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Canada Defends Marijuana Legalization In Response To International Skepticism

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The Canadian government touted the benefits of its legal, regulated marijuana market in comments to the United Nations recently, saying that since legal sales began in the country a year and a half ago, “the illegal market has already lost 30% of its market share” and “rates of use have not changed among youth and young adults.”

The remarks were delivered last Monday to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs by Michelle Boudreau, director general for Health Canada’s controlled substances department. As a whole, they portray the country’s decision to legalize cannabis as a victory for public health despite ongoing skepticism from some in the international community.

Canada passed legislation to legalize marijuana for adults in 2018, becoming the largest nation ever to do so. The move technically ran afoul of international drug treaties that still forbid marijuana legalization, but the country nevertheless proceeded with the change.

In her remarks to the UN commission, Boudreau stopped short of encouraging other countries to legalize, which may have further rankled UN officials, but she pushed back against international concerns that legalization would endanger public health and young people.

“The illegal market has already lost 30% of its market share, and we have seen no corresponding increase in the overall size of the market,” Boudreau said, according to a written copy of her remarks. “This represents nearly $2 billion in sales that did not go to criminal organizations.”

She added that “initial data suggests that rates of cannabis use have not changed among youth and young adults,” nor has the country seen an increase in movement of cannabis across international borders.

“We will continue to collect data and evaluate the impact of Canada’s new regulatory framework and will ensure that any future decisions are well informed by this data,” Boudreau said.

Canada’s comments were delivered less than a week after the UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) expressed skepticism around legalization, writing in an annual report that it “remains concerned at the legislative developments permitting the use of cannabis for ‘recreational’ uses.”

“Not only are these developments in contravention of the drug control conventions and the commitments made by States parties,” the UN report said, but “the consequences for health and well-being, in particular of young people, are of serious concern.”

There are signs, however, that global drug policy could be changing soon. The international prohibition on cannabis legalization is nearly 60 years old at this point, as contained in the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. And many, including the president of INCB itself, have openly wondered whether its cannabis provisions are out of date.

Discussing cannabis and synthetic drugs during a UN presentation late last month, INCB President Cornelis P. de Joncheere questioned whether blanket prohibition is still the right approach.

“We have some fundamental issues around the conventions that state parties will need to start looking at,” he said, according to Marijuana Business Daily. “We have to recognize that the conventions were drawn up 50 and 60 years ago.”

Joncheere added that 2021 is “an appropriate time to look at whether those are still fit for purpose, or whether we need new alternative instruments and approaches to deal with these problems.”

Last year, the World Health Organization recommended that marijuana be removed from the most restrictive category of controlled substances under the 1961 treaty. The proposal would shift cannabis and THC to the drug convention’s least-restricted category.

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs was set to vote on the WHO recommendation this month, but the vote has been pushed back until December.

In her statements to the UN, Canada’s Boudreau stressed the importance of her country’s public-health approach to drug policy. Part of that approach includes efforts to reduce stigma around drug use, she said, and to that end the nation has included “members of civil society, including people with lived and living experience with substance use, on our delegation.”

“Canada is continuing to make efforts to reflect a broader range of voices in the design of all of our domestic drug policies, including civil society organizations, and people who use drugs,” she said.

Although Canada remains in violation of international treaties on cannabis legalization, Boudreau emphasized the nation’s “strong partnership with the [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] to achieve the aims of the international drug conventions.”

“Our partnership includes efforts to address illegal trafficking of opioids, their precursors and other synthetic drugs, through projects such as Smart Lab and AIRCOP,” she said. “We also contribute to the Container Control Program which facilitates seizures of illegal drugs and interception of cash couriers. Since 2015 Canada has delivered considerable technical assistance and equipment via the UNODC, with disbursements totaling approximately $54 million.”

Meanwhile, some domestic lawmakers in Canada want the country to go further by decriminalizing the possession of all drugs for personal use. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who led the country’s push to legalize cannabis, reiterated last week that he opposes the move.

“We will take a look at the proposals but as we’ve said many times, we believe in harm reduction, we believe in evidence-based policy,” Trudeau told reporters on Thursday. “Our approach is to ensure that people get the support they need. We do not believe that decriminalizing hard drugs is a solution right now.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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