A county prosecutor in Michigan announced on Tuesday that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing marijuana or entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca — “regardless of the amount at issue.”
Eli Savit, who was elected as prosecuting attorney in Washtenaw County in November, said state and local policy changes have underscored the need to end the drug war and cease criminalizing people over cannabis and psychedelics. He also said that his office will not contest applications for marijuana- or entheogen-related expungements.
Let’s start with marijuana—or cannabis. As our policy outlines, it’s important to consider the history of the substance; the racially disparate effects of criminalization; its properties; & the current legal landscape.
— Eli Savit (@EliNSavit) January 12, 2021
In a pair of directives, Savit gave background on laws governing cannabis and psychedelics, stressing racial disparities in enforcement and the relatively low risk the substances pose to public health. Additionally, the prosecutor emphasized that Michigan has legalized marijuana for adult use and Ann Arbor opted to decriminalize entheogenic substances last year.
In September, shortly after being elected, Savit discussed his plans to enact the reforms, calling the drug was an “abject failure.”
“The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer file criminal charges for unauthorized use or possession of marijuana or cannabis, regardless of the amount at issue,” the new directive states. That’s despite the fact that there are possession limits written into the state’s cannabis law and criminal penalties for exceeding that threshold.
“We’ve long known that marijuana is as safe as alcohol. It thus makes no more sense to charge someone for having ‘too much’ cannabis than it does to charge people for having ‘too many’ bottles of wine,” Savit wrote on Twitter. “And we won’t, any longer.”
Today’s policy fills those gaps.
We’ve long known that marijuana is as safe as alcohol. It thus makes no more sense to charge someone for having “too much” cannabis than it does to charge people for having “too many” bottles of wine.
And we won’t, any longer. /8 pic.twitter.com/4nLjDcBDzX
— Eli Savit (@EliNSavit) January 12, 2021
When it comes to distribution, the notice says there will be “a general presumption against filing criminal charges” for small-scale sales, but they will still be able to pursue charges related to large-scale distribution, depending on a number of factors such as the amount of money involved and the “clientele to whom cannabis was being sold.”
“The Prosecutor’s Office will not contest any application for expungement where the underlying charge was for the possession, use, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana,” the directive continues. “This policy applies both to marijuana-related conduct that is now lawful in the aftermath of 2018’s Proposal 1, as well as marijuana-related conduct that is not.”
For entheogenic substances, Savit’s notice similarly says it is ending prosecutions for possession or use of the psychedelics. And as with marijuana, distribution cases will be handled on a discretionary basis depending on whether the prosecutor’s office defines the activity as small-scale or large-scale.
“Criminalization of entheogenic plants simply doesn’t make sense,” the prosecutor said. “They’re not addictive. They don’t cause violent behavior. And other jurisdictions have successfully decriminalized them without any negative consequences.”
Last fall, Ann Arbor’s City Council unanimously adopted a resolution making entheogenic plants the “lowest law enforcement priority.”
With such plants functionally decriminalized in our largest city, it would be arbitrary to keep charging people in other parts of Washtenaw. /11 pic.twitter.com/E1rDRWyeC0
— Eli Savit (@EliNSavit) January 12, 2021
Expungement applications for convictions related to the plants and fungi will also go uncontested.
It’s time to move forward from the unjust & inequitable policies of the past, particularly relating to prohibitionist systems.
Today’s announcements are a first step. More is coming, very very soon. /fin.
— Eli Savit (@EliNSavit) January 12, 2021
Savit said that the new policies are a recognition that “it’s time to move forward from the unjust & inequitable policies of the past, particularly relating to prohibitionist systems.”
“Today’s announcements are a first step,” he said. “More is coming, very very soon.”
This is the latest example of prosecutors proactively reforming drug policies within their jurisdictions following voter-led or legislative change.
In Oregon, for example, three prosecutors have announced that they’d stop pursuing drug possession cases following voters’ approval of a decriminalization initiative in November—even though it doesn’t formally take effect until February.
Reform has also come at the gubernatorial level in Michigan and elsewhere in the form of clemency and expungement actions. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) in December granted clemency to four currently incarcerated people who are serving time for non-violent drug offenses, including one 69-year-old man whose lengthy sentence for marijuana has been widely criticized by advocates and the state’s attorney general.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) pardoned thousands of people who had previously been convicted of cannabis possession in December 2019 prior to the first legal marijuana sales in the state. He said in October that more cannabis clemency was coming. He followed up on that action last month, announcing more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level marijuana offenses on their records.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) used a recently enacted law to grant nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.
In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor and Board of Pardons Commissioners.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has also issued pardons for cannabis offenses.
Meanwhile, a coalition of civil rights and drug policy reform groups has called on the governor of New Jersey to systematically issue pardons for people with marijuana convictions to supplement the state’s voter-approved move to legalize cannabis.
Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill
The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.
His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.
I have filed #SAFEBanking as an amendment to #AmericaCOMPETES b/c cannabis-related businesses – big and small – are in desperate need of access to capital & the banking system in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner & compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) January 28, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”
It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.
The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.
Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures
Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.
This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.
“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.
A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”
While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.
The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.
“The higher the content of THC, the greater the likelihood that you will become addicted to the drug… The content of THC has gone up at least 4-fold.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.
The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.
That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.
“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.
Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.
“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”
The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.
She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”
However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.
“We need to provide them [addicts] with treatment, so just to say ok we are going to liberalize everything… and not support treatment for those people under those conditions, I actually think it is quite irresponsible.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.
She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.