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Congressional Funding Bill Restores Financial Aid For Students With Drug Convictions, And Has Other Marijuana Provisions

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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. 

IRS Official Notes Marijuana Legalization’s Momentum In Tax Compliance Webinar For Industry

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Sixth Minnesota House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill On Its Path To The Floor

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is going through a thorough vetting process, with a sixth House committee on Wednesday giving the reform proposal a green light following a hearing.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Days after a separate panel approved the legislation with amendments, the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee passed it in a 9-7 vote.

“The purpose of House File 600 is to eliminate the harm that cannabis has in our society,” Winkler said of the bill at the hearing. “The primary harm that cannabis poses in Minnesota is the prohibition and criminal enforcement of cannabis.”

“The goal of House File 600 is to shift in a legal marketplace that is policed and over-policed disproportionately and instead to create a policy of repair, an opportunity for those most adversely affected by the war on drugs,” he said.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee was the last body to approve the bill, on Monday, and members there adopted a number of changes to the proposal. For example, it now stipulates that members of a cannabis advisory council established under the bill could not serve as lobbyists while on the panel and for two years after they end their service.

Before that hearing, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee each advanced the measure.

Its next stop is the State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”

“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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An Alabama House committee on Wednesday amended a medical marijuana legalization bill that already passed the Senate. Members also took public testimony in advance of an expected Thursday vote to send the revised legislation to the House floor.

This hearing of the House Health Committee comes one week after a separate panel in the body amended and cleared the bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the legislation would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the bill last month.

“I just want to take [cannabis] to the patients that need it. I want to see people get relief,” the senator said at the meeting. He also made the case that allowing legal access can mitigate opioid overdose deaths.

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during last week’s hearing. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.

Those amendments were integrated into a new substitute version of the bill adopted by the Health panel, with additional revisions such as removing anxiety and adding depression and Parkinson’s disease as qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. The committee voted to accept the substitute version for consideration before going into testimony.

Time was evenly divided between supporters and opponents. By and large, the conversation revolved around personal anecdotes about the medical benefits and risks of marijuana.

More amendments were added following the testimony. One change would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Members further approved an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also accepted.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities. These changes are all being added to a new substitute that the panel will take up and vote on Thursday.

Because the proposal has been amended, it would go back to the Senate for final consideration if it’s passed in the House before being sent to the governor’s desk.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction has been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There could be additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last month to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time.

Majority Of Connecticut Residents Back Marijuana Legalization And Expungements, Poll Finds As Reform Bills Advance

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Former Gov. Rick Perry Urges Texas Lawmakers To Pass Psychedelics Study Bill

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“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Rick Perry, in a rare return to policy debates in Austin, is teaming up with a Democratic state lawmaker to push for psychedelic drug therapy for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former Republican governor is throwing his support behind a bill by state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, that calls for a clinical study of psilocybin—the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms”—to treat PTSD in veterans.

“To me, this may be one of the most hopeful pieces of legislation that the members of the Legislature have the opportunity to consider this session,” Perry said in an interview Tuesday.

Some studies have suggested that psilocybin could be safe and effective in treating mental health disorders like depression, while calling for larger studies with more thorough methods.

Perry said he has “historically been a very anti-drug person” and still firmly opposes legalization for recreational uses. However, he said he has seen through his longtime advocacy for veterans how psychedelic drugs can provide relief to former service members who have exhausted other options — and are traveling to other countries, like Mexico, to receive treatment.

“All of that properly done in the right type of clinical setting will save a multitude of lives,” Perry said. “I’m convinced of it. I have seen it enough of these young men.”

Perry is set to join Dominguez for a news conference on his proposal Wednesday morning at the state Capitol. The news conference will also be attended by veterans that Perry has gotten close to over the years, including retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell and Dakota Meyer, a Marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

Dominguez’s House Bill 1802 would direct the Health and Human Services Commission to conduct the clinical study of psilocybin in partnership with a health sciences university and a Veterans Affairs hospital. The proposal would also ask HHSC to do a literature review—a survey of prior studies—of using not just psilocybin but also MDMA and ketamine to treat PTSD in veterans.

HHSC would have to submit quarterly progress reports on its study, and it would have a deadline of Dec. 1, 2024, to deliver final findings to the the so-called “Big Three”—the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker—as well as members in both chambers.

The bill was referred to the House Public Health Committee last month but has not received a hearing yet.

Texas has largely avoided loosening its drug laws in recent years as a growing number of states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The state has legalized marijuana with limited levels of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high—for people with certain debilitating illnesses, but eligibility is limited and relatively few people have signed up.

Noting the influence that the Big Three could have if they get behind a proposal, Perry said he’s talked with the offices of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and that the speaker’s office has been briefed on it. He added that he is hoping that Republicans can “get comfortable [that], ‘Hey, this is not some recreational drug thing,'” but a life-changing treatment for veterans when handled carefully.

Dominguez said in an interview that he has found that colleagues on both sides of the aisle are “very supportive” of studying the issue.

“I think in general we’re supportive of veterans issues and certainly there’s maybe a generational discussion to be had… But I found most members want to hear the science,” Dominguez said, emphasizing the study would go through a “controlled process” and that there would be “a number of safeguards in place to make sure that nobody abuses this and we learn the efficacy.”

The lawmaker said his interest in the issue comes from his time as a prosecutor in Cameron County, which set up a veterans treatment court in 2014.

Perry has largely stayed out of state legislative matters since leaving office in 2015, unsuccessfully running for president in 2016 and then joining former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as energy secretary. He stepped down as energy secretary in late 2019.

But Perry is not unfamiliar with the Legislature, though, and particularly the House. He served there from 1985 to 1991—first as a Democrat and then as a Republican.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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