Key reads

DEA plans to move marijuana to Schedule III

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to loosen restrictions on marijuana by proposing to reschedule it from Schedule I to III. The proposal must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget and undergo public comment before it can be enacted. The move could broaden access for medicinal use and boost state marijuana industries. It may also prove a political win for Biden. Schedule III substances are still controlled, and people who traffic in them could still face federal criminal prosecution. Some critics argue rescheduling could lead to harmful side effects. Others argue marijuana should be de-scheduled entirely. Easing regulations could reduce marijuana businesses’ tax burden and make it easier to research marijuana. The immediate effect on the criminal justice system would likely be more muted, since federal prosecutions for simple possession are relatively rare. In Schedule III, marijuana would remain regulated by DEA, meaning dispensaries would have to register with DEA and fulfill strict reporting requirements. International treaties require the criminalization of marijuana, which could also be a problem.

Source: DEA plans to reclassify marijuana as a lower-risk drug, officials say (Washington Post); US drug control agency will move to reclassify marijuana in a historic shift, AP sources say (Associated Press)

Menthol cigarette ban delayed indefinitely

The Biden administration is delaying a plan to ban menthol cigarettes, a move that could effectively kill any chance the rule will be released before the election in November. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra issued a statement saying, “This rule has garnered historic attention and the public comment period has yielded an immense amount of feedback, including from various elements of the civil rights and criminal justice movement. It’s clear that there are still more conversations to have, and that will take significantly more time.” The delay comes after the proposed rule drew fire from tobacco companies and other groups that argued the ban could create an illicit market that would disproportionately impact minorities. But anti-smoking advocates, including the American Cancer Society and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, say the ban would save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Source: Biden delaying plan to ban menthol cigarettes (Politico)

Federal news

Biden issues pardons for nonviolent drug offenses and takes other action for Second Chance Month

President Biden pardoned 11 individuals and commuted the sentences of five individuals who were convicted of non-violent drug offenses. Many of the individuals received disproportionately longer sentences than they would have under current law, policy and practice. The actions come during Second Chance Month. Vice President Harris hosted a roundtable discussion with several of the pardon recipients, along with Kim Kardashian, to highlight the administration’s historic use of the clemency power and Second Chance policies. To date, Biden has commuted the sentences of 122 individuals and granted pardons to 20 individuals who committed non-violent drug offenses. The administration also announced that the Small Business Administration (SBA) finalized a rule that will eliminate the bar on accessing SBA funds for people on probation or parole and eliminate standard questions about one’s criminal background from SBA loan forms.

Source: Statement from President Joe Biden on Clemency Actions; White House: Watch Live: Vice President Harris Hosts a Roundtable Conversation as Part of Second Chance Month; FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Celebrates Second Chance Month Announcing New Actions to Strengthen Public Safety, Improve Rehabilitation in Jails and Prisons, and Support Successful Reentry (White House)

KIDS Health Act would help integrate kids' mental and physical health care

Sen. Carper and Kara Odom Walker (Nemour Children’s Health) urge Congress to pass the Kickstarting Innovation Demonstrations Supporting Kids Health Act. Various federal and state programs are working to address children’s social and developmental needs, but they sometimes lack coordination, leading to missed opportunities for prevention and early intervention in the places where children spend their time. The KIDS Health Act would establish a holistic approach to children’s health care by integrating mental and physical health services for children and youth eligible for Medicaid and CHIP. The bill would establish a cornerstone within the health system to enable work with community partners to address social drivers of health. This would be done through states being able to design financially sustainable models to enhance training for the health care workforce and improve health information technology systems to better facilitate data sharing, early intervention and care coordination across sectors that serve children. States participating in the model would have the flexibility to decide how to improve the care of kids in their communities based on their unique needs.

Source: Now is the time to improve the health of our nation’s children (Roll Call)

Foreign aid bill includes FEND Off Fentanyl Act but not funding to address fentanyl trafficking

The $95 billion foreign aid bill President Biden signed into law does not include the $1.2 billion he requested last year to stop the flow of fentanyl at the border. Biden asked for the fentanyl funding in October, alongside his request for money to help Ukraine and Israel, to pay for more inspection machines at the border and 1,000 new law enforcement personnel to prevent Mexican cartels from moving fentanyl into the U.S. The request was part of the discussion earlier this year as part of debate on a border security package, but the funding fell by the wayside amid opposition from Trump, and it was not revived as part of the aid bill passed this week. The bill does include the FEND Off Fentanyl Act, however, which establishes new sanctions on entities involved in manufacturing and distributing fentanyl.

Source: Congress ignores Biden’s request for fentanyl funding (Politico)

FDA and DOJ seize more than 45,000 unauthorized e-cigarettes

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in coordination with the Department of Justice (DOJ), announced that the U.S. Marshals Service seized more than 45,000 unauthorized e-cigarette products valued at more than $700,000. The e-cigarettes were located in a California warehouse. The products were mostly flavored, disposable e-cigarette products, including youth-appealing brands such as Puff Bar/Puff, Elf Bar/EB Design, Esco Bar, Kuz, Smok and Pixi. The action represents the first time FDA and DOJ have seized tobacco products in coordination with the U.S. Marshals Service. The seizure initially targeted products being held and sold by MDM Group, a distributor doing business as FDA issued a warning letter to the group in May 2023 for offering unauthorized, flavored e-cigarette products. In January 2024, FDA conducted a follow-up inspection and determined it continued to market its illegal products. While conducting the seizure, the agencies were informed that several firms may have an ownership interest in the e-cigarettes seized.

Source: FDA, DOJ Seize Over $700,000 Worth of Unauthorized E-Cigarettes (Food and Drug Administration)

State and local news

Minneapolis sets minimum price of $15 per pack of cigarettes

The Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to impose a minimum retail price of $15 per pack of cigarettes, the highest in the country. The ordinance sets the floor price and prohibits price discounts and coupons, which several tobacco companies circulate online to lure customers and reinforce brand loyalty. The minimum price also applies to 4-packs of cigars. Distribution of free samples is prohibited. Consumer prices are expected to run even higher after taxes are figured in. While retailers will get to keep the extra money, the higher prices are expected to snuff out at least some of their sales. E-cigarettes were left out because their prices vary too widely. The minimum price will be effective as soon as Mayor Frey signs the measure, which he is expected in coming days.

Source: Minneapolis smokers to pay some of the highest cigarette prices in US with a $15 per-pack minimum (Associated Press)

California buys generic naloxone to distribute and sell in the state

California is partnering with a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company to purchase a generic version of Narcan. Amneal Pharmaceuticals will sell naloxone to California for $24 per pack, about 40% cheaper than market rate. California will give away the packs for free to first responders, universities and community organizations through the Naloxone Distribution Project. California will be able to buy 3.2 million packs per year instead of 2 million for the same cost. The deal means naloxone eventually will be available under the CalRx label. Newsom proposed CalRx in 2019 to force companies to lower prices by offering cheaper, competing versions of medication, and he signed a law in 2020 giving the authority to the state. California governments and businesses will be able to purchase the naloxone, and the state is working on a plan to make it available for sale to individuals. Amneal makes a generic equivalent to Narcan that won approval from the Food and Drug Administration last week. California will use a portion of opioid settlement funds to purchase this.

Source: California is joining with a New Jersey company to buy a generic opioid overdose reversal drug (Associated Press)

Other news in addiction policy

Eliminating the buprenorphine waiver had limited impact of receipt of treatment

A study evaluating changes in buprenorphine prescribing patterns following the elimination of the buprenorphine waiver requirement (January 2023) found that while the number of prescribers increased, the number of patients initiating buprenorphine increased only modestly, and the number of patients using buprenorphine changed little. The study found a 27% increase in the number of buprenorphine prescribers by the end of 2023, compared to 2022, but the number of people filling prescriptions rose only about 2%. The effects of waiver elimination may take longer than one year to manifest, but the findings suggest that the policy may have reduced barriers to prescribing but was insufficient to meaningfully increase buprenorphine use through the end of 2023.

Source: Buprenorphine Dispensing after Elimination of the Waiver Requirement (New England Journal of Medicine); More doctors can prescribe a leading addiction treatment. Why aren’t more people getting help? (Associated Press)

75% of Americans think mental health issues are treated worse than physical health issues

A survey found that three-quarters of Americans think mental health issues are identified and treated worse than physical health issues (38% “much worse,” 37% “somewhat worse”). Only 1% grade the health care system’s ability to address mental health issues as an A. The majority grade it as a D (32%) or F (25%). Affordability (52%) and difficulty finding a provider (42%) are the top barriers to treatment selected among five choices, followed by believing they can deal with their condition without treatment (28%), feeling shame/embarrassment (27%) or thinking treatment would not help (24%). Young Americans are more likely to say cost is a barrier. Those who experienced a mental health condition in the past year are more likely to say cost, difficulty finding a provider or shame/embarrassment are barriers. 7 in 10 believe society views people with mental health conditions “very negatively” (13%) or “somewhat negatively” (57%), with stigma particularly felt among those who experienced a mental health issue in the past year and those 65+. More than 80% say the incidence of mental health problems has risen in the past five years, with women and adults under 50 more likely. More than half think psychological counseling/therapy is a “very effective” or “effective” treatment. 35% think prescription medication is “very effective” or “effective.”

Source: Americans Perceive Gaps in Mental, Physical Healthcare (Gallup)