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Anti-Marijuana Rep. Joe Kennedy Now Supports Legalization

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The last remaining young Democrat in Congress to vocally oppose the legalization of marijuana has changed his mind.

“I believe legalization is our best chance to actually dedicate resources toward consumer safety, abuse prevention, and treatment for those who need it,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) wrote in an op-ed published on Tuesday. “It is our best chance to ensure that addiction is treated as a public health issue — not a criminal justice one.”

As a member of Congress, Kennedy, 38, not only opposed his home state of Massachusetts’s move to legalize marijuana, but has consistently voted against House amendments to shield state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to access medical marijuana and protect children who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts to treat severe seizure disorders.

Most other Democratic lawmakers—and a growing number of Republicans—are supporting policy changes like the ones Kennedy has opposed. And in the latest national Gallup poll, solidly two out of three Americans—including 75 percent of Democrats and even 53 percent of Republicans—now say it is time to legalize marijuana outright.

As such, Kennedy has been an outlier in his caucus when it comes to cannabis, something he admitted in an interview earlier this year.

“That’s a tough issue for me. I come at it a little bit differently, obviously, than the vast majority of my colleagues,” he said. “I hear their position. I really do. I’m in a state that voted for [legalization].”

In a separate interview he conceded that “the party is clearly moving in that legalization direction. It might already be there.”

Beyond any legitimate policy-based concerns underlying Kennedy’s shift, it would seem that opposing marijuana legalization has become a politically untenable position for a young lawmaker who many have floated as a potential future presidential candidate.

In the new op-ed, published on the health website STAT, Kennedy said that his longtime reluctance to embrace marijuana reform stems from his “ongoing work with the mental health and addiction communities.”

But now he says he realizes that “federal policy on marijuana is badly broken, benefiting neither the elderly man suffering from cancer whom marijuana may help nor the young woman prone to substance use disorder whom it may harm.”

So Kennedy is calling for the removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a move commonly referred to as descheduling. In the op-ed, he cites racial disparities in prohibition enforcement, cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banks and jeopardized public housing opportunities for people who consume marijuana as reasons the policy change is needed.

“As long as marijuana remains regulated by the CSA, the federal government is barred from rectifying these failures or acting with any oversight authority as states move ahead with reform at record pace. So a broken, patchwork system flourishes in our country today with no federal guardrails — like the ones we have for alcohol and tobacco — to protect public health and safety and ensure equal justice.”

“Legalization would restore the federal government’s ability to regulate a powerful new industry thoroughly and thoughtfully,” he writes. “It would allow us to set packaging and advertising rules, so marketing can’t target kids. It would help set labeling requirements and quality standards, so consumers know exactly what they’re buying. It would ensure that we can dedicate funding to encourage safe use and spread awareness about the risks of impaired driving. And it would create tax revenue for research on mental health effects, safe prescription drugs, and a reliable roadside test.”

It remains to be seen whether Kennedy’s new position on cannabis will be matched with actions to cosponsor legislation to end federal prohibition.

“My concerns about the public health impact of marijuana remain. But it has become clear that prohibition has wholly failed to address them.”

Either way, his new op-ed is one of the clearest signals yet that the politics of marijuana have shifted. And it is sure to disappoint his relative and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who is a cofounder of prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and continues to be a leading voice against legalizing cannabis.

SAM released a statement saying that while the congressman’s op-ed “articulates an understandable frustration” about federal marijuana laws, the group’s leaders “do not agree” with his decision to back legalization.

The announcement of the younger Kennedy’s shift comes on the same day legal recreational marijuana sales began in his home state of Massachusetts, where voters overwhelmingly approved a cannabis legalization ballot measure despite his objections in 2016.

The congressman began to reconsider his position earlier this year, he indicated in an interview with WGBH radio.

“The federal government policy on this is incoherent, and the federal government needs to get far more coherent on this,” he said at the time, while stopping short of endorsing legalization. “For states that have put in place the proper safeguards and procedures, I’d be inclined to support those states.”

But he received criticism when, during a separate interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein suggested that marijuana should be kept illegal in order to make it easier for police to search people’s vehicles.

“If you smelled [marijuana] in a car, you could search a car,” he said. “When it became decriminalized, you couldn’t do that.”

Kennedy’s grandfather, former U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, criticized the hypocrisy underlying marijuana criminalization during a television interview 50 years ago.

This story has been updated to include reaction from prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Photo courtesy of Martin Grondin.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Colorado Activists File Revised Ballot Initiatives To Legalize Psilocybin And Establish ‘Healing Centers’

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Colorado activists have filed revised versions of a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize psilocybin and create licensed “healing centers” where people can use the psychedelic for therapeutic purposes. The move comes as state lawmakers have introduced a separate bill to require a study into the efficacy of plant-based psychedelics.

The ballot measures—filed by Kevin Matthews, the campaign manager behind Denver’s historic 2019 vote to locally decriminalize psilocybin and entrepreneur Veronica Perez—are similar to earlier versions the advocates filed with the secretary of state’s office last month, with a few key changes concerning the rollout of the reform, promoting equity and possession limits.

For the original initiatives, the campaign was considering two options: one would have legalized a wide range of entheogenic substances including DMT, ibogaine and mescaline, as well as establish a regulatory model for psychedelics therapy. The other would have initially enacted the reform for psilocybin and psilocin alone.

But recognizing that regulators would be faced with an onerous task to set up rules for multiple psychedelics, activists decided to take a different approach with the new measures. For both, there would be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin would be legalized and regulated for therapeutic use until June 2026, after which point regulators could expand the policy change to include other psychedelics that are listed in the proposal.

“We really wanted to make sure that the administration had time to set up a proper regulatory structure—first for psilocybin and then for any further natural medicines,” Rick Ridder of RBI Strategies, a spokesperson for the campaign, told Marijuana Moment on Monday.

The decision to add additional psychedelics to the program would be made by the Department of Regulatory Agencies in consultation with a Natural Medicine Advisory Board that would be established. The board would be comprised of 15 members, including people who have experience with psychedelic medicine in a scientific and religious context.

Another major change from the prior versions is that the revised initiatives do not contain explicit “allowable” possession limits—a provision that had garnered pushback from certain Colorado activists when the original measures were filed.

And unlike the last two versions of the initiatives, these new measures also include specific provisions meant to “ensure the regulatory access program is equitable and inclusive and to promote the licensing of and the provision of natural medicine services” for people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization, who face challenges accessing health care, have “traditional or indigenous history with natural medicines” and military veterans.

Those rules could involve, but are not limited to, reduced licensing fees, reduced costs for low-income people and an annual review of “the effectiveness of such policies and programs.”

“I think what this is is a giant step forward for mental health treatment in the state of Colorado,” Ridder said. “As we’ve looked at the results of research throughout the world, we’re seeing very promising data related to particularly healthy people with PTSD, with suicidal tendencies and end-of-life. And this is just an opportunity to bring that kind of natural medicine and medicinal help to citizens here in Colorado.”

The two new initiatives are nearly identical to each other, except that one contains a component specifically authorizing people to petition courts for record sealing for past convictions that would be made legal under the proposal.

Under the proposals, the Department of Regulatory Agencies would be responsible for developing rules for a therapeutic psychedelics program where adults 21 and older could visit a licensed “healing center” to receive treatment under the guidance of a trained facilitator.

This latest filing comes more than two years after Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. Various activists, including those involved in the 2019 campaign, have signaled interest in building upon the reform.

The initiatives must still be assigned an official ballot title and summary from the state before they’re approved to begin signature gathering. The measures are scheduled to receive a review and comment hearing on February 3. If approved by state officials, activists will choose one of the measures to pursue and will then need to collect 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters to achieve ballot access.

The Colorado ballot initiatives seek to accomplish something similar to what California activists are actively pursuing. California advocates are in the process of collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Sen. Joann Ginal (D) and Rep. Alex Valdez (D) filed a modest bill last week to create a one-year plant-based medicine policy review panel that would be tasked with studying the “use of plant-based medicines to support mental health,” according to a summary. The ballot campaign is not affiliated with that legislative effort.


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 policy review panel shall submit a report on its findings and policy recommendations to the House of Representatives Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, or any successor committees; the governor; and the Department of Human Services,” it says.

Meanwhile, legislative efforts to enact psychedelics reform are also underway in other states across the country.

For example, a bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel on Monday, only to be pushed off until 2023. But there’s still a separate but similar reform proposal that’s pending in the Senate.

Two Republican Oklahoma lawmakers recently filed bills meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, and one of the measures would further decriminalize low-level possession of the psychedelic.

A GOP Utah lawmaker also introduced a bill last week that would set up a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.

In Kansas, A lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the low-level possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.

A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill this month to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD  through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.

California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.

In Michigan, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.

Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation this month that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.

In Vermont, a broad coalition of lawmakers representing nearly a third of the House introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession.

New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.

Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Amazon Endorses GOP-Led Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana

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Amazon, the second largest private employer in the U.S., is backing a Republican-led bill to federally legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.

The company’s public policy division said on Tuesday that it is “pleased to endorse” the legislation from Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who filed the States Reform Act in November as a middle-ground alternative to more scaled back GOP proposals and wide-ranging legalization bills that are being championed by Democrats.

“Like so many in this country, we believe it’s time to reform the nation’s cannabis policy and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort,” the company, which previously expressed support for a separate, Democratic-led legalization bill, said.

Amazon has worked to adapt to changing marijuana policies internally as it’s backed congressional reform, enacting an employment policy change last year to end drug testing for cannabis for most workers, for example.

Months after making that change—and following the introduction of the States Reform Act—Mace met with Amazon and received the company’s endorsement, Forbes reported.

“They don’t want to sell it,” the freshman congresswoman said, adding that Amazon is primarily interested in backing the reform for hiring purposes instead of as a way to eventually sell cannabis. “It opens up the hiring pool by about 10 percent.”

Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said the bill “offers comprehensive reform that speaks to the emergence of a bipartisan consensus to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.”

Amazon’s drug testing decision was widely celebrated by reform advocates and industry stakeholders. Initially, the company only talked about ending the policy going forward. But it later disclosed that the policy change would also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

The reason for the move away from marijuana testing was multifaceted, Amazon said at the time. The growing state-level legalization movement has made it “difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program,” data shows that drug testing “disproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment” and ending the requirement will widen the company’s applicant pool.

The GOP congresswoman’s bill already has the support of the influential, Koch-backed conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

The measure would end federal cannabis prohibition while taking specific steps to ensure that businesses in existing state markets can continue to operate unencumbered by changing federal rules.

Mace’s legislation has been characterized as an attempt to bridge a partisan divide on federal cannabis policy. It does that by incorporating certain equity provisions such as expungements for people with non-violent cannabis convictions and imposing an excise tax, revenue from which would support community reinvestment, law enforcement and Small Business Administration (SBA) activities.

Marijuana Moment first reported on an earlier draft version of the bill in November, and it quickly became apparent that industry stakeholders see an opportunity in the Republican-led effort.

The reason for that response largely comes down to the fact that there’s skepticism that Democratic-led legalization bills—including the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that Amazon has also endorsed—will be able to pass without GOP buy-in. While Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, in addition to controlling the White House, the margins for passage are slim.

The MORE Act did clear the House Judiciary Committee in September, and a previous version passed the full House during the last Congress. Senate leadership is preparing to file a separate legalization proposal after unveiling a draft version in July.

Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Virginia House Committee Pushes Back Psychedelics Decriminalization Bill Until 2023, But Senate Proposal Still Pending

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A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel on Monday, only to be pushed off until 2023. But there’s still a separate but similar reform proposal that’s pending in the Senate.

Advocates were hopeful that a House Courts of Justice subcommittee would advance the reform, especially after an amendment from the sponsor was adopted to more narrowly apply decriminalization to medical practitioners and people using psychedelics in treatment with a practitioner.

But following some discussion of Del. Dawn Adams’s (D) bill, members approved a motion to carry it over to next year to give the legislature more time to refine it and build support. It was a disappointment for activists, and there was particular surprise that the delay motion was made by House Minority Leader Charniele Herring (D)‎, who is well known for championing marijuana legalization in the state.

Adams said in her opening remarks before the subcommittee that she has “spent considerable time hearing from researchers, meeting with both local and nationwide community advocates, speaking with veterans and personally reading dozens of publications and studies about the benefits of plant medicine.”

“What I’ve been able to learn is that there is strong evidence to support plant medicines—once thought dangerous—that really are effective and safe treatments,” she said.

There seemed to be some confusion among certain members about what the legislation would actually do.


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.

One member asked whether doctors would be able to prescribe psychedelics and whether the state would “see peyote stores and psilocybin stores basically popping up.”

The bill as amended wouldn’t legalize psychedelics for medical or recreational use. It would simply make it so practitioners and people participating in psychedelics treatment would face a $100 fine for possessing peyote, ibogaine, psilocybin or psilocyn. Currently, such possession is considered a Class 5 felony.

Any dollars collected from psychedelics possession violations would go to the state’s Drug Offender Assessment and Treatment Fund, which supports substance misuse treatment programs and drug courts.

But following testimony from advocates and researchers, Herring said that “there’s a lot of issues have been raised” and that she’d like to see a “prescription element” built into the legislation. Of course, because the psychedelics are federally controlled substances, doctors are precluded from prescribing them, but they could theoretically make recommendations, as is done in medical cannabis states.

In any case, the motion carried and that bill has now been set aside until next year. Now advocates are eager to see what happens with a separate, more limited reform measure that was considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

At that meeting, there was bipartisan support—including from the GOP minority leader—but also talk about making the decriminalization proposal more medically focused. The sponsor, Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), agreed to go back and make revisions so that the panel could reconsider it at a future meeting. The expectation was that it would be taken back up this week, but it’s not currently listed on the panel’s agenda for Wednesday.

The bill is scaled back compared to the House version because, as drafted, it would only decriminalize psilocybin and psilocyn by adults 21 and older. It’s unclear what kind of amendments the sponsor might offer when the committee takes up the legislation again.

At a recent virtual event organized by the reform group Decriminalize Nature Virginia, the sponsors of both bills participated as hosts, sharing their perspectives about the growing body of research indicating that psychedelics could be powerful tools to combat conditions like treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If the legislature does approve the legislation, it could face resistance from the state’s incoming Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has expressed concerns about implementing a commercial marijuana market in line with what the Democratic legislature and outgoing governor approved last year.

These psychedelics reform proposals are some of the latest to be introduced in state legislatures this session as the decriminalization movement spreads.

For example, two Republican Oklahoma lawmakers recently filed bills meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, and one of the measures would further decriminalize low-level possession of the psychedelic.

A GOP Utah lawmaker also introduced a bill last week that would set up a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.

In Kansas, A lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the low-level possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.

A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill this month to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD  through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.

California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.

In Michigan, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.

Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation this month that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.

In Vermont, a broad coalition of lawmakers representing nearly a third of the House introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession.

New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.

Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.

Oklahoma Republicans File Bills To Decriminalize Psilocybin And Encourage Research On Medical Benefits

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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