For the second consecutive year, a Kentucky legislative committee has voted to approve a bill to legalize medical marijuana. The proposal still faces an uphill battle, but one of the leading opponents of last year’s effort to legalize conceded that there’s “a narrow path” to it becoming law this time around.
Supporters at Wednesday’s hearing by the Judiciary Committee, which drew such large crowds that staffers had to open a separate overflow room in the Capitol, clashed on familiar grounds. Legalization advocates noted the established benefits of medical cannabis and praised the bill’s reliance on scientific evidence. Opponents worried about the possibility of creating public health risks and stressed that too much about marijuana that is still unknown.
“We just need a little more clarity,” said Rep. Kim Moser (R), who voted no on the measure and was skeptical that lawmakers should be making decisions about medicine at all. “We don’t have clear answers to the indications, we don’t know how to dose this medication. It’s not a medication yet.”
Others worried that the bill could normalize cannabis use or lead to various social ills, such as increased traffic accidents and homelessness.
Supporters, meanwhile, made the case that the bill represents a thoughtful, reasonable medical marijuana system, which most Kentuckians say they support in polls.
“We tweaked the bill over the summer,” Rep. Jason Nemes (R), the legislation’s lead sponsor, told the committee. “We made some changes to it. We’ve been through this before. It’s a big issue for Kentucky.”
Ultimately the measure passed on a 17-1 vote on Wednesday, drawing cheers from the audience. Some lawmakers expressed reservations about details of the bill but said that it nevertheless represents a step forward.
“I see this as a useful tool in the toolbox for doctors and an awesome option for people who don’t want to be addicted to narcotics,” said Rep. Chris Harris (D), who voted yes on the bill.
Reps. Nima Kulkarni (D) and Reginald Meeks (D) also voted yes but warned that the legislation threatens to benefit large corporations over small farmers and other business owners.
Legalization advocates cheered the panel’s vote to advance the issue.
“Kentuckians have been waiting far too long for safe, legal access to cannabis for medical use,” Matt Simon, legislative analyst at the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement after the vote. “Patients and doctors in other states have learned through experience that cannabis is beneficial as an alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs. Passing HB 136 is a moral imperative for Kentuckians who are suffering with debilitating medical conditions.”
As introduced, House Bill 136 would legalize medical cannabis in Kentucky and regulate its use. It would establish a limited list of qualifying conditions and create an oversight system to regulate and tax commercial sales. Smoking raw cannabis would be forbidden under the bill, although flower could be sold by dispensaries for other uses.
With the Judiciary Committee’s approval, the bill now heads to the full House floor.
The same panel last year approved a medical marijuana bill but it did not receive floor consideration by the end of the session. Supporters said Wednesday that the current legislation is a better version that deserves to be passed.
Dr. Jeff Block, an anesthesiologist and addiction specialist who helped Florida set rules and regulations for its medical marijuana program, told lawmakers that the bill’s list of qualifying conditions, for example, reflects “high-quality, evidence-based data” about what ailments cannabis has been scientifically shown to treat effectively. He noted that the bill allows for the addition of new qualifying conditions as more evidence becomes available.
Eric Crawford, who was in a 1994 car accident that left him quadriplegic, reminded lawmakers that thousands of Kentucky patients already use medical marijuana to treat their conditions. Some of those patients seek alternatives after traditional therapies don’t work, while others choose cannabis in order to avoid more dangerous drugs.
“Narcotics make me out of my mind,” Crawford told the panel. “They make me high and unable to function. I haven’t had an opioid in more than six years.”
“You think we’re all criminals,” he added. “What would you do if you had a lifelong illness and cannabis helped you?”
Nemes, the bill’s sponsor, later replied that if cannabis could help his wife or children, “I would break the law in a New York minute.”
The issue has overwhelming support of Kentucky residents. Nine out of 10 Kentuckians said in a recent poll that they support legalizing medical cannabis, up from 78 percent in 2012.
While less than half of respondents said they support broader recreational legalization, support for medical marijuana was strong across party lines: 95 percent of Democrats, 92 percent of independents and 90 percent of Republicans said they support legalization.
If the measure is approved by the House, it will also need to clear the Senate to be enacted. Senate President Robert Stivers (R), widely seen as one of the main legislative opponents to medical marijuana legislation, admitted last month that there’s a possibility of the bill squeaking through.
“I know that Representative Nemes is trying hard and that he is modifying and amending,” Stivers told Kentucky Today, “and I think there is a path, but it is a narrow path.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who was elected in November, has said he supports medical cannabis legalization. “I would vote for it because I’ve seen the impact opioids have had on every Kentucky community,” he said during last year’s campaign.
“So many Kentucky families have seen a loved one fall into addiction, and their lives have been devastated,” he said. “If medical marijuana is an alternative and gives people the chance to get pain relief without being subjected to opioids, I think it’s something we’ve got to explore.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The secretary of state and other officials pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s 6-3 ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having four congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their measure and saw 68 percent of voters approve it last year.
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.
Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below:
Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing
A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.
As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.
It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”
The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
Read my release for details: https://t.co/PnkbbmxOps
— Eleanor #DCStatehood Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) May 14, 2021
Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below:
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.
Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.
The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.
MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.
“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”
Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.
It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.
Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.
FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.
The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.