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New Jersey Attorney General Tells Prosecutors To Drop Marijuana Cases

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New Jersey’s top law enforcement official has asked prosecutors to temporarily drop all cases involving marijuana while his office prepares to issue broader guidance on the state’s cannabis policy.

The move comes just a week after the same official, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, shot down a local attempt to effectively decriminalize marijuana in Jersey City. Grewal voided the policy change, arguing that a municipal prosecutor doesn’t have the “legal authority” to decriminalize cannabis.

In his letter to Jacob Hudnut, the new municipal prosecutor of Jersey City, Grewal also lamented that his office wasn’t involved in talks around decriminalization.

“Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez and I are deeply committed to promoting criminal justice reform and addressing social issues in this State,” he wrote. “That is why it is disappointing that you issued your memorandum without consulting either of us.”

But now Grewal is calling on prosecutors throughout the state to “seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court.” The directive, first reported by New Jersey Advance Media, takes effect immediately.

The attorney general’s office released a statement about the policy change Tuesday. It noted that Grewal “decided to convene a working group that would study [prosecutorial discretion in marijuana cases] and advise him on a statewide directive that he would issue in August and that would provide clarification about municipal prosecutors’ authority in these cases.”

“He also agreed to ask that municipal prosecutors statewide adjourn all marijuana-related offenses in municipal court until September 4, 2018, in order to provide time to develop the guidance,” the statement says.

What gives?

It’s not entirely clear why the attorney general issued seemingly contradictory statements on state marijuana policy this month, but one theory concerns pending reform legislation to be considered in the state legislature.

A bill to fully legalize marijuana in New Jersey was delayed last month and is expected to be taken up in the coming months. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned last year on ending cannabis prohibition, said on Tuesday that he was “not a big decriminalization fan.” Instead, he’s “all in” on cannabis legalization, arguing that the more modest policy change leaves the criminal marker intact without regulations that can protect consumers and generate revenue.

“Just as a general, conceptual matter, I’m not a big decriminalization fan,” Murphy said. “On the surface, it is intoxicating—you think that it’s a step in the right direction. It actually leaves the business in the hands of the bad guys, your kids are exposed, it’s not regulated, it’s not taxed.”

It’s possible that the attorney general is waiting to see how the measure plays out in the legislature before crafting more comprehensive guidance for municipal prosecutors with respect to marijuana.

While New Jersey has a limited medical cannabis program that Murphy has moved to expand since taking office in January, the state also has the second highest rate of marijuana arrests in the country. Only Wyoming has a higher arrest rate for cannabis-related offenses, NJ.com reported.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop celebrated the news from the attorney general’s office on Tuesday. In a tweet, he said that it was “[r]eally great NJ is moving in the right direction here.”

“I’m glad [Hudnut] + [Jersey City] started this convo on Thursday + the outcome is something that benefits more than just [Jersey City],” he wrote. “We’re lucky to have an Attorney General who thinks about social justice issues.”

That tweet comes days after Fulop reacted to news that the attorney general had voided the city prosecutor’s decriminalization memorandum. At the time, Fulop said that while he has “great respect for the letter, we still legally disagree.”

Fulop further disputed the notion that a municipal prosecutor couldn’t unilaterally amend city policy when it comes to marijuana enforcement.

“We know that court rules gives prosecutor the discretion to amend or dismiss charges as they see fit and decriminalization is the right thing to do as we shouldn’t continue a policy of creating records and ruining a person’s future over small quantities of marijuana,” he wrote.

New Jersey’s Next Governor Promises Marijuana Legalization

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Berkeley City Council Considers Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week

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A resolution to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics will go before a Berkeley, California City Council committee on Wednesday.

Decriminalize Nature, the group behind the measure, also led the charge to successfully get a measure decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi approved by the City Council in neighboring Oakland last month.

In Berkeley, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the proposal and can either decide to hold it for a future meeting or advance it to the full Council. The public is able to attend Wednesday’s special meeting and share their perspective on the resolution, but Decriminalize Nature stressed in a tweet that this “is a small meeting, so you do NOT need to attend.”

However, city residents are being encouraged to write to their Council members and urge them to vote in favor of the measure, which would codify that “no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Berkeley Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults of at least 21 years of age.”

The resolution defines the covered substances as “plants and natural sources such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and/or extracted combinations of plants similar to ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indoleamines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.”

Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Cheryl Davila are sponsoring the resolution, which does not allow for commercial sales or manufacturing.

The lawmakers provided background information on the measure in a report to their colleagues and the mayor, describing the medical potential of various psychedelics as well as the success of decriminalization measures in Denver and Oakland.

“It is intended that this resolution empowers Berkeley residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions instead of having to rely exclusively on the medical establishment, which is slow to adapt and difficult to navigate for many,” they wrote.

While efforts to eliminate criminal penalties associated with psilocybin and other psychedelics have so far centered in jurisdictions that have historically embraced marijuana legalization and broader drug reform, the conversation around decriminalizing psychedelics is spreading nationally.

Shortly after Oakland approved its measure, Decriminalize Nature received inquiries from activities in cities from across the country. The group has kept track of each city where organizers are pursuing decriminalization.

On Monday, a conversation around changing laws governing psychedelics reared during a City Council meeting in Columbia, Missouri. One resident implored the body to take up a resolution to decriminalize the natural substances, pointing to their therapeutic benefits.

Councilmember Mike Trapp said that the student’s proposal should be considered and that a government advisory board on public health should provide input on the medical potential of psychedelics, describing it as “very promising.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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Colorado Governor And USDA Official To Discuss CBD At Hemp Event

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official will speak at a hemp conference next month to discuss policy and regulations concerning hemp-derived dietary supplements.

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced the lineup of their first-ever hemp and CBD conference last week. The two-day event is meant to “provide critical information for companies navigating the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory and financial landscapes to manufacture and market dietary supplement products with hemp or hemp-derived ingredients including cannabidiol (CBD).”

Following the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers and stakeholders have been quick to highlight the industry’s potential and to call for an expedited rulemaking process so that CBD can be lawfully marketed in food items and dietary supplements.

This conference will focus on dietary supplements in particular, with presentations on the current regulatory landscape for such products, compliance issues for hemp businesses and market analysis.

Polis has been a vocal advocate for marijuana reform and pledged in his State of the State address in January that he would make “good on the promise of industrial hemp in Colorado.”

“With our world class universities like Colorado State and Adams State, which are at the forefront of hemp innovation with the leading hemp manufacturers and cultivators already here, we want to seize on this opportunity under the most recent national Farm Bill to help make Colorado the national leader in industrial hemp production,” Polis said at the time.

AHPA’s two-day event will also feature USDA Senior Marketing Specialist William Richmond, who will brief attendees with an update on the department’s progress developing regulations for CBD. The department said last month that it is aiming to release an interim final rule on hemp in August.

But while USDA has regulatory authority over hemp, businesses will also have to await guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on marketing consumable CBD products. FDA said last week that it is “expediting” its rulemaking process and will release a report on its progress by early fall.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and hasn’t previously been added to the food supply or in dietary supplements, the agency will have to create an alternative regulatory pathway for the compounds, which could take years without congressional action.

In the meantime, it appears that both federal agencies are taking steps to increase transparency around their regulatory progress. Two days before the USDA official is set to appear at the AHPA conference, an FDA representative is scheduled to keynote a separate hemp industry summit to discuss related issues.

FDA Says It Is Speeding Up The CBD Regulation Process

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Marijuana Legalization Could Be On The Horizon For British Virgin Islands

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The British Virgin Islands (BVI) could soon have a bill to legalize marijuana before the legislature, according to a government official.

Details are sparse, but Agriculture Minister Natalio Wheatley said on Saturday that the draft legislation under consideration would address concerns about youth consumption and impaired driving while ensuring that adults no longer face jail time for simple possession.

“We certainly know that marijuana, which contains THC, has an impact on your disposition. It has an impact on you being able to complete certain tasks,” he said, according to BVI News. “We don’t want to fool everyone into thinking that we think persons should be up and down smoking marijuana through the streets without any sort of regulation.”

He added that he hoped the legislation would make BVI a global model for legalization.

“We certainly support having a well-regulated industry, and the fact that we’re coming in late into this whole discussion of marijuana means that we don’t have to repeat the mistakes that some of our brothers and sisters made in other places,” he said.

The draft bill being circulated reportedly originated under the previous administration and is being improved upon. Wheatley said that residents, who he believes support legalization, should expect community meetings to be scheduled to discuss the proposal.

“Persons will no longer be incarcerated for the possession and consumption of something that is recognized to be a lot less detrimental to your health,” he said. “In fact, we’re speaking about the medicinal value of it than something like alcohol. It’s proven that alcohol is much more damaging to your health than marijuana.”

BVI’s cousin, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), hasn’t taken the step to allow adult use of marijuana, but the territory’s governor did sign a bill legalizing medical cannabis in January.

The sponsor of the USVI legislation, former senator and current Agriculture Commissioner Terrance “Positive” Nelson, said that he plans to continue to pursue broader reform, and he commended BVI for moving toward a commercial cannabis model.

“I told you already it is not easy to stand up for cannabis. I still have some scars on my back relative to the push in [USVI],” he said. “Here in the British Virgin Islands, you are talking about legalization and I want for local leaders here to continue to be brave enough to move forward.”

“Yes, there is going to be pushbacks. But the truth in the matter is this: the truth is on your side,” he said. “The truth is on our side.”

Hawaii Governor Vetoes Two Cannabis Bills While Letting Decriminalization Become Law

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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