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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.

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GOP Senator Presses Treasury Secretary On Tax Credits For Marijuana Businesses

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A Republican senator recently pressed the head of the Treasury Department on whether marijuana businesses qualify for a federal tax benefit.

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about the “opportunity zone” tax credit, which is meant to encourage investments in “distressed,” low-income communities through benefits such as deferrals on capital gains taxes.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), whose state’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2018, told Mnuchin that businesses that derive more than five percent of their profits from things like alcohol sales are ineligible for the tax credit, but there’s “not a definition dealing with cannabis businesses.”

“Are they within that five percent amount or are they not at all because there’s a federal prohibition on cannabis sales?” the senator asked.

“I’m going to have to get back to you on the specifics,” Mnuchin replied.

“That’d be helpful to get clarity because there are cannabis businesses across the country that, if they fall in opportunity zones, they’ll need clarification on that,” Lankford said. “When you and I have spoken about it before—it’s difficult to give a federal tax benefit to something that’s against federal law.”

 

Lankford, who opposes legalization and appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure, has raised this issue with the Treasury secretary during at least two prior hearings. When he questioned whether cannabis businesses qualify for the program last year, he clarified that he personally does not believe they should.

While Mnuchin’s department has yet to issue guidance on the issue, he said in response to the earlier questioning that his understanding is that “it is not the intent of the opportunity zones that if there is this conflict [between state and federal marijuana laws] that has not been cleared that, for now, we should not have those businesses in the opportunity zones.”

Mnuchin has also been vocal about the need for Congress to address the lack of financial resources available to state-legal marijuana businesses. Because so many of these companies are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, he said the Internal Revenue Service has had to build “cash rooms” to store their tax deposits.

“There is not a Treasury solution to this. There is not a regulator solution to this,” he said during one hearing. “If this is something that Congress wants to look at on a bipartisan basis, I’d encourage you to do this. This is something where there is a conflict between federal and state law that we and the regulators have no way of dealing with.”

Last week’s Finance Committee hearing was centered around President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, which separately includes a provision calling for the elimination of an appropriations rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis laws as well as a continued block on Washington, D.C. spending its own local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.

American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients

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American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients

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The American Bar Association (ABA) approved two marijuana-related resolutions during its midyear meeting on Monday.

The group’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.

Under the banking resolution, ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”

ABA added that “such legislation should clarify that the proceeds from a transaction involving activities of a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction involves proceeds from a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider, or because the transaction involves proceeds from legitimate cannabis-related activities.”

A bill that would accomplish this goal was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it’s currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action in the Banking Committee. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) is under pressure from industry stakeholders to advance the legislation, but he’s also heard from anti-legalization lawmakers who’ve thanked him for delaying the bill.

“Passage of the [Secure and Fair Enforcement] Banking Act or similar legislation will provide security for lawyers and firms acting to advise companies in the industry against having their accounts closed or deposits seized,” a report attached to the ABA resolution states. “This will also foster the rule of law by ensuring that those working in the state-legalized legitimate cannabis industry can seek counsel and help prevent money laundering and other crimes associated with off-the-books cash transactions.”

“Currently, the threat of criminal prosecution prevents most depository institutions from banking clients, including lawyers, who are in the stream of commerce of state-legalized marijuana. This Resolution is necessary to clarify that such provision of legal and other services in compliance with state law should not constitute unlawful activity pursuant to federal law.”

The second marijuana-related resolution ABA adopted on Monday asks Congress to allow attorneys to serve clients in cannabis cases without facing federal punishment.

Text of the measure states that the association “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and explicitly ensure that it does not constitute a violation of federal law for lawyers, acting in accord with state, territorial, and tribal ethical rules on lawyers’ professional conduct, to provide legal advice and services to clients regarding matters involving marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with state, territorial, and tribal law.”

Such a change would provide needed clarity for lawyers as more states legalize cannabis for adult use. ABA’s own rules of conduct have been a source of conflict for attorneys, as it stipulates that they “shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Federal law continues to regard marijuana as an illegal, strictly controlled substance.

An ABA report released last year made the case that there’s flexibility within that rule, however, as “it is unreasonable to prohibit a lawyer from providing advice and counsel to clients and to assist clients regarding activities permitted by relevant state or local law, including laws that allow the production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes so long as the lawyer also advises the client that some such activities may violate existing federal law.”

A new report attached to the resolution states that “statutory guidance is needed that explicitly ensures that attorneys who adhere to their state ethics rules do not risk federal criminal prosecution simply for providing legal counsel to clients operating marijuana businesses in compliance with their state law.”

“This Resolution accomplishes this elegantly by harmonizing federal criminal liability with States’ ethical rules regarding the provision of advice and legal services relating to marijuana business. If a state has legalized some form of marijuana activity and explicitly permitted lawyers to provide advice and legal services relating to such state-authorized marijuana activity, such provision of advice and legal services shall not be unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act or any other federal law.”

Last year, ABA adopted another cannabis resolution—arguing that states should be allowed to set their own marijuana policies.

Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.

While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.

Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”

“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”

“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”

One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.

Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.

In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.

Top Mexican Senator Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Be Approved This Month

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