Congresswoman Dina Titus voted for the marijuana legalization measure on Nevada’s ballot a year ago. Since then, she has been fighting on Capitol Hill to get the federal government to respect the decision she and a majority of her constituents made to end prohibition.
The Las Vegas Democrat has sponsored or signed onto bills and amendments that would protect state laws from Justice Department interference, allow marijuana businesses to use banks and let military veterans access medical cannabis recommendations through government doctors, among others.
Those measures haven’t advanced, however, because of roadblocks thrown up by Congressional Republican leadership.
But even though the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee won’t allow floor votes on marijuana amendments, and Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t done anything to help, Titus said in an interview that cannabis isn’t just an issue for Democrats.
“This was not partisan,” she says of the measures she has supported. “It was heavily Democratic but we had Republicans supporting these amendments. I think if they came to the floor they would pass.”
Indeed, large bipartisan majorities approved floor amendments to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference in 2014 and 2015, but since then House leadership has consistently prevented votes.
Titus says that “Republicans aren’t going to buck their leadership and sign a discharge petition” to circumvent committees and force measures to the floor, but she is hopeful that shifting poll results on legalization and the growing number of changing state laws will make Congress come around soon.
“We’re going to keep on beating the drum, and I think you reach a tipping point because every cycle there are more initiatives and more efforts by state legislatures to legalize marijuana in some fashion. It’s over half of the states that have it now,” she says. “So when public opinion shifts…and more states make it legal, then the Republicans are going to have to respond.”
Titus believes it is important that she tailor her pitch when trying to convince fellow members of Congress to support cannabis legislation.
“You make the argument based on who you’re talking to,” she says. “Some believe it’s a criminal justice issue. Others believe it’s a states’ rights issue. Others see it as a medical opportunity issue. You’ve got a few who are just old stoned hippies who want to do it.”
For her part, Titus says that in addition to representing the views of her constituents, she has focused so much of her time on cannabis law reform because of people she knows who are impacted by current policy.
“I have many, many veterans in southern Nevada, and I have seen the problem of opioid addiction and I think that medical marijuana is a viable option,” she says. “And I’ve heard the stories of families of children with epilepsy who say this is the only way their children can get relief from having episodes. You hear stories like that, you think, ‘We’re missing the boat if we’re not looking at all the possibilities.'”
The congresswoman has also built relationships with marijuana business operators that she represents in her district.
“A lot of people in Las Vegas who are my constituents are in this business, and I have visited a number of the dispensaries,” she says. “There are not little head shops on the corner with black lights and pictures of Che Guevara. There are very professional operations. They’ve got agronomists, they’ve got scientists. They are respectable places with high security. They improve the neighborhood. They don’t bring it down.”
Titus thinks Nevada officials have done a good job implementing what voters approved, partially because the state has previously been a pioneer in regulating formerly prohibited activity, namely gambling.
“I think that’s pretty well shaken out,” she says. “This is a whole new area for us, but we have experience regulating something that’s kind of unusual because of our gaming and I think we were able to adjust to it pretty well.”
But for now, there’s no overlap between the state’s cannabis and gaming industries, largely because regulators for the latter have prohibited casinos from entering the marijuana trade.
“It won’t happen until federal legislation happens, because gaming is so tightly regulated and they’re not going to take any chances of losing a license or having the feds step into the gaming world because of marijuana,” Titus says. “It’s kind of like the banks that don’t want to do business with marijuana companies because of federal regulation. So it’s going to take not just becoming mainstream or not just becoming legalized at the state level, but federal action before that happens.”
One area where Titus does see opportunity for advancement without Congressional action is improving military veterans’ access to medical cannabis. Under current Department of Veterans Affairs policy, government doctors are not allowed to fill out medical marijuana recommendation forms, even in states where it is legal.
It’s “a crying shame,” she says.
Despite some victories on the House floor and in a Senate committee, efforts to force a change at the VA haven’t been enacted into law. But VA Sec. David Shulkin could change the policy himself, if he wanted to.
“I’m very disappointed in the VA not moving this forward,” she says. “I think they should do it without legislation.”
The issue is particularly important in light of increased attention being paid to opioid addiction and overdoses. “The veterans who want to try [marijuana] have to use it on their own, pay for it out of their own pockets and who knows how it interacts with other things that are being prescribed,” Titus says. “The opioid crisis, I think, has been perpetuated by the VA because it’s so much easier to give somebody a pill than it is just to deal with some of the demons that they may face or some of the real physical problems. Veterans come back now not with just one injury but maybe 10, 12 injuries because of the new science on the battlefield.”
On broader marijuana enforcement issues, despite concerning comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials, there have been no formal policy changes announced this year.
“We’re just in limbo,” Titus says. “That can be as bad as knowing what you have to face even if it’s something you don’t like.”
The congresswoman remains optimistic about shifting tides on marijuana issues, however, and in particular is impressed by how the legalization movement and the industry it has created have stepped up their game.
“The groups that represent different aspects of the medical marijuana and recreational marijuana industry are getting much more energized, much more mobilized, much more professional in their lobbying efforts,” she says. “I think you’re going to see that start to increase.”
Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration.
Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.
Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.
In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”
Is it time for #DecriminalizeNature #Berkeley? Agenda 4 at the public safety meeting this Wed. July 17, with the Decriminalize Nature team! This is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend. But if you live in Berkeley, write your City Council! https://t.co/gMSDkegMPU
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 15, 2019
However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”
The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”
Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.
The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.
“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.
While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.
Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.
Nature lovers are organizing coast to coast (and Hawaii)! Is your city on the map? Connect to join with your local community, or if you have the motivation to propose a similar initiative in your city/town/county, let’s start growing! contact [email protected] #DNUSA pic.twitter.com/38UxLKK9RN
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) July 2, 2019
On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.
Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”
Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”
Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.
This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.
Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”
Longtime hemp industry supporter, former U.S. Congressman and current Colorado Governor Jared Polis to present at AHPA Hemp-CBD Supplement Congress — https://t.co/2wPOcvdkHr — #supplement #cbd #hemp #hempindustry @GovofCO pic.twitter.com/tYhqj8HFlx
— AHPA (@AHPAssociation) July 10, 2019
“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.
AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.
But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.
In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.
Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.
Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.
“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”
He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.
“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.
The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.
“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”
BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.
The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.
“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”
“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.