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As Rhode Island Moves To Legalize Marijuana In 2021, Senate Leaders Back Private Sales Model

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With Rhode Island’s governor and legislative leaders all expressing interest in legalizing marijuana next year, one big remaining sticking point is where cannabis products would be sold: through private retailers as is the case in every current legal state or under a first-of-its-kind state-run model proposed earlier this year the governor.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said in an interview on Monday with The Providence Journal that he is taking the first steps to formulate a legalization plan by tasking Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D) with working out the details for a marijuana bill for the 2021 legislative session, which begins next month.

McCaffrey told the paper he favors a model of private retailers rather than the state-run plan that Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) wants.

The pair’s backing of cannabis reform already marks a major shift from just a year ago. In December 2019, Ruggerio said legalization would be difficult to enforce and would “hurt young people,” while McCaffrey expressed concerns about how to drug test drivers and how employers would deal handle the change.

“Obviously we have had another year to review the issue,” McCaffrey said in Monday’s interview. “We are getting a lot of sins from legalizing of marijuana in Massachusetts coming into Rhode Island.”

McCaffrey first publicly backed legalizing cannabis last month in a speech during a Democratic caucus event at which his party colleagues renominated him to serve as majority leader.

“The time has come to legalize adult cannabis use,” he said at the time. “Our policy of prohibition no longer makes sense with Massachusetts moving towards a robust legalization system. We can create jobs, capture lost tax revenue and fund important social programs going forward.”

Miller, the other senator who Ruggerio tapped to lead the legalization charge in the new session alongside McCaffrey, has long been the lead sponsor of cannabis reform legislation.

On the House side, incoming Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) said last month that he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and that his chamber is “very close” to having majority support for the change.

“The governor feels maybe it should be state-run like they do in New Hampshire with the liquor stores,” Shekarchi said. “I think maybe we can look at a private model.”

At a hearing last month, lawmakers began formal consideration of Raimondo’s plan to legalize marijuana and allow only state-run sales, which she originally introduced in a budget proposal last January, prior to the pandemic. The governor has said in the past that the public model “will allow the state to control distribution, prevent youth consumption, and protect public health.”

It would also be a first in the United States. Every other state to legalize retail cannabis has licensed private stores to sell the drug.

“Yes, I support the state-run model,” Raimondo told the Journal in a separate interview last week, “because from all the work we have done, it is the most controlled way to do it, arguably the safest and the way to maximize state revenue.”

Under Raimondo’s latest proposal, from January, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis at a time and possess up to five ounces total. Unlike most other legal cannabis states, home cultivation would be prohibited, meaning the state-run stores would be the only source of legal marijuana.

The governor’s office estimated the model would bring the state more than $20 million in its first year and more as the market matures.

As for legalization in general, the governor said, “it is only a matter of time.” Raimondo first included a legalization proposal in an earlier 2019 budget request, though that proposal did not include the state-run provision that’s in her most recent one.

Raimondo’s endorsement of marijuana legalization—and her plan for how to do it—came months before that of most top lawmakers in the state, but her support for the policy change is relatively recent. Only a year before first proposing legalization, the governor had been reluctant to take a clear stance on the issue.

After an election last month where U.S. voters passed every state-level drug reform measure put before them, including in New Jersey, where more than two-thirds of voters approved marijuana legalization, other Rhode Island officials are experiencing a similar shift.

“I remember many years ago we would have trouble finding people cosponsoring it,” incoming House Majority Leader Christopher Blazejewski (D) said last month. “Now we have the Senate leader and a Senate president seemingly fully endorsing it, so it’s an issue that’s really come a long way.”

Rhode Island’s neighbor to the north, Massachusetts, legalized marijuana through a 2016 voter initiative. Lawmakers in the state’s only other next-door neighbor, Connecticut, are set to consider legalization next year. A top lawmaker there said last month he intend to put a constitutional amendment to voters in 2022 if colleagues reject a legalization bill in the coming session. He too pointed to Massachusetts as a reason for reconsidering the issue, noting that legal access to marijuana products for Connecticut residents was just a short drive away.

“Folks literally take something called a car,” incoming House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) said at a press conference, “and they drive in their car and they buy it.”

Civil Rights Groups Push New Jersey Governor To Pardon People For Marijuana

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer

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“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.

The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.

Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.

The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.

The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.

“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.

Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.

They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.

“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury,

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

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Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred

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The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.

Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.

But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.

“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”

That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.

“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.

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—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.

If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.

The governor of 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.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.

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