Any attempt to sell so-called magic mushrooms in Colorado marijuana dispensaries would not be tolerated, a federal prosecutor said last week.
Jason Dunn, the U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado, weighed in on psilocybin reform during a cannabis summit in Oregon that featured multiple federal prosecutors, regulators, public health officials and marijuana industry stakeholders.
Michael Krawitz, the executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, who attended the closed-door meeting, told Marijuana Moment that Dunn proactively brought up the psilocybin decriminalization measure that Denver voters approved earlier this year during his presentation.
“I really don’t feel a witch hunt or anything from the U.S. prosecutors on cannabis,” Krawitz said. “That being said, the prosecutor from Colorado made a very strong statement about mushrooms. He said this isn’t going to float.”
Discussing Denver’s historic vote to make psilocybin offenses the city’s lowest law enforcement priority, Dunn said the policy change should not leave anyone with the impression that psychedelic mushrooms can be sold at cannabis shops or anywhere else. The decriminalization initiative makes clear such sales would not be permissible, a point that the measure’s backers emphasized during and after their campaign.
“They’re very cognizant of the lowest priority initiative in Denver and they’re like, ‘if you try go down that lane with medical mushrooms, it’s not going float.’ They’re not going to tolerate that,” Krawtiz said. “I thought that was rather interesting—the line is somewhere beyond cannabis and somewhere before mushrooms evidently.”
Both psilocybin and marijuana are illegal Schedule I substances.
The vote in Denver was quickly followed by a broader psychedelics decriminalization measure passing in Oakland, California. Efforts to reduce criminal penalties for adults who use, possess or cultivate such substances are spreading nationwide, with the help of reform groups like SPORE and Decriminalize Nature.
At this point, psychedelics reform initiatives that have been enacted are primarily focused on simple decriminalization, and there’s not an active campaign to allow sales of any such substances in Colorado. However, activists are collecting signatures to put an initiative to legalize therapeutic use of psilocybin on Oregon’s 2020 ballot—a campaign that’s generated controversy over the measure’s omission of broader decriminalization provisions contained in an earlier draft.
The marijuana summit involved a panel discussion with seven federal prosecutors, led by U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy Williams, who also serves at the head of the Justice Department’s Marijuana Working Group. Representatives from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the surgeon general’s office and cannabis companies also participated in the event.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Williams’s office to inquire about his position on psilocybin reform but a representative was not immediately available. Dunn’s office also did not respond to a request for clarification by the time of publication.
According to Krawitz, the overall tone of the conversations at the summit wasn’t especially hostile to marijuana legalization despite that fact that U.S. attorneys must adhere to federal law. Describing enforcement priorities, the prosecutors said that they were focused on going after entities that violate federal and state cannabis laws dually—and one emphasized that individual medical cannabis patients were not targets.
“The vibe that I got from [the summit] was really actually pretty good,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that they’re any better educated than they’ve ever been—U.S. attorneys are kind of the generals in the war on drugs and they seem to get all of their talking points from NIDA,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
That said, “they seem to be opening up to more information.”
The meeting did include a presentation from the deputy surgeon general, who discussed risks associated with underage cannabis use and echoed points made by Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who issued an advisory last month warning against marijuana consumption by adolescents and pregnant women.
Krawitz spoke to Deputy Surgeon General Erica Schwartz following her presentation and explained that certain talking points Adams has employed lack nuance by, for example, neglecting to acknowledge that a synthesized version of THC is an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of nausea from chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite.
The advocate said his points were well-received by Schwartz, who asked him to write a letter detailing the information he described and said that she’d put that letter before Adams.
There was also talk of dangers associated with driving under the influence of THC at the event.
Big 👍to @USAO_OR Billy Williams for hosting the 2019 Marijuana Summit. It’s clear Oregon was ill-prepared for state legalization. Infrastructure & facts lacking. @KevinSabet @learnaboutsam @DEAHQ @CityofWoodburn @TheIACP @RogueDew @Lines_for_Life @OregonGovBrown @WoodburnPolice pic.twitter.com/4E4CCzXUrU
— Chief Jim Ferraris (@chiefferraris) September 6, 2019
The president of prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, Kevin Sabet, who has fostered a close relationship with the surgeon general, also spoke at the summit.
FDA and USDA discussed their respective efforts to develop regulations for hemp and CBD since the crop was federally legalized.
USDA announced that the department’s draft interim final rule for regulating hemp is now undergoing an interagency review with the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to a presentation slide obtained by Marijuana Moment.
The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy is also doing a review on the proposal, which USDA aims to publish this fall.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization
Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is calling for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of opioid possession.
In a criminal justice reform plan released on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate laid out a vision for ending the drug war, which he said has contributed to mass incarceration and is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
“Tom believes we must end the failed War on Drugs. Based on the flawed idea that incarceration is the answer to addiction, federal and state elected officials passed severe sentencing laws that encouraged incarceration for low-level drug offenses,” the plan states. “Unfortunately, communities of color were and continue to be disproportionately affected and targeted by these laws, even when other ethnicities were committing the same drug crimes at the same rates.”
Today @TomSteyer announced a new criminal justice plan to:
– Reform the juvenile system
– Improve prison conditions
– Redirect funds to education
– Eliminate cash bail
– Release more rehabilitated people
– End the war on drugs
And much more! 👉 https://t.co/3VYRw7ioXB
— TeamTom 🌎 (@TomHQ) January 24, 2020
There are six proposals in the drug war section, including legalizing cannabis and expunging prior marijuana convictions, ending mandatory minimum sentences and empowering judges to use more discretion in non-violent drug cases, diverting people convicted of drug offenses to treatment or drug court, ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, sealing the records of certain drug convictions and decriminalizing opioids while investing $75 billion in treatment programs and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable.
Steyer specifically endorsed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions and set aside tax revenue to support communities most impacted by the drug war.
“Policing marijuana use has led to too many unfair incarcerations and predominantly impacted communities of color,” the plan says. It also criticizes then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s 2018 move on “repealing leniency given to states for marijuana laws.”
Today, I'm meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals to talk about transforming the criminal justice system through police accountability, ending cash bail, providing adequate funding to re-entry programs, and so much more. pic.twitter.com/m9lDEKWwwU
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) January 23, 2020
“A Steyer Administration will also open equitable pathways to banking for marijuana businesses,” it continues. “The federal government—including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—should not be a barrier to marijuana businesses receiving support from their local banks.”
“Incarceration is not the answer to addiction, and low-level drug offenses should not carry a severe sentence. Tom will legalize marijuana, let states pass their own policies, expunge past records, and direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry. Tom’s administration will end the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize opioid possession, and invest $75 billion to address the opioid crisis.”
The opioid decriminalization proposal is similar to that of entrepreneur Andrew Yang, another 2020 candidate who said removing criminal penalties for possessing the substance is necessary in order to help get people into treatment and curb the opioid crisis. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have gone further, calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession and, in Gabbard’s case, also the legalization and regulation of illicit drugs.
“Tom supports decriminalizing small amounts of opioid possession for personal use at the federal level,” the plan states. “He will address the opioid crisis through $75 billion in new funding over ten years to resource state and local treatment programs, hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce laws that end the illicit distribution and sale of opioids.”
This is a notable development for Steyer, who hasn’t discussed drug policy reform as much as many other candidates in the race and whose views on decriminalization of substances beyond marijuana were previously unknown.
Last year, Steyer said he supported creating a national referendum process so that Americans can made decisions about a wide range of policy issues, including cannabis legalization.
He also previously discussed his support for ending marijuana prohibition and providing the industry with access to banking, saying that he and his wife wanted to provide financial services to minority- and women-owned cannabis firms through their community bank, but federal prohibition means the business would be put at risk if they did that.
Steyer’s new plan also calls for juvenile justice reform, ending cash bail, banning facial recognition technology in policing, demilitarizing law enforcement, improving prison conditions and eliminating the death penalty, among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.