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Congressional Democrats Hold First-Ever Marijuana Reform Panel At Policy Retreat

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For the first time, congressional Democrats held a policy retreat that featured a panel dedicated entirely to marijuana reform and the need to repair the harms of the war on drugs.

The panel at House Democrats’ gathering took place last Thursday morning, with reform advocates sharing their perspective on cannabis legislation moving through Congress and discussing not just why legalization is important but emphasizing how a legal cannabis system should be implemented. That marijuana should be legalized seemed to be accepted as a foregone conclusion at the event, which attracted no opponents and contained no discussion of whether to end prohibition. Instead, conversations centered on how to shape the legal industry.

There was a strong emphasis on the racial injustices of prohibition at the event, which was moderated by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

Titled “From the War on Drugs to Restorative Justice: Ensuring Racial and Social Equity in the Cannabis Movement,” the panel drew an enthusiastic crowd despite the 7:45 AM start time. Lawmakers and staffers watched speakers discuss issues such as diversity in the legal cannabis industry, the long-term consequences of criminalization and barriers to accessing medical marijuana.

Lawmakers who attended the cannabis panel include Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

The panel is “another indication of how seriously that Dems are taking the issue around marijuana reform and their centering of marijuana reform having to be a conversation that’s broader than just descheduling,” Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance and one of the event’s speakers, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s a conversation about criminal justice reform, civil rights.”

House leadership is involved in approving these conference panels, Adesuyi said, so the marijuana-specific event reflects the Democratic majority’s willingness to advance cannabis legislation in the 116th Congress. Conversations focused on passing bills that were “comprehensive,” going beyond simply removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act but also ensuring that the market that emerges is equitable.

“The major topics/overarching themes of the discussion will be (1) stopping the hyper-criminalization of communities, (2) assessing the harm done by the failed war on drugs, (3) building a responsible and equitable industry in its place, and (4) repairing the harm that has been done,” a memo for the panel, obtained by Marijuana Moment, states.

Here are the “framing questions” the panel addressed, per the memo:

“What are some of the specific ways that marijuana prohibition and its enforcement has devastated people of color? What are some of the consequences of a marijuana arrest or conviction?

How have these policies impacted communities at large? What type of lasting consequences have we seen come from marijuana prohibition as a policy?

Will legalizing marijuana for adult use improve the situation? What considerations should lawmakers be making as they look to legalizing marijuana for adult use? (i.e.Clearing records, investing in communities, reuniting families)

Have the states who have moved on this issue been intentional about removing the prohibition framework? What are some examples of further steps that can be taken?

Many states have now created industry without being intentional about the structural inequities that persist post legalization such as access to capital, what type of burden should fall on the states to deliver on equity? And what type of challenges are being experienced by entrepreneurs as they seek to grow in this space?”

Various pieces of cannabis legislation were listed on the agenda, including the wide-ranging Marijuana Justice Act sponsored by Lee and the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act from Blumenauer.

While the panel didn’t specifically address the limited social equity provisions of the STATES Act, which Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) raised as his reason for declining to cosponsor the legislation this Congress, it did focus on the necessity of those provisions.

Passing marijuana reform should involve “restorative justice, implementing criminal justice and drug policy reforms, reinvesting in communities of color, and ensuring the inclusion of entrepreneurs of color in the fast-moving cannabis industry,” the memo states.

“There was a great collegial spirit in the room, where people were really feeling energized by wanting to fight to end prohibition and end it in a way that is comprehensive,” Adesuyi said. “It seems like Dems are at the point where they are more fully understanding the breadth of what it means to end marijuana prohibition.”

Beside the marijuana panel, some Democratic members of Congress at the retreat also participated in a separate trivia game that had a cannabis section. Members were tested on their knowledge of different types of marijuana and smoking apparatuses, and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) won in the end by correctly answering a question about gravity bongs.

Marijuana Moment Patreon supporters can read the memo for the Democrats’ cannabis panel below:

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Congressional Democrats Compete In Marijuana-Themed Trivia Game

Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.

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

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.

The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.

“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.

“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.

Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”

“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.

“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”

The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.

To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.

A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”

“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”

Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.

Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:

FINAL Letter to DOJ Re. Can… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

People Are Skipping Sleep Aids In Favor of Marijuana, Study Reports

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Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative

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Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.

Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.

A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.

To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.

Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.

He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”

The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.

DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.

At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.

Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”

He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”

“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.

All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.

Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.

Scientist Talks Benefits Of Psychedelics At Federal Health Agency Event

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North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020

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North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.

Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.

It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.

The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”

But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.

Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:

“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”

In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.

“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”

Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:

Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.

In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.

Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.

Marijuana Summit Will Give Virginia Governor ‘More Tools’ To Back Legalization, Attorney General Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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