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.
Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would like to get paid—and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets, an official with the federal department said. She also talked about unique issues related to federal tax deductions for cannabis businesses.
At an event hosted by UCLA’s Annual Tax Controversy Institute on Thursday, IRS’s Cassidy Collins talked about the “special type of collection challenge” that the agency faces when it comes to working with cannabis businesses while the product remains federally illegal.
While IRS isn’t taking a stand on federal marijuana policy, Collins said that the status quo leaves many cannabis businesses operating on a cash-only basis, creating complications for the agency, in part by making it harder for banks to “pay us.”
“The reason why [the marijuana industry is] cash intensive is twofold,” she said. “Number one, a lot of customers don’t want a paper trail showing that they’re buying marijuana, and number two, the hesitancy of banks to allow marijuana businesses to even bank with them.”
Of course, the reason why many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients is because the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.
“There’s been a number of legislative bills that have been introduced—and I am definitely not expressing any opinion personally or on behalf of the IRS about any pending or proposed legislation,” Collins, who is a senior counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said. “But it is interesting to note that, if the law changed so that the marijuana businesses could have banks, that would make the IRS’s job to collect [taxes] a lot easier. As part of collection, we want the money. That’s our end goal there.”
A major part of what makes cannabis businesses unique is that they don’t qualify for traditional tax credits under an IRS code known as 280E. That policy “prohibits them from claiming deductions for business expenses because they’re technically being involved in drug trafficking,” Collins explained at the event, from which small excerpts of her comments were reported by Bloomberg.
There are some options available to lessen the burden on marijuana firms, however. At the end of the day, “IRS will work with marijuana companies because, again, we want to get paid,” Collins said.
One of the ways the agency works with marijuana business operators is to have them visit designated IRS “tax assistance centers” that accept cash payments in excess of $50,000. But the official warned businesses to “be prepared to be there for a little while” as the center checks—and double checks—the amount of cash being submitted.
“Revenue officers will assist the marijuana companies in paying us,” she said.
IRS officials could also help cannabis firms by having officials accompany them “to the bank in order to try to help the taxpayer secure a cashier’s payment to pay the IRS, as well as using money orders,” she said, adding that “our revenue officers are are wanting to work with the marijuana companies to help assist them to pay us.”
“When the revenue officers are there in person with the taxpayer, that could potentially help increase the likelihood that the bank will cooperate and help the taxpayer transition into a cashier’s check,” she continued. “And that has been a trend since this first became legal [at the state level], that more and more banks are allowing cannabis companies to bank with them.”
In a report published earlier this year, congressional researchers examined tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.
IRS, for its part, said last month that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.
As it stands, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry.
Leaders in both chambers of Congress are working on legalization bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. But stakeholders are hopeful that, in the interim, legislators will enact modest marijuana banking reform. Legislation to protect financial institutions from being penalized for working with cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time last month.
Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed this month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications.
IRS separately hosted a forum in August dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.
Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.
IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.
The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”
Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation
Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize marijuana, with key government agencies putting forward a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.
The ministers of justice and homeland security on Friday unveiled the proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. It’s part of a broader package of reform measures the agencies are recommending.
Under the marijuana measure, adults 18 and older could grow up to four plants. However, under the non-commercial model that is being proposed, possessing more than three grams in public would still be a civil offense, carrying a fine of €25-500 ($29-581). Currently, the maximum fine for possession is €2,500 ($2,908).
In terms of access, adults would be able to buy and trade cannabis seeds for their home garden.
Justice Minister Sam Tamson said the government felt it “had to act” and characterized the home cultivation policy change as a first step, The Guardian reported.
👉🏻élaboration du projet de loi usage privé du #cannabis : jusqu’à 4 plantes à domicile & décorrectionnalisation <3g
👉🏻renforcement de la prévention & de l’accompagnement
👉🏻⬆️des moyens de la police
👉🏻élaboration d’un projet de production/vente #Luxembourg pic.twitter.com/8yre0Udt8J
— Sam Tanson (@SamTanson) October 22, 2021
“The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”
While limited in scope, the reform would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalize the production and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Cannabis has been widely decriminalized in certain countries in the continent, but it has remained criminalized by statute.
Government sources in Luxembourg told The Guardian that plans are in the works to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. Tamson said they are working to resolve “international constraints” before taking that step, however, referring to United Nations treaty obligations that multiple U.S. states and other countries like Canada and Uruguay have openly flouted.
The measures include:
🟢 Regulation of cannabis use and cultivation: adults will be able to legally cultivate up to four cannabis plants for their own use, provided the cultivation is happening at their place of residence.
— European Greens (@europeangreens) October 22, 2021
For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.
This has been a long time coming, as a coalition of major parties of Luxembourg agreed in 2018 to enact legislation allowing “the exemption from punishment or even legalization” of cannabis.
Meanwhile in the U.S., congressional lawmakers are working to advance legalization legislation. A key House committee recently approved a bill to end marijuana prohibition, and Senate leadership is finalizing a separate reform proposal.
In Mexico, a top Senator said this week that lawmakers could advance legislation to regulate marijuana in the coming weeks. The Supreme Court has already ruled that adults cannot be criminalized over possession or cultivation, but there’s currently no program in place to provide access.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana, including by allowing scientists to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.
The Medical Marijuana Research Act, filed by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would streamline the process for researchers to apply and get approved to study cannabis and set clear deadlines on federal agencies to act on their applications.
“Congress is hopelessly behind the American people on cannabis, and the quality of our research shows why that is an urgent problem,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “Despite the fact that 99 percent of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of cannabis, federal law is still hamstringing researchers’ ability to study the full range of health benefits offered by cannabis, and to learn more about the products readily available to consumers.”
“It’s outrageous that we are outsourcing leadership in that research to Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others. It’s time to change the system,” he said.
Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the cannabis science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
The new bill filed this week by Blumenauer and Harris, along with six other original cosponsors, would also make it easier for scientists to modify their research protocols without having to seek federal approval.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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It would additionally mandate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license more growers and make it so there would be no limit on the number of additional entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.
“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, including our laws that govern cannabis research,” Blumenauer said in remarks in the Congressional Record. “Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, researchers must jump through hoops and comply with onerous requirements just to do basic research on the medical potential of the plant.”
The new legislation will “both streamline the often-duplicative licensure process for researchers seeking to conduct cannabis research and facilitate access to an increased supply of higher quality medical grade cannabis for research purposes,” he said, adding that expanded studies will help make sure “Americans have adequate access to potentially transformative medicines and treatments.”
For half a century, researchers have only been able to study marijuana grown at a single federally approved facility at the University of Mississippi, but they have complained that it is difficult to obtain the product and that it is of low quality. Indeed, one study showed that the government cannabis is more similar to hemp than to the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world.
There’s been bipartisan agreement that DEA has inhibited cannabis research by being slow to follow through on approving additional marijuana manufacturers beyond the Mississippi operation, despite earlier pledges to do so.
In May, the agency finally said it was ready to begin licensing new cannabis cultivators. Last week, DEA proposed a large increase in the amount of marijuana—and psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and mescaline—that it wants produced in the U.S. for research purposes next year.
Under the new House bill, the agency would be forced to start approving additional cultivation applications for study purposes within one year of the legislation’s enactment.
HHS and the attorney general would be required under the bill to create a process for marijuana manufacturers and distributors to supply researchers with cannabis from dispensaries. They would have one year after enactment to develop that procedure, and would have to start meeting to work on it within 60 days of the bill’s passage.
In general, the legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.
Read the full text of the new marijuana research bill below: