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How Democrats Helped Republicans Shut Down AOC’s Psychedelics Research Measure

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In a sweeping rejection of what advocates regarded as a commonsense drug reform measure, a large majority of Democratic House members joined all but seven Republicans on Thursday in a vote against an amendment that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed to expand research into the potential benefits of psychedelic substances.

The measure, which was cleared by the House Rules Committee and was initially approved in a voice vote earlier Thursday morning, was soundly defeated in a 91 to 331 afternoon roll call vote. Democrats accounted for 148 of those “nay” votes.

Ocazio-Cortez’s amendment would have removed a longstanding rider, first enacted in 1996, that prohibits the use of federal funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I.”

Supporters argued that the rider inhibits research into controlled substances that hold potential therapeutic potential, with Ocasio-Cortez pointing specifically to psilocybin and MDMA as examples of understudied drugs that could alleviate symptoms of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Cannabis is also a Schedule I substance that is more difficult to research due to its Schedule I status.

“It’s disappointing to hear folks say things like ‘the War on Drugs is a failure’ and that ‘we should treat drugs as a health issue and not a criminal justice issue’ then vote to uphold drug war relic language like this,” Dan Riffle, senior counsel and policy advisor in Ocasio-Cortez’s office, told Marijuana Moment. “It was last minute though, and a lot of folks weren’t sure what the amendment would do. I’m glad we brought some attention to the issue, and I think next year with more time to educate you’ll see a very different result.”

In a tweet posted ahead of the vote, the congresswoman acknowledged that while the amendment had bipartisan appeal, it also had bipartisan opposition. The opposition proved much stronger in the end, leaving reform advocates dismayed.

“It’s disappointing to see so many members vote to keep an outdated gag order in place,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “The road to ending the drug war is a long one, and we got a reminder of that today.”

Michael Liszewski, a policy advisor with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, told Marijuana Moment that Ocasio-Cortez introducing the amendment “helped raise the profile of this issue.”

“I think one reason the amendment failed was a lack of understanding of the issue by many members, so voting against the amendment was the instinctually safe move to make,” he said. “With increased awareness of how the ‘gag order’ provision prevents scientific research that we may see a different outcome next year if the amendment is offered again.”

Another reason for the amendment’s failure could be that Democratic leadership declined to give members a directive to support it in a list of recommendations distributed on Thursday morning. House Labor, HHS, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), whose panel drafted the section of the overall bill that Ocasio-Cortez sought to amend, offered “no recommendation” for the measure, whereas every other listed Democratic amendment was given a “vote yes” directive.

dems-aoc-recommendation-email dems-aoc-recommendation-email-2

The amendment’s opponents include several members who usually lend their support to drug reform legislation as well as committee chairs and members of Democratic leadership. Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) rejected the amendment despite their typical support for marijuana reform.

Opponents in leadership positions include House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Veterans’ Affairs Chair Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), former Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-NY) and DeLauro.

Many of the usual cannabis reform suspects did vote in favor of the amendment, however: Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Steve Cohen (D-TN), amendment cosponsor Lou Correa (D-CA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA), amendment cosponsor Ro Khanna (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Ocasio-Cortez, Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Dina Titus (D-NV) all voted aye.

Democratic leaders who voted in support include Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

The Republicans who voted in favor of the amendment are Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), amendment cosponsor Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Brian Mast (R-MI), Thomas McClintock (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK).

Finally, three 2020 Democratic presidential candidates supported the measure. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) voted aye. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who is also running for president, was absent during the vote on the psychedelics measure as well as those on other measures taken around the same time.

“Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment would have removed the bureaucratic red tape and legal hoops that scientists currently have to navigate in order to study the potential medical benefits of controlled substances,” Khanna told Marijuana Moment. “This includes cannabis, which is legal for medicinal use in more than two dozen states, and other compounds that have shown promise in treating depression, PTSD, and addiction.”

“I am an advocate for robust research investment to maintain America’s global leadership in science and medicine, and I supported this amendment because it would have unshackled our scientists from restrictions implemented at the height of the failed War on Drugs,” he said.

“I applaud 91 of my Republican and Democratic colleagues for courageously standing up for medical research,” Correa told Marijuana Moment. “As elected leaders, we must never be afraid to take risks when our constituents’ lives and health are on the line. Schedule 1 substances may be controversial but they hold great medical promise.”

“I am proud to have joined my colleague Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez in support of her potentially life-saving amendment,” he said. “For far too long, we have allowed the debate surrounding schedule 1 drugs to be informed by personal opinions and not science. This amendment would have given the power back to doctors and researcher so that they can tell us what these misunderstood substances can be used for.”

“I will not stop fighting for those yearning for new treatments and will continue to advocate for medical research—regardless the substance.”

Ocasio-Cortez said that while the amendment failed, she is “undeterred” and “proud we were even able to bring a vote on psychedelic research to the House floor.”

These drugs show extreme promise in treating PTSD + more,” she wrote. “Let’s keep at it.”

Natalie Ginsberg, director of policy and advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), said that advocates hope to keep building support over time for removing political roadblocks to research.

“As we see everyday in our work at MAPS, and as evidenced by the bipartisan support for this proposed amendment, we remain encouraged that our elected representatives will continue working together across the aisle to get politics out of the way of research into the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics and cannabis,” she said.

Congressional Committee Approves Military Reenlistment Waivers For Marijuana Use

This story was updated to include comment from Ocazio-Cortez’s staff and MAPS.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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

Massachusetts Governor Defends Closing Recreational Marijuana Shops To Prevent Out-Of-State Shoppers

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The governor of Massachusetts doubled down on the state’s temporary closure of recreational marijuana shops during the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday, telling reporters that allowing them to reopen could exacerbate the health crisis by attracting visitors from states where cannabis remains illegal.

During a press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) was asked about the state’s decision to exclude adult-use stores from the list of “essential businesses” that can continue to operate during the pandemic. He stressed that medical cannabis dispensaries can continue to serve patients but seemed to argue that the lack of regulated marijuana markets in surrounding states is forcing the state’s hand on recreational retailers.

“We are doing a lot of things to try to get people to stay at home,” he said, adding that travel advisories currently instruct out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“There is tons of evidence that because Massachusetts is one of the few states in the Northeast that has legalized recreational marijuana, that if we make recreational marijuana available as an essential business—remember, medical marijuana is available as an essential business—if we make recreational marijuana available, we are going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to come here from all over the place across the Northeast and create issues for us with respect to the fundamental issue we are trying to solve for here, which is to stop the spread,” Baker said. “For that reason and that reason alone, I think this is just a non-starter with us.”

Asked whether the state could make it so only Massachusetts residents could access adult-use shops, the governor said “I don’t know if you can do that legally,” though it’s “certainly something that some folks have talked about.”

Baker is facing pressure from regulators and industry stakeholders to allow recreational stores to stay open. Layoffs and furloughs have already started occurring in the market in response to his order.

In a letter to the governor on Monday, dozens of marijuana operators in the state argued that while they appreciate the need to protect public health during this pandemic, shuttering their businesses means people will turn to the illicit, unregulated market for cannabis, and that poses its own set of risks.

Shaleen Title, who serves as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, told Marijuana Moment that public safety “must remain our top priority as Massachusetts confronts the coronavirus pandemic” and she appreciates the governor “for recognizing that even as we strive to minimize unnecessary interactions, access to medical cannabis is essential to the health of tens of thousands of patients in Massachusetts.”

“And I welcome and share his confidence in the ability of the Commission and its medical licensees to operate safely amid the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, including by enhancing sanitation procedures, limiting the number of patrons, and allowing curbside pickup,” she said.

But she parted with the governor when it comes to recreational businesses.

“I believe those same measures, potentially along with a restriction on out-of-state customers, could be applied to adult-use facilities to allow for resumed operations,” she said. “Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes.”

As the U.S. grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak, numerous states are having to decide where to draw the line for cannabis businesses. Many allow both adult-use and medical cannabis dispensaries to operate, with some recommending social distancing measures such as curbside pickup for marijuana products to mitigate the spread of the virus.

According to a recent poll, a majority of Americans agree that medical cannabis dispensaries are “essential services” that should remain open.

Marijuana Legalization ‘Not Likely’ In New York Budget, Governor Says On Eve Of Deadline

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Marijuana Legalization ‘Not Likely’ In New York Budget, Governor Says On Eve Of Deadline

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Marijuana legalization is “not likely” to be included in the final budget in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday, explaining that the issue proved too complicated as the state grapples with the coronavirus.

Another sign that the policy change isn’t happening as Cuomo and advocates had planned comes from a pair of newly revised budget bills that exclude the proposal, making it all but certain that legalization won’t make the final cut.

“Too much, too little time,” the governor said of the proposal during a press conference.

Wednesday is the deadline to deliver a budget, and so the identical Senate and Assembly spending bills that were freshly amended on Tuesday are unlikely to substantially change before they get a vote and sent to the governor’s desk. A provision in Cuomo’s original proposal that would implement an adult-use cannabis market was “intentionally omitted,” text of the legislation states. That phrase is used repeatedly throughout the legislation for policies that missed the cut.

That’s not to say that there’s no appetite for the reform move within the legislature. It was expected to make it into the budget, but the coronavirus outbreak shifted legislative priorities and legalization evidently proved too complicated an issue to work out ahead of the deadline. Top lawmakers have said there’s no reason that they can’t develop a comprehensive reform plan outside of the budget.

However, Cuomo said earlier this month that his preference would be to address legalization through the budget because, outside of that process, “the easiest thing for a legislative body to do is to do nothing.”

The release of the budget bills seems to confirm details included on a draft budget report that was shared with Marijuana Moment on Monday. It similarly said that the “Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis.”

A revised standalone legalization bill was recently introduced in the Senate, and advocates hoped the language would be inserted into the budget, but that didn’t pan out. However, it’s possible that legislators could still take it up separately after the budget is handled. That said, it remains to be seen when the legislature, which has scaled down other activity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, will be able to tackle the issue.

A spokesperson for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Liz Krueger (D), told Marijuana Moment on Monday that “nothing is done until it is done, but the Senator has said previously that the Governor’s staff essentially took marijuana off the table weeks ago” in budget talks.

The senator still believes that “if it can’t get done the right way in the budget right in the middle of overlapping public health and fiscal crises, that there is no reason it can’t get done right later.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who has also sponsored a legalization bill, told Politico that “I wish that it was [included in the budget], but I don’t believe that it is.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to Senate and Assembly leadership for comment about the budget bills, but representatives were not immediately available.

“While legalizing cannabis is necessary to reduce the decades of unjust, racist targeting of communities of color in New York, our state faces a public health crisis right now and efforts to contain COVID-19 demand legislators’ full attention,” Kassandra Frederique or the Drug Policy Alliance said. “We remain committed to seeing legalization passed in New York at a time when critical components of equity and community reinvestment can be thoroughly addressed.”

“The regulation of marijuana in our state must be centered in economic and racial justice now more than ever, because we know the same communities targeted by drug enforcement are the ones with the least access to healthcare right now, the ones grappling with decades of the economic toll from criminalization, with low wages, unstable housing, and the ones losing jobs and loved ones at the same time,” she added. “The creation of a diversified and equitable industry that supports New York-based small businesses and farmers will be imperative coming out of this crisis. When the dust settles and New York has survived this pandemic, these communities that are on the frontlines of this crisis—in addition to the legacy of harmful enforcement—must be the center of our rebuilding effort.”

Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana celebrated reports that legalization would not be included in the budget, stating that “the consideration of marijuana legalization and commercialization during this outbreak is unconscionable and extremely shortsighted.”

Cuomo also originally planned to tour legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences and take lessons back home, but that plan was also derailed due to the coronavirus.

The governor pitched legalization in his budget proposal last year as well. But following months of negotiation, the legislature failed to produce a passable bill—with disagreements centering on issues such as how tax revenue would be allocated—and so the effort carried over to this year.

Cuomo seemed optimistic that 2020 would be the year for legal cannabis in New York, and he touted the proposal in his State of the State address in January. Just last week, he indicated the effort was still alive, though he also recognized that it may prove too complicated an issue to ultimately deliver through the budget this round.

Meanwhile, drug policy reform efforts across the country are struggling amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Coronavirus Upends Marijuana, Psychedelics And Drug Reform Ballot Measures

This story was updated to include comment from Drug Policy Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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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DC Activists Have A New Plan To Get Psychedelics Decriminalization On The Ballot Despite Coronavirus

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Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.

While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.

That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.

Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.

They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.

This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.

Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”

Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:

Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.

A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.

Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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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