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Fed Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in WV Lawsuit, CA Kills Marijuana Cultivator Tax, More... (7/5/22)

A Washington state county commissioner demonstrates her cluelessness about harm reduction, Senate drug warriors file the END FENTANYL Act, and more.

pain pills (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Signs Bill Ending Cultivation Tax on Marijuana Growers. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed into law Assembly Bill 195, a wide-ranging bill to restructure the state's legal marijuana system whose most striking feature is the removal of the wholesale tax on marijuana growers. The aim of the bill is to provide relief to the struggling industry and further erode the marijuana black market. The bill also shifts collection of the state's 15 percent excise tax from the distributor level to the retail level, and it freezes the excise tax for at least the next three years. Aiming at unlicensed operators, the bill allows for fines of up to $10,000 per day for property managers who knowingly rent or lease space to unlicensed marijuana businesses. It also includes $40 million in tax credits, half for equity operators and half for microbusinesses. Social equity operators will also be eligible for a $10,000 tax credit and will be able to keep 20 percent of excise tax revenues for reinvesting in their businesses.

Opiates and Opioids

Bipartisan Group of Senate Drug Warriors File END FENTANYL Bill. Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) have filed the cutely-acronymed Eradicating Narcotic Drugs and Formulating New Tools to Address National Yearly Losses of Life (END FENTANYL) Act (Senate Bill 4440). The bill would require the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to update its policies at least once every three years to ensure drug interdiction guidance is up to date. The legislation was prompted by a 2019 GAO report, Land Ports of Entry: CBP Should Update Policies and Enhance Analysis of Inspections, which found drug interdiction guidance has not been updated in 20 years. Scott used a press release about the bill to slam President Biden for his "failed open border policies" even though DEA figures show that 80 percent of fentanyl comes through ports of entry, not in the backpacks of refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented border crossers.

Federal Judge Rules for Opioid Distributors in West Virginia Lawsuit. A federal judge ruled against West Virginia plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking damages from three major drug distributors who they accused of causing a public health crisis by distributing 81 million pills in eight years in one county hard hit by opioid addiction. Cabell County and the city of Huntington had sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Company, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corp.

Plaintiffs argued that the companies sent a "tsunami" of prescription pain pills into the county and that their conduct was unreasonable, reckless, and disregarded the public health. "The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law," US District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. "In view of the court's findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants' favor. Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants," Faber wrote, noting that the plaintiffs supplied no evidence that the companies distributed opioids to any entity that was not properly registered with the DEA or the state Board of Pharmacy. The city and the county had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have gone toward opioid efforts. The goal of the 15-year abatement plan would have been to reduce overdoses,

Harm Reduction

WA County Commissioner Fears "Normalization" of Naloxone. Amanda McKinney, a Republican Yakima County Commissioner, is concerned that the use of the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone will be "normalized." She was responding to a presentation by the Board of Health about the increase in drug overdose deaths and the district's overdose awareness campaign, but zeroed in on one sentence: Among the goals of the campaign was "Increase awareness and education about the benefits of naloxone to normalize its use."

That set off McKinney: I'm really concerned about that last slide where it says normalize use. I would really like for us to expand on what that means," McKinney said. "I'm just wondering if there is a better term than normalize, 'cuz normalize to me means we're accepting this and promoting this as part of our daily lives and I think that that word is inappropriate."

Apparently unfamiliar with the notion of harm reduction, she also questioned the effectiveness of needle exchanges and fentanyl test strips. "I'd really like to know what the effectiveness is of fentanyl testing strips and syringe exchange services for actually successfully getting people off and away from being someone who is a habitual drug user," McKinney said. "I question those methods as being methods that are successful in getting people actually off the drugs." Following McKinney's comments, Health District Director Andre Fresco explained that harm reduction's primary goal is not to end drug use, but to save lives, and added that the district is involved in efforts to get people off drugs.

Record Overdose Death Numbers Prompt Calls for Harm Reduction, Drug Decriminalizaion [FEATURE]

On May 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that more than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the most overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year. The figure marks a 15 percent increase over 2020, with the number of overdose deaths more than quadrupling since 1999. And this is only provisional data; the actual death toll could be even higher.

More people died of drug overdoses last year than from gunfire and traffic accidents combined, and the ever-rising death toll is leading to ever-louder calls for effective policy prescriptions and harm reduction interventions to reduce the carnage.

Opioids were implicated in nearly 80,000 overdose deaths, with synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and its derivatives, involved in more than 68,000. Cocaine was mentioned in more than 23,000 overdose deaths and psychostimulants, primarily methamphetamine, mentioned in more than 30,000.

To its credit, the Biden administration has recognized the urgency of the problem, embracing harm reduction interventions such as needle exchanges, drug testing, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone in its 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The strategy includes $30 million for harm reduction grants, but also $300 million increases for the DEA and Customs and Border Patrol. While the prohibitionist impulse remains strong, at least the administration has explicitly recognized the need for harm reduction.

But that isn't enough, advocates say.

"New data from CDC has confirmed our worst fears. The combined pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly potent illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed and under-resourced public health system have driven the overdose crisis to catastrophic levels," said Daliah Heller, Vice President of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, in a statement.

>Vital Strategies is a global public health organization that in February, launched "Support Harm Reduction," a campaign to highlight five key interventions for preventing overdose that many people in the United States still don’t have access to: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers. 

>"What we’re doing now isn’t working, because the decades-old punitive response to drug use still predominates: The transition to a health-first, harm reduction approach has been slow and piecemeal," Heller continued. "Anemic levels of funding and policy support are woefully insufficient to stem the tide of overdose we are experiencing. These data are an urgent call to action for government at all levels: we need to mount a massive public health response to overdose that centers harm reduction and support instead of criminalization and punishment for people who use drugs.  

"Far too few people have access to any of the five key interventions we know will reduce overdose deaths," Heller added. "Most of these services are available in some form, in some locations in the majority of states, but they all need to be massively scaled up with an emergency investment. Until such actions are taken, the continued escalation of this overdose crisis seems inevitable," she said.

"The devastating rise in overdose deaths is falling most heavily on Black and Indigenous communities, where the need for relief now is more urgent than ever before," Heller noted. "A massive surge in funding and support for a harm reduction public health response will save lives immediately, engaging people who use drugs with lifesaving resources and support. The time for action is now."

Likewise, the new CDC numbers prompted the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) to call on Congress to urgently support harm reduction services and move toward drug decriminalization.

"Once again, we are devastated by these numbers," said Jules Netherland, DPA Managing Director of the Department of Research & Academic Engagement. "Over 107,000 of our friends, family and neighbors lost their lives to drug overdose last year. And sadly, we know the numbers will only continue to climb unless our policymakers actually do what is necessary to curb them. The United States has spent over 50 years and well over a trillion dollars on criminalization - and this is where it has gotten us. It's clearly not working. It's time we start investing where it actually matters - in our communities, specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities where we are now seeing the sharpest rise in overdose deaths. The evidence shows us, that in order to actually make a difference, we have to replace these approaches with those centered in public health, such as drug decriminalization coupled with increased access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction services, overdose prevention centers, and legal regulation and safer supply to reduce the likelihood of accidental overdose," Nederland said.

It is time for safe injection sites, too, DPA insisted.
 
"We are grateful that the Biden Administration has embraced harm reduction as part of their National Drug Control Strategy, but we need to see that commitment met with Congressional funding and a massive scaling up of these health services," Nederland said. "It's also essential that Overdose Prevention Centers be implemented, which decades of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies and utilization in over 14 countries show us are one of the most effective ways to save lives now. While it may not always be politically convenient, it’s time to be guided by the evidence about what works. Overdose deaths are avoidable and a policy failure—it’s time we stop recycling the same policies that got us here and take the actions that are necessary to save lives."

White House Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy, NH Marijuana Legalization Bill Nixed, More... (4/21/22)

A pair of companion marijuana legalization initiatives are cleared for singature-gathering in Oklahoma, SAMSHA mantains a firm line on drug testing rules, and more.

A needle exchange. The White House is emphasizing harm reduction measures to take on the overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Senate Committee Votes to Kill Marijuana Legalization Bill. The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to kill a bill that would have legalized marijuana and had it sold at state-owned retail outlets, House Bill 1598. The bill could still come up for a Senate floor vote, but the committee vote likely signals the end of the road for this legislative session. The House has repeatedly passed marijuana legalization bills in recent years, only to see them die in the Senate. And even if something were to make it to the desk of Gov. Chris Sununu (R), he remains opposed to legalization. At least one senator indicated he was stuck in a time warp: "Why would we want to join the herd of introducing to our culture legalization of a substance that is unquestionably a gateway drug?" asked Sen. Bob Giuda (R-Warren).

Ohio Lawmakers File Marijuana Legalization Bill That Mirrors Ongoing Legalization Initiative. Two Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrance Upchurch, have filed a marijuana legalization bill with the same language as the legalization initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMTA). CRMTA's initiative passed an initial signature threshold, starting a process where the legislature has four months to either pass legalization or let it go to the voters in November (provided CRMTA succeeds in another round of signature-gathering), but there is little indication that the Republican-controlled legislature is going to act on it.

Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Okayed for Signature-Gathering. The state Supreme Court has cleared the way for two companion marijuana legalization initiative campaigns to begin signature-gathering. State Question 819 and the companion State Question 818, would amend the state constitution to protect the right of residents age 21 and older to use marijuana. Because they amend the constitution, they face a higher signature-gathering hurdle than State Question 820, which has already been cleared for signature-gathering. It needs about 90,000 signatures within 90 days to qualify for the ballot, while State Questions 819 and 820 will need about 178,000 valid voter signatures.

Drug Policy

Biden Administration Releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy. The White House released the 2022 National Drug Control StrategyThursday, focusing on treating drug addiction and fighting drug trafficking. The strategy calls for expanded harm reduction interventions, such as drug test strips, needle exchanges, and access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. The new strategy is “the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and service,” the White House said. But the strategy also envisions a $300 million increase for Customs and Border Patrol and another $300 million increase for the DEA, maintaining a law enforcement emphasis. Those figures were released as part of the FY 2023 budget released last month.

Drug Testing

SAMSHA Cuts No Slack for Medical Marijuana, Accidental Exposures in Updated Federal Drug Testing Rules. In a pair of notices published in the Federal Register earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) published a pair of notices about proposed changes to drug testing policies. One new notice clarifies that having a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test. The secondnew notice states that passive exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke or accidental ingestion of foods containing marijuana are not a legitimate medical explanation for a positive drug test. These are proposed rules, and  there is a 60-day public comment period on the proposals is open until June 6.

Congress Passes, President Signs Omnibus Funding Bill That Has Reform Advocates Fuming [FEATURE]

The Fiscal Year 2022 Omnibus appropriations bill signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday has drug reform and civil rights groups fuming over both what was left out and what made the final cut. The bill extends class-wide scheduling and harsh criminal penalties for fentanyl-related substances, underfunds harm reduction services, and still includes a rider that bars the District of Columbia from taxing and regulating marijuana sales.

Drug reform and civil rights groups are directing some ire at Capitol Hill. (Creative Commons)
"We're deeply disappointed in House and Senate leadership for allowing this version of the bill to move forward and neglecting this rare opportunity to advance long overdue reforms," the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) said in a press release after the bill passed Congress last week.

Congress ended up allocating a measly $18 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Infectious Disease and the Opioid Epidemic program that supports needle exchange and overdose prevention program. While the figure is a $5 million increase over the last year, it fails to respond to urgent need to expand harm reduction services.

"With an overdose crisis that claimed more than 100,000 lives in 2021 alone, we urgently need to employ evidence-based services to save lives. Syringe services programs directly reach people at highest risk for overdose, HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, as well as other harms associated with drug use. It's past time that lawmakers prioritize making more of these lifesaving harm reduction services available," said DPA deputy director of National Affairs Grant Smith.

While Congress is not paying enough attention to harm reduction, its move to extend the Trump-era temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances will only increase the harms of criminal justice system exposure for people of color while failing to address the overdose crisis, civil rights advocates said. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national groups, wrote a January letter to the White House opposing the move, and its members are not happy now.

"During the protests calling for police accountability and criminal-legal reform in 2020, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to pursue racial equity. This scheduling policy flies directly in the face of those promises," said Sakira Cook, senior director of the justice reform program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a press release following the vote. "For too long Black and Brown people and their communities have suffered from under-resourcing and over policing, due in large part to the war on drugs. Congress must stop trying to perpetuate mass incarceration and instead advance policies that actually help our communities navigate the overdose crisis as a public health issue."

"We are disappointed that Congress has continued the temporary class-wide scheduling of fentanyl-related substances instead of preventing opioid deaths through comprehensive legislation," said Marta Nelson, director of government strategy at the Vera Institute of Justice. "We urge Congress to use this time to work on a permanent solution -- one that saves lives through public health measures, narrows the definition of fentanyl-related substances subject to criminal prosecution, and removes mandatory minimum punishments. We must change our current approach to this crisis in a way that addresses public safety needs and the needs of communities of color."

"It's hard to believe Congress extended this 'temporary' policy yet again. Overdoses have only skyrocketed since it came into force. It is time to let this expire now," said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. "Congress already has the tools they need to prosecute cases involving fentanyl-related substances. This cruel, over-broad approach hasn't helped, and continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities."

And then, there is the issue of marijuana in the nation's capital. DC residents overwhelmingly approved the Initiative 71 marijuana legalization measure in November 2014, but because the District, as a federal territory, cannot control its own budget, Congress has been able to block the District from being able to implement taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The "Harris rider," named after conservative Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), frustratingly remains intact despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

"We are very disappointed that Congress continues to prevent residents of DC from regulating cannabis despite their urgent and repeated requests for reform. Instead, Congress is forcing the District to maintain a gray market in which cannabis can be legally possessed and consumed by adults, but it cannot be legally sold, regulated, or tested, said Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project in a press release. "This places consumers at risk, and entrepreneurs who live in this minority-majority community are denied the ability to open businesses that are available in every other legal cannabis jurisdiction."

That's a whole lot of disappointment and frustration with the Democratic leadership of the Congress. There may be more to come. The SAFE Banking Act remains stalled, and even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) proposed marijuana legalization bill doesn't look like it has enough votes to pass. This could end up being a year to forget when it comes to responsible drug policies from Congress.

NJ Governor Signs Syringe Access Expansion Bills, Thailand to Decriminalize Marijuana, More... (1/18/22)

It's January, and the marijuana bills are coming fast and furious, a Utah bill would create a psychedelic therapy task force, and more.

Louisiana US Senate candidate Gary Chambers fires up for his first campaign ad. (YouTube)
Marijuana Policy

Delaware Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed. State Democrats are back once again with a marijuana legalization bill. State Rep. Ed Osienski (D-Newark) has filed House Bill 150, which would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by people 21 and over, but bans people from growing their own. The bill also envisions a system of taxed and regulated legal marijuana commerce and includes a small social equity provision that would earmark a portion of pot taxes for aiding communities most hard hit by the war on drugs. But the bill's prospects are cloudy since it would need a supermajority to pass the legislature and would then face a governor reluctant to sign it.

Louisiana US Senate Candidate Smokes Blunt in Campaign Ad. Democratic US Senate candidate Gary Chambers on Tuesday released his first campaign ad, a video showing him smoking a marijuana blunt and calling for its legalization. "Every 37 seconds someone is arrested for possession of marijuana," said Chambers in the video. "States waste $3.7 billion enforcing marijuana laws every year. Most of the people police are arresting aren't dealers but rather people with small amounts of pot, just like me," he goes on. In a tweet accompanying his ad, Chambers added: "I hope this ad works to not only destigmatize the use of marijuana, but also forces a new conversation that creates the pathway to legalize this beneficial drug and forgive those who were arrested due to outdated ideology." He is running to challenge sitting US Senator John Kennedy (R).

Maryland Marijuana Legalization Constitutional Amendment Bill Filed. Delegate Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) has filed House Bill 1, a marijuana legalization bill with a twist: It takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which would have to win a supermajority of both the House and Senate before going to voters at the polls during a general election. The measure would legalize marijuana possession for people 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. If it gets past the legislature, voters would be asked: "Do you favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis in the State of Maryland?" Recent polls show roughly two-thirds of Marylanders are ready to free the weed.

Psychedelics

Utah Bill Would Create Psychedelic Task Force. Rep. Brady Brammer (R-Highland) has filed House Bill 167, which would create a Mental Illness Psychotherapy Drug Task Force that would "study and make recommendations on drugs that may assist in treating mental illness." The task force would be co-chaired by the head of the state Health Department and the head of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and would also include a licensed psychiatrist; a licensed psychologist; a representative from the Utah Medical Association, someone who researches and studies neuroscience and mental health; a health system representative; and a patient who is knowledgeable about using a psychotherapy drug, among others. Although not mentioned specifically in the bill, supporters say psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms, is the drug most likely to be considered by the task force.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Governor Signs Syringe Access Expansion Bills into Law. Governor Phil Murphy (D) on Tuesday signed into laws a pair of bills that will ease access to syringes. The Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) removes authority to approve and close syringe access programs (SAPs) from local municipalities and places that authority with the New Jersey Department of Health, aligning SAPs with other public health services. The Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458) decriminalizes possession of syringes and allows for expungement of previous convictions. By shifting authority from municipalities to the New Jersey Department of Health, this legislation effectively prevents the Atlantic City SAP, called the Oasis Drop-In Center and operated by South Jersey AIDS Alliance, from being closed by the Atlantic City Council. In July 2021, the Atlantic City Council voted to remove municipal approval from the SAP over the objections of people who use drugs, people living with HIV, local and statewide advocates, and the Murphy administration.

International

Canadian Harm Reductionists Sue Alberta Over Policy to Require Safe Injection Site Users Show Health ID Cards. Harm reduction groups are taking legal action to try to block the province of Alberta from requiring that people using a safe injection site show their Health Canada identification cards. The policy is set to go into effect on January 31, and harm reductionists say it will create a barrier to using the service and increase the risk of fatal overdoses. The Alberta Court of Appeal has agreed to an emergency hearing on January 27. This latest move comes after a provincial judge earlier this month dismissed an injunction that would have blocked implementation of the new rule.

Thailand to Decriminalize Marijuana. The Thai Food and Drug Administration is set to propose removing marijuana from the country's list of proscribed drugs on Wednesday, clearing the way for Health Minister Anutin Charmvirakul to grant final approval. "While the law change will allow all parts of cannabis to be bought, sold and used, recreational use will likely remain controlled as marijuana extracts with higher tetrahydrocannabinol levels that get people high will still be regulated," said Chaiwat Sowcharoensuk, an analyst at Krungsri Research. "Producers of soaps, beauty products and cosmetics from marijuana will likely be the ones to benefit the most from the decriminalization."

Canada Opens Legal Pathway for Access to Psychedelic Treatment with MDMA, Psilocbyin, More... (1/11/22)

The nation's top spook announces an easing of rules around past marijuana use and national security clearances, the New Jersey legislature approves needle exchange expansion and syringe decriminalization bills, and more.

psilocybin molecule (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Director of National Intelligence Gives Clarification on Marijuana Issues and Clearance Holders. In guidance released late last year, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines clarified the intelligence community's policy regarding security clearances for people who have used marijuana. Under previous policy, people needed to have not used marijuana for one to two years before applying for a national security position, but now the policy is that past marijuana use should not be determinative, but that they needed to stop using if they were being considered for a position: "In light of the long-standing federal law and policy prohibiting illegal drug use while occupying a sensitive position or holding a security clearance, agencies are encouraged to advise prospective national security workforce employees that they should refrain from any future marijuana use upon initiation of the national security vetting process, which commences once the individual signs the certification contained in the Standard Form 86 (SF-86), Questionnaire for National Security Positions."

The new guidance also addresses investing in marijuana businesses, warning that people seeking clearances should not do so, and it warns people seeking security clearances to be wary of using CBD products -- although it doesn't forbid it. "With respect to the use of CBD products, agencies should be aware that using these cannabis derivatives may be relevant to adjudications in accordance with SEAD 4." In other words, it could show up on a drug test.

Virginia Republican Files Bill to Eliminate Social Equity Funding in Marijuana Program. State Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. has filed a bill, Senate Bill 107, that would eliminate social equity funding for the state's recreational marijuana program. The bill would delete the line in last year's marijuana legalization law that channels 30 percent of revenues into a marijuana equity investment fund. Although Democrats still control the state Senate, minority business advocates worry that the bill could still pass and are calling it an effort to dismantle provisions in the law that have strong public support. If the bill does not pass, the funding will go supporting licensing opportunities for small and minority-owned marijuana businesses.

Harm Reduction

New Jersey Legislature Approves Bills Ending Requirement for Municipal Approval for Needle Exchanges. The legislature has passed the Syringe Access Bill (S-3009/A-4847) and the Syringe Decrim Bill (S-3493/A-5458), a pair of bills whose aim is to address the state's opioid overdose epidemic by easing access to clean needles, legalizing possession of needles, and expanding access to addiction services. The first pair of bills ends the requirement that municipalities pass an ordinance to okay local needle exchanges, while the second pair of bills legalized needle possession.

International

Canada Opens Legal Pathway for Access to Psychedelic Treatment with MDMA, Psilocbyin. Health Canada has amended federal regulations to allow doctors to request access to restricted drugs, such as MDMA and psilocybin, for patients undergoing psychedelic therapy. The regulatory change will allow physicians to use the Special Access Program, which allows healthcare practitioners to access drugs that have shown promise in clinical trials, or are approved in other countries, to seek permission to employ the drugs as therapeutics. The amendment to the Food and Drug Regulations was published in the Wednesday edition of the Canada Gazette, Canada's version of the federal register.

The Top Ten Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2021 [FEATURE]

Whew! Another year to put in the rear view mirror, but not before we reflect on the year that was. It was a year of tragic overdose death numbers and groundbreaking responses; it was a year of advances on marijuana reform in the states but statemate in Congress; it was a year of psychedelic advance in the states and cities -- but not enough political will to reform policing, at least not federally.

As always, there was a lot going on in the realm of domestic drug policy, and here are ten of the year's most important stories. Check back next week for our Top Ten International Drug Policy Stories of 2021.

1. Fentanyl, Pandemic Drive Drug Overdose Deaths to Record High

The nation either neared or surpassed the one millionth drug overdose death since 1999 in 2021. Driven largely by two factors -- pandemic-related isolation and lack of access to treatment services, and the increasing presence of the highly potent opioid fentanyl in the unregulated drug supply -- overdose deaths 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, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report in October. And as if that were not bad enough, CDC reported in November provisional estimates that drug overdose deaths had topped 100,300 in the period from May 2020 to April 2021 -- the highest one-year overdose death toll ever.

As for that million overall dead figure, the CDC reported that through 2019 the toll had reached 841,000. We are now two years past that, and while that figure hasn't been officially recorded, just adding up the numbers makes it likely that we have already reached that horrific benchmark.

2. Nation's First Official Safe Injection Site Opens in New York City

The legality of safe injection sites -- where drug users can consume their substances in a clean, well-lit place under medical supervision -- remains unsettled under federal law, but officials in New York City decided they couldn't wait. In November, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who began calling for them in 2018, and the city Health Department announced that "the first publicly recognized Overdose Prevention Center [safe injection site] services in the nation have commenced."

The move was quickly lauded by editorials in leading newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and by Christmas Eve, the city reported that 59 overdoses had already been reversed amid 2,000 visits to the facilities. Meanwhile, a safe injection site in Philadelphia whose opening was blocked in January by a federal appeals court after the Trump administration Justice Department moved against it, is awaiting a March filing by the Biden administration to see if it will take a more positive position allowing the facility to open.

Bills to allow safe injection sites were introduced in a number of states, including California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Utah, although only the Rhode Island bill passed and was signed into law. Still, the opening of the New York City facilities is a historic harm reduction first for the United States, and a likely harbinger of more to come.

3. Marijuana Reform Progress in the States

Nearly half the population now lives in legal marijuana states after five states this year joined the 13 others that had previously done so, mostly at the ballot box. But the states that legalized it this year all did so via the legislative process. Those are Connecticut (Senate Bill 1201), New Jersey (Assembly Bill 21/Senate Bill 21 and Assembly Bill 897), New Mexico (House Bill 2), New York (Senate Bill S854A), and Virginia (House Bill 2312/Senate Bill 1406).

This movement comes as marijuana legalization continues to garner strong public support, with a November Gallup poll reporting "a new high" of 68 per cent report. There was other marijuana-friendly legislative action in the states as well: Louisiana decriminalized it, four states (Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, Virginia) passed expungement laws, Alabama approved medical marijuana (although not in smokeable form), and 17 states approved medical marijuana expansion laws. Weed is on a roll.

4. Democrats Haven't Got Federal Marijuana Legalization Done, and It's Not Looking So Great for Next Year, Either

With Democrats in control of Congress after the November 2020 elections, hopes were high that this could be the year federal marijuana prohibition would be ended. The House had already passed a legalization bill at the end of the last Congress, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) was pushing for it, and even if President Biden opposed full legalization and would only go as far as supporting decriminalization, that was a bridge that could be crossed when we came to it.

Now, at the end of 2021, that bridge is still a ways down the road. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617), sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), passed the House of Representatives a year ago. But that was a different Congress, meaning it has to pass the House again. In this Congress it's only passed the Judiciary Committee, in late September, and hasn't moved since. On the Senate side, Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) rolled out an initial draft of their legalization bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act in mid-July, but have yet to formally file legislation.

One big reason for the impasse is that Democrats are at odds among themselves, tussling over whether to hold out for full legalization replete with social equity measures, or to go for incremental measures in the meanwhile, such as banking access for state-legal cannabusinesses through the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996). That bill passed the House and was inserted into the annual defense funding bill, only to be removed at the insistence of Senate leadership in the former camp, including Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The fight over how to approach marijuana reform federally has split not only the Democrats, but also the drug reform movement, with groups like the Drug Policy Alliance calling for not passing banking except as part of a full legalization bill, while NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project lobbied hard for the SAFE Act.

As the year came to an end, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) told the Congressional Cannabis Caucus that Congress would take up marijuana reform in the spring. But with an election year looming, Congress evenly divided, and not even all Democratic senators sure votes on marijuana legalization, Congress looks more likely to be nibbling at the edges of federal pot prohibition rather than ending it -- or perhaps to do nothing. There are dozens of marijuana-related bills filed, from expungement to veterans' access to easing research barriers and more. In 2021, nibbling at the edges may be the best we can do.

Meanwhile, in November, a GOP legislator, Sourth Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace filed her own bill, 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 three 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.

Last year's mass mobilization around George Floyd's death has yet to translate to new laws restraining police misbehavior. (CC)
5. Even in the Wake of George Floyd, Police Reform Can't Move in the Senate

Following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police and the massive mobilizations it generated, the impetus grew to reexamine and reform police practices. The spirit of reform in response to the crisis took root in both houses and both parties, with Republican South Carolina Senator Tim Scott filing a tepid Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act last year. But that bill lacked key provisions demanded by Democrats, such as an end to qualified immunity for police officers in civil lawsuits, and it died at the end of the last session.

That spirit of reform was embodied in February, when the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (HR 1280), sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA). That bill would make it easier to convict a police officer for misconduct in a federal prosecution and limit qualified immunity as a defense against liability in a private civil action against an officer. It also restricts the use of no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and carotid holds and creates a National Police Misconduct Registry, among other provisions.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) envisioned something similar in the Senate when in June he announced his framework for comprehensive police reform legislation. Like the House bill, it too reformed qualified immunity so that people could actually recover damages from police who violate their constitutional rights. It too would make it easier to federally prosecute police misconduct. And it too would create a National Police Misconduct Registry, as well as banning racial profiling and providing incentives for states to adopt policies banning no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and other airway-restrictive holds in their use-of-force policies.

Booker and Scott would become the point men in a month's long effort to craft a police reform bill with bipartisan support over the course of the summer. But by September, the negotiations had hit a dead end, with Booker telling reporters: "We weren't making progress -- any more meaningful progress on establishing really substantive reform to America's policing," he said. And with that, federal police reform was dead for the year.

One of the irresolvable issues was qualified immunity, on which Scott and the Republicans refused to budge. Instead, in a statement noting the end of negotiations, Scott claimed "Democrats said no because they could not let go of their push to defund our law enforcement" and then, with a complete unawareness of irony, complained about using "a partisan approach to score political points."

So far in the Congress, it has been justice delayed. Will it end up being justice denied? There is still a year left in the session, so stay tuned.

6. The Biden Administration's Partial Embrace of Harm Reduction

From the outset, the Biden administration is proving to be the friendliest ever toward harm reduction, even though it has yet to acknowledge one of the most effective harm reduction interventions: safe injection sites (or "supervised consumption sites" or "overdose prevention centers"). The first signal came in March, when the administration included nearly $4 billion for substance abuse disorder and mental health, including funding for harm reduction activities such as needle exchange services in the coronavirus relief bill. The bill allocated $30 million in community-based funding for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.

Then, on April 1, the administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like as it released the congressionally-mandated Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One. That document contains a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery, but also prioritizes "enhancing evidence-based harm reduction efforts." The same month, it allowed federal funds to be used to buy rapid fentanyl test strips.

After a quiet summer, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra made news in October when he announced the department's overdose prevention strategy and committed to more federal support for harm reduction measures, such as needle exchanges, increased access to naloxone, and test strips to check drugs for the presence of fentanyl. He even suggested the agency might be open to safe injection sites, but in a sign of the delicacy of the subject in this administration, HHS quickly walked back the comments: "HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites," the statement read. "The issue is a matter of ongoing litigation. The Secretary was simply stressing that HHS supports various forms of harm reduction for people who use drugs."

In November, the administration released model naloxone legislation. The administration on Wednesday released model legislation to help states improve access to naloxone treatment for opioid overdoses. 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.

Also in November, that $30 million from the coronavirus relief bill got real when SAMHSA announced it had launched $30 million harm reduction grant funding opportunity to "help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use."

The Biden administration is clearly moving in the direction of harm reduction, but where it comes down on safe injection sites is still muddy. The Justice Department is preparing a brief in the case of Safehouse, a proposed Philadelphia safe injection site that was blocked from opening after the Trump administration Justice Department persuaded the 3rd US Circuit Court of appeals that it violated the Controlled Substance Act's "crack house" provision. That brief will be a key indicator of whether the administration is prepared to fully embrace harm reduction, but we are going to have to wait until next year to find out.

7. Oregon Leads the Way on Drug Decriminalization, Others Are Vying to Follow

With the November 2020 passage of Measure 110 with 59 percent of the vote, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession, and by year's end, the initial results were looking pretty good. Because the measure tapped into marijuana tax revenues to fund treatment and harm reduction services, those programs are getting a hefty $302 million in much needed funding over the next two years.

While the numbers are not in yet for this first year of decriminalization, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

In the wake of the Oregon vote, a number of other states saw decriminalization bills introduced -- Florida, Kansas, Maine, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington -- and so did Congress, when Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO in June filed the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA), whose most striking provision is drug decrim. DPRA is the first time decriminalization bill to be introduced in Congress.

Also on the decrim front this year, efforts are underway in Washington, DC and Washington state to put initiatives on the ballot next year. The public seems to be ready: A summer poll from Data for Progress and The Lab found that 71 percent of respondents said federal anti-drug policies aren't working and reform is needed and 59 percent supported decriminalizing drug possession. A slightly earlier ACLU/Drug Policy Alliance poll around the same time had even stronger results, with 83% saying the war on drugs had failed and 66% supporting decrim. Decriminalization is starting to look like an idea whose time has come.

8. Conservative State Supreme Courts Negate the Will of the Voters

The November 2020 elections resulted in a clean sweep for drug reform initiatives, with marijuana legalization being approved in four states and medical marijuana in two states. But in two cases, marijuana legalization in South Dakota and medical marijuana in Mississippi, Republican-dominated state Supreme Courts moved to effectively negate the will of the voters.

In South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A won with 54 percent of the vote, but acting at the behest of South Dakota anti-marijuana Republican Governor Kristi Noem, a county sheriff and the head of the Highway Patrol sued to block the measure. They won in circuit court and won again when the state Supreme Court threw out Amendment A, ruling it unconstitutional because it violated a provision limiting constitutional amendments to one subject. Noem's victory may prove ephemeral, though: The activists behind Amendment A are already collecting signatures for a 2022 initiative, and the state legislature didn't even wait for the Supreme Court decision to decide it is ready to legalize marijuana in the next session.

In Mississippi, Initiative 65 won with 74 percent of the vote, but a Republican local official successfully challenged it, and in May, the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court threw it out -- managing to wipe out the state's initiative process as it did so. Under the state constitution, initiative campaigns are required to get one-fifth of signatures from each of five congressional districts, which seems straightforward enough. The only problem is that since congressional reapportionment after the 2000 census, the state only has four districts, making it impossible for any initiative to comply with the constitutional language.

The state has seen numerous initiatives since 2000, with none of them challenged. When faced with the conundrum, the Supreme Court could have found that constitutional language "unworkable and inoperable on its face," but instead pronounced itself bound to find Amendment 65 "insufficient" because it cannot meet the five-district requirement.

The legislature has been working to craft a medical marijuana bill, but Republican Governor Tate Reeves is not happy with the legislative language and has refused to call a special session on medical marijuana. Mississippians will have to wait for 2022.

9. House Votes to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity, But Senate Dallies

In September, in an effort to undo one the gravest examples of racially-biased drug war injustice, the House voted to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. HR 1693, the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act of 2021, passed on a vote of 361-66, demonstrating bipartisan support, although all 66 "no" votes came from Republicans. Amidst racially-tinged and "tough on drugs" political posturing around crack use in the early 1980s, accompanied by significant media distortions and oversimplifications, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, cosponsored by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. Under that bill, people caught with as little as five grams of crack faced a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, while people would have to be caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner the same sentence.

While race neutral on its face, the law was disproportionately wielded as a weapon against African-Americans. Although similarly small percentages of both Blacks and Whites used crack, and there were more White crack users than Black ones, Blacks were seven times more likely to be imprisoned for crack offenses than Whites between 1991 and 2016. Between 1991 and 1995, in the depths of the drug war, Blacks were 13 times more likely to be caught up in the criminal justice meat grinder over crack. And even last year, the US Sentencing Commission reported that Black people made up 77 percent of federal crack prosecutions.

After years of effort by an increasingly broad alliance of drug reform, racial justice, human rights, religious and civic groups, passage of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act took a partial step toward reducing those disparities. The FSA increased the threshold quantity of crack cocaine that would trigger certain mandatory minimums -- instead of 100 times as much powder cocaine than crack cocaine needed, it changed to 18 times as much.

The 2018 FIRST STEP Act signed by President Trump allowed people convicted before the 2010 law was passed to seek resentencing. And now, finally, an end to the disparity is in sight. The Senate version of the bill is S. 79, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and cosponsored by fellow Democrat Dick Durbin (IL) and GOP Senators Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), and Thomas Tillis (NC). After the vote, they prodded their Senate fellows to get moving. But the Senate bill has yet to move after being filed 11 months ago.

10. Psychedelic Reform Movement Broadens in States and Cities

The movement to ease or undo laws criminalizing psychedelic substances continued to broaden and deepen in 2021. Detroit and Seattle joined Denver and Oakland in the ranks of major cities that have embraced psychedelic reform, with the Seattle city council approving a psychedelic decrim measure in October and Detroit voters approving a psychedelic decrim measure in November.

A number of smaller towns and cities went down the same path this year too, including Cambridge, Massachusetts in February, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in September (joining Ann Arbor), Easthampton, Massachusetts in October (joining Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville), and Port Townsend, Washington, in December.

Psychedelic reform bills are now making their way to statehouses around the country, with bills showing up in eight states by March and a handful more by year's end. Most of them have died or are languishing in committee, and a much-watched California psychedelic decriminalization bill, Senate Bill 519, has been pushed to next year after passing the state Senate only to run into obstacles in the Assembly. Two of them passed, though: New Jersey S3256, which lessens the penalty for the possession of any amount of psilocybin from a third degree misdemeanor to a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine, became law in February. Then Texas House Bill 1802, which would expand research on therapeutic psychedelics, became law in June.

Meanwhile, building on Denver's pioneering psilocybin decriminalization in 2019, a national advocacy group, New Approach PAC, has filed therapeutic psychedelic and full psilocbyin legalization initiatives aimed at 2022. Oakland activists have announced a "Go Local" initiative under which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from community-based local producers. The move aims to build on the city's current psychedelic decriminalization ordinance, passed in 2019.

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.

Another AR Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed, Furor Over Looming Singapore Drug Execution, More... (11/5/21)

Critics chide the new drug czar over his perfomance in West Virginia, a third marijuana legalization initiative has been filed in Arkansas, and more. 

Peru's coca crop is increasing, and much of it has to do with the pandemic. (Pixabay)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Sees Third Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed. And then there were three. Veteran activist Melissa Fults on Friday filed the Arkansas Adult Use and Expungement Marijuana Amendment, the third marijuana legalization initiative filed in the state so far this year. The initiative takes the form of a constitutional amendment, which means it faces higher signature-gathering requirements than the other two initiatives, which are statutory initiatives. Constitutional amendments require 89,151 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, but statutory initiatives require only 71,321. In either case, signatures must be handed in by early July 2022. The Fults initiative would increase the number of dispensaries to one for every 15,000 residents up to a maximum of 200 and would also allow the home cultivation of up to six plants. The amendment also envisions a tax on recreational marijuana sales, with proceeds going to support education and the state's general fund. Other initiatives already filed are the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Amendment and an initiative sponsored by Arkansas True Grass.

Drug Policy

Critics Question New Drug Czar's Commitment to Harm Reduction. The Biden administration is now on record as supporting harm reduction policies, but some critics of his pick to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office), Dr. Rahul Gupta, are expressing concern over his commitment to harm reduction, especially around his role in shutting down West Virginia's largest needle exchange program. As then-director of the state's Bureau of Public Health and faced with harsh local political opposition to needle exchanges, Gupta ordered an audit of the Charleston needle exchange program and called for it to be suspended because it didn’t require participants to first seek treatment for drug use before accessing clean syringes. That stance flouted Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that support lowering barriers to access and guidelines set up by his own office. Since then, the state has moved toward eliminating all harm reduction services. Dr Robin Pollini, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, and six other harm reduction experts nationwide wrote letters speaking out against Gupta’s findings saying his central criticism – that treatment options weren’t being prioritized above syringe access – showed he missed the point of harm reduction entirely. "The report was arbitrary in faulting the program for not adhering to practices that were not even required by the state certification guidelines” – guidelines written by Gupta’s own office." Pollini said in a recent interview. Gupta's audit legacy includes a new state law that makes it illegal for harm reduction programs in the state to follow CDC guidelines. Since that law passed, three more counties have shut down their needle exchange programs.

International

Peru Coca Cultivation is Rising; Three Reasons Why. While the White House and Peruvian authorities disagree over how much coca is being produced in the country, there is little disagreement that coca cultivation is increasing and Insight Crime has produced an analysis citing three reasons why: The coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns led the government to suspend eradication efforts and reduced the ability of the National Police to enforce coca cultivation laws, the balloon effect (when crops are suppressed in one area, they pop up in another), and people who lost jobs because of the pandemic headed back to the countryside, where sowing coca or working as laborers on coca farms are some of the only economically viable activities.

Singapore Set to Execute Malaysian Man Over 1 ½ Ounces of Heroin. Singapore is set to hang Malaysian citizen Nagaenthran K.Dharmalingam for smuggling 43 grams of heroin into the country, but human rights and legal groups are calling for the execution to be halted because the man has an IQ of only 69, indicating severe disability. A hearing is set for Monday where supporters will argue that executing a mentally disabled person violated the country's constitution. Nagaenthran's lawyer aid he "could possibly have a mental age below 18," and that that disability doesn't allow him to understand deterrence. "Therefore, we contend that the execution is irrational and a capricious act of the state." The Malaysian Bar and other legal groups submitted appeals to commute his sentence this week, and demonstrations have broken out in front of the Malaysian Parliament demanding the government intervene. The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch echoed calls to save Nagaenthran, saying the execution of a disabled person violates international laws and won’t deter crime. "Singapore should commute Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s sentence and amend its laws to ensure that no one is subjected to the death penalty, certainly not people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities,” Human Rights Watch said.

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.

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