Caregivers say the lobbying efforts come down to a lack of understanding and greed.
By Marla R. Miller, Michigan Advance
Medical marijuana caregiver Ryan Bringold has been involved in Michigan’s grassroots efforts to legalize cannabis for years.
But as larger licensed recreational and medical cannabis grow facilities and provisioning centers crop up across Michigan, caregivers like Bringold who helped legalize marijuana feel they are being pushed out. A small group of corporate activists want to tighten state restrictions for medical caregivers and patients. The goal: Cut plant counts, require product testing and reduce homegrown cultivation.
Bringold, 49, who lives in Waterford, is organizing the Caregivers Rights Rally Wednesday at the state Capitol in Lansing, as the legislature is back in session.
The goal of the rally is to unite caregivers and speak out against proposals to change the state’s 2008 Medical Marihuana Act provisions. He also helped coordinate a Michigan NORML presence at the 2019 Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk, and this year the group walked to raise awareness for caregivers’ rights.
“We didn’t pay attention,” Bringold said. “We watched our ability to be in the retail market fade away. We watched other restrictions, but no one was doing anything. We need to come together and protect what the Michigan voters voted for or the retail market is going to dictate the cannabis supply.”
As of September 1, there were 249,870 active patients (292 are minors) and 30,227 active caregivers, according to the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency (MRA). The MRA is not pushing for any changes to the current caregiver program and spokesperson David Harns declined further comment.
The Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association (MCMA), a trade group that represents some of the largest cannabis companies in Michigan, is reportedly behind the effort to tighten regulations for medical marijuana caregivers, patients and residents who grow their own cannabis.
According to Bringold and other cannabis activists, some legislative proposals being discussed include:
- Reduce caregiver plant allowances from 60 to 10 and a 75 percent reduction in patient plant allowances (from 12 to three).
- Require caregivers to test all cannabis prior to distribution and that all 30,000 caregiver gardens be tracked by the state’s METRC computer database.
- Restrict outdoor grow facilities and homegrown cannabis.
- Prohibit caregiver member markets where caregivers can sell surplus product to fellow caregivers and patients.
The MCMA formed in 2019 and has since removed member companies from its website. The website states the association represents “nearly half of all multiple Class C cannabis licenses in Michigan.” Steve Linder, who leads the organization, is a longtime Lansing-based Republican consultant and lobbyist who has targeted the unregulated supply and wants tighter industry regulations for medical caregivers.
Linder declined comment for this story. But in May, he told Grown In, a cannabis industry newsletter, “The first law I would want to pass is a law that would start to get at the non-licensed supply out in the marketplace. It’s not tested. We don’t know where it’s grown. We don’t know who’s growing it. People are not employing, they’re not investing in infrastructure, they’re not paying taxes. So we have to get at the unregulated supply and that law needs to be passed. And we’re going to lead the charge.”
The MCMA website also explains the organization wants to rein in Michigan’s illicit cannabis market with the goal of promoting safety, transparency and accountability.
“MCMA supports working together to end the avalanche of untested and potentially unsafe cannabis flooding the Michigan market,” the website states. “However, large quantities of untested, illicit cannabis continue to flood the market, posing a significant threat to patient and consumer safety and circumventing rules and taxes.”
Linder’s reported attempts to shop bills among lawmakers have created a buzz in Lansing and spread across the state’s cannabis industry. Early this summer, activists launched an online boycott to support #NOCHANGES to Michigan’s caregiver laws. Hundreds of cannabis companies responded, including several businesses in greater Lansing, by pledging support for caregivers.
Cannabis retailers and consumers have boycotted MCMA members, including Skymint, LivWell, Common Citizen and High Life Farms in Lansing, and brands affiliated with the group’s members. Calls and emails to the MCMA and several corporate cannabis companies, including High Life Farms, Skymint Brands and LivWell, were not returned for this story.
The controversy also prompted Pleasantrees CEO and founder Randy Buchman to resign as MCMA’s president. LivWell executive Shelly Edgerton, the former state licensing and regulatory affairs director who helped create the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency, stepped in to replace him.
The public backlash prompted MCMA to remove contact information and individual members from the website and elect a new board chair to help with public relations, said Rick Thompson, executive director of Michigan NORML.
Thompson has promoted the recent boycott online and believes Linder and MCMA are coming after caregivers’ and residents’ cultivation rights.
“He’s been a problem for the cannabis industry for a while,” Thompson said. “They’ve talked about slimming the market for quite some time, meaning less competition to their businesses and fewer licenses issued, but it also means attacking the unregulated market and home cultivation by patients, caregivers and by every adult in Michigan over the age of 21.”
Caregivers early advocates, helped drive cannabis legalization
Medical marijuana caregivers are among the early activists who spearheaded the grassroots efforts behind Michigan’s voter-approved Proposal 1 of 2008 and Proposal 1 of 2018 ballot initiatives, Bringold notes. The former legalized medical use of marijuana and, a decade later, the latter made it legal for adults over age 21 to grow, possess and use cannabis for recreational purposes.
“Some of these multiple location retailers, they know exactly what they are doing,” Bringold said. “They want all the money. We’ve seen it in the coke industry, the potato chip industry, the car industry… What they are doing is shutting us down. We created the industry. None of these people were knocking on doors doing the legwork, where were those guys then. None of them did any of it, and yet now they are in the power position to eliminate me. This is our chance to keep something of what we helped to create.”
Caregivers say the lobbying efforts come down to a lack of understanding and greed. Corporate cannabis companies want to push the little guy out, using straw man arguments around safety and surplus product that fuels a black market, Bringold said.
“For the licensing process to become a retail medical marijuana facility, you had to show $1 million of assets, obtained legally over time; that right there put most of the caregivers in the state of Michigan out of that loop,” Bringold said. “We’re just regular folks with 9-to-5 jobs, who happen to enjoy cannabis, and we’re patients and caregivers. We were pushed right out of that system. We never had the opportunity to get in. There are a few who got in who are good people.”
Bringold has watched the law’s language change as larger grow facilities, dispensaries and medical marijuana provisioning centers opened shop. Initially, caregivers were allowed to supply dispensaries as they got up and running, but now they are excluded from the retail marketplace.
In addition, the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act required grower and processor facility licensees to have at least two years’ experience as a caregiver, or employ someone with caregiving experience. That rule ends on December 31.
“It just seems like we were pushed aside and found to be useless,” Bringold said. “We are a very close-knit community in the cannabis community… Everybody was flying a victory flag and forgot there was a whole group who never liked cannabis, never cared about cannabis. Some ran for city and township boards and ran for state positions.”
Now, caregiver marketplaces are in jeopardy, places like Vehicle City Social and Genesee County Compassion Club in Flint. These are member organizations where caregivers can sell surplus products to other caregivers and patients.
“You pay a membership fee and become a member, and as a caregiver-grower, you can set up a table and other caregivers can come in and buy your product to supply medicine to patients in between grows,” Bringold said. “It’s like any other crop. Crops do fail… Not every time is a success. Those places still allow people to get medicine for a reasonable cost.”
Caregivers say they’re ‘in it to help people’
Cliff and Bonnie Demos, caregivers in northern Michigan’s Lake County, moved to Michigan from Wisconsin to treat Bonnie’s health conditions after medical marijuana became legal. They grow outdoors—the way nature intended—and Cliff Demos argues homegrown marijuana is safer than cannabis cultivated in a large indoor grow facility.
Cliff Demos, 75, said the corporate grows are “in this for the money—they’re not in it to see people get healed or to see people be relieved from pain.” They’re not mindful of Michigan’s climate or growing season, but rather they are trying to fast-grow plants for money, he said.
Demos plans to attend the rally and said the caregiver model works. Many caregivers and patients have established relationships over the last decade, and the Demoses work with patients to improve their health. They’ve developed different delivery methods, including balms, oils and cannabis-infused food.
“When we get patients, they are usually sick, and it’s up to us to help them any way we can,” Demos said. “We are able to help them and make things better for them. It just plain flat-out works. All I know is what we do and that’s take care of people, treat them with respect and give them what will help them.”
Tighter regulations could jeopardize patient-caregiver relationships statewide, even threatening the entire program, Bringold said. Cutting the number of patient and plant allowances for caregivers will drive more patients to licensed dispensaries, where patients aren’t allowed to touch, smell, or sample their medicine.
Having a medical marijuana card keeps the program strong and offers other benefits for patients, like reduced taxes at provisioning centers and more protections while driving with cannabis in the car, Bringold said.
“They don’t feel that citizens should be growing,” Bringold said of those targeting caregivers. “There is a place now to buy it. People who think like that don’t know anything about cannabis. They don’t understand the patient-caregiver relationship. Cannabis is a unique plant in that every plant strain can affect you differently.”
MCMA wants testing, crackdown on illicit supply
Under current law, licensed caregivers can grow up to 12 marijuana plants per patient for up to five different patients. Each caregiver can have a maximum 72 plants if the caregiver is also a registered medical marijuana patient.
Unlike licensed retailers, caregivers don’t have to submit a formal business plan to state officials. They have reduced licensing fees, and their harvested plants and products don’t have to be tested at a safety compliance laboratory.
Linder and others want caregiver products to be tested for pesticides, heavy metals and other potentially harmful additives like cannabis sold at dispensaries and provisioning centers. But advocates argue that people never hear media reports of anyone dying or getting sick or injured from caregiver-grown medical marijuana.
“If you don’t hear of people getting sick from caregiver cannabis, kids going to the hospital, then it’s not happening,” Thompson said. “We’ve had 12 years of caregiver cannabis; there is no danger or health hazard coming from caregiver cannabis.”
Bringold said the caregiver community is tight-knit and word gets around about unethical practices. The caregivers who weren’t successful are long gone. He’s a 100 percent organic grower who doesn’t use chemicals to control bugs.
“There is no real danger from cannabis even if it’s shitty cannabis,” Bringold said. “If you are doing something that might be unethical, if you used too much fertilizer, if it’s got spider mites in it, that gets around pretty quickly. We’re self-regulating and we’ve been self-regulating for 10 years.”
Thompson said state marijuana regulators haven’t expressed interest in changing the caregiver program. In an interview with Four20 Post, MRA Director Andrew Brisbo said the state doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to require mandatory product testing for 30,000 caregivers.
The state would have to expand capacity at its safety compliance laboratories or open more. There have been 17 marijuana regulatory licenses issued, but there are currently 13 testing facilities in the state that are open and serving the public, Thompson said.
Caregivers, corporate grows can coexist
“There is plenty of growth in the market,” Thompson said. “We don’t need to start making changes to some of the voter-directed initiatives we passed in Michigan.”
As for eliminating the “gray” or black market, activists and caregivers say that will never go away. Thompson said that anyone operating in the cannabis space is breaking federal law. He also noted that other states with caregiver programs have retracted the freedoms given to caregivers over time.
“When you create laws that are unworkable, you create criminality, and that’s why we need to have more input into the ways laws are crafted,” Thompson said. “They’re crafting laws that disadvantage people and that’s avoidable.”
In addition, activists are willing to address concerns that some people are taking advantage of an unregulated supply.
“If you get rid of the caregiver system, you make it a black market,” Bringold said. “We’ve all heard about the warehouse caregiver growing over 72 plants, that guy should be in trouble… We expect caregivers to follow the law that was voted on.”
Several grow facilities and provisioning centers have opened in rural areas like Lake, Mecosta and Osceola counties. Lake County has one of the highest poverty rates in the state, and many medical marijuana patients can’t afford the higher prices at provisioning centers, Demos said.
“These big corporations just gotta keep taking from the small guy,” Demos said. “You see that with anything that becomes new. Big corporations jump on it.”
The Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, a Lansing-based member organization serving over 300 cannabis businesses, doesn’t support efforts to change the current caregiver-patient model.
“Our members, many of them used to be caregivers and have come from the caregiver program into the retail market,” said Executive Director Robin Schneider. “The agreement was never that we were going to take any rights away from the patients or caregivers.”
Schneider doesn’t foresee the lobbying efforts gaining momentum. The caregiver law would require a 3/4 majority vote to change since it was part of a voter-initiated ballot proposal. She also noted that patients and caregivers are able to test cannabis on their own at the state’s safety compliance facilities.
“We do understand why the caregivers are having the rally at the Capitol and encourage them to stay engaged in the political process moving forward,” Schneider said. “It would take a supermajority [of lawmakers] to pass, and members of both parties have expressed this is not a fight they are interested in taking up.”
Thompson disagrees and believes the fight to roll back rights for caregivers and home growers isn’t going to fizzle out.
“If I didn’t think it was a threat,” he said, “I wouldn’t be making such a big deal about it.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
House Officially Passes Defense Bill With Marijuana Banking Protections, But Key Senators May Block Path Ahead
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a large-scale defense spending bill that includes an amendment to shield banks that works with state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. Now advocates and industry stakeholders are left wondering: what’s the fate of the reform in the Senate? And can it make it to the president’s desk?
New comments from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—who’s helping lead the charge to advance comprehensive marijuana legalization and who has been severely critical of efforts to enact banking reform first—signal that the path to pass the incremental policy change through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could be in jeopardy in the Senate. Other key senators have also expressed skepticism about the reform’s prospects through this process.
For supporters, things may have been more simple if the Senate had moved to include cannabis banking reform in its own version, but the text of NDAA released by Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday does not contain that language. That means the matter will need to be settled in a bicameral conference committee after the full Senate formally passes its bill. At that point, negotiators from both chambers will work to resolve differences between their separate proposals.
Already, there’s pushback from key senators to including the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the NDAA that’s ultimately sent to President Joe Biden. That’s not especially surprising considering that leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has insisted on passing comprehensive justice-focused marijuana legalization first rather than advance an incremental reform on banking. But recent statements do raise questions about the prospects of enacting the reform through the defense bill.
It’s not that the SAFE Banking Act is partisan or especially controversial on its face; it’s a matter of legislative priorities for certain senators and a question of germaneness in NDAA. As of Tuesday, when the reform amendment was officially attached to the House version of the bill, it has now passed five times in the chamber, usually along largely bipartisan lines.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, spoke with Marijuana Moment about the process moving forward in a phone interview on Wednesday. He was optimistic about the measure’s prospects with NDAA as the vehicle, though he conceded that he hadn’t spoken with Schumer or other key senators who are actively finalizing legalization legislation that they hope to see move first.
“I think the fifth time is the charm,” he said. “I mean, obviously, we still have to do some work to make sure that it remains part of the NDAA as the House and the Senate go to conference. So we still have work to do with the Senate to make sure that it remains part of it. But I think that it will.”
“I mean, the fact that it deals with cartels and national security, on top of the need for the public safety piece of this thing, I think that we’ll be able to convince the conference committee and the conferees generally to keep it in,” he said. “But we still have work to do.”
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Some advocates have expressed support for enacting the achievable banking policy change while working to build support for more comprehensive reform.
“Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would improve public safety and business efficiency in the 36 states that currently permit some form of retail marijuana sales,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “The Senate should ensure this provision remains in the final version of this funding package and enact it swiftly.”
“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step toward making sure that state-legal marijuana markets operate safely and efficiently,” he said. “The sad reality is that those who own or patronize these currently unbanked businesses would still be recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and by federal law. This situation can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”
Schumer and certain other senators, meanwhile, have insisted the banking issue should be tackled by holistically ending marijuana prohibition. They argue that it is inappropriate to pass what is seen as an industry-focused reform that helps businesses and investors while leaving unaddressed the harms of decades of racially disparate prohibition enforcement that should be addressed with equity-focused legalization.
Booker, who is helping Schumer alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) to produce a final legalization bill has said he would proactively work to block any senators who attempt to get marijuana banking reform passed before enacting social justice-focused legalization legislation.
And Booker told Politico on Wednesday that cannabis banking is “something that should not be included” in NDAA.
Senate likes to send NDAA amendments to a vote by unanimous consent. If one senator raises an objection to an NDAA Amendment, it can kill or stall it. Booker wouldn’t discuss his plans but said has “a lot of options as an individual senator” should the amendment be proposed.
— Natalie Fertig (@natsfert) September 22, 2021
“It undermines the ability to get comprehensive marijuana reform and the kind of things that are harder to get done like expungement of people’s records,” he said, echoing a point that Schumer made in an interview with Marijuana Moment in April. And a spokesperson for the majority leader affirmed that his position has not changed in light of the House development.
Should a senator propose a floor amendment to the chamber’s version of the defense bill to incorporate SAFE Banking, Booker left open the possibility of standing in its way.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), sponsor of the standalone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, also declined to say whether he would push to attach the reform to NDAA and told Politico he’d “love to see if we can even do the more comprehensive [reform]—that’d be even better.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI), meanwhile, told Roll Call that the issue hasn’t been discussed by members of his panel. And bipartisan supporters of the reform—including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rand Paul (R-KY)—told the outlet they weren’t certain that the Senate would pursue marijuana banking through NDAA.
Schatz also said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “doesn’t like” the marijuana banking proposal, and so “he’s going to have to consult with the Republicans in his conference who are in favor of this reform, but so far he’s been blocking it.”
Based on these comments, it seems increasingly clear that the effort to enact SAFE Banking through the must-pass defense bill faces a tough road ahead. And despite bipartisan support for the proposal on its own, it’s an open question as to whether the negotiators in committees of jurisdiction will be able to reach a consensus.
At an initial meeting of the House Rules Committee about NDAA on Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), who is managing the bill for the chamber, acknowledged that while some members might consider certain amendments “superfluous” to defense spending matters, the annual legislation has been used as a vehicle to advance non-germane legislation in the past. He added, though, that doing so has historically required the issues at hand to have broad bipartisan support in order to survive the House-Senate conference committee process.
He didn’t specifically cite the cannabis banking proposal, but Perlmutter himself said earlier in the hearing that “whether something is superfluous is always in the eyes of the beholder,” signaling that he feels his measure’s germaneness in this context is up for interpretation.
Smith said that “whatever superfluous items the Rules Committee decides to put in order and get attached to this bill, we go to conference, and in conference, we work in a bipartisan fashion.”
But beyond Smith and Reed, it will also be up to leading members of key committees that handle banking issues to decide whether the measure gets a ride to the president’s desk in NDAA.
“We’re not going to pull one over on anybody here. We’re going to have to work with committees of jurisdiction—not just the chairs, but the ranking members as well—to come to some agreement on those before we go forward,” he said. “So if you see an item that you consider to be superfluous being added to the bill, don’t freak out.”
The chair’s comments about needing support from leaders of committees of jurisdiction raise questions about whether the amendment stands a chance in conference with the Senate following House approval. Not only did House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) vote against the standalone SAFE Banking Act this year and in 2019, but on the Senate side, even Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has been generally unenthusiastic about advancing the reform.
On the flip side, House Finance Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) is a supporter of the banking reform and brought it through her panel last Congress. Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA), for his part, has previously voiced support for advancing the SAFE Banking Act.
Perlmutter has said that he appreciates that Senate leadership is pushing for a more comprehensive end to federal marijuana prohibition—and he agrees with Booker that promoting social equity is an important objective—but he feels the SAFE Banking Act is urgently needed to address public safety issues resulting from the industry’s lack of access to traditional financial institutions.
Some of the strongest proponents for broad reform like Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act in April despite the body yet having taken up a legalization measure this session.
Mississippi Lawmakers Reach Deal On Medical Marijuana Legalization, Plan To Request Special Session
Lawmakers reached a deal on key provisions such as which agencies should be responsible for regulating the medical cannabis market.
By Geoff Pender, Mississippi Today
Legislative negotiators and leaders have agreed on a draft of medical marijuana legislation, and are anticipated to ask Gov. Tate Reeves (R) as early as Friday to call the Legislature into special session, sources close to the negotiations said Thursday.
Legislative leaders on Thursday released some details of the proposal—which had been kept close to the vest for months—such as that cities and counties will be allowed to “opt out” of having medical marijuana cultivation or dispensaries, although local voters can override this.
Negotiations have dragged on throughout the summer on crafting a medical marijuana program to replace one passed by Mississippi voters in November but shot down in May by the state Supreme Court on a constitutional technicality.
House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) in a Thursday interview on a Supertalk radio show said he believed the House and Senate leadership and negotiators are “in agreement” on a draft bill, and he believes both chambers have the votes to pass such a measure. He said he planned to get together with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann (R), then barring any last minute glitches “inform the governor we are ready.”
Other sources close to the negotiations on Thursday told Mississippi Today they anticipate that request to the governor would happen as soon as Friday. Reeves has sole authority to call lawmakers into special session, and would set the date and parameters of a special session. Although legislative leaders have expressed interest in dealing with COVID-19 and other issues in a special session, Reeves has appeared unwilling but said he would call a session for medical marijuana, pending lawmakers are in agreement and he agrees with the measure.
Gunn in his radio interview on Thursday gave some particulars of the bill, but said “don’t hold me to it” and deferred to Rep. Lee Yancey, (R), the lead House negotiator on the measure. Yancey has worked with Sen. Kevin Blackwell, (R), the lead Senate negotiator. Blackwell could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.
Yancey gave Mississippi Today some highlights of the draft bill, which would be subject to changes by the full Legislature. They include:
Cities and counties could opt out. Voters could opt back in. City councils or aldermen, or county boards of supervisors, within 60 days of passage of legislation, could opt out from allowing cultivation or dispensing of medical marijuana within their borders. However, voters could gather 1,500 signatures, or signatures of 20 percent of voters, whichever is less, and force a referendum on the issue. If such a referendum to allow it fails, voters could try again in two years, similar to state alcohol referenda. Yancey said that under the draft measure, “Once it’s in, it’s in,” meaning once approved, a locality could not come back and ban it.
“This gives businesses the certainty they need to get started,” Yancey said. “No licenses will be issued the first 60 days after passage for cultivation and processing, and licenses (for cannabis use) and dispensaries wouldn’t start until the 90th day.”
Smoking cannabis would be allowed. There had been debate on whether Mississippi’s program would allow smoking of cannabis by patients, as most states with programs allow, or prohibit it, as Alabama does with its recently approved program.
“There are those who have certain debilitating conditions who need the effects of medical cannabis to take effect immediately,” Yancey said. “Ingesting a gummy or something like that could take 45 minutes to an hour. Whether it’s terrible seizures or pain and suffering or not being able to eat, there are those who need relief as immediately as possible… There are those who look at this from a bias of recreational use, but that’s not apples to apples, not fair. There are people who are suffering, who need the palliative relieve medical cannabis can provide, and our main goal is to allow people who are suffering terrible illnesses to get relief.”
Medical marijuana would be subject to sales tax and an excise. The state’s sales tax, currently at 7 percent, would be levied on medical marijuana, as well as a $15 an ounce excise. Yancey said the goal was to have a 5 percent excise, but that going rates for marijuana vary by potency and product, so the weight-based tax was the easiest way to get near that mark. Weight for edibles and other product would be based on the cannabis weight, not food or other product. Yancey said this tax rate would put Mississippi roughly in the middle of states with legalized medical cannabis.
“The going rate for mid-range (marijuana flower) is about $300 an ounce, so if you do the math, $15 an ounce would be around the 5%,” Yancey said. “If a product sold for lower, you would pay higher than that rate, if sold for more, you would pay less.”
Outdoor growing would not be allowed. Lawmakers during hearings this summer were told by officials from other states that regulating growing and safety of medical marijuana is easier with indoor growing facilities.
State Health Department would be in charge, with Department of Revenue, Agriculture Commission sharing some responsibilities. The Mississippi State Department of Health would oversee the state’s medical marijuana program, but the state’s taxing and agriculture agencies would share some regulatory duties. State Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson has told lawmakers he will not participate in regulating medical marijuana because marijuana is still federally illegal. Gipson has threatened to sue if lawmakers try to force him to participate.
Yancey said the proposal would allow Gipson to subcontract growing regulations to someone else.
“For instance, if the Board of Pharmacy said it was interested in regulating the plants—like they do with compounding pharmacies—they could do it,” Yancey said. “In a sense Andy wouldn’t have to do it himself, he could farm it out, no pun intended.”
Preference would be given to in-state companies. Yancey said cultivators would be licensed in tiers—from “micro cultivators” to large ones, based on square footage of canopy space. Micro growers, under 2,000 square feet, would have to be “100 percent Mississippi resident participation.” Larger ones initially would have to have 35 percent Mississippi ownership, but that requirement would be repealed after one year. Yancey said this could help Mississippians be involved in the business, but help the state avoid lawsuits other states have faced from out-of-state growers. Yancey said there would be a similar setup for processors, based on amount of pounds of product they produce.
Potency would be regulated. Yancey said there would be THC potency limits of 30 percent on flower, 60 percent on concentrates and infused products. He said any product above 30 percent THC would have to have a warning label.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Feds Fund Study Into Whether Psilocybin Can Help People Quit Smoking Cigarettes
A top federal drug agency is funding a study into how psilocybin could help people quit smoking cigarettes—one of the latest examples of the government’s growing interest in psychedelic therapy.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently approved the grant, which will enable researchers at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), New York University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to explore how so-called magic mushrooms can help people curb their addiction to cigarettes.
Matthew Johnson, a professor at JHU who will be a lead investigator in the study, announced the grant funding on Monday. He said he believes that this is the “first grant from the US government in over a half century to directly study therapeutics of a classic psychedelic.”
The research initiative will be a “multi-center, high-risk clinical study” into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin in tobacco addiction. It would build on earlier research that’s indicated that the psychedelic could play a valuable role in substance misuse disorders.
“This is extremely encouraging. Public funding for psychedelic science is critical,” Peter Hendricks, a University of Alabama professor who will be involved in the study, told Truffle Report. “My hope is that this opens the door to further scientific inquiry, and ultimately, the advancement of a treatment paradigm that has the potential to alleviate suffering across the globe.”
Johnson at JHU has been proposing a pilot study into the medical value of psilocybin for this treatment since 2014, stressing in a paper for the Journal of Psychopharmacology at the time that “despite suggestive early findings on the therapeutic use of hallucinogens in the treatment of substance use disorders, rigorous follow-up has not been conducted.”
Now NIDA is putting money toward the research project. But the parameters of the study and the level of funding is unclear. Johnson didn’t reply to several requests for comment.
There’s a sense of urgency to invest in psychedelics research, especially given that a new federal survey identified a rise in the use of hallucinogenic among young adults at the same time that alcohol consumption is declining.
NIDA Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that the increased media attention to psychedelics research, and the reform movement to loosen restrictions on these substances, is contributing to that trend.
“People start to discover the potential that these drugs have for therapeutics and the current trials that are ongoing,” she said. “This takes on a momentum because the ideal world of having a drug that can cure things very dramatically [is appealing].”
It makes sense that JHU would be take a lead role in the NIDA-backed research project.
Researchers at the university have been studying psychedelics for decades, and in 2019, it launched a first-of-its-kind psychedelics research center. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research has focused primarily on potential therapeutic uses for psychedelics, such as smoking cessation and treatment for depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia and opioid withdrawal.
Interest in the therapeutic potential of psychedelics is growing, and there are some early signals that the issue may even be bipartisan.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a veteran who recently moderated a conversation with a top psychedelics reform advocate, recently filed an amendment to a defense bill that would have allowed the secretary of defense to approve grants for research into the medical value of certain psychedelics such as MDMA, psilocybin, ibogaine and 5–MeO–DMT for active duty military members with post-traumatic stress disorder. That measure wasn’t allowed a House floor vote to the large-scale legislation, however, but it’s another example of how the issue is gaining momentum at the highest levels of government.
A former Republican congresswoman also recently touted the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics, sharing the story of how a close family friend was able to recover from alcoholism with the help of psilocybin.
The psychedelics reform movement is also continuing to grow.
Last week, California activists were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.
Detroit could also become one of the next Michigan cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with the reform proposal making the local ballot for this November.
The Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. Advocates have also introduced a reform resolution to the Grand Rapids City Council.
Oregon voters passed an initiative last November to legalize psilocybin therapy.
Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.
Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led a 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have their eyes set on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.
Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change are: Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge. In July, state lawmakers heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
The governor of Connecticut recently signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction. In response, the task force issued a recommendation for the widespread decriminalization of all drugs. The group said psychedelics in particular could represent a promising treatment to address substance abuse disorders and mental health issues.
Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon activists are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee this week.
When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.