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DC Voters Strongly Support Drug Decriminalization, Poll Finds As Activists Launch Campaign

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Washington, D.C. voters are strongly in favor of proposals to broadly decriminalize drugs and establish harm reduction centers, a new poll found.

One week after activists announced an effort to pressure local lawmakers enact the reforms, a coalition of activists group organized under the banner of DecrimPovertyDC released a survey showing just how popular the policy changes are among D.C. residents. It also found that voters would be more likely to elect local legislators who embrace decriminalization.

At a top level, 83 percent of respondents said that they favor having the D.C. Council pass an ordinance to “remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of commonly-used controlled substances consistent with personal use.” That includes 65 percent who strongly support the far-reaching reform.

Via FM3.

The prompt also asked participants whether they support increased funding for “substance use treatment, healthcare, housing, and other services for individuals struggling with addiction, underlying health conditions, or poverty.”

That’s good news for advocates who recently launched a campaign to urge local lawmakers to broadly decriminalize drugs, with a focus on expanding treatment resources and harm reduction services.

DecrimPovertyDC—a coalition of advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy—is imploring the District Council to take up the cause, and members have already met with the offices of each legislator and have gotten a generally positive reception.

“Our calls to D.C. Council to introduce and advance #DecrimPovertyDC’s bill proposal is rooted in urgency and support from community members who are also convinced that the drug war has done more harm than good,” Queen Adesuyi, policy manager for DPA’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment. “Washingtonians are genuinely ready for D.C. Council to explore ending arrests for drug use and possession, along with building out a public health infrastructure that could support Washingtonians who need and want help.”

“Washingtonians can see for themselves that the drug war is worsening public safety and health,” she said. “We are determined to push D.C. Council to listen to their constituents who largely want to see an actual investment in policies and resources rooted in evidence-based, health services instead of punishment and stigma.”

The new poll, conducted by FM3 Research, looked at public opinion on a wide range of issues the coalition is backing. Support was widespread, and 72 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for councilmembers who embraced the reforms.

After the various pros and cons of decriminalization were explained to respondents, support dipped slightly, but 77 percent still said they back the policy change.

“Even after an exchange of positive and critical messaging, our decriminalization proposal still maintained support from three-quarters of Washingtonians,” Adesuyi said. “We have more than enough support amongst Washingtonian voters to lead a ballot campaign, however, we chose to go down a legislative path because we wanted to ensure that we can fund the public health and harm reduction infrastructure that we need to replace our current criminalization model.”

Given that support for decriminalization in the activist-driven poll dipped a bit after respondents were read opposition arguments, it’s not clear how much impact a well-funded campaign to maintain criminalization could have on efforts to convince Council members to go through with the reform.

“Though decriminalizing personal use quantities of drugs is not radical, and is simply an urgently needed next step in dismantling the harmful drug war, for some people, it challenges decades of socialization of fear and drug propaganda,” Adesuyi said. “However, the public health emergency that we are facing due to prohibition and drug war policies is clear enough that even people who still are working through their drug stigma associated to certain substances believe that our proposal is a path worth exploring because the status quo has been so deadly.”

Participants in the survey were also asked to weigh in on each specific policy proposal that DecrimPovertyDC is pushing for. Majorities favored all of them.

For example, 95 percent said that they support providing “additional funding to connect individuals suffering from addiction, health problems, and needs relating to poverty to services like healthcare and substance use disorder treatment.”

Ninety-three percent said that they back establishing “24/7 centers to provide harm reduction, health, and overdose prevention services to people who use drugs.”

While that’s in line with what advocates are proposing, it doesn’t specifically talk about creating safe injection sites—an option that would be made available to legislators if the group’s draft legislation is enacted. That particular component of harm reduction centers could prove more controversial.

Additionally, 86 percent of respondents said they’re in favor of creating an advisory board to set thresholds to determine personal use amounts that would be decriminalized. Another 84 percent said they would like to see a government-funded study into cost savings from decriminalization that could then be reinvested into harm reduction programs.

“Washington, D.C. voters are strongly in favor of the City Council decriminalizing possession of personal-use amounts of controlled substances and investing in outreach and treatment services for addiction and related health disorders,” the polling memo says. “This support cuts broadly across all major demographic groups—including 50% of conservatives—and that support remains sold after an exchange of pros and cons. Voters are also broadly in favor of all specific aspects of the policy, including outreach services and 24/7 harm-reduction centers.”

The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.9%, involved online and telephone interviews with 402 likely November 2022 voters, and was conducted June 30 – July 8 of this year.

Under the group’s proposal, the mayor would be required to establish a harm reduction center where people could receive treatment resources and access sterile needles. The legislation allows for the creation of a safe consumption site within the center where people could use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

That could prove challenging, however, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. An attempt to create such a facility in Philadelphia was blocked under the Trump administration and is now pending further action in a lower federal court.

The D.C. campaign, which is also being supported by AIDS United, Defund MPD, Honoring Individual Power and Strength (HIPS) and dozens of other groups, would also make it so the health department would need to provide a drug testing service so people could screen products for contaminants or other hazardous compounds.

Another provision activists are pushing for would work to repair the harms of criminalization, in part by requiring the courts to “identify and vacate convictions for offenses decriminalized by this bill.” They would also need to find and vacate cases related to drug paraphernalia, which was decriminalized last year under separate legislation.

At this point, the drug decriminalization measure has not been introduced in the D.C. Council, but activists are encouraged by early conversations with local lawmakers. The intent is to build on drug policy progress such as paraphernalia decriminalization, which was championed by key players like the chairman of the Council’s Judiciary Committee.

D.C. voters approved a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelics last November.

The push in the nation’s capital follows advocates’ success in advancing decriminalization in other parts of the country.

Oregon voters approved a historic initiative to decriminalize drug possession last year, and multiple jurisdictions across the U.S. are now exploring similar policy changes.

Last month, Massachusetts lawmakers heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities. A safe consumption site bill advanced through a legislative committee in the state in May.

The Maine Senate this summer defeated a bill that would have decriminalized possession of all currently illicit drugs.

Rhode Island’s governor signed a bill in July to create a pilot program legalizing safe consumption sites.

Congressionally, a first-of-its-kind bill to decriminalize drug possession at the federal level was introduced this session.

There’s a sense of urgency to get this reform in D.C. enacted, as the coronavirus pandemic has seemed to contribute to record-high drug overdose deaths in the country. Adesuyi said “the last year really has made it so we just can’t wait any more.”

Meanwhile, advocates have renewed hope that D.C. could soon move to legalize the sale of adult-use marijuana.

The District has been prevented from doing so despite legalizing cannabis in 2014 because it’s been bound by a congressional spending bill rider prohibiting the use of local tax dollars for that purpose. But with majorities in both chambers this session, Democratic appropriators have excluded that prohibitive language from the most recent spending measures—so D.C. would be empowered to finally enact a regulated market if that legislation is enacted as written.

The mayor of D.C. said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) introduced a cannabis commerce bill in February—and members of the District Council are considering that, as well as a separate proposal put forward by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).

A hearing on the latter bill is scheduled for next month the Committee of the Whole, the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety & the Committee on Business & Economic Development.

Separately, a D.C.-based psychedelics organization also recently issued about $50,000 in its first round of grants for various community groups to support efforts to educate and organize people around plant medicine.

Read the full D.C. drug decriminalization polling memo below:

Click to access 220-6121-dc-drug-decriminalization-policy-survey-memo-final.pdf

Top Federal Drug Agency Tells Congress About Marijuana Research Barriers Caused By Restrictive Scheduling

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Credit Unions Urge Congress To Pass Marijuana Banking Reform Through Defense Bill

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Major associations representing U.S. credit unions are calling on Congress to pass marijuana banking reform through must-pass defense legislation.

It’s the latest in a series of requests from lawmakers, stakeholders and advocates to advance legislation to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

Specifically, they want to see the Senate follow the House’s lead in attaching language from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“We take no position on legalizing or decriminalizing medicinal or recreational cannabis at either the state or federal level,” the associations said in a letter to key committee leadership. “However, credit unions operating in states where it is legal have members and member businesses involved in the cannabis market who need access to traditional depository and lending services, the absence of which creates a significant public safety issue.”

The Credit Union National Association, Defense Credit Union Council and National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions signed the letter, which also touches on non-cannabis issues.

The groups, which wrote that they “strongly support” attaching SAFE Banking to NDAA, also stressed that “financial institutions that choose not to bank the cannabis industry still risk unknowingly serving those businesses in states where cannabis is legal.”

“Indirect connections are often difficult to identify and avoid because like any other industry, those offering cannabis-related services work with vendors and suppliers,” the letter continues. “Under the existing status quo, a credit union that does business with any one of these indirectly affiliated entities could unknowingly risk violating federal law.”

“Inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act puts in place necessary protections to bring revenue from state-sanctioned cannabis businesses into the financial services mainstream and, as a result, keeping communities safe,” it concludes.

While the Senate has yet to independently add the banking reform language to its version of NDAA, supporters want to see the provisions adopted by negotiators in conference for the final legislation sent to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Bipartisan members of the Senate Armed Services Committee recently sent their own letter urging leaders to include the SAFE Banking Act in the final NDAA. Shortly thereafter, U.S. senators representing Colorado made the same request in a separate letter.

The SAFE Banking Act has been approved in some form in the House five times now, but it’s so far languished in the Senate. Stakeholders have held out hope that the chamber would advance the legislation with a Democratic majority, but some key players like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have insisted on passing comprehensive legalization—like a reform bill he’s finalizing—first.

That said, Schumer has signaled that he’s open to enacting banking reform through NDAA if it contained social equity provisions.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of two dozen governors implored congressional leaders to finally enact marijuana banking reform through the large-scale defense legislation.

A group of small marijuana business owners also recently made the case that the incremental banking policy change could actually help support social equity efforts.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed last month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications now.

Meanwhile, an official with the Internal Revenue Service said last month that the agency would like to “get paid,” and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets so they could more easily comply with tax laws.

Federal data shows that many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients, however, which is likely due to the fact that the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

Read the letter from the credit union associations on marijuana banking below: 

Click to access 110421_ndaa_joint-trade.pdf

 

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Marijuana Had ‘Unprecedented’ Success In State Legislatures In 2021, NORML Report Shows

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Lawmakers across the U.S. proved again in 2021 that marijuana reform will continue to advance on the state level despite the recalcitrance of Congress to end federal prohibition.

As more eyes turn to 2022 legislative sessions, a report from NORML that was released on Monday details advocates’ progress on the cannabis front this year in more than 25 states, where over 50 pieces of marijuana reform legislation were enacted.

Most notably, legislatures and governors in five states enacted recreational legalization—a notable trend given that the reform has historically been decided by voters as ballot initiatives. But 2021 has also seen more modest policy changes related to medical cannabis, decriminalization and social equity.

“State lawmakers took unprecedented steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release.

Of course, one of the primary objectives of reform advocates is to comprehensively end prohibition. To that end, the legislatures of Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Virginia each legalized marijuana for adult use this year. (New Jersey’s action came months after voters approved a referendum on the issue during last November’s election.)

In Rhode Island, the Senate approved a marijuana legalization bill in June. While legislative leaders discussed holding a special session to send a final measure to the governor’s desk, it now appears more likely that the issue will be taken up again in 2022.

North Dakota’s House also passed a recreational legalization bill, but it was later rejected in the Senate.

Louisiana lawmakers, meanwhile, passed legislation this year that decriminalizes possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis.

With respect to expungements for prior marijuana convictions, reform measures meant to help provide people with relief were approved in Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico and Virginia, NORML reported.

As an example, the governor of Colorado signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he also directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

Separately, Alabama’s governor signed legislation that same month to legalize medical cannabis in the state.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

At least 15 states took steps to expand existing medical marijuana programs. They range from California, where hospitals will now be required to permit medical cannabis use by certain patients, to Texas, where patients can now qualify for low-THC marijuana products if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer.

As state markets have continued to evolve, some lawmakers have turned their attention to enhancing social equity in the industry. And to that end, five state legislatures advanced reform this year.

For example, Illinois passed a bill to create additional marijuana licensing lotteries to expand business opportunities. And in Michigan, the governor signed a bill this month that makes it so people with cannabis-related felony or misdemeanor convictions on their record are no longer disqualified from obtaining a medical cannabis business license.

NORML also documented other reform bills related to the business industry, driving/DUI policies, juvenile justice and more. One miscellaneous measure that was enacted in California, for example, makes it so non-intoxicating cannabinoids, including CBD, can be sold as dietary supplements and as ingredients in food and beverages.

“As we approach the 2022 legislative session and the elections next November, it is important for lawmakers of all political persuasions to recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability,” NORML’s Armentano said. “These policies are popular among voters, regardless of political party.”

Activists and lawmakers have made clear that the cannabis reform momentum will continue through the new year.

On Monday, for instance, a Kentucky lawmaker announced that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session.

In the South Dakota legislature, a cannabis reform bill has been formally recommended by a leadership panel for the upcoming session. And activists will also continue collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative—though they hope to work with lawmakers to advance reform legislatively ahead of next year’s election.

The Indiana Democratic party is mounting a push for marijuana legalization and calling on state lawmakers to enact the reform in 2022.

Arkansas activists are also hoping to place marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Last month, Oklahoma activists filed a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program.

In Nebraska, advocates unveiled the language of a pair of initiatives to legalize medical marijuana in the state last month.

This summer, New Hampshire lawmakers discussed a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Wyoming activists, meanwhile, are working to collect signatures for 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession.

A Maryland House working group has been tasked with studying marijuana and preparing a legalization referendum that the speaker wants to put on next year’s ballot.

Just months ago, Ohio activists were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. And the campaign says it expects to have enough valid signatures by the end of this month.

Idaho advocates are also pursuing a 2022 cannabis legalization ballot initiative as well as a separate proposal focused on medical marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

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A Kentucky lawmaker announced on Monday that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session, with endorsements from several leading advocacy groups.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) is taking a dual-track approach to the reform, with one bill to have the legislature adopt the policy as a statutory measure and another to enact legalization through a constitutional amendment that would go before voters.

Generally speaking, the measures would accomplish the same central objective of ending prohibition, but Kulkarni said they’re meant to complement each other by giving lawmakers an opportunity to pass legalization in the short-term while allowing voters to constitutionally enact the reform as a “more permanent fix that gives cannabis use the constitutional protection it deserves.”

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” the sponsor said in a press release.

“First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement,” she said. “Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent.”

Kulkarni further noted that polls “have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs decriminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

Under one of the lawmaker’s pre-filed bills, a constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot if three-fifths of the House and Senate approve it during next year’s legislative session. If passed by voters, adults 21 and older would be able to possess, purchase and sell up to one ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to five plants for personal use.

The measure would task the General Assembly with coming up with regulations on matters such as licensing and taxes.

The separate statutory proposal would similarly remove criminal penalties for low-level possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis. It would also amend state statute so that marijuana paraphernalia would no longer be criminalized and create a pathway for people to have their cannabis convictions expunged.

Neither measure creates a regulatory structure for commercial marijuana sales, something that would be subject to separate legislation.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“Because of outdated and ill-enforced laws, thousands of Kentuckians have lost time and opportunities due to criminal convictions, and thousands more have suffered needlessly because Kentucky blocks cannabis’ medicinal use,” ACLU of Kentucky said. “It is past time for the commonwealth to join the 36 other states that have removed most if not all of these barriers, which is why we are proud to add our name to those supporting Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s legislation.”

While Kentucky is well-known for its hemp industry, broader reform has consistently stalled.

The Republican sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky said last month that he made multiple revisions to the legislation to scale it back and add restrictions to garner more support from colleagues—and he said he’s confident it would pass if legislative leaders had the “courage” to simply allow a vote on it.

Rep. Jason Nemes (R) filed a medical legalization bill that soundly passed the House last year but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation in January for the 2021 session but it did not advance this year. Now he’s working to build support for a new version for 2022.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is in favor of medical marijuana legalization and called on lawmakers to pass the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address in January.

Passing an adult-use marijuana legalization bill would presumably be a much larger challenge in the conservative legislature, but the proposal has the backing of several prominent groups.

Mike Conway, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky, said the pre-filed bills “would move Kentucky away from the harmful policies that have criminalized the use and possession of marijuana.”

“Criminal enforcement of marijuana possession has unnecessarily brought thousands of Kentuckians into the criminal justice system while diverting law enforcement resources away from public safety priorities such as violent crime reduction,” he said.

Matthew Bratcher, executive director for Kentucky NORML, said the group “commends Representative Kulkarni in her efforts to reform the cannabis possession laws in our commonwealth, and we encourage other legislators from both sides of the aisle to join her in making a difference in the lives of many of Kentuckians.”

“We’re at the precipice of the opening of the cannabis industry here in Kentucky,” C.J. Carter, Kentucky state director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said. “This is indeed a dangerous moment in time for Black and Brown people. There’s a new multi-billion dollar industry that will soon open on both the Federal and State level while simultaneously, people who look like me remain criminalized behind bars and are once again being left out of the conversation.”

“We now have the opportunity to write a different narrative in Kentucky that would benefit us first and foremost,” he said. “The State of Kentucky and its history as it relates to cannabis owes a tremendous debt to the Black Community and that starts with this legislation that is being introduced by Rep. Kulkarni.”

Read the text of the pre-filed Kentucky marijuana legalization bills below: 

Click to access kentucky-cannabis-bills.pdf

Florida Lawmaker Files Bill To Decriminalize All Currently Illicit Drugs

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