Marijuana legalization has long been seen as a blue state issue, with Democratic lawmakers far more favorable toward the policy change than Republicans even as GOP voters have warmed to cannabis reform in recent years. But in legislatures across the country this year, there are signs that’s finally starting to change.
In at least 10 states, Republican lawmakers have taken lead roles in crafting and sponsoring legislation to legalize cannabis in 2021 legislative sessions. In some, such as North Dakota, GOP-led bills are on pace to potentially become law, while in other states like New Mexico, Republicans have submitted legalization proposals alongside their Democratic colleagues, coming to the table to craft bipartisan compromises.
In yet other states, including New Hampshire and Missouri, Republicans have introduced marijuana legislation but have so far struggled to gain momentum for their bills. Even there, the bills’ conservative lawmakers have staked an ideological claim to legalization, arguing the change would better respect individual liberties and end wasteful spending on a failed government drug war.
“This initiative will increase personal freedom, allow law enforcement to focus on violent crime instead of nonviolent marijuana users, and provide revenue for infrastructure, broadband, and drug treatment,” Rep. Shamed Dogan, a Missouri Republican, said after prefiling a legalization bill for this session.
It’s a rare example in today’s divided age of lawmakers finding common policy ground across party lines. While some of the Republicans teaming up with Democrats to legalize cannabis are moderates, others remain sharply partisan on other issues. Florida Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, for example, a sponsor of bipartisan legislation to legalize cannabis for adults in that state and allow past convictions to be expunged, has previously tweeted QAnon conspiracy theories and criticized Black Lives Matter protestors as “disgusting, lawless thugs.”
The cross-country wave of Republican lawmakers embracing legalization comes after voters in several GOP-leaning states, such as Montana and South Dakota approved cannabis reform measures on their November ballots, which might be influencing more politicians across party lines to embrace the issue.
Here’s a list of states where Republican lawmakers have taken lead roles in introducing legislation to legalize marijuana in 2021.
Among a flurry of legalization proposals introduced in Florida this session is a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) to allow the state’s medical marijuana treatment centers to sell cannabis products to adults 21 and older. The legislation (SB 710 / HB 343) would allow possession up to up to 2,000 milligrams of THC and up to 2.5 ounces of smokable cannabis so long as they were purchased from a licensed retailer. Registered medical marijuana patients and caretakers would be exempt from sales tax on cannabis products.
Homegrow would initially be prohibited under the proposal, although the bills would direct the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs to “conduct a study on the potential harms and benefits of allowing the cultivation of marijuana by members of the public for private use, including the use of a cooperative model.” That report would be due to lawmakers by January 2022. People with past convictions for certain low-level cannabis crimes could petition a court to expunge the charges from their criminal history.
The plan would also eliminate the state’s vertical integration requirement, allowing companies to apply for a single license—such as cultivation or retail—or multiple licenses.
Brandes is the lone sponsor of the Senate bill so far. On the House side, the legislation’s lead sponsor and three of the four co-introducers are Democrats, while a fourth co-introducer is Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini.
House Resolution 281, a simple two-page bill from Rep. David Clark (R), would put the question of marijuana legalization to voters. Details of the new system would be largely left up to lawmakers to settle later, although the proposed constitutional amendment would dedicate all fees and taxes from the legal cannabis industry to “substance abuse recovery and prevention, mental illness treatment, and for use by law enforcement agencies in combating and responding to cases of illegal drug use and addictions.”
The amendment would also charge lawmakers with establishing a process to expunge or otherwise vacate past arrests and convictions for cannabis offenses “which would not have been a crime” after legalization takes effect.
Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan, chairman of the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, said earlier this year that he wants “to regulate marijuana as closely as possible to the regulations we have on alcohol, tobacco and other products.” His proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, House Joint Resolution 30, would would require no special licensing for businesses “beyond that which is applicable for the cultivating, harvesting, processing, manufacturing, packaging, distributing, transferring, displaying, or possession of any nontoxic food or food product,” according to language of the joint resolution. Home cultivation for personal or medical use would also be allowed, with no specified plant limits or other restrictions.
The proposal reflects a popular libertarian view that the government should not interfere with how people use the cannabis plant. It echoes a 2015 proposal from a Texas Republican who said marijuana be regulated under “whatever laws apply to tomatoes.”
So far, however, the proposal hasn’t found traction in Missouri. Introduced at the beginning of the legislative session, Dogan’s bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
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Two legalization bills in New Hampshire received GOP support this session but have not advanced beyond committee. One measure is HB 629, sponsored by Rep. Carol McGuire (R) along with four other Republicans and one Democrat. It would legalize possession and personal cultivation of marijuana but, unlike most other legal states, would not establish a commercial market. Adults would be able to grow up to six cannabis plants and possess up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana and up to five grams of hashish.
Another bill, HB 237, sponsored by seven Democrats and Republican Rep. John Reagan, would create a system of licensed and taxed cannabis production and sales.
In New Mexico, where House and Senate lawmakers are scrambling to harmonize four separate legalization proposals, a bill by GOP Sen. Cliff Pirtle, SB 288, is a favorite among some Republican lawmakers and has earned Pirtle a seat at the table as sponsors of all four bills work to hammer out a deal on how the proposal will proceed ahead of the end of the session on March 20.
Pirtle said earlier this month that he introduced the measure, which has a lower tax rate than Democrats’ proposals and retains more revenue and control for municipalities, “because I felt something as important as legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis really needed to have a bipartisan approach.”
Another Republican, Sen. Craig Brand, said the bill is “very close” to what he’d like to see in marijuana legislation.
Pirtle’s measure cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday following the House’s passage of one of the other bills last month. “Hopefully we can come up with something that works for everybody,” Pirtle told the Santa Fe New Mexican last week. “We’re working on it.”
North Dakota’s House of Representatives has already passed Republican-led legislation to legalize marijuana, approving. HB 1420 late last month on a 73–21 vote. The measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase one ounce of cannabis but would prohibit home cultivation, now awaits consideration by the Senate Human Services Committee.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jason Dockter (R), has bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate is sponsored by Sen. Scott Meyer (R). Even if the legislature were to pass the measure, however, it’s unclear whether Gov. Doug Burghum (R) would sign or veto it.
One goal of Republicans in North Dakota is to set their own rules ahead of a possible legalization push at the ballot box. Rep. Matthew Ruby (R) said last month that the legislation’s intent is “to get ahead of the constitutional measure that is already beginning the signature collection,” adding that home cultivation in that proposal would complicate enforcement efforts.
Oklahoma Republican Rep. Scott Fetgatter is proposing a ballot question to let voters decide whether to legalize marijuana for adults. HB 1961, introduced in early February, would put a referendum to voters on whether to allow the state’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell products to adults 21 and older. Consumers could possess up to an ounce of cannabis and gift that amount to other adults without remuneration.
The measure would impose a 15 percent excise tax on retail marijuana as well as a state and local sales taxes. Revenue would go to the state’s general fund.
The measure faces an uphill battle in the legislature, but Fetgatter is optimistic. “It at least starts a conversation,” he told local NBC affiliate KJRH.
A Pennsylvania Republican is one of two leading proponents of a forthcoming bill to legalize marijuana, which advocates hope will make the proposal more appealing to the state’s GOP-controlled legislature. Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) announced last month plans to introduce legislation that would allow adults to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana purchased from licensed stories. Homegrow would be allowed only for medical marijuana patients.
The bill marks the first time a Republican lawmaker in the state has sponsored an adult-use legalization bill. Laughlin said during a press conference that while he’s not necessarily in favor of cannabis use, he thinks a regulated market is “the most responsible approach.”
“It’s clear to me that public attitudes towards marijuana have changed dramatically in the past decade,” he said, “maybe more than any other issue in recent memory.”
Legislation introduced last week by West Virginia Republican Dels. Brandon Steele and Doug Smith would legalize, tax and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older. Home cultivation of up to three cannabis plants for personal use would be permitted so long as the marijuana is grown inconspicuously, not sold and not brought across state lines. Unusually under the bill, HB 2919, retail sales would take place only through the West Virginia Cannabis Commission. The commission would also set a wholesale price at which the state would buy cannabis from licensed growers, as well as the base tax rate for the legal system
House Majority Whip Paul Espinoza (R) recently polled GOP colleagues on marijuana legalization as one of a number of possible ways the state could raise revenue to bridge a $2.1 billion loss in revenue expected under a plan to eliminate the state’s personal income tax. He noted that some of the issues on the list “are nonstarters,” but did not share the results of the internal poll.
Gov. Jim Justice (R), meanwhile, said last week that he would support taxing “the absolute crap” out of legal cannabis if the proposal passes the legislature. “If in fact the entire nation is going to move that way, if our legislature from the standpoint of the Republicans in the House were to bring me that, and it would be tied to using those extra dollars [to] get rid of additional personal income tax, I would support it,” Justice said. Days earlier he said legalization could potentially curb opioid-related overdose epidemics in West Virginia.
A Republican-led coalition in Wyoming last week introduced HB 209, a bill that would allow adults 21 and older in the state to purchase marijuana from licensed stores as well as grow cannabis at home for personal use. The lead sponsor on the House side is Judiciary Committee chairman Jared Olsen (R), and seven of the 11 House cosponsors are Republicans—including the House speaker. On the Senate side, the lead sponsor is Sen. Cale Case (R).
If passed, adults could grow up to 12 flowering plants and possess up to a pound of marijuana in their homes, provided that any amount over 2.5 ounces is stored in a locked or otherwise secure area.
The bill is before the House Judiciary Committee and is expected to get a hearing this week.
Contextualizing GOP Support For Legal Marijuana
Beyond the Republican lawmakers who’ve sponsored bills to fully legalize marijuana, even more have embraced relatively modest measures to decriminalize possession or allow medical cannabis.
Others are championing even more far-reaching measures to reform laws around psychedelics and other drugs. Iowa Rep. Jeff Shipley (R), for example, filed legislation this session to decriminalize psilocybin and to allow seriously ill people to access psychedelics.
But despite the growing number of individual GOP officials who are beginning to lead reform efforts, Democrats as a whole are still much more likely to support legalization than their Republican counterparts.
When Virginia lawmakers sent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) a cannabis legalization bill last month, not a single GOP member of the legislature was on board. And while West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) has reluctantly said he would sign marijuana legislation if sent to his desk, nearly a dozen Democratic governors across the country this year have used their State of State addresses or budget proposals to proactively push cannabis reforms.
The partisan divide on legalization remains especially evident in Congress, where top Democratic lawmakers have signaled the policy change is a priority this year. When the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition last year, by contrast, only five Republicans voted in support.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer
Federal Grants For Hemp Farmers Should Be Expanded, State Agriculture Departments Demand At Annual Meeting
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give hemp two different classifications depending on its intended use in order to expand access to federal grant programs.
Members of NASDA agreed last week to amend its organizational policy on USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. They are now calling for two distinct categories for hemp, requesting that the federal agency allow businesses to designate the crop as either a specialty crop or agronomic commodity.
That’s consistent with a request that was included in a spending bill report from the Senate Appropriations Committee that was approved last month.
While the requested change may seem largely technical, it would make it so hemp farmers could have greater access to grants that stakeholders say would provide them with valuable resources as the industry continues to evolve. It’s not clear if USDA will follow through, but NASDA is an influential body that represents agriculture departments in all 50 states and four U.S. territories.
The new policy that the organization adopted during its annual meeting states that “NASDA supports the dual designation for hemp as a specialty crop based on the manner and purpose for which it is grown,” and it also “supports expanding the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding eligibility to hemp crops with horticultural uses.”
Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “really excited that NASDA is so working so closely with our industry to help identify solutions to support hemp farmers, and this is a technical issue, but it could open the door for funding and other support that hemp farmers so desperately need right now.”
What NASDA seems to be doing with this latest action is aligning its policy with the Senate appropriations report for fiscal year 2022, Herrick Fox, co-chair of the government relations committee at the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) who previously spent 15 years working in USDA, told Marijuana Moment.
He said that the “only reason” hemp didn’t receive the dual designation from USDA in the first place is because “I think all the federal agencies are still trying to get used to the idea of hemp as a legal agricultural product—and in the first years following legalization, there was some unspoken reticence.”
NASDA CEO Barb Glenn said in a press release that “allowing hemp to be designated as both a specialty crop and a traditional commodity recognizes the crop’s up-and-coming nature and assures new farmers will be supported in their decisions to grow the crop for either food, fiber or horticultural use.”
“As the regulators and stewards of healthy agricultural industries in their states, NASDA members have been the leading voice for supporting the hemp industry since hemp’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill,” she said. “This action would be another important step in helping hemp achieve long-term sustainability.”
USDA has made clear its intent to support the burgeoning industry.
For example, the agency recently announced that it is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds (not the marijuana kind) out of hemp.
USDA also announced last month that it is moving forward with a large-scale survey to gain insight into the hemp market.
After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of about 20,000 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently said that the forms are being finalized to be filled out via mail or online.
USDA is asking questions about plans for outdoor hemp production, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.
Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.
That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.
There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.
While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.
The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”
USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month that it is sponsoring a project to develop hemp fiber insulation that’s designed to be better for the environment and public health than conventional preparations are.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
IRS Official Offers Tax Advice To Marijuana Businesses And Says Feds Expect Industry To Keep Growing
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it expects the marijuana industry to continue to grow, and it’s offering some tips to cannabis businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.
In a blog post on Monday, IRS’s De Lon Harris said that the “evolving and complex issue my organization has been focused on is the tax implications for the rapidly growing cannabis/marijuana industry.”
“The specific rules and regulations regarding how [marijuana] is taxed at the federal level provides the IRS an opportunity to promote voluntary compliance, not only through audits, but also through outreach and education,” he said, noting the rapid expansion of state-legal cannabis markets. “And while there are 14 states that still ban cannabis use, we expect both unlicensed and licensed marijuana businesses to grow.”
“It’s tricky from a business perspective, because even though states are legalizing marijuana and treating its sale as a legal business enterprise, it’s still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law,” Harris wrote. “That means a cannabis/marijuana business has additional considerations under the law, creating unique challenges for members of the industry.”
The official, who serves as commissioner of IRS’s Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE) Examination division, recognized that the status quo means that marijuana businesses are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, and federal prohibition also means that companies in the sector are precluded to taking key tax deductions.
However, while the tax statute known as 280E means the industry is ineligible for most federal tax deductions and credits, he noted that marijuana firms “can deduct their cost of goods sold, which is basically the cost of their inventory.”
“What isn’t deductible are the normal overhead expenses, such as advertising expenses, wages and salaries, and travel expenses, to name a few,” Harris said. “I understand this nuance can be a challenge for some business owners, and I also realize small businesses don’t always have a lot of resources available to them.
The official previewed a new “Cannabis/Marijuana Initiative” the agency is launching that will provide specific job training to tax officials to effectively carry out audits within the industry, ensure that there’s consistency in the IRS’s policy for cannabis, work with stakeholders to ensure tax compliance and help to identify non-compliant businesses.
“I’m very focused on the success of this strategy because it’s very important for business owners to understand that under our nation’s tax laws, and specifically Internal Revenue Code 61, all income is taxable, even if someone is running a business that’s considered illegal under federal law,” he said. “This is a truly groundbreaking effort for our agency.”
“Our strategy is not limited to pushing information out via our website in the hope that business owners will find it. I’ve made it a priority for my SB/SE organization to engage with the cannabis/marijuana industry through speaking events and other outreach. I have done three of these types of events over the last year, and what I have heard is a genuine desire to comply with the tax laws regarding the industry. Through this extended outreach, we hope to help small business owners and others fully understand the unique tax rules before there are any compliance issues.”
“Since the unique circumstances of the cannabis industry can make tax preparation challenging, I hope that new and experienced business owners take my advice in this post and use our resources to ensure they understand their tax obligations and avoid penalties associated with non-compliance,” the blog post concludes. “We’re always here to help with tools, information and guidance.”
This is yet another signal that while marijuana remains federally illegal, agencies are increasingly recognizing that a policy shift is happening in states and may well be on the horizon at the congressional level.
As leadership in the House and Senate work to advance legislation to deschedule cannabis, lawmakers have also pushed to enact clear, statutory protections for financial institutions that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. And that would be accomplished through House-passed standalone legislation, or an amendment that was attached to a defense spending bill this week.
In the interim, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry. FinCEN released a report last week showing that there were 706 financial institutions that said they were actively serving cannabis clients as of the last quarter.
IRS separately hosted a forum last month dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.
The seminar, which was presented by a representative of the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP), examined issues such as allowable tax deductions while cannabis remains federally illegal and how different states approach taxing marijuana. It also covered issues related to paying taxes on earnings in Bitcoin and other forms of digital currency.
Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.
IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.
The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”
Harris’s predecessor at IRS SB/SE also participated in an informational webinar in December, offering candid insights on a variety of cannabis industry issues from the federal perspective.
Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Drug Decriminalization And Safe Injection Sites At Hearing
Massachusetts lawmakers on Monday heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities where people could use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment to prevent overdose deaths and facilitate treatment.
The state legislature’s Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery held a hearing on the harm reduction proposals, with experts and people personally impacted by substance misuse advocating for new approaches to drugs that destigmatize addiction and offer people resources outside of a criminal justice context.
The decriminalization bill would replace criminal penalties for the possession of any controlled substance with a civil fine of up to $50. To avoid the fine, individuals could enroll in a “needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services.”
For the safe injection site legislation, the state would establish a 10-year pilot program where at least two facilities would “utilize harm reduction tools, including clinical monitoring of the consumption of pre-obtained controlled substances in the presence of trained staff, for the purpose of reducing the risks of disease transmission and preventing overdose deaths.”
A separate, less far-reaching bill that was added to the agenda in a late addition would direct the Department of Public Health to simply “evaluate the feasibility” of safe consumption sites and then report back to lawmakers by July 31, 2022..
The joint committee listened to academics, health professionals, lawmakers discuss the reform proposals but did not take immediate action on any of the legislation. It’s unclear when the bills will be taken up again for further consideration.
“By every metric, the war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure,” Rep. Mike Connolly (D) said. “In the United States and here in Massachusetts, the criminalization of drug possession is a major driver of mass incarceration. We know that black people have been incarcerated at a rate eight times higher than white people, and there’s no question that the criminalization of substance use issues has contributed to these terrible disparities.”
Connolly is also the sponsor of legislation that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing in July on studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
Officials with at least one Massachusetts city, Somerville, said that there are plans in the work to launch a safe injection facility in the jurisdiction. And they want to see the statewide bill pass to provide additional protections against being federally penalized.
“State legislation, wielding its constitutionally granted powers to enact laws for public health and safety, has the ability to greatly minimize these risks through legislation authorizing a pilot of safe consumption sites,” Hannah Pappenheim, assistant city solicitor at the City of Somerville, said. “In addition, state legislation would also minimize the risk of costly—but more importantly, lengthy—litigation.”
The official noted that a separate, Pennsylvania-based case on the legality of safe injection sites has been ongoing in federal courts for years at this point.
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—recently filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the case.
Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the Philadelphia-based Safehouse’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.
“State legislation paves the way for a more expedient process in Somerville, and of course elsewhere in the Commonwealth,” Pappenheim said.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone (D) said at Monday’s hearing that “it’s important for Massachusetts to finally lead—not just compiling, but implementing a strategy that reduces harm and save lives.” He conceded that he previously opposed the concept of allowing safe consumption sites; but his personal experience knowing people in his immediate family who suffered from addiction—as well as his own review of the scientific literature on harm reduction alternatives to criminalization—led him to embrace the reforms.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
The governor of neighboring 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.
Oamshri Amarasingham, deputy legislative director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, voiced support for both reform proposals at Monday’s hearing and told WGBH that establishing a safe injection site pilot program “is one piece of that puzzle” that is “critically important and that’s had great success in other countries.”
The ACLU has long supported shifting to a #PublicHealth approach to drug policy rather than a criminal one…
— ACLU Massachusetts (@ACLU_Mass) September 27, 2021
Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis commissioner who now heads the Parabola Center, juxtaposed how laws handle substances like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine differently from currently illegal drugs.
“What separates that from when we have these illicit drugs, where handcuffs and cages are involved, and what led that to be? The reason has nothing to do with science, or evidence or the relative dangers of those drugs,” she said. “The reason is because—and this is well-documented—those drugs could be scapegoated and blamed on their association with indigenous and Indian and Mexican and Chinese and other cultures, and then used to target communities of color, particularly black and Latino people nationally and here in Massachusetts.”
At the same time that Massachusetts legislators are looking into harm reduction and broad drug decriminalization, local activists in the state have also been pursuing psychedelics reform.
Three Massachusetts cities—Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge—have each passed resolutions to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics and other drugs. The Easthampton City Council is also exploring a resolution to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, with a meeting set for Friday.