A revised marijuana legalization bill in New Mexico passed its first two committee hearings during a special session on Tuesday, along with separate legislation to automatically expunge past cannabis convictions.
Both measures are scheduled for full chamber hearings Wednesday morning.
If all goes smoothly, the legislature could send the reform proposals to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) by the end of the week, with sales set to kick off by next April. But that’s a big if—discussions over the details of the policy change have spiraled out of control in recent weeks, and it remains to be seen whether a revised proposal can win majority support in both chambers.
Multiple bills introduced for the special session so far involve cannabis in some way. The most significant, HB 2, which passed the House Taxation and Revenue committee on a 8–4 vote, would legalize the possession and sale of marijuana by adults 21 and older.
The bill then headed to the House Judiciary Committee, which passed the measure on a 7–4–1 vote shortly after 1 AM after members considered a raft of amendments.
#HB2 – Legalizing adult-use cannabis in NM, PASSES the House Taxation and Revenue Committee in a 8-4 vote. This bill puts equity, social justice, and shared opportunity for all New Mexicans front and center, and goes to the House Judiciary Committee next. #nmleg #nmpol pic.twitter.com/stZt1uJr8v
— NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) March 30, 2021
The bill is largely similar to HB 12, legislation filed during the regular session that passed the House but stalled on the Senate floor. HB 2’s biggest difference from the previous proposal is that it strips out criminal justice provisions, such as those concerning expungements. The policies have been packaged into different legislation for the special session, SB 2.
A cleaned-up version of the expungements bill, meanwhile, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6–3 vote. It was supposed to be taken up by the full Senate later in the night, but the body delayed consideration to Wednesday morning.
A third bill introduced for the special session, SB 3, is an alternative legalization proposal backed by Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle, while an appropriations bill, HB 1, includes funding to establish and oversee a legal cannabis industry in the state. Pirtle’s bill wasn’t taken up in committee on Tuesday.
None of the bills was published online until more than an hour after the special session officially began. Some lawmakers complained that with less than a day before the session began, they still had yet to see draft legislation.
— jacobcandelaria (@SenCandelaria) March 30, 2021
Hours after the special session kicked off, Rep. Bill Rehm (R) introduced a bill, HB 4, to tighten laws on cannabis and driving. It would establish a per se THC blood limit for DUIs, as some other states have put in place.
Backers of the legalization bill HB 2, meanwhile, have been scrambling to revise it ahead of the special session, incorporating feedback from colleagues as well as the governor’s office.
Here are some of the main provisions in the new legalization bill as amended:
— Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis concentrates and 800 milligrams of infused edibles. All products would be tested by licensed laboratories for contamination and potency.
— Home cultivation of up to six mature cannabis plants would be allowed for personal use, provided the plants are out of public sight and secured from children. Households would be limited to 12 total plants. Marijuana grown at home could not be sold or bartered.
— Legal retail sales wouldn’t begin for another year or so, with a target date of April 1, 2022 or earlier. Final license rules would be due from the state by January 1, 2022, with licenses themselves issued no later than April 1.
— Advertising cannabis to people under 21 would be prohibited, with the use of cartoon characters or other imagery likely to appeal to children forbidden. Advertisements would also be barred from billboards or other public media within 300 feet of a school, daycare center or church. All products would need to carry a state-approved warning label.
— There is no limit on the number of business licensees that could be granted under the program, or the number of facilities a licensee could open, although regulators could stop issuing new licenses if an advisory committee determines that “market equilibrium is deficient.”
— Small cannabis microbusinesses, which could grow up to 200 plants, would be able to grow, process and sell cannabis products all under a single license. The bill’s backers have said the separate license type will allow wider access to the new industry for entrepreneurs without access to significant capital.
— As amended in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, cannabis purchases will include a 12 percent excise tax on top of the state’s regular 8 percent sales tax. Beginning in 2025, the excise rate would climb by 1 percent each year until it reached 18 percent in 2030. Medical marijuana products, available only to patients and caretakers, would be exempt from the tax.
— In an effort to ensure medical patients can still access medicine after the adult-use market opens, the bill allows the state to force licensed cannabis producers to reserve up to 10 percent of their products for patients in the event of a shortage or grow more plants to be used in medical products.
— Local governments could not ban cannabis businesses entirely, as some other states have allowed. Municipalities could, however, use their local zoning authority to limit the number of retailers or their distance from schools, daycares or other cannabis businesses.
— Tribal governments could participate in the state’s legal cannabis industry under legal agreements contemplated under the bill.
— With certain social justice provisions expected to be repackaged into a separate bill, the legalization measure retains only some of HB 12’s original equity language, primarily focused on enacting procedures meant to encourage communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the new industry.
— The new industry would be overseen by a newly created Cannabis Control Division, part of the state Regulation and Licensing Department. Medical marijuana would also be regulated by that division, although the Department of Health would control the patient registry.
— By September of this year, the state would establish a cannabis regulatory advisory committee to advise the Cannabis Control Division. The committee would need to include various experts and stakeholders, such as the chief public defender, local law enforcement, a cannabis policy advocate, an organized labor representative, a medical cannabis patient, a tribal nation or pueblo, various scientists, an expert in cannabis regulation, an environmental expert, a water expert and a cannabis industry professional, among others.
HB 2 also includes new provisions backed by Sen. Pirtle, who introduced a competing legalization bill during the regular session that focused primarily on undercutting illicit sales. Pirtle circulated his own draft proposal for the special session late last week and formally introduced it on Tuesday.
As HB 2’s first committee hearing began, sponsor Rep. Javier Martínez (D) told the Taxation and Revenue panel, which he chairs, that the new legislation took “all the great suggestions from both sides of the aisle, from members of both chambers, incorporating many of those changes into the bill that is hear in front of you.”
“This bill takes another affirmative step—hopefully toward passage, but most importantly, a little bit closer to perfection,” he said. “This bill is not perfect—no legislation of this magnitude will ever be perfect—but it’s pretty darn close to it.”
But critics, both lawmakers and opponents who spoke during public testimony, pointed to a number of concerns with the bill. Some public health advocates worried that social consumption lounges could put workers and guests at risk from secondhand smoke and other exposure. Others called for more focused equity measures, for example by earmarking revenue for reinvestment into Black, brown, Indigenous and rural communities.
An amendment adopted by the House Taxation and Revenue committee increased HB 2’s proposed tax rate on the cannabis sales.
An amendment to #HB2 by @Christine4nm, adopted the House Tax & Rev would increase the excise tax for recreational cannabis sales by 1% annually, starting in 2025 & continuing for 6 years. By 2030 the excise tax would amount to 18% effectively doubling state revenue. #nmleg #nmpol
— NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) March 30, 2021
“What it does is it steps up the excise tax,” said Rep. Christine Chandler (D), who brought the amendment. “This bill starts with a 12 percent excise tax and, each year [beginning in 2025], it increases by 1 percent until it gets to 18 percent beginning July 1, 2030.” The additional money would go to the state’s general fund, despite some Democrats suggesting it be routed to groups most affected by the drug war.
The panel approved the amendment on a 7–4 vote, as some Republicans warned that the increased taxes could fuel the state’s illicit market. Supporters pointed out that even with the adjustment, taxes in New Mexico would still be lower than in states such as Colorado, California and Washington State.
Later, during the House Judiciary Committee hearing, lawmakers approved yet more amendments, some of which would introduced by Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D), who said they came from the governor’s office.
One would specify that consumption lounges “shall be allowed only if the consumption area is in a designated smoking area or in a standalone building from which smoke does not infiltrate other indoor workplaces or other indoor public places where smoking is otherwise prohibited.” The others Armstrong described as “technical corrections.”
The panel also approved an amendment, from Rep. Gail Chasey (D), chair of the committee, that modified a provision that says people won’t be denied parental rights of custody or visitation for legal cannabis conduct. The change removed language requiring “clear and convincing evidence” of danger and replacing it with a clause allowing law enforcement, courts or the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department to “act in the child’s best interests.”
#HB2 – Cannabis Regulation Act PASSES the House Judiciary Committee in a 7-4 vote. Thank you sponsors @JavierForNM & @A_RomeroNM for your leadership. The bill goes to the House Floor tomorrow morning. Floor convenes at 9am. #nmleg #nmpol pic.twitter.com/gofKxTMphs
— NM House Democrats (@NMHouseDems) March 31, 2021
The expungements bill, SB 3, meanwhile, saw 10 relatively minor amendments in the Judiciary Committee, most of which were technical changes to language that critics called unclear or unnecessary.
The measure would automatically erase past records of arrests or convictions for activity that would no longer be outlawed under legalization. People currently in custody for cannabis crimes would also be eligible for resentencing under the bill.
Among the more significant changes adopted in committee were a provision allowing people to petition for expungement anonymously, intended to avoid publicizing the charges being expunged. Another amendment adds human trafficking to a list of offenses that could allow state agencies to disqualify applicants for public employment or licensing.
While it’s not yet clear how long the special session will last, advocates and lawmakers said earlier this week that they’re hoping to adjourn by Thursday. But already there have been delays.
The new legalization legislation largely parallels a bill that advanced most of the way through the process during the regular session, although key social justice portions of that bill, HB 12, have been removed and have been instead packaged into another proposal for lawmakers to consider separately.
The social justice provisions—such as automatic expungement of certain low-level cannabis convictions—were stripped from the new legislation in an effort to win support for the overall reform among Republicans and more moderate Democrats, who had criticized HB 12 as convoluted and unwieldy.
But the move has also frustrated more progressive Democrats, who have insisted equity be built into the state’s legalization scheme from the start.
Sen. Joseph Candelaria (D), who introduced his own legalization proposal during the regular session, said this week on Twitter that he wouldn’t support the new plan without revisions to reinsert certain criminal justice and labor-related portions of the bill, specifically a provision allowing past convictions to be pardoned.
Bill also lacks labor protections to guard the collective bargaining rights of workers in the cannabis industry; shocking when you have a dem gov and dem legislature.
— jacobcandelaria (@SenCandelaria) March 29, 2021
Speaking to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, Martínez said despite decoupling the criminal justice provisions from the legalization bill, it’s crucial that both measures be passed together.
“We cannot legalize adult-use cannabis without ensuring that we do right by the folks who have made mistakes in the past and ensure their records are wiped clean,” he said. “It is my expectation that … if this bill passes, that the expungement bill will be right there with it.”
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
According to a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), the new bill incorporates a number of Pirtle’s ideas, such as a clause to expand training for law enforcement to detect drug use and impaired driving.
“The governor’s priority has been and remains a comprehensive body of law that enacts a well-regulated and safe legalized adult-use cannabis industry as well as one that addresses the attendant social justice concerns,” spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
— NM Legislature (@NMLegislature) March 30, 2021
In the governor’s proclamation calling the special legislative session, Lujan Grisham said specifically that one of the purposes was to legalize cannabis and address social inequities “in a manner substantially similar to House Bill 12.”
Some lawmakers have expressed skepticism that can be done. “What I see happening during this special session is a complete and utter meltdown,” Candelaria told the New Mexican earlier this week.
Others, such as Sen. Joe Cervantes, a moderate Democrat who has called for numerous changes to the bill despite opposing adult-use legalization at all, remain unlikely to vote for the revised bill.
The point I've been making at the end of the regular session, and for 2 years. Legalizing marijuana this way will fundamentally change our State, and allow the already select few to make hundreds of millions of dollars wind up owning politicians and government.
— Sen. Joe Cervantes (@SenJoeCervantes) March 30, 2021
House Republicans, meanwhile, have blasted the bill’s backers and the governor’s office for not making the discussions about legalization more transparent.
“The past sixty days have been defined by the Governor and Democrats silencing the voice of the people, and the silence has become deafening following the crash and burn of their pot bill,” said House Republican Leader Jim Townsend said in a statement Monday. “If legalizing marijuana is truly about the people, you would think that New Mexicans from all walks of life would have the opportunity to contribute to the process, especially when it failed so miserable at the last minute due to too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Legislative leaders worked to hammer out a legalization deal throughout the state’s 60-day legislative session this year. Sponsors of at least five different original bills have tried to unify the conflicting proposals and incorporate feedback from colleagues.
Polling indicates New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. A survey released in October found a strong majority of residents are in favor of legalization with social equity provisions in place, and about half support the decriminalization of drug possession more broadly.
Gov. Lujan Grisham, meanwhile, included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and has repeatedly talked about the need to legalize as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address in January that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”
Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where sales officially launched in January after voters approved a legalization ballot initiative last year. To New Mexico’s north is Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use.
Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by the end of April.
Before last year’s failed effort, New Mexico’s House in 2019 approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but that measure died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.
In May of last year, the governor signaled she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer
Pennsylvania Senators Will Consider DUI Protections For Medical Marijuana Patients At Hearing
A Pennsylvania Senate committee is set to take up a bill next week that would protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R), would amend state statute to require proof of active impairment before a registered patient can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. The current lack of specific protections for the state’s roughly 368,000 patients puts them in legal jeopardy when on the road, supporters say.
The #PASenate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on 9/21 with a focus on my #SB167, which would remove DUI penalties for legal medicinal cannabis use. @SenLangerholc @PASenateGOP Details ⤵️https://t.co/cSd2Cpdky9 pic.twitter.com/av3mxvAuCk
— Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) September 16, 2021
Bartolotta first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, with the first dispensaries in the state opening in 2018. But the state’s zero-tolerance DUI law still doesn’t reflect those changes. Because it criminalizes the presence of any THC or its metabolites in a driver’s blood—which can be detected for weeks after a person’s last use—the law puts virtually all medical marijuana patients at risk, even if it’s been days since their last use and they show no signs of impairment.
Bartolotta’s bill would require officers to prove a registered patient was actually impaired on the road.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
“Unimpaired patients currently face the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for using medicinal marijuana that has no bearing on their ability to drive a vehicle,” the senator wrote in a cosponsorship memo late last year. “Given the very serious consequences of a DUI conviction, my legislation will provide critical protections for medicinal cannabis patients by ensuring responsible use of their legal medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Several legal cannabis states have enacted per se THC limits in blood, similar to blood alcohol requirements. However, evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.
A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.
Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”
Outside of this bill, Pennsylvania lawmakers have continued to pursue adult-use legalization in the state. Earlier this year, two legislators circulated a memo to build support for a comprehensive reform bill they plan to introduce, for example.
A bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. They announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marks his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
80 Top Law Enforcement Officials, Including A Biden Nominee, Urge SCOTUS To Hear Safe Injection Drug Case
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—have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up a case on the legality of establishing a safe injection facility where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The nonprofit organization Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration, and it filed a petition with the nation’s highest court last month to hear the case. Now the group of law enforcement officials associated with Fair and Just Prosecution are calling on the Supreme Court to act in an amicus brief.
“Amici have an interest in this litigation because overdose prevention sites (OPSs) are among the harm reduction and public health interventions that have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses and diverting people from unnecessary and counterproductive interactions with the justice system,” they wrote. “Amici, many of whom are currently or were previously responsible for enforcing the nation’s drug laws, also believe that the Controlled Substances Act cannot be construed to prohibit operation of a facility designed to address the most acute aspects of this public health emergency.”
“As law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, amici’s objective is to maintain public safety; saving lives and promoting health is as central to that mission as preventing and prosecuting crime.”
Read the full brief: https://t.co/e4Sv6oba4b
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
If the court agrees to hear the dispute, advocates will be looking toward the Biden Justice Department and whether it will continue the federal government’s opposition to allowing supervised injection facilities. It would be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years to come, meaning Safehouse is taking a significant risk by pursuing the appeal of its loss in a lower court before the majority of conservative justices.
“Failing to address the loss of life resulting from drug overdoses—and criminalizing a community-based public health organization working to save lives—will further erode trust in the justice system,” the new brief states. “If there were ever a time to demonstrate that our government values the dignity of human life, that time is now.”
While President Joe Biden hasn’t weighed in directly on safe consumption sites, there’s been a theme within his administration of embracing the general concept of harm reduction for drugs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), for example, said that “promoting harm-reduction efforts” is a first-year priority. In an overview of its objectives, the office said it intends to expand “access to evidence-based treatment,” enhance “evidence-based harm reduction efforts” and promote “access to recovery support services.”
These goals theoretically align with those of Safehouse, which wants to give people with substance use disorders a facility where medical professionals can intervene in the event of an overdose and provide people with the resources to seek recovery.
Among the signatories on the amicus brief are a former deputy assistant attorney general under Obama, district attorneys of Baltimore, Cook County, Dallas County, Los Angeles County, Manhattan, Philadelphia, San Francisco County and Seattle and the former attorneys general of Ohio, Vermont and Virginia.
But one signatory who especially stands out is Rachael Rollins, the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts who is Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts.
“As an elected prosecutor, I have a responsibility to protect every member of my community, which requires moving away from criminal justice responses to substance use disorder,” Rollins said in a press release. “Instead, we must embrace proven public health strategies as potential solutions. Lives depend on it.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said the drug war “has taken too many lives already, and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll.” He added: “We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives and improve community safety.”
“Our nation’s failed war on drugs has taken too many lives…and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll. We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives." –@DA_LarryKrasner
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
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.
Safehouse won a battle in a federal district court in 2019 to proceed with the facilities. But in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the decision, ruling that permitting such facilities would violate a 1980s-era federal statute that bars organizations from running operations “for the purpose of unlawfully… using controlled substances.” That law was passed while Biden served in the Senate and helped push punitive drug policies that have had lasting consequences.
“As current and former criminal justice leaders, amici have seen first-hand how the classic ‘war on drugs’ approach to drug control—with its almost exclusive focus on aggressive criminal law enforcement—has exacerbated the overdose epidemic,” the pro-reform prosecutors and cops wrote in the new brief. “This experience confirms that no jurisdiction can arrest its way out of this public health problem. Fatal overdoses are a symptom of substance use disorder, a medical condition requiring a medical response.”
“Distorting federal drug laws to prohibit an [overdose prevention site] or to prosecute its sponsors would further undermine trust in the justice system and faith in the fair and sensible application of our drug laws. Interpreting federal criminal law to bar empirically validated harm reduction measures would make no one safer; it would only impede cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
In its original petition to the Supreme Court in the current safe injection site case, Safehouse argued that the justices should “grant review to determine whether” federal statute really does prohibit “non-commercial, non-profit social service agencies…from establishing an overdose-prevention site that includes medically supervised consumption.”
“This question is a matter of life or death for thousands of Philadelphians and many thousands more throughout the country,” it said. “Tragically, while respondents have been pursuing this declaratory judgment against Safehouse, more than 3,200 people died in Philadelphia of drug overdoses—many of which could have been prevented if medical care had been immediately available through supervised consumption services.”
Safehouse also pointed out that Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the organization’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.
The organization put the gravity of the case in no uncertain terms, painting a picture of how its proposed facility can save lives.
“When breathing stops, even a brief delay while waiting for medical help to arrive may result in an otherwise preventable overdose death or irreversible injury,” the petition says. “As a result, every second counts when responding to an opioid overdose; as more time elapses, the greater the risk of serious injury and death. Ensuring proximity to medical care and opioid reversal agents like the drug Naloxone at the time of consumption is therefore a critical component of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.”
“Intervention by this Court is warranted to make clear that the federal law does not criminalize this essential public health and medical intervention designed to save lives from preventable overdose death,” it continues.
Safehouse argued that the appeals court’s interpretation of the law “eviscerates the intended boundaries of the statute and would criminalize the operation of legitimate businesses, charities, families, and good Samaritans that serve and reside with those suffering from addiction.”
If the Supreme Court were to take up the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could embolden 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.
At the same time that Safehouse is turning to the Supreme Court, it also announced recently that it will be returning the the federal district court that gave it an initial 2019 victory in support of establishing a safe injection facility before it was overturned in the appeals court.
The organization is making the unique argument that the federal government’s decision to block it from providing the service violates religious freedom by subjecting participants “to criminal penalties for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs that they have an obligation to do everything possible to preserve life and to provide shelter and care to the vulnerable, including those suffering from addiction.”
In 2018, a congressional subcommittee approved legislation to specifically prohibit Washington D.C. from using local tax dollars to help open safe consumption facilities. But that provision was not enacted and has not been reintroduced since.
A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”
Read the amicus brief from the prosecutors on the Safehouse safe injection site case below:
Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.
Former GOP Congressman Who Actually Supported Marijuana Reform Enters The Cannabis Industry
Lately it’s come to seem as if most of the former politicians who’ve entered the marijuana industry were unhelpful or downright hostile to legalization when they were in office. But on Friday, a cannabis company announced an addition to its board who disrupts that narrative: a former Republican congressman who has a consistent legislative record of cosponsoring and voting for marijuana reform measures.
The multi-state cannabis businesses Red White & Bloom Brands Inc. (RWB) is bringing on former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) to help it navigate the complicated regulatory space, drawing on his experience in Congress as the company works to expand.
Costello certainly isn’t the only Republican lawmaker who’s made the transition from Capitol Hill to the cannabis market. But he is a rare example of a politician who actually embraced enacting marijuana policy changes while he was in power before standing to profit from the industry. The congressman cosponsored a variety of bills—including ones to shield states that legalize cannabis from federal interference—and supported several reform amendments.
“I’m looking forward to utilizing my 15+ years of service in government, the legal profession, and my familiarity with cannabis policy to be a strategic resource for RWB as it positions itself as a true market leading house of brands in the permitted U.S. marketplace,” Costello said in a press release.
This breaks with a trend that has increasingly frustrated advocates, where it seems the people most inclined to benefit from legalization are those who stood in the way in Congress. The best-known example of that is former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who’s faced criticism from activists over his anti-legalization record while in office before joining the board of marijuana company Acreage Holdings.
While Costello left Congress in 2019 prior to the historic House vote on a standalone bill to federally deschedule cannabis, there are plenty of examples of him supporting more modest reform proposals during his congressional tenure.
He was a cosponsor of legislation to protect state marijuana markets from federal intervention, promote cannabis research, support military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.
The congressman also voted in favor of floor amendments to shield all state marijuana programs from Justice Department intervention, allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis and end hemp prohibition.
In that respect, he was a rare GOP lawmaker. While the issue is increasingly bipartisan among the public, that hasn’t been reflected in Congress. And now Costello is in a position to leverage his legislative experience to advance a marijuana business’s interests.
It’s an exception to the trend.
For example, Tom Price, the former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head under President Donald Trump, is serving as a member of the board of directors for a medical marijuana business in Georgia after he refused to take action to reclassify cannabis under federal law when he had the power to do so. Price consistently voted against marijuana reform measures while serving in Congress.
Former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), who also has a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts, joined a Canadian cannabis company’s board in 2019.
Earlier this month, a New York-based lobbying firm that’s headed by a former Republican U.S. senator announced that it is launching a practice focused on serving cannabis businesses. That former senator, Alfonse D’Amato, racked up a record of supporting the war on drugs while in office.
There is at least one other former GOP congressman who entered the cannabis space with a legislative record supporting marijuana reform. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who championed cannabis reform while in Congress, became an advisory board member for a marijuana company after being voted out of office in 2018.
Separately, President Joe Biden’s pick to head up federal drug policy worked for a major marijuana business last year, according to his financial disclosure reports.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.