Ever since Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve marijuana legalization initiatives in 2012, additional states have joined them in each biennial election that has followed. And 2020 could be a banner year for cannabis on the ballot.
There are at least 16 states where advocates believe marijuana measures could go before voters next year—some considering full-scale recreational legalization while others would focus on medical cannabis.
Some of these would be citizen-led voter initiatives where activists collect signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot, while others would be referendums that lawmakers place before voters.
“Since the first adult-use legalization ballot initiative victory in 2012, the marijuana reform movement has successfully maintained its momentum,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “For four elections in a row there has been a legalization victory at the ballot box, and the upcoming election could deliver more victories in one day than ever before.”
Of course, not every initiated effort will end up securing enough funding, or formulating solid enough campaign plans, to collect sufficient signatures to qualify their measures for voters’ consideration on Election Day—but these are all states where activists or lawmakers have talked seriously about putting cannabis questions on ballots.
It’s not feasible to list every measure that activists took the modest trouble to initially file, and this overview looks primarily at efforts that seem most poised to advance. This post also doesn’t include the long list of states that might legalize marijuana through actions by lawmakers, as opposed to citizens via the ballot—which will be the focus of a separate piece.
In alphabetical order, here’s a comprehensive overview of the states where marijuana could be on the ballot in 2020.
Voters in Arizona narrowly rejected a marijuana legalization measure in 2016, thanks in part to sizable campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. In 2020, though, the state’s medical cannabis companies will be working to pass an initiative making marijuana legal for adults.
The effort, known as Smart & Safe Arizona, would allow people 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It would also create a pathway for individuals with prior convictions to have their records expunged, and it proposes using some tax revenue from legal sales to invest in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Dispensary chains MedMen, Harvest Health and Recreation and Curaleaf Holdings are helping to fund the campaign. Advocates must collect 237,645 valid signatures from voters by July 2 in order to put the measure on the ballot.
In 2016, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing patients to have legal access to medical cannabis. Now, activists are floating separate measures to more broadly end marijuana prohibition and expunge past records.
In order to place the measures on the ballot, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform must gather 89,151 signatures by July 3, including required minimums in at least 15 counties.
Under the legalization proposal, adults over 21 would be allowed to to possess up to four ounces of marijuana, two ounces of cannabis concentrate and edible products containing cannabis with THC content of 200 mg or less. They could also cultivate up to six cannabis seedlings and six cannabis flowering plants for personal use.
A system of legal and regulated sales would be created, with tax revenue funding the program’s implementation, public pre-kindergarten and after school programs as well as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Under the separate expungements measure, people with certain prior marijuana convictions would be able to petition courts for relief, including release from incarceration, reduction of remaining sentences and restoration of voting rights.
Despite the advancement of marijuana legalization legislation through several General Assembly committees this year, lawmakers weren’t able to form the consensus needed to get a bill to the desk of supportive Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
But while Connecticut doesn’t have the initiative process where activists can collect signatures to place a question on the ballot, some elected officials have floated the idea of advancing a referendum that would let voters weigh in on ending prohibition.
Most activists would prefer that lawmakers go ahead and just pass a legalization bill—because running a public education campaign to ensure a ballot measure passes would be expensive at a time when resources are needed in other states. A general referendum question would also require subsequent implementation legislation, and even putting it on the ballot in time for 2020 would take a supermajority of 75 percent of legislators.
Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis in 2016. Now, a group called Make It Legal Florida is working to place a full-scale marijuana legalization measure on the key swing state’s 2020 presidential ballot.
The proposed amendment to the state constitution would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be permitted to sell marijuana to adults. While the measure doesn’t mention a licensing system to establish separate recreational shops, lawmakers will likely enact detailed regulations should it pass, as they did with the prior medical cannabis measure.
The campaign is being backed by cannabis companies such as MedMen and Parallel (formerly known as Surterra Wellness).
A separate group, Regulate Florida, recently acknowledged that its lesser-funded effort wouldn’t be be able to successfully collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Idaho is one of only a handful of states in the U.S. that doesn’t even allow patients to access CBD medications with low-THC content. That could change, however, under a proposed medical marijuana ballot measure for which activists are currently collecting signatures.
The Idaho Cannabis Coalition’s proposal would let approved patients and their caregivers possess up to four ounces of marijuana. A system of licensed and regulated growers, processors, testers and retail dispensaries would be established.
Patients would not be allowed to grow their own medicine unless they qualify for a hardship exemption for those who have have a physical, financial or distance difficulty in acquiring marijuana at a dispensary. Those patients could grow up to six plants.
Organizers need to collect 55,057 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify the measure for the ballot.
In September, activists filed what they believe are more than enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis measure for Mississippi’s 2020 ballot.
If the initiative is approved, patients with any of 22 conditions—including cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder—be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period.
The secretary of state is expected to announce whether organizers collected a sufficient number of signatures for ballot access early in 2020.
Voters in the Show Me State approved a medical cannabis measure in 2018.
Now, activists are looking to expand on that with a broader marijuana legalization. Several different proposed measures to end cannabis prohibition have been filed with the secretary of state, but the campaigns at this point seem to be operating largely under the radar, so it remains to be seen whether any group will have the funding needed to mount a successful signature gathering drive.
Last year three separate medical cannabis measures ended up qualifying for the ballot, but two were rejected by voters.
Montana already has a medical cannabis program, and activists are looking to expand that to include legal adult use of marijuana in 2020.
The group New Approach Montana is currently in the process of drafting two separate legalization measures—one constitutional and one statutory.
The details of the proposals aren’t yet publicly available, but the statutory proposal will need roughly 25,500 valid voters signatures to qualify for ballot access, while the constitutional amendment would require nearly 51,000 signatures.
The national groups Marijuana Policy Project and New Approach PAC are backing the effort.
A separate group, MontanaCan, has already filed its own legalization proposal.
While legislative leaders in the Garden State, along with Gov. Phil Murphy (D), had hoped to simply pass a bill legalizing marijuana this year, the votes didn’t materialize. Instead, lawmakers decided to put the question of ending cannabis prohibition directly before voters.
Under the referendum adopted by the Senate and Assembly, the November 2020 ballot will contain a question that reads, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called cannabis?”
If the proposed constitutional amendment is approved, lawmakers would then get to work adopting regulations for the legal cannabis industry.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) put marijuana legalization language in his budget submission earlier this year but, despite support for the idea from leading lawmakers, disagreement over particulars such as how to spend tax revenue meant that the proposal didn’t get over the finish line.
Indications are that Cuomo and lawmakers will try the legislative route again in 2020, but the governor has floated the idea of referring the question to voters at the ballot box.
“The opposition Senate position is there is no state that has passed it without a referendum. It’s never been done just by the legislature,” he said in a radio interview this year. “I believe Jersey may be moving to a referendum also, but Massachusetts, et cetera, the legislature acted after a referendum. So that’s what the senators who oppose it say—they think it’s an overreach by the legislature.”
If lawmakers can’t agree on the details of legalization again this year, Cuomo may call skittish legislators’ bluff and seek to advance a cannabis referendum to fulfill what he has said is one of his top agenda items.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016 and two years later swiftly defeated a proposal to more broadly legalize marijuana.
But advocates may have another chance in 2020. While the unsuccessful 2018 measure contained no limits on the amount of cannabis people could possess or grow, the new initiative, written by the same group of activists, has robust regulations—including a ban on home cultivation.
Legalization supporters hope more voters will agree to the narrower proposal this time around.
There is also another proposed legalization measure vying to collect the 13,452 valid signatures needed for ballot access.
In 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a marijuana legalization measure that even many longtime activists opposed due its proposed regulatory structure that would have granted control over cannabis cultivation to the very same group of wealthy individuals who paid to put it on the ballot.
Advocates have cited the Buckeye State as a potential target for another try in 2020, though no proposals have yet been filed.
Voters in number of communities throughout the state have in recent years approved measures to decriminalize marijuana possession on a local basis, indicating that there is public support for cannabis reform if placed on the state ballot again next year.
That said, Ohio is a large state, and qualifying initiatives there is very expensive, so any successful effort will likely need to have industry support.
Voters in Oklahoma shocked national observers by approving a medical cannabis ballot measure last year during a midterm primary election by a solid margin, even though demographics thought to be most supportive of marijuana reform tend to turn out in bigger numbers during general elections in presidential voting years.
Since then, people have flocked to the program, with nearly 5 percent of the state’s population registered as approved patients.
Now, seeing potential for expansion, activists are looking to follow up next year with a broader marijuana legalization initiative.
Backed by the national New Approach PAC, the new effort will have to collect 178,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for ballot access.
Under the measure as initially filed, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. There would be a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales, revenue from which would cover implementation costs and fund schools, drug treatment programs and other public service programs.
Personal possession would be capped at one ounce and individuals could grow up to six plants. The proposal would also provide expungements for those with prior marijuana convictions.
Backers recently withdrew the initial measure, but plan to redraft it with feedback from the medical cannabis community, with a new version expected to be filed soon.
Lawmakers in Rhode Island have filed marijuana legalization bills for the last several sessions but they have never been brought to a vote. In 2019, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) went so far as to put legalization language in her budget proposal, but it was removed by legislative leaders.
The governor has indicated she will make another attempt in 2020, but if that doesn’t pan out, lawmakers may consider putting the question to voters via a referendum.
In 2016, Raimondo said she is “open to” giving voters a chance to decide on legalization via a ballot question. And House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D), said that he was “considering the possibility of placing a non-binding referendum question on the ballot regarding the use of recreational marijuana.”
A bill for a marijuana referendum that was filed in 2018 never received a vote, but it’s an avenue the legislature might consider pursuing next year as legalization comes online in more nearby states.
Lawmakers in Nebraska have repeatedly rejected medical cannabis legislation. Frustrated with their colleagues’ unwillingness to change the law to let patient legally medicate, two senators in the state’s unicameral legislature are partnering with local and national advocacy groups to put the question directly to voters through a ballot initiative.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, physicians or nurse practitioners would be able to issue recommendations to patients, who would then be allowed to “use, possess, access, and safely and discreetly produce an adequate supply of cannabis, cannabis preparations, products and materials, and cannabis-related equipment to alleviate diagnosed serious medical conditions without facing arrest, prosecution, or civil or criminal penalties.”
The measure would also provide for a system of legal and regulated cannabis distribution through dispensaries.
Organizers must collect valid signatures from roughly 122,000 voters in order to make the ballot.
The South Dakota secretary of state’s office certified this month that activists collected more than enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the November 2020 ballot.
If approved, patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions would be allowed to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary with approval from their doctors. They could also grow at least three plants, or more if authorized by a physician.
A separate campaign led by a former federal prosecutor is currently collecting signatures in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for adult use.
That measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The state Department of Revenue would issue licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.
South Dakota voters rejected medical cannabis ballot measures in 2006 and 2010, but advocates hope that the changing national and regional climate on marijuana reform means that voters will be more supportive this time around.
Non-Marijuana Initiatives On State Ballots
Activists in a few states are taking steps to bring broader drug policy reform questions to voters’ ballots in 2020.
A group called Decriminalize California is preparing to soon begin collecting signatures in support of a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms.
In Oregon, organizers are already collecting signatures to qualify separate initiatives to legalize the psychedelic fungus for therapeutic uses and to decriminalize all drugs while expanding funding for substance misuse treatment programs.
2020 Will Be A Big Year For Marijuana
While 2019 was a huge year for marijuana, 2020 is poised to be even more impactful.
Separate from the huge number of states where cannabis and drug policy reform questions could appear before voters on ballots, lawmakers in many states are expected to consider bills to legalize marijuana.
Meanwhile, advocates will push to expand on cannabis reform momentum in Congress, where this year a marijuana banking bill was approved by the full House of Representatives and legislation to federally legalize cannabis and fund programs to begin repairing the harms of the war on drugs advanced at the committee level.
And with presidential candidates increasingly embracing cannabis legalization and other far-reaching reforms, 2020 is poised to be the biggest year for marijuana yet.
“In 2020, hundreds of thousands of Americans will turn out to vote not for the top of the ticket, but for the rights of cannabis consumers in upwards of a dozen states,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “As we have seen in previous elections, marijuana initiatives increase voter turnout in nearly every demographic. With public support growing by the day, 2020 will be the biggest year yet for expanding the freedoms and liberties of cannabis consumers.”
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
Pennsylvania Senators Will Consider DUI Protections For Medical Marijuana Patients At Hearing
A Pennsylvania Senate committee is set to take up a bill next week that would protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R), would amend state statute to require proof of active impairment before a registered patient can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. The current lack of specific protections for the state’s roughly 368,000 patients puts them in legal jeopardy when on the road, supporters say.
The #PASenate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on 9/21 with a focus on my #SB167, which would remove DUI penalties for legal medicinal cannabis use. @SenLangerholc @PASenateGOP Details ⤵️https://t.co/cSd2Cpdky9 pic.twitter.com/av3mxvAuCk
— Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) September 16, 2021
Bartolotta first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, with the first dispensaries in the state opening in 2018. But the state’s zero-tolerance DUI law still doesn’t reflect those changes. Because it criminalizes the presence of any THC or its metabolites in a driver’s blood—which can be detected for weeks after a person’s last use—the law puts virtually all medical marijuana patients at risk, even if it’s been days since their last use and they show no signs of impairment.
Bartolotta’s bill would require officers to prove a registered patient was actually impaired on the road.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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“Unimpaired patients currently face the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for using medicinal marijuana that has no bearing on their ability to drive a vehicle,” the senator wrote in a cosponsorship memo late last year. “Given the very serious consequences of a DUI conviction, my legislation will provide critical protections for medicinal cannabis patients by ensuring responsible use of their legal medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Several legal cannabis states have enacted per se THC limits in blood, similar to blood alcohol requirements. However, evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.
A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.
Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”
Outside of this bill, Pennsylvania lawmakers have continued to pursue adult-use legalization in the state. Earlier this year, two legislators circulated a memo to build support for a comprehensive reform bill they plan to introduce, for example.
A bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. They announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marks his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
80 Top Law Enforcement Officials, Including A Biden Nominee, Urge SCOTUS To Hear Safe Injection Drug Case
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—have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up a case on the legality of establishing a safe injection facility where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The nonprofit organization Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration, and it filed a petition with the nation’s highest court last month to hear the case. Now the group of law enforcement officials associated with Fair and Just Prosecution are calling on the Supreme Court to act in an amicus brief.
“Amici have an interest in this litigation because overdose prevention sites (OPSs) are among the harm reduction and public health interventions that have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses and diverting people from unnecessary and counterproductive interactions with the justice system,” they wrote. “Amici, many of whom are currently or were previously responsible for enforcing the nation’s drug laws, also believe that the Controlled Substances Act cannot be construed to prohibit operation of a facility designed to address the most acute aspects of this public health emergency.”
“As law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, amici’s objective is to maintain public safety; saving lives and promoting health is as central to that mission as preventing and prosecuting crime.”
Read the full brief: https://t.co/e4Sv6oba4b
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
If the court agrees to hear the dispute, advocates will be looking toward the Biden Justice Department and whether it will continue the federal government’s opposition to allowing supervised injection facilities. It would be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years to come, meaning Safehouse is taking a significant risk by pursuing the appeal of its loss in a lower court before the majority of conservative justices.
“Failing to address the loss of life resulting from drug overdoses—and criminalizing a community-based public health organization working to save lives—will further erode trust in the justice system,” the new brief states. “If there were ever a time to demonstrate that our government values the dignity of human life, that time is now.”
While President Joe Biden hasn’t weighed in directly on safe consumption sites, there’s been a theme within his administration of embracing the general concept of harm reduction for drugs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), for example, said that “promoting harm-reduction efforts” is a first-year priority. In an overview of its objectives, the office said it intends to expand “access to evidence-based treatment,” enhance “evidence-based harm reduction efforts” and promote “access to recovery support services.”
These goals theoretically align with those of Safehouse, which wants to give people with substance use disorders a facility where medical professionals can intervene in the event of an overdose and provide people with the resources to seek recovery.
Among the signatories on the amicus brief are a former deputy assistant attorney general under Obama, district attorneys of Baltimore, Cook County, Dallas County, Los Angeles County, Manhattan, Philadelphia, San Francisco County and Seattle and the former attorneys general of Ohio, Vermont and Virginia.
But one signatory who especially stands out is Rachael Rollins, the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts who is Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts.
“As an elected prosecutor, I have a responsibility to protect every member of my community, which requires moving away from criminal justice responses to substance use disorder,” Rollins said in a press release. “Instead, we must embrace proven public health strategies as potential solutions. Lives depend on it.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said the drug war “has taken too many lives already, and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll.” He added: “We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives and improve community safety.”
“Our nation’s failed war on drugs has taken too many lives…and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll. We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives." –@DA_LarryKrasner
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
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.
Safehouse won a battle in a federal district court in 2019 to proceed with the facilities. But in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the decision, ruling that permitting such facilities would violate a 1980s-era federal statute that bars organizations from running operations “for the purpose of unlawfully… using controlled substances.” That law was passed while Biden served in the Senate and helped push punitive drug policies that have had lasting consequences.
“As current and former criminal justice leaders, amici have seen first-hand how the classic ‘war on drugs’ approach to drug control—with its almost exclusive focus on aggressive criminal law enforcement—has exacerbated the overdose epidemic,” the pro-reform prosecutors and cops wrote in the new brief. “This experience confirms that no jurisdiction can arrest its way out of this public health problem. Fatal overdoses are a symptom of substance use disorder, a medical condition requiring a medical response.”
“Distorting federal drug laws to prohibit an [overdose prevention site] or to prosecute its sponsors would further undermine trust in the justice system and faith in the fair and sensible application of our drug laws. Interpreting federal criminal law to bar empirically validated harm reduction measures would make no one safer; it would only impede cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
In its original petition to the Supreme Court in the current safe injection site case, Safehouse argued that the justices should “grant review to determine whether” federal statute really does prohibit “non-commercial, non-profit social service agencies…from establishing an overdose-prevention site that includes medically supervised consumption.”
“This question is a matter of life or death for thousands of Philadelphians and many thousands more throughout the country,” it said. “Tragically, while respondents have been pursuing this declaratory judgment against Safehouse, more than 3,200 people died in Philadelphia of drug overdoses—many of which could have been prevented if medical care had been immediately available through supervised consumption services.”
Safehouse also pointed out that Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the organization’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.
The organization put the gravity of the case in no uncertain terms, painting a picture of how its proposed facility can save lives.
“When breathing stops, even a brief delay while waiting for medical help to arrive may result in an otherwise preventable overdose death or irreversible injury,” the petition says. “As a result, every second counts when responding to an opioid overdose; as more time elapses, the greater the risk of serious injury and death. Ensuring proximity to medical care and opioid reversal agents like the drug Naloxone at the time of consumption is therefore a critical component of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.”
“Intervention by this Court is warranted to make clear that the federal law does not criminalize this essential public health and medical intervention designed to save lives from preventable overdose death,” it continues.
Safehouse argued that the appeals court’s interpretation of the law “eviscerates the intended boundaries of the statute and would criminalize the operation of legitimate businesses, charities, families, and good Samaritans that serve and reside with those suffering from addiction.”
If the Supreme Court were to take up the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could embolden 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.
At the same time that Safehouse is turning to the Supreme Court, it also announced recently that it will be returning the the federal district court that gave it an initial 2019 victory in support of establishing a safe injection facility before it was overturned in the appeals court.
The organization is making the unique argument that the federal government’s decision to block it from providing the service violates religious freedom by subjecting participants “to criminal penalties for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs that they have an obligation to do everything possible to preserve life and to provide shelter and care to the vulnerable, including those suffering from addiction.”
In 2018, a congressional subcommittee approved legislation to specifically prohibit Washington D.C. from using local tax dollars to help open safe consumption facilities. But that provision was not enacted and has not been reintroduced since.
A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”
Read the amicus brief from the prosecutors on the Safehouse safe injection site case below:
Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.
Former GOP Congressman Who Actually Supported Marijuana Reform Enters The Cannabis Industry
Lately it’s come to seem as if most of the former politicians who’ve entered the marijuana industry were unhelpful or downright hostile to legalization when they were in office. But on Friday, a cannabis company announced an addition to its board who disrupts that narrative: a former Republican congressman who has a consistent legislative record of cosponsoring and voting for marijuana reform measures.
The multi-state cannabis businesses Red White & Bloom Brands Inc. (RWB) is bringing on former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) to help it navigate the complicated regulatory space, drawing on his experience in Congress as the company works to expand.
Costello certainly isn’t the only Republican lawmaker who’s made the transition from Capitol Hill to the cannabis market. But he is a rare example of a politician who actually embraced enacting marijuana policy changes while he was in power before standing to profit from the industry. The congressman cosponsored a variety of bills—including ones to shield states that legalize cannabis from federal interference—and supported several reform amendments.
“I’m looking forward to utilizing my 15+ years of service in government, the legal profession, and my familiarity with cannabis policy to be a strategic resource for RWB as it positions itself as a true market leading house of brands in the permitted U.S. marketplace,” Costello said in a press release.
This breaks with a trend that has increasingly frustrated advocates, where it seems the people most inclined to benefit from legalization are those who stood in the way in Congress. The best-known example of that is former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who’s faced criticism from activists over his anti-legalization record while in office before joining the board of marijuana company Acreage Holdings.
While Costello left Congress in 2019 prior to the historic House vote on a standalone bill to federally deschedule cannabis, there are plenty of examples of him supporting more modest reform proposals during his congressional tenure.
He was a cosponsor of legislation to protect state marijuana markets from federal intervention, promote cannabis research, support military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.
The congressman also voted in favor of floor amendments to shield all state marijuana programs from Justice Department intervention, allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis and end hemp prohibition.
In that respect, he was a rare GOP lawmaker. While the issue is increasingly bipartisan among the public, that hasn’t been reflected in Congress. And now Costello is in a position to leverage his legislative experience to advance a marijuana business’s interests.
It’s an exception to the trend.
For example, Tom Price, the former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head under President Donald Trump, is serving as a member of the board of directors for a medical marijuana business in Georgia after he refused to take action to reclassify cannabis under federal law when he had the power to do so. Price consistently voted against marijuana reform measures while serving in Congress.
Former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), who also has a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts, joined a Canadian cannabis company’s board in 2019.
Earlier this month, a New York-based lobbying firm that’s headed by a former Republican U.S. senator announced that it is launching a practice focused on serving cannabis businesses. That former senator, Alfonse D’Amato, racked up a record of supporting the war on drugs while in office.
There is at least one other former GOP congressman who entered the cannabis space with a legislative record supporting marijuana reform. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who championed cannabis reform while in Congress, became an advisory board member for a marijuana company after being voted out of office in 2018.
Separately, President Joe Biden’s pick to head up federal drug policy worked for a major marijuana business last year, according to his financial disclosure reports.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.