Students would no longer be disqualified from receiving federal financial aid over past drug convictions under a large-scale, bipartisan spending bill introduced in Congress that’s expected to receive floor votes on Monday.
While the main function of the omnibus bill is to keep the government funded through September 2021 and provide assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic, the proposal finally eliminates a question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that prompts students to disclose prior drug offenses.
The new appropriations and COVID relief legislation also contains a number of other cannabis-related provisions such as the extension of a longstanding rider protecting state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference and a ban on Washington, D.C. legalizing recreational sales. Meanwhile, despite a push from the marijuana and financial services industries, it does not contain any language to shield banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by regulators. Importantly, it also extends a 2014 pilot program for hemp until 2022—a win for stakeholders who have been concerned about its expiration.
Meanwhile, a series of reports attached to the legislation contain discussion of hemp and CBD regulations and adding questions about marijuana edibles and flavored vaping products as part of a federal youth drug use survey, among other topics.
For the most part, this bill represents a continuation of past marijuana statutes that have been annually renewed through the appropriations process. But the financial aid reform is a significant victory for advocates who have been working for decades to quash the drug conviction question, which they argue is racially discriminatory and unnecessarily punitive when it comes to access to education.
Buried in the 5,593-page legislation is a subtle and easily overlooked change that doesn’t explicitly reference the FAFSA language. It simply strikes the subsection of the Higher Education Act that sets that drug-related eligibility standard.
Rachel Wissner, co-interim executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), told Marijuana Moment that the group “was founded in 1998 in large part as a response to remove the Aid Elimination Penalty.”
“This amendment has denied federal financial aid to hundreds of thousands of students, particularly burdening students of color from communities marginalized by the War on Drugs,” she said. “Over the last two decades, we have been fighting alongside other drug policy reform and education organizations to scale back the penalty.”
“Now that the penalty has fully been repealed, SSDP looks forward to the opportunity to work with Congress and the new administration on broader drug policy reform that ensure those who have been most harmed by the war on drugs are not left behind,” she added. “We celebrate that Congress has finally accepted that a drug conviction does not mean that someone should be denied access to higher education.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) championed the reform in bipartisan negotiations and said in a press release that “every single person in this country should be able to access and afford a quality higher education—and today we move substantially closer to that goal.”
“I’m incredibly pleased that these students will finally be able to access aid and begin and continue their education,” the senator, who also helped secure language to restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students, said.
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that these reforms “represent a major victory for students who have been unfairly deterred from pursuing higher education.”
“No one should be denied access to education because of a criminal record,” he said. “For more than twenty years, these policies have punished students who rely on federal aid to attend college and disproportionately harmed Black and Brown people targeted by drug enforcement.”
Beyond the education policy change, the spending bill also retains language that prevents the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in state-legal medical cannabis programs. The measure has been part of federal law since 2014 and the new version was updated to add South Dakota to the list of states that are protected since voters there approved a medical marijuana reform initiative last month.
However, negotiators declined to adopt broader language from House-passed appropriations legislation that would have extended those protections to all state and tribal cannabis programs, including those for adult use.
There are a few other disappointments for advocates in the new bill as well. For example, a rider that prevents D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement retail marijuana sales was kept in the text. The proposal also maintains language stipulating that federal dollars cannot be spent on “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attempted to get that provision nixed through an amendment to spending legislation last year, but the House rejected the proposed reform in a floor vote.
Another setback for reform allies concerns the COVID-19 portions of the omnibus bill. The House on two occasions included in their versions of relief legislation language that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. But despite passing both times, it was not added to the final bicameral bill. And more limited marijuana banking language that the House passed as part of its version of an annual spending bill was also not included.
Earlier this year, the House inserted language into its version of spending legislation that would have provided protections against universities losing funding for studying cannabis, but that did not make it into the final appropriations bill.
Additionally, the new large-scale legislation does not make any mention of extending coronavirus relief benefits to the marijuana industry through the Paycheck Protection Program, despite months of industry appeals for fair and equal access to the funds.
A couple of sections of the bill do continue protections for the hemp market, however. They prevent the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with the hemp pilot program detailed in the 2014 Farm Bill or lawful research into the crop.
A report on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spending provisions touches on various issues with USDA’s proposed hemp regulations that businesses have been flagging, including restrictive testing protocols and the limited THC content negligence threshold.
The bipartisan negotiators directed USDA “to ensure that any final rule is based on science, is in accordance with underlying law, and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp production in the United States.”
FDA is receiving $5 million to support its regulatory activities with respect to CBD, and the report states that the agency must work with the White House to issue “policy guidance in a timely manner regarding enforcement discretion.”
“When appropriate, FDA is encouraged to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report says. “The agreement also encourages FDA to partner with an academic institution to expand sampling studies of CBD products currently on the market.”
USDA would have to “study the usage and impacts of energy and water in hemp cultivation” and report back with its recommendations, communicate with stakeholders about research opportunities for the crop, partner with eligible research institutions on studies into hemp germplasm and “provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses” through the agency’s
Further, an agreed-upon report for the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies spending legislation notes that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has developed technology capable of rapidly differentiating hemp and marijuana, and it encourages the agency to continue to work with state and local partners to makes those tools more widely available for law enforcement purposes.
DEA is also required to report “on its efforts to interdict illicit vaping cartridges containing THC” within 180 days of the enactment of this bill.
A separate report for U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources funding states that the National Institute on Drug Abuse is advised to include “questions on consumption of flavored marijuana vapes and marijuana edibles flavored to appeal to adolescents in the [annual Monitoring the Future] survey.”
Prior to the release of the bill that was negotiated by House and Senate leaders, legislators in the latter chamber released several wide-ranging spending bills and related reports for the 2021 fiscal year that include a variety of provisions related to marijuana and hemp.
The new report language seems to incorporate the Senate Appropriations Committee’s prior criticism of USDA’s proposed hemp rules as it concerned THC limits.
The House version of spending legislation that the chamber approved in July was much more far-reaching. It additionally contained provisions to loosen rules on marijuana business access to banking services, expand cannabis research, regulate the hemp and CBD industries and give D.C. the ability to legalize recreational sales.
Read the spending bill’s marijuana and hemp provisions below:
SEC. 531. None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.
SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.
(b) No funds available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.
SEC. 530. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (‘‘Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research’’) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.
SEC. 744. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940), subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, or section 10114 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018; or (2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of hemp, or seeds of such plant, that is grown or cultivated in accordance with subsection section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 or Sub-title G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, within or outside the State in which the hemp is grown or cultivated.
SEC. 509. (a) None of the funds made available in this Act may be used for any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance included in schedule I of the schedules of controlled substances established under section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act except for normal and recognized executive-congressional communications.
(b) The limitation in subsection (a) shall not apply when there is significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage to the use of such drug or other substance or that federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage.
Read the cannabis-related report language on the spending bills below:
Hemp Testing Technology- DEA has developed field testing kits that can distinguish between hemp and marijuana on-the-spot. DEA is directed to continue to work to ensure State and local law enforcement have access to this field test technology so they can more efficiently conduct their drug interdiction efforts at the local level. DEA is further directed to report back, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, and not less than every 6 months thereafter, until such time as testing kits are deployed to State and local law enforcement in the field.
Illegal Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Vaping Products- DEA is directed to report, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, on its efforts to interdict illicit vaping cartridges containing THC. This report shall assess how and to what extent such products are being marketed to children.
Within the increases provided for food safety activities, the agreement provides $5,000,000 for Regulatory Activities Associated with Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives…
As previously noted, the agreement provides $5,000,000 to support regulatory activities, including developing policy, and for FDA to continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities, including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research for cannabis-derived substances, such as cannabidiol (CBD). To provide more clarity to industry and the public, FDA is directed to work with OMB on issuing policy guidance in a timely manner regarding enforcement discretion. When appropriate, FDA is encouraged to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs. The agreement also encourages FDA to partner with an academic institution to expand sampling studies of CBD products currently on the market.
The agreement is aware of concerns that the interim final rule entitled “Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program” published by the Department in the Federal Register on October 31, 2019 (84 Fed. Reg. 58522) may create compliance challenges for the regulated community by using sampling and testing protocols that require too short a timeframe between testing and harvest, failing to provide a lack of alternative to the use of Drug Enforcement Administration registered laboratories, requiring the conversion of THCA into delta-9 THC, requiring a sampling of only flowering tops, and establishing an inflexible negligence threshold of 0.5 percent. The agreement directs USDA to ensure that any final rule is based on science, is in accordance with underlying law, and will ensure a fair and reasonable regulatory framework for commercial hemp production in the United States. In addition, the agreement encourages the Secretary to utilize the current research at the Agricultural Research Service and the Land-Grant Universities partnering with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to guide the hemp sampling and testing protocols.
In addition, the USDA shall develop regulations, within existing authority, that protect the transportation, processing, sale, or use of hemp and in-process hemp extract, that may temporarily exceed a delta-9 THC concentration of 0.3%, including in-process hemp extract that was: (1) produced from hemp that meets the definition of hemp under 7 U.S.C. §16390; (2) cultivated in accordance with subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 [7 U.S.C. 16390 et seq.] (as added by section 10113 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of2018) or section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 [7 U.S.C. 5940]; (3) not packaged as a finished product; and (4) not sold or offered for sale as a finished product to consumers.
The agreement encourages the Secretary to study the usage and impacts of energy and water in hemp cultivation and controlled environment agriculture and to make recommendations on best practices and standards in both sectors.
The agreement notes statements made by the Department acknowledging the eligibility of researchers participating in hemp pilot programs, as defined by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79). The agreement directs the Department to work with and inform stakeholders of this eligibility and to support hemp research, as authorized by Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of2014 (Public Law 113-79) and Subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1621-1627, 1635-1638).
The agreement provides funding increases for…hemp germplasm [and] hemp production systems…
The agreement encourages ARS and the Plant Genetics Resources Research Unit to partner with 1890 institutions that have existing institutional capacity on hemp germplasm research, education, and extension capabilities.
The agreement recognizes the growing interest for U.S. hemp and hemp-based products for a variety of uses and directs FCA to work with the institutions under its jurisdiction to provide access to guaranteed loans for hemp producers and businesses.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE (NIDA)
Flavored THC-The agreement appreciates the important data collected in the annual NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The agreement recommends the inclusion of questions on consumption of flavored marijuana vapes and marijuana edibles flavored to appeal to adolescents in the MTF survey.
This story has been updated to include additional details about the cannabis provisions of the new bill and related reports.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
New York Regulators Move To Let Medical Cannabis Patients Grow Their Own And Give Marijuana Expungements Update
New York marijuana regulators are finally moving to allow medical cannabis patients in the state to grow plants for personal use, and they’ve provided an update on progress toward expunging prior marijuana conviction records.
At their second meeting on Thursday, New York’s Cannabis Control Board (CCB) voted unanimously to file the proposed regulations, which would allow qualified patients to cultivate up to six plants—indoors or outdoors—for their own therapeutic use.
There will be a 60-day public comment period after the rules are published. Then the board will review those comments, make any necessary revisions and officially file the regulations to take effect.
“We are proud to present those proposed regulations,” former Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright (D), who chairs CCB, said. “The home cultivation of medical cannabis will provide certified patients with a cost-effective means of obtaining cannabis through personal cultivation while creating a set of standards governing the conduct and activities relating to the personal cultivation of cannabis.”
A slide presented by the board states that the rules would impose “a duty on patients to take reasonable measures to ensure that cannabis plants, and any cannabis cultivated from such plants, is not readily accessible to anyone under the age of 21.”
Caregivers for patients under 21 “whose physical or cognitive impairments prevent them from cultivating cannabis” could also grow up to six plants on their behalf. For caregivers with more than one patient, they can “cultivate 1 additional cannabis plant for each subsequent patient.”
Landlords would have the option of prohibiting tenants from growing marijuana on their properties. Cannabis products could not be processed using any liquid or gas, other than alcohol, that has a flashpoint below 100 degrees.
Rules for home cultivation for patients were supposed to be released earlier, but officials failed to meet the legislatively mandated deadline. Recreational consumers, meanwhile, won’t be able to grow their own marijuana until after adult-use sales begin, which isn’t expected for months.
Prior to signing legalization into law—and before resigning amid a sexual harassment scandal this year—then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) put forth a reform plan that proposed maintaining a ban on home cultivation.
In 2019, Marijuana Moment obtained documents showing that a New York-based marijuana business association led by the executives of the state’s major licensed medical cannabis providers had previously sent a policy statement to Cuomo’s office arguing against allowing patients to grow their own medicine.
At the meeting on Thursday, the Office of Cannabis Management also provided an update on efforts to expunge cannabis records.
There have been 45 expungements for cases related to marijuana possession, though most remain “under custody or supervision for additional crimes,” another slide reads.
“Approximately 203,000 marijuana related charges are presently being suppressed from background searches and in process to be sealed or expunged,” it continues. “This will add to the approximately 198,000 sealing accomplished as part of the first round of marijuana expungements for the 2019 expungement legislation.”
At their first meeting earlier this month, CCB announced that medical marijuana dispensaries will now be allowed to sell flower cannabis products to qualified patients. The $50 registration fee for patients and caregivers is also being permanently waived.
Members of the board, who were recently appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, also discussed ethical considerations for regulators, approved key staff hires and talked about next steps for the panel.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who replaced Cuomo, has repeatedly emphasized her interest in efficiently implementing the legalization law that was signed in March.
At a recent event, she touted the fact that she had quickly made regulatory appointments that had been delayed under her predecessor. “I believe there’s thousands and thousands of jobs” that could be created in the new industry, the governor said.
CCB is responsible for overseeing the independent Office of Cannabis Management within the New York State Liquor Authority, which is also responsible for regulating the state’s medical marijuana and hemp industries.
As it stands, adults 21 and older can possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates in New York—and they can also smoke marijuana in public anywhere tobacco can be smoked—but there aren’t any shops open for business yet.
The state Department of Labor separately announced in new guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana.
The first licensed recreational marijuana retailers in New York may actually be located on Indian territory, with one tribe officially opening applications for prospective licensees earlier this month.
In July, a New York senator filed a bill to create a provisional marijuana licensing category so that farmers could begin cultivating and selling cannabis ahead of the formal rollout of the adult-use program. The bill has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
Because the implementation process has been drawn out, however, one GOP senator wants to give local jurisdictions another year to decide whether they will opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area—a proposal that advocates say is unnecessary and would create undue complications for the industry.
Under the law as enacted, municipalities must determine whether they will opt out of permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites by December 31, 2021. Sen. George Borrello (R) introduced legislation earlier this month that would push that deadline back one year.
Legalization activists aren’t buying the argument, however.
Adding pressure to get the market up and running is the fact that regulators in neighboring New Jersey recently released rules for its adult-use marijuana program, which is being implemented after voters approved a legalization referendum last year.
For the first year of cannabis sales, the state is expected to see just $20 million in tax and fee collections. That will be part of an estimated $26.7 billion in new revenues that New York is expected to generate in fiscal year 2021-2022 under a budget that the legislature passed in April.
Meanwhile, a New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
Activists Push D.C. Lawmakers To Decriminalize Drugs And Promote Harm Reduction With New Campaign
Activists in Washington, D.C. on Thursday launched a new campaign to urge local lawmakers to broadly decriminalize drugs, with a focus on expanding treatment resources and harm reduction services.
DecrimPovertyDC—a coalition of advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy—will be imploring the District Council to take up the cause, and members have already met with the offices of each legislator and have gotten a generally positive reception.
Today, @DrugPolicyOrg, @HIPS, @Defund_MPD & over 40 civil rights, justice reform, public health, & faith groups join forces to launch the #DecrimPovertyDC campaign. We are urging for @councilofdc to treat drug use like a public health issue. Learn more: https://t.co/KFXc7su9Pu pic.twitter.com/TwWACpAsUU
— #DecrimPovertyDC (@decrimpovertydc) October 21, 2021
“Through ongoing advocacy, we aim to replace carceral systems with harm reduction-oriented systems of care that promote the dignity, autonomy, and health of people who use drugs, sex workers, and other criminalized populations,” the campaign site says.
People of color are disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization, and the group said the impact “extends far beyond the criminal legal system, as people face an array of punishments in employment, housing, education, immigration, child welfare, and public benefits—all of which can trap people in poverty.”
An outline of the legislative proposal starts with drug decriminalization. People who possess small amounts of controlled substances would face no criminal or civil penalties. An independent commission would decide what the possession limit should be, and those who possess more than that amount would face a $50 fine, which could be waived if the person completes a health assessment.
Further, the mayor would be required to establish a harm reduction center where people could receive treatment resources and access sterile needles. The legislation allows for the creation of a safe consumption site within the center where people could use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
That could prove challenging, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. An attempt to create such a facility in Philadelphia was blocked under the Trump administration and is now pending further action in a lower federal court.
The D.C. initiative, which is also being supported by AIDS United, Defund MPD, Honoring Individual Power and Strength (HIPS) and dozens of other groups, would also make it so the health department would need to provide a drug testing service so people could screen products for contaminants or other hazardous compounds.
In 2020, 511 people fatally overdosed in the District; over 94,000 people died from accidental overdose nationally. We are in a state of emergency directly caused by criminalization and other inhumane drug policies. #DecrimPovertyDC pic.twitter.com/9stWKb1nYG
— #DecrimPovertyDC (@decrimpovertydc) October 21, 2021
Another provision activists are pushing for would work to repair the harms of criminalization, in part by requiring the courts to “identify and vacate convictions for offenses decriminalized by this bill.” They would also need to find and vacate cases related to drug paraphernalia, which was decriminalized last year under separate legislation.
Queen Adesuyi, policy manager of national affairs at DPA, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign’s branding and scope is “intentionally broad to address poverty more generally, because in D.C. the drug war does disproportionately impact under-resourced communities in addition to black communities.”
“We wanted to build out our campaign to paint the full picture of the drug war’s harms locally in the District,” she said, adding that the coalition will be poised to “support other efforts that are also working to minimize state-based harm against vulnerable communities in D.C.”
At this point, the drug decriminalization measure has not been introduced in the D.C. Council, but activists are encouraged by early conversations with local lawmakers. The intent is to build on drug policy progress such as paraphernalia decriminalization, which was championed by key players like the chairman of the Council’s Judiciary Committee.
The push in the nation’s capital follows advocates’ success in advancing decriminalization in other parts of the country.
Oregon voters approved a historic initiative to decriminalize drug possession last year, and multiple jurisdictions across the U.S. are now exploring similar policy changes.
Last month, Massachusetts lawmakers heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities. A safe consumption site bill advanced through a legislative committee in the state in May.
The Maine Senate this summer defeated a bill that would have decriminalized possession of all currently illicit drugs.
Rhode Island’s governor signed a bill in July to create a pilot program legalizing safe consumption sites.
Congressionally, a first-of-its-kind bill to decriminalize drug possession at the federal level was introduced this session.
There’s a sense of urgency to get this reform in D.C. enacted, as the coronavirus pandemic has seemed to contribute to record-high drug overdose deaths in the country. Adesuyi said “the last year really has made it so we just can’t wait any more.”
Meanwhile, advocates have renewed hope that D.C. could soon move to legalize the sale of adult-use marijuana.
The District has been prevented from doing so despite legalizing cannabis in 2014 because it’s been bound by a congressional spending bill rider prohibiting the use of local tax dollars for that purpose. But with majorities in both chambers this session, Democratic appropriators have excluded that prohibitive language in the most recent spending measures—so D.C. would be empowered to finally enact a regulated market.
The mayor of D.C. said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) introduced a cannabis commerce bill in February—and members of the District Council are considering that, as well as a separate proposal put forward by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
A hearing on the latter bill is scheduled for next month the Committee of the Whole, the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety & the Committee on Business & Economic Development.
Fourth Massachusetts City Approves Psychedelics Reform As Movement Grows
A fourth Massachusetts city has enacted a psychedelics policy change, with members of the Easthampton City Council voting on Wednesday in favor of a resolution urging the decriminalization of certain entheogenic substances and other drugs.
The measure, introduced by Council Member At-Large Owen Zaret (D), passed in a 7-0 vote, with two abstentions, on Wednesday night.
“I’m grateful to the Council for being so forward thinking about a cutting edge topic,” Zaret told Marijuana Moment after the vote. “There were some hard concepts to undo for some of us. This is a step forward to helping people have access to effective therapies and also halting unnecessary arrests and incarceration.”
While the resolution is non-binding and doesn’t require police to deprioritize enforcement of laws prohibiting psychedelics—as has been the case in other cities across the U.S.—it represents an important first step and sends a clear message to local law enforcement that members are ready to depart from the status quo of criminalization.
It’s not just about psychedelics, either. The legislation says the Council “maintains that the use and possession of all controlled substances should be understood first and primarily as an issue of public health by city departments, agencies, boards, commissions, and all employees of the city.”
Lawmakers also recommended that “it should be policy of the City of Easthampton that the arrest of persons for using or possessing controlled substances for personal adult therapeutic, excepting Lophophora and animal-derived controlled substances, shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the City of Easthampton.”
Zaret told Marijuana Moment in a recent phone interview that substance misuse is a “public health issue, it’s not a criminal issue.”
“We need to start a really aggressive campaign to, A) highlight the fact that this is a public health issue and, B) be more be more aggressive about how we’re treating that,” he said. “There are multiple angles to do that,” and psychedelics represent one possible solution.
This action comes months after the neighboring Northampton City Council passed a resolution stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.
The local measures express support for two bills introduced in the state legislature this year. One would remove criminal penalties for possession of all currently illicit drugs and the other would establish a task force to study entheogenic substances with the eventual goal of legalizing and regulating the them.
“This is a victory for the health and safety of our communities,” the advocacy group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, which has been working with local lawmakers in Massachusetts to pass the resolutions, said in an Instagram post after the most recent vote. “These medicines will revolutionize the field of mental health, and this is a step toward a community model that puts people over profit. This signals to our state lawmakers we will not tolerate an over-regulated purely clinical model that makes these medicines unaffordable for working class people.”
While Massachusetts is proving to be a focal point of psychedelics reform, it’s far from the only place where activists are gaining ground.
For example, Seattle’s City Council approved a resolution earlier this month to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.
In Michigan, the Grand Rapids City Council approved a resolution last month calling for decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics.
Elsewhere in Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed that decriminalization resolution last year, the Washtenaw County prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi, “regardless of the amount at issue.”
A local proposal to decriminalize various psychedelics will also appear on Detroit’s November ballot.
At the same time that local activists are pursuing decriminalization, a pair of Michigan senators introduced a bill last month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
A bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.
California activists were separately cleared to begin collecting signatures for a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state. Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.
The top Democrat in the Florida Senate filed a bill last month that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.
Earlier this year, Texas enacted a law directing state officials to study psychedelics’ medical value.
The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics. Activists in the city are also hoping to expand upon the local decriminalization ordinance by creating a community-based model through which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from local producers.
Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led the 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have set their eyes on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.
In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee last month.
NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.
An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.
For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said this month that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill “this year.”
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.