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Kansas City Mayor Talks Marijuana And Broader Drug Policy Reform After Local Decriminalization Vote

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The mayor of Kansas City scored a drug policy reform victory on Thursday after the City Council approved a resolution he introduced to remove all local criminal penalties for marijuana possession. And he’s not stopping there.

When Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) filed the proposal last month, he emphasized the need to stop taking a punitive approach to cannabis in order to mitigate unnecessary police interactions that primarily impact black Americans. But, unlike many pro-reform officials across the country who have drawn a line at marijuana, Lucas sees opportunities to take further steps to more comprehensively put an end to the war on drugs.

Missouri voters legalized medical cannabis in 2018, and there was a push from activists this year to put an adult-use legalization initiative on the November ballot—but that effort stalled out amid the coronavirus pandemic. Lucas said in an interview with Marijuana Moment that he would support such a measure, and revealed that he’s also been in touch with other mayors in the state about passing similar decriminalization ordinances in the meantime.

The mayor spoke in a phone interview on Friday about the City Council action, his broader drug policy reform plans and why he’s made the cannabis issue a main focus for his administration. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Marijuana Moment: Can I start by getting your reaction to the City Council vote in favor of your ordinance?

Quinton Lucas: I am elated. This is something that has been a goal of mine since I was first elected to office on the City Council back in 2015 and it was one of my platforms running for mayor. It was interesting because when I was running for mayor, a lot of people said, ‘boy, that seems really controversial.’ I had this recognition that when you look at marijuana law and policy—not just across the coasts of America, or more progressive places, but even in middle America—you were seeing significant change, including Missouri voting with a 66 percent ‘yes’ vote for medical marijuana.

So I was optimistic as it went through the process. I think most of my colleagues got it. To the extent they didn’t, it was almost exclusively old line arguments of the dangers of marijuana, that sort of thing and the sort of things we’ve been hearing since the 1980s to help prosecute a drug war that has locked up tens of thousands of black men in particular.

I’m excited about that. As this issue came up during this Black Lives Matter movement around our country, and I also think it is exceedingly relevant to the moment we’re in now. You cannot talk about reform of the criminal justice system without reforming laws that are incredibly unfair, that have disproportionate impact upon black and brown communities. And if you look at marijuana—particularly in usage rates versus incarceration and arrest rates—it has been a travesty how we have seen a black community largely criminalized in the hunt for marijuana, being overly police for it.

So I’m thrilled that we’re making that important change in Kansas City, particularly at this moment.

MM: Have you talked to mayors of other cities about pursuing this policy change? Do you think more local action might build pressure for statewide reform?

QL: That is much what our plan is. Now, usually at this point of the year, I’d be able to hit a conference or two to talk to some other mayors. There’s a group of black mayors I visit with somewhat regularly and I know a few have asked for our particular ordinance, and so that I think it’s a positive step and an exciting step for us. But in St. Louis, Missouri, of course, St. Louis would be the ones that are very similar to us. Their difference, of course, is that they elect their own prosecutor for the city of St. Louis. And I believe she has been fairly progressive on marijuana policies so they may not view themselves as having the same need.

That said, yeah, there are a lot of other cities in Missouri. Columbia is a college town. Springfield, I look to working with them to make sure we can really get sensible policy around the state—not unlike Colorado, and then other states making positive steps in marijuana policy. I think that’s the way we can get it done in a place like Missouri, but it’s still pretty conservative.

MM: Activists in Missouri were circulating a petition to put adult-use legalization on the state ballot earlier this year before they shut down. Did you happen to sign it? And if not, would you sign a similar measure for 2022?

QL: Oh I’d absolutely sign it. I haven’t yet. Part of it is just because I’ve been mayor for 11 months and the world’s been coming to an end for half that time. I’m just behind, in fairness. But no, I’d absolutely sign something like that because I think, you know, this is the way things should go and it’s going to be essential for us.

MM: You’ve recently talked about removing criminal penalties not just for marijuana but other currently illicit drugs. Can you talk to me about plans you have to advance broader decriminalization?

QL: I’m a a person who—this comes at me from living in my community. The drug war has been an abject failure. I live in a majority black community, was raised in a majority black community and proud to be from it. When I look at the problems on my streets—when I’m looking at what’s going on right now and people addicted to heroin, people addicted to any number of things—our drug laws aren’t helping. Our drug laws aren’t helping people find better treatment.

In fact, in some ways, they’re exacerbating problems by using an incarceration approach to what should instead be, frankly, a health-based approach—one that is not punitive, but one that’s trying to actually get people help and support. So I think it is probably time for our country to recognize that the way we’re prosecuting our drug war, the thought of throwing people away when really at some point there are substance abuse issues—or, frankly, when you look to recreational users with a number of narcotics, and users are being treated in a discriminatory manner, then I think it is time for us to say, ‘what are we doing?’

I’ll use just one example. Let’s take a look at cocaine. Everybody’s written a lot on crack versus powder cocaine disparities and sentencing, which is still amazing travesty, but I actually just came from a perspective of, when I went to school, I went to college at Washington University at St. Louis Law School at Cornell, and none of the casual-cocaine-using-now-lawyers-of-big-firms-in-New York City that I actually went to school with, faced any stiff penalties in any of the badges of impropriety that you see so many others do.

I think when you look at a system that is so terribly out of whack, and perhaps what we should say is, ‘well, what is it actually that we’re trying to solve?’ And what I believe—at least if you go back 30 years—what we’re trying to solve is actually a public health crisis, which we have failed to do. We really need to, I think, reform our laws more to actually more abolition, frankly, and looking at how can we find public health resources for anyone who is suffering from any dependency or something of that sort.

MM: What else can be done locally and legislatively to ramp down the drug war?

QL: I think that it’s primarily in the mental health space and substance misuse treatment. But I think, you know, even more than that, it is providing more social workers. That’s something we actually do out of our police budget, which is a little bit different. I think that’s been a big step for us. And, frankly, kind of changing the narrative of our crime problem—and we have a significant one, but moving it away from drugs really being the problem.

Actually, firearms being a problem. I mean, in Kansas City, we have a huge murder problem. We don’t, I think, have a drug problem beyond anyone else’s. But the problem is that the ready access to firearms has been our greatest concern. For me, it’s been kind of a shifting in both narrative and focus, and I think that we’ll continue to pay dividends for it over the years.

MM: There’s been some debate about whether decriminalization should be coupled with mandatory substance misuse treatment, as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has recommended. Reform advocates tend to disagree and say it should be voluntary. Where do you stand?

QL: I think it should be voluntary. I think mandatory systems of treatment are just another form of punishment and we’ve already called most prisons “departments of corrections.” So I think it’s still fair to say that’s not working. You need to try to find positive resources that meet people where they are. Most people that I’ve known who’ve suffered from drug and alcohol dependency, usually actually get to a point where they themselves find an opportunity to cure their problems and their addictions. Rare is it that there’s just a sentence that tells them, ‘alright, you need to do it.’

The other part of it is, by making it mandatory, compulsory, you are still frankly emboldening our prison industrial complex. If we’re actually being real about it, then you would probably see that a number of people who find themselves in incarceration now have either been through such programs that were wholly ineffective and underfunded. I think if we’re really making a difference, then yes, the solution is let’s go all towards a voluntary system where people are actually finding treatment and being able to build better lives long-term.

Top Canadian Police Association Says It’s Time To Decriminalize All Drugs

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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 Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Pennsylvania Senators Will Consider DUI Protections For Medical Marijuana Patients At Hearing

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A Pennsylvania Senate committee is set to take up a bill next week that would protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R), would amend state statute to require proof of active impairment before a registered patient can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. The current lack of specific protections for the state’s roughly 368,000 patients puts them in legal jeopardy when on the road, supporters say.

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee will explore the issue at a hearing on Tuesday.

Bartolotta first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”

Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, with the first dispensaries in the state opening in 2018. But the state’s zero-tolerance DUI law still doesn’t reflect those changes. Because it criminalizes the presence of any THC or its metabolites in a driver’s blood—which can be detected for weeks after a person’s last use—the law puts virtually all medical marijuana patients at risk, even if it’s been days since their last use and they show no signs of impairment.

Bartolotta’s bill would require officers to prove a registered patient was actually impaired on the road.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

“Unimpaired patients currently face the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for using medicinal marijuana that has no bearing on their ability to drive a vehicle,” the senator wrote in a cosponsorship memo late last year. “Given the very serious consequences of a DUI conviction, my legislation will provide critical protections for medicinal cannabis patients by ensuring responsible use of their legal medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”

Several legal cannabis states have enacted per se THC limits in blood, similar to blood alcohol requirements. However, evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.

A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.

Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”

Outside of this bill, Pennsylvania lawmakers have continued to pursue adult-use legalization in the state. Earlier this year, two legislators circulated a memo to build support for a comprehensive reform bill they plan to introduce, for example.

A bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. They announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.

Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.

Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.

In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marks his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.

Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.

Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.

80 Top Law Enforcement Officials, Including A Biden Nominee, Urge SCOTUS To Hear Safe Injection Drug Case

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80 Top Law Enforcement Officials, Including A Biden Nominee, Urge SCOTUS To Hear Safe Injection Drug Case

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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—have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up a case on the legality of establishing a safe injection facility where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The nonprofit organization Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration, and it filed a petition with the nation’s highest court last month to hear the case. Now the group of law enforcement officials associated with Fair and Just Prosecution are calling on the Supreme Court to act in an amicus brief.

“Amici have an interest in this litigation because overdose prevention sites (OPSs) are among the harm reduction and public health interventions that have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses and diverting people from unnecessary and counterproductive interactions with the justice system,” they wrote. “Amici, many of whom are currently or were previously responsible for enforcing the nation’s drug laws, also believe that the Controlled Substances Act cannot be construed to prohibit operation of a facility designed to address the most acute aspects of this public health emergency.”

If the court agrees to hear the dispute, advocates will be looking toward the Biden Justice Department and whether it will continue the federal government’s opposition to allowing supervised injection facilities. It would be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years to come, meaning Safehouse is taking a significant risk by pursuing the appeal of its loss in a lower court before the majority of conservative justices.

“Failing to address the loss of life resulting from drug overdoses—and criminalizing a community-based public health organization working to save lives—will further erode trust in the justice system,” the new brief states. “If there were ever a time to demonstrate that our government values the dignity of human life, that time is now.”

While President Joe Biden hasn’t weighed in directly on safe consumption sites, there’s been a theme within his administration of embracing the general concept of harm reduction for drugs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), for example, said that “promoting harm-reduction efforts” is a first-year priority. In an overview of its objectives, the office said it intends to expand “access to evidence-based treatment,” enhance “evidence-based harm reduction efforts” and promote “access to recovery support services.”

These goals theoretically align with those of Safehouse, which wants to give people with substance use disorders a facility where medical professionals can intervene in the event of an overdose and provide people with the resources to seek recovery.

Among the signatories on the amicus brief are a former deputy assistant attorney general under Obama, district attorneys of Baltimore, Cook County, Dallas County, Los Angeles County, Manhattan, Philadelphia, San Francisco County and Seattle and the former attorneys general of Ohio, Vermont and Virginia.

But one signatory who especially stands out is Rachael Rollins, the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts who is Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts.

“As an elected prosecutor, I have a responsibility to protect every member of my community, which requires moving away from criminal justice responses to substance use disorder,” Rollins said in a press release. “Instead, we must embrace proven public health strategies as potential solutions. Lives depend on it.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said the drug war “has taken too many lives already, and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll.” He added: “We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives and improve community safety.”

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.

Safehouse won a battle in a federal district court in 2019 to proceed with the facilities. But in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the decision, ruling that permitting such facilities would violate a 1980s-era federal statute that bars organizations from running operations “for the purpose of unlawfully… using controlled substances.” That law was passed while Biden served in the Senate and helped push punitive drug policies that have had lasting consequences.

“As current and former criminal justice leaders, amici have seen first-hand how the classic ‘war on drugs’ approach to drug control—with its almost exclusive focus on aggressive criminal law enforcement—has exacerbated the overdose epidemic,” the pro-reform prosecutors and cops wrote in the new brief. “This experience confirms that no jurisdiction can arrest its way out of this public health problem. Fatal overdoses are a symptom of substance use disorder, a medical condition requiring a medical response.”

“Distorting federal drug laws to prohibit an [overdose prevention site] or to prosecute its sponsors would further undermine trust in the justice system and faith in the fair and sensible application of our drug laws. Interpreting federal criminal law to bar empirically validated harm reduction measures would make no one safer; it would only impede cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

In its original petition to the Supreme Court in the current safe injection site case, Safehouse argued that the justices should “grant review to determine whether” federal statute really does prohibit “non-commercial, non-profit social service agencies…from establishing an overdose-prevention site that includes medically supervised consumption.”

“This question is a matter of life or death for thousands of Philadelphians and many thousands more throughout the country,” it said. “Tragically, while respondents have been pursuing this declaratory judgment against Safehouse, more than 3,200 people died in Philadelphia of drug overdoses—many of which could have been prevented if medical care had been immediately available through supervised consumption services.”

Safehouse also pointed out that Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the organization’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.

The organization put the gravity of the case in no uncertain terms, painting a picture of how its proposed facility can save lives.

“When breathing stops, even a brief delay while waiting for medical help to arrive may result in an otherwise preventable overdose death or irreversible injury,” the petition says. “As a result, every second counts when responding to an opioid overdose; as more time elapses, the greater the risk of serious injury and death. Ensuring proximity to medical care and opioid reversal agents like the drug Naloxone at the time of consumption is therefore a critical component of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.”

“Intervention by this Court is warranted to make clear that the federal law does not criminalize this essential public health and medical intervention designed to save lives from preventable overdose death,” it continues.

Safehouse argued that the appeals court’s interpretation of the law “eviscerates the intended boundaries of the statute and would criminalize the operation of legitimate businesses, charities, families, and good Samaritans that serve and reside with those suffering from addiction.”

If the Supreme Court were to take up the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could embolden 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.

At the same time that Safehouse is turning to the Supreme Court, it also announced recently that it will be returning the the federal district court that gave it an initial 2019 victory in support of establishing a safe injection facility before it was overturned in the appeals court.

The organization is making the unique argument that the federal government’s decision to block it from providing the service violates religious freedom by subjecting participants “to criminal penalties for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs that they have an obligation to do everything possible to preserve life and to provide shelter and care to the vulnerable, including those suffering from addiction.”

In 2018, a congressional subcommittee approved legislation to specifically prohibit Washington D.C. from using local tax dollars to help open safe consumption facilities. But that provision was not enacted and has not been reintroduced since.

A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”

Read the amicus brief from the prosecutors on the Safehouse safe injection site case below: 

Safehouse Amicus Sept 2021 by Marijuana Moment

Former GOP Congressman Who Actually Supported Marijuana Reform Enters The Cannabis Industry

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Former GOP Congressman Who Actually Supported Marijuana Reform Enters The Cannabis Industry

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Lately it’s come to seem as if most of the former politicians who’ve entered the marijuana industry were unhelpful or downright hostile to legalization when they were in office. But on Friday, a cannabis company announced an addition to its board who disrupts that narrative: a former Republican congressman who has a consistent legislative record of cosponsoring and voting for marijuana reform measures.

The multi-state cannabis businesses Red White & Bloom Brands Inc. (RWB) is bringing on former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) to help it navigate the complicated regulatory space, drawing on his experience in Congress as the company works to expand.

Costello certainly isn’t the only Republican lawmaker who’s made the transition from Capitol Hill to the cannabis market. But he is a rare example of a politician who actually embraced enacting marijuana policy changes while he was in power before standing to profit from the industry. The congressman cosponsored a variety of bills—including ones to shield states that legalize cannabis from federal interference—and supported several reform amendments.

“I’m looking forward to utilizing my 15+ years of service in government, the legal profession, and my familiarity with cannabis policy to be a strategic resource for RWB as it positions itself as a true market leading house of brands in the permitted U.S. marketplace,” Costello said in a press release.

This breaks with a trend that has increasingly frustrated advocates, where it seems the people most inclined to benefit from legalization are those who stood in the way in Congress. The best-known example of that is former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who’s faced criticism from activists over his anti-legalization record while in office before joining the board of marijuana company Acreage Holdings.

While Costello left Congress in 2019 prior to the historic House vote on a standalone bill to federally deschedule cannabis, there are plenty of examples of him supporting more modest reform proposals during his congressional tenure.

He was a cosponsor of legislation to protect state marijuana markets from federal intervention, promote cannabis research, support military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.

The congressman also voted in favor of floor amendments to shield all state marijuana programs from Justice Department intervention, allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis and end hemp prohibition.

In that respect, he was a rare GOP lawmaker. While the issue is increasingly bipartisan among the public, that hasn’t been reflected in Congress. And now Costello is in a position to leverage his legislative experience to advance a marijuana business’s interests.

It’s an exception to the trend.

For example, Tom Price, the former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head under President Donald Trump, is serving as a member of the board of directors for a medical marijuana business in Georgia after he refused to take action to reclassify cannabis under federal law when he had the power to do so. Price consistently voted against marijuana reform measures while serving in Congress.

Former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), who also has a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts, joined a Canadian cannabis company’s board in 2019.

Earlier this month, a New York-based lobbying firm that’s headed by a former Republican U.S. senator announced that it is launching a practice focused on serving cannabis businesses. That former senator, Alfonse D’Amato, racked up a record of supporting the war on drugs while in office.

There is at least one other former GOP congressman who entered the cannabis space with a legislative record supporting marijuana reform. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who championed cannabis reform while in Congress, became an advisory board member for a marijuana company after being voted out of office in 2018.

Separately, President Joe Biden’s pick to head up federal drug policy worked for a major marijuana business last year, according to his financial disclosure reports.

California Activists Cleared To Collect Signatures For Psilocybin Legalization Ballot Initiative

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