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Check Those Pills! Harm Reduction and Club Drugs [FEATURE]

[This article was written in partnership with Alternet, and was originally published here.]

With the holiday break coming up soon, millions of young Americans will be looking to party. And tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them will be looking to stimulant drugs, especially Ecstasy (MDMA), to help them dance to the throbbing beats far into the night. MDMA is a synthetic stimulant with a chemical structure related to both methamphetamine and mescaline. It's great at providing the energy for partying the night away with a psychedelic tinge. The new scene drug, Molly, is simply Ecstasy in powdered form.

According to the 2013 National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 17 million Americans have taken Ecstasy at least once, more than a half million reported taking it within the past month, and about three-quarters of a million reported taking it for the first time that year. Those monthly-use and first-use figures have been roughly stable for the past few years.

Some of those fun-seekers are going to take too much. And some of them are going to end up ingesting something they thought was Ecstasy, but wasn't. And one or two or three of them might die. Despite breathless media reports, people dying from Ecstasy or from what they thought was Ecstasy or what they thought was a drug like Ecstasy, is not that big a problem, especially compared with the 16,000 or so people who died last year from opiate overdoses. The number of Ecstasy-related deaths each year ranges from the single digits to the low dozens.

Still it is a problem. Any avoidable death is a problem, and those deaths are largely avoidable. They occur because of varying combinations of ignorance, greed and bad public policy. Some people are working to prevent those deaths, and the work extends from the club or rave or festival door to the halls of power in Washington.

The harm reduction group Dance Safe is among those doing that work. The small non-profit offers educational services, encourages people to submit their pills for testing ("drug checking"), and has informational booths at venues that will let them.

Where 20 years ago, the Ecstasy and party drug scene was largely limited to word-of-mouth raves, things have changed, said Dance Safe executive director Missi Wooldridge.

"We've seen a real explosion in the scene that has been transformed from an underground rave culture to a real mainstream electronic dance music culture," she said. "People are likely to experiment with drugs at raves and dances, as well as with friends at parties or night clubs."

They are also likely to be ingesting either adulterated Ecstasy or other new synthetic drugs misleadingly marketed as Ecstasy. That is reflected in reports on drug checking websites such as Pill Reports and Ecstasy Data, as well as drug discussion forums like Bluelight.

Pill Reports warns that Yellow Pacman tablets found earlier this month in Kansas and Texas contain not MDMA but the synthetic methylone, a methcathinone stimulant that is a chemical analog to MDMA, but is not MDMA. And at least two different pills currently being peddled in Canada as Ecstasy are actually methamphetamine.

"A lot of what we're seeing is the new psychoactive substances infiltrating the market and the scene," said Wooldridge. "People can purchase these substances online. I see a lot of positive results for methcathinone, MDPV, methylone, and the like. Similarly, people think they're taking LSD, but it's actual N-Bomb, or maybe ketamine. People operate under misconceptions about what they're taking, and that can be serious because there are lots of differences in things like onset, duration and potency."

Educated, sophisticated drug consumers may take advantage of drug checking services, as well as have advanced understandings of drug potency, duration and the like, but they are a minority. Most people just want to party, and they want to do it with Ecstasy.

"In contrast with some places in Europe, the market for people seeking out new synthetics is very small in the US," said Stefanie Jones, nightlife community engagement manager at the Drug Policy Alliance "But that doesn't mean they're not here. Many of the people buying them are after MDMA, but here in the US, the market is young people, and many are not that well-informed or familiar with notions like drug checking to see what's in that powder. It's largely an uninformed market, so there's a lot of adulteration."

Dance Safe's Wooldridge concurred.

Web sites like Pillreports.com will tell you whether your pills are bunk. Don't eat the Yellow Pacman! It's methylone.
"People are taking these substances unknowingly for the most part, rather than checking them out," the Denver-based activist said. "There is a relatively small segment that is into the experimentation and the understanding, but most users are not that sophisticated and are taking these drugs without really knowing what they are."

When people die, as two people did at New York's massive Electric Zoo festival last year, the pressure is on promoters and club owners to crack down on drugs, to increase security, even to decrease or do away with harm reduction measures out of fear of appearing to encourage drug use. In large part, that's because of the RAVE Act, a 2003 law sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) that threatens owners and promoters with possible criminal sanctions for encouraging drug use.

"The RAVE Act is the elephant in the room," said Wooldridge. "Its intent wasn't to harm or prosecute legitimate event producers, but to expand the crack house laws and go after people solely having events for drug use or sales. But there has been an unintended consequence. People in the industry fear that if they attempt to address drug use they'll be help legally liable for overdoses or other emergencies. Their legal teams and insurance companies say to stay clear, turn a blind eye, but that increases the risks. We need to educate the lawyers and insurers on this. Show me a case where an event producer has been prosecuted for doing harm reduction."

"If the law is making owners scared, we should change the law so they are explicitly protected," said Jones. "Put the focus on the health and safety of the patrons. Including harm reduction shouldn't be seen as encouraging drug activity, but as prioritizing health and safety. Changing the law at the federal level would send a message to the industry that harm reduction is valuable and you won't get in trouble, and that could change the landscape of festivals."

One woman is working to do just that. Dede Goldsmith didn't mean to become a reformer, but when her daughter, Shelley, a University of Virginia student, died after taking Ecstasy at Washington, DC electronic music show the same weekend at the Electonic Zoo last year, that's what happened.

She told Vox in an October interview that when one of Shelley's friends told her Shelley had taken Molly, her first response was, "Who is Molly?" In her search for answers, she came to the realization that Molly didn't kill her daughter; federal drug prohibition and policies that discourage education about safe drug use did.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death in August, Goldsmith launched the Amend the RAVE Act campaign. Its goal, Goldsmith says, is "to make EDM festivals and concerts safer for our young people. Specifically, I am asking for language to be added to the law to make it clear that event organizers and venue owners can implement safety measures to reduce the risk of medical emergencies, including those associated with drug use, without fear of prosecution by federal authorities. As the law currently stands, many owners believe that they will be accused of 'maintaining a drug involved premises' under the act if they institute such measures, opening themselves to criminal or civil prosecution."

Irony alert: Shelley Goldsmith meets RAVE Act author Joe Biden a year before she died on Ecstasy. (amendtheraveact.org)
"It's not that producers don't care, it’s that they're terrified," said Wooldridge. "Amending the RAVE Act can be a way to organize the community so people don't fear law enforcement if they're addressing drug use. What's more detrimental—a fatal overdose or having harm reduction teams and medical teams on site?"

"The campaign is just getting underway," said Jones. "They're collecting signatures, and Dede is just having first meetings with legislators to try to get them on board, to try to get some bipartisan support."

In the meantime, other steps can be taken.  

"One of the biggest things we can do is to educate with a true public health approach," Wooldridge said. "We need to have honest conversations and we need to implement drug testing; we have to have that opportunity to create an early warning system when these substances begin to appear."

"Education is really, really critical," said Jones. "We need to be able to get real drug education out to young people and meet them where they are. We need to be explicit about what the drugs are, what they look like, what the common dose it. Integrating harm reduction practices into the culture is also really important, and Dance Safe is great at that."

An effective means of tracking new and available drugs, such as a publicly funded, more comprehensive version of the drug checking websites would also be useful. But that requires someone willing to spend the money.

"We don't really have a surveillance system set up to track these new psychoactive substances," Wooldridge complained. "We don't have the public health monitoring. As a non-profit, we do some of that on a small scale, but we don't have the capacity or the resources to really do the job. What are the priorities and where is the funding to collect the data?"

"Changing policy to allow for drug checking is also an important avenue to pursue," said Jones. "If we're going to be in a world where drugs remain illegal, we will continue to have problems with imitations and new synthetics, with people not knowing what they're getting. That would be the least we can do."

There is one other obvious response.

"It's unrealistic to think we can keep drugs out of clubs and bars and festivals. Trying to do that causes more harm than good," Wooldridge said. "We need to be realistic and recognize drug use first and foremost as a health concern, not a criminal justice issue. These drugs are often being sold as something they're not, and that's because of prohibition and the black market," said Wooldridge. "One obvious option is legalization and regulation. Then you'd have quality control and you wouldn't need all this drug-checking."

But we're not there yet. Until we are, people are going to have to watch out for themselves and for each other. Check those drugs, kids!

Chronicle AM: Budget Bill Would Block DC Legalization, Also Blocks Federal MedMJ Enforcement, More (12/10/14)

With the budget bill, Congress moves to block DC's voter-approved pot legalization, but also to block federal enforcement actions against medical marijuana where it is legal, a DC protest on the legalization move is set for this afternoon, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Congressional Budget Deal Seeks to Block DC Legalization. The leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill Tuesday night that includes language seeking to block the District of Columbia from implementing the Measure 71 legalization initiative overwhelmingly approved by District voters. A bill summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee says the bill, which will be considered by the House and Senate later this week, "prohibits both federal and local funds from being used to implement a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana use in the District." While reform advocates were disappointed with outcome, some are suggesting that the bill's language can be parsed in such a way to render the congressional ban moot. That remains to be seen.

DC Protest Against Congressional Interference Set For Tonight. The DC Cannabis Campaign, sponsors of the DC legalization initiative, has announced a march on the US Capitol tonight to protest Congress's move to override the voters' decision to legalize marijuana in the District. Marchers will gather at the Justice Department at 9th and Pennsylvania NW at 5:00pm, then march to the Capitol at 6:00pm.

Anti-Marijuana Speakers Heckled at DC Heritage Foundation Event. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), author of the budget bill amendment attempting to block legalization in DC, along with Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), another strong opponent of letting the District set its own marijuana laws, were greeted by hecklers at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday. "I don't want to listen to these lies," shouted one heckler as Harris took the podium. "The people voted," a second shouted. Harris laughed when asked about the heckler, then proceeded to claim that legalizing marijuana would lead to increased teen drug use -- a claim that has not been borne out so far in states that have legalized it.

Medical Marijuana

Congressional Budget Deal Blocks Federal Interference in Medical Marijuana States. In a deal hammered out Tuesday evening, the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees agreed on a budget bill that includes a measure curbing Justice Department enforcement efforts in states where medical marijuana is legal. The measure, in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed the House back in May. The relevant section of the bill, Section 538, lists all the states that have some form of legalized medical marijuana and says, "None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used… to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana." The bill also includes similar language barring the use of Justice Department funds to interfere with hemp research authorized under the already approved Agricultural Act of 2014.

Drug Testing

Florida Governor's Drug Testing Crusade Costing State's Taxpayers. The state has racked up at least $307,000 in legal fees and court costs as it tried in vain to defend Gov. Rick Scott's (R) unconstitutional law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants. And taxpayers are likely to shell out even more -- in legal fees to the ACLU of Florida, which took the state to federal court over the law. The bill could rise even higher if Scott decides to appeal the four federal court decisions that have found the law unconstitutional.

International

Isle of Jersey Rejects Islander's Requests to Use Medical Marijuana. Jersey's drug law allows the health minister to issue license for possess marijuana for "special purposes," but the island's parliament has voted against allowing three residents to use medical marijuana products. "It is unlikely that 'special purpose' was ever intended to cover medicinal use," said one senator. "While the law allows for the minister for health and social services to issue a licence for research and special purposes it does not provide for the minister to step into the shoes of a doctor and, in effect, take clinical decisions in respect of an individual case."

Indonesian President to Ban Clemency for Drug Offenders Facing Execution. President Joko Widodo said Tuesday that he plans to enforce the death penalty for people convicted of drug crimes. There are currently 64 drug offenders on death row, and he said he would reject clemency requests for them. "They are not on my table yet. But I guarantee that there will be no clemency for convicts who committed narcotics-related crimes," Jokowi said. The government's insistence on implementing the death penalty has drawn criticism from human rights defenders in the country.

India Cops Do "Workarounds" to Bust Mephedrone Sellers. The synthetic psychedelic stimulant drug mephedrone is not illegal under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, and police are resorting to workarounds to "curb the menace." Mumbai police have instructed officers to arrest sellers under the penal code's offense of selling poison. And some police have even arrested sellers by charging them with selling methamphetamine, which mephedrone is not.

Chronicle AM: GOP Still Going After DC Pot Laws, FL Welfare Drug Test Law Blocked, More (12/4/14)

The GOP is yet to give up the ghost on blocking DC marijuana reforms, NYC Mayor de Blasio's new no-arrest pot possession policy is having an impact, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing bill gets rejected by a federal appeals court, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Republican Effort to Block DC Decriminalization, Legalization Still Lives. Key Republican House and Senate members are set to decide whether to accept a policy rider from Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) that would block federal funds from being used to legalize or reduce penalties for pot, Roll Call reports. The rider is the form of an amendment to the DC appropriations bill. "It seems like the marijuana issue has been kicked up to the 'big four.' So that'll get settled," Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) said Tuesday, referring to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees who are negotiating the spending package. Harris's amendment passed the House in June, but was not included in the Senate version of the bill.

Alaska Could Generate $7 Million in Pot Tax Revenues in First Year, Report Finds. A Legislative Research Service report commissioned by Alaska lawmakers estimates that the state could take in $7 million in marijuana taxes in its first year. But the report also noted that the cost of implementing rules and regulations to govern the newly legal industry could be about as much.

Georgia Lawmaker Files Legalization Initiative Bill. Sen. Curt Thompson (D-DeKalb County) has pre-filed Senate Resolution 6, which would, if passed, put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana before the voters. "I anticipate us having a discussion this session. I don't know where it will lead, but if you don't ask you don't get," Thompson said.

New York City Mayor Says Pot Arrests Down Dramatically With New Policy. In the first two weeks of a new policy directing the NYPD to merely ticket -- not arrest -- people for small-time marijuana possession, pot arrests have dropped more than 60%, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Wyoming Not There Yet on Legalization. A University of Wyoming poll found that only 35% approved of the personal use of marijuana by adults, with 60% opposed. But, hey, that's up 12 points from a similar question asked by the same pollsters in 2000. Cowboy State residents, however, do come down in favor of medical marijuana, with 72% approving. That number is unchanged from the 2000 poll.

Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bills Filed. Legislators will try again next year to bring statewide regulation to the state's medical marijuana industry. Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has filed Assembly Bill 26, which largely revives Tom Ammiano's failed AB 1894 from this year, while Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has filed Assembly Bill 34, which is a one-sentence placeholder bill saying it is intended to regulate medical marijuana.

Drug Testing

DC Council Passes Bill to Ban Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing. The council Tuesday approved a bill that will bar employers from drug testing potential new hires before a job offer is made. The bill is B20-0728, the "Prohibition of Pre-Employment Marijuana Testing Emergency Act of 2014." While the bill bars pre-employment testing for marijuana, it does allow for on-the-job testing for marijuana, noting that employees "must still adhere to the workplace policies set forth by their employer."

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida Welfare Drug Testing Law. The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has upheld a lower court ruling that Gov. Rick Scott's pet welfare drug testing law is unconstitutional. The ruling came in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families and is in line with other federal precedent on the issue. The federal courts have held that, with few exceptions, suspicionless drug testing is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unlawful searches and seizures.

Michigan House Approves Suspicion-Based Welfare Drug Testing Bill. The House voted Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 275, which would create a pilot program mandating suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The measure has already passed the Senate, but now awaits a concurrence vote after the bill was amended in the House. One of those amendments stripped a provision from the bill that would have allowed the Department of Human Services to provide cash assistance to "an appropriate protective payee" for children if their parents lose benefits because of failing the drug test.

New Synthetic Drugs

Another Bill to Ban New Synthetic Drugs Filed in Texas. Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) Wednesday filed Senate Bill 199, which would add specified newly discovered synthetic drugs to the Texas Controlled Substances Act and create a provision designed to ban analogues as well. Two other bills aimed at new synthetics have already been filed for next year's session.

Chronicle AM: Overdose Deaths, Naloxone Price Hikes, How Weed Can Win in 2016, New Synthetics, More (12/2/14)

A new report suggests how to win pot legalization initiatives in 2016, a closely watched medical marijuana trial is delayed, there's naloxone and overdose death news, Mexican pot farmers are getting squeezed from competition north of the border, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Moms Key Demographic for Winning Initiatives, Research Report Argues. Women between 30 and 55 are the key demographic group for winning marijuana legalization initiatives, according to a new report from the Global Drug Policy Observatory. The report, "Selling Cannabis Regulation: Learning From Ballot Initiatives in the United States in 2012," analyzed the 2012 initiative efforts in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, as well as looking at the 2010 Prop 19 effort in California. The campaigns in Colorado and Washington successfully targeted that key demographic, the analysis found. The report also found that key messages to voters were that legalization would free up scarce law enforcement resources and that it would create new tax revenues. There's plenty more to read in the report; click on the link for the whole thing.

Marijuana DUI Breathalyzer Test Coming? Researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a marijuana breathalyzer that could detect THC on a driver's breath. The researchers said the device would probably not provide an exact reading of the amount of THC, but could help officers determine if there is probable cause for a DUI arrest. But a follow-up THC blood test would still be necessary for use as evidence in court. Researchers said they hope to start testing this device in the first half of next year.

Arizona Legislative Analysts Say Legal Pot Could Generate $48 Million a Year in Tax Revenues. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has produced a report estimating tax revenues from legalization at $48 million a year. The report was produced in September, but details were not released until the Phoenix alternative weekly New Times obtained a copy Monday. The report was in response to a Democratic bill to legalize marijuana. That bill was killed in April, but could be back next year. And there is a legalization initiative effort underway for 2016, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Medical Marijuana

Trial Postponed, New Judge Assigned in Widely Watched Federal Medical Marijuana Case of Kettle Falls Five. A new judge assigned to hear the widely watched federal medical marijuana case of the Kettle Falls Five has continued the federal trial scheduled to begin Monday in Spokane, Washington. Senior Judge Fred Van Sickle has been replaced by Judge Thomas O. Rice, who set a new trial date of February 23. This comes as the US Senate plans to consider a measure later this week that would prohibit Department of Justice funds from being spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states where it's legal. Advocates say that federal prosecutions like the Kettle Falls Five, as well as pending asset forfeiture cases in California, would be impacted by the passage of such a measure. The change in trial date also came soon after CNN ran the latest national media piece on the Kettle Falls Five, discussing the contradictions between Washington's adult-use and medical marijuana laws and the prosecution of state compliant patients like the Kettle Falls Five.

Los Angeles Has Shut Down More Than 400 Dispensaries.The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer says it has shut down 402 dispensaries since Feuer took office in the summer of 2013. The office has also filed more than 200 criminal cases related to dispensaries, with 743 defendants. It is unclear what the actual impact is, however; new dispensaries seem to pop up at the rate of one a day.

Harm Reduction

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition's Members Save Over 200 North Carolinians From Drug Overdoses With Naloxone. The Coalition announced today that it had received a report of its 208th overdose reversal using the opioid antagonist naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Coalition has distributed over 5,100 overdose prevention kits containing naloxone since August 2013. That was made possible by the passage of a 911 Good Samaritan/naloxone access law in April 2013. For more information on overdose prevention training or how to receive a naloxone kit, go here.

Naloxone Price Going Up Dramatically. Just as police departments across the country make plans to stock up on the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, manufacturers are jacking up prices. In Georgia, police report the price of a kit jumped from $22 to $40, while New York City is reporting a 50% price increase. Manufacturers have not explained the increases, but some activists have suggested that with the surge in orders from government entities, the makers have seen a chance to grab windfall profits."We've had a pretty steady price for several years now,"said Matt Curtis, the policy director of VOCAL-New York, an advocacy group. "Then these big government programs come in and now all of a sudden we're seeing a big price spike. The timing is pretty noticeable."

CDC Reports Drug Overdose Deaths More Than Doubled Between 1999 and 2012. In 2012, more than 41,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US, more than doubling the figure of 17,000 in 1999. Of the 41,000 drug overdoses in 2012, 16,000 were from opioid pain relievers (although that number actually decreased 5% from 2011), while nearly 6,000 were from heroin. Thus, legal and illegal opioids accounted for more than half of all overdose deaths in 2012. The overall overdose death rate also doubled, from 6.1 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 13.1 in 2012. The highest rates of overdose deaths were in West Virginia (32 per 100,000), Kentucky (25 deaths per 100,00 people), New Mexico (24.7 per 100,00 people), Utah (23.1 per 100,00 people) and Nevada (21 per 100,00 people). The report is "Trends in Drug Poisoning Deaths, 1999-2012."

Law Enforcement

Sen. Chuck Schumer Wants $100 Million to Fight Heroin. Sen. Schumer (D-NY) is seeking an emergency appropriation for a "heroin surge" to combat increased heroin addiction and overdoses. He wants $100 million appropriated to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. The move would increase HIDTA funding to $338 million nationwide, if the funding is approved in the federal budget.

Drug Testing

Kansas Welfare Drug Testing Law Not Catching Many. That's at least in part because the state is not actually testing many welfare applicants. After four months in effect, the state has tested only 20 applicants, of whom four tested positive. The testing is only required for people who are visibly using drugs, been recently arrested on a drug charge, or were found during a questionnaire screening to be likely to be using drugs. The state has paid $500,000 for the program so far, but has not achieved the $1.5 million in savings from people being disqualified for benefits earlier estimated because it has tested and disqualified so few people.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Synthetics and the Changing Global Drug Marketplace. Stanford University drug policy analyst Keith Humphreys has penned an informative piece on the increasing shift from natural, plant-based drugs to synthetic ones as well as the shift to on-line drug selling and buying. This phenomenon could "upend traditional understanding of drug markets and drug policy," he writes. There's much more; check it out at the link.

International

US Marijuana Production Hurting Mexican Pot Farmers. National Public Radio's John Burnett reports from the Mexican state of Sinaloa that Mexican marijuana producers are being squeezed by made-in-America weed. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram [2.2 pounds] of marijuana was worth $60 to $90,"one grower there told him. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference. If the U.S. continues to legalize pot, they'll run us into the ground." That grower said if matters continued as they were, he would plant opium poppies instead. The report also quotes a DEA official as saying Mexican cartels are now importing high-quality American weed to Mexico for high-end customers.

Chronicle AM: CA MedMJ Organ Transplant Petition, PA Harm Reduction Law, TX Fake Pot Bill, More (12/1/14)

Oregon's dispensary law continues to be thrashed out in the courts, a Pennsylvania 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access law has gone into effect, Minnesota gets medical marijuana growers, there's a Texas bill targeting synthetic cannabinoids, and more. Let's get to it:

"Spice" and other synthetic cannabinoids are under the gun in Texas. (wikipedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

APA Call for Papers on Marijuana Legalization. The American Psychological Association's (APA) journal, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, is seeking empirical (research, both original and meta-analyses) and theoretical (review) papers examining trends in marijuana use and use disorders and clinically-related research on the drug's addictive potential and health effects. The APA notes that policy is shifting "toward medicalization and legalization of marijuana" and says that "research on the potential effects of this drug is critical as the public health significance of marijuana is debated in this country." Click on the link for submission requirements and deadlines.

Alaska Marijuana Business Group Angling for Industry-Friendly Rules. A small number of people interested in getting into the marijuana business in Alaska have formed the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation to advocate for regulations and rules that will "let the market decided who makes it or who fails," said the Coalition's Bruce Shulte. The group says it will work with legislators and the Alcoholic Beverage Review board to guide rulemaking. The state has until late next year to come up with regulations and to decide whether to use the review board to regulate marijuana or create a new entity.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon to Appeal Court Ruling that Cities Can Ban Dispensaries. The state earlier this month filed an appeal of a circuit court ruling that the city of Cave Junction can deny a business license to a medical marijuana dispensary. Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Pat Wolke ruled that the state's dispensary law, enacted last year, did not block the ban, but didn't rule on state constitutional issues involved. The city has also appealed the ruling.

Minnesota Names Two Medical Marijuana Growers. The state Department of Health today named two groups that it has selected to grow marijuana under the state's new law. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions ("MinnMed") will be allowed to grow, process, and distribute medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana is supposed to be available for patients by next July.

ASA Petition for California Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. The medical marijuana defense and advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is leading a petition drive to garner support for state legislation to patients who are being denied access to organ transplants because of their medical marijuana use. The proposed legislation is the Medical Marijuana Organ Transplant Act. It would bar the denial of organ transplants because of medical marijuana use. Click on the title link for more information and to sign the petition.

Harm Reduction

Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Law Goes Into Effect. A state law that puts the opiate overdose reversal drug into the hands of first responders went into effect today. The law also contains a 911 Good Samaritan provision, providing some legal protections for people who witness and report overdoses. The law is Act 139. The state has recorded more than 3,000 opiate overdose deaths since 2009.

New Synthetics

Texas Bills to Ban Synthetic Marijuana Proposed. State Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) has pre-filed two bills aimed at criminalizing synthetic cannabinoids in the Lone Star State. The two bills, Senate Bill 172 and Senate Bill 173 designate certain synthetic cannabinoids as controlled substances under the state Controlled Substances Act. Huffman is chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus and vice-chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. She won Texas Monthly's award for "worst legislator of 2013," in part because of her intransigently conservative stands on criminal justice issues.

International

Uruguay Ruling Party Keeps Presidency, Marijuana Law Should Be Safe. Pepe Mujica's legacy as the man who legalized marijuana in Uruguay should be safe after his Broad Front's candidate, Tabare Vazques, won Sunday's election to succeed him. Center-right opposition candidate Luis Lacalle Pou had threatened to repeal much of the law if he was elected. Vazquez, however, is not as enthusiastic about the law as Mujica was, and has said he might modify it. Roll out of the pharmacy sales portion of the law was supposed to happen at year's end, but was just pushed back until at least March.

Australia Goes Wild With Drug Dog Searches, Doesn't Find Much. Police in New South Wales are subjecting thousands of people to "intrusive and humiliating" police searches after being falsely identified by drug-sniffing dogs as carrying drugs, according to statistics revealed after a request from the New South Wales Green Party. Nearly 17,800 people were searched after being alerted on by drug dogs, but in nearly two-thirds (64%) of those cases, no drugs were found, and only 2.4% of searches led to successful prosecutions. The Greens complained that the use of drug dogs outside festivals was potentially dangerous, causing some users to either take all their drugs before traveling to events and others to consume them in a panicked fashion when it becomes evident a drug dog sniff looms.

New Zealand Meth Use Up After "Legal Highs" Banned. Addiction specialists are reporting that former meth users have gone back to the drug after the country reversed course and criminalized new synthetic drugs. The country had sought to regulate the new synthetics, but reversed course in May after loud public discontent with open drug use and strange behavior. "People who have used methamphetamine in the past are now going back to using it after the legal highs came off the market," explained one addiction counselor.

Chronicle AM: Cops for Pot Legalization, British Drug Policy Squabble, Afghan Opium Warning, More (10/30/14)

Cops raise their voices in support of marijuana legalization initiatives, the US government's Afghanistan watchdog slams our drug policies there, Louisiana bans a synthetic cannabinoid and Russia wants to do the same, Britain's Lib Dems and Tories are going at each other over drug policy, and more. Let's get to it:

Synthetic cannabinoid products (Louisiana Dept. of Health and Hospitals)
Marijuana Policy       

Cops Come Out in Support of Oregon Measure 91. Some 30 former police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors, and judges have come out in support of the Measure 91 legalization initiative. The campaign held a press conference with some of them yesterday and released a letter from them. "Treating marijuana as a crime has failed,"they said. "Arresting and citing thousands of people in Oregon and elsewhere for marijuana-related crimes is a distraction to law enforcement and a misuse of taxpayer resources. The time and money spent should go to make our communities safer. Police resources should be focused on violent criminals, thieves and criminal cartels."

Former Seattle Police Chief Campaigns for Alaska's Measure 2. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper is hitting the hustings up north to garner support for the Measure 2 legalization initiative. The Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) member has also been making the rounds in Anchorage, appearing on talk radio shows and other media in support of the measure. He is attempting to counter opposition to the measure from the likes of the Alaska Association of Police Chiefs.

Vermont Sets Public Hearing on Marijuana Policy. The state government has set a November 12 date for a public hearing that will "provide Vermonters with the ability to contribute comments for a legislatively-mandated study on the issues involved with possible legalization of marijuana production, distribution and possession in the State of Vermont." The hearing comes ahead of a mandated January report to the legislature on issues related to marijuana legalization from Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding. Click on the link for more event details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Louisiana Bans New Synthetic Cannabinoid. After more than 125 people got sick in Baton Rouge this month, state officials Wednesday announced an immediate ban on the synthetic cannabinoid MAB-CHMINACA. The state has twice before banned other synthetic cannabinoids, once in March and again in July. The compound has been sold in products with names like "Mojo," "Spice," and "Scooby Snax." Read the emergency rule here.

International

US Afghan Watchdog Warns on Opium. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has warned that the country's opium economy is threatening reconstruction efforts and that the US is not adequately addressing the problem. Anti-drug efforts have "largely fallen off the Afghan agenda," he said in a quarterly report released today. Sopko also criticized the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for "wasting" more than $7 billion on failed drug control policies. "There is nothing that they have said to me or my staff that would indicate that there's any idea of how to improve the situation," he said in an interview ahead of the release of the report. "Has anyone had their job performance -- in the State Department, Department of Defense or [US]AID -- affected by the fact that they failed over the past 13 years to do anything on counternarcotics? No." The report itself is worth a read.

British Drug Policy Squabble. The junior and senior partners in Britain's governing coalition are going after each other in an increasingly nasty fight over drug policy occasioned by a new Home Office report on new synthetic drugs. The report found "there is a lack of clear correlation between tough drugs laws and levels of abuse." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hammered the Tories as being "frightened" of drug reform and having "a totally misplaced, outdated, backwards-looking view" on drug policy. Conservatives shot back that the Lib Dems were using the report for "naked political posturing" and accused the party of pursing "a dangerous and irresponsible" agenda of decriminalization. Get more details by clicking the links.

INCB Meets in Vienna. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) began its 111th session today in Vienna. At the opening, board President Dr. Lochan Naidoo stressed his concerns about insufficient access to medicines containing narcotic or psychotropic drugs and noted the obligation of treaty parties to ensure access to such medicines to ensure treatment and prevent pain and suffering.

Russian Government Submits Bill to Ban Synthetic Cannabinoids. President Vladimir Putin today submitted to the State Duma a bill to ban the sale and use of synthetic cannabinoid products. The bill names the cannabinoids as dangerous substances, bans their use, and gives the Federal Drug Control Agency authority to create a registry of such banned substances. The agency reports that more than a thousand users of the drugs have been hospitalized in the last year and 40 have died.

Austrian Neos Party Supports Marijuana Legalization. A neoliberal political party that has just won its first seats in parliament has come out in support of legalization. The Neos (or New Austria) Party embraced the position at its party conference this past weekend.  "We support self- responsibility and liberty. Legalization makes sense", party leader Mat Strolz said Tuesday. The Neos are the first part to embrace legalization in the wake of a parliamentary citizens' initiative that has so far gathered more than 27,000 signatures, making it the third most popular in Austrian history. It's not just new fringe parties that are considering the issue. The leaders of the governing coalition, the Social Democrats, will vote on legalization at their party convention next month. 

Chronicle AM: FL MedMJ Init in Danger, CO Legalization Report, Russia Synthetics Ban, More (10/28/14)

The Florida medical marijuana initiative appears to be in trouble, thanks in part to a deep-pocketed GOP opposition donor, a federal court is hearing evidence on marijuana's scheduling, a new report on Colorado's legalization finds less than meets the eye, Russia bans some new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:

Florida's medical marijuana initiative faces an uphill battle in the campaign's final days.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Court Hears Arguments on Proper Scheduling of Marijuana. In a federal court hearing in Sacramento that continues today, three medical experts testified that the scientific evidence does not support classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This is the first time in living memory that a federal court in a criminal case has allowed discussion of marijuana's proper placement in the drug schedules. Testifying for the defense in US v. Schweder, Gregory Carter, MD, and Carl Hart, PhD, told the court that marijuana is neither "very dangerous" nor "lacking medical use," both of which are required to support a Schedule I placement.

Cincinnati City Council Moves to Fix Its Pot Policy Misstep. Ohio is a state where the possession of marijuana is decriminalized, but in 2006, the Cincinnati city council tried to crack down on it, making possession of even small amounts a misdemeanor offense under city ordinance. The council later repealed that law, admitting it was a mistake. Now, it has moved to undo one of the nastier consequences of its actions, voting Monday to allow people arrested under that ordinance to have their criminal records expunged. More than 10,000 people were arrested under the ordinance, which was in effect until its repeal in 2010.

Cato Report on Colorado Legalization: No Big Deal. For all the sturm und drang surrounding the consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado, a new report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron for the Cato Institute finds it just wasn't that big a deal. Miron found little impact on crime, traffic accidents, or teen drug use -- the banes of the anti-legalization folks -- but neither did he find a big impact on the state's economy. And he found that tax revenues were lower than estimated. Miron's bottom line? "The evidence here indicates that strong claims about Colorado's legalization, whether by advocates or opponents, are so far devoid of empirical support."

Medical Marijuana

Florida's Measure 2 In Danger. A Gravis Marketing poll released Monday has support for the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative at 50%, with 42% opposed and 8% undecided. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the initiative needs 60% to win. Gravis had the initiative with 62% in August and 55% early this month. On the other hand, the United for Care campaign sent an email to supporters last night claiming its internal polling had the initiative at 61%. Click on the poll link for methodological details.

Republican Money Man Sheldon Adelson Contributes Another $1 Million to Defeat Florida's Measure 2. Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson has thrown another million dollars into the battle to defeat the Measure 2 medical marijuana initiative. Opponents of the initiative have raised $5.8 million to defeat it; Adelson is responsible for $5 million of it. Overall, opponents have spent $5.5 million, pretty much matching supporters, who have so far spent $6.5 million.

International

Russia Bans Ingredients for New Synthetic Drugs. Russia has expanded its list of banned drugs to include methoxetamine, NM-018, and methylphenidate -- all used to create new synthetic drugs. The move comes after Russian senators proposed earlier this month to ban new synthetics from the moment they are discovered instead of going through the lengthy process of listing them on the Federal Drug Control Services' list of banned drugs.

Chronicle AM: ME Marijuana Moves, Global Commission Report, CO MJ Growing Conflict, More (9/3/2014)

Maine local legalization initiative efforts move forward, Massachusetts moves to ban N-Bomb, conflict over Colorado marijuana growing rules, and more. Let's get to it:

"N-Bomb," a synthetic psychedelic similar to LSD, is already illegal under federal law, but Massachusetts wants to ban it, too.
Marijuana Policy

York, Maine, Legalization Initiative Hands In Signatures. Advocates for a local initiative that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot by adult handed in signatures today. The Marijuana Policy Project needs 641 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot; they handed in 900 raw signatures.

Lewiston, Maine, Will Vote on Local Legalization Initiative. The city council voted unanimously last night to put on the November ballot a measure that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults. The council was responding to a successful initiative petition signature drive.

Medical Marijuana

South Carolina Hearing on Medical Marijuana Today. A legislative study committee is hearing testimony today about the possibility of approving medical marijuana in the state. They were expected to discuss a 1993 marijuana stamp tax law as part of an effort to determine what potential tax revenues are. But that law was mainly designed as a tool to punish marijuana seller, not for revenue purposes.

Colorado Public Hearing Yesterday Saw Contention Over Greenhouse Grows. A public hearing over proposed changes to retail and medical marijuana rules saw sparks fly over the issue of greenhouse grows. A new production cap rule would allow warehouses to grow up to 3,600 plants, while greenhouses could only grow half that amount. Greenhouse grows are more economically and environmentally sustainable.

Drug Policy

Global Commission on Drug Policy to Release New Report Next Week. Next Tuesday, September 9, the Global Commission on Drug Policy will release Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work, a new, groundbreaking report, at a press conference in New York City.The event will be live-streamed, and speakers include former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, former Colombian President César Gaviria, former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Richard Branson and others. The Commissioners will then meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson in the afternoon following the press conference. Click on the title link for more details.

New Synthetic Drugs

Massachusetts Emergency Bill Would Ban N-Bomb. Bay State prosecutors and law enforcement held a press conference today to announce an emergency bill to classify the synthetic psychedelic drug NBOMe, also known as N-Bomb, as a Class B controlled substance in the state. NBOMe is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, but without a state ban, "state and local police, when they discover these drugs, are powerless to seize them and powerless to prosecute those who might be possessing or distributing them," Middlesex DA Marian Ryan said at the press conference.

International

Spanish Police Dismantle Malaga Cannabis Club. Police in Malaga have shut down a cannabis club there after its members were caught soliciting and selling pot to non-members during the Feria de Malaga celebration. Spanish law allows cannabis club members to collectively grow and share their own, but not to sell it to or solicit non-members.

Japan Cracks Down on Stores Selling Synthetic Drugs. Japanese authorities raided at least 129 stores in Tokyo and Aichi, Osaka, and Fukuoka prefectures for selling synthetic drugs banned under the country's pharmaceutical law At least 50 of those stores have been shut down or will close soon, officials said.

Chronicle AM: AR Initiative Rejected, SWAT Lobby Gears Up, Israel Bans New Synthetics, More (8/22/14)

It's back to the drawing board for an Arkansas legalization initiative, we have a pair of Minnesota court cases, the Michael Brown killing starts bleeding into drug-policy related areas, Israel bans new synthetics, and more. Let's get to it:

history repeats itself (image is of and infamous 1914 NYT editorial)
Marijuana Policy

Arkansas Attorney General Rejects Wording for Legalization Initiative. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has rejected the proposed wording for a prospective 2016 legalization initiative, the Cultivate Hemp and Regulate Marijuana Amendment. The name and ballot title are ambiguous and have "misleading tendencies," McDaniel wrote. Read the opinion here.

Fewer Than One in Five New Yorkers Oppose Marijuana Reform. According to a new Quinnipiac Poll, only 19% of New Yorkers oppose legalizing marijuana for personal or medical use, while 44% say it should be available for medical purposes and another 35% say it should be legal for personal use.

Asset Forfeiture

Minnesota Supreme Court Rules Evidence from Illegal Search Can't Be Used in Asset Forfeiture Proceedings. The state high court ruled Wednesday that evidence derived from a traffic stop that was determined to be unlawful cannot be used to seize someone's property. The court held that Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unlawful search and seizure apply to civil cases as well. The case is Daniel Garcia-Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe.

Drug Testing

Minnesota Drug Testing Law's Worker Protections Don't Extend Outside State, Federal Court Rules. The state's Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace ACT (DATWA) doesn't apply to state residents working or applying to work outside the state, a federal court has ruled. DATWA provides employees with the right to challenge positive drug test results and to try to seek treatment before being fired, but in Olson v. Push, Inc, the court ruled that those protections did not apply to drug tests taken for employment outside Minnesota.

Law Enforcement

SWAT Lobby Gears Up to Keep Access to Surplus Military Equipment. In the wake of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown, the practice of equipping local law enforcement with surplus military equipment has come under significant criticism. Now the "SWAT lobby," in the form of the National Tactical Officers Association, is moving to ensure that access to military hardware remains unimpeded. It sent a mass email to all congressional offices lamenting the situation in Ferguson, but the bottom line was that police need that surplus military equipment.

Race

The Return of the Drug Crazed Negro. Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum has penned a piece noting the revival of a century-old racist trope -- that of the drug-crazed black man -- in the wake of the police shooting of 18-year-old black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Sullum notes that conservative commentators have been quick to speculate that he was hopped up on PCP or some other drug that made him crazy enough to attack a cop. Autopsy results say he had smoked marijuana.

International

Young Europeans Split on Marijuana Legalization. The European Union's polling arm Eurobarometer has found Europeans 15 to 24 divided on legalization. According to its poll of 13,000 respondents, 45% favored marijuana legalization, with 53% opposed. European youth was much more unified when it came to other drugs -- more than 90% said drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin should be illegal.

Israel Bans 10 New Synthetic Drugs. Health officials in Israel have banned 10 new synthetic drugs, or "kiosk drugs," as they are known there. They include synthetic cannabinoids, stimulants, and hallucinogens.

Chronicle AM -- August 15, 2014

The California legislature acts on harm reduction, but kills medical marijuana regulation, Jeb Bush takes a stand on medical marijuana, New Hampshire bans a kind of synthetic cannabinoid, and more. Let's get to it:

Jeb Bush comes out against Florida's medical marijuana initiative. (wikipedia/gage skidmore)
Medical Marijuana

California Medical Marijuana Statewide Regulation Bill Dies. A controversial bill that would have imposed statewide regulations on California's multi-billion dollar medical marijuana industry died yesterday in Sacramento. The bill, Senate Bill 1262, was blocked by the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and the effort to impose some order on the industry is now dead for another year. The bill sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) was supported by law enforcement and the state's municipalities, as well as by some elements of the state's medical marijuana community. But it was also strongly opposed by other elements of the medical marijuana and drug reform communities.

Jeb Bush Joins Opposition to Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. Former Republican state governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has come out against Amendment 2, the state's medical marijuana initiative. "Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire," Bush said. "Allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts," he added. Bush appears to be out of step with Florida voters, who are supporting the measure in the 85-90% range, according to recent polls.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention, Syringe Access Bills Pass in California. Two harm reduction bills, one allowing pharmacists to dispense unlimited numbers of syringes without a prescription and the other allowing them to dispense the overdose drug naloxone, have passed the California legislature. The bills are Assembly Bill 1535 (syringes) and Assembly Bill 1743 (naloxone). They now go to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown.

New Synthetic Drugs

New Hampshire Declares State of Emergency Over "Smacked" Synthetic Marijuana. Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) yesterday declared a state of emergency to quarantine a synthetic cannabinoid product marketed under the name "Smacked." Her action comes after 44 people reported overdosing on the stuff after smoking or ingesting it. No deaths have been reported. Officials have revoked the business licenses of three Manchester stores where the stuff has been found.

International

BC Court Rules Ban on Medical Marijuana Edibles Unconstitutional. The BC Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that it is unconstitutional to ban licensed medical marijuana users from possessing medical marijuana edibles or other products, such as creams or salves. The court ordered parliament to redraft the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow for such uses of medical marijuana. The case is Regina v. Owen Smith.

Colombian President Endorses Medical Marijuana Bill. President Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday he was endorsing newly introduced legislation to allow for the medicinal use of marijuana. The bill was introduced last month by a member of the governing coalition.

WOLA Brief on Ecuador Drug Policy. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released an issue brief, "Reforms and Contradictions in Ecuador's Drug Policy." The brief comes as a sweeping new penal code reflecting some drug reforms goes into effect and examines the complexities and contradictions of implementing the new law.

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