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Denver Psilocybin Decriminalization Activist Pushes Back Against Michael Pollan’s Criticism

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Denver made history on Tuesday after voters approved a ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. But shortly after the final count was released, reform advocates were hit with a New York Times op-ed signed by an unexpected critic telling them to slow their roll.

Despite being written by Michael Pollan, who authored a popular book debunking myths about psychedelics and defending their therapeutic potential, the opinion piece triggered pushback over its suggestion that “ballot initiatives may not be the smartest way” to change psilocybin laws and that advocates should wait for federal approval before legalizing the substance for medical purposes.

“Debate is always a good thing, but I worry that we’re not quite ready for this one,” Pollan wrote of campaigns in California and Oregon that are seeking to get psilocybin reform on the states’ 2020 ballots.

Kevin Matthews, campaign director of Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the city’s successful decriminalization initiative, told Marijuana Moment that he generally respected Pollan and appreciated the cautionary tale his piece offered against flippant consumption of the powerful substance—but he disagreed with the author’s stance on the ballot initiative process and with feedback from the research community opposing voter-led reform.

“Ballot initiatives are a good way to do this because I think sometimes the researchers forget about the average person out there who is currently using,” Matthews said. “There is this underground that exists—and Michael Pollan utilized that underground that exists [for his book].”

“If there’s enough support for the ballot initiative process to make sense, then I think people should go for it.”

Pollan’s argument boils down to this: he personally supports decriminalization—after all, as he noted, he’s illegally used and propagated psilocybin—but he argued that more research is needed on the substance’s “immense power and potential risk” and “consequences of unrestricted use” before activists start broadly changing laws concerning the substance.

It’s a line of messaging that drug policy reform advocates have heard time and again with respect to cannabis from lawmakers who reject legalization because they feel existing research is insufficient.

“We still have a lot to learn about the immense power and potential risk of these molecules, not to mention the consequences of unrestricted use,” Pollan wrote. “It would be a shame if the public is pushed to make premature decisions about psychedelics before the researchers have completed their work.”

The thing about that argument is that researchers have already uncovered evidence that psilocybin can be useful in the treatment of various mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction and depression.

Pollan understands those scientific findings well, but his op-ed shifts from lifting up the medical potential of the ingredient to urging caution against acting on those findings through ballot initiatives until researchers are satisfied.

“The more research we need should not impact whether or not we decriminalize it,” Matthews countered. “The more research we need is exploring its anti-addictive potential. One thing I hear is, ‘What are the long term impacts of use?’ We probably need more research there. But there’s no reason for people to go to jail for this if they’re not causing harm to others or themselves.”

The reality is that people across the U.S. are currently being criminalized for use and personal production of psilocybin mushrooms—a situation that can only be alleviated by voter-led ballot measures as long as lawmakers refuse to touch the issue.

After his piece generated considerable pushback on Twitter, Pollan clarified in a tweet that “this piece supports decriminalization, just not legalization now.” That message seemed to have been lost in translation, though, which is understandable given the author’s reference to campaigns that are simply seeking to decriminalize psilocybin before advocating against ballot initiatives.

If Pollan’s op-ed were published prior to the Denver vote, it is easy to imagine a situation where some number of the 1,979 voters who comprised the narrow margin between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ changed their minds because they read an essay from one of the nation’s foremost psychedelic advocates telling them that ballot measures “may not be the smartest way” to advance the issue.

That aside, more careful consideration of broader legalization is an area where Pollan and Matthews agree. After all, voter confusion about whether the Denver measure would allow people to purchase so-called “magic mushrooms” in shops—it does not—likely led some to vote against Initiative 301.

“I think the focus needs to be decriminalization. We should not be talking about necessarily a regulated medical model right now,” Matthews said. “I think decriminalization is the right first step because we need to make sure that people’s individual rights are protected, and really the only way to do that is by decriminalizing and making sure people are not receiving any kind of fines for possession.”

But while Pollan is urging caution, insisting that voters should wait for something akin to Food and Drug Administration approval before moving ahead on broad psilocybin reform, Matthews is striving to ensure that the Denver measure is quickly and effectively implemented, and to further spread awareness about the benefits of psilocybin through educational outreach.

When the first round of votes came out on Tuesday at 7:00 PM MT, showing the initiative behind by about 10 points, the “air got sucked out of the room like a space capsule getting a hole punched in it” at the main campaign watch party, Matthews said. But throughout the night, the gap narrowed. Victory became within reach.

When the final unofficially tally was finalized at approximately 4:20 PM MT the next day, Matthews said he “just started screaming and crying at the same time. Dogs started barking in the background.”

“What a trip,” he said, “no pun intended.”

But as the high of the success waned, Matthews recognized the momentous responsibility ahead of him, as one of the leaders of a historic campaign that will be looked at as activists attempt similar feats across the country. In spite of Pollan’s advice, Matthews has no intention of slowing down now.

California Activists Take First Steps To Decriminalize Psilocybin Mushrooms Statewide

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Culture

Postal Service Unveils ‘Drug Free USA Forever’ Stamp Commemorating 1980s Anti-Drug Program

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The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is rolling out a new stamp design that pays tribute to 1980s-era drug prevention programs and promotes a “drug-free USA.”

The stamps, which will go on sale starting in October 2020, were announced at the conclusion of this year’s Red Ribbon Week last month, an annual occurrence first launched under the Reagan administration.

“This Drug Free USA Forever stamp will help further raise awareness about the dangers of drug abuse, and the toll it is taking on families and communities around our country,” Robert Duncan, chairman of the USPS Board of Governors, said in a press release. “The Postal Service is glad to do its part in marking Red Ribbon Week, and renewing our commitment to helping these efforts to educate youth about the dangers of illegal drugs.”

Via USPS.

USPS explained that Red Ribbon Week originated after a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent was tortured and killed in Mexico while investigating drug traffickers in 1985.

“I am very pleased that the U.S. Postal Service will issue a stamp affirming our commitment to a drug-free America,” DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said. “This stamp will help raise awareness of the fight against drug addiction and honor those who have dedicated their lives to that cause.”

A description of the design states that the stamp “features a white star with lines of red, light blue and blue radiating from one side of each of the star’s five points, suggesting the unity necessary at all levels to effectively address drug abuse.”

USPS isn’t applying anti-drug messaging to the cannabis component CBD anymore, however. In September, the agency clarified that hemp-derived CBD products can be mailed under certain circumstances since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

For those with mailing needs who aren’t interested in supporting the notion of a “Drug Free USA,” USPS does have another stamp that recognizes the 50-year anniversary of the drug-fueled 1969 counterculture music festival Woodstock.

Via USPS.

The stamp “features an image of a dove along with the words ‘3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC,’ evoking the original promotional poster for the festival,” USPS says.

Another option is a John Lennon Forever stamp, celebrating the iconic Beatles member and marijuana enthusiast who famously got “high with a little help” from his friends.

Via USPS.

“Still beloved around the world, Lennon’s music remains an anchor of pop radio and continues to speak for truth and peace,” USPS wrote.

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Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

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New Congressional Resolution Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Drug Expungements

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Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) released a congressional resolution on Thursday that calls for a fundamental reshaping of the criminal justice system, in part by legalizing marijuana and expunging all drug-related convictions.

The congresswoman’s “People’s Justice Guarantee” resolution outlines “a bold, new vision for justice in the American criminal legal system” that’s designed to “transform the U.S. criminal legal system to one that meets America’s foundational yet unfilled promise of justice for all.”

The ultimate goal of the measure is to reduce mass incarceration in the country through a series of reform steps that includes ending for-profit prisons, decriminalizing certain non-violent offenses, imposing caps on criminal sentences, abolishing the death penalty, expanding access to mental health services in prisons and reinvesting in communities that have been most impacted by “tough of crime” criminal policies.

Some have characterized the resolution as the “Green New Deal” of criminal justice reform, comparable in scope and ambition to the climate change plan championed by fellow “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Drug policy reform isn’t the main feature of the resolution, but it does call for “decriminalizing addiction, homelessness, poverty, HIV status, and disabilities, including mental health diagnosis, by legalizing marijuana and overdose prevention sites, declining to criminally prosecute low-level offenses such as loitering and theft of necessity goods, and expunging the records of individuals for all drug-related offenses.”

Interestingly, an earlier draft of the measure reportedly contained language specifying that law enforcement should “use civil citations instead of arrests for drug possession,” according to a paraphrase by a reporter with The Appeal who reviewed the document but later updated her story to reflect the version that was actually filed. A call for an 80 percent reduction in the prison population was also removed from the text.

It’s not clear if the provision on “decriminalizing addiction” in the final resolution would involve all drug possession offenses, or why Pressley apparently decided to scale back the scope of the measure from the draft her staff circulated to reporters. Marijuana Moment reached out to the congresswoman’s office for clarification but a representative was not immediately available.

The ACLU, Color of Change and National Immigrant Law Center are among several civil rights groups that have endorsed the resolution, which was created in concert with advocates from the National Immigration Law Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigrant Defense Project, UndocuBlack Network and others.

“You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people,” Pressley said in a press release. “For far too long, those closest to the pain have not been closest to the power, resulting in a racist, xenophobic, rogue, and fundamentally flawed criminal legal system.”

“The People’s Justice Guarantee is the product of a symbiotic partnership with over 20 grassroots organizations and people impacted by the discriminatory policies of our legal system,” she said. “Our resolution calls for a bold transformation of the status quo—devoted to dismantling injustices so that the system is smaller, safer, less punitive, and more humane.”

While the freshman congresswoman declined to endorse a 2016 marijuana legalization measure that was ultimately approved by Massachusetts voters, she’s since positioned herself as a champion for reform, including by voting against an amendment barring people with drug convictions from working in child care services with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

She also voted in favor of amendments to protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention and another introduced by Ocasio-Cortez to remove a budget rider that she argued inhibited research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

In addition, Pressley has cosponsored bills concerning marijuana descheduling, research on the benefits of medical cannabis for military veterans and banking access by state-legal businesses.

Read the full text of Pressley’s justice reform resolution below: 

Pressley_The People’s J… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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Support For Marijuana Legalization Increased Again In 2019, Pew Poll Finds

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Support for legalizing marijuana grew again this year, with just over two-thirds of Americans in favor of the policy, according to a Pew Research Center poll that was released on Thursday.

The survey, which involved phone interviews with about 9,900 adults from September 3-15, found that 67 percent of respondents think cannabis should be legal. That’s five percentage points higher than Pew’s last poll on the issue in 2018, and it closely reflects the percent support for legalization that Gallup reported (66 percent) in a survey released last month.

According to the results of a new question Pew asked for the first time that gave respondents multiple policy options to choose from, 91 percent of Americans said that marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational purposes: Fifty nine percent said both forms should be legal and 32 percent said it should only be legal for medical use.

Just 8 percent want cannabis to remain illegal across the board.

That’s a notable finding, as some prohibitionists have argued that polls showing growing support for broad legalization are misleading because people would be less inclined to voice support for outright legalization if given more options. In fact, a sizable majority remains in favor of full legalization, according to Pew.

The poll also affirms that marijuana reform is an increasingly bipartisan issue, with a majority of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP (55 percent) saying cannabis should be legal, compared to 78 percent of Democrats and those who lean toward the party.

Last year, the survey showed that only 45 percent of Republicans favored legalization, versus 69 percent of Democrats. Unlike the prior Pew poll, however, this latest version combines responses from party members and individuals who said they lean toward one party or the other. The previous survey distinguished those two groups and reported support separately.

“The percentage of the public who favors adult-use marijuana legalization has skyrocketed over the past three decades and shows no signs of abating,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “As more and more states have moved forward with their own marijuana liberalization policies in recent years, public support has only grown stronger. At a time when the political divide is larger than ever, the issue of marijuana legalization is one of the few policy issues upon which most Americans agree.”

There is majority support in the new survey for ending cannabis prohibition among both men and women, and across racial demographics.

Expect the upward trend in support to continue. The only age group where there isn’t majority support for legalizing marijuana is the Silent Generation (35 percent). Boomers and Generation X support the policy, 63 percent and 65 percent, respectively. But an overwhelming majority of Millennials (76 percent) back legalization.

The partisan gap for that generation is significantly narrower than the overall divide, with 71 percent of Millennial Republicans and 78 percent of Millennial Democrats saying cannabis should be legal.

 

“Two-thirds of Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade,” Pew said. “The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52 percent in 2010 to 32 percent today.”

“The growth in public support for legal marijuana has come as a growing number of jurisdictions have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes,” the report states.

As Pew noted, numerous Democratic presidential candidates are in favor of cannabis legalization—with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe Biden—and the survey results suggest it’s a valuable policy position to have both in primaries and general elections.

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This story was updated to include comment from NORML.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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