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First Government Psychedelics Decriminalization Panel Holds Historic Meeting In Denver

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A first-of-its-kind meeting took place at Denver’s main municipal building on Tuesday, with drug policy reform advocates talking openly with law enforcement and elected officials about the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms and the logistics of implementing the city’s policy that decriminalizes the psychedelic.

It was the first meeting of the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel, a government body that was formed as part of a historic initiative to make psilocybin among the lowest local law enforcement priorities that voters approved last May. The city became the first in the U.S. to accomplish that feat, and it’s inspired a robust psychedelics decriminalization movement across the country in the months since.

Representatives from the city attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, district attorney’s office and the harm reduction community all participated in the meeting. It was led by advocate Kevin Matthews, who ran the successful decriminalization campaign and went on to found SPORE, a national group to push for the policy change.

“A meeting like this doesn’t happen every day, and the fact that we’re here in a signal to the rest of the country—nay the world—that we’re ready for this conversation,” Matthews said in his opening remarks. “What a gift and what an opportunity.”

It was an opportunity that many residents took advantage of, with a turnout so high that the meeting had to be moved to a larger room in the Denver City and County Building directly across the hall from the mayor’s office.

“People want to know about this,” Matthews told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “It feels good. It’s a sign that—at the very least here in Denver—the general public is interested in this.”

The agenda for the panel at this first meeting was largely technical. Members made introductions, approved bylaws, selected officers and then spent the majority of the time discussing criteria for law enforcement reporting standards for psilocybin should be, which is required under a provision of the decriminalization initiative.

“The conclusion that we arrived at yesterday is that we have a lot ideas about what reporting standards should look like,” he said. “There’s not too much of a common practice around identifying demographic information and things like environment and context and the mental state of an individual who’s contacted by law enforcement.”

The next step for the review panel is to define those reporting standards and finalize them by March 31. Matthews said the body will hold another meeting prior to that deadline, where data analysts from the Denver Police Department and other agencies will offer their perspective. The group will submit its recommendations to the City Council next year.

At the meeting, Matthews posed a challenge to the group: “As appointed officials on this panel, how can we explore and recommend psilocybin to solve some of the most complex problems we’re facing as a city—namely Denver’s mental and behavioral health challenges—and create a climate where law enforcement especially embraces a culture of compassion over criminalization for drug offenders?”

“Imagine a world with less crime, more empathy, more creativity, more inclusivity, more innovation, where we have access to natural medicines—tools—that have an immediate and long-lasting impact on our health and mental wellness,” he said.

Bryan Ortega, a military veteran who used psilocybin to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, offered the panel of snapshot of that world.

“Psilocybin was my saving grace. Three days into my withdrawal symptoms [from prescription drugs], I was having excruciating pain,” Ortega said. “I am living proof and testimony that these medicines work. And there’s scientific data and research coming out all the time that say the same thing.”

Across the country, people are hearing more of these stories and calls for a different approach to psychedelics. Denver sparked a national movement, with Oakland’s City Council following suit and unanimously approving a measure to make psilocybin and other entheogenic substances among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. Activists there are now moving to place a broader psychedelics legalization model before the Council.

Santa Cruz became the third city to pass a psychedelics decriminalization measure last month after a successful City Council vote. And a ballot initiative to enact the policy change in Washington, D.C. also recently advanced.

California activists are collecting signatures to put psilocybin mushroom legalization on the state ballot.  And in Oregon, a campaign to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use is underway.

All told, activists in more than 100 cities are pushing for decriminalization, according to the national advocacy group Decriminalize Nature.

Marijuana Decriminalization Approved By Virginia Senate And House

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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.

Politics

New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.

“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.

“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

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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