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DC Council Approves Bill That Will Help Psychedelics Decriminalization Initiative Qualify For Ballot Despite Coronavirus

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Members of the Washington, D.C. Council unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday that would help activists behind a psychedelics decriminalization measure qualify for the November ballot despite complications resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Separately, the campaign shared with Marijuana Moment the details of a new signature gathering strategy it plans to launch when its petitions are officially approved by the District this week.

Councilmember Charles Allen (D) proposed the key electoral provisions of the broader COVID-19 emergency legislation, which would allow ballot initiative campaigns to electronically distribute petition sheets to their signature gatherers and let those petitioners return their collections to organizers in digital form. Voters would still have to physically sign printed sheets, but those could then be scanned and sent back to campaign headquarters.

The legislation would also, for the first time, enable ballot petitioners to sign sheets that they themselves are circulating. Currently, circulators are not allowed to sign their own petition and must use one controlled by a separate person—a policy that is contributing to the difficulty advocates are facing during a time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

Another change to the signature gathering process included in the proposal would eliminate a requirement that petitions be printed on legal-sized paper, rather than on the standard size that most people have in their home printers.

Together, the reforms will make it much easier for voters to print petitions, sign them and return them to the Decriminalize Nature D.C. campaign, which is seeking to deprioritize enforcement of laws against a wide range of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca.

“Though it is uncertain how long the District’s state of emergency will last, it is clear that the need for social distancing will continue in some form throughout the summer, thus limiting the ability of candidates and initiative proposers to gather large numbers of signatures and obtain ballot access,” Allen, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, wrote in a memo to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). “These changes will allow eligible District residents to download petition sheets from campaigns at home, print them out, circulate them for physical signatures within their small social networks or families, and return them electronically to the campaigns.”

“The legislation recognizes that signatures protect democracy by serving as indicators of viability and preventing confusing ballots, while accounting for the unprecedented changes required by the public health emergency.”

Separately, on Wednesday, the D.C. Board of Elections is scheduled to both approve ballot petitions for the decriminalization measure and enact on their own a policy change allowing signature gatherers to sign the sheets they’re circulating.

Decriminalize Nature D.C. previously implored local officials to allow them to gather signatures purely electronically to minimize the spread of the virus while also ensuring that they have a fighting chance of qualifying. Neither the mayor or Council has not acted on that request, however, leading the campaign to recalibrate and develop alternative strategies.

With the self-signature problem solved through the proposed legislation, the group told Marijuana Moment it is prepared to proceed with a strategic experiment to build up support ahead of the July 6 deadline to submit about 25,000 valid signatures from registered voters.

The test will initially involve mailing out 10,000 petitions for the decriminalization initiative, along with educational materials.

The mailers will be evenly distributed to four classes of residents: 1) consistent voters who signed the ballot petition for a 2014 marijuana legalization initiative, 2) consistent voters who didn’t sign the legalization petition, 3) occasional voters who backed the cannabis petition and 4) a random selection of residents pulled from the voter roll.

“Initiative 81 would make a small change: shifting enforcement of laws against natural plant medicines to be among the lowest law enforcement priorities,” chief petitioner Melissa Lavasani said in the campaign material being mailed to voters. “This change would help me and thousands of other D.C. residents suffering from anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or depression who currently fear arrest or prosecution for pursuing healing through natural, entheogenic substances.”

“Signing and mailing back this petition is the first step towards ensuring safe and equitable access for all people to entheogenic plants and fungi,” the mailer states.

The campaign will assess the response rates from these respective groups and use that to inform their next step, which would be sending significantly more petitions out to voters. Contributions from the activist soap company Dr. Bronner’s, which is backing a number of drug policy campaigns across the country, will help fund the effort.

This new development for the D.C. campaign comes at a time when drug reform campaigns are either shuttering or temporarily suspending activities amid the pandemic.

California activists had hoped to get a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s November ballot, but the campaign stalled out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers in Oregon are holding out hope that a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes will make the ballot. The campaign already collected enough raw signatures to qualify, though they’ve yet to be validated.

Also in Oregon, a separate proposed ballot measure would decriminalize possession of all illicit drugs and use existing marijuana tax revenue to fund expanded treatment services. Activists in nearby Washington State are also working on a similar drug decriminalization and treatment measure.

Marijuana-specific reform campaigns have also felt the sting of the pandemic.

A Montana cannabis legalization campaign that sued the state to allow digital signature collection had their case dismissed last week, but organizers say they may file an appeal and will be pushing ahead despite the legal setback.

In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort are petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.

A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law also asked for a digital petitioning option.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 last month due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

North Dakota advocates said that they are suspending their campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Activists behind a campaign to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska are holding out hope that they will qualify and recently unveiled a new strategy amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded last month that the 2020 legalization push is “effectively over” in the legislature. Coronavirus shifted priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

See Decriminalize Nature D.C.’s mailer to voters below:



DNDCpahPRINTfistversion01 (Text)

New York Lawmaker Files Bill To Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Senator Files New Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana And Regulate It Like Tobacco

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A Democratic senator filed a new bill to federally legalize marijuana on Thursday, creating yet another potential avenue through which Congress could enact the policy change.

This piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and direct several federal agencies to develop regulations for the plant.

Titled the “Substance Regulation and Safety Act,” the bill would deschedule cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop rules that treat marijuana the same as tobacco, create a national research institute to evaluate the risks and benefits of cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to impose quality control standards and mandate that the Department of Transportation study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.

The descheduling provisions “are retroactive and shall apply to any offense committed, case pending, or conviction entered, and, in the case of a juvenile, any offense committed, case pending, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency entered, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the text of the bill states.

HHS would have to come up with a “national strategy to prevent youth use and abuse of cannabis, with specific attention to youth vaping of cannabis products.” Further, text of the legislation states that the department would be required to “regulate cannabis products in the same manner, and to the same extent,” as it does with tobacco.

That includes “applying all labeling and advertising requirements that apply to tobacco products under such Act to cannabis products.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be tasked with working with other agencies to develop policies on allowing marijuana imports and exports.

The legislation further contains racial justice provisions. For example, HHS would have to consult with “consult with civil rights stakeholders” to determine “whether cannabis abuse prevention strategies and policies are likely to have racially disparate impacts” within 100 days of the bill’s enactment.

The Department of Transportation would similarly have to determine whether its impaired driving prevention policy “is likely to contribute to racially disparate impacts in the enforcement of traffic safety laws.”

Agencies charged with establishing these regulations would have one year following the bill’s enactment to finalize those rules.

A federal age requirement for marijuana sales would be set at 21 under the measure.

The short title of the bill as published on Congress’s website states that it would “decriminalize and reschedule cannabis.” However, the text of the legislation as introduced that was shared with Marijuana Moment says it would go beyond rescheduling by removing marijuana from the CSA entirely, a process known as descheduling. Representatives from Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

This is the latest legalization bill to be introduced this Congress. In some ways, it appears to be a more modest reform compared to other pieces of legislation that reform advocates are backing such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which includes provisions beyond rescheduling to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

Sources recently told Marijuana Moment there are plans in motion to get a House floor vote on that bill in September, though it’s prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate are more dubious. It’s possible that this bill from Smith would be more palatable to GOP members given its more narrow focus.

“It’s terrific to see Senator Smith engage so substantively in the cannabis policy reform debate,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We at NORML look forward to propelling many aspects of the new legislation into the broader conversation on the future of federal regulations in regards to a post-prohibition America.”

The introduction of this legislation comes one day after the House approved a spending bill amendment that would protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

While Smith has only been in Congress since 2018, after she replaced Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) following his resignation, she has signed onto various pieces of cannabis reform legislation as a cosponsor, and she’s made several comments in favor of reform.

For example, the senator attached her name to bills to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized from federal regulators and to legalize industrial hemp. She also cosponsored a resolution condemning “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings” over drug crimes in the Philippines.

Smith also recently remarked racial disparities in drug enforcement in a Senate floor speech.

This bill is being introduced as Minnesota lawmakers push for state-level legalization, with a top legislator unveiling a comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older in May.

It also comes shortly after the Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to adopt legalization as a 2020 party plank, with members opting instead to embrace more modest reforms. Advocates suspend that there may have been pressure for the panel not to formally embrace a policy change that is opposed to by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Read the new Senate marijuana legalization below: 

Substance Regulation and Sa… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition To Take Effect

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A new Louisiana law significantly expanding the state’s medical marijuana program officially takes effect on Saturday.

This comes two months after the legislature approved the bill and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed it. The legislation will allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.

Other new laws coming into force this weekend include ones to set hemp and CBD regulations, shield financial institutions that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by state regulators and provide legal protections for doctors who recommend medical cannabis and medical facilities that have marijuana patients in their care.

The medical marijuana expansion bill as introduced by its sponsor, Rep. Larry Bagley (R), initially only would have added traumatic brain injuries and concussions but was amended in committee to include several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any malady that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”

“I’m excited. I’m expecting it to be a pretty big day,” Bagley told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday. “All the people out here tell me all the wonderful stories about how they were in terrible pain and then they took it and then they’ve gotten away from the pain.”

The lawmaker is particularly hopeful that providing this expanded access will help curb the opioid epidemic by providing patients with a safer alternative to prescription painkillers.

“The medical marijuana is not [like opioids] because not not addictive. No one’s ever died from it,” he said.

“I’m hopeful I think this is gonna be a big day. I’m really expecting this to be a game changer for Louisiana, for the state, for the pharmacies that are doing this,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a big moneymaker for state. At least I hope it is. And I think that everybody’s going to be really happy about it, but time will tell.”

Bagley had also introduced a House-passed bill to allow delivery services, but he voluntarily withdrew it from Senate committee consideration, telling Marijuana Moment at the time that he felt the debilitating condition bill would already allow cannabis products to be delivered to patients like other traditional pharmaceuticals.

The delivery bill would have required a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”

It remains to be seen if regulators will agree with Bagley’s interpretation, as doctors are still prohibited from “prescribing” cannabis, and marijuana products are not dispensed through traditional pharmacies. But regulators did move to temporarily authorize delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s possible they will be amenable to extending the allowance on a permanent basis.

State lawmakers also passed a resolution in June to create “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.” Text of the legislation, which does not require gubernatorial action, states that “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”

Nancy Pelosi Says Marijuana Is A ‘Therapy That Has Proven Successful’ Amid Coronavirus Bill Debate

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Nancy Pelosi Says Marijuana Is A ‘Therapy That Has Proven Successful’ Amid Coronavirus Bill Debate

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday defended the decision to include marijuana banking protections in Democrats’ latest coronavirus relief bill.

The speaker was asked about various provisions of the legislation that Republicans had criticized as not germane to the health crisis, with a reporter citing the cannabis component in particular. Pelosi took issue with the suggestion and said there is a role for marijuana reform amid the pandemic.

“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” the top House Democrat said. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”

It’s not clear whether the speaker was suggesting that marijuana has medical value for a coronavirus infection specifically or was more broadly referencing the plant’s therapeutic potential. The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.

Several lawmakers have argued that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is relevant to the health crisis for a different reason, as protecting financial institutions that service cannabis businesses would mean fewer cash exchanges at dispensaries, thus minimizing the spread of the virus.

Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.

That said, Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation on Monday, and it does not include the SAFE Banking Act provisions. It remains to be seen whether bicameral negotiators will be able to get it in the final bill sent to the president’s desk.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said in May that he felt there was a 50-50 chance the Senate would adopt it as part of their COVID-19 bill.

On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to slam Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments.

“Hey Nancy, let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot,” he said.

The Senate Republican Communications Center also chimed in.

“House Democrats are continuing to try and push unrelated COVID-19 wish-list items. All of them should be taken out,” the group tweeted.

Meanwhile, the standalone SAFE Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.

In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.

Pelosi’s latest comments come one day after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.

House Votes To Protect State Marijuana Laws From Federal Interference

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