Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.
While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.
That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.
Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.
We've received excellent feedback from our NEW Supporter Survey! This is your chance to give input as we adapt to opportunities and challenges presented by COVID-19. Please complete and share the survey here: https://t.co/B0LYBI4eXX #DecrimNature #Initiative81 #RestoringOurRoots
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) March 30, 2020
They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.
This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.
Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”
Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:
Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.
A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.
Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.
Interview: Cory Gardner Talks Marijuana, Trump And His Reelection Bid
For anyone left questioning whether marijuana reform has become a mainstream issue in American politics, look no further than the race for a key Senate seat in Colorado, where incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and his main rival former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) are each competing for the cannabis vote this November.
In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment on Friday, Gardner discussed his cannabis reform record, his thoughts on the House’s inclusion of his Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in their latest COVID-19 relief package and more.
At a time of heightened partisanship, the senator and Hickenlooper are largely on the same page when it comes to marijuana: They agree it should be legal, taxed and regulated, and that federal prohibition needs to end. But when residents of one of the first states to legalize in 2012 hit the polls this year, many will have to decide which candidate—both of whom opposed Amendment 64 when it was initially proposed—has done more for the industry and consumers in the years since.
As one of the only GOP senators who has consistently advocated for cannabis reform in a chamber reluctant to take up the issue, Gardner is banking on some kind of legislative victory for marijuana ahead of Election Day. By his own admission, it would help him in a race in which polls show him trailing. But advocates of late have raised serious questions about whether he’s done enough. Some doubt that his occasional statements in support of the industry, sponsorship of legislation and behind-the-scenes conversations with colleagues on Capitol Hill and in the White House will affect real changes in the law sufficient to earn their support.
Some have questioned how the senator has approached cannabis policy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Several Democratic lawmakers have made the case that this is the time to enact reform to normalize the marijuana market and provide relief to an industry that employs tens of thousands of workers across the country. Gardner did not join his across-the-aisle colleagues in signing letters on the industry’s access to COVID-19 relief funds recently, but he agrees with them nonetheless, he told Marijuana Moment.
He also agrees with House Democrats that his bill—the SAFE Banking Act—should be included in the next coronavirus package taken up by the Senate. But Gardner has found himself combating a chorus of Republican voices protesting the inclusion of the senator’s own bill in the House’s version of legislation.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Marijuana Moment: According to a recent survey, 71 percent of Colorado residents say the state’s adult-use marijuana system has been a success. You, like your Democratic opponent, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, initially opposed Amendment 64. Do you agree with residents at this point that legalization has been a success?
Cory Gardner: It has been. In fact, what surprises me is that that number isn’t higher than that. I’ve seen other polls that show support for the decision of Colorado in the 80s. I think there’s significant success in what has been able to be done.
MM: Is it fair to say, then, that if legalization was on the ballot this November, you’d be a “yes” vote?
CG: That’s correct—just like the rest of the state of Colorado.
MM: What do you make of the seemingly coordinated messaging among several of your GOP colleagues criticizing the House inclusion of your SAFE Banking Act in their latest COVID-19 package? Do you feel it is germane given arguments that it could mitigate the spread of the virus?
CG: Not only is it germane but it’s needed. Here’s one very commonsense reason why we should be doing this. At a time when volumes of cash are leaving banks and being invested to save businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, through economic emergency disaster loans, through loans the bank is making to save its customers—billions and billions of dollars are leaving banks and saving our economy. Well, all of that money is leaving the financial system, here’s an opportunity for us to bring billions of dollars into the financial system that could then be turned around to save even more businesses.
Not only do I think this makes sense from a year-ago, pre-COVID, no-idea-this-was-going-to-happen point of view—but it really makes sense now because these are dollars that could actually be going into the system, helping with solvency and helping reserves build up to turn around and do even more good in saving our economy.
MM: When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) criticized the House package, he very narrowly focused on the diversity reporting provision of the SAFE Banking Act, rather than the main financial services components of the bill. Does that give you hope that he’s open to including your legislation in a Senate coronavirus bill?
CG: There’s no doubt that many of my Republican colleagues, including Senator McConnell, probably don’t want to support this or are trying to find a way to make it go away. But the fact is, he knows it’s not going to go away. He knows it needs to be dealt with. So that does give me hope—but what gives me even more hope are the great conversations I’ve had with [Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID)] and many of my other colleagues who recognize a need to do this.
There’s a lot of things that Congress is really, really bad at doing. But one of things it’s really good at doing is sticking its head in the sand. That’s what Congress has been doing for the last several years on this and it can’t do this anywhere.
MM: What is the latest from negotiations with Crapo? I assume those conversations have been partly derailed by the coronavirus pandemic, but you said a few months ago that a deal was “close.” Are there any remaining sticking points that need to be addressed?
CG: I wouldn’t say derailed. I would say it certainly delayed the movement of the standalone bill. But I have had several conversations with Senator Crapo since we’ve been back in session post-COVID and I think we’ve got another meeting coming up that I think will go in depth. There’s some good opportunities to look at language right now, so I really do feel like we’re still making progress. I think this is something that should be included—it absolutely should be included—in the relief package that we’re moving forward.
MM: In terms of specifics, are there any sticking points at issue from the chairman’s perspective that need to be tackled for the standalone bill to be advanced?
CG: I don’t think I’d say sticking points. I’d say I think there are areas where we just haven’t seen how he wants them resolved yet. We know what he wants to do and we know there are ways to address them in a manner that would fix the problem and that industry would agree to, we just haven’t seen all of that language yet. We’re still getting it, but I still feel good about it. Do we have everything in place? Not yet.
MM: Do you expect a committee vote during the 116th Congress?
CG: Yes, I would.
MM: You’re one of very select GOP senators representing a recreational cannabis state. Do you feel like it’s going to take additional conservative states legalizing to shift the rhetoric and position of the Republican-controlled Senate when it comes to not just the SAFE Banking Act but marijuana reform legislation more broadly?
CG: In many cases, that shift has already happened. There are very, very few states that haven’t had to address this in some way, shape or form, either on the medical side or the recreational side. You’re down to just a very small, small minority of states that haven’t had this very question that needs to be dealt with. When the banking community has come to every member of the Senate, regardless of the level of business activity in their states, and say, ‘hey, this needs to be fixed.’ When that happened, I think a lot of attitudes changed. Most will recognize that we need to take this step of getting financial services to address this challenge. They may not agree with recreational use or other legalization, but I think they absolutely see the need for this.
MM: There’s admittedly been a lack of real legislative action when it comes to cannabis reform in the Senate. Can you tell me what you’ve been doing to advance this issue behind the scenes and what your constituents can expect in the months to come?
CG: Continued advocacy on the PPP side, the economic disaster loans. Trying to continue to work on the research backlog that we have with DOJ. I’ve talked to Attorney General Barr many, many times about that issue. Continuing to work with my colleagues—trying to explain what is happening, what the need is and, frankly, what it is not. Trying to explain away any misconceptions that they have. And then as they say something or pop off about the number of times cannabis was mentioned in the law versus the number of times jobs was mentioned in the law, you know, I take them aside and I talk to them and try to explain, hey, this is what’s going on. This is why we need to do it. Maybe they’re being nice to me, but it seems like it’s making sense to them.
MM: Speaking of marijuana research, several advocacy groups have weighed in during a recent Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) public comment period on proposed rules to expand cannabis manufacturing facilities and argued that DEA shouldn’t be responsible for this research as a law enforcement apparatus. Do you agree with them that a federal health agency would be a more appropriate authority for that activity?
CG: It should be our federal health agencies. I think that’s still that kind of old-think that’s happening, and they’re trying to look at this through a 1950s lens and it’s just no applicable.
MM: You notably secured an endorsement of the STATES Act from President Trump a whiles back and you recently sat down with the president alongside Gov. Jared Polis (D). Did marijuana reform come up at that meeting? And if not, when it the last you discussed the issue with the president?
CG: In that conversation it did not come up, and I think I was in the room the entire time the governor was in the room and I didn’t hear him either so I don’t believe it came up at all in that discussion. Obviously what’s interesting is you had the governor of North Dakota there and you have Senator Cramer has been very supportive of our efforts from North Dakota. You had two states that have been very active on this front in the room. But I talked to the president probably within the last several weeks about this, talking about the need, particularly on the SAFE Banking Act because of what the House was going to do and because of what I thought we should do in the next relief measures that we pass. It’s been in the last month I know because we talk about it regularly. It’s something I want to make sure he’s got top of mind.
MM: What can you say about how President Trump has reacted when you bring up cannabis policy issues?
CG: It’s usually a very supportive comment. Something [in response to anti-cannabis talking points] like, “well, that sounds like something my grandpa would’ve said or my uncle would’ve said.” It’s just not something that’s going to change. It’s all been positive. And I think we’re seeing that. Had they wanted to do something, they’d do what Jeff Sessions did and mess around with that and they haven’t.
MM: The president is known to tweet out significant policy positions. Have you ever asked him to use social media to endorse something like the STATES Act?
CG: No, but I will now. You can take full credit for it when it happens.
MM: Do you think the president would benefit from backing some level of marijuana reform heading into his own election?
CG: Look at the number that you cited at the beginning of this phone call. 71 percent. People of this country have moved to favor it. This is supported. So I think the president would be right to get on the side of the people and obviously that certainly would help.
MM: How much stock do you think voters will put into your record on cannabis advocacy come November? Put another way, do you think the passage of the SAFE Banking Act would help you in a significant way?
CG: People are looking for results. I’ve made a habit of getting big things done over the last six years—from passage of the three-digit national suicide hotline to a vote we’re going to have in a couple weeks on the most significant conservation package this country has seen in the last 50, 60 years, the Great American Outdoors Act. This is something that we’re going to get done, and I think people will look at that record. They know that, hey here’s somebody who was opposed to it, been very honest about that and recognizes the people of Colorado spoke and is now championing it. I think that’s a level of effort that we’ve put in over the last many years that will matter to people.
MM: What do you make of former Vice President Joe Biden’s continued opposition to legalization? Among advocates, there’s a lot of disappointment and frustration over his ongoing opposition to legalization and controversial comments he’s made about the issue. Should voters hold him accountable?
CG: Look, Biden is—I haven’t really followed him closely on his position other than I know he remains opposed and what he’s done over the years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he flip-flopped as well.
MM: Voters in Denver made history last year by passing a first-in-the-nation measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. It’s an issue gaining traction nationally. Have you given any thought to psychedelics reform?
CG: No, I haven’t. And so far it’s something that hasn’t come up as much across Colorado as certainly marijuana did. And I don’t mean that as in marijuana did now, but as marijuana did back in 2007-2008 timeframe. I’m not familiar as much with that issue and I don’t know that the people of Colorado are as familiar with it.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
44 Members Of Congress Push Feds To Investigate Police Shooting Of Black Woman In Botched Drug Raid
Forty-four members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Justice on Friday, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of an unarmed young black woman who was killed during the botched execution of a search warrant for an alleged drug crime.
In the letter, led by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA), the lawmakers said the Louisville, Kentucky Police Department SWAT team acted recklessly and 26-year-old Breonna Taylor’s death “is an unspeakable tragedy that requires immediate answers and accountability.”
Breonna Taylor was an EMT because she wanted the best foundation to become a nurse.
Then she was senselessly shot and killed by police.
Today, @RepLucyMcBath and I are demanding an independent DOJ investigation into her killing. We need accountability for the loss of her life.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) May 22, 2020
Citing prior excessive force incidents with two of the three officers involved in Taylor’s shooting—as well as prior alleged improper enforcement by the department’s SWAT team in a botched marijuana raid—they requested an investigation “into the shooting of Breonna Taylor, as well as a pattern or practice investigation into the Louisville Police Department for potential civil rights violations.”
In the 2018 cannabis raid case, the family said that the “targets of the investigation did not live at the home, and this could easily have been discovered by police prior to their execution of the warrant,” the legislators wrote. “In light of the troubling parallels between these cases, we ask the Justice Department to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether the Louisville Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations.”
“Ms. Taylor was a young woman with plans for a long, fruitful life. Her mother has said that Ms. Taylor had planned to become a nurse, buy a home, and one day start a family. Instead, her life was brutally cut short by a haphazard law enforcement exercise. Ms. Taylor worked to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic; it is time for the U.S. Department of Justice to honor hers.”
Other lawmakers signing the letter include: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA).
The letter has been endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance and ACLU.
The day prior to the letter’s release, FBI announced that it will be investigating the shooting. It’s not clear if the scope of the investigation will fully satisfy the legislators’ request.
According to a recent report from the ACLU, Kentucky ranks second in racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, with black people there being 9.4 times more likely to be arrested for the offense compared to white people despite similar cannabis consumption rates.
Supreme Court Declines Case On Marijuana Decriminalization Measures Blocked From Local Ballots
The U.S. Supreme Court decline on Tuesday to hear a case challenging local Ohio officials’ refusal to place citizen initiatives to decriminalize marijuana on municipal ballots.
The decision is the culmination of a two-year legal battle between cannabis reform advocates and the Portage County Board of Elections.
In 2018, activists submitted ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana in Garrettsville and Windham, but the board determined that they could not appear before voters, arguing the proposals constituted administrative, rather than legislative, issues that are not appropriate for the ballot process.
The activists took the matter to federal district court where they contended that state statutes allowing the board to reject the measures are unconstitutional, violating their First and Fourteenth Amendments. A judge agreed and issued a permanent injunction against the board and secretary of state against enforcing the statutes—but the victory was short-lived.
Although the judge ordered the board to place the measures on the ballot, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed the district court’s ruling and vacated the permanent injunction.
The federal appeals court agreed with defendants that state law allowing them to refuse to place the decriminalization measures on the ballot is their prerogative, as it deals with an administrative rule change in their view as opposed to a legislative matter. Further, the court said plaintiffs did have the right to seek a “judicially imposed remedy” through mandamus relief but chose to challenge the state statute itself.
While the advocates hoped the Supreme Court would hear their case about whether the subject matter restrictions in Ohio ballot election law are lawful, Bloomberg’s Kimberly Robinson reported on Tuesday that the justices declined to take it up.
#SCOTUS won’t hear case asking if subject matter restrictions on ballot initiatives (here, prohibiting initiative to decriminalize marijuana) are subject to strict scrutiny (No 19-974 Schmitt v. LaRose)
— Kimberly Robinson (@KimberlyRobinsn) May 26, 2020
It’s not clear if the court’s action means more local boards of election throughout Ohio will feel empowered to reject certain initiatives on subject matter ground but, in general, those outside of Portage County have allowed similar measures to proceed.
A total of 17 Ohio cities have passed cannabis decriminalization ordinances—most through the ballot but a handful through city councils. That list of jurisdictions with decriminalization on the books includes major cities like Dayton, Toledo, Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Activists behind those ordinances have plans to significantly expand the number of municipalities with decriminalization on the books, and they scored a notable victory last week when a federal judge ruled in a separate case that they can collect signatures for their petitions electronically after they were forced to suspend in-person gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If digital petitioning is ultimately permitted for any initiative, that could also be a major boost for activists behind a proposed statewide ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adult use that has seen its prospects dimmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.