The psychedelics reform movement is quietly advancing throughout the country, with four more major cities poised to take up proposals to decriminalize entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms.
Advocates in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas are pushing decriminalization measures—either through City Council action or ballot measures—aiming to build on successful campaigns to deprioritize enforcement of certain drug laws in Denver and Oakland earlier this year.
Here’s a rundown of the latest developments in these jurisdictions:
A proposed city ballot measure to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi was filed in Portland last week, and activists are now awaiting approval of templates to begin the signature gathering process.
Decriminalize Nature Portland, the group behind the 2020 initiative, said that it’s imperative to end enforcement of laws against possessing or cultivating the substances so that people can reap health benefits without fear of prosecution, citing studies demonstrating that plant medicines can treat certain mental health conditions.
“Oregon is in the middle of a peak in its mental health and homelessness rates,” Holly Sullivan, the chief petitioner, said in a press release. “And the last thing we need to be doing is locking up more of our most vulnerable folks for the possession or homegrowing of medicines that are clinically proven to treat depression, PTSD, and addiction.”
Text of the measure, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, outlines the benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine and DMT. It also argues that government resources should not be used “in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of psychedelic plants.”
The initiative states that Portland may not adopt any laws prohibiting or regulating the possession, cultivation or distribution of psychedelics for personal use. Interestingly, however, it carves out an exception allowing for regulation of the commercial sale of the substances “when the quantity being sold by the offending person is worth more than $500 per week.”
Organizers were initially pursuing reform through both a City Council petition and a ballot proposal, Sky Vavonese of Decriminalize Nature Portland told Marijuana Moment.
“As time went on, we needed to take the process into our own hands instead of leaving it up to five people who are in our local government,” Vavonese said. “So we are conversing with our city and county commissioners because they do have the executive power to fast track decriminalization once we have turned in the required signatures we need, and it is important to work with the local government workers so we have as much support as possible.”
She added that the group will have to gather about 38,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, but they’re aiming to collect more than the required amount “to be safe.”
Decriminalize Nature Portland’s Nicholas Combest is scheduled to discuss the proposal and request endorsements during a City Council meeting on Wednesday.
Read the full text of the Oregon psychedelics ballot measure below:
Decriminalize Nature Portland’s initiative is one of two psychedelics measures that activists are working to get before voters in the state next year. A separate group of organizers is pushing a statewide ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes at licensed facilities.
There’s been some confusion and misreporting on recent psychedelics reform efforts in the Windy City, but things are moving forward. While the Chicago City Council website at one point indicated recently that there was unanimous support for a decriminalization measure that made it on the consent calendar last week, it appears to have been a clerical error and has since been updated to reflect that the resolution has simply been referred to a committee.
“It needs more steps to complete, including community comment and a final vote, and has action requests that need to be addressed,” Decriminalize Nature, the national reform group behind the measure, said.
Councilman Brian Hopkins is sponsoring the legislation, which seeks to prohibit the use of government funds to enforce laws against using, possessing, transporting, cultivating or distributing psychedelics.
After listing various health benefits of psychedelics and noting increase funding for studies into the substances, the measure resolves that Chicago’s government should not “use ANY funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing any penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants for Adult Use” and that it should be “amongst the lowest level of Chicago Police Department law enforcement priorities.”
Next month, a measure to decriminalize psychedelics in Berkeley is expected to receive a hearing in a citizen-led commission. The meeting, set for November 21, will come several months after the City Council’s Public Safety Committee unanimously voted in favor of sending the resolution to a separate, health-focused panel.
The citizen commission was initially expected to weigh in on the decriminalization measure this month, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature told Marijuana Moment, but a scheduling snafu bumped its consideration. Given the delay, the local government isn’t likely to take up the resolution until 2020, however. In any case, once the Community Health Commission weighs in on the reform it will go back to City Council for a formal vote on enactment.
There has been added pressure for the city to remove criminal penalties on psychedelics following the successful Council vote in neighboring Oakland to reform their laws governing the substances.
Decriminalize Nature Dallas, another offshoot of the growing national movement to reform psychedelic laws, is preparing to advance a decriminalization measure as well. Beyond psychedelics like psilocybin, however, the group said it will also add marijuana to the list of substances that would be covered, as cannabis possession remains strictly prohibited in Texas.
The measure hasn’t been filed yet, but the group’s co-founder, Tristan Seikel, told Dallas News that the time is ripe for reform.
Because of the high level of marijuana possession arrests in the city, including the plant in the proposal makes the effort unique, he said.
“It’s projected that we’ll have at least 100,000 people arrested for cannabis between now and the next time we will even be able to talk to our Legislature about it,” Seikel said at a town hall meeting earlier this month. “That’s why our campaign is very much different… When it comes to cannabis, [our campaign] should have a demonstrable effect on the number of people getting arrested.”
He said that the plan isn’t to legalize psychedelics, as advocates “don’t want to see sacred medicines just another thing you buy in the smoke shop” and that the “whole point about” allowing home cultivation “is to allow people to develop their own relationship with it and develop it on a more intimate community-based level that isn’t driven by profit.”
A spreading national movement
These latest developments represent a continuation of a trend that has rapidly evolved in 2019, with activists in two cities making history through decriminalization wins and setting the stage for a national reckoning on psychedelics policy.
Decriminalize Nature is tracking dozens of local efforts to remove criminal penalties for entheogenic substances, and many of those campaigns are coordinating with the national hub. Meanwhile, the activists behind Denver’s vote to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms launched a separate national advocacy group called SPORE in July. The group aims to spread education and share resources with local organizers interested in building on their success.
Marijuana Businesses Could Get Federal Disaster Relief Funds Under New Congressional Bill
Marijuana businesses impacted by recent natural disasters or that have experienced financial distress due to the coronavirus pandemic would be eligible for federal relief programs under new legislation introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday.
Because cannabis remains federally prohibited, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has explicitly denied the industry—and businesses that work indirectly with it—access to its relief programs like other markets. That means, for example, marijuana farmers in states like California and Oregon that have seen their crops destroyed by wildfires are fully dependent on state and local assistance.
The new Small Business Disaster Relief Equity Act would resolve that problem, stipulating that disaster- or COVID-related services, grants, loans and tax benefits that are made available through federal agencies or congressional legislation cannot be denied to cannabis businesses solely because of the nature of their work, as long as it is in compliance with state law.
What’s more, the bill states that the the heads of federal agencies that administer disaster relief such as SBA “shall, to the greatest extent practicable, allow State-legal cannabis businesses to retroactively apply for such disaster assistance.”
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) filed the companion bills.
“Cannabis businesses in Oregon hurt by the blazing wildfires or any other disaster shouldn’t be shut out from federal relief simply because the federal government is stuck in yesteryear,” Wyden said in a press release. “These legal small businesses employ thousands of workers and support our struggling economy. If they need federal support, they should get it. Full stop.”
SBA recently confirmed to Marijuana Moment that while it opened a disaster relief loan program for Oregon businesses damaged or destroyed by the wildfires, the cannabis industry isn’t eligible. People working in the state-legal market whose primary residences were impacted could still apply, however, but not if they conduct their business from home.
Blumenauer, cochair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said that many marijuana companies in his state “have faced catastrophic disruptions because of wildfires.”
“There’s no reason why these legitimate businesses shouldn’t have access to the federal support meant to help businesses survive unprecedented disasters,” he said. “Our legislation will help ensure these businesses and their workers are not left behind.”
According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, 20 percent of marijuana businesses in the state were encouraged to evacuate due to the fires. Regulators are also asking cannabis business owners to fill out a survey so they can get a better sense of how extensive the damage is.
As of this week, seven cannabis business have been destroyed by the fires and at least a dozen have been damaged, Oregon Live reported.
“Whether you’re for or against state-legal cannabis, we can all agree that families in all of our communities are struggling to keep the lights on and stay afloat during this turbulent time—and that they need and deserve support,” Merkley said. “That includes thousands of small business owners, workers and their families who rely on state-legal cannabis businesses for their livelihoods.”
“We have to make sure those families won’t be shut out from critical assistance that can make a real difference,” he said.
The timing of the natural disasters in Oregon isn’t ideal, either, as consumer demand for marijuana products has been up amid the pandemic. In July, the state broke its record for cannabis sales, with about $106 million in medical and recreational cannabis purchases. Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis said in a report on Wednesday that “since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast.”
Blumenauer in April led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of Congress calling on House leadership to include language in COVID-19 stimulus legislation to allow marijuana businesses to access federal disaster relief. He followed up by filing standalone legislation—the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act—that would address the problem specifically when it comes to coronavirus relief.
Wyden similarly led a letter with nine other senators in April, asking the chamber’s leadership to extend federal assistance to the cannabis market. Civil rights groups and industry stakeholders have also made these calls to action in recent months.
“It’s ridiculous that legal businesses here in Oregon are being denied critical wildfire aid because of outdated policies handed down from Washington, D.C.” DeFazio said. “Cannabis businesses employ thousands across Oregon and are a vital economic engine for our state. This important legislation will ensure that these businesses are eligible for the same aid as every other business impacted by the 2020 wildfires.”
Read text of the marijuana disaster relief bill below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Congressional Research Service Analyzes Marijuana Expungements And Cannabis Immigration Issues
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released new two reports on marijuana policy—one dealing with the immigration implications of federal prohibition and the other looking at expungements provisions in pending legislation to deschedule cannabis.
For the immigration-focused report published last week, CRS outlined how being convicted of a marijuana crime, admitting to using cannabis (even in a legal state) or working in the marijuana industry can carry four “key consequences” for non-citizens. They can be deemed inadmissible to the U.S., deported, lose immigration relief benefits and be denied naturalization.
The threat of inadmissibility for state-legal cannabis activity even extends to people who simply invest in the market, CRS said. The report makes a point of reiterating several times that just because something is legal under state law doesn’t mean there are carve outs in federal immigration statutes.
There are also immigration relief benefits that individuals could lose out on because of marijuana-related activities. They include the “waiver of certain criminal inadmissibility grounds, cancelation of removal, voluntary departure, withholding of removal, protection under the Convention Against Torture, asylum, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” the report states.
With respect to naturalization restrictions, CRS points out that the Trump administration in 2019 issued a memo clarifying that having a cannabis conviction or admitting to working in the marijuana industry “can bar an individual from establishing [good moral character], even if the marijuana-related activity did not violate applicable state or foreign laws.”
CRS also recognized in the new report that legislation to federally deschedule marijuana—the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—would help resolve the immigration dilemma, as the bill “would prohibit the denial of any immigration benefit or protection to aliens who have participated in any marijuana-related activity.”
The MORE Act was initially expected to be scheduled for a House of Representatives floor vote this week, but following pushback from certain Democratic lawmakers who felt it would look bad to advance the bill before approving additional COVID-19 relief, it was postponed. Now it’s expected to receive a vote later in fall, likely after the election.
In a separate report also released last week, CRS looked specifically at the MORE Act’s expungement provisions.
The bill would mandate that federal district courts expunge the records of individuals with federal marijuana convictions within one year of the bill’s enactment. It would also allow individuals with cannabis-related convictions to petition courts to have their records cleared prior to the one-year review period.
The Capitol Hill research office noted that federal marijuana convictions represent just a small fraction of the country’s total cannabis convictions, with most being carried out at the state, county and local levels. Relatively few federal cases are for possession alone; most are for trafficking-related charges. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, cannabis trafficking convictions are on the decline, with fewer than 2,000 cases occurring last year.
“The expungement provision in the MORE Act could raise several issues for policymakers,” CRS said. “The legislation would only address expungement of criminal records related to federal marijuana offenses; it would not provide relief from convictions for marijuana offenses in state courts.”
But CRS also floated potential solutions such as providing “an incentive for states to adopt uniform laws regarding the expungement of convictions for state level marijuana offenses.”
“For example, Congress may place conditions on federal criminal justice funding, such as the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, or provide funds to states to help them implement expungement programs. Congress may consider providing guidelines to states on how to structure their expungement programs,” the report states.
CRS also noted that while the courts could be compelled to expunge records, the bill doesn’t address the fact that certain private companies harvest data on arrests and convictions when they’re publicly available.
“Policymakers might consider whether federal courts should be required to send lists of criminal records that would be expunged under the MORE Act to private background check companies in their respective districts to notify them of the expungement,” the report said.
CRS has dedicated significant time to exploring cannabis policy issues lately. Earlier this month, for example, it released a separate report that identified multiple problems caused by conflicting federal and state marijuana laws.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Oregon Marijuana Sales Spike Could Continue As Consumers ‘Permanently Adjust Their Behavior’ Following COVID
Record-setting Oregon marijuana sales continue to be a bright spot in the state’s coronavirus-slowed economy, state analysts reported this week, but a convergence of unknowns—including the end of federal coronavirus relief and a possible rise in cannabis prices due to devastating wildfires—could still mean a rocky road ahead for consumers.
“Marijuana sales continue to be strong,” Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis wrote in a quarterly revenue forecast published on Wednesday. “Since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast.”
The increase tracks with other more established cannabis markets, such as those in Colorado, Washington and Nevada, which have also seen “strong gains” since the pandemic, the office said. “There are a number of likely reasons for these higher level of sales and expectations are that some of these increases will be permanent.”
Analysts also expressed a rosier outlook on the future of the state’s marijuana market than they did in last quarter’s report, which acknowledged a spike in sales since the pandemic began but concluded that business was eventually “expected to mellow” as incomes fell and bars reopened. Officials now forecast Oregon will see “somewhat more” in sales than previously projected.
The state has recently seen a string of record-setting months for cannabis sales. Over the summer, monthly cannabis sales had averaged more than $100 million, according to an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) report.
The projected uptick in sales will mean an extra $30 million in marijuana tax revenue for the state during its two-year budget period ending in 2021. Total adult-use cannabis taxes for that period are now forecast to end up at more than $276 million.
“Factors leading to increases in sales include higher incomes due to federal support, increased stressors in everyday life, reductions in other forms of entertainment or recreational opportunities, and simply more time on one’s hand be it due to a COVID-related layoff, or increased working from home,” the report said.
“A key question is now that the federal aid is gone and other entertainment options return in the months ahead, will some of this increase in sales in recent months subside?” the Office of Economic Analysis wrote in the new report. “In a recent meeting of our office’s marijuana forecast advisory group, the broad consensus was that yes, some of these sales will come off, but not entirely so. And the longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely customers will permanently adjust their behavior as they become accustomed to their new routines and buying patterns.”
For now, the bulk of the increases appear to be driven by existing consumers. While “indications are that the customer base is broadening some as the market grows due to more users trying an increasingly socially acceptable product and ongoing converts from the black market to the legal market,” the report said, the increase “is more likely to be due to larger or more frequent sales to existing consumers than due to more consumers alone.”
“One item to watch moving forward are prices,” analysts wrote. “In recent years the supply of marijuana has greatly outstripped the demand, leading to lower prices. This is great news for consumers. Given that marijuana is a normal good, lower prices have led to larger quantities sold. But now that demand has increased, while supply has held steady, and with the potential impact of the wildfires right as growers are prepping for harvest, this balance in the market may shift… As such, it may be that prices rise, or at least not decline like they have in recent years.”
As far as tax revenue goes, any price increase would likely lead to more money for the state, “as the decline in quantity sold is not large enough to outweigh the price impact,” the report said.
How cannabis revenue is spent would also be affected by a drug decriminalization ballot proposition, Measure 110, that voters will decide in November. While the initiative isn’t expected to change the amount of taxes collected, it would redirect marijuana tax funds to expand drug treatment programs. “Whether current programs receiving marijuana tax revenue would ultimately see budgetary impacts,” analysts said, “would remain up to the Legislature should voters approve the measure this fall.”
Measure 110, which broadly seeks to reframe problem drug use in medical rather than criminal terms, is one of two key drug-reform measures on Oregon’s ballot in less than six weeks. The other would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. That measure would be the first of its kind in the U.S., although Canada has recently granted some patients immunity from that country’s prohibition on psilocybin.