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Bernie Sanders Plan Pledges Immediate Marijuana Descheduling Through Executive Action

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is pledging to use executive action to deschedule marijuana within the first 100 days of his administration if he is elected president.

In a cannabis reform plan released on Thursday at 4:20 PM EST, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act would be the first step, but that he’d simultaneously press Congress to make legalization a permanent policy through legislation.

The senator said he will nominate an attorney general, Drug Enforcement Administration administrator and Health and Human Services secretary, “who will all work to aggressively end the drug war and legalize marijuana.” Once the attorney general is confirmed, Sanders will issue the executive order to deschedule cannabis.

Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to endorse legalization during his last campaign and filed the Senate’s first-ever cannabis descheduling bill in 2015, is expanding on his vision for what a legal cannabis model should look like.

“It is time to admit the criminalization of marijuana was a disaster, especially for communities of color, and allow those most impacted to move forward with their lives,” the plan states. “Our job now is to legalize marijuana and vacate and expunge past marijuana convictions, and ensure that revenue from legal marijuana is reinvested in communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”

There are several unique proposals included in the new plan. To mitigate the influence of large corporate marijuana firms, the senator wants to enact market and franchise caps. Tobacco companies would be prohibited from participating in the legal industry.

“Big Tobacco is already targeting the marijuana industry for its profits,” the plan reads. “As president, Bernie will not allow marijuana to turn into Big Tobacco.”

Additionally, Sanders said the government would provide resources “for people to start cooperatives and collective nonprofits as marijuana businesses that will create jobs and economic growth in local communities.”

People who’ve been incarcerated for cannabis offenses or who are from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war would be prioritized to benefit from legalization under the senator’s plan. That includes reinvesting cannabis tax revenue into such communities, setting aside $20 billion in grants to provide access to capital to marginalized individuals and stimulating business in areas hit hardest under prohibition.

The plan also calls for the creation of a $10 billion grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help marginalized individuals start rural and urban cannabis farms “to ensure people impacted by the war on drugs have access to the entire marijuana industry.”

“These grants will be used for design, technical assistance, purchasing equipment, installing infrastructure and more,” the plan says.

Sanders also wants to establish a national system to certify organic marijuana “to give consumers the information they need to make an informed decision” and to ensure “marijuana farmers are paid a fair price for their products with tools like supply management and reserves and transition toward a parity system to guarantee marijuana farmers a living wage.”

USDA would also be involved in establishing “safety inspection and quality control processes for growers and producers.”

Another provision concerns expungements, and it is modeled after California’s cannabis program. Sanders will order federal and state law authorities to review data on marijuana convictions and then clear the records for those cases. Individuals would be able to reach out to their state governments to ensure their case is being reviewed, and if after two years there’s no action, the plan would provide an “administrative remedy.”

It’s not clear what powers the senator would have to direct state action with respect to the cannabis conviction review proposal, but it’s possible it would involve withholding certain federal funds to penalize states that don’t comply. Sanders also wants to proactively provide funding for states and cities “to partner with organizations that can help develop and operate the expungement determination process, much like how California worked with Code for America.”

The senator said he would also “revitalize” the clemency process by creating an independent White House clemency board that would presumably help streamline the identification of eligible federal marijuana cases.

Further, Sanders said he would eliminate drug testing requirements for individuals applying for or receiving public benefits, and he’d ensure that people don’t lose federal housing assistance over cannabis. Under the plan, immigrants would not be denied entry to the use or face deportation because of marijuana.

“The legalization of marijuana is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get federal policy right from the start,” Madisen Saglibene, executive director of Nevada NORML, said in a press release. “The plan released today by Senator Sanders would end prohibition and address the harms that have been inflicted on generations of Americans under its racially disproportional enforcement.”

“His plan would provide real economic prosperity in the emerging legal marketplaces for those who have had to carry the burden of incarceration or a criminal record due a substance that is now legally generating millions in Nevada each year,” she said.

This latest proposal builds on a criminal justice reform plan Sanders released in August. That plan also called for legalization, expungements and reinvesting in communities most hurt by the drug war. And it included the establishment of safe consumption facilities where individuals could use illicit drugs under medical supervision in order to prevent overdoses and encourage people to seek treatment.

But while Sanders is a longstanding champion of marijuana reform and advocate for harm reduction programs, he’s declined to back broader decriminalization of drug possession, a stance being taken by a growing number of his rivals for the Democratic nomination. During an interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast in August, the senator pushed back against arguments in favor of legalizing and regulating drugs beside marijuana.

Sanders also first floated the idea of exercising executive action to legalize cannabis during the Rogan appearance.

He congratulated Canada last week on the first anniversary since the country implemented a legal cannabis market, stating that “Vermont shares a border with Canada, and as far as I can tell, the sky has not fallen and the cities have not plunged into anarchy on the other side.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) also released a drug policy reform plan on Thursday, proposing to decriminalize possession of all drugs and establish safe injection sites and needle exchange programs in his plan. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) are also in favor of the decriminalization policy, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang wants to remove criminal penalties for use and possession of opioids.

Beto O’Rourke Calls For Drug Decriminalization And Safe Injection Sites In New Plan

Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing

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A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.

As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.

It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.

“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”

The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.

“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.

In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.

She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.

Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.

Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below: 

Norton cannabis housing bill by Marijuana Moment

Drug Possession Is Officially A Crime Again In Washington, But As A Misdemeanor Instead Of Felony

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.

Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.

The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.

MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.

The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.

“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”

Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.

It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.

Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”

This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.

FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.

The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Ballot Campaign After Legislative Filibuster Blocks Bill

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Missouri Regulators Derail Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Disclosure Effort With Veto Threat

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Missouri regulators say they feel requiring medical marijuana business license ownership disclosures under a House-approved amendment could be unconstitutional, and they may urge the governor to veto the legislation. 

By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent

An effort by lawmakers to require disclosure of ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses was derailed on Thursday, when state regulators suggested a possible gubernatorial veto.

On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted to require the Department of Health and Senior Services provide legislative oversight committees with records regarding who owns the businesses licensed to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana.

The provision was added as an amendment to another bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations.

Its sponsor, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said DHSS’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program. He pointed to recent analysis by The Independent and The Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state that found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.

The state constitution prohibits the state from issuing more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.

On Thursday, a conference committee met to work out differences in the underlying bill between the House and Senate.

Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Battlefield and the bill’s sponsor, called the medical marijuana amendment an “awesome idea. I think it’s awesome.”

However, he said opposition from the department puts the entire bill in jeopardy.

“The department came to me,” he said, “and said they felt that this was unconstitutional.”

DHSS has justified withholding information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”

Alex Tuttle, a lobbyist for DHSS, said if the bill were to pass with the medical marijuana amendment still attached, the department may recommend Gov. Mike Parson veto it.

The threat of a veto proved persuasive, as several members of the conference committee expressed apprehension about the idea of the amendment sinking the entire bill.

Merideth said the department’s conclusion is incorrect. And besides, he said, the amendment is narrowly tailored so that the information wouldn’t be made public. It would only be turned over to legislative oversight committees.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, chairman of the special committee on government oversight, said the amendment is essential to ensure state regulators “are following the constitution, that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

The medical marijuana program has faced intense scrutiny in the two years since it was created by voters.

A House committee spent months looking into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.

In November 2019, DHSS received a grand jury subpoena, which was issued by the United States District Court for the Western District. It demanded the agency turn over all records pertaining to four medical marijuana license applications.

The copy of the subpoena that was made public redacted the identity of the four applicants at the request of the FBI. Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation, later said during a deposition that the subpoena wasn’t directed at the department but rather was connected to an FBI investigation center in Independence.

More recently, Parson faced criticism for a fundraiser with medical marijuana business owners for his political action committee, Uniting Missouri.

The group reported raising $45,000 in large donations from the fundraiser. More than half of that money came from a PAC connected to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist with numerous medical marijuana clients who has been under FBI scrutiny for more than a year.

This story was first published by Missouri Independent.

GOP Senator Who Trashed Marijuana Banking Amendment Years Ago Is Now Cosponsoring Reform Bill

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