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Montana Marijuana Activists Will Begin Signature Gathering For Legalization Measure With New Safety Protocols

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Montana activists announced on Thursday that they will proceed with a signature gathering drive for a marijuana legalization initiative, and they laid out multiple internal policies that will be in place to protect circulators and the public during the coronavirus pandemic.

New Approach Montana is behind two proposed ballot measures: one statutory initiative to establish a regulated cannabis market for adult use as well as a constitutional amendment stipulating that only those 21 and older can participate in the market.

Faced with a stay-at-home order and social distancing requirements, the campaign filed a lawsuit imploring a court to allow them to collect signatures digitally. It also requested an extension of the deadline to submit petitions. But after a judge dismissed that case last month—and because the state is gradually reopening—the group said it is moving ahead with plans to collect signatures in person, albeit under strict policies to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.

“As our state reopens for business, we must also reopen for democracy,” Pepper Petersen, political director for New Approach Montana, said in a press release. “Our signature drive will allow Montana voters to exercise their constitutional right to a ballot initiative in a safe and responsible way.”

Circulators must adhere to a number of requirements, including a mandate to wear disposal gloves and use single-use wrapped pens, discarding them after each signature. The must wear masks at all times, except on breaks. Hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes will be provided to them. They must maintain six feet of distance from the public, and tables will be set up so that they can witness people signing without getting close. They will also be issued disposable clear plastic bags to carry their supplies in, while backbacks and other reusable storage solutions will not be allowed.

Joan Miles, a former director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, reviewed the campaign’s plan and determined that they satisfy government mandates.

“I am encouraged to see the concentrated effort that New Approach Montana is putting forth to protect the health of Montanans as it moves forward with its signature gathering,” she said. “New Approach Montana is closely following the governor’s phase one recommendations for return to public life in light of the COVID pandemic, so their signature drive looks different than it did before the pandemic. The protocols they have put in place to lessen public risk are very considerate.”

The policies the campaign is putting in place may enable them to collect signatures in a semi-traditional manner, but the restrictions also represent an additional challenge as they work to collect about 25,000 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory legalization measure and 51,000 needed for the constitutional proposal concerning age requirements. Those petitions must be submitted by June 19.

Petersen said that while the campaign was disappointed in the court ruling on electronic signature collection, “attempting a conventional signature drive is our only path to ballot qualification.”

“Our team has taken a very conservative and cautious approach, and this is going to be the most public health-focused signature drive ever conducted in Montana,” he said. “Our circulators will be trained to follow specific protocols so that we can limit direct contact with signers to the greatest degree possible.”

Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform efforts throughout the country: 

Like in Montana, activists behind a campaign to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska are holding out hope that they will qualify for their state’s ballot and recently unveiled a new strategy amid the pandemic that also includes using disposable pens and social distancing measures.

North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.

In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort are petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.

A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law also asked for a digital petitioning option.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 last month due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded last month that the 2020 legalization push is “effectively over” in the legislature. Coronavirus shifted priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

California activists had hoped to get a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s November ballot, but the campaign stalled out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers in Oregon are holding out hope that a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes will make the ballot. The campaign already collected enough raw signatures to qualify, though they’ve yet to be validated.

Also in Oregon, a separate proposed ballot measure would decriminalize possession of all illicit drugs and use existing marijuana tax revenue to fund expanded treatment services.

Activists in Washington State are also working on a similar drug decriminalization and treatment measure.

Washington, D.C. activists behind a psychedelics decriminalization campaign are more confident that they will be able to make the ballot after the District Council voted in favor of a series of changes to signature gathering protocol on Tuesday. Their petition was approved by the Board of Elections on Wednesday. The campaign also has a new strategy to test the waters and deliver petitions and mailers directly to voters who could then sign and send them back to their headquarters.

Prior to the outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

This story has been updated with a revised statement from Petersen.

Louisiana Lawmakers Vote To Allow Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition And Legalize Delivery Services

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Trump Reelection Campaign Attacks Biden As ‘Architect’ Of The War On Drugs

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President Trump’s reelection campaign is seizing on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s record as a chief sponsor and champion of punitive anti-drug laws that have contributed to mass incarceration.

In a blog post on Tuesday, the campaign attacked Biden as a “typical Washington career politician who spent decades building up America’s mass incarceration system and poisoning the public discourse with race-baiting, divisive and inflammatory remarks.”

Biden’s role in authoring bills ramping up the war on drugs during his time in the Senate is also being featured in a Trump 2020 video ad—signaling that the president is angling to present himself as the drug policy reform candidate as the November election approaches.

“Biden hasn’t just stoked America’s racial divisions over the course of his decades in Washington,” the blog post on donaldjtrump.com, which was later shared on Twitter by the technically unaffiliated super PAC America First, states. “Biden was the chief architect of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, which targeted Black Americans.”

“Biden voted to extend minimum penalties for people under 21 charged with selling marijuana, and introduced the civil forfeiture legislation which allows the government to seize assets of citizens accused of drug crimes,” the campaign blog post continues. “Biden helped write the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created the 100:1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity and disproportionately targeted minority communities.”

“Biden’s self-imagined reinvention as a racial healer is laughable and requires memory-holing decades of racially inflammatory rhetoric.”

In the video ad released last month, the Trump campaign said that mass incarceration “has put hundreds of thousands behind bars for minor offenses. Joe Biden wrote those laws.”

“Joe Biden’s policies destroyed millions of black lives” due to his role in advancing anti-drug laws and other criminal justice policies, it states. “Joe Biden may not remember. But we do.”

The campaign first indicated it would be highlighting criminal justice reform when it aired an ad during the Super Bowl in February touting the president’s commutation of a person convicted of a nonviolent drug offense.

Drug reform advocates have made similar criticisms of the former vice president, arguing that his record does not bode well for the prospects of comprehensive policy changes in the U.S. criminal justice system. His ongoing opposition to adult-use marijuana legalization has also been a source of frustration, despite his recent support for more modest proposals such as decriminalizing possession, allowing medical cannabis, federal rescheduling, expunging past convictions and letting states set their own laws.

That said, while the Trump administration has taken certain modest bipartisan steps—such as signing sentencing reform legislation, granting clemency to certain individuals with prior federal drug convictions and voicing support for states’ rights when it comes to cannabis legalization—the image of a uniformly pro-reform president that the campaign is attempting to present isn’t the full picture.

“Joe Biden’s record on drug policy is quite abysmal given his role in the 1994 Crime Bill and as one of the lead advocates for increased mandatory minimum sentences and other policies that inflamed our crisis of mass incarceration in this country,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Unfortunately, despite not having a long legislative record like Biden for direct comparison, Donald Trump’s history as it relates to racial justice and drug policy is also quite horrendous.”

Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded Obama-era guidance known as the Cole memo. Under that directive, federal prosecutors were advised not to pursue action against individuals for state-legal cannabis-related activity, except under a select set of circumstances.

Also, while Trump has voiced support for medical cannabis legalization, he’s on several occasions released signing statements on spending legislation stipulating that he reserves the right to ignore a long-standing rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.

Trump also asked Congress to end the medical cannabis protections as part of his fiscal year 2021 budget plan—something the Obama administration also previously did to no avail.

Despite his pledged support for medical cannabis and states’ rights, Trump evidently holds some negative views toward marijuana consumption, as evidenced in a recording from 2018 that was leaked two years later. In that recording, the president said that using cannabis makes people “lose IQ points.”

Another controversial administrative action concerns immigrants and marijuana. In April 2019, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo stating that using marijuana or engaging in cannabis-related “activities” such as working for a dispensary—even in states where it’s legal—is an immoral offense that makes immigrants ineligible for citizenship.

In December 2019, the Justice Department issued a notice that it was seeking to make certain marijuana offenses, including misdemeanor possession, grounds to deny asylum to migrants.

In February 2020, the president applauded countries that impose the death penalty for drug traffickers—a point he’s repeatedly been known to make, according to a report from Axios.

Meanwhile, though the president’s reelection campaign is presenting him as a criminal justice reformer, Trump himself in recent days has embraced the slogan of “law and order” as he has seemed to endorse violent law enforcement responses to people protesting police killings of black Americans.

Altieri of NORML said that despite these conflicting statements and administrative actions, the Trump campaign “does seem to understand by putting forth this outreach is that marijuana law reform and ending our failed War on Drugs are popular positions with the majority of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.”

“All candidates should be putting forth comprehensive plans on how they will address cannabis and criminal justice reform if they are in the White House in 2021, but as of yet we’ve seen mostly lip service and finger pointing in lieu of real solutions,” he said.

The White House Is Reviewing CBD And Marijuana Research Guidance From FDA

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The White House Is Reviewing CBD And Marijuana Research Guidance From FDA

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The White House is currently reviewing a federal plan for marijuana and CBD research.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submitted draft guidance on the issue last week to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Details about the document—titled “Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Compounds: Quality Considerations for Clinical Research”—are sparse. But an FDA spokesperson indicated to Marijuana Moment that it’s related to the agency’s ongoing work to develop broader CBD regulations that could eventually allow for the marketing of cannabis products as dietary supplements or food items.

“We recognize that there is substantial public interest in marketing and accessing CBD for a variety of products. We are working toward a goal of providing additional guidance, and have made substantial progress,” FDA said in a statement. “There are many questions to explore regarding the science, safety, effectiveness and quality of products containing CBD, and we need to do our due diligence.”

“As part of our work, the FDA continues to explore potential pathways for various types of CBD products to be lawfully marketed,” the statement continues. “An important component of this work is obtaining and evaluating information to address outstanding questions related to the safety of CBD products that will inform our consideration of potential regulatory frameworks for CBD while maintaining the FDA’s rigorous public health standards.”

What remains to be seen is whether FDA plans to wait for this specific guidance to be finalized and for the resulting research to be completed before it gets around to issuing final rules for CBD products in general. Stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting those regulations so they can fully take advantage of the legalization of hemp and its derivatives.

“We will continue to update the public about our path forward as our work progresses, and provide information that is based on sound science and data,” FDA said.

While sending the guidance to OMB could be interpreted as a positive development signaling that FDA is making progress on the development of regulations, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Saturday that White House policies requiring OMB to review scientific documents in the first place represent an onerous step that’s delayed the issuance of guidance.

The FDA spokesperson declined to comment on the former commissioner’s statement.

The agency first announced in January that it planned to publish guidance on cannabis research this year. It’s not clear how long the OMB review will take or when the document will be finalized for public release.

In addition to sending the guidance to the White House for review, FDA is also soliciting public input about the safety and efficacy of CBD in comment period it has decided to keep open indefinitely. The agency said in an update to Congress in March that it has several specific questions it wants answered before deciding whether the cannabidiol can be lawfully marketed. That includes questions about the impact of different methods of consumption and drug interactions.

In the meantime, FDA is maintaining enforcement discretion when it comes to action against companies that sell CBD products regardless of the lack of regulations and has said it is currently targeting sellers that make especially outlandish or unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic value of their products.

It sent a warning letter to a CBD company owned by a former NFL player after advertisements it displayed suggested its products could treat and prevent a coronavirus infection, for example.

FDA sent a letter warning to a company about its marketing of injectable CBD products that led to a voluntary recall last month.

The agency also publicized a voluntary recall of another CBD product from a different company, notifying consumers about potentially high levels of lead in a batch of tinctures.

FDA has previously issued warnings to other CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated claims about the therapeutic potential of their products.

Scientists And Veterans File Lawsuit Challenging DEA’s Marijuana Rescheduling Denials

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Marijuana Legalization And The Fight For Racial Justice (Op-Ed)

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“Black and brown lives matter and we owe it to our country and to ourselves to take tangible steps toward dismantling many of the power structures that perpetuate injustice. Marijuana prohibition is simply one of them.”

By Erik Altieri, NORML

On May 25th, George Floyd was killed on camera by officers affiliated with the Minneapolis Police Department. As were many Americans, we were shocked and disheartened by this tragic and needless loss of life.

As the events of the past few days have unfolded, it is clear that America is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with itself. Since 1619, when the first ships arrived on the coast of Virginia with enslaved Africans in chains, our country has long had to struggle to address the inequality and structural racism embedded within our public institutions—particularly within the criminal justice system.

From slavery and the Civil War, to the battles to end Jim Crow laws, to the marches for civil rights, to the protests against mass incarceration, to the Black Lives Matter movement, each generation of Americans has stepped up to take action to fight to end racial injustice.

As protests continue to take place across our nation, more Americans are beginning to publicly demand action from their local, state and federal leaders to end the policies and practices that promote, enable and drive systemic racial injustice. In these conversations about policy solutions, many will include in their demands an ending to the war on drugs—or, at a minimum, an ending to marijuana criminalization. But while ending cannabis prohibition is both important and necessary, we must also recognize that doing so is but a single piece of a much larger puzzle.

Will legalizing marijuana reform alone solve the problem of racial injustice? No.

Is ending cannabis prohibition going to fix all of America’s social ills? No.

After we legalize adult-cannabis use, will we see an end to discriminatory policing against communities of color and other marginalized groups? No.

Will end marijuana prohibition be a small step toward the greater goal of promoting justice? Without a doubt, yes.

And the majority of Americans agree.

Our decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry. Look no further than the sentiments of its architect, Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who declared: “[M]ost [marijuana consumers in the US] are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. … [M]arijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes. … Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

These racial biases were later exploited by the Nixon administration when it ramped up the drug war in 1970 and declared cannabis to be “public enemy #1.” As former Nixon adviser John Ehrlichman later acknowledged: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Today, the modern era of marijuana prohibition continues to be disproportionately applied. Annually, over 650,000 Americans are arrested for violating marijuana laws. Yet, according to an analysis of these arrests released earlier this year by the ACLU, “In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost ten times more likely to be arrested. In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.”

Of course, marijuana prohibition isn’t the sole cause of America’s racial inequities, nor is it the sole reason why certain members of the police continue to engage in racially-aggressive policing and misconduct. But its criminalization is one of the tools commonly used to justify and perpetuate these injustices.

For example, marijuana enforcement was the pretext in the fatal law enforcement shooting of another Minnesotan just a few years before George Floyd’s murder: Philando Castile. The officer in this case alleged that he feared for his life simply because he believed that Mr. Castille had been smoking marijuana, stating: “I thought I was gonna die. And I thought if he’s, if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the 5-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girl was screaming.”

Even in those jurisdictions where adult-use cannabis is legal, we know that there still remains much work to be done to address continuing racial inequities. For instance, African Americans and Latinos continue to disproportionately be targeted for traffic stops in Colorado and Washington even after legalization.

Then there is the question of the cannabis industry itself. We advocates need to continue to push for inclusion and equity within this space. We must not ignore the reality that while a handful of venture capitalists are now engaging in licensed cannabis sales in systems that largely exclude minority ownership while millions of others—most of them young, poor and people of color—continue to face arrest and incarceration for engaging in much of the same behavior.

There is no doubt that our national discussion over matters of race and policing will continue long after these public protests have ceased. NORML believes that calls for cannabis legalization need to be an important part of this emerging discussion—but only a part. Black and brown lives matter and we owe it to our country and to ourselves to take tangible steps toward dismantling many of the power structures that perpetuate injustice. Marijuana prohibition is simply one of them.

We are at a crossroads in this country and it is time for all of us to march as allies in the fight for racial justice and equality. It is important during this process for those of us not from these marginalized communities to truly listen to those who are facing this oppression and support them in this struggle. Let us take this moment in time to pledge to put in the work necessary in order to make America the better and more just nation that we know it can be.

Erik Altieri is executive director of NORML.

Cory Booker Cites Marijuana Enforcement As Example Of Racial Injustice That Is Motivating Protests

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