents to cultivate up to 25 square feet of flowering marijuana. It would also set up a system of licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and sales. Previous marijuana legalization initiative campaigns in the state have failed to meet signature-gathering requirements. This one is at the very beginning of the process, with the state now having 65 days to review the initial petition.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Former New York Prison Doctor Sues Over Restrictive Painkiller Policy. A doctor who formerly worked in the state prison system and says he faced harassment and was forced to quit for seeking appropriate pain relief for his inmate patients has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections, saying its policies leave patients suffering unnecessary agony. Four years ago, the department tightened its opioid prescribing policies amidst the ongoing opioid crisis, requiring prison doctors to get permission from medical administrators for prescribing certain medications, including not just opioids, but all gabapentine, Claritin-D, Robitussin DM, and the diarrhea drug Imodium. Dr. Michael Salvana charges in the lawsuit that the department violated his right to speak out against the policy and said his superiors' "inhumane” interference in his patients' care caused him to leave his role as facility director in central New York at Walsh Regional Medical Unit in Rome, New York, that has 125 beds for prisoners with complicated medical needs." The policy led to the "abrupt" cut off of "effective treatments for hundreds of inmates." Inmates in the state prison system have also failed a lawsuit charging they are being forced to live with untreated chronic pain because medications are now so difficult to obtain.

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Wins Another Committee Vote. Sen. Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) psychedelic decriminalization bill, SB 519, has won a second committee vote in the Assembly after successfully passing out of the Senate. The Assembly Public Health Committee voted 8-4 Tuesday to advance the measure, which would remove criminal penalties for possessing psychedelics including psilocybin. But the committee amended the bill to set specific personal possession limits, leading the pro-psychedelic group Decriminalize Nature to call for it to be tabled, arguing that it is 'just a creative way to say when can law enforcement arrest you." The bill now awaits an Assembly floor vote.

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Jumped to More Than 90,000 Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary statistics Wednesday showing that drug overdose deaths totaled more than 90,000 last year, the largest single-year increase ever recorded. Drug overdoses increased in every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, with big jumps in the South and the West. The year also saw the most fatal opioid overdoses in a year, the most fatal methamphetamine overdoses in a year, and the most deaths from fatal fentanyl overdose deaths in a year. "It’s huge, it’s historic, it’s unheard of, unprecedented, and a real shame," said Daniel Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies heroin markets. "It’s a complete shame." Social isolation, disrupted drug markets, and hampered access to drug treatment during the pandemic are getting some of the blame, but the pre-pandemic increase in fentanyl availability is also playing a role, as is the country's refusal to embrace harm reduction measures, such as safe injection sites and safe drug supplies.

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

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

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

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

Drug Policy

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

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

International

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

US Seeks Meeting with WADA on Athletes' Marijuana Bans, Ukraine to Vote on MedMJ, More... (7/12/21)

South Dakota's attorney general flip-flops on the validity of tribal medical marijuana cards, a Tennessee lawmaker files a bill to put marijuana ballot questions before voters next year, and more.

Marijuana Policy

White House to Seek Meeting with WADA on Restrictions on Athletes' Marijuana Use. In the wake of the huge blow-up over US track sensation Sha'Carri Richardson being banned from Olympic competition because of a positive drug test for marijuana, the Biden administration is reportedly seeking a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) about easing the bar against marijuana use for athletes. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), which has a seat on WADA's board, is taking the lead. WADA, for its part, has made it clear that the US has long supported, indeed, even demanded, that marijuana be included on its list of prohibited drugs: "At no time since the first Prohibited List was published in 2004 has WADA received any objection from US stakeholders concerning the inclusion of cannabinoids on the Prohibited List. On the contrary, as has been reported by some media, the US has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List," a letter from Witold Banka, WADA’s president, said. "The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the US over nearly two decades, in particular from [the US Anti-Doping Agency], have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List."

Tennessee Lawmaker Files Bill to Put Marijuana Legalization on 2022 Ballot. State Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-District 75) has filed legislation, House Bill 1634, that would put three non-binding questions regarding marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot. One question asks about legalizing medical marijuana, a second asks about decriminalizing marijuana, and the third asks about legalizing and regulating marijuana. If the bill were to pass, the results of the ballot questions would be transmitted to the legislature, which could use them as a guide for future legislation but would not be bound by them. The bill comes after the legislature for years has refused to enact marijuana law reforms, with the only exception being a limited low-THC medical marijuana program approved in 2018 and slightly expanded this year..

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Governor Vetoes Tax Relief Bill for Medical Marijuana Businesses. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) last Friday vetoed Senate Bill 226, which, among other things, would have lifted a bar on medical marijuana companies claiming business expenses on their taxes. Parsons didn't mention the medical marijuana provision in his veto message, but instead cited a provision that would have provided tax relief to businesses that suffered losses because of public health restrictions, which he said could have "significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities." The bill would not have altered federal tax law, which currently does not allow for such deduction by state-legal marijuana companies, but would have reduced state tax for such companies.

South Dakota Attorney General Changes Mind About Validity of Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards. Only two days after he said state law enforcement would have to accept tribal-issued medical marijuana cards regardless of the cardholder's tribal status, putting him at odds with the Highway Patrol, Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has changed his mind. In a statement last Friday, his office said: "Contrary to current media reports, the Attorney General’s Office agrees with the South Dakota Highway Patrol’s framework for implementation of Initiated Measure 26," and people with tribal medical cards who are not tribe members are still subject to arrest for marijuana possession. A word to all non-tribal medical marijuana cardholders: Obey all traffic laws.

International

Ukraine Ruling Party to Support Medical Marijuana Legalization. The ruling Servant of the People Party, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Ukrainian parliament, is set to debate a bill to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. "It seems that colleagues from other factions support it. Our faction will support, not unanimously, it is obvious: there are those who are against it," First Deputy Head of the Servant of the People faction Oleksandr Korniyenko said. "But I think we will give 200 votes," said. The parliament has 348 members. The members are meeting in a special session called by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Chicago to Take Drug Diversion Program Citywide, ACLU Sues AZ County over Coercing Drug Defendants, More... (7/9/21)

A group of US senators is seeking some help for state-legal marijuana businesses, Chicago moves to expand a program that diverts drug arrestees into treatment citywide, and more.

Chicago police are expanding a drug diversion program so they can devote resources to fighting violent crime. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Senators Ask That Marijuana Businesses Get Access to Federal SBA Loans. A group of 10 senators led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that language allowing marijuana businesses to access loans and other aid through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) be included in an upcoming spending bill report. Allowing such loans to marijuana businesses "would fill gaps left by the private sector and help mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic." They are asking that Senate Appropriations Committee and the Appropriations Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) issue a report that specifically includes such language and stop the Small Business Administration (SBA) to stop "denying loan applications for the 7(a) Loan Guarantee Program, Disaster Assistance Program, Microloan Program, and 504/Certified Development Company Loan Program to legally operating cannabis small businesses in states that have legalized cannabis sale and use."

Law Enforcement

Chicago to Expand Drug Diversion Program. The Chicago Police Department and Public Health Department have announced they will expand the city's Narcotics Arrest Diversion Program to include the entire city by the end of the year. Under the program, people arrested on drug possession charges who meet certain qualifying criteria can be diverted from the criminal justice system toward rehabilitation programs instead. The program began in one district in 2018 and has expanded to 11 of the city's 22 districts already. More than 700 people have been diverted from the arrest track so far, and city officials say the move helps police focus on issues such as violent crime instead.

The program appears to be similar to Law Enforcement Diversion Programs (LEAD), which began in Seattle in 2014 and has now expanded to at least 42 cities nationwide. LEAD uses a harm reduction and community-based model; the Chicago program includes social service programs among its alternatives, not just drug treatment, according to reports. The Chicago program offers walk-in access to drug treatment; one doesn't have to face arrest or its prospect first. The LEAD Bureau web site says that they have added purely voluntary access to its programs as well, in response to recent movement in the issue.

While drug reformers generally see diverting drug users out of the criminal justice system as an important step, the devil is in the details -- not every program presented as diversion does a convincing job of it, and how for example treatment programs respond to relapses or continued drug use by some clients determines how many people ultimately will be helped.

Prosecution

ACLU Sues Arizona County over Threats of Harsher Sentences for Drug Defendants to Force Guilty Pleas. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class-action lawsuit Wednesday charging that the Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney's Office routinely threatens people arrested for drug possession with "substantially harsher" punishments in order to coerce them into pleading guilty before prosecutors even have to turn over evidence. The threat is typically issued in writing, the lawsuit alleges, and explicitly warns that defendants who reject initial plea deals will face substantially worse plea offers in the future. The ACLU argues that the policy is unconstitutional because it punishes people for exercising their rights to a preliminary hearing and a jury trial and that it illustrates the '"vast racial and economic discrepancies in plea bargaining techniques used across the county."

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