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Minnesota House-Passed Bill To Allow Whole-Plant Medical Marijuana Killed By Senate

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In a lackluster finish Sunday night to Minnesota’s scheduled legislative session, Senate Republicans voted to kill provision the House passed a day earlier that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to purchase raw, whole-plant forms of cannabis.

The vote came as lawmakers left piles of unfinished business on the table ahead of an end-of-session deadline on Monday. Legislative leaders indicated they’ll be back for a special session June 12, but Senate Majority Leader Paul E. Gazelka (R) said  that lawmakers will likely focus on bills “just for COVID-19.”

In other words, patients and medical marijuana advocates will probably have to wait until this fall for another chance to overturn the state’s ban on marijuana flower.

“Next year!” tweeted state Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL). “We got you!”

Since Minnesota’s medical marijuana program launched in 2015, the state has banned sales of raw cannabis flower, allowing access to only extracts in the form of liquids, pills and vaporized oils. While supporters of the whole-plant ban say it’s a necessary step to prevent smoking, medical marijuana advocates argue the policy has driven up costs while limiting treatment options.

An amendment to a health care omnibus bill approved by the House of Representatives on Saturday would have removed the prohibition on whole plant marijuana and specifically allowed for “raw cannabis.” But around noon on Sunday, the Senate voted to table that version of the omnibus bill after pushback from Senate Republicans. Hours later, senators passed a separate omnibus bill with the medical marijuana provision removed.

As the Minnesota chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) noted on Sunday, Senate Republicans seemed to reject the House omnibus bill specifically because of the marijuana amendment. A version of the legislation without the provision “passed the Senate unanimously 10 days ago,” the group observed. “The only change the House made was to amend the bill to allow raw cannabis for medical cannabis patients and move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.” (A third House amendment barred age-related macular degeneration from the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.)

Just a day earlier, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL) had expressed hope about the amended bill’s chances in the other chamber, saying on the House floor Saturday that he believed the Senate “agrees with” the proposal.

Sensible Change Minnesota, a drug-reform advocacy group, tweeted that the group had been told “the Senate GOP dug their heels in, and forced an agreement on the health policy bill, removing the #patientsfirst language adding raw cannabis.”

Strictly speaking, the change wouldn’t have allowed the combustion or smoking of medical marijuana. The amendment appeared in a paragraph dealing with vaporized marijuana products, replacing a provision prohibiting “dried leaves or plant form” with an allowance for “raw cannabis.” But because there’s no meaningful difference between flower meant to be vaporized and flower meant to be smoked, the shift would have ultimately made it easier for patients to legally obtain products that they could smoke if they chose to.

Advocates point out that some patients, such as people with terminal diseases, may not be concerned by the health hazards of smoking. Other patients report that inhaled cannabis flower—whether smoked or vaporized—is more effective for treating their symptoms than other marijuana products.

The ban on whole-plant marijuana “drives up costs, threatens the financial viability of cannabis businesses, and deprives patients of access to the form of medicine that works best for many,” the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project wrote in a letter it asked supporters to send to Minnesota senators prior to their vote. “Several other states initially forbade whole plant cannabis but reversed course after realizing it was harmful to patients to do so.”

Sunday’s failure of the marijuana amendment doesn’t bode well for the chances of an even more ambitious ongoing effort in Minnesota, at least in the short term. Earlier this month, Winkler unveiled a comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older. The 222-page bill would tax and regulate commercial sales of the drug, expunge past marijuana-related convictions, encourage a craft cannabis industry, prioritize social equity in business licensing and even explicitly require local governments to allow state-licensed marijuana businesses, something most state cannabis laws haven’t done.

But despite teasing the new legislation as “the best legalization bill in the country,” Winkler has already acknowledged that it could have a hard time winning Senate approval. In February, he said it was “highly likely that it will take more than one year to get it done.”

The Senate’s staunch rejection Sunday of the whole-plant provision for medical marijuana patients could be an early sign of an even more contentious cannabis fight to come.

Louisiana House Approves Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition, Along With Delivery Services

This story has been updated with the correct first name of a lawmaker.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing

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A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.

As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.

It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.

“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”

The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.

“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.

In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.

She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.

Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.

Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below: 

Norton cannabis housing bill by Marijuana Moment

Drug Possession Is Officially A Crime Again In Washington, But As A Misdemeanor Instead Of Felony

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.

Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.

The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.

MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.

The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.

“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”

Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.

It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.

Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”

This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.

FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.

The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Ballot Campaign After Legislative Filibuster Blocks Bill

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Missouri Regulators Derail Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Disclosure Effort With Veto Threat

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Missouri regulators say they feel requiring medical marijuana business license ownership disclosures under a House-approved amendment could be unconstitutional, and they may urge the governor to veto the legislation. 

By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent

An effort by lawmakers to require disclosure of ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses was derailed on Thursday, when state regulators suggested a possible gubernatorial veto.

On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted to require the Department of Health and Senior Services provide legislative oversight committees with records regarding who owns the businesses licensed to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana.

The provision was added as an amendment to another bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations.

Its sponsor, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said DHSS’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program. He pointed to recent analysis by The Independent and The Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state that found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.

The state constitution prohibits the state from issuing more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.

On Thursday, a conference committee met to work out differences in the underlying bill between the House and Senate.

Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Battlefield and the bill’s sponsor, called the medical marijuana amendment an “awesome idea. I think it’s awesome.”

However, he said opposition from the department puts the entire bill in jeopardy.

“The department came to me,” he said, “and said they felt that this was unconstitutional.”

DHSS has justified withholding information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”

Alex Tuttle, a lobbyist for DHSS, said if the bill were to pass with the medical marijuana amendment still attached, the department may recommend Gov. Mike Parson veto it.

The threat of a veto proved persuasive, as several members of the conference committee expressed apprehension about the idea of the amendment sinking the entire bill.

Merideth said the department’s conclusion is incorrect. And besides, he said, the amendment is narrowly tailored so that the information wouldn’t be made public. It would only be turned over to legislative oversight committees.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, chairman of the special committee on government oversight, said the amendment is essential to ensure state regulators “are following the constitution, that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

The medical marijuana program has faced intense scrutiny in the two years since it was created by voters.

A House committee spent months looking into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.

In November 2019, DHSS received a grand jury subpoena, which was issued by the United States District Court for the Western District. It demanded the agency turn over all records pertaining to four medical marijuana license applications.

The copy of the subpoena that was made public redacted the identity of the four applicants at the request of the FBI. Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation, later said during a deposition that the subpoena wasn’t directed at the department but rather was connected to an FBI investigation center in Independence.

More recently, Parson faced criticism for a fundraiser with medical marijuana business owners for his political action committee, Uniting Missouri.

The group reported raising $45,000 in large donations from the fundraiser. More than half of that money came from a PAC connected to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist with numerous medical marijuana clients who has been under FBI scrutiny for more than a year.

This story was first published by Missouri Independent.

GOP Senator Who Trashed Marijuana Banking Amendment Years Ago Is Now Cosponsoring Reform Bill

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