Synthetic Cannabinoids

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Chronicle AM -- February 19, 2014

NORML endorses a US Senate candidate, pressure mounts for medical marijuana in New York, West Virginia wants to make Sudafed prescription only, and more. Let's get to it:

West Virginia cold sufferers watch out! They're coming for your Sudafed.
Marijuana Policy

Arizona Poll Has 51% for Legalization. A poll from Arizona's Behavior Research Center has support for marijuana legalization at 51%, with 41% opposed. In recent months, other polls have showed majorities both for and against legalization.

Maine US Senate Candidate Wins NORML PAC Endorsement. NORML PAC, NORML's political campaign arm, has endorsed Shenna Bellows in her campaign to represent Maine in the US Senate. "Shenna Bellows has been at the forefront of the fight for marijuana legalization even before beginning this campaign," stated NORML PAC Manager Erik Altieri, "During her tenure leading the Maine ACLU, Shenna has demonstrated she has the skill and determination to fight for sensible reforms and has proven to be a vocal and articulate leader in calling for the end of marijuana prohibition. We believe she will be invaluable in the United States Senate to help move the country away from our failed war on marijuana and towards a new, smarter approach." Bellows is seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

Medical Marijuana

Almost Nine Out of Ten New Yorkers Support Medical Marijuana, Poll Finds.A new Quinnipiac poll has support for medical marijuana at 88%, with only 9% opposed. The poll also had a 57% majority for marijuana legalization. Click on the link for more poll details.

Two New York GOP State Senators Announce Support for Medical Marijuana Bill. Two Republican state senators, George Maziarz (R-Newfane) and Mark Grisanti (R-IP-Buffalo), have announced their support for the pending medical marijuana bill, the Compassionate Care Act. They are the first Republicans to do so. The Compassionate Care Act has passed the Assembly four times, and Governor Cuomo's administration has said the governor would sign it, but the legislation has long been stuck in the Senate.

Oregon Bill to Block Cities and Counties from Banning Dispensaries Passes Senate. The Oregon Senate Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1531, which would let cities and counties regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, but not ban them. A number of cities have already passed ordinances banning dispensaries before a new state law allowing them goes into effect next month, and the Association of Oregon Cities is threatening to sue if the bill passes. It now goes to the House.

New Mexico Patient Survey Finds Program Not Providing Enough Medical Marijuana. A state Department of Health survey of patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program finds that only about 20% of patient demand is being met through legal channels. Licensed growers are producing about 2,250 pounds a year, but the survey put the annual demand from patients at more than 11,000 pounds. The Health Department is now "weighing its options about whether to increase production" and whether to increase the number of producers or the number of plants each can produce, a spokesman said.

Drug Testing

Indiana Food Stamp Drug Test Bill Now Targets Only Those With Misdemeanor Drug Convictions. A bill that would have required drug screening for all food stamp applicants and drug testing for those deemed likely to be using has been amended to now apply only to people who have misdemeanor drug convictions in the past 10 years. (People with drug felonies are ineligible for food stamps under a federal law that Indiana has not opted out of.) House Bill 1351 passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee after being amended. It has already passed the House.

Methamphetamine

Bill Making Sudafed Prescription-Only Passes West Virginia Senate. A bill that would make access to OTC cold medications containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 6 now goes to the House. The measure is aimed at reducing the number of meth labs in the state, although it has had only temporary effects in the other two states where it has been adopted. Pseudoephredrine is a precursor chemical in meth manufacture.

International

Georgia to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoid Chemicals. Georgian Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs Davit Sergeenko said Wednesday a law on criminalizing the basic biochemical formulas used to create synthetic cannabis has been almost completed. "From now on, these substances will be considered as illegal and all the control mechanisms and limits that are set on other legal or illegal drugs will be valid for synthetic cannabis too," Sergeenko said.

Myanmar Extends Opium Crop Substitution Program in Northern Shan State. The Myanmar government, working in cooperation with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is extending its crop substitution program for poppy farmers in Northern Shan State. The idea is to increase farmers' food security in areas where eradication has taken place. Last year, Myanmar eradicated about one-fifth of the estimated poppy crop.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- February 17, 2014

Olympic drug testers back off on marijuana, a surprise marijuana vote in New Mexico, a bad medical marijuana bill in Michigan, NYPD's most sued cops are all narcs, a new South Australian law criminalizes some speech about synthetic drugs, and more. Let's get to it:

You don't even want to talk about synthetic stimulants now in South Australia. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

New Mexico Senate Committee Votes to Remove Marijuana from Schedule I. In a surprise move, the Senate Judiciary Committee Saturday voted to remove marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances. The move came in the form of an amendment by Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) to a synthetic cannabinoids ban bill, Senate Bill 127. The bill goes now to the full Senate.

Poll Finds Majority Support for Legalization in New York. A new Quinnipiac University poll released today shows that New Yorkers support the legalization of small amounts of recreational marijuana 57% to 39%, while 45% of those voters say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and 36% say it's less dangerous. The poll also found whopping 88% support for medical marijuana. Click on the poll link for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Bill Would Allow Landlords to Prohibit Patient Use on Private Property. A bill that would allow Michigan landlords to ban the use, possession, or cultivation on private property is set for a committee hearing this week. Senate Bill 783, sponsored by Sens. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) and James Marleau (R-Lake Orion), gets a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. Foes called the bill "hostile" and "unnecessary."

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic Drug Ban Bill Passes Alabama Senate. A bill that would expand Alabama's ban on new synthetic drugs passed the Senate last Thursday and now heads to the House. Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-3rd District), would add additional synthetic cannabinoids and other analogues to the ban. Next stop is the House Judiciary Committee.

(See the international section below for another synthetic drugs item.)

Law Enforcement

Meet NYPD's Most Sued Cops -- They're All Narcs. The New York Daily News reveals that 55 NYPD officers have been sued 10 times or more at a cost to the city of over $6 million. The Daily News then profiled the four officers with the most lawsuits filed against them. All four are narcotics officers. And for some reason, all four are still on the job.

Senators Still Looking for Answers on Customs Searches of Domestic Private Aircraft. It took holding up the nomination of current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to head Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but a pair of US senators finally got a response from CBP to their months-old question about how and why the border protection agency was stopping and searching private aircraft that had never left the US. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jim Risch (R-ID) put the hold on the nomination, and while CBP has responded, they say they are still not satisfied with the response and sent a February 12 letter requesting a briefing and additional written responses from DHS. Click on the title link to get all the details.

Sentencing

California Defelonization Sentencing Reform Initiative Cleared for Circulation. A sentencing reform initiative whose proponents are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and San Diego Police Chief William Landsdown has been approved for signature gathering. The initiative would require misdemeanor sentences instead of felonies for a number of petty crimes, including certain drug possession offenses. It would also require resentencing for people currently serving felony sentences for those offenses. It needs 504,000 valid voter signatures before the end of spring to qualify for the November ballot.

International

Olympics Drug Testers Raise Permissible Levels for Marijuana. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) has raised the permissible level of marijuana in athletes' urine from 15 nanograms per millileter to 150 nanograms. Although WADA considers marijuana to be a performance enhancing drug, it also conceded that it also "is a socially more or less an accepted drug being used in social context" and raised the threshold accordingly. "That's a reasonable attempt at dealing with a complicated matter and that was agreed upon as the best way to proceed with this particular issue," Arne Ljungqvist, head of the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, told reporters Saturday in Sochi. "There is a big debate on it."

Harsh New Synthetic Drug Laws Now in Effect in South Australia. New laws that heighten criminal penalties for selling or manufacturing synthetic stimulant drugs went into effect across South Australia today. In addition to increased prison sentences, the Controlled Substances (Offences) Amendment Bill 2013 also outlaws the "promotion" of synthetic drugs or causing another person to believe they caused effect similar to an illegal drug or similar to a legal stimulant. Those speech-crime offenses are punishable by up to two years in prison.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Bermuda. Members of the opposition People's National Party filed a marijuana decriminalization bill Friday. The Decriminalization of Cannabis Act would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to half an ounce, but Attorney General Mark Pettingill seemed quite perturbed by it, accusing the PNP of coming "swashbuckling in" with a "very badly thought out" bill.

Norway Approves Use of Naloxone for Overdose Reversal. Norway has Europe's worst overdose rate, and now the Scandinavian country is preparing a pilot program that will offer the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) in its two most populous cities, Oslo and Bergen, later this year. Since 2002, about 240 people have died each year in Norway from heroin overdoses, more than have died from traffic accidents.

Vancouver Clinic Seeks Federal Approval for Long-Running Safe Injection Site. The Dr. Peter Center, which has quietly provided supervised injection services for its clients since 2002, is now seeking a formal exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be able to do so legally. The move, which comes in the wake of a 2011 Canadian Supreme Court decision stopping the federal government from shutting down the Insite supervised injection site in the Downtown Eastside, has the support of the city and provincial governments.

Chronicle AM -- February 12, 2014

Overdose prevention is big news today as the drug czar chimes in in favor, more than a dozen congressmen call on Obama to re- or de-schedule marijuana, the Italian Supreme Court undoes a bad drug law, and more. Let's get to it:

Eighteen Congressmen Call for Marijuana Rescheduling or Descheduling. In a Wednesday letter to the White House, 18 congressmen urged President Obama to tell Attorney General Holder to ease up on marijuana. "We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II. Furthermore, one would hope that your Administration officials publicly reflect your views on this matter," said the letter signed by 17 Democrats and one Republican. The letter's lead author is Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Texas Governor Candidate Wendy Davis Says She Would Consider Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis told the Dallas Morning News editorial board she would consider decriminalizing marijuana possession and she supports medical marijuana. "We as a state need to think about the cost of that incarceration and, obviously, the cost to the taxpayers as a consequence of it, and whether we're really solving any problem for the state by virtue of incarcerations for small amounts of marijuana possession," Davis said. "I personally believe that medical marijuana should be allowed for. Certainly as governor I think it's important to be deferential to whether the state of Texas feels that it's ready for that."

Pennsylvania Governor Candidate Allyson Schwartz Calls for Decriminalization, Supports Medical Marijuana. Leading contender for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination US Rep. Allyson Schwartz told the Philadelphia Weekly Monday she favors decriminalization and medical marijuana. "I do believe that marijuana is over-criminalized. And what we should do is decriminalize possession," she said. She also said she would sign a pending medical marijuana bill. "If it came to my desk, I would be supportive," she said.

New Mexico Senate Rules Committee Stalls Marijuana Legalization Resolution. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernallillo) saw his Senate Joint Resolution 10 stalled on a tie vote in the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday. The bill would have legalized possession for those 21 and over and set up a regulated system of marijuana commerce.

New Mexico House Committee Approves Study of Legalization Effects. A measure that asks the Legislative Finance Committee to study the effects of marijuana legalization in other states passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Tuesday. House Memorial 38, filed by Rep. Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces), should now be headed for a House floor vote.

Arizona Decriminalization Bill for Small-Time Possession With Intent Filed. Rep. Mark Cardenas (D-Phoenix) has introduced a bill that decriminalizes possession with intent to sell of less than an ounce of pot, make possession of less than two pounds with intent to sell a petty offense, and make possession of more than two pounds with intent to sell a misdemeanor. The measure would also decriminalize growing if the yield is less than two pounds. The bill is House Bill 2474; it has been assigned to the House Judiciary and Rules committees.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Supporters Rally in Oklahoma City. Supporters of medical marijuana led by Oklahoma NORML rallied at Oklahoma State Capitol today, and also did lobbying and training.

Harm Reduction

Drug Czar Calls for Overdose Antidote Drug to Be More Widely Available. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) called Tuesday for making the overdose antidote drug naloxone (Narcan) more widely available. "The Obama Administration is encouraging first responders to carry the overdose-reversal drug naloxone," ONDCP said in a blog post. "When administered quickly and effectively, naloxone immediately restores breathing to a victim in the throes of an opioid overdose. Because police are often the first on the scene of an overdose, the administration strongly encourages local law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with this lifesaving drug… Used in concert with "Good Samaritan" laws, which grant immunity from criminal prosecution to those seeking medical help for someone experiencing an overdose, it can and will save lives."

Boston Mayor Calls for All First Responders to Carry Overdose Antidote. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh Tuesday responded to a spike in drug overdoses in the city by calling on all first responders to carry naloxone (Narcan), a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses. Both heroin and prescription opioid overdoses have jumped since 2009. Walsh announced a series of community workshops on the issue.

Indianapolis Police to Carry Overdose Antidote. Beginning next month, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police will begin a pilot program where police officers are trained in the use of and will carry with them naloxone (Narcan) to reverse overdoses. Heroin overdose deaths have doubled in the city since 2011.

Maine Governor Opposes Bill to Increase Access to Overdose Antidote. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) opposes a bill to make the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) more widely available, saying it would encourage drug use. The sponsor of the bill, Legislative Document 1209, Rep. Sara Gideon (D), said the governor's health policy advisor told her he would oppose the bill. "His main objection is his belief -- and I have to emphasize 'his belief' because there is no evidence that supports this at all -- his belief that increasing the availability of Narcan or naloxone will lead the drug user or drug abuser to have this feeling of invincibility," Gideon said. The Tea Party Republican governor last year vetoed bills to increase naloxone availability and create a Good Samaritan 911 law. Fatal heroin overdoses in the state quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.

Drugged Driving

New Mexico Drugged Driving Bill Advances. A drugged driving bill passed out of the House Transportation and Public Works Committee Tuesday. House Bill 190, filed by Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Albuquerque), would make driving with any detectable level of controlled substances, including marijuana and prescribed drugs evidence of driving under the influence of drugs. Such evidence would not automatically guarantee a conviction, but could be used to shore up prosecutions. The bill ran into opposition from, among others, the Drug Policy Alliance, which said it was likely to entrap regular users of marijuana or medical marijuana. The bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee.

Synthetic Drugs

Missouri Synthetic Drugs Bill Advances. A bill that adds several specific substances to the state's list of banned synthetic cannabinoids advanced on a voice vote in the House Tuesday. House Bill 1051 is designed "basically to stay ahead of or try to keep up with new chemicals as they come out," said bill sponsor Rep. Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains). The bill needs one more House vote before moving to the Senate.

International

Italian Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Equating Marijuana With Heroin. The Italian Supreme Court Tuesday struck down a 2006 law that removed the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drugs, stiffening prison sentences for marijuana and hash offenders, and filling the country's prisons with low-level pot offenders. The expectation is that thousands of them will soon be freed.

Groups Call for UN to Freeze Vietnam Anti-Drug Aid Over Death Penalty. Harm Reduction International and the anti-death penalty groups Reprieve and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty have called on the United Nations to freeze anti-drug aid for Vietnam after it sentencing 30 people to die for heroin trafficking. In a letter to the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), they said they had raised concern for several years about UN support for countries that impose the death penalty for drug offenses and that UNODC had internal human rights guidance that required it "to cease support for a country if it is feared the support may facilitate executions." UNODC had not replied as of Wednesday afternoon.

Marijuana Seeds Dropped from Slovak Controlled Substances List, New Drugs Added. President Ivan Gasparovic Tuesday signed legislation that will drop marijuana seeds from the list of illegal drugs in Slovakia because they do not contain cannabinoids. But the updated list will now include eight new drugs, including buphedrone, desoxypipradrol and 4-methylamphetamine, and it down-schedules GHB to allow doctors to prescribe drugs containing it.

(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM -- January 3, 2014

Today is one of those days when it seems like drug reform is all about marijuana. We have four domestic stories -- all about marijuana policy -- and two international stories--both about marijuana policy. And then there's the "Breaking Bad" contest winner thinking he's Florida's answer to Walter White. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Shops Did a Million Dollars in Business New Year's Day. According to Colorado's 9 News, shops across the state sold more than a million dollars worth of marijuana on the first day of legal sales. The state has estimated that sales could amount to as much as $600 million by year's end, but more shops are going to have to open and business remain brisk to reach that target.

New Mexico Senator Wants Referendum on Marijuana Legalization. State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) said Thursday he plans to file a bill for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. If approved by the legislature, the measure would go directly to voters in the November election.

New Hampshire House Votes on Marijuana Legalization Next Wednesday. The New Hampshire House will open its 2014 session next Wednesday with a vote on marijuana legalization. The bill before it, House Bill 492, would allow adults to use, possess, and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana with no penalty. The bill would also set up a taxed and regulated market for marijuana production and sale.

Galesburg, Illinois, Ponders Semi-Decriminalization of Marijuana. The Galesburg City Council is considering the approval of a new municipal law relaxing penalties for cannabis possession. Under the proposal, police could either arrest or ticket people caught possessing less than 2.5 grams. The city hopes to raise revenue from fines and redirect law enforcement resources.

Law Enforcement

"Breaking Bad" Contest Winner Busted for Cooking Drugs. In the life imitates art department, a Florida man who won a September contest to watch the series finale of AMC's "Breaking Bad" with the show's cast in Los Angeles has been arrested on charges he had a synthetic marijuana (not meth) lab in his home. Ryan Carroll faces one misdemeanor and two felony charges after his New Year's Eve arrest. "It's such a great show," Carroll said after winning the contest. "I think it's addicting because people can relate to the main character." Can you say foreshadowing?

International

Paraguay President Says No to Marijuana Legalization. Paraguayan President Horacio Cortes isn't taking a cue from neighboring Uruguay, which has legalized marijuana commerce. Cortes told the Associated Press Thursday he opposes legalization because marijuana is an addictive drug and he's seen former classmates "suffer and die" from its effects. Paraguay is the largest marijuana producer in South America, but its low-quality bulk product has the same cachet in South American that Mexican "brick weed" does in North America.

No Marijuana Legalization in the Philippines, Either. A spokesman for Filipino President Benigno Aquino III said Friday that the Philippines is not headed down the path of marijuana legalization. "It is prohibited under the Dangerous Drugs Act. It will remain as such until Congress amends the law," Malacanang Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said during a news briefing. Valte didn't encourage Congress to move in that direction.

Chronicle AM -- December 24, 2013

The first business licenses for legal marijuana shops have been issued in Colorado, dispensaries are delayed in Nevada, hemp is on the agenda in Kentucky, and Uruguay's legalization example is causing reflection in the region. And more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

In Historic Move, Colorado Issues First General Marijuana Business Licenses. The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division Monday issued 348 approved licenses for marijuana growers, processors, and retailers, making it the first state to issue such licenses. Some 136 of the licenses are for retail outlets. The marijuana business goes legit on January 1, although it's unclear how many pot shops will be open on day one.

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording of Legalization Initiative (Again). For the second time, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the wording of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana. He said there were ambiguities in the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment submitted by Marjorie LeClair. McDaniel has approved the language of two other marijuana initiatives, both relating to medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Dispensaries Delayed in Nevada. Although the law allowing dispensaries to operate in Nevada goes into effect April 1, don't expect to see any then. The state Division of Public and Behavioral Health says it needs to hire more staff and that it could be four months after April 1 before licenses are accepted, reviewed, and approved.

Hemp

Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission to Meet Monday. The state's Industrial Hemp Commission will meet Monday, December 30, at 1:00pm at the office of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to discuss the status of talks with the US Justice Department, hear reports from various committees, and present drafts of clean-up legislation and the annual commission report.

International

Uruguay Marijuana Legalization Prompting Neighbors to Rethink. Look out, it could be contagious! Uruguay's move to legalize marijuana is having a ripple effect in the region. Argentina' drug czar, Juan Carlos Molina, has now called for a public debate there about following Uruguay's footsteps, and said his boss, President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, wants a new approach, too. There are signs that Chile, too, may head down that path. Newly reelected socialist President Michelle Bachelet campaigned on reviewing marijuana's classification as a hard drug.

English-Language Details on Raided Belgian Cannabis Club. We reported last week on the harassment by police of the Mambo Cannabis Social Club in Hasselt, Belgium, and the arrest of its founder, Michel Degens, but the only link we had was in Dutch. Here, thanks to the folks at NORML UK, is an English language backgrounder and update on the situation. Click on the link.

Ban on Non-Dutch in Cannabis Cafes Not Illegal Nor Discriminatory, Advocate General Says. Leen Keus, the advocate general for the Council of State, said Tuesday that banning non-residents from cannabis cafes is not illegal nor discriminatory. The ban is not against Dutch, European, or international law, Keus said. His comments come as the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, prepares a ruling on whether the government was correct in closing two Maastricht cannabis cafes because they refused to implement the ban. Among other things, the advocate general is charged with issuing legal opinions on matters before the court.

New Zealand Synthetic Cannabis Shop Draws Crowds, Controversy, Vandalism. New Zealand this year chose to regulate synthetic drugs instead of banning them, but that doesn't mean controversy and problems have gone away. The U njo Y shop in East Hamilton is drawing both large crowds of people who want to get high on synthetic cannabinoids and scathing criticism from some members of the community for the "anti-social behavior" it is accused of generating. And speaking of anti-social behavior, the shop is now the target of vandals, who have glued its doors shut and hurled marbles at its windows.

Florida Attorney General Bans "Crazy Clown" Drug

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi Wednesday filed an emergency rule criminalizing four related synthetic cannabinoid drugs, including one being marketed under the name "Crazy Clown," her office announced in a press release. The emergency move makes the new synthetics Schedule I controlled substances under Florida law.

The four substances are B-PINACA, AB-FUBINACA, ADB-PINACA, and Fluoro ABDICA. They have been tentatively identified as cannabinoid receptor agonists, similar to an earlier round of synthetic cannabinoids that have been marketed under names such as "Spice" and "K2." Those drugs are banned under federal law and are illegal in a number of states as well.

Georgia banned the drugs last month under a synthetic drugs analog law, and now neighboring Florida has moved to do so, too.

The move came after a spate of media reports and law enforcement warnings in August and September about users suffering ill effects from "Crazy Clown," including nausea, vomiting, and violent behavior. But there has been no reported follow-up on those initial accounts.

"I will remain vigilant in my efforts to keep these drugs off store shelves and will continue to outlaw emergent synthetic drug compounds. These drugs pose a serious threat to Floridians, particularly our youth," said Attorney General Bondi.

"While synthetic drugs are marketed as safe alternatives to illegal drugs, make no mistake; these synthetics are dangerous," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. "Adding these four new concoctions to Florida's schedule 1 drug list strengthens our fight. We will continue our efforts with Attorney General Bondi to identify illegal chemicals and react swiftly."

Bondi said she will work with the state legislature to permanently ban them next year.

While Bondi's action is of a piece with the reflexive prohibitionist response to the earlier new synthetics apparent both in Washington and in state houses around the country, banning new synthetic drugs is not the only possible response to them. New Zealand made headlines worldwide when instead of banning them, it moved to regulate new synthetics.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

The Top Ten Drug Policy Stories of 2012 [FEATURE]

In some ways, 2012 has been a year of dramatic, exciting change in drug policy, as the edifice of global drug prohibition appears to crumble before our eyes. In other ways it is still business as usual in the drug war. Marijuana prohibition is now mortally wounded, but there were still three-quarters of a million pot arrests last year. The American incarceration mania appears to be running its course, but drug arrests continue to outnumber any other category of criminal offense. There is a rising international clamor for a new drug paradigm, but up until now, it's just talk.

The drug prohibition paradigm is trembling, but it hasn't collapsed yet -- we are on the cusp of even more interesting times. Below, we look at the biggest drug policy stories of 2012 and peer a bit into the future:

1. Colorado and Washington Legalize Marijuana!

Voters in Colorado and Washington punched an enormous and historic hole in the wall of marijuana prohibition in November. While Alaska has for some years allowed limited legal possession in the privacy of one's home, thanks to the privacy provisions of the state constitution, the November elections marked the first time voters in any state have chosen to legalize marijuana. This is an event that has made headlines around the world, and for good reason -- it marks the repudiation of pot prohibition in the very belly of the beast.

And it isn't going away. The federal government may or may not be able to snarl efforts by the two states to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce, but few observers think it can force them to recriminalize marijuana possession. It's now legal to possess up to an ounce in both states and to grow up to six plants in Colorado and -- barring a sudden reversal of political will in Washington or another constitutional amendment in Colorado -- it's going to stay that way. The votes in Colorado and Washington mark the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition.

2. Nationally, Support for Marijuana Legalization Hits the Tipping Point

If Colorado and Washington are the harbingers of change, the country taken as a whole is not far behind, at least when it comes to public opinion. All year, public opinion polls have showed support for marijuana legalization hovering right around 50%, in line with last fall's Gallup poll that showed steadily climbing support for legalization and support at 50% for the first time. A Gallup poll this month showed a 2% drop in support, down to 48%, but that's within the margin of error for the poll, and it's now a downside outlier.

Four other polls released this month
demonstrate a post-election bump for legalization sentiment. Support for legalization came in at 47%, 51%, 54%, and 57%, including solid majority support in the West and Northeast. The polls also consistently find opposition to legalization strongest among older voters, while younger voters are more inclined to free the weed.

As Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown put it after his survey came up with 51% support for legalization, "This is the first time Quinnipiac University asked this question in its national poll so there is no comparison from earlier years. It seems likely, however, that given the better than 2-1 majority among younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."

Caravan for Peace vigil, Brownsville, Texas, August 2012
3. Global Rejection of the Drug War

International calls for alternatives to drug prohibition continued to grow ever louder this year. Building on the work of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the voices for reform took to the stage at global venues such as the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, in April, the International AIDS Conference in Washington in July, and at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

While calls for a new paradigm came from across the globe, including commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, this was the year of the Latin American dissidents. With first-hand experience with the high costs of enforcing drug prohibition, regional leaders including Colombian President Santos, Guatemalan President Perez Molina, Costa Rican President Chinchilla, and even then-Mexican President Calderon all called this spring for serious discussion of alternatives to the drug war, if not outright legalization. No longer was the critique limited to former presidents.

That forced US President Obama to address the topic at the Summit of the Americas and at least acknowledge that "it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain places" before dismissing legalization as a policy option. But the clamor hasn't gone away -- instead, it has only grown louder -- both at the UN in the fall and especially since two US states legalized marijuana in November.

While not involved in the regional calls for an alternative paradigm, Uruguayan President Mujica made waves with his announcement of plans to legalize the marijuana commerce there (possession was never criminalized). That effort appears at this writing to have hit a bump in the road, but the proposal and the reaction to it only added to the clamor for change.

4. Mexico's Drug War: The Poster Child for Drug Legalization

Mexico's orgy of prohibition-related violence continues unabated with its monstrous death toll somewhere north of 50,000 and perhaps as high as 100,000 during the Calderon sexenio, which ended this month. Despite all the killings, despite Calderon's strategy of targeting cartel capos, despite the massive deployment of the military, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid for the military campaign, the flow of drugs north and guns and money south continues largely unimpeded and Mexico -- and now parts of Central America, as well -- remain in the grip of armed criminals who vie for power with the state itself.

With casualty figures now in the range of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars and public safety and security in tatters, Calderon's misbegotten drug war has become a lightning rod for critics of drug prohibition, both at home and around the world. In the international discussion of alternatives to the status quo -- and why we need them -- Mexico is exhibit #1.

And there's no sign things are going to get better any time soon. While Calderon's drug war may well have cost him and his party the presidency (and stunningly returned it to the old ruling party, the PRI, only two elections after it was driven out of office in disgrace), neither incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto nor the Obama administration are showing many signs they are willing to take the bold, decisive actions -- like ending drug prohibition -- that many serious observers on all sides of the spectrum say will be necessary to tame the cartels.

The Mexican drug wars have also sparked a vibrant and dynamic civil society movement, the Caravan for Peace and Justice, led by poet and grieving father Javier Sicilia. After crisscrossing Mexico last year, Sicilia and his fellow Mexican activists crossed the border this summer for a three-week trek across the US, where their presence drew even more attention to the terrible goings on south of the border.

5. Medical Marijuana Continues to Spread, Though the Feds Fight Back

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and while there was only one new one this year, this has been a year of back-filling. Medical marijuana dispensaries have either opened or are about to open in a number of states where it has been legal for years but delayed by slow or obstinate elected officials (Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, DC) or in states that more recently legalized it (Massachusetts).

None of the newer medical marijuana states are as wide open as California, Colorado, or Montana (until virtual repeal last year), as with each new state, the restrictions seem to grow tighter and the regulation and oversight more onerous and constricting. Perhaps that will protect them from the tender mercies of the Justice Department, which, after two years of benign neglect, changed course last year, undertaking concerted attacks on dispensaries and growers in all three states. That offensive was ongoing throughout 2012, marked by federal prosecutions and medical marijuana providers heading to federal prison in Montana. While federal prosecutions have been less resorted to in California and Colorado, federal raids and asset forfeiture threat campaigns have continued, resulting in the shuttering of dozens of dispensaries in Colorado and hundreds in California. There is no sign of a change of heart at the Justice Department, either.

6. The Number of Drug War Prisoners is Decreasing

The Bureau of Justice Statistics announced recently that the number of people in America's state and federal prisons had declined for the second year in a row at year's end 2011. The number and percentage of drug war prisoners is declining, too. A decade ago, the US had nearly half a million people behind bars on drug charges; now that number has declined to a still horrific 330,000 (not including people doing local jail time). And while a decade ago, the percentage of people imprisoned for drug charges was somewhere between 20% and 25% of all prisoners, that percentage has now dropped to 17%.

That decline is mostly attributable to sentencing reforms in the states, which, unlike the federal government, actually have to balance their budgets. Especially as economic hard times kicked in in 2008, spending scarce taxpayer resources on imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders became fiscally and politically less tenable. The passage of the Proposition 36 "three strikes" sentencing reform in California in November, which will keep people from being sentenced to up to life in prison for trivial third offenses, including drug possession, is but the latest example of the trend away from mass incarceration for drug offenses.

The federal government is the exception. While state prison populations declined last year (again), the federal prison population actually increased by 3.1%. With nearly 95,000 drug offenders doing federal time, the feds alone account for almost one-third of all drug war prisoners.

President Obama could exercise his pardon power by granting clemency to drug war prisoners, but it is so far a power he has been loathe to exercise. An excellent first candidate for presidential clemency would be Clarence Aaron, the now middle-aged black man who has spent the past two decades behind bars for his peripheral role in a cocaine deal, but activists in California and elsewhere are also calling for Obama to free some of the medical marijuana providers now languishing in federal prisons. The next few days would be the time for him to act, if he is going to act this year.

7. But the Drug War Juggernaut Keeps On Rolling, Even if Slightly Out of Breath

NYC "stop and frisk" protest of mass marijuana arrests
According to annual arrest data released this summer by the FBI, more than 1.53 million people were arrested on drug charges last year, nearly nine out of ten of them for simple possession, and nearly half of them on marijuana charges. The good news is that is a decline in drug arrests from 2010. That year, 1.64 million people were arrested on drug charges, meaning the number of overall drug arrests declined by about 110,000 last year. The number of marijuana arrests is also down, from about 850,000 in 2010 to about 750,000 last year.

But that still comes out to a drug arrest every 21 seconds and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, and no other single crime category generated as many arrests as drug law violations. The closest challengers were larceny (1.24 million arrests), non-aggravated assaults (1.21 million), and DWIs (1.21 million). All violent crime arrests combined totaled 535,000, or slightly more than one-third the number of drug arrests.

The war on drugs remains big business for law enforcement and prosecutors.

8. And So Does the Call to Drug Test Public Benefits Recipients

Oblivious to constitutional considerations or cost-benefit analyses, legislators (almost always Republican) in as many as 30 states introduced bills that would have mandated drug testing for welfare recipients, people receiving unemployment benefits, or, in a few cases, anyone receiving any public benefit, including Medicaid recipients. Most would have called for suspicionless drug testing, which runs into problems with that pesky Fourth Amendment requirement for a search warrant or probable cause to undertake a search, while some attempted to get around that obstacle by only requiring drug testing upon suspicion. But that suspicion could be as little as a prior drug record or admitting to drug use during intake screening.

Still, when all the dust had settled, only three states -- Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee -- actually passed drug testing bills, and only Georgia's called for mandatory suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. Bill sponsors may have been oblivious, but other legislators and stakeholders were not. And the Georgia bill is on hold, while the state waits to see whether the federal courts will strike down the Florida welfare drug testing bill on which it is modeled. That law is currently blocked by a federal judge's temporary injunction.

It wasn't just Republicans. In West Virginia, Democratic Gov. Roy Tomblin used an executive order to impose drug testing on applicants to the state's worker training program. (This week came reports that only five of more than 500 worker tests came back positive.) And the Democratic leadership in the Congress bowed before Republican pressures and okayed giving states the right to impose drug testing requirements on some unemployment recipients in return for getting an extension of unemployment benefits.

This issue isn't going away. Legislators in several states, including Indiana, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia have already signaled they will introduce similar bills next year, and that number is likely to increase as solons around the country return to work.

9. The US Bans New Synthetic Drugs

In July, President Obama signed a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The bill targeted 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. The drugs had previously been banned under emergency action by the DEA.

The federal ban came after more than half the states moved against the new synthetics, which have been linked to a number of side effects ranging from the inconvenient (panic attacks) to the life-threatening. States and localities continue to move against the new drugs, too.

While the federal ban demonstrates that the prohibitionist reflex is still strong, what is significant is the difficulty sponsors had in getting the bill passed. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) put a personal hold on the bill until mandatory minimum sentencing requirements were removed and also argued that such efforts were the proper purview of the states, not Washington. And for the first time, there were a substantial number of Congress members voting "no" on a bill to create a new drug ban.

10. Harm Reduction Advances by Fits and Starts, At Home and Abroad

Harm reduction practices -- needle exchanges, safer injection sites, and the like -- continued to expand, albeit fitfully, in both the US and around the globe. Faced with a rising number of prescription pain pill overdoses in the US -- they now outnumber auto accident fatalities -- lawmakers in a number of states have embraced "911 Good Samaritan" laws granting immunity from prosecution. Since New Mexico passed the first such law in 2007, nine others have followed. Sadly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the New Jersey bill this year.

Similarly, the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone, which can reverse overdoses and restore normal breathing in minutes, also expanded this year. A CDC report this year that estimated it had saved 10,000 lives will only help spread the word.

There has been movement internationally as well this year, including in some unlikely places. Kenya announced in June that it was handing out 50,000 syringes to injection drug users in a bid to reduce the spread of AIDS, and Colombia announced in the fall plans to open safe consumption rooms for cocaine users in Bogota. That's still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs unanimously supported a resolution calling on the World Health Organization and other international bodies to promote measures to reduce overdose deaths, including the expanded use of naloxone; Greece announced it was embracing harm reduction measures, including handing out needles and condoms, to fight AIDS; long-awaited Canadian research called for an expansion of safe injection sites to Toronto and Ottawa; and Denmark first okayed safe injection sites in June, then announced it is proposing that heroin in pill form be made available to addicts. Denmark is one of a handful of European countries that provide maintenance doses of heroin to addicts, but to this point, the drug was only available for injection. France, too, announced it was going ahead with safe injection sites, which could be open by the time you read this.  

This has been another year of slogging through the mire, with some inspiring victories and some oh-so-hard-fought battles, not all of which we won. But after a century of global drug prohibition, the tide appears to be turning, not least here in the US, prohibition's most powerful proponent. There is a long way to go, but activists and advocates can be forgiven if they feel like they've turned a corner. Now, we can put 2012 to bed and turn our eyes to the year ahead.

Obama Signs Synthetic Drug Ban Bill

President Barack Obama Monday signed into law a bill banning the synthetic drugs known popularly as "bath salts" and "fake weed." The language barring the substances was inserted into the Food and Drug Administration safety bill passed last month by the Congress.

Bye-bye Spice, hello...? (wikimedia.org)
The bill targets 31 specific synthetic stimulant, cannabinoid, and hallucinogenic compounds. Marketed under brand names like K2 and Spice for synthetic cannabinoids and under names like Ivory Wave, among others, for synthetic stimulants, the drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years.

With their rising popularity came rising reports of emergency room visits and poison control center calls attributed to the drugs. Synthetic cannabinoids have been linked to symptoms similar to those suffered by people who sought medical help after smoking marijuana, while the adverse reactions reported by "bath salts" users have been more serious.

More than half the states and numerous localities have moved to ban some of these new synthetics, and the DEA placed both groups of substances under an emergency ban until Congress acted.

Congressional advocates of the prohibitionist approach to new synthetics were pleased.

"President Obama's swift approval of this federal ban is the final nail in the coffin for the legal sale of bath salts in smoke shops and convenient stores in New York State and throughout the rest of the country," said Schumer in a press release (which also includes a complete list of the 31 banned substances). "This law will close loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensure that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly bath salts, and I'm pleased that after a great deal of effort, it has become law. We have seen bath salts catalyze some of the most heinous crimes in recent months across Upstate New York, and the President's signature ensures that the federal government can fight this scourge with a united front, across state lines and at our borders."

Schumer used the occasion to take a jab at Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who had placed a senatorial hold on the bill, blocking it for months over his concerns about mandatory minimum sentences before removing the hold after the bill's sentencing structure was modified. Schumer gloated that Congress passed the bill "over the strenuous objections" of Paul.

While Schumer and his colleagues claimed the bill will suppress the new synthetics, others were not so certain.

New York state anti-synthetic activist Deirdre Canaday, whose 26-year-old son Aaron Stinson died last year after smoking a form of fake weed called Mr. Nice Guy, told a local TV news station the ban addressed only a handful of potential new synthetic drugs.

"I think if the American public isn't careful, they'll think this issue has been addressed when this is really just the tip of the iceberg," she said. "By specifically labeling chemical compounds, they are creating an open door for these basement and garage chemists to create analogs, which is branching out from the original compound, and differing just slightly, and it still has the same effect," said Canaday.

Washington, DC
United States

Japan to Ban New Synthetic Drugs

The Japanese government will ban four new synthetic drugs in August, according to Japanese press reports. The four drugs are the synthetic cannabinoids JWH-018 and cannabicyclohexanol and the synthetic stimulants mephedrone and MDPV.

mephedrone among new synthetic drugs to be banned in Japan
The synthetic cannabinoids are commonly sold as incense and marketed in the US under brand names like Spice and K2. The synthetic stimulants are commonly sold as plant fertilizer and marketed under names such as Ivory Wave. The two types of synthetic drugs are commonly referred to as "fake pot" and "bath salts," respectively.

The compounds have been banned in the European Union, and numerous states in the US have also taken action to prohibit them. Legislation is pending in the US Congress to ban them as well, and both sets of drugs are currently banned federally under emergency DEA edicts.

The Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will designate the four synthetic drugs as "narcotics" under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law and is working on a blanket regulation that would allow it to impose the same designation on new drugs with slightly differing chemical compositions but that have similar effects to the banned substances.

Japanese health authorities have reported 114 cases of "health problems" associated with the use of the synthetic drugs, but there is no reporting on how many of those cases were associated with synthetic cannabinoids or how many were associated with synthetic stimulants. The adverse reactions to synthetic stimulants are more severe than those associated with synthetic cannabinoids. Authorities in Japan have also reported a number of cases of people injuring others while driving under the influence of the new synthetics.

Tokyo
Japan

US Senate Passes Synthetic Drug Ban, Without Mandatory Minimums [FEATURE]

The Senate has passed House Resolution 1254, the Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2011, which would federally criminalize the possession, distribution, and manufacture of synthetic cannabinoids ("fake marijuana") and synthetic stimulants ("bath salts"). The measure has already passed the House, and President Obama is expected to quickly sign it into law.

The synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as "herbal incense" and sold under brand names such as K2 and Spice, while the synthetic stimulants are marketed as "bath salts" and sold under a variety of names, including Ivory Wave and Vanilla Sky. Poison control centers and emergency rooms around the country have reported a sharp increase in synthetic drug incidents in the past two years, with Spice users reporting adverse effects similar to those sometimes reported with marijuana, while bath salts users have suffered more serious adverse effects, including hallucinations, psychotic breaks, and death.

Fake pot or bath salts or both are already banned in a number of states, and more states are considering criminalizing them. Both types of drugs have already been subject to emergency bans by the DEA while its legislatively mandated process for evaluating new drugs proceeds.

A widely publicized incident over the weekend in which a man chewed off parts of another man's face before being shot and killed by police has heightened concerns about the new synthetics, generating headlines like "Miami cannibal zombie-like attack linked to powerful 'bath salts' drug," but at this point, such claims are pure speculation. Police in the case have also posited "a new form of LSD" and "cocaine psychosis" to explain the attack, but any real information will have to await a toxicologist's report.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had single-handedly blocked passage of the bill for months by placing a senatorial hold on it. Paul objected to harsh mandatory minimum sentences in the bill, as well as to further broadening of the federal war on drugs.

But bill supporters, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), resorted to a parliamentary maneuver to get it passed. They quietly attached it to an FDA regulatory bill, which the Senate passed last Wednesday.

Sen. Rand Paul got mandatory minimums removed
Still, Sen. Paul was able to insert language into the bill specifying that the Controlled Substance Act's mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for anyone supplying a drug that causes severe bodily harm or death to a user does not apply to the newly banned synthetics. That's because in order to get the FDA bill approved by Memorial Day, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who actually sponsored the amendment adding the synthetics to the FDA bill, had to win unanimous consent for his amendment. Paul agreed not to object after Portman inserted the language about the mandatory minimums.

The bill still contains draconian sentencing provisions, including sentences of up to 20 years for a first sale or manufacturing offense and up to 30 years for a subsequent offense.

The bill's sponsors said after the vote that its passage would strike a strong blow against the new synthetics, but industry advocates and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) disagree.

"Let this be a warning to those who make a profit manufacturing and selling killer chemical components to our teens and children: the jig is up," Schumer said in a statement. "This bill closes loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensures that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly synthetic drugs."

"These new designer drugs can kill, and if we don't take action, they are going to become more and more prevalent and put more and more people at risk," Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another sponsor of the bill said in a statement. "Today's action is good news for this critical legislation to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs before they put more lives in danger, and I will continue to work to ensure these provisions are signed into law."

But the Retail Compliance Association (RCA), which represents smoke shop and convenience store operators and which opposed the bill, pointed out that the bill only bans five chemical families and only names 15 synthetic cannabinoids. Many of those compounds are already off the market, the RCA said, adding that the bill does not include hundreds of additional compounds unrelated to the chemical families banned under it.

"This bill will be touted as banning what law enforcement has deemed 'fake pot,' but it does no such thing; it actually only bans a few of the potential ingredients of these products, by no means the products themselves," said RCA spokesman Dan Francis. "The bill's range of enforcement may well be limited to the specifically named compounds because labs cannot test for chemical families, nor can the police or retailers. The products are tested by many different levels of this industry, and no lab I have spoken with has a test to determine the chemical family," Francis added.

The CBO, for its part, published a cost analysis of the bill in November that found its impact would be minimal.

"Based on information from industry and law enforcement experts, CBO expects that, by the date of the legislation's enactment, most vendors will have largely replaced the banned substances with new products because many states have already passed legislation banning some or all of the compounds listed in the bill and because the DEA has already issued emergency rules temporarily banning five cannabimimetic agents and three synthetic stimulants," the analysis found.

Still, Congress can pat itself on the back for "doing something" about the new synthetic drugs -- whether or not it actually does anything good.

Washington, DC
United States

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