A pair of Hawaii lawmakers is pushing to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelic mushrooms, introducing legislation that could one day make psilocybin-based products available to medical patients in the state.
The package of resolutions, introduced last week by Sen. Les Ihara Jr. and Rep. Chris Lee, both Democrats, asks the state Department of Health to convene a “medicinal psilocybin working group” that would examine available evidence around the use of psychedelic mushrooms and eventually “develop a long-term strategic plan to ensure the availability of medicinal psilocybin or psilocybin-based products that are safe, accessible, and affordable for eligible adult patients.”
The proposal comes as a number of other jurisdictions around the U.S. explore relaxing laws around psychedelics, such as by expanding opportunities for therapeutic use or decriminalizing simple possession. In Hawaii, possession of psilocybin mushrooms is currently illegal under both state and federal law.
The new Hawaii legislation frames reform in purely medical terms, arguing that the state “has a shortage of mental health professionals, and should actively consider novel, innovative, and safe solutions to treat its citizens.”
“Studies conducted by nationally and internationally recognized medical institutions indicate that psilocybin has shown efficacy, tolerability, and safety in the treatment of a variety of mental health conditions,” the measures say, “including addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, and end-of-life psychological distress.”
Literature suggesting that psilocybin may effectively treat a wide range of mental health and addiction disorders has been piling up in recent years, although most preliminary studies have led to calls for further research into how it and other psychedelics are used.
A research center at Johns Hopkins Medicine launched last year to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and other psychedelic substances on various conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid use disorder, treatment-resistant depression, eating disorders and others.
The Hawaii legislation notes that the Food and Drug Administration “has determined that preliminary clinical evidence indicates that psilocybin may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapies for major depressive disorder and severe treatment-resistant depression.”
The federal agency in recent years has granted “breakthrough therapy” designations to two specific psilocybin-based clinical treatments, one that uses the substance to treat major depressive disorder and another that uses it as a therapy for severe treatment-resistant depression.
The federal Controlled Substances Act classifies psilocybin and another compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, psilocin, as Schedule I controlled substances. Recent studies challenge that status, which is supposed to be reserved for drugs that have no accepted medical use and may not be safely used even under clinical supervision.
Under the Hawaii plan, the state would assemble a working group consisting of a mixture of state officials, medical professionals, drug policy advocates and other experts. That group would examine available research and submit a preliminary findings report to the legislature before the start of the 2021 legislative session.
A year later, before the start of the 2022 legislative session, the group would file a final report with “findings and recommendations, including any proposed legislation” to lawmakers, which could set up a push to legalize psilocybin-based products.
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions around the country are weighing psychedelic reform efforts of their own. In Vermont, lawmakers in January filed a bill that would decriminalize three psychedelic substances, including psilocybin.
In Oregon, activists are working to put therapeutic psilocybin legalization on the ballot. Meanwhile, reform advocates in the state say they’ve collected enough signatures to put a separate measure before voters that would decriminalize small-scale possession of all drugs and greatly expand access to treatment.
Activists in Oakland, which last year became the first city to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics, are now exploring the possibility of allowing for the lawful sale of the entheogenic substances in a limited, community-driven system. Statewide in California, reform advocates are collecting signatures for an initiative to legalize psilocybin.
And in Washington, D.C., activists who are working to qualify a local ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelics recently asked district officials for permission to continue its signature-gathering over the internet due to coronavirus concerns.
Hawaii lawmakers are also currently considering a bill that would remove the possibility of felony charges for low-level drug offenses—a proposal that cleared the Senate last week. Critics complain that people caught with drugs for personal use could still face incarceration under the proposal.
Medical marijuana became legal in Hawaii in 2000, but legal dispensaries didn’t open until 2017. As for non-medical use, a measure that decriminalized small-scale cannabis possession in the state took effect in January.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman
DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.
Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”
“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.
DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.
“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”
An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.
“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.
To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.
Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.
The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.
“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”
The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images
Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’
Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.
During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.
“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”
If elected, would Kamala Harris advocate for Medicare for All, a plan Joe Biden doesn’t support?
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 26, 2020
Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”
“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.
The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.
Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.
Just had a meeting with Sen. Harris.
My points *Dems Need to be heavy on the door Knox’N, HR40 tweek it better and have Biden Sign, Fed Trades Programs for worker class Americans so u can build, Black men exit prison and entrance to marijuana biz as a priority for biz and jobs
— Killer Mike (@KillerMike) October 23, 2020
As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.
She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.
In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”
“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.
There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.
Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.
In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”
In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.
Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.
GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad
A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.
In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.
“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”
It’s past time for Tennessee to legalize medical cannabis and give our sickest residents a smart, safe treatment to help with chronic pain. Legalization and securing criminal justice reform have been my top priorities, and I won’t stop fighting until we’ve changed the law. pic.twitter.com/28eFUy3loZ
— Steve Dickerson (@DickersonforS20) October 23, 2020
“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.
Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.
His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”
But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.
The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.
In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.
Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.
In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.