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Marijuana Legalization Could Advance Even Under McConnell, Top Senate Democrat Says

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Efforts to federally legalize marijuana could advance in the next Congress, even if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stays in control. That’s according to a surprising take by the body’s top Democratic lawmaker.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said if Democrats control the chamber and he replaces McConnell as majority leader, he will act on legalization legislation. But even if that doesn’t play out, he predicted, there’s still opportunity for reform under GOP rule.

“It’ll move a lot faster,” if he himself is installed as majority leader, Schumer said. “But on the issue of marijuana, I believe even–god forbid—I’m not majority leader, I believe that the pressure on McConnell is going to increase and we could make some progress.”

The minority leader’s comments came in a video chat with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House Democratic Caucus chairman, in which the two lawmakers discussed the importance of pursuing legalization, the evolving politics of cannabis and the need for social equity in the industry.

While the House approved legislation earlier this month to federally legalize marijuana, the Republican-controlled Senate under McConnell has declined to take it—or any other major cannabis legislation—up for consideration. Advocates have emphasized that the fate of reform largely rests on the outcome of two Senate runoffs in Georgia next week, which will decide which party will control the Senate.

“Like so many other things there are two words that stand in the way here: Mitch McConnell,” Schumer said in the new web chat, which his office posted on Wednesday night. “As long as he is majority leader, it’s going to be very hard unless we have a tremendous public pressure on him to get that bill on the floor.”

“If I become majority leader, I put it on the floor, and my guess, Hakeem, it’ll pass. It’ll get Democratic and Republican votes,” the senator said, adding that voters in several conservative states approved legalization ballot initiatives in the November election.

“This thing is trending in the right direction here in the House,” Jeffries said. We’ve seen libertarian, pretty conservative members of Congress on the Judiciary Committee and within the general body, say this is the right thing to do.”

Schumer pointed out that even as more states have pursued legalization, there has not been the “parade of horribles” that opponents claimed would happen.

“There wasn’t an increase in crime. There wasn’t an increase in people becoming drug dependent,” he said. “People were using marijuana recreationally, enjoying it, nothing bad happened and we can have more freedom and nothing bad happens. Why not?”

Jeffries added that if the federal government moves to legalize and regulate cannabis, lawmakers will be “in an excellent position to address any anxieties that may exist” about public health and safety.

“We’re looking at this comprehensively. We’re looking at this for the future,” Schumer said. “And look, I’m a natural optimist, but given the trends in America, and given what we have seen in the states that have legalized and decriminalized, I think it’s inevitable that legislation like our proposal will become the law of the land in the not too very distant future.”

He added that “the future is bright” for the marijuana descheduling bill that he and Jeffries filed in their respective chambers, the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act. That’s not the same legislation that passed the House, but it shares the main objective of ending prohibition and repairing the harms of prohibition enforcement.

Reform isn’t just about racial justice and civil liberties, however. It’s also a “significant economic issue,” Schumer said. “It’s all tied together.”

The top Senate Democrat made similar remarks in October, stating that federal “marijuana laws have been one of the biggest examples of racial injustice, and so to change them makes sense.”

If he’s reinstalled as senate majority leader, the top Democrat said he will put his legalization bill “in play,” adding “I think we’ll have a good chance to pass it.”

The senator has become a strong ally for comprehensive cannabis reform. Last year, for example, he sided with advocates who argued that passing a bill to protect banks that service the marijuana industry was not enough.

Schumer is also a champion of the hemp industry, particularly in New York. He said at an event at a hemp business last year that the state is especially well positioned to take advantage of the crop’s legal status, stating that “our soil, our weather, our conditions are very good for industrial hemp, so we could become one of the centers of growing.”

Also at the event, he called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to extend a public comment period for its proposed hemp regulations, citing concerns about certain prohibitive rules. The federal agency did end up reopening the feedback window this year.

New York Lawmakers Prefile Eight Marijuana Bills For 2021 As State Pursues Legalization

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer

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“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.

The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.

Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.

The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.

The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.

“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.

Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.

They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.

“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury,

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

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Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred

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The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.

Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.

But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.

“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”

That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.

“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.

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—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

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.

If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened 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.

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