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Rhode Island Senate Approves Bill Allowing Safe Consumption Sites For Illegal Drugs

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The House has not yet acted on its companion version of the bill to launch a pilot program for the “Harm Reduction Centers.”

By Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard, Filter

The prospect of safe consumption sites (SCS) for mitigating the United States’ historic overdose death toll has long been delayed by the federal obstruction of a Philadelphia-based organization’s bid to open the first sanctioned site. Now, hope may be found a few states over: Rhode Island, where residents are witnessing an exacerbated fatal overdose crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bill to authorize the creation of SCS, or what the lawmakers are calling “Harm Reduction Centers,” has returned to the state’s General Assembly after first being introduced in 2019. This time, “there’s really been strong support,” Haley McKee, co-chair of the Substance Use Policy, Education, & Recovery PAC and a lobbyist in support of the newly reintroduced H 5245 and S 0016, told Filter. “I’ve seen a lot more involvement of people with lived or professional expertise.”

On February 23, the state Senate passed S 0016, which would establish an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state health department’s director on regulating SCS. However, it’s unclear when the House Committee on Health and Human Services—which is currently reviewing the chamber’s version, H 5245—will vote on it, much less when it will move to a floor vote.

If the House passes H 5245, and the legislation is signed by Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island could be first state to legalize SCS. Lawmakers are defining the “Harm Reduction Centers” as “community based resource[s] for health screening, disease prevention and recovery assistance where persons may safely consume pre-obtained controlled substances.”

Unlike the House version, the Senate bill stipulates a liability protection explicitly shielding from arrest and prosecution at least “property owners, managers, employees, volunteers, clients or participants, and state, city, or town government employees acting in the course and scope of employment.”

Of note, the 10-person advisory committee must include three people with lived experience—one “who has been recently incarcerated and currently being treated for a substance abuse disorder”; another who is “in recovery” and “works in the field of overdose prevention or recovery”; and one “who has suffered a drug overdose or a family member thereof.” One law enforcement officer must also be included.

The House Committee on Health and Human Services has reviewed the bill for a second time and heard testimony from multiple experts. McKee believes it is here, in the House, that the political fight for the SCS will play out; this chamber of the General Assembly has been less open to passing reforms. But “there has been a change in leadership in the House”—from conservative Democrat Nicholas Mattiello to the slightly more liberal Democrat Joseph Shekarchi —and she believes “the new House speaker is more fair to these kinds of reform.”

A diverse group of witnesses called on the House Committee to green-light the bill. Jorge Elorza, mayor of the state’s capital, Providence, recognized its potential to lower the number of fatalities. “By connecting people who use drugs with necessary health care professionals to prevent overdoses and make referrals for counseling or other medical treatment, the harm reduction centers may significantly reduce the impact of the overdose crisis on our communities,” Elorza wrote in his testimony.

Dr. Elizabeth Samuels, a Brown University professor of emergency medicine and an expert in substance use disorder treatment, agreed with Elorza, citing the breathtaking success of international SCS. “Across the over 120 centers in Canada, Australia and Europe, there has never been a death in a harm reduction center. Not one,” Samuels wrote in her testimony. “This alone should be reason enough to spur us to establish these facilities in Rhode Island.”

She also noted that, contrary to the derogatory smears of SCS as “shooting galleries,” people who access them are more likely to enter substance use disorder treatment. “I care for people who have experienced an overdose during every shift I work in the emergency department,” she wrote. “I know that we can and must do better for our neighbors and community members who have a substance use disorder or who use drugs.”

She added that most overdose patients decline treatment at the time of their emergency department visit. “This underscores the need for Harm Reduction Centers, a place where people can engage on their own terms with people they trust.”

“People who use controlled substances are members of our community,” wrote Bella Robinson, a sex worker activist and executive director of the local sex worker rights group, COYOTE RI. “We don’t want to see them to be arrested, and we don’t want them to die from an overdose”

The House bill is being held for further study. McKee is not quite sure of the timeline ahead, but said that the fact that it’s headed for its third review is not cause for alarm. “Most bills don’t get voted right out of committee.” McKee intends to focus on winning the approval of the House Speaker Shekarchi, whom she hopes to engage in further advocacy.

Despite all that, she remains excited for what’s to come:

“I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll have the first state law.”

This article was originally published by Filter, an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.

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Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.

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Kansas Medical Marijuana Hearings Cancelled After Senate GOP Leader Reroutes House-Passed Bill

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A House-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas seems to be in jeopardy, with GOP Senate leadership moving the legislation out of a committee and into a different panel where it may sit in legislative limbo, resulting in the cancellation of hearings that were scheduled to be held this week.

Advocates are concerned about the decision by Senate President Ty Masterson (R), who withdrew the cannabis reform legislation from the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee days before hearings were to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was then re-referred to the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, which Masterson chairs and where the bill’s fate is unclear.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that medical marijuana legalization is off the table for Kansas in 2022, but it does seem to signal that the reform might need to be enacted through another vehicle, either in the legislature or at the ballot, as top Democratic lawmakers in the state are pursuing.

“We certainly hope that this action is just making sure that this bill meets any concerns that Senate leadership may have concerning this historic legislation,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “This bill had widespread bipartisan support in the House last session. We hope Senate President Masterson quickly holds a committee hearing and advances this legislation.”

When the proposal was being advanced in the House last year during the first half of the two-year session, members amended an unrelated bill that previously cleared the Senate to make it the chamber’s vehicle for the policy change. Because of that, it was ruled “materially changed” last May and sent to the Senate for committee consideration.

Now there’s a question of whether lawmakers will be motivated to introduce another separate bill and try to move it through both chambers, requiring another House vote. The Senate president seemed to temper expectations in recent remarks, telling The Kansas City Star that “not a single member” of his caucus has expressed that the issue “was important to them.”

That’s not how Kansas Democrats feel, however. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said this month that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. At the time, Sawyer said he was “hopeful” that the legislature might separately advance the House-passed legalization measure.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“The people of Kansas deserve to know if senators support the overwhelming majority of people who want to alleviate patients’ suffering with a medical cannabis program,” MPP’s Caldwell said. “Now is the time to show compassion to their fellow citizens and vote this bill out of committee.”

“Kansas is one of fourteen states left without a medical cannabis program,” he said. “We have faith that the Kansas Senate will pass this legislation this session and this is just another step in that process.”

Michael Pirner, Masterson’s communications director, told the Star that “medical marijuana legislation is not a priority of Senate leadership,” but did signal the issue may still be considered before the year is over.

“The subject matter has clearly matured and we expect it to be considered at some level this session,” he said. “There are many more pressing topics on the Senate agenda.”

The bill as drafted contains several significant restrictions, including a ban on smokeable cannabis. Members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee did get a briefing on the issue at a meeting last week ahead of the expected, now-cancelled formal hearings before the panel.

Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment that the Democratic leaders are proposing would provide for a more comprehensive program that lawmakers would need to implement.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said at a briefing with reporters on Friday that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”

She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.

Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.

The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.

Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office

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Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, but he says that he’s going to work to pass his marijuana banking bill before his time on Capitol Hill comes to an end.

The congressman spoke to Colorado Public Radio last week about his decision not to run for reelection this November and his disappointment that, while the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act five times now in some form, the Senate has failed to advance it under both Republican and Democratic leadership.

“That one still has me pretty irritated,” Perlmutter said, referring to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has effectively blocked his bipartisan legislation. When there was a GOP Senate majority, he was told the bill was “too big and too broad.” Then with a Democratic majority, he’s told that it’s “too narrow and too limited.”

Schumer and his colleagues who are working on a federal legalization bill have repeatedly said that they do not want to see the SAFE Banking Act pass before comprehensive reform is enacted that addresses equity issues. Supporters of the banking bill argue that the incremental policy change is necessary for promote public safety and, importantly, it stands a much stronger chance of getting to the president’s desk with bipartisan support.

Nonetheless, Perlmutter said he plans to spend his remaining months in office pushing to get the job done.

“I have not given up on that one,” he said. “I’m gonna get that darn thing passed this year while I still serve out my term.”

Listen to Perlmutter discuss the marijuana banking legislation, starting around 10:24 into the audio below: 

Asked whether he thinks President Joe Biden would be inclined to sign the measure if it did get to his desk, the congressman said “absolutely.”

“Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen is somebody who has been talking to me about this for years,” he said. “I feel very good that it would pass. We’re at 47 states that have some level of marijuana use, all the territories and District of Columbia, and they need to have legitimate banking services.”

“It’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” he said. “And yeah, I’m a little bit irritated, but we’re gonna keep working on it and get it passed this year.”

The last attempt that Perlmutter made to enact the reform was by adding its language to a must-pass defense bill, but it was ultimately sidelined following bicameral negotiations and did not make it into the final version. The congressman told Marijuana Moment last month that he sees other potential vehicles to advance the bill and has spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about it.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads

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Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads

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A top federal drug official says the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

The comments came at a psychedelics workshop Volkow’s agency cohosted with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) last week.

The NIDA official said that, to an extent, it’s been overwhelming to address new drug trends in the psychedelics space. But at the same time, she sees “an incredible opportunity to also modify the way that we are doing things.”

“What is it that the [National Institutes of Health] can do to help accelerate research in this field so that we can truly understand what are the potentials, and ultimately the application, of interventions that are bought based on psychedelic drugs?” Volkow said.

The director separately told Marijuana Moment on Friday in an emailed statement that part of the challenge for the agency and researchers is the fact that psychedelics are strictly prohibited as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“Researchers must obtain a Schedule I registration which, unlike obtaining registrations for Schedule II substances (which include fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine), is administratively challenging and time consuming,” she said. “This process may deter some scientists from conducting research on Schedule I drugs.”

“In response to concerns from researchers, NIDA is involved in interagency discussions to facilitate research on Schedule I substances,” Volkow said, adding that the agency is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

“It will also be important to streamline the process of obtaining Schedule I registrations to further the science on these substances, including examining their therapeutic potential,” she said.

At Thursday’s event, the official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.

“Let’s learn from history,” she said. “Let’s see what we have learned from the marijuana experience.”

While studies have found that marijuana use among young people has generally remained stable or decreased amid the legalization movement, there has been an increase in cannabis consumption among adults, she said. And “this is likely to happen [with psychedelics] as more and more attention is placed on these psychedelic drugs.”

“I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” Volkow said. “People are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.

There are numerous states and localities where psychedelics reform is being explored and pursued both legislatively and through ballot initiative processes.

On Wednesday—during the first part of the two-day federal event that saw nearly 4,000 registrants across 21 time zones—NIMH Director Joshua Gordon stressed that his agency has “been supporting research on psychedelics for some time.”

“We can think of NIMH’s interests in studying psychedelics both in terms of proving that they work and also in terms of demonstrating the mechanism by which they work,” he said. “NIMH has a range of different funding opportunity announcements and other expressions that are priorities aimed at a mechanistic focus and mechanistic approach to drug development.”

Meanwhile, Volkow also made connections between psychedelics and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said, for example, that survey data showing increased use of psychedelics “may be a way that people are using to try to escape” the situation.

But she also drew a metaphor, saying that just as how the pandemic “forced” federal health officials to accelerate the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines because of the “urgency of the situation,” one could argue that “actually there is an urgency to bring treatments [such as emerging psychedelic medicines] for people that are suffering from severe mental illness which can be devastating.”

But as Volkow has pointed out, the Schedule I classification of these substances under federal law inhibits such research and development.

The official has also repeatedly highlighted and criticized the racial disparities in drug criminalization enforcement overall.

Delaware Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill With Key Equity Revisions

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