“If the common person has the ability to grow and use their own healing plants, and share with friends, they can forever hold the corporate interests accountable.”
By Carlos Plazola, Decriminalize Nature
We’re getting decriminalization and legalization of our sacred plant allies all wrong. I was part of the process that screwed up our relationship with cannabis. And these are my lessons I carry to a new movement called Decriminalize Nature, born in Oakland and now spreading across the country in over 100 cities and 30 states.
In 2010, I sat at a meeting in Richmond, California lobbying the City Council to allow dispensaries to become permitted. My team presented a complex rubric of regulations they could place on the dispensaries to ensure the world would stay safe, and we seduced them with the staggering tax windfalls they’d receive once the dispensaries were fully operational. It helped that the unregulated mortgage derivate industry had just sucked trillions of dollars out of the economy, causing de-industrialized towns like Richmond to hemorrhage from their dwindling budgets. We brought to them smoke and mirrors, complex regulations and greed. And they ate it up.
I was part of a large group of second wave organizers following early-in pioneers who, for the love of the plant, sought to decriminalize cannabis for medical healing purposes throughout the 80s and 90s. Where their version of the story focused on the healing power of cannabis, the assistance it provided to heal trauma and all the medical benefits, our version of the story in the mid-2000s focused on the power of cannabis to create taxes, to create wealth, to heal the budgets of cities and make communities rich. In other words, the full-blown commodification narrative was set loose.
But, to be fair, the war on cannabis was stupid to begin with. We all knew it, and the fear held by officials at all levels of government was dumbfounding. All anyone had to do to understand that the hype behind Reefer Madness and the dangers of weed was nonsense was to do a news search on the history of cannabis and read a few news articles and scientific studies. Two hours on a computer googling “why did cannabis get on Schedule I?” would have shown that available scientific research showed marijuana should NOT have been on Schedule I. But elected officials live in fear. It’s almost a prerequisite to re-election. Always looking over the shoulder at the next up-start poised to take their seat. “Can’t make a stupid decision that will wreck my career.”
But here we found ourselves on familiar terrain. How do you overcome the innate fear of elected officials who refuse to look at things rationally and prefer to “do more studies!” or employ the standard delay tactic of “send it to committee,” instead of righting Nixon’s wrongs? I’d spent eight years in government, as a congressional aide and council chief of staff, and I understood that fear and paranoia was just part of the game. So, it seemed logical to fight fire with fire. The ends justify the means, don’t they? (It turns out they don’t.) How do you get over an irrational fear of a decision maker? Desire. Offer them something they can’t refuse. So, we did. And in the process, we destroyed our relationship to cannabis.
From this strategy of appeasing politician’s fear were born the three horsemen of the apocalypse on healing plants. The three horsemen emerged as Scarcity, Complexity and Greed. Together they are destroying the sacred relationship between humans and cannabis, and are poised to destroy our relationship to entheogenic plants and fungi—if we, as advocates, repeat our mistakes.
Horseman #1: Scarcity
“But weed will be everywhere and everyone will be smoking it, children will die from it, cars will drive off bridges because of it and hell will break loose! How will you prevent this?!” sang the chorus of anxious elected officials. Now, at this moment, we should have all united as advocates and stood strong and calmed them down, like a mother calms a terrified child and says, “show me where the monster is.” And we should have shown them that there are no monsters in the closet. “It was all Nixon’s hype. And since progressive elected officials all hate Nixon so much, join us in righting his wrong against our natural world and our consciousness.”
It could have been so beautiful. We could have forced the conversation toward the truths about this beautiful plant that has co-evolved with humans and provided so much healing over the eons but, instead, we took the bait and we did something very stupid. We said, “OK, we’ll limit the number of plants that individuals are allowed to grow.” The intention was good (to allay their fear) but the logic was flawed. By limiting the amount someone can grow, we sent the message that cannabis is dangerous and we created scarcity, especially for those who most needed it to heal.
Horseman #2: Complexity
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius, and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” Einstein was right. As it pertains to cannabis, we wanted to allay the fears of the elected officials, so we offered them complex regulatory frameworks, and they ran with it.
In the early 2000’s, the herd began its stampede toward greater and greater regulatory complexity, and hasn’t stopped since. Everyone had to put their fingerprints on the regulations. By the time the California state cannabis regulations were completed and published in January 2019, only a few well-paid lawyers understood what the hell was going on, and most of them were faking it. Their $500 hourly billing rate wasn’t really all that attainable for that black or brown person in East or West Oakland who’d been cultivating the sacred plant for 20 years as their livelihood, did time in the 80s for having a baggy of weed in their car and would eventually get pushed out of the industry because of the cost of complexity.
Again, the intentions were good, but we were reacting to fear. How do we keep babies from going up in flames? Create new regulations. And while the stampede was running full-speed ahead toward Complexity Cliff, it seemed no one had the fortitude to just raise their hand and say, “uh, guys, gals, we have all these pre-existing regulations that have been working perfectly fine for well, about a hundred years or more. Why don’t we just apply these regs to cannabis, like we do to herbs, or tomatoes, or oranges, or Heinz Ketchup, or Newman’s Own lemonade?”
The initial reaction would have been predictable. “What?! Don’t you understand this plant is the devil’s weed! We must contain this THC/CBD Beast and tame it so it doesn’t destroy civilization!” But, over time, had we held to our message long enough, we could have convinced the decision-makers that “nope, cannabis is a loving and friendly plant that heals. You don’t have to treat it with disrespect. Just treat it like any other plant and relax.” The winners would have been everyone except lawyers and lobbyists. But alas, here we are. Weekly conference calls to make sure we’re meeting the most recent iteration of a regulatory requirement. A growing underground market of people telling the state to piss off. A bunch of angry advocates who helped create this complexity demanding justice. And the few true believers watching their mission of bringing the healing effects of cannabis to those in need become harder and harder.
Horseman #3: Greed
Create Scarcity. Check.
Create Complexity. Check.
OK, perfect. Launch Venture Capital! The final wave of total annihilation of our sacred relationship to cannabis.
To be fair, this was not some grand master plan by venture capitalists. I’ve been watching the cannabis industry take a big giant crap since 2000. Watching it all unfold. Paying my own heavy price for participating in this fool’s game of defilement. Venture capital wasn’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for their dastardly plan to finally unfold so they could rush in and collect their winnings. This is just how things work when we legislate from fear. It’s an inevitability.
Ruthless capitalism was created in response to fear hundreds of years ago. It feeds off fear and all the fear-based responses that emerge—well, like hoarding, for example. So, it was natural that the process we began in the early 2000s that started from a place of pandering to the fear of decision-makers would eventually end in the ultra-competitive world of venture capital. We did it. We came from love. We reacted to fear. We justified it by thinking the ends justified the means. And we set it down the road of destruction, so now the weed advocates hold conferences asking, “Where did cannabis go wrong?” and lamenting the lack of people of color in the industry, while down the road the capitalists hold conferences with panel titles such as, “Desktop and Mobile Technologies: CRM, POS, Blockchain, Digital Payment—what’s Hot and Needs to Disrupt?” in a room filled with primarily white entrepreneurs.
We did this. But we can learn from this to make sure we don’t destroy our relationship with our plant allies of the entheogenic type. Cannabis was the sacrificial lamb to the altar of human frailty. But here is our opportunity to get it right with our plant and fungal allies that lovingly heal our consciousness—ayahuasca, sacred mushrooms, ibogaine, mescaline cacti and the like, because if we fuck this one up, once knowledge, what forgiveness? None. Game over.
To Decriminalize Nature
Think about this for a moment. To Decriminalize Nature. Nature. Us. We’re Nature. We’re of Nature. Nature is Us. How did it come to pass that we would even need to create a movement that in essence says, “Decriminalize Us”? We, as humans, have become so embedded in fear that the absurd concept of criminalizing nature now actually makes sense to many people in the world. The logic is simple in their minds: “We must stop people from doing stupid things to themselves, and we can do this by declaring it illegal! And now, let’s throw them in prison for using these substances to protect them from themselves. There. Sit in a cage so you don’t harm yourself.”
That we have to explain this to elected officials can, at times, be maddening. Often the response is, “Do more studies! Send it to Committee!” Fear-based responses. But we must stay the course, be patient, build a movement and hold to our message this time, and our message is simple:
Build Abundance, Not Scarcity:
Any initiatives that seek to legalize, regulate or end the war on drugs must first, or simultaneously, decriminalize our relationship with natural healing plants without limits on growing, gathering or gifting of entheogenic plants for non-commodified uses. We must treat these plants as we would treat tomatoes, oranges or everyday garden herbs. By enabling anyone to grow as much as they want for non-commodified uses, we even the playing-field for the inevitable commodification down the road. If the common person has the ability to grow and use their own healing plants, and share with friends, they can forever hold the corporate interests accountable. They will retain the ultimate leverage of the freedom to home-grow if the products of corporations become unattractive or undesirable, or if they simply prefer to grow their own and not rely on corporate products—just like with oranges or tomatoes.
Don’t Reinvent The Regulatory Wheel:
Like oranges or tomatoes, it is likely that commodified products from healing plants and fungi will emerge. But we don’t need to create complexity where the only winners are lawyers and lobbyists. Keep it simple. Use pre-existing regulatory frameworks that work just fine.
Ok. This is a tall order. And will likely take a couple of centuries for us to achieve, presuming we can get there as a species. It is also inevitable that this single-motive technology (capitalism) will eventually evolve to encompass other values, such as compassion, ecological protections and empathy. But, until then, we will all have to work together to push full decriminalization without caps on amounts as a balancing force, keep regulations simple and work together to encourage any for profit venture capitalist or corporation to approach nature with reverence.
This next great frontier of humanity is not out there in space, on Mars or on some new undiscovered continent. The next great frontier of humanity is inward. It involves conquering our fears; the fears that have us treating ourselves, each other and nature with disdain, allowing the emergence of destructive policies and practices that hurt only us. The next move is to decriminalize our relationship with nature which, when we finally wake, we’ll understand was really about decriminalizing our own relationship with ourselves and letting go of fear.
Carlos Plazola is the chair of the board of Decriminalize Nature. He formerly worked as a lobbyist in the cannabis industry from 2008 to 2012 and as chief of staff to the Oakland City Council president from 2000 to 2006.
Disagreements Threaten Virginia Marijuana Legalization Deal As Deadline Approaches
Conference committee members are divided over a proposed delay in regulatory decisions until next session, but have reportedly settled on delaying legalization of cannabis possession in any case.
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
With a Saturday deadline approaching, state lawmakers in the House and Senate are still working to resolve differences over landmark legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana in Virginia.
As of Thursday evening, it was unclear whether the two chambers would be able to reach an agreement on the bill, which Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has made a priority in his final year in office.
At least one lawmaker privately doubted the legislation would pass. Others, however, remained optimistic even as they acknowledged negotiations had grown tense, suggesting a vote was possible as early as Friday.
According to five sources familiar with the talks, the primary point of contention is language sought by the Senate that would delay decisions about how the new market is regulated until next year. Members of the chamber said during hearings last month they felt the legislation was too expansive and complex to complete work on during the 45-day session.
Lawmakers in the House have resisted, arguing the delay is unnecessary, citing in-depth studies conducted by legislative analysts and Northam’s administration. House lawmakers have also expressed discomfort about voting to legalize the drug without finalizing plans for a legal marketplace, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.
If a bill does emerge from the conference negotiations, it’s likely to disappoint civil rights advocates who have been pushing for an immediate end to criminal penalties related to the drug.
Both the House and Senate passed legalization bills that wouldn’t allow sales of recreational marijuana to begin until January 1, 2024—time both sides agree they need to set up a new cannabis authority to regulate the industry.
But they have differed over whether criminal penalties related to the drug should stay in place until legal sales begin. The House advanced legislation that wouldn’t end prohibition until 2024 while the Senate proposed legalizing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana beginning July 1 of this year.
The House, whose members worried that repealing criminal penalties before legal sales are permitted would encourage the black market, appear to have won the debate, with Senate negotiators agreeing to maintain existing criminal penalties until 2024, according to the sources.
The approach stands in contrast to a legalization bill signed by New Jersey’s governor on Monday, which immediately ended criminal penalties for possession of up to six ounces even though retail sales aren’t expected to begin until 2022 at the earliest.
Advocates had called the Senate’s position the minimum the legislature could do to address criminal penalties before the retail marketplace opens. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who proposed it, said it didn’t make sense to continue prosecuting people for something lawmakers had voted to legalize.
“We can’t risk more people being caught in the system for acting in ways that will soon be legal,” wrote a coalition of 25 advocacy organizations led by the ACLU of Virginia and the reform group Marijuana Justice.
Lawmakers skeptical of repealing criminal penalties before there are legal avenues to buy the drug have said they view the decriminalization legislation they passed last year, which reduced penalties for simple possession to a $25 civil fine, an adequate interim step.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, director of Marijuana Justice, countered that the approach unnecessarily allows the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against Black Virginians to continue for three years. She said court data obtained by advocates shows that even with reduced fines, Black people are four times more likely than White people to face citations despite using the drug at the same rate.
“The commonwealth’s ‘decriminalization’ enforcement maintains Virginia’s racial disparities and goes against Governor Northam’s stated commitment to social equity, racial equity, and economic equity for marijuana legislation,” she wrote in a statement.
The two chambers are continuing to debate another focus for advocacy groups: how to treat people under 21 caught with the drug. As drafted, the Senate’s version would dramatically increase penalties for underage users caught with the drug, increasing the civil penalty for possession from $25 to $250 for people ages 18 to 20. Minors would face a $200 civil penalty for a first offense.
Valerie Slater, the director of RISE for Youth, which advocates for reforming the state’s juvenile justice system, said she favors the House’s approach, which would also increase penalties for underage possession, but only on subsequent offenses.
But she pointed to New Jersey’s new law as a better alternative, which calls for a written warning for a first offense, a call to parents for a second offense and referral to community services for a third offense. Members of the state’s Black Legislative Caucus opposed fines, worrying “police would continue to stop and fine minority youth more frequently than White people under 21,” according to The Star-Ledger.
“At no point should this be a crime for kids,” she said. “Can we just take New Jersey’s language and drop it into ours? It would be ideal.”
Kansas Governor’s Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced As Lawmakers Take Up Separate Legalization Proposal
A bill championed by the governor of Kansas to legalize medical marijuana and use the resulting revenue to expand healthcare was officially introduced on Wednesday. The move comes as lawmakers held back-to-back hearings on separate reform legislation this week.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has pushed for legalizing medical cannabis and using that revenue to support Medicaid expansion, and now Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) has filed a measure to do just that. He introduced it in the House Federal & State Affairs Committee, where members heard testimony on the separate legalization bill on Wednesday and Thursday.
“By combining broadly popular, commonsense medical marijuana policy that will generate significant revenue with Medicaid expansion, all logical opposition to expansion is eliminated,” Kelly said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “This bill just makes sense.”
Watch the governor discuss the medical cannabis and Medicare expansion bill, starting around 6:16 in the video below:
“In the face of the worst public health crisis our country has seen in a century, I’m even more committed to delivering healthcare and jobs and support for our hospitals through Medicaid expansion,” she said. “I urge the legislature to take Representative Woodard’s proposal seriously and to also consider the implications if they should fail to pass expansion yet again.”
Under Woodard’s bill, a draft version of which was shared with Marijuana Moment, there would be 21 medical conditions that qualify patients for cannabis—including cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic or intractable pain—and regulators would be able to add additional conditions later.
— Brandon Woodard (@Woodard4Kansas) February 24, 2021
The secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would be responsible for developing regulations for the program by July 1, 2023. That includes setting a standard for a 90-day supply of cannabis that a registered patient could possess. It would then be tasked with issuing patient and caregiver registrations and identification cards.
The director of Alcoholic Beverage Control would have its own role in the program, issuing licenses for marijuana “cultivators, laboratories, processors, distributors and retail dispensaries.”
“For too long, the Kansas Legislature has ducked the topic of legalizing medical cannabis. An overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Kansans support medical marijuana, as well as Medicaid expansion,” Woodard told Marijuana Moment. “It’s time to expand healthcare coverage to more than 100,000 Kansans, while giving Kansans the opportunity to use a legal, compassionate therapy to treat a variety of conditions.”
“Whether Kansas chooses the path of legalization of medical, recreational, or something in between, I’m glad that the conversation is finally happening and the people of Kansas are watching,” he said.
While the representative’s bill would make it so Kansas would join the vast majority of states that have legal medical marijuana markets, it is restrictive as far as advocates are concerned. It would, for example, prohibit smoking or vaping cannabis. And it sets a 35 percent THC limit for marijuana flower. Home cultivation by patients would not be allowed.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.
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The governor first announced a plan at the beginning of the month to enact medical marijuana legalization and use cannabis tax revenue to fund Medicaid expansion. And she said more recently that she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
The Federal & State Affairs panel started debate this week on a separate medical marijuana legalization bill that’s been introduced this session, sponsored by the committee itself. Supporters and opponents of the reform testified on the proposal on Wednesday and Thursday, and advocates anticipate it will get a vote in the next 10 days before heading to the floor.
The first hearing consisted of those who favor the policy change, including a veteran, health care worker and former state lawmaker. The second involved testimony from neutral or opposing parties.
Former state Rep. Willie Dove (R) urged the committee not to “take this for granted.”
“We’re not talking about hippies from the 60s. You’re talking about individuals, law-abiding citizens, that really want to make something happened for their families,” he said. “And I would like to say that the revenue generated from this will be greatly appreciated in Kansas because it does help our bottom line.”
Like the Kelly bill, the committee-sponsored legislation lists 21 conditions that would qualify patients for the program, including chronic pain, HIV and post-traumatic stress disorder. Smoking and vaping products would be prohibited, however. It would also not provide for home growing.
“Veterans of all ages and ideologies are in favor of medical cannabis more than any other demographic,” George Hanna, codirector of Kansas NORML and a veteran, said. “Every veteran’s organization, representing every generation and political perspective, has overwhelmingly come out in support of safe access. I personally have had several physicians, within the VA itself, privately support medical cannabis.”
The opposing testimony on Thursday touched on a variety of talking points—that the scope of the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana is too large, legalization would increase youth access to cannabis, THC concentration levels are too high and ingestion by pregnant women or adolescents is dangerous.
But industry stakeholders with the Kansas Cannabis Business Association (KCBA) told Marijuana Moment that the testimony, particularly from law enforcement representatives, was notably “negligent and dispassionate, with most of their concerns rebutted by [Chairman John Barker (R)] on the spot.”
“Essentially the message was, ‘if 30 other states have found solutions to those problems, you can too,” KCBA’s Erin Montroy said.
A separate medical cannabis legalization bill was introduced by the Senate Commerce Commerce this month, though it has not seen action.
The measure’s language largely reflects legislation that was introduced in the House last year. Patients would be eligible for medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation if they have a condition that significantly inhibits their ability to conduct daily activities or if the lack of treatment would pose serious physical or mental harm.
Registered patients would be allowed to grow and possess at least four ounces of marijuana. The bill would also establish a Kansas Medical Cannabis Agency to oversee the program.
Read the draft text of Woodard’s medical cannabis legalization bill that he’s carrying for the governor below:
Montana Lawmakers Weigh Bill To Limit Marijuana Businesses
The committee also considered legislation on employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
By Keila Szpaller, The Daily Montanan
Glenn Broughton grew his medical marijuana business from a small storage shed to an operation that employees nearly 30 people, and if he’s shut down, he said he’ll go bankrupt.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life of what is going to happen to me at a pen-stroke,” said Broughton, who operates in Missoula, Lolo and St. Regis.
The business owner testified Wednesday before the House Business and Labor Committee against House Bill 568. The bill would allow roughly 115 marijuana dispensaries in the state—or not more than one per 10,000 people in a county, but 10 maximum—compared to the 355 medical dispensaries that are currently open.
No members of the public spoke in favor of the legislation.
In November, voters passed an initiative that legalizes recreational marijuana by 57 percent, and the Montana Department of Revenue anticipates accepting license applications in October.
Sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, the bill would limit dispensaries to be no closer than 1,000 feet from a school, daycare, place of worship, park or playground. It also would limit dispensaries to one per 10,000 residents in a county or up to 10 dispensaries maximum in one county.
“The people of Montana have asked us to have recreational marijuana in our state,” Sheldon-Galloway said. “My bill is just asking for some sideboards.”
Opponents, though, argued the sideboards would “squash the little guy” and favor massive operations flush with cash over smaller homegrown businesses. They also said the prohibitions go too far to realistically implement.
Sam Belanger, who said he read Montana’s marijuana legalization bill from cover to cover, told the committee he didn’t think the location restriction of 1,000 feet as the crow flies—rather than 500 feet and on the same street—would work in cities and towns.
“It eliminates almost all viable options for any dispensary in the state inside municipalities,” said Belanger, of Ronan.
Kate Cholewa, a cannabis advocate who has worked on related legislation in Montana, said the math simply doesn’t pencil out. When medical users were “tethered,” or tied to a specific provider, she said a business with 200 customers could make a good living.
With proposed limits, providers would have six times those customers. She also wondered who would be deciding who gets the the small number of licenses that would be available if the bill is enacted.
“This is just an invitation to problems and corruption,” Cholewa said.
Pepper Petersen, president of the Montana Cannabis Guild, said one of the reasons he helped draft Initiative-190, the legalization bill, is that recreational marijuana can generate tax revenue for the state.
“Most of that coal economy is gone. We need a replacement for that money,” Petersen said.
He estimated the revenue for state coffers could hit nearly $100 million a year for both recreational and medical marijuana. A study from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana estimated a 20 percent tax on recreational marijuana could result in $43.4 million to $52.0 million a year from 2022 to 2026.
As part of her argument in favor of the bill, Rep. Sheldon-Galloway pointed to the relatively high use of marijuana among Great Falls middle and high school students compared to the state average. In Alaska, she said school suspensions for marijuana increased 141 percent after legalization.
Chuck Holman, though, said Montanans don’t want more regulations, and Cascade County needs to deal with its own problems.
“That county needs to address it themselves,” Holman said.
Wednesday, the committee heard a separate bill related to medical marijuana, House Bill 582.
Sponsor Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, said he brought the bill forward because one of his constituents told him she lost her job because of her use of medical marijuana for a debilitating condition.
He said the bill wouldn’t allow the use of medical marijuana on the job, but it would prevent an employer from barring a person from using medical marijuana off the job for a medical condition.
Several opponents argued the bill wouldn’t make sense for industries where employees operate heavy equipment or must have a CDL, a commercial driver’s license. Jason Todhunter, with the Montana Logging Association, said logging is a highly hazardous industry, and some employers choose to conduct drug testing.
“This would muddy the waters on what we could check for,” Todhunter said.
The committee did not take action on either bill on Wednesday.