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Chronicle AM: Legal Pot Bill This Week in NJ, Global Drug War Human Rights Guidelines Issued, More... (3/18/19)

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 19:19

A New Mexico pot legalization bill dies and the governor says she will take it up next year, Minneapolis will quit charging small-time pot offenders, UN bodies and member states issue drug war human rights guidelines, a federal prisoner sues for access to methadone treatment, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Democrats Unveil Legalization Package. A group of House Democrats held a press conference last Thursday to unveil a proposed package go bills to allow marijuana to be grown, processed, and sold to consumers in the state. The draft bills include a pilot plan for adult sales, but do not include letting people grow their own.

New Jersey Legalization Committee Votes Begin Today. The compromise legalization bill agreed to by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders is due for committee votes Monday, with an eye toward final passage next Monday if all goes well. The bill would allow adults to possess up to an ounce, but not grow their own. It would also expunge records of past pot offenses and set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

New Mexico Decriminalization Bill Goes to Governor, But Legalization Bill Dies. In last minute action this past weekend, the legislature passed a pot decriminalization bill, SB 323, and sent it to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). That’s some small consolation for the failure of a legalization bill, HB 356, which passed the House but died in the Senate Finance Committee.

New Mexico Governor Adds Marijuana Legalization to 2020 Agenda. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sunday she will add marijuana legalization to the agenda of next year’s 30-day short session. The move comes after a bipartisan marijuana legalization bill managed to pass the House this session, only to be stalled in the Senate until the session expired on Saturday.

Minnesota’s Most Populous County Won’t Charge Small-Time Pot Offenders. Prosecutors in Hennepin County, the home of Minneapolis, will no longer prosecute people caught with small amounts of pot, County Attorney Mike Freeman said last Thursday. Under state law, possession of up to 42.5 grams is a misdemeanor, but possession of as little as 45 grams can be charged as a felony. Freeman said he will no longer charge anyone caught with less than 100 grams; instead, defendants will be considered for a diversion program.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri Posts Draft Rules for Medical Marijuana Program. The Department of Health and Senior Services released more drafts of rules for the state's emerging medical marijuana system last Thursday. The rules cover marijuana cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities and medical marijuana establishments in general. Click on the link for a detailed analysis of the proposed regulations.

Oklahoma Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Rules into Law.  Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) last Thursday signed into law new regulations for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry. The legislation sets guidelines for inventory testing and tracking, advertising, and packaging and labeling, among other things. It also allows employers to fire medical marijuana users in certain safety-sensitive positions, such as fire fighters and heavy machinery operators.

Hemp

Idaho Hemp Bill Moving. A bill to legalize hemp production, HB 122, passed out of a pair of committees last Thursday and is now headed for a House floor vote. The 2018 farm bill legalized hemp production, and 41 other states have already legalized hemp production.

Psychedelics

Oakland Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative in Planning Stages. A coalition of advocacy groups in hosting a series of meetings in coming months aimed at building support for an initiative to decriminalize not only magic mushrooms but all “entheogenic plants, fungi, and natural sources.” The campaign is called Decriminalize Nature.

Drug Treatment

Incoming Federal Prisoner Sues Over Policy Banning Methadone Treatment. A Massachusetts woman who is about to enter federal prison and will not be permitted to continue methadone treatment for opioid addiction under prison rules has filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over the policy. Stephanie DiPierro has to do a year for collecting disability benefits and food stamps without reporting income from a job and has been on methadone since 2005.

Massachusetts Bill Would Block Courts from Jailing Defendants in Treatment Who Fail Drug Tests. After the state’s highest court ruled last year that judges could order jail time for defendants who violate probation by using drugs, legislators have responded with S. 397, which would bar judges from incarcerating people who are in treatment and fail mandatory drug tests while on probation. The bill is currently before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Human Rights

UN Member States, UN Bodies, and Human Rights Groups Launch International Legal Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy. A coalition of UN Member States, UN entities and leading human rights experts meeting at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Monday launched a landmark set of international legal standards to transform and reshape global responses to the world drug problem. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy introduces a comprehensive catalogue of human rights standards. They are a guide for governments to develop human rights compliant drug policies, covering the spectrum of cultivation to consumption. Harnessing the universal nature of human rights, the document covers a range of policy areas from development to criminal justice to public health.  

International

Philippines Quits International Criminal Court Over Drug War Investigation. A year after the Philippines told the United Nations it was quitting the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal because it is investigating human rights abuses in the bloody war on drugs led by President Rodrigo Duterte it has now officially withdrawn from the International Criminal Court. Manila moved to quit after the body launched a preliminary examination in 2018 into President Rodrigo Duterte's drug crackdown that has killed thousands and drawn international censure. However, the ICC said its preliminary investigation into Filipino drug war abuses would continue.

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Microdosing Psychedelics "Could Be Beneficial," Study Suggests [FEATURE]

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 19:56

Microdosing—ingesting very small doses of psychedelic drugs—has emerged as a popular pastime among Silicon Valley types and harried executives on both coasts, who have claimed anecdotally that it boosts creativity and helps them function more effectively.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Now, for the first time, comes some hard scientific evidence that microdosing really can be beneficial. In a new, peer-reviewed study in the journal Chemical Neuroscience, researchers at the University of California—Davis fed small doses of the psychedelics to lab rats and found that microdosing can have positive impacts on mental health.

"This is the first time anyone has demonstrated in animals that psychedelic microdosing might actually have some beneficial effects, particularly for depression or anxiety," David Olson, assistant professor in the UC Davis departments of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, who led the research team said in a press release.

In the study, the researchers used the powerful hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which they said was appropriate because its "molecular structure is embedded within the structures of popular microdosing drugs such as LSD and psilocybin." Every three days for three weeks, hey gave the rats one-tenth of the dose that would bring on a psychedelic trip. At the end of the three weeks, researchers found that the animals overcame their "fear response" in a test measuring anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)  and also seemed to be less immobile in a test measuring antidepressant effects.  

"Prior to our study, essentially nothing was known about the effects of psychedelic microdosing on animal behaviors," Olson said. "Our study demonstrates that psychedelics can produce beneficial behavioral effects without drastically altering perception, which is a critical step towards producing viable medicines inspired by these compounds."

In other words, you don't have to trip to get the benefits of psychedelics.

It wasn't all good news, though. Researchers found some potential problems: Male rats who microdosed showed significant increases in body weight, while females showed signs of neuronal atrophy.

"It’s exciting, but the potentially adverse changes in neuronal structure and metabolism that we observe emphasize the need for additional studies," Olson said. The changes in female neuronal structure were particularly puzzling, he said, because those changes did not occur when female rats took larger doses. That could suggest that acute hallucinogenic doses and repeated microdoses produced different biochemical and structural phenotypes, he said.

The study suggests there is indeed a biochemical basis for some of the positive effects of microdosing reported in less scientifically rigorous studies of humans, such as the study by Canadian researchers who found microdosers scored higher on measures of mental health and well-being.

"We found that microdosers scored higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness and creativity," reported researchers Thomas Anderson of the University of Toronto and Rotem Petranker of York University. "Microdosers also scored lower on measures of dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality, which is very promising."

That study recruited microdosers from Reddit communities, but did not include trials with placebos, so more research to validate the results is needed, the researchers conceded.

"As promising as they seem, we don’t know whether microdosing actually caused any of these differences," they reported. "Maybe people with better mental health were more likely to experiment with microdosing, or perhaps there is some unknown cause that made people both more likely to microdose and to be creative."

But this month's UC-Davis rat study strongly suggests that it is the microdosing—and not other variables—that accounts for the difference. 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Trump's Bombing Campaign Against Taliban Heroin Labs Quietly Fizzles [FEATURE]

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 18:18

A year-long bombing campaign that pitted some of America's most high-tech Air Force fighter jets against primitive Taliban "heroin labs" has quietly ended after failing to achieve much of anything, according to the latest report on continuing US operations in Afghanistan from the Defense Department's inspector general.

[image:1 align:left]The campaign, dubbed Operation Iron Tempest, was only the latest iteration of America's endless and fruitless effort to suppress the country's opium economy, which has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars a year into the hands of the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials alike. Since the U.S. invaded in 2001, American taxpayers have forked out nearly $9 billion to fight Afghan opium, yet Afghanistan continues to produce the vast majority -- about 85 percent -- of the global opium supply.

Despite all those counter-narcotics dollars, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported opium production at record highs in the last years, with more than 6,400 tons of raw opium produced last year. Iron Tempest didn't make much of a dent in it.

As part of the Trump administration's bid to look tough against both drugs and the Taliban, Iron Tempest was unleashed in November 2017 with F-22 stealth fighters and B-52 strategic bombers deploying 250- and 500-pound bombs against nondescript buildings in the Afghan hinterlands. Those F-22s, designed to be deployed against the most advanced aircraft in the world, cost $35,000 per flight hour, and they were used to blow up the barrels, tubes, and piles of raw material that constitute Afghan "heroin labs."

But hundreds of air strikes against what U.S. commanders estimated were 500 "heroin labs" operated by the Taliban failed to put a serious dent in the trade. In fact, they probably hurt Afghan security and political figures involved in the opium trade more than they hurt the Taliban.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported in January that while the air strikes had deprived the Taliban of an estimated $42 million (out of its estimated annual take from the opium trade of $200 million), while unspecified others "involved in the illegal drug trade in Afghanistan" lost $200 million. (The estimated value of the opium crop alone is above $1 billion a year when prices are high; but additional profits come from taxes on the trade and the value added by processing the raw opium into more profitable heroin.)

But the numbers on the economic pain caused the Taliban are iffy, SIGAR conceded. It was difficult to weigh the actual financial impact because "no ground verification takes place to weigh and assess the amounts of the precursors or products actually destroyed by an airstrike."

SIGAR didn't mince words in its assessment of overall Afghan and U.S. counter-narcotics performance: "To put it bluntly," the watchdog said, "these numbers spell failure."

That same January SIGAR report quietly noted the end of Iron Tempest. As evidence mounted that the campaign was ineffective, the number of air raids dwindled. In the last three months of 2018, only two air strikes took place, marking the end of the campaign. Operation Iron Tempest had gone out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

That could be the epitaph for the entire American adventure in Afghanistan. After nearly two decades of invasion and occupation, Trump administration officials are now engaged in direct peace talks with the Taliban that could lead to Afghan coalition government including the Taliban and the final withdrawal of American forces.

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Faced with Fentanyl, Is It Time for Heroin Buyers' Clubs? [FEATURE]

Sun, 02/24/2019 - 21:21

In the past few years, the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives have been the primary driver of the drug overdose death epidemic. A wave of addiction that began with prescription opioids two decades ago and morphed into one driven by heroin after the crackdown on pain pills one decade ago has now clearly entered a third phase: the era of fentanyl.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Beginning in about 2014, fentanyl-related overdose death rates skyrocketed as Chinese chemical manufacturers and Mexican drug distribution gangs began flooding the country with the cheap, easily concealable narcotic—and not through unwalled borders but through points of entry and package delivery services, including the U.S. Postal Service. By 2017, fentanyl was implicated in some 28,000 overdose deaths, more than either heroin or prescription opioids, and involved in nearly half of all overdose deaths.

The responses have ranged from the repressive to the pragmatic. Some state and federal legislation seeks a harsher criminal justice system response, whether it's increasing penalties for fentanyl trafficking or charging hapless drug sharers with murder if the person they shared with dies. In other cases, the opioid epidemic has emboldened harm reduction-based policies, such as the calls for safe injection sites in cities such as Denver, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Just a couple of hours up the road from Seattle, Vancouver, British Columbia, has been grappling with the same wave of opioid addiction and now, the arrival of fentanyl. And it has arrived with a real wallop: According to the British Columbia Coroner’s Service, fentanyl was implicated in 85 percent of overdose deaths in the province last year, up from only four percent just six years earlier. And with the arrival of fentanyl and, in 2016, its cousin, carfentanil, overdose deaths in B.C. jumped more than four-fold in that same period, from 333 in 2012 to 1,489 in 2018.

But while American cities are just now moving toward opening safe injection sites, Vancouver has had them for years, part of the city’s embrace of the progressive Four Pillars strategy—prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—of dealing with problems around drug misuse and addiction. In fact, more than a dozen safe injection sites are now operating in the city, as well as a couple of programs that involve providing pharmaceutical grade heroin or other opioids to hard-core addicts who have proven unamenable to traditional forms of treatment.

Such harm reduction programs have not prevented all overdose deaths, but they have radically reduced the toll. B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe has estimated that without those programs, B.C. would have seen triple the number of fatal overdoses.

Vancouver has been on the cutting edge of progressive drug policy reforms for the past 20 years, and now, faced with the fentanyl crisis, some researchers are proposing a radical next step: heroin buyers’ clubs.

In a report published last week, the B.C. Center on Substance Use, which has strong ties to the provincial government, called for the clubs as part of a broader plan for "legally regulated heroin sales in B.C." to protect users from fentanyl-adulterated heroin and cut the profits of organized crime.

The proposal "is inspired by cannabis compassion clubs and buyers' clubs, both of which emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the AIDS epidemic," the authors note.

"The compassion or buyers' club would function as a cooperative (or ‘co-op’), as an autonomous and democratic enterprise owned and operated by its members," the report explains. "A member-driven purchasing cooperative is an arrangement among businesses or individuals whereby members agree to aggregate their demand in order to purchase a certain product at a lower price from a supplier," it continues. "By aggregating their purchase orders and relevant resources, members are able to take advantage of volume discounts, price protection, shared storage and distribution facilities and costs, and other economies of scale to reduce their overall purchasing costs."

It wouldn't exactly be the Dallas Buyers Club, the 2013 film that portrayed unorthodox methods of obtaining AIDS medications in the 1980s. There would be some structure: To be accepted into the club, people addicted to opioids would have to undergo a medical evaluation, and once admitted to the club, they would still have to buy their own heroin, but with many advantages over buying black market dope. The main advantage would be that they would be receiving pure, pharmaceutical grade heroin (known as diacetylmorphine in countries where it is part of the pharmacopeia)—not an unknown substance that is likely to contain fentanyl.

Club members could inject the drug at a designated location—the report suggests that existing safe injection sites could be used—or take small amounts of the drug with them for consumption at home. The report also calls for each club to include related services, such as overdose response training, access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, and options for members to access social services such as detox, rehab, and other treatment options.

Not only could buyers' clubs create a safer, cheaper heroin-using experience for members, the report argues, but they could also erode the black market and its tendency to produce more potent drugs—the so-called Iron Law of Prohibition.

"Fentanyl adulteration in the illicit drug supply is a predictable unintended consequence of drug prohibition," the report concludes. "The same forces that pushed the market away from relatively bulky opium towards heroin, a more concentrated opioid that was easier to transport clandestinely, have continued to push the opioid market to increasingly potent synthetic opioids, including a range of fentanyl analogs. A cooperative could undermine the illegal market wherever it is set up."

Such a plan faces legal and political challenges in Canada, but those can be overcome if the provincial and federal governments get on board. Obstacles to such a plan being rolled out in the United States are even greater, especially given an administration hostile toward harm reduction in general that would most likely view legal heroin sales as anathema.

But here in the U.S., we're a decade or so behind Vancouver when it comes to progressive drug policies, so it's time to get the conversation started. After all, these sorts of approaches to the problem are likely to be more effective than throwing addicts in jail or building boondoggle border walls. 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Anti-Marijuana Congressman Presses Felony Charges for Live Stream of Staff Meeting [FEATURE]

Fri, 02/22/2019 - 21:41

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), representing Maryland's Eastern Shore, has quite a reputation among marijuana reform activists—and not a good one. For years, Harris has done everything he can to block progressive reforms and has hamstrung the District of Columbia's efforts to bring full pot legalization—meaning taxed and regulated sales, not just the legalization of possession and cultivation—to the nation's capital.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]But his latest nasty stunt only solidifies his reputation as not only a foe of marijuana law reform but as a first-class vindictive jerk. After a contentious protest last October led by local marijuana activists fed up with Harris's interference in D.C. home rule, staffers and activists set up a meeting at Harris's congressional office.

Among those attending was Salisbury University student activist Jake Burdett. Burdett briefly live-streamed part of the meeting without seeking anyone's permission—a violation of Maryland's "all-party consent" law requiring that any recordings only take place with the knowledge of the individuals involved.

According to Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ), the activist group of which Burdett is a member, the student was not aware of the state law regarding recordings, and when he was made aware of it after the meeting, he apologized to the staffer involved and deleted the live stream the next day.

Harris could have accepted Burdett's moves to atone for his innocent misdeed. Instead, he pressed felony charges against him—for revealing to the public what a public servant was saying in a government office on government time.

Adam Eidinger, the D.C. activist who led the successful 2014 legalization initiative and who grew so irritated with Harris's interference in D.C. home rule that he moved to Harris's district and co-founded MDMJ, is calling him out on it.

"Jake, who is a serious student leader, has a bright political future ahead of him that Representative Andy Harris wants to tarnish. In his honest attempt to provide the public with transparency into actions of a Congressional office that regularly insults marijuana reformers with false accusations, Jake’s live stream served as a conduit for the public to witness the endemic corruption in Salisbury," he said in a statement.

"By deciding to throw the book at Mr. Burdett for an honest mistake, one that was fixed almost immediately, it shows how partisan and petty Congressman Harris has become. He clearly wants to chill citizen participation in government, Eidinger added.

MDMJ co-founder Kris Furnish also weighed in on Burdett's behalf.

"Is it unreasonable for a 20-year-old to think that it’s legal to record a staffer of a United States Congressman in a public space? In a society that supposedly values transparency in government, I do find it odd that Jake can be found guilty of the ‘crime’ of recording the staff of elected government representatives in a taxpayer-funded space," he said.

"Rep. Harris wants to pretend to be victimized by a 20-year-old’s deleted live stream, while he supports the racist war on drugs that actually victimizes thousands of people a day by locking them up for the victimless crime of smoking marijuana, a non-addictive substance with many medicinal benefits."

Harris's hostility toward Burdett and the other MDMJ activists is matched only by his hostility toward their cause. Named by Forbes as one of the five worst House representatives on marijuana policy, Harris has used his position on the House Appropriations Committee, which has authority over District of Columbia spending, to try to block the D.C. Council from decriminalizing pot possession, a move that led the city's non-voting delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) to call him "a tyrant."

When District voters approved marijuana legalization at the ballot box in 2014, Harris was on hand again to try again to throw up obstacles couldn't stop the city from ending marijuana prohibition, but he and his Republican colleagues in the House were able to block the District from regulating commercial sales.

It's not just that he doesn't believe in changing the marijuana laws; he has repeatedly evidenced a vindictive streak. When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) allowed the legalization vote to go into effect despite objections from Republicans in Congress, Harris said she should be locked up, In remarks made before the 2016 elections, Harris said if a Republican won the White House, he hoped he would prosecute the D.C. mayor: "You have to wait for the next administration. It’s a five-year statute of limitations," Harris said. "All I can say is we’ll gather all the information. Maybe next the attorney general actually wants to enforce the law."

He also isn't a fan of democracy in the District: "We don’t take lightly interfering in D.C. home rule, but when they make clearly bad decisions…. This is where I think D.C. made a bad decision about its own rule and we have — the Congress has — the ultimate authority."

Harris's vindictiveness wasn't aimed just at D.C., though; he also wanted to crack down on states whose voters had democratically chosen to legalize marijuana. "It is illegal under the law. This is an example of the administration not wanting to enforce the law," he said.

Harris is a big fan of enforcing the law. In fact, he's such a big fan that he using the law to hammer down an uppity student activist who irritated—but did not harm—him or his staff. 

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In Bid to Blunt Black Market, California Eyes Marijuana Tax Cuts [FEATURE]

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 07:14

Steve D’Angelo was prescient. As the era of legal recreational marijuana in California began just over a year ago, the East Bay medical marijuana maven expressed concerned that taxes on the newly legal industry were too high.

[image:1 align:left]“It’s going to mean that a significant number of people, less affluent consumers are going to turn to the lower prices of the underground market,” he told KPIX 5 on January 1, 2018, the day it became legal in the state.

A year later D’Angelo’s concerns have been borne out. The state had estimated that retail marijuana sales would exceed the $3 billion in 2017 sales, which came solely from medical marijuana outlets, but instead legal sales actually declined to $2.5 billion.

As a result, tax revenues for the state are significantly lower than projected. The FY 2018 state budget estimated $185 million in marijuana sales taxes, but actually gathered only about $84 million. And based on January sales, the FY 2019 budget, which estimated tax revenues at $630 million, now looks to be overly optimistic. The latest projections have tax revenues for the fiscal year at $471 million.

In California, legal pot sales are saddled with a $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax paid by growers, as well as a 15 percent retail excise tax and a 7.25 percent retail sales tax paid by consumers. When you add in local taxes, pot buyers in some counties could be paying as much as 45 percent in aggregate tax on legal weed.

To be clear, high taxes aren’t the only things strangling the state’s legal marijuana market. Industry figures and analysts point to two other factors as well: The state’s onerous and costly regulatory requirements are keeping many growers and retailers from leaving the black market, and the refusal by many localities to allow legal marijuana sales in their jurisdictions has left broad swaths of the state with no alternative but the black market. (In a bid to boost the legal market, the state last month okayed plans for statewide deliveries no matter what localities say.)

Still, cutting the tax rate is something that could begin to make a dent in the black market. Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a pot tax cut bill last year that was defeated, but now, with a year’s worth of disappointing marijuana market news to provide momentum, he’s back again with another pot tax cut bill this year.

Late last month, with three cosponsors Bonta refiled Assembly Bill 286, which proposes eliminating the $148 per pound cultivation tax and reducing the 15 percent retail excise tax to 11 percent for three years. The bill also has the support of newly elected state Treasurer Fiona Ma.

 “The black market continues to undercut businesses that are complying with state regulations and doing things the right way,” Bonta said as he rolled out the bill. “AB 286 will temporarily reduce the tax burden on these licensed operators to keep customers at licensed businesses and help ensure the regulated market survives and thrives. This very strategy has been shown to actually increase overall tax revenue in other states.”

One of the cosponsors is Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), who authored an identical bill last year. That bill made it through two committees, only to die in Assembly Appropriations.

“Right now, the illicit market is dominating California’s cannabis industry,” said Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). “These are bad people who are making our communities unsafe.  We need to give the good guys a chance to succeed otherwise our one chance at creating a regulated industry will be compromised.”

Bonta and his colleagues pointed to the experience of legal marijuana states Oregon and Washington, which have successfully taken steps to reduce tax rates and encourage the growth of the legal market. Washington saw exponential growth in marijuana tax revenue after it simplified its tax structure and reduced its rates. Tax revenues there jumped from $13.4 million in the final month of the initial tax rate in June 2015 to more than $33 million in April 2017.

“By lowering the excise tax and postponing the cultivation tax it will lower the overall price for consumers at the register, which will also reduce the differential between illicit and legal prices. Reducing this gap is critical to making the legal market more competitive against the illicit market and more attractive for consumers,” said Beau Whitney, Senior Economist at New Frontier Data.

Fixing California’s pot taxes clearly won’t resolve all the issues the state faces as it makes the transition to the world’s largest legal marijuana market, but it’s a start. 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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In Historic First, Denver Will Vote on Decriminalizing Magic Mushrooms [FEATURE]

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 20:56

Its official: Voters in Denver will go to the polls in May to decide whether to allow residents to use and possess magic mushrooms and psilocybin, the hallucinogenic substance that makes those mushrooms so magic, without fear of criminal penalty. The city's Election Division confirmed last Friday that an initiative petition to decriminalize the mushrooms had received enough signatures to qualify for the May 7 municipal ballot.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]That will mark the first time any jurisdiction in the United States has taken up the issue. A California statewide initiative campaign last year failed to achieve any traction and never made it to the ballot. An Oregon statewide initiative is aiming at the 2020 ballot, but if it makes it, that vote will take place a year and a half after the Denver vote.

Denver is building a reputation as a leader in progressive drug policy. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012, and in 2016 Denver became the first city in the country to allow for the consumption of marijuana at retail establishments, including bars.

The group behind the initiative, Decriminalize Denver, wants to make the use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms by people 21 and over the city's "lowest law enforcement priority." The initiative would also prevent the city from using its resources to punish adults who are caught using or possessing the mushrooms.

What the proposed ordinance would not do is legalize the sale of the drug in retail shops. One step at a time is the apparent plan.

"We're a pretty progressive city when it comes to drug policy," Decriminalize Denver director Kevin Matthews told NBC News. Still, he said he didn't foresee magic mushroom retail stores similar to pot shops "in the near future."

The initiative has won the approval of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is pushing more broadly for drug decriminalization.

"Under current Colorado law, with the exception of marijuana, simple drug possession can carry felony charges leading to devastating consequences including incarceration and a lifelong criminal record. People across the state want to do things differently," said Art Way, the group's Colorado state director. "While psilocybin is behind a relatively small portion of these arrests, it's terrific that Denver voters will have the opportunity to chip away at the drug war through this initiative."

Even if the initiative were to pass, magic mushrooms would remain illegal under both state and federal law, which considers them a Schedule I controlled substance -- the most dangerous, with no approved medical use and high potential for abuse--a designation shared with heroin, ecstasy, and, bizarrely enough, marijuana.

But are magic mushrooms really so dangerous? The Global Drug Survey, with more than 120,000 participants in more than 50 countries, doesn't think so. Of the more than 12,000 people who reported taking the drug in the 2016 survey, only 0.2 percent required emergency medical treatment, a rate dramatically lower than for ecstasy, LSD, or cocaine.

"Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world," addiction psychiatrist and Global Drug Survey founder Adam Winstock told The Guardian, adding that the biggest risk was that people could pick and eat the wrong mushrooms. "Death from toxicity is almost unheard of with poisoning with more dangerous fungi being a much greater risk in terms of serious harms."

Still, magic mushrooms aren't completely harmless, Winstock said. "Combined use with alcohol and use within risky or unfamiliar settings increase the risks of harm most commonly accidental injury, panic and short-lived confusion, disorientation and fears of losing one's mind." In some cases, people can experience panic attacks, he added, advising people who are thinking about using them to "plan your trip carefully with trusted company in a safe place and always know what mushrooms you're using."

Come May, we will see whether voters in Denver are ready to take the next step in progressive drug reform.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

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The 6 Worst Governors When it Comes to Marijuana Policy [FEATURE]

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 21:35

It's a fundamental of our political system that governors play a critical role in shaping policy at the state level—and even beyond. Governors can use their position as a bully pulpit to advance their agenda, they can use their budget proposals or empower commissions to shape legislation, and they have the power to kill legislation they don't like with their veto pens.

[image:1 align:left]And because Congress has so far refused to act to end federal marijuana prohibition, the role of state governors in marijuana policy is even more important. While they can't simply wave a magic wand to enact their desires, gubernatorial support or opposition can make or break a marijuana reform bill.

With public opinion having shifted dramatically in favor of marijuana legalization—an October Gallup poll had support nationwide at 66 percent, including even a majority of Republicans—and several years worth of legalization to look at in pioneering states such as Colorado and Washington, more and more governors are getting on the legalization bandwagon.

Last week, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) released its 2019 US Governors Scorecard. It gave each governor a letter grade from A to F based on a combination of legislative history, policy positions taken, and public comments on the issue. NORML was pretty happy with what it found.

“There exists unprecedented political support among U.S. governors for marijuana policy reform,” the group noted, pointing to A grades going to nine governors, all of them Democrats. That's up dramatically from the two A grades handed out just last year. Similarly, seven governors, six of them Democrats, saw their grades improve over last year.

Several newly elected Democratic governors, such as Ned Lamont of Connecticut, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, and Tim Walz of Minnesota actively campaigned on a pledge to legalize marijuana, while re-elected New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also broken dramatically toward legalization. It's a winning issue for Democrats.

But support for legalization is “more partisan than ever before,” NORML points out. “While almost half of all Democratic governors are now on record in support of adult use regulation, no Republican governors publicly advocate for this policy.”

NORML graded 46 governors, saying it had insufficient data to grade the other four. Of the 23 Republican governors only five (22 percent) received a passing grade of C or higher, while among the 23 Democratic governors all but one (96 percent) got at least a C. Of the nine governors getting an A, all were Democrats. Of the four governors getting an F, all were Republicans.

Here are the governors graded the worst by NORML. The list contains the four governors graded F as well as the two governors graded D-. They are all Republicans.

1. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: D-. Ducey opposed a 2016 marijuana legalization initiative, saying “I don't know how we make ourselves a stronger state or a better place through this initiative. Almost everything outside of our economy and education that I have to deal with in this state has a common culprit of drug abuse and addiction.” After the measure was narrowly defeated, he said. “Fortunately, Arizona is a place where common sense can still work. We fought very hard and we won this round.”

2. Idaho Gov. Brad Little: F. Little just took office this month, but is on record opposing marijuana legalization and supports only the most limited of pilot programs permitting the use of CBD, but not its broader legalization. He has also expressed concern that allowing hemp cultivation—which is now legal under federal law—would serve as “camouflage for the marijuana trade.”

3. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant: D-. While he allowed an extremely limited CBD bill to become law, that law provides no in-state supply for those products, and he remains vocally opposed to marijuana legalization: "We're not going to consider it in Mississippi as long as I'm governor," he said. At least he's term-limited out in 2020.

4. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts: F. A firm foe of marijuana legalization, Ricketts has complained bitterly about neighboring Colorado's legal marijuana regime, saying it imposed a burden on western Nebraska law enforcement (which is presumably forced to sit on the side of highways coming out of Colorado and pull over people looking for pot). Ricketts also opposes medical marijuana absent any firm study by the Food and Drug Administration. He and his fellow Cornhuskers have apparently forgotten that the state was once a leader in progressive pot policy, having decriminalized it during that first wave in the 1970s.

5. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine: F. DeWine just took office this month, but as state attorney general he declined to comment on whether the Justice Department should go after medical marijuana users and providers in the state. When running for governor, he opposed a statewide initiative that would have diverted many low-level drug users from prison and came out firmly “against the legalization of recreational marijuana,” even falsely claiming that its legalization in other states had led to increased use among youth.

6. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem: F. Noem hasn't been in office long enough to do any damage, but she thinks marijuana is “a gateway drug” and vowed that “As governor, I will oppose all attempts to legalize marijuana.” She has the distinction of governing over the only state in the country that makes it a crime to have used marijuana.  

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