With about one month left until voters head to the polls, things are heating up in the fight to legalize medical marijuana in Missouri.
Three competing medical cannabis ballot initiatives—including two proposed constitutional amendments and one statutory measure—officially qualified for the ballot in August. And in the weeks since, sponsoring committees for the proposals have engaged in a public rivalry that’s landed Missouri in the national spotlight.
Backing Amendment 2, the group New Approach Missouri has received some of the most high-profile endorsements. Missouri NORML, St. Louis’s NAACP chapter, Freedom Incorporated and the St. Louis American newspaper have all recently thrown their support behind the amendment, for example.
— New Approach MO (@NewApproachMO) September 21, 2018
Taxation seems to be a top concern across the board.
Amendment 3, sponsored by attorney Dr. Brad Bradshaw and Find the Cures, would impose the highest sales tax rate on medical cannabis in the country: 15 percent, compared to 7.25 percent in California. New Approach Missouri has seized on that point, arguing that the measure would be prohibitively expensive for patients by setting the highest medical cannabis tax rate in the nation.
“Amendment 3 is exploiting patients with serious and life-changing diagnosis, like cancer, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, who are seeking this treatment to ease the pain and suffering from their symptoms,” New Approach Missouri spokesperson Jack Cardetti said in a press release Wednesday.
Amendment 2 would tax retail marijuana sales at four percent, and the third initiative, Missourians for Patient Care-backed Proposition C, would impose a two percent sales tax rate.
(See below for a chart showing how other states that currently allow medical cannabis tax it.)
Find the Cures hasn’t backed down despite pressure from the competing campaigns. In fact, Bradshaw filed lawsuits against Missourians for Patient Care and New Approach Missouri in August, alleging that the former submitted invalid signatures and the latter illegally collected signatures.
New Approach Missouri “ran an intentional, systematic, pervasive, and ubiquitous pattern of instructing individuals to violate the legal requirements of the petition signature gathering process,” Bradshaw claimed in the lawsuit.
But the lawsuits didn’t get far. Bradshaw ultimately dropped his suit against Missourians for Patient Care. And a circuit court denied the other suit against New Approach Missouri—a ruling upheld by an appeals court, which denied the attorney a rehearing, in September.
Missouri voters could have had the opportunity to hear out each campaign’s arguments at a moderated forum last month, but representatives for two of the sponsoring campaigns—Missourians for Patient Care and Find the Cures—dropped out of the debate at the last minute.
Based on polling, it appears likely that Missouri voters will approve at least one of the medical cannabis initiatives. The question is whether these heated campaign fights will lead to vote splitting that could jeopardize the reform efforts. As a general rule, the top vote-getter prevails in Missouri; but in this case, if voters green light both a constitutional amendment and the statutory amendment, the fate of the program could be left largely up to the courts.
And it’s not just competition between pro-legalization sponsors that could influence the vote in November. Outright opponents of marijuana reform are entering the ring, as well. A recently formed committee, Citizens for Safe Medicine, is campaigning against all three of the initiatives. Financial disclosure statements aren’t yet available, though, so it’s not clear what kind of resources the committee will bring to the table.
Citizens for Safe Medicine, which bills itself as a coalition of medical professionals, teachers and businesses, appears to be connected to a nonprofit organized called the Council for Drug Free Youth, which receives some of its funding from the federal government. The nonprofit and the campaign committee share a phone number and at least one staff member, according to public filings and their websites.
For legalization supporters and opponents alike, time to sway the vote in Missouri is quickly running out, though. Election Day is just 32 days away. And on a related note, residents will also have the chance to elect a U.S Senator, both of whom have weighed in on their marijuana policy ahead of the vote.
New Approach Missouri circulated the following chart, using data compiled by the Marijuana Policy Project, that shows how other states with legal medical cannabis tax it:
|State||Sales Tax Rate on Medical Marijuana|
|California||7.25% (state-registered patients exempt from standard sales tax)|
|Hawaii||4% (4.5% on Oahu)|
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules in place.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The state pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having five congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their measure and saw 68 percent of voters approve it last year.
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below:
Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing
A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.
As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.
It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”
The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below:
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.
Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.
The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.
MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.
“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”
Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.
It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.
Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.
FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.
The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.