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Hawaii Senate Panel Approves Bills To Legalize Marijuana And Increase Decriminalization Limit

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Lawmakers in Hawaii voted to advance two marijuana bills on Tuesday, one to legalize and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older and another to increase the amount that is covered under the state’s existing decriminalization law.

A separate proposal to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use, meanwhile, is set to be heard on Friday.

Hawaii decriminalized up to three grams of marijuana—enough for a few joints—under a 2019 law that took effect last year, replacing criminal penalties with a $130 fine. This year’s bill, SB 758, would increase the possession threshold to one ounce, or about 28.5 grams.

A separate bill, SB 767, would legalize marijuana and allow licensed businesses to cultivate, produce and sell cannabis products. It would also allow adults to grow up to three mature plants for personal use.

Both measures were approved Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs. The decriminalization bill passed unanimously, 5–0, while the legalization bill received a no vote from the panel’s lone Republican, Sen. Kurt Fevella.

The legalization bill now proceeds to a joint hearing between the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees, after which it would head to the chamber floor. The decriminalization measure goes to the Judiciary Committee. That committee is chaired by Sen. Karl Rhoads (D), who also headed the panel when it passed a different legalization proposal out of committee two years ago. The bill’s progress halted after that.

Advocates in the state are optimistic the marijuana decriminalization expansion bill can pass. They’d also like to see lawmakers amend the measure to reduce the current $130 penalty.

“An increased threshold will help minimize the impact of the state’s criminal legal system upon those who possess cannabis, which is far from an inconsequential number,” Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (DPFH), told Marijuana Moment in an email. The group submitted testimony to the panel in favor of both bills.

“From 2000 to 2017 there was an average of over 1,000 cannabis possession arrests in each year in Hawaii,” Leverenz said, “with Native Hawaiians composing a plurality of that number.”

As for legalization, DPFH told lawmakers that the change could grow the state’s economy—and its tax revenue—by tens of millions of dollars. “Even a smaller state like Alaska, which has a modest adult-use cannabis sector that has been online for three years, now sees $25 million in excise tax,” the group said in written testimony, adding that legalization could also make Hawaii even more appealing to tourists.

But as the bill moves forward, DPFH and other advocates are urging lawmakers to consider adding social equity provisions to ensure participation in the new industry by those who have been impacted by cannabis prohibition and the drug war.

“Hawaii should look to set the national standard for social equity by explicitly ensuring participation by native Hawaiians in every aspect of the emerging cannabis economy,” Leverenz said after Tuesday’s vote.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 600 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.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Even advocates acknowledge that legalization faces a difficult path to becoming law, noting that Gov. David Ige (D) has strongly opposed cannabis reforms in the past. When the legislature passed its existing marijuana decriminalization measure, in 2019, Ige let the measure take effect without his signature. In a press conference at the time, he called the matter “a very tough call” and said he went “ back and forth” before deciding to let the bill become law. He previously vetoed separate legislation to add opioid use disorder as a medical cannabis qualifying condition.

A number of public agencies, including the state Department of Transportation, the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, and local police agencies submitted testimony against the legalization measure ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.

“The passage of this bill would create an increased availability of marijuana, making it more accessible, especially to juveniles,” argued Maj. Phillip Johnson of the Honolulu Police Department’s Major Narcotics and Vice Division.

The police chief for Maui, Tivoli Faaumu, said in written testimony that “this bill is not specific on how the marijuana will be tested, what levels of toxic (pesticides) compounds exist in marijuana, and the levels of THC [that] are present in the marijuana that is for sale. This is dangerous, and therefore should not be openly and publicly for sale.”

Under SB 767, the Hawaii Department of Health would be required to come up with those guidelines later this year, by July 1. The department would also craft rules around licensing, security requirements, product labeling, health and safety regulations, advertising restrictions and the prevention of marijuana sales to minors.

Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal under the proposal. Employers’ abilities to restrict workers from consuming cannabis and screen them for past use would also be unaffected.

The bill would leave intact the state’s existing medical marijuana system, which allows registered patients to possess up to four ounces of cannabis.

As Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel pointed out in December, Hawaii is one of only four states, along with Delaware, New York and Rhode Island, where Democrats have legislative supermajorities but marijuana isn’t yet legal.

Later this week, Hawaii lawmakers are set to consider a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use. The psychedelics have shown promise in end-of-life care and in treating certain mental health conditions, such as severe depression.

That bill, SB 738, is scheduled for a Friday morning hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was introduced late last month, less than a year after lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them. Those measures, however, did not advance.

Meanwhile, several other cannabis reform measures are currently pending before Hawaii lawmakers and awaiting committee action.

Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer

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“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.

The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.

Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.

The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.

The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.

“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.

Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.

They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.

“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury,

Nevada Sold More Than $1 Billion In Marijuana In One Year, Officials Report

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

Singer Melissa Etheridge And Activist Van Jones Promote Psychedelics Reform As Movement Grows

Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred

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The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.

Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.

But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.

“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”

That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.

“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.

If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.

The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.

Florida Democratic Candidates For Governor Fight Over Who Supports Marijuana Reform The Most

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