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Minnesota Marijuana Parties May Have Helped Republicans Win Key Races, Hurting Legalization’s Chances

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Paradoxically, the two cannabis parties’ success may wind up hurting the cause of legal marijuana. By siphoning votes from the DFL and helping Republicans, legal marijuana is less likely to pass, as the Senate GOP killed a legalization bill in committee in 2019.

By Max Nesterak, Minnesota Reformer

Marijuana legalization candidates may have played a decisive role in key races in Minnesota, potentially propelling U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn to reelection and helping Republicans maintain control of the state Senate.

Although the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party may end up eking out victories once more absentee ballots are counted, party officials insist the state’s two marijuana parties acted as a drag on their effort to gain control of the Legislature in one of the most pivotal elections in recent memory.

Paradoxically, the two cannabis parties’ success may wind up hurting the cause of legal marijuana. By siphoning votes from the DFL and helping Republicans, legal marijuana is less likely to pass, as the Senate GOP killed a legalization bill in committee in 2019.

The issue performed well across the country in Tuesday’s election, with four more states passing referendums legalizing marijuana—New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota—bringing the total to 15.

The pot parties’ strong performance in Minnesota, however, had the opposite effect, helping ensure the defeat of the legalization movement in the state for at least another election cycle. Unlike other states, ballot initiatives in Minnesota must be approved by the Legislature. The GOP-controlled Senate has staunchly opposed such an effort.

The head of the Legal Marijuana Now Party Tim Davis knows this.

“Republicans are the biggest problem in Minnesota,” Davis said. “The Republicans are the only thing that has stopped it. And they will stop it again.”

The DFL needed to flip two state senate seats and they would have taken control and been able to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana.

A marijuana candidate seems to have affected at least one state senate race, with Gene Dornink edging out Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, by just over 1,500 votes. Legal Marijuana Now candidate Tyler Becvar won over 2,500 votes. Becvar posted a video for his putative opponent Dornink on his Facebook page in May, according to a screenshot obtained by the Reformer. His Facebook page was also filled with support for President Donald Trump and attacks on Democrats.

Aric Putnam, the DFL challenger to Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, looks to have won his race despite the marijuana candidate pulling down over 3,000 votes. Putnam is currently ahead by less than 300 votes, but that gap is likely to widen as more absentee ballots are counted.

Putnam says he supports legalizing marijuana. Activists with NORML, a marijuana legalization group, held an event in Putnam’s district to register voters and tell them not to vote for Legal Marijuana Candidate Jaden Partlow.

“They were just as disturbed as I was to see an issue they care about weaponized for partisan gain,” Putnam said.

Relph was unavailable for comment.

The Legal Marijuana Now candidate scored above 5% in the U.S. Senate race, which is one the thresholds for securing major party status for another two general elections, which would mean getting on the ballot without onerous signature gathering. Both pot parties will have major party status in 2022.

In the 1st Congressional District, cannabis candidate Bill Rood won 21,000 votes, well above the margin of victory for U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn over Dan Feehan.

While Democrats decry them as spoilers, Davis, the Legal Marijana Now Party chair, balks at the suggestion that the marijuana parties shouldn’t run candidates even if it would help their cause. He said Democrats are “sore losers” and expressed his devotion to third party politics even if it backfires.

“Most of the people in America accept the duopoly. They accept the (expletive) they’re living in as the best pile of (expletive) they can get,” Davis said. “And when somebody tries to change it, they think somebody’s thrown a wrench into the sprocket of what’s working … the system’s not working.”

Where Davis saw a place to take a stand against the system, Republicans saw an opening.

As the Reformer reported in June, several marijuana party candidates across the state have ties to the GOP.

Robyn Smith admitted she was recruited by a Republican to run for state senate against Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, and DFL challenger Rita Albrecht. Smith won 6% of the vote, but that race turned out to be far less competitive than expected with Eichorn winning reelection by a healthy margin.

Weeks won nearly 6% of the vote—more than the margin between Craig and Republican opponent Tyler Kistner—despite his death a month and a half earlier, which embroiled the race in a flurry of lawsuits. Since both marijuana parties earned major party status in 2018, Weeks’ death triggered a special election, which was then overturned by a federal judge.

In a voicemail leaked to the Star Tribune, Weeks is heard telling a friend he was recruited by Republicans to siphon votes away from Craig in her tough reelection bid against Kistner. Craig won her seat in 2018 from Jason Lewis after losing to him in 2016.

“They want me to run as a third-party, liberal candidate, which I’m down. I can play the liberal, you know that,” Weeks said in the message.

That people would take advantage of the legalization movement’s popularity was a foreseeable yet unavoidable outcome of the marijuana parties’ electoral successes, driven by the popular desire to legalize marijuana.

“We always said, ‘What if we get to be a major party status—then this is something we have to worry about,” said Marty Super, outgoing chair of Legal Marijuana Now Party, in an interview with the Reformer earlier this year.

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin said he doesn’t blame the marijuana parties for not having the power to screen out interlopers and instead blasted Republicans for what he called a highly unethical and potentially illegal strategy.

“If you can’t win fair and square on the merits of your own ideas and the strength of your own candidates then you don’t deserve the majority.” Martin said.

Davis, the current Legal Marijuana Now Party chair, says the DFL are responsible for their own losses.

“The Democrats do not have faith in their candidates enough to beat a Republican if we are involved. But that is their problem, not ours,” Davis said.

Martin said there’s more to the DFL’s disappointing night than just the marijuana parties, but he called Davis’ response a “bull(expletive) answer.”

This story was first published by The Minnesota Reformer.

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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

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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.

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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.

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