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Group Behind Denver Psilocybin Decriminalization Takes Its Mission Global

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It’s been almost three months since Denver voters approved a measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. And now, the campaign behind that successful initiative is expanding nationally—even globally.

Decriminalize Denver is rebranding as it evolves into SPORE, or the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education. Kevin Matthews, the group’s executive director, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that SPORE is “hub for education” that’s simultaneously “working to educate Denver residents” about implementation of local decriminalization while also serving as “advocates for the national conversation.”

“We recognized that there’s a need for a national advocacy group for psilocybin and other psychedelics, and SPORE is going to fill that space,” he said.

To an extent, SPORE will be sharing that space with Decriminalize Nature, the reform organization that advanced a broad psychedelics decriminalization through the Oakland City Council last month and is working to get a similar resolution approved in Berkeley and other cities. Matthews said the difference between the groups mostly comes down to strategy.

“We’re much more interested in localizing the national psychedelics constituency and really supporting people in other areas where they live—either with messaging or best practices,” he said. “If people are running actual campaigns, [SPORE will be] helping with fundraising, finding donors.”

“It’s great that [Decriminalize Nature] is doing their thing and we’re doing ours—and we’re still figuring out how to work together—but a rising tide raises all ships and the more we can collaborate with each other, that’ll make this movement that much more powerful across the country,” he said.

As SPORE navigates the process of gaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization accreditation—with later plans to obtain 501(c)(4) status to allow lobbying—it’s already started getting the gears turning in a number of jurisdictions. Matthews said that the group is in talks with activists in Arizona, Missouri, Washington, D.C. and even the United Kingdom.

“This is no longer just a national conversation. It’s 100 percent global.”

Unlike their approach in Denver, which had a singular focus on removing criminal penalties for psilocybin alone, SPORE is open to supporting reform efforts that involve all entheogenic substances, including ayahuasca and ibogaine.

But whereas Decriminalize Nature has so far made such comprehensive psychedelics decriminalization the standard for its reform resolutions, SPORE says it plans to take a more strategic and tailored approach, making sure that wherever activists they support are seeking change, it’s within the realm of political possibility.

“I think Oakland might be one of the few places in the country where they could actually decriminalize all entheogens,” Matthews said. “I don’t really believe that’s something that can happen in a lot more places in the country, especially if you’re working directly with city councils.”

“But we don’t want to limit the scope of our work,” he added. “If individuals choose to work with us who are looking at psilocybin and other substances, then that’s great. We just have to make sure that if we’re going to dedicate time and resources to those organizations that they’ve really done their research and they understand the demographic and what’s actually possible.”

SPORE’s localized reform approach will be complemented by efforts to win favor with federal lawmakers, too. Matthews pointed to an amendment introduced this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) aimed at promoting research into psychedelics as evidence that the time is ripe for a national dialogue about the issue.

The measure, despite having been overwhelmingly rejected on the House floor, is “a pretty big deal, and this is the kind of thing where we believe drug policy reform should be at the forefront of public discourse during this election cycle considering that the U.S. government spends billions of dollars every year enforcing the drug war,” he said.

“We know it doesn’t work. We know that a majority of our nation’s inmates have mental health issues and substance abuse issues. They’re not getting the help they need,” Matthews said. “In many ways right now this is a very unique opportunity to start really pressing a national conversation.”

“This mental health and addiction crisis is being ignored by most people… If we have a tool like psilocybin that can be used to directly address this issue and actually get people the help they need—that’s either free or doesn’t cost very much—then I think we should go that route because it’s about saving lives now at this point. It’s imperative that we start to really start to change the hearts and minds of individuals all across the country. We’re in an emergency crisis with this.”

Matthews said that SPORE will likely be heading to the nation’s capital in the next few months to provide information to lawmakers and talk to members of what he dubbed the “Psychedelic Caucus”—the 90 representatives who voted in favor of Ocasio-Cortez’s measure.

“We really have a mission to mobilize this psychedelics constituency and see what kind of magic can happen because the health of our culture is at stake and the health of our society is at stake. And this constituency very specifically I think has a lot more political power than people realize,” he said. “If we can mobilize this group of people to create massive change, massive positive change, then we can see a radical transformation of our culture for the better.”

But in the meantime, SPORE will continue to work with Denver officials to ensure that the measure that sparked this national movement is effectively implemented. That will involve educating the local government and law enforcement and working with Denver on cosponsored “front-facing” public service announcements to raise awareness about psilocybin.

“There’s a lot that’s possible,” Matthews said. “Right now, with the public service announcements on the table and potentially receiving some funding from the city of Denver to get those going, which could mean billboards and ads on the back of transit buses.”

He added that he’s especially excited about the city’s review panel, which is “the only government body of its kind in the U.S. that’s geared specifically towards reviewing and assessing the impact of psilocybin decriminalization and potentially exploring what next steps can be.”

“Our work with the city is really setting a precedent for what this looks like moving forward in the country and we’re excited,” Matthews said. “We have more coming up.”

Psychedelics Decriminalization Moves Forward In Cities Around The U.S.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mädi.

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

Congressional Bill Requires Legal Marijuana States To Consider Impaired Driving Policies

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Democratic leadership in a House committee introduced a bill on Wednesday that includes a provision requiring legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider ways to promote education about the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving while curbing such behavior.

The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee filed the legislation, which is also being cosponsored by several chairs of subcommittees under the panel. While the main thrust of the INVEST in America Act is aimed at promoting the completion of various long-term infrastructure projects, it also features language concerning cannabis policy.

Under the bill, a section of current law requiring that states establish highway safety programs would be amended to add a section stipulating that states “which have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana shall consider programs in addition to the programs…to educate drivers on the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving and to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”

Reform advocates support measures to reduce impaired driving, but there may be some who take issue with the provision given the implication that legalizing marijuana increases the risk of people driving while impaired. Research isn’t settled on that subject.

A congressional research body said in a report last year that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.

Beside that contention, the legislation seems to neglect to take into account that cannabis-impaired driving isn’t exclusive to legal states and that public education could be beneficial across all states regardless of their individual marijuana policies.

“It is somewhat absurd to draw a differentiation between states when it comes to the current legal status, because it is entirely feasible that every state will be legalized by the end of this decade,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “And regardless, I have heard rumors that some Texans consume cannabis despite its prohibited status.”

Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said in a press release that the overall bill “is our opportunity to replace the outdated systems of the past with smarter, safer, more resilient infrastructure that fits the economy of the future, creates millions of jobs, supports American manufacturing, and restores U.S. competitiveness.”

Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) are also sponsoring the legislation, which is scheduled for a full committee vote on June 17.

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Touts Legal Marijuana’s Economic Potential At Revenue Meeting

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U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Touts Legal Marijuana’s Economic Potential At Revenue Meeting

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The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) on Tuesday again stressed the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who unveiled a revised legalization bill last month and pushed legislators to promptly take it up, discussed the projected economic impact of the policy change at a revenue conference.

During the virtual meeting, he pulled up a spreadsheet that breaks down estimates for annual cannabis sales from residents and tourists, as well as potential revenue from taxes and fees.

Cruise passengers and non-resident hotel guests will make approximately $43 million in annual marijuana purchases, the estimate from an independent firm states. Residents, meanwhile, are projected to spend about $38 million on cannabis each year.

“This doesn’t include what we would call the second and third turns in the economy in term of products being bought like lamps and fertilizer, jobs being created, dispensary jobs. None of that,” the governor said.

Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization’s economic impact, starting around 3:10:35 into the video below:

In terms of revenue, the territory can expect to take in about $11 million annually from tourists, who will be taxed at 25 percent for marijuana products. Residents, who will be taxed at a much lower rate, will contribute about $3 million in taxes. All told, the territory is estimated to generate nearly $18 million in cannabis sales tax revenue per year.

Additionally, the analysis projects that USVI will receive $12.1 million from licensing fees and a cultivation tax. Point of sale permits for cruises and hotels will bring in another $3.6 million.

It all adds up to “a $33 million deposit in our treasury due to cannabis sales,” Bryan said, characterizing the projections as conservative estimates.

The governor said he wanted to highlight these figures to conference attendees “to show you quickly what this could mean to the territory should we have this enacted and we go to work.”

Via WTJX Virgin Islands Public Broadcasting System.

“Of course, it’s going to take some work to get this done,” he said. “But we need to get this measure done as quickly as possible in order to start impacting our economy in a very positive way.”

Bryan has previously said that beyond helping to offset some of the financial damage that COVID-19 outbreak has created, establishing a legal cannabis market would provide funding for the territory’s retirement system for government employees.

After he first proposed the policy change and directed the legislature to take up the issue in a special session late last year, several legislators voiced opposition to specifics of the proposal.

Some questioned the notion that tax revenue from cannabis sales could make up for the significant deficits running within the retirement program, while others argued that the legislation as drafted did not adequately address social equity. Another issue that arose concerned licensing, with lawmakers worried that small businesses on the island would be left out.

The governor’s revised marijuana legalization bill, which has been transmitted to the Senate for action, would ban home cultivation for recreational consumers, allow cultivation for medical cannabis patients, increase the number of members of the government’s Cannabis Advisory Board and limit non-residents to purchasing up to seven grams of flower per day while residents could buy up to an ounce.

There would be no tax on cannabis sales for medical patients, a 7.5 percent tax for residents and a 25 percent tax for non-residents.

In order to own a marijuana business, an individual must have been a resident of USVI for at least 10 years. For micro-cultivator business, the threshold is five years of residency.

A special “cannabis fund” would be established under the proposed legislation, with 20 percent of marijuana tax revenue being allocated to fund the Office of Cannabis Regulations, a cannabis testing program, job training, substance misuse treatment and grant programs for business incubation and micro-lending.

The bill also provides for automatic expungements for prior marijuana possession convictions, encourages research into the benefits of cannabis and recognizes the rights of individuals who wish to use or grow the plant for religious purposes.

Bryan signed the territory’s existing medical cannabis law last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved USVI’s hemp plan last month.

Virginia Governor Says Marijuana Decriminalization Partly Addresses Racial Inequity Inspiring Mass Protests

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Virginia Governor Says Marijuana Decriminalization Partly Addresses Racial Inequity Inspiring Mass Protests

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The governor of Virginia said on Tuesday that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans.

In a speech, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said that while he cannot personally attest to the pain that the black community is grappling with, there are steps lawmakers can take to reform policies that disproportionately harm minorities. That includes removing the threat of jail time for cannabis possession—an offense more likely to be enforced against black people despite comparable rates of use among white people.

“Through 400 years of American history—starting with the enslavement of Africans, through Jim Crow, massive resistance and now mass incarceration—black oppression has always existed in this country, just in different forms,” he said. “I cannot know how it feels to be an African American person right now or what you are going through. I cannot know the depth of your pain. But what I can do is stand with you and I can support you, and together we’re going to turn this pain into action.”

That action has meant “reforming criminal justice,” he said. “It meant decriminalizing marijuana.”

The governor, who faced severe scrutiny last year after he admitted he was in a yearbook photo showing people wearing blackface and dressed as KKK members, also cited expanding access to Medicaid and increasing the threshold for felony larceny as examples of ways the state has addressed racial inequality during his administration.

Northam signed a marijuana decriminalization bill last month and it goes into effect on July 1. Under the legislation, possessing up to one ounce of cannabis will be punishable by a $25 fine with no threat of jail time and no criminal record. Current Virginia law makes simple possession punishable by a maximum $500 fine, up to 30 days in jail and a criminal record.

Later in the Tuesday press conference, Shirley Ginwright, a member of the Virginia African American Advisory Board that Northam established, thanked him specifically for approving the cannabis decriminalization bill.

“So many of our students and our young black men and women were getting caught up in the criminal justice system because of marijuana, something that wasn’t killing them,” she said.

The governor isn’t alone in connecting the outrage over police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to cannabis prohibition enforcement. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.

Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs.

The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.

Berner, a rapper who owns a marijuana dispensary that was looted in Los Angeles over the weekend, also seemed to echo Booker’s sentiment, stating that the damage to his shop to looting pales in comparison to the underlying racial injustices that prompted the protests.

Marijuana Legalization And The Fight For Racial Justice (Op-Ed)

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