A key congressional committee advanced a series of marijuana-related amendments on Tuesday, including a rider seeking to block the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering in all state-legal cannabis programs. The measures, which also include proposals shielding tribal marijuana laws and allowing military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from government doctors, will now move to the House floor for consideration.
More than a dozen drug policy amendments came before the House Rules Committee, with the panel approving several for potential attachment to a large-scale bill funding parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.
Reform advocates were most interested in ensuring that the proposal seeking to prohibit DOJ agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using funds to intervene in state-legal marijuana activities advanced. The committee didn’t disappoint, ruling it in order for a vote by the full House.
Advocates are optimistic that the measure, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), will be approved because a similar amendment came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Since then, the number of states with legalization has more than doubled, meaning that there are a lot more lawmakers who now represent constituents who would be covered by the proposal’s protections than was the case at the time of the prior vote.
State medical cannabis laws are currently shielded from Department of Justice interference under a similar but narrower spending rider than has been enacted and extended annually since 2014.
Blumenauer’s broader amendment seeking to expand protections to local laws allowing recreational marijuana use and sales is cosponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, the Oregon congressman was reluctant to predict a specific number of votes for the measure on the floor, but did note that he was confident of its passage and said the tally would be “an indication of where we’re going with the overall reform effort.”
A big week ahead for cannabis reform. With every committee hearing and amendment introduced, we are one step closer to ending the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) June 19, 2019
If the House does approve the measure when the bill comes to the floor, expected later this week, it would not necessarily be enacted into law, as the Senate has not yet begun its consideration of companion spending legislation.
Another amendment cleared for floor consideration would allow Indian tribes to implement their own marijuana policies without the threat of Justice Department intervention. That measure is sponsored by Blumenauer and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.
Blumenauer said he is “optimistic” about that proposal’s chances on the floor.
Another key amendment cleared for a vote would let Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to military veterans in states where it is legal. In years past, both the House and Senate have approved similar measures, but the rider has never been enacted into law.
Other proposals advancing toward votes by the full House include ones focused on CBD regulations, adding a U.S. territory to the list of jurisdictions protected by an existing medical cannabis rider and shifting money away from DEA and toward drug treatment.
These amendments were cleared for floor action:
STATES AND TERRITORIES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with marijuana laws in states, territories and Washington, D.C.
USVI: Adds U.S. Virgin Islands to list of jurisdictions shielded from DOJ medical cannabis interference.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal marijuana laws.
VETERANS: Blocks VA from punishing doctors for recommending medical cannabis in states that have legalized or from denying benefits to veterans for participating in medical cannabis programs.
CBD: Directs FDA to set a safe CBD level for foods and dietary supplements.
TREATMENT FUNDING: Moves $5 million from DEA to an opioid treatment program.
While the Rules Committee had made it a practice to block all marijuana amendments under the leadership of then-Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) during the last several years of Republican House control, new Chairman James McGovern (D-MA) has pledged to let cannabis measures advance under the chamber’s Democratic majority.
“I’m not going to block marijuana amendments,” he said shortly after his party took back control of the House in last year’s midterm elections. “People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate.”
Last week, when considering a separate funding bill, McGovern’s panel advanced an amendment put forth by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortz (D-NY) aimed at removing roadblocks to research on Schedule I drugs like marijuana, psilocybin and MDMA, but it went on to be soundly defeated on the House floor.
The committee, citing procedural issues, blocked a separate measure on the earlier spending legislation from Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) aimed at shielding colleges and universities from being punished by the Department of Education for allowing medical cannabis on campus.
Several amendments filed on the current appropriations bill before the committee on Tuesday were withdrawn by their sponsors before the panel could make a decision about floor consideration, in some cases because they had similar measures they decided to press forward with.
These amendments were withdrawn by sponsors:
SAFE CONSUMPTION SITES: Blocks DOJ from preventing states and localities from establishing and implementing safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal medical cannabis laws.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal marijuana laws in states that have legalized.
TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal medical cannabis laws in states that have legalized.
VETERANS: Blocks DOJ from punishing VA doctors or employees for recommending medical cannabis in states that have legalized.
STATES AND TERRITORIES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with state marijuana and those in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.
Though advocates are backing several pieces of standalone marijuana legislation, reform proposals are increasingly being pursued through the appropriations process. Several recent committee reports have called for the expedition of policies to regulate CBD, implement hemp regulations, lift barriers to marijuana research, prevent impaired driving and protect veteran benefits for those using cannabis in compliance with state law.
The House Appropriations Committee also advised the federal government to consider updating its policy concerning employees who use marijuana in accordance with state law.
Last week, the same panel approved a spending bill that includes language providing protections for banks that service state-legal marijuana business while also removing a longstanding rider that has blocked Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.
And cannabis reform activity is heating up in Congress beyond appropriations.
On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on issues facing small businesses in the marijuana industry. And on Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will consider several bills focused on medical cannabis and military veterans.
Meanwhile, a standalone bill to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks was cleared by the House Financial Services Committee in March. Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment that he anticipates a floor vote on that legislation next month.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Gets Boost From New TV Ad But Draws Opposition From Unlikely Source
An Oregon ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes is getting a boost from a nonprofit veterans group’s new TV ad. But meanwhile, the campaign is seeing pushback from an unexpected source.
On the one side, the Heroic Hearts Project—which helps connect veterans to entheogenic-based healing and provides complementary counseling—is airing an advertisement in the state that highlights the therapeutic potential of taking psilocybin in a clinical setting.
The 30-second spot doesn’t explicitly mention the reform measure that will appear on Oregon’s November ballot, but it could help inform how voters approach that question when they head to the polls nonetheless. According to the group, it will play on television frequently enough that the average viewer should see it about seven or eight times.
Here’s the script of the ad:
“As a scientist, I’m impressed by the research. Major universities findings show psilocybin therapy can be effective for depression and anxiety.
It’s plant medicine [the Food and Drug Administration] calls breakthrough therapy, meaning it can be an improvement over available options.
The psilocybin therapy program: Research-based with patient safety top of mind, strictly regulated.
We’re in a mental health crisis. The science is real, the restrictions smart. Psilocybin therapy: Healing, providing hope.”
Heroic Hearts Project is largely focused on the plant ayahuasca. But the group says psilocybin is another treatment option that’s shown promise in mitigating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“In Oregon and across the country there has been a big decriminalization movement, there’s been a big push to do similar to what we’re doing but also allow for access within the U.S. because there’s a lot of people that understand the power and the efficacy of these treatments,” Jesse Gould, founder of the organization, told Marijuana Moment.
“Within Oregon, there is this historic opportunity where they’re trying to create licensed and regulated psilocybin and therapy—and there’s a lot of veterans in Oregon—so just having that availability of it in a place that they can rely on, that they know it’s safe, is a tremendous value to the veterans in Oregon,” he said. “I think it will also be a model for other states and other localities to adopt it.”
Again, the ad doesn’t explicitly promote the psilocybin legalization initiative that will appear on Oregon’s November ballot—but there has been a strong push from a wide range of experts and advocates to pass the historic measure. The Oregon Democratic Party also formally endorsed the psychedelic therapy proposal earlier this month.
“Oregonians are suffering from the most severe mental health crisis in the country,” Sam Chapman, campaign manager for the psilocybin measure, told Marijuana Moment. “We know that if we want to help terminally ill cancer patients, veterans, and so many others who are struggling to combat depression and anxiety due to COVID, we need a licensed and regulated system that people can trust.”
But while these developments could help bolster the campaign, there’s also been surprising dissent from certain psychedelics reform advocates who argue that the proposed legal therapeutic model for psilocybin would threaten equitable access to entheogens.
Decriminalize Nature (DN), the group advancing a localized psychedelics decriminalization movement across the country, is urging Oregonians to vote “no” on the initiative.
“M109 threatens equitable access by not ending the prohibition of personal use and establishing supremecy [sic],” DN said in a tweet.
DN groups in OR are taking a No position on the Oregon Psilocybin Service measure. M109 threatens equitable access by not ending the prohibition of personal use and establishing supremecy. Therefore, in solidarity with our local groups in Oregon, we share this with our DN network https://t.co/Q8cqJF7iPh
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) September 30, 2020
The group’s Portland chapter, which said earlier this year that it would pursue psychedelics decriminalization through the City Council, announced last week that it’s now against the psilocybin measure and declining to endorse a separate proposal to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs and fund treatment services that will also appear on the state’s ballot.
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Decrim Nature Oregon Groups Encourage No on M109 Oregon Psilocybin Services Measure . . DN Nature lovers, When Oregon first created it’s statewide initiative, decriminalization language was included and all signatures were accounted for. After a sizeable donation, the #Oregon Psilocybin Service measure removed the decriminalization language thereby continuing the prohibition of psilocybin mushroom gathering, growing, or having an experience in the safety of one’s own home. Negotiations broke down with the key sponsor of this initiative last week to ensure the protection of equitable access to entheogenic plants for the most vulnerable. M109 threatens this due to sections that do nothing to end the prohibition of personal use and also establishes statewide supremacy. Therefore, Decrim Nature groups in Oregon are taking a No position on the Oregon Psilocybin Service measure. In solidarity with our local groups in Oregon, we share this with our DN network.
DN Portland said they are “advocating that all people who care about ensuring access to entheogenic medicines for all people regardless of financial status, those who care about protecting these medicines from the profit motives of capital, and those who wish to see big money removed from the equation of psychedelic medicines.”
David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, has helped finance a slew of marijuana and psychedelics reform campaigns for years, including the psilocybin legalization initiative. Private messages that DN decided to release show the executive expressing concern about certain internal politics within the movement, including disputes between DN and the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative about including peyote within the scope of decriminalization measures.
In a blog post, he wrote that Dr. Bronner’s “is fully committed to the Decriminalize Nature (DN) movement, but have recently lost faith in its national leadership.” Regardless, “we still fully support regional DN campaigns such as DC’s effort to decriminalize plant medicines.”
In turn, DN alleged that Bronner “is resorting to divide and conquer tactics to control the Decriminalize Nature movement. ”
Under the Oregon psilocybin ballot measure, adults would be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. Last month, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”
The campaign behind the separate drug decriminalization and treatment funding initiative recently released its first ad urging Oregonians to support it.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Colorado Governor Grants Thousands Of Marijuana Pardons With New Clemency Powers
The governor of Colorado on Thursday signed an executive order granting nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.
Pursuant to a new law that he signed in June, Gov. Jared Polis (D) made the pardons on the first day the policy took effect. While the law gives him authority to grant clemency for cases of possession of up to two ounces, his office explained that he limited it to one ounce because that’s the legal possession limit under Colorado’s cannabis program.
“We are finally cleaning up some of the inequities of the past by pardoning 2,732 convictions for Coloradans who simply had an ounce of marijuana or less,” Polis said in a press release. “It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970’s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success.”
Thank you to @repjamescoleman, Sen. Julie Gonzales (@SenadoraJulie), and Sen. @VickiMarble for sponsoring this historic bill. Rep. @leslieherod and Rep. Jonathan Singer (@Singer4BoCo) were also champions of passing this legislation.
— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) October 1, 2020
Convictions impacted by the governor’s action range from those that took place in 1978 though 2012.
“Too many Coloradans have been followed their entire lives by a conviction for something that is no longer a crime, and these convictions have impacted their job status, housing, and countless other areas of their lives,” he added. “Today we are taking this step toward creating a more just system and breaking down barriers to help transform people’s lives as well as coming to terms with one aspect of the past, failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”
The new law allows the governor to use his clemency power for cannabis offenses without consulting with prosecutors and judges involved in the cases, as is typically required under statute.
“For the individuals pardoned in this Executive Order, all rights of citizenship associated with the pardoned conviction are restored in full without condition,” the order states. “All civil disabilities and public sufferings associated with the pardoned conviction are removed.”
People who are eligible for the pardons don’t have to do anything to clear their own records; it’s automated, and individuals can check a website to see if they’ve been processed.
Those who have municipal marijuana convictions, or who were arrested or given a summons, don’t qualify for the pardon. The action only applies to state-level convictions.
A frequently asked questions document states that while Polis has declined for now to use the full extend of his pardon power by applying it to people with convictions of up one to two ounces, the “administration will continue to evaluate” cases that could receive clemency. A representative from the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a question from Marijuana Moment about whether plans are imminent to expand the pardon pool.
The governor’s action also calls on the state Department of Public Health to “develop a process to indicate on criminal background checks which individuals’ convictions have been pardoned pursuant to this Executive Order.”
Colorado isn’t alone in pursuing opportunities to enact marijuana-focused restorative justice policies.
In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor.
Polis told Westword that beyond the practical benefits of having these records cleared, the move is “also symbolically important, because it shows that as a state and nation, we’re coming to terms with the incorrect discriminatory laws of the past that penalized people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.”
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
Marijuana Arrests Decline Nationally For First Time In Four Years, FBI Data Shows
Marijuana arrests in the U.S. declined in 2019 for the first time in four years, a new federal report shows.
While many expected the state-level legalization movement to reduce cannabis arrests as more markets went online, that wasn’t the case in 2016, 2017 or 2018, which each saw slight upticks in marijuana busts year-over-year. But last year there was a notable dip, the data published this week shows.
There were a total of 545,601 marijuana arrests in 2019—representing 35 percent of all drug arrests—according to FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. That’s down from 663,367 the prior year and 659,700 in 2017.
Put another way, police across the country made a cannabis bust every 58 seconds on average last year. Of those arrests, 500,394 (92 percent) were for possession alone.
“A decline in cannabis related arrests is better than seeing an increase for a fourth year in a row, but the amount of these arrests is still abhorrent,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “There is no reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. Arresting adult cannabis consumers has a dramatically disproportionate impact on communities of color, is a massive waste of law enforcement officials’ time and resources and does nothing to improve public health or safety.”
Overall, arrests for drug sales, manufacturing and possession amounted to 1,558,862 for the year—approximately 15 percent of all busts reported to FBI from local and state law enforcement agencies. That’s one new drug case every 20 seconds.
Before 2016, the country had seen a consistent decline in marijuana arrests for roughly a decade. It should be noted, however, that not all local police participate in the federal agency’s program, so these figures are not holistic.
Nonetheless, this data shows that American law enforcement carried out more arrests for marijuana alone than for murder, rape, robbery, burglary, fraud and embezzlement combined.
“At a time when a super-majority of Americans support marijuana legalization, law enforcement continues to harass otherwise law abiding citizens at an alarming rate,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Now is the time for the public to collectively demand that enough is enough: end prohibition and expunge the criminal records to no longer hold people back from achieving their potential.”
While there’s no solitary factor that can explain the recent downward trend in cannabis cases, there are one-off trends that could inform the data. For example, marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, and that seems to be connected to the legalization of hemp and resulting difficulties police have had in differentiating the still-illegal version of the cannabis crop from its newly legal non-intoxicating cousin.
At the federal level, prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in March.
Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in December.
A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”