Just one week after voters in Oregon and Washington, D.C. passed ballot measures to scale back outright prohibitions on psychedelics by wide margins, a California lawmaker says he’ll introduce a bill to decriminalize the substances in his state.
Activists in San Francisco, meanwhile, are separately pushing local officials to make laws against psychedelic plants and fungi the jurisdiction’s lowest law enforcement priority.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D) said Tuesday that he plans to introduce the statewide decriminalization bill in Sacramento once the legislature returns in early January. Language of the proposal has yet to be released, but Wiener described the reform in a Twitter thread as an “important step toward a more rational, science-based, and public-health-focused approach to drugs.”
1/ When the Legislature reconvenes, I’ll introduce legislation to decriminalize psychedelic drugs. These drugs have been shown to have medicinal value treating depression, PTSD & other conditions.
We need to stop criminalizing drug use & addiction. https://t.co/aWie5VF2iA
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) November 10, 2020
Wiener, whose 11th Senate District includes San Francisco and portions of Mateo County, said he’s working on the state-level issue with Assemblymembers Sydney Kamlager (D) and Evan Low (D), who represent Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, respectively.
Kamlager on Tuesday said she’s eager “to realize this rational, pragmatic decriminalization of psychedelic drugs,” punctuating a tweet with the hashtag #TreatmentNotPrisons.
— Sydney Kamlager (@AsmKamlagerDove) November 10, 2020
Last week two jurisdictions, Oregon and Washington, D.C., voted to remove criminal penalties for simple drug possession. The D.C. measure applies only to entheogenic plants and fungi, while Oregon’s initiative decriminalizes possession of any drug and funds expanded treatment services. Neither measure allows for the commercial production or sale of drugs. Meanwhile, a separate measure approved by Oregon voters legalizes psilocybin for therapeutic use.
Wiener indicated that California’s forthcoming decriminalization bill would apply only to psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) November 10, 2020
Advocates in other states have also been inspired by last week’s successful drug reform ballot measures. In Washington State, activists last week doubled down on a plan to decriminalize drugs through the state Legislature.
Meanwhile, organizers in San Francisco are pushing for more local-level reforms. The group Decriminalize Nature, which has already led successful efforts to decriminalize plant-based psychedelics in Oakland, Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor, says it plans to push San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin to make similar changes there. Zack Ruskin at SF Weekly first reported the news on Monday.
A meeting with Boudin is scheduled for Thursday, Carlos Plazola, Decriminalize Nature’s national board chair, told Marijuana Moment.
The approach is slightly different than the one Decriminalize Nature took in nearby Oakland, Plazola explained. There, organizers pushed the City Council to adopt a decriminalization ordinance. In San Francisco, the group is pushing the DA to simply stop prosecuting cases.
“If the District Attorney announces that he won’t prosecute,” Plazola said, “it takes away the impetus to make arrests.”
Boudin won San Francisco’s DA race last year on a progressive platform, promising criminal justice reforms rather than a tough-on-crime approach. “In voting for this campaign, the residents of San Francisco have demanded radical change and rejected calls to go back to the tough-on-crime era that did not make us safer and destroyed the lives of thousands of San Franciscans,” he told The Washington Post after being elected last November.
Decriminalize Nature backed the Washington, D.C., voter initiative to legalize entheogenic substances, which passed last week with more than three-quarters of the vote.
Plazola said the group is actively working on local measures in Florida, Michigan and Baltimore, and activists in more than 100 cities have expressed interest in enacting similar reforms.
Activists in California sought to place a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s 2020 ballot, but signature gathering activities were impeded by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting social distancing measures, and they did not succeed.
Behind the decriminalization measures emerging across the country is a growing sense that the decades-long war on drugs has failed. Criminal penalties haven’t meaningfully reduced drug use or overdose deaths, advocates say, and the consequences of a conviction can be lifelong. Even a single drug-related arrest can limit housing, school and employment options, as well as access to public benefits. Enforcement has disproportionately targeted Black and Indiginous people, communities of color and other marginalized groups.
“Arresting people for drugs is simply inhumane.” Peter Zuckerman, campaign manager for Oregon’s recently passed drug decriminalization initiative, said during a press conference last week about neighboring Washington State’s new decriminalization push. “Permanent criminal records can stop people from getting jobs, from getting housing, from getting professional licenses. It can stop them from going to school and getting student loans.”
The reason reform passed in Oregon is likely to fuel efforts elsewhere, Zuckerman added: “The current approach to drugs is failing.”
Across the country last week, voters approved every major drug reform measure put before them, including marijuana measures in five states and broader drug reforms in Oregon and Washington, D.C.
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.
Missouri Regulators Derail Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Disclosure Effort With Veto Threat
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.