Just days after the approval of the nation’s first successful measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Denver, a major city in California is moving to consider a measure that goes even further by calling for an end to arrests and prosecutions of people for possessing additional psychedelic drugs such as mescaline cacti, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
The resolution, which would seek to bar police and other city officials from using “any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession” of the plant- and fungi-based substances, has been scheduled for a hearing before the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee on May 28.
If approved there, it would head to the full Council for a final vote.
The investigation and arrest of adults for using, cultivating or distributing the psychedelics—sometimes referred to as entheogens—would be classified as “amongst the lowest law enforcement priority” for the city under the measure, which also specifies that the Council “wishes to declare its desire not to expend City resources in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants.”
While the resolution is not strictly binding, meaning that if approved it would express the will of the Council instead of immediately leading to a change in city enforcement code, advocates believe that a strong vote of support would influence the mayor to take executive action directing local police to stop pursuing people for psychedelics.
“We already have support from at least five members of the Council, but our goal is to get eight out of eight to show unanimous support, because this affects all communities in Oakland,” Carlos Plazola, an organizer with the group Decriminalize Nature, which worked to help draft the measure, said in an interview.
Sponsored by Councilmember Noel Gallo, the resolution would also instruct Oakland’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing” psychedelics and calls upon the district attorney of Alameda County, of which Oakland is the seat, to “cease prosecution of persons involved in the use of Entheogenic Plants or plant-based compounds” that are listed in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Gallo was not available for comment, but a staffer in his office, Mar Velez, said in an email that the measure asks local police to “honor an understanding that use of entheogenic plants by adults be one of the lowest priorities in terms of enforcement.”
One change to the resolution from Decriminalize Nature’s initial draft was to remove the word “personal” as a qualifier for the amount of substances protected—a lesson learned from the mushroom campaign in Denver, where the city attorney’s office is now formulating an interpretation of just how much psilocybin should be considered shielded from enforcement.
It’s our turn now! Go #Oakland! Get the word out far and wide. Contact your councilmembers to support this. And especially, bring yourself and others to this important hearing. #DecriminalizeNature #entheogen pic.twitter.com/tzXtwzikum
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) May 11, 2019
Plazola said that moves to reform laws banning entheogens can help “heal our relationship with the planet and raise the question: Why is it a criminal act to have a relationship with plants and fungi that are natural?”
While the substances have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, interest in studying their potential medical benefits has grown among mainstream scientists only fairly recently.
“For millennia, cultures have respected entheogenic plants and fungi for providing healing, knowledge, creativity, and spiritual connection,” reads a memo on the resolution from Gallo’s office. “Recently, scientific studies are demonstrating entheogens can be beneficial for treating conditions such as end-of-life anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, cluster-headaches, PTSD, neurodegeneration, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and treatment resistant depression, as well as reduce rates of intimate partner violence and recidivism.”
While advocates support increased scientific research, they are concerned that walling off psychedelics under a purely clinical approach would make access too restrictive and expensive.
“If it gets into too much of a regulatory process, then what happens is communities that need these the most continue to have the least access,” Plazola said.
The memo from Gallo’s office cautioned that such a model would make consumers “dependent on industry and authority for access.”
“By choosing to decriminalize nature, this empowers Oakland residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions,” the document says. “As this national conversation on entheogens grows, we feel it is essential to influence the debate now and take a stand for disenfranchised communities who may be left out of the dominant model by opening a way for individual and community access.”
Aside from the Oakland proposal and the Denver psilocybin measure, which was approved by voters last week by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent, a number of other efforts on broader drug policy reform beyond marijuana are now taking shape.
For example, California activists are also working to draft a ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin statewide. Earlier this month they took the initial step of outlining the proposed measure’s goals and asked the state Office of Legislative Council for assistance in crafting ballot language.
Elsewhere, activists in Oregon are already collecting signatures for an initiative that would legalize psilocybin for medical use and otherwise reduce penalties for the substance.
Both the California and Oregon efforts aim to qualify the measures for their state’s 2020 presidential election ballots.
Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week
A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.
While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.
— Sen. Ag Republicans (@SenateAgGOP) July 17, 2019
USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.
I am honored to be called by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to testify next week (7/25) on “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill.” As FDA, we recognize how important the topics of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) are to Americans. https://t.co/bHMBGth1bL
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) July 18, 2019
Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.
The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.
FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.
That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)