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Maine Drug Decriminalization Bill Garners Support From Medical And Religious Groups At Committee Hearing

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A Maine House committee on Friday discussed a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs—and the Maine Medical Association (MMA) and a church coalition were among the organizations that testified in favor of the proposal.

The legislation, LD 967, would make illicit drug possession a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine. People would be able to avoid that penalty if they submit to an “evidence-based assessment for proposed treatment for substance use disorder.”

Numerous people testified before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, with many sharing personal stories about the harms of criminalizing personal drug possession. Members heard about the long-term consequences people with drug convictions on their records face, such as lack of housing opportunities and employment.

But among the most notable supporters of the legislation is the MMA, which is part of the American Medical Association (AMA). While AMA has historically opposed other reforms like legalizing marijuana, on this issue the Maine chapter’s position is aligned with pro-reform advocacy groups.

“Opioid addiction is both an epidemic and a public health crisis, every bit as much an illness as cancer, diabetes or alcoholism,” MMA said in written testimony. “But instead of receiving treatment and support for their illness, patients affected by substance use disorders often find themselves treated as criminals instead of patients.”

“Treatment and prevention are the pathways to defeating this problem, not stigmatizing its victims with felony convictions which will follow them for the rest of their lives, affecting their ability to find jobs, health insurance, housing, family support, and often leading to relapse into the very addiction that produced the conviction in the first place,” it continued. “By making possession of illegal drugs for personal use a civil infraction rather than a crime, LD 967 is an important step in the effort to take medical control of the opioid epidemic.”

Daniel Oppenheim, co-chair of the public health committee of MMA, also appeared before the panel on Friday and stressed that “opioid addiction is both an epidemic and a public health crisis,” and “all too often opioid addiction begins with prescriptions written by doctors.”

Another notable group that offered testimony in favor of the bill is the Maine Council of Churches, which represents faith institutions from seven denominations.

“Maine’s current policies around drug use and substance use disorder have a severe death measure. Our choice not to treat the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis allowed 500 Mainers to die of overdose last year alone,” the council’s testimony said. “Our policy of criminalization keeps thousands more locked in a vicious cycle that spins attempts to self-medicate trauma into felony convictions, which create barriers to the resources necessary to recover, leading to deeper trauma.”

“At a deeper level, we know that when we, at a policy level, choose empathy over judgment, compassion over punishment, and treatment over prosecution, we are actively choosing life over death,” it said.


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The Maine Center for Economic Policy is also in favor of ending criminalization for drug possession.

The organization said that the existing policy “places a huge burden on Mainers, especially Mainers of Color, and prevents them from thriving economically.”

“What’s more, from an economist’s perspective, criminalizing people who use drugs is an inefficient use of state resources,” it said. “The state spends tens of thousands of dollars each year to incarcerate an individual; resources which would be much more effective applied to other methods.”

“These impacts are especially severe for Mainers of Color. Systemic bias in our criminal code and in our justice system means that Black and brown Mainers are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted, and face longer sentences than white Mainers when it comes to substance use,” it continued.

ACLU of Maine said the state’s “attempt to arrest our way out of drug use has not worked: drugs are still readily available throughout the state, substance use disorder rates remain high, and the death toll is unprecedented.”

“More than 500 people died last year from drug overdoses in our state,” it said. “These were our friends, our family, and our neighbors. We owe it to those we love who use drugs to try a new way in order to save lives.”

The Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said that drug possession convictions “can have short term and life long consequences,” and those with convictions “are likely to suffer negatively at work, in their relationships, and in their housing.”

“Drug possession convictions have a disproportionate impact on the poor and people of color; making drug possession a civil offense will help to alleviate these disparities,” the association said. “The get tough on crime, war on drugs approach has been a failure by any metric. It has cost untold amounts of dollars and lives.”

Addiction recovery groups also submitted testimony in favor of the legislation, with a representative of the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project sharing a personal anecdote about how his past drug use could have led to life-lasting consequences without necessary treatment.

The Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, meanwhile, said substance misuse disorder “is a health condition and not a crime.”

“We need to change our drug laws to save lives. Opioid addiction is a public health crisis. Decriminalization is an essential step to remove barriers to care and support, reduce stigma and discrimination, improve health and socioeconomic outcomes, and work toward a more just and compassionate society. We must stop treating people affected by substance use disorders as criminals instead of patients. We need a humane and public health-informed response to ensure people stay alive and have the best opportunity to live and thrive in their community.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the main opponents to the reform was the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

The anti-narcotics agency said that while it is “open to reasonable modifications of the unlawful possession of scheduled drugs statute, we do not support the outright decriminalization of scheduled drugs.”

“The bill’s title implies that personal use amounts would be subject to a civil violation. However, the bill does not specify what quantities would constitute personal use amounts. In addition, the bill proposes no stronger intervention responses if there are subsequent violations,” it said. “As stated above, the Department is resolved to working for reasonable reforms to Maine’s illegal possession statute based on evolving views of how to address the problem of illegal substance use. Decriminalization of these drugs sends a mixed message that fails to recognize how dangerous these drugs are and normalizes their possession.”

The hearing is a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.

Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.

Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill last month that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.

Also last month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.

Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.

Texas House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill, Sending It To Senate

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Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer

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“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.

The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.

Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.

The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.

The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.

“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.

Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.

They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.

“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury,

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

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Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred

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The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.

Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.

But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.

“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”

That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.

“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.

If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.

The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.

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