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.
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.