The District of Columbia Democratic Party is formally endorsing a measure to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca that’s on the ballot in the nation’s capital.
During a general body meeting last week, the chief petitioner of Decriminalize Nature D.C. gave a presentation on Initiative 81, and delegates then discussed the measure before agreeing to endorse it in a 23-10 vote.
Under the measure, possession and use of entheogenic plants and fungi would be among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities. If voters approve it in November, D.C. will become the fourth jurisdiction in the U.S. to have enacted the policy change.
“Following a robust discussion between members of our organization and representatives from the Campaign to Decriminalize Nature DC, our Party passed a resolution in support of Initiative 81,” D.C. Democratic Party Chairman Charles Wilson said in a press release. “This initiative can help people struggling from mental illness and other afflictions who have found healing through entheogenic medicines, while moving us closer to ending the War on Drugs.”
Read the full press release from the DC Democratic Party on the resolution in support of Initiative 81 here: https://t.co/fGMwV3mqcW
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) October 3, 2020
The psychedelics reform movement has spread rapidly across the country since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year.
Decriminalize Nature D.C. Chair Melissa Lavasani, who led the presentation to the body, said the group’s measure “will help ensure that those benefiting from entheogenic plants and fungi are not law enforcement targets.”
“As the proposer of Initiative 81, I would also like to personally thank the D.C. Democratic Party for standing up for residents across DC who currently fear arrest or investigation for using plant medicines that can help treat depression, anxiety and addiction,” she said.
With this endorsement, the party is aligning itself with the majority of Washington, D.C. residents who favor the proposal, according to recent polling. In fact, three-in-five voters in the district are in favor of the initiative.
D.C.’s Board of Elections officially announced that the psychedelics reform measure qualified for the November ballot in August.
Decriminalize Nature D.C. turned in their signatures in July following an intensive petitioning process that saw reform advocates from across the country fly in to the nation’s capital to offer assistance. The campaign needed 24,835 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure and they turned in about 35,000 raw submissions.
But despite positive polling, the campaign still has its work cut out for it when it comes to educating voters about the ballot. In a press release last week, the group noted that, in some wards across the district, the initiative is the only item on the back of the ballot, which could jeopardize some votes if they don’t raise awareness.
“Flip your ballot to the back to vote Yes on Initiative 81,” Lavasani said. “Plant medicines helped save my life. Every DC voter should have the opportunity to vote on Initiative 81 which would make a real difference in the lives of residents across the District and help end part of the destructive war on drugs.”
On the other side of the country in Oregon, a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes has also received some key endorsements. The Oregon Democratic Party backed the proposal last month as well as a separate measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs that’s also going before voters.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. In August, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”
Separately, the Vermont Democratic Party adopted a platform last month that calls for bold drug policy reforms, including legalizing marijuana sales, promoting equity in the cannabis industry and decriminalizing possession of all currently illicit substances.
But while state party officials appear to be increasingly on board with these reforms, the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee earlier this year rejected an amendment that would’ve added cannabis legalization as a 2020 party plank.
Legalizing Marijuana Is Risky, Trump-Appointed Prosecutor Warns Montana Voters Ahead Of Election
A federal prosecutor appointed by President Trump issued a statement on Monday that urges Montana voters to “consider the risks” of approving marijuana legalization measures that appear on their November ballots.
While U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme doesn’t explicitly call on Montanans to reject the proposal, he argues that enacting the policy change would have numerous consequences such as increased traffic fatalities and harms to children. He also claims cannabis is addictive and peddles the gateway drug theory.
“In November, Montanans will vote whether to legalize recreational marijuana for state law purposes. Marijuana offenses will still be illegal under federal law,” the message posted on the Justice Department website states. “Because of the serious ramifications of this vote for our public safety and health, I encourage all Montanans to review in detail CI-118 and the lengthy 36 sections of I-190 to understand the system it would create.”
Recreational Marijuana – Consider the Risks https://t.co/hGqNyVyNcB
— US Attorney Montana (@USAO_MT) October 19, 2020
“Traffic fatalities and accidents will increase,” the statement claims. “Marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving.”
Again, the U.S. attorney doesn’t specifically urge a “no” vote on the proposal—but he doles out multiple cautionary assertions without acknowledging separate arguments in favor of legalization.
As Alme notes, voters will decide on two separate measures on Election Day: one would establish a legal cannabis market for adults in the state, while a separate constitutional amendment would stipulate that only those 21 and older could participate in the program.
The prosecutor said that THC potency has increased over the years, that more people will consume marijuana if it’s legalized and that casual cannabis consumption “can increase the risk of severe complications from COVID-19.”
“Fellow Montanans, let’s be sure we take a close look at these proposals before voting on CI-118 and I- 190,” Alme, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, said.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that real-world evidence from the state-level marijuana reform movement has demonstrated that the warnings from the federal prosecutor are largely unfounded.
“Today, nearly one in four Americans reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal, and 34 states regulate medical marijuana access by statute,” he said. “Most tellingly, no state has ever repealed a marijuana legalization law (medical or otherwise), and historic percentages of adults—including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Republicans and independents—endorse making the plant legal, according to the latest nationwide Gallup poll.”
“Were the alleged ill effects of legalization as significant or pervasive as the U.S. attorney opines, the real-world ramifications would be readily apparent, and public support would be heading in just the opposite direction. But this has not been the case,” he said.
The federal prosecutor, in his statement, also suggests that the legalization measure could put children at risk because they would no longer be able to be taken away from their parents or guardians over marijuana use alone.
“I-190 could dilute state laws protecting children, the public and users from marijuana abuse,” Alme wrote. “One provision states that a person may not be denied custody rights to a minor solely for conduct related to this initiative.”
He further expresses concern that people under criminal justice supervision would no longer be able to be reincarcerated just because they used cannabis.
“A second provision states that a person currently under probation or released awaiting trial may not be penalized solely for conduct permitted by the initiative, apparently regardless of whether the person’s marijuana abuse contributed to their criminal conduct,” he said.
And then he trotted out the gateway theory. “Many who use other drugs start with marijuana,” the Trump appointee argued. “Until more research determines the extent of the link between marijuana use and additional drug use, voters should strongly consider this risk.”
In contrast to Alme, a former federal prosecutor in neighboring South Dakota is actually sponsoring that state’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative.
Alme’s message represents one of the latest headaches for New Approach Montana, the campaign behind the reform initiatives, as November 3 approaches.
For example, prohibitionists announced last week that they have retained a law firm that’s preparing a lawsuit to be filed before the state Supreme Court against the statutory adult-use legalization measure, arguing that it violates state law by including provisions that would direct funds to specific programs.
They specifically cited a portion of the state constitution that says citizens “may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local or special laws.”
Under the legalization initiative, half of the public revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward environmental conservation programs—a provision that earned the campaign key endorsements last month.
In addition to the cannabis revenue earmarked for land, water and wildlife conservation programs, the proposal aims to send funds to veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care and local governments, with the rest already being pegged to the general fund.
If the challenge goes through and the legalization initiative is invalidated, that would mark the second time this election cycle that citizen-led reform efforts have been killed by the courts.
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled last month that a measure to legalize medical cannabis that had qualified for the November ballot could not proceed because it violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.
Should the Montana campaign prevail against the legal challenge, however, recent polling indicates that voters are positioned to approve it. Forty-nine percent of respondents in a survey released this week said they support the policy change, with 39 percent opposed and 10 percent remaining undecided.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Mexico Voters Strongly Favor Marijuana Legalization And Half Back Drug Decriminalization, Poll Shows
A strong majority of New Mexico voters are in favor of legalizing marijuana with social equity provisions in place, and about half support decriminalizing drug possession more broadly, according to a new poll.
The survey asked: “Do you support or oppose a proposal to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis, also known as marijuana, sales to adults 21 and over, with provisions in place to ensure the tax revenue is reinvested back into communities?”
Seventy-two percent of respondents said they favor the proposal, including 94 percent of Democrats, 46 percent of Republicans and 93 percent of independents.
Voters were also asked in the poll, which was sponsored by Drug Policy Action (DPA), about a variety of equity components, regardless of how they responded to the legalization question.
Majorities support scaling back licensing fees to bolster small businesses (80 percent), expunging prior cannabis convictions (67 percent), allowing those with previous marijuana convictions to participate in the legal industry (62 percent), stopping the denial of public benefits or health care based on cannabis use or positive cannabis drug tests (68 percent), banning police stops based only on the odor of marijuana (58 percent) and providing financial assistance to low-income medical marijuana patients (62 percent).
“New Mexicans are ready for cannabis legalization, and they want to see equity built into the legislative proposal to help right the many wrongs caused by the failed war on drugs,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of resident states and New Mexico at DPA, said in a press release.
“Repairing the damage done by cannabis prohibition is not negotiable,” she said. “It is time to stop criminalizing people for cannabis and instead realize the economic and social benefits of having cannabis possession and sales regulated in New Mexico.”
But beyond marijuana, there’s evidently an appetite for broadly drug policy reform among New Mexicans.
Asked if they “support or oppose making small-scale possession of all drugs for personal use a misdemeanor, instead of a felony which carries steeper penalties,” 62 percent said they are in favor of the proposal while 31 percent said they were opposed.
Those who said they support that policy were asked a follow up question: “Do you support or oppose making possession, not selling, of all drugs for personal use a civil offense with a fine instead of jail time?” And 79 percent of that group said they back decriminalization, compared to 16 percent who are against it.
That means that, according to the poll, 49 percent of New Mexicans support decriminalization.
Meanwhile, voters in Oregon have the chance next month to make their state the first in the nation to decriminalize drug possession by passing a ballot measure to enact the reform.
The New Mexico survey involved interviews with 1,193 voters from September 22-24. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.
It’s possible that the strong support for cannabis legalization could further increase if voters in neighboring Arizona approve the policy change through the ballot next month. And polling in that state also indicates that there’s a strong chance of passage, with two recent surveys showing growing majority support.
While legalization isn’t on the ballot in New Mexico, House Speaker Brian Egolf (D) recently said that the legislature will again attempt to advance the reform next session.
A bill to legalize cannabis for adult use passed one Senate committee in January only to be rejected in another before the end of the short 2020 session. But lawmakers seem intent on giving it another go, and they have strong support from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who said last month that marijuana legalization represents a positive fiscal opportunity for the state, especially amid budget shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, Lujan Grisham signaled that she may actively campaign against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in this year’s regular session. She also said in February that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum.
The legalization effort in the state may also get a boost next year from the results of this year’s primary elections in which several Democratic lawmakers who had opposed the reform were ousted by progressive challengers.
Rep. Javier Martinez (D) who chairs a joint committee that held a hearing last month to discuss the economic impact of cannabis reform, said he’s hopeful that the policy change will be enacted this upcoming session and said he anticipates that “in this year’s version of the bill, we are very likely to get Republican support, particularly on the Senate side.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
USDA Approves Hemp Plans For Six Additional States And Three Indian Tribes
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has signed off on hemp plans for six additional states and three Indian tribes this month, with a new batch of approvals coming on Friday.
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota each had their regulatory proposals accepted within the past two weeks, as did the Comanche Nation, the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
That raises the total number of approved plans to 69.
USDA has been signing off on hemp proposals on a rolling basis over the past year. Last month, it accepted plans from Utah and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians.
The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) has received final approval by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Plan.
— SD Dept of Ag (@SDAgriculture) October 16, 2020
Illinois and Oklahoma were among a group of states that USDA had asked to revise and resubmit their initial proposals in August.
While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.
USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations earlier this month. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said last month that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.
The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) said last month that the new 30-day comment window is too short and asked USDA to push it back, and it also issued a series of recommended changes to the interim final rule on hemp, which it says threaten to “stifle” the industry and benefit big firms over smaller companies.
All told, it appears that USDA is taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. The department’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.
In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote to Perdue in August, asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 Farm Bill hemp pilot program in the meantime.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.
The earlier pilot program was initially set to expire on October 31, but it was extended to September 2021 through a congressional continuing resolution that the president signed late last month.
The senators weren’t alone in requesting an extension, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA in August.
Perdue has said on several occasions that DEA influenced certain rules, adding that the narcotics agency wasn’t pleased with the overall legalization of hemp.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.
While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed last month. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.
Two members of Congress representing New York also wrote a letter to Perdue in June, asking that the agency extend access to that program to hemp farmers.
Hemp farmers approved to produce the crop do stand to benefit from other federal loan programs, however. The department released guidelines for processing loans for the industry in May.
Meanwhile, USDA announced last week that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.