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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

Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.

The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.

“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.

“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.

Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”

“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.

“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”

The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.

To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.

A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”

“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”

Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.

Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:

FINAL Letter to DOJ Re. Can… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

People Are Skipping Sleep Aids In Favor of Marijuana, Study Reports

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Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative

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Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.

Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.

A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.

To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.

Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.

He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”

The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.

DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.

At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.

Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”

He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”

“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.

All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.

Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.

Scientist Talks Benefits Of Psychedelics At Federal Health Agency Event

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North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020

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North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.

Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.

It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.

The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”

But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.

Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:

“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”

In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.

“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”

Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:

Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.

In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.

Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.

Marijuana Summit Will Give Virginia Governor ‘More Tools’ To Back Legalization, Attorney General Says

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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