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Congress Should Let D.C. Decriminalize Psychedelics, Advocates Say

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Drug policy reform advocates are asking a key congressional committee to reject a Republican lawmaker’s attempt to block Washington, D.C. from enacting an initiative to decriminalize certain psychedelics.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)—who has also championed provisions preventing D.C. from implementing legal marijuana sales after local voters passed a cannabis initiative in 2014—signaled last week that he’s planning to introduce an amendment to a spending bill during a committee meeting on Wednesday that would restrict the District from allowing the psychedelics measure to be implemented even if it is approved by voters in November.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is in favor of the proposal and, on Tuesday, it sent a letter to leadership in the House Appropriations Committee asking members to oppose Harris’s amendment and any other effort to restrict the democratic process for D.C. residents.

The measure, which hasn’t formally qualified for the ballot yet but received significantly more signatures than required when activists submitted them last week, would make a wide range of entheogenic substances including psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca among the jurisdiction’s lowest law enforcement priorities. However, it wouldn’t technically change local statute.

“We urge the Committee to vote against any proposed amendment that would impede the District of Columbia’s effort to decriminalize the use of psychedelics in the District via Ballot Initiative 81,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs for DPA, wrote. “This ballot initiative represents an important step towards ending the racist and failed War on Drugs that disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color.”

“We understand there are intentions to block this effort from happening, and urge the Committee to vote against any amendment that would undo the will of the people of the District of Columbia,” the letter states. “We urge the Appropriations Committee to vote against an effort that would prohibit the 700,000 residents of D.C. to carry out their own democratic process and include Initiative 81, a measure that chips away at the failed drug war, on the ballot in November.”

Language of the potential Harris amendment has not been released. Marijuana Moment reached out to his office, but a representative did not immediately respond.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said in a press release last week that she would defeat the congressman’s measure, asserting that he’s “been a chronic abuser of home rule” and this is “the latest example.”

“We will continue to fight any and all attempts to overturn D.C. laws, regardless of the policy, as D.C. has a right to self-government,” she said.

Harris has been a consistent opponent of cannabis reform, repeatedly backing a long-standing congressional rider that bars D.C. from using its tax dollars to implement a legal marketplace. Last year, however, it was not included in the spending bill as introduced by House Democratic leaders and the congressmen didn’t attempt to introduce an amendment to reinsert it. He acknowledged that his party is “not in charge anymore” in the chamber. That said, the Senate did include the measure in its version of the D.C. spending bill, and it made it into the final legislation signed by the president.

But while Harris seems to have set aside efforts to push cannabis rider in the House for now, he feels more confident that some Democrats will share his views on psychedelics.

“I think there’s probably a lot of Democrats who draw a very distinct line between potent hallucinogens and marijuana,” he told The New York Post. “And whereas the majority may support recreational use of marijuana, I doubt the majority supports the broad use of these potent hallucinogens.”

Read the letter DPA sent to the House Appropriations Committee on the psychedelics initiative below: 

DPA Letter House Approps Vo… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

New Jersey Governor Says Legalizing Marijuana A ‘No-Brainer’ For Coronavirus Economic Recovery

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Maine Marijuana Sales Can Finally Begin, Officials Announce Four Years After Voters Legalized It

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Marijuana businesses in Maine can begin recreational sales on October 9, the state’s cannabis regulatory body announced on Friday.

This comes nearly four years after voters approved a legalization ballot measure—a significant delay in implementation compared to California, Massachusetts and Nevada, which also legalized for adult-use on the same day in 2016.

The first round of cannabis business licenses will be issued on September 8, giving licensees about a month to begin harvesting, processing and ensuring quality control for their marijuana products. It’s not clear how many licenses will be initially approved.

The state’s Office of Marijuana Policy (OMP) said it had planned to launch retail sales in April, but that timeline was pushed back due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The public’s health and safety are at the forefront of every decision we make,” OMP Director Erik Gundersen said in a press release. “While we were poised to launch this new industry earlier this year, we were unwilling to sacrifice the high standards we have set for this program by launching during an emerging public health pandemic and in the absence of a testing facility.”

“With the support of the public health community, municipalities across the state, and the industry we regulate, we have used the last few months to ensure this new industry is introduced to Maine consumers in a manner that is as responsible as possible,” he said.

Marijuana businesses will have to impose social distancing and other public safety requirements in order to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today’s announcement is a major milestone in honoring the will of Maine voters and a significant step toward launching a new industry in the state,” Gundersen said. “Many of the business owners we have spoken with during the application process are ready and eager to commence operations.”

The nearly four-year delay in implementation in Maine is partly the product of interference by then-Gov. Paul LePage (R), a vocal opponent to cannabis reform, and other legislators.

Gov. Janet Mills (D), who signed legislation to set the framework for legal marijuana sales last year, has taken a different tone on the issue.

Montana Will Vote On Two Marijuana Legalization Measures In November, State Confirms

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DNC Rejecting Legal Marijuana In Platform Is ‘Shameful,’ Soon-To-Be Congressman Says

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A Democratic congressional nominee who is all but certain to be elected to the House this November said on Thursday that it is “shameful” the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) platform committee recently rejected an amendment to make marijuana legalization a 2020 party plank.

Mondaire Jones, a progressive attorney who won his party’s primary in New York’s strongly Democratic 17th congressional district last month, put DNC officials on notice during a virtual Netroots Nation event, calling them out for not advancing bold policies such as comprehensive cannabis reform and universal health care.

“It is shameful to me that the Democratic platform…rejected the legalization of marijuana—something that really should not be controversial anymore, especially given what we’ve seen in our so-called criminal justice system, which I call the criminal legal system,” he said. “The incarceration of so many black and brown people, deliberately, intentionally a relic of Jim Crow.”

He added that voters shouldn’t necessarily rely on presidential nominees to pursue progressive policies that they are demanding and should instead expect to see leadership from Congress.

“We can’t take for granted the fact that our nominees are going to govern in a way that we will want them to and it’s why it’s so important that we exercise, we’re in Congress, our Article One authorities,” Jones said. “One thing that we’ve gotten away from in recent years is the fact that Congress really should be the most powerful aspect of our federal government.”

“It’s why the framers put it in Article One because they thought the Congress should be most powerful—but instead we’ve have an executive that has way too much power. As a soon-to-be progressive in Congress, we need to be acting as a bloc. That means everybody in the Congressional Progressive Caucus needs to get their act together and withhold their support from legislation that should be better for the American people. It means that folks who are self-described as progressives in Congress have to start legislating like that. And if not, then grassroots organizers need to hold them accountable.”

Watch Jones ‘s full comments on marijuana and the Democratic Party, starting around 20:50 into the video below:

While Jones didn’t explicitly criticize presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his ongoing opposition to marijuana legalization is precisely an example of what he’s talking about. Despite supermajority support for the policy change among Democrats, he’s refused to adopt a pro-legalization position, instead drawing the line at possession decriminalization, medical cannabis legalization, modest rescheduling and expungements.

There are some advocates who suspect it’s because Biden’s agenda omits legalization that DNC’s platform committee soundly rejected the amendment. Even a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and sponsor of a legalization bill, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), voted against the measure, taking activists by surprise.

Meanwhile, Biden’s pick for a vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), has evolved on marijuana policy. Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

Even so, she’s indicated she doesn’t plan to push the former vice president to support legalization.

A key committee chairman’s staffer and several advocates told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that there are plans in the works to get the House version of Harris’s marijuana legalization bill to the chamber’s floor in September, though nothing has yet been publicly confirmed by leadership.

Jones, in his new comments, made clear that the executive branch shouldn’t have the final word on this and Congress should move to advance cannabis legalization regardless of the president’s position.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the incumbent being challenged by formerly anti-marijuana Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), made a similar point last month, saying that a Democratic Congress would advance legal cannabis legislation in 2021 despite opposition from a President Joe Biden.

ACLU, NAACP And Other Groups Push Congress To Pass Marijuana Legalization Bill By Next Month

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Local Marijuana Bans In California Keep Illicit Market Alive And Block Revenue, Study Shows

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Local bans on marijuana businesses in California are helping the illicit market to thrive and are depriving the state and municipalities of tax revenue that could help offset economic losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study.

The report analyzes the financial impact from the 75 percent of cities and counties that have implemented cannabis market bans despite the 2016 statewide vote to legalize the plant for adult use.

“Inconsistencies between different jurisdictions, particularly with tax rates, licensing procedures, and land use regulations” have created a situation in which “the illegal market continues to make up a large majority of the cannabis sales in California,” it concludes.

The analysis shows that while there’s strong demand and potential for revenue, California is far behind other legal states because of the widespread localized prohibitions.

“In benchmarking California’s legal cannabis sales performance against other states that have legalized recreational cannabis sales, the state generally does not fare well,” it says, noting that “California’s per capita taxable cannabis sales of $51.77 in 2019 is less than half the per capita sales in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.”

Via ADE.

The analysis—which was conducted by the financial consulting firm Applied Development Economics and commissioned by the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and Weedmaps (which, by way of full disclosure, is a longtime sponsor of Marijuana Moment)—used three jurisdictions with varying marijuana regulations to underscore the potential for local tax revenue that comes with allowing cannabis businesses. Those areas are Stockton, San Bruno, and unincorporated Sacramento County.

Stockton, which just last year developed a licensing system and established a five percent local tax on marijuana sales, could net anywhere from $824,500 to $3.9 million annually in revenue once it approves enough retailers meet demand.

Via ADE.

San Bruno is “an untapped cannabis market with no existing cannabis retailers operating within the city limits,” the report notes. While the City Council approved a measure to put a proposed 10 percent sales tax on cannabis on the November ballot, it has yet to implement licensing regulations.

Via ADE.

The analysis estimates that, if voters approve the Council-passed initiative and businesses are allowed to operate in the city, “local tax potential for the City of San Bruno ranges from about $235,300 to $1.1 million.”

The unincorporated areas of Sacramento County provide the most restrictive example in the report. While some local jurisdictions, including the city of Sacramento, allow cannabis businesses and impose local taxes, the county itself does not and doesn’t have any plans in the works to establish a licensing system.

Via ADE.

Given the estimated range for demand, analysts said that if the county adopted Sacramento’s four percent tax rate, it stands to generate anywhere from $1.2 million to $5.8 million annually.

“Based on our independent and objective analysis, cannabis businesses show significant market potential for additional legal sales throughout California,” the report concludes. “This would result in substantial increases in tax receipts for state and local governments if the number of retail cannabis establishments expands to meet local demand in those communities that do not currently have legal retail cannabis sales.”

“Because of the state’s underperforming retail cannabis market, the range of potential market support has significant upside. The market demand already exists, with most of the demand currently met through illicit sales channels that generate no tax revenues. As local governments struggle with meeting their budget needs and providing essential services to their residents, legal cannabis sales represent a source of revenue that has remained untapped by most California jurisdictions.”

Julian Canete, CEO of California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, said in a press release that local bans on marijuana businesses “have hampered opportunities for cannabis entrepreneurs for almost four years since California voters passed Prop 64.”

“In the wake of COVID-19, there’s never been a better time for local governments to embrace the potential for more tax revenue that fund critical services, and we hope this study encourages many to rethink their opposition,” he said.

Read the full study on California’s cannabis market below: 

ADE Cannabis Report by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

New Initiative To Legalize Marijuana Sales Filed In D.C.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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.
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