In a wide-ranging interview that touched on disclosing government secrets about UFOs and taking executive action to end marijuana prohibition, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said on Tuesday that he’s not currently open to legalizing or decriminalizing drugs other than cannabis.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience, where he talked about his support for cannabis reform and was pressed on how to combat the illicit drug market. Rogan made the case that legalizing all drugs could mitigate the public health and safety risks associated with illicit sales.
When asked whether he’d consider pushing for broader legalization, Sanders said “no.”
“Not at this point, no I wouldn’t,” he said. “But you’re touching on a real tragedy.”
Rogan pushed back, stating that the “uncomfortable reality about drugs is that when drugs are illegal, criminals sell them.”
“There’s a demand for drugs in this country that’s absolutely fueling Mexican cartels and illegal drug runners inside this country,” he said. “There’s a lot of that. How do you curb that if drugs are illegal?”
Sanders said it was a “very, very deep question that we don’t talk about terribly much,” but he went on to say that the question we should be asking is why Americans are increasingly turning to drugs and alcohol, which he argued is a factor contributing to declining life expectancy in the country. The senator said that a lack of health care, living wages and sense of community is causing people to turn to drugs as “a way out.”
The host asked whether Sanders felt providing people with more educational and workplace opportunities would “stop some of the demand for these illegal drugs.”
“I believe that is the case,” he said. “If I’m optimistic, if I’m excited about going to work tomorrow and I’m seeing my kid doing great in school and when I get sick I can go to the doctor’s office, I have a sense of community, my downtown is not all boarded up businesses, but we have a community—yeah, the strong likelihood is there will be less diseases of despair and drugs than we currently see.”
Several other presidential candidates have addressed broader drug decriminalization proposals, with varying positions.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) didn’t rule out decriminalizing all illicit drugs and similarly talked about the need “to address that reality [of addiction] and help resolve some of the root causes of why people are turning to different substances in the first place.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a criminal justice reform plan last month that called for marijuana legalization and ending the practice of incarcerating individuals for simple drug possession—a move that advocates refer to as decriminalization.
And former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said the federal government shouldn’t interfere if states choose to decriminalize drugs beyond cannabis.
Earlier in the Rogan interview, Sanders touted his call for legalization when he was running in for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, describing it as a “very radical idea” at the time. Now, he said, legalization is “is spreading all over the country.”
“By the way, it blows my mind to drive through Nevada and I think California, you see signs—corporations [with billboards saying] ‘buy our marijuana,’” Sanders said. “Four years ago, people were getting arrested for doing that, right? Their lives were being destroyed.”
Rogan mentioned that individuals could be sentenced to life for cannabis in the 1970s.
“Can you believe that? And now you have corporations selling the damn product that people went to jail for,” Sanders said. “I think ultimately we have got to legalize marijuana, and what’s good news is some communities, some cities, are expunging the records, so if you were arrested, have a criminal record for selling marijuana, that is being expunged and that is the right thing to do.”
“We can argue about the pluses and minuses,” he said. “I’m not a great fan of drugs. I smoked marijuana a couple of times, didn’t do much for me. Other people I guess have different experiences.”
“I certainly have,” Rogan replied.
During the interview, Sanders pledged to do at least two things if elected president: see about legalizing cannabis through executive order and, upon Rogan’s request, disclose any information he runs into about aliens or UFOs.
Sanders said his wife would be adamant about the alien disclosures and he promised to come back on Rogan’s podcast with any updated.
“We’ll announce it on this show,” he said.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/The Joe Rogan Experience.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules in place.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The state pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having five congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their measure and saw 68 percent of voters approve it last year.
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below:
Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing
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:
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
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.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
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.