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New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Remains A Top-10 Priority For 2019

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said on Tuesday that passing marijuana legalization before the end of the legislative session is a top-10 priority.

Efforts to legalize cannabis through the legislature have stalled in part due to a changing political dynamic in light of neighboring New Jersey’s failure to get a legalization bill over the finish line this year and because some senators want voters to first approve the idea of ending cannabis prohibition through a referendum, he said.

But in two separate radio interviews, the governor challenged lawmakers to capitalize on a growing pro-legalization sentiment and get a bill to his desk before the session ends on June 19.

Cuomo seemed open to the prospect of a referendum vote, but he made clear that the fight in the legislature isn’t over yet. He expressed frustration that lawmakers are falling short of their legalization promise for political reasons and not necessarily because they take issue with the merits of cannabis reform.

A revised version of a pending legalization bill was introduced in the legislature on Friday, with new provisions that would allow for the expungement of records for prior cannabis-related convictions and set guidelines for the production, processing and sale of marijuana, for example.

Cuomo’s original plan was to include cannabis legalization in the state budget but, after failing to reach compromises with legislators ahead of the April 1 deadline, it was ultimately cut from the spending package. That version included some provisions that proved controversial for advocates, including a ban on home cultivation that several large marijuana businesses pushed for.

The amended version of the pending standalone bill does provide for home cultivation.

Cuomo said the expungement addition wasn’t a “dealbreaker”—even though his initial proposal called for the the less-far-reaching step of sealing of records—but added that some thorny questions still have to be resolved such as setting limits on home cultivation, how tax revenue from cannabis sales should be spent and who should be responsible for issuing licenses for dispensaries.

“But I don’t think the issue here is even that. I don’t think it’s going to be on the merits—I think it’s on the politics,” he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. “New Jersey was going to legalize it. New Jersey stopped. I think that started to shift the political environment.”

Listen to Cuomo discuss marijuana politics around 10:00 into the audio below:

Cuomo cited senators who’ve told reporters that there isn’t enough support in the chamber “to pass it politically.”

“I think that’s the problem here, is the political reality that you don’t have the votes in the Senate,” he said. “I support it, I proposed, but we’re getting down to the final three weeks or so, and they’re still saying they don’t have the votes.”

The host asked Cuomo if it was possible that lawmakers could reach compromises on certain provisions to get the legislation passed before the session’s end. Allowing individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate could represent one such compromise, Lehrer said.

“I’ve tried a number of things. The opting out provision I’ve tried,” Cuomo said. “The opposition Senate position is there is no state that has passed it without a referendum. It’s never been done just by the legislature.”

“I believe Jersey may be moving to a referendum also, but Massachusetts, et cetera, the legislature acted after a referendum,” he added. “So that’s what the senators who oppose it say—they think it’s an overreach by the legislature.”

New Jersey lawmakers announced earlier this month that after months of debate and negotiations, they were not able to reach a compromise on legalization legislation and would instead focus on getting the issue on the state’s 2020 ballot.

It’s possible that New York could see a ballot referendum on the issue to get a “sense of the people,” Cuomo said. Theoretically, voters could approve a legalization referendum and the legislature could then take action. But the governor repeated that it’s politics that’s holding back legislative reform and “everything else is smoke.”

“The Senate promised in their campaign—we have a Democratic Senate now for the first time, and I supported them and I worked very hard for them—and this was one of the big campaign issues,” Cuomo said. “And the senators say that they don’t have the votes, and at the end of the day if you don’t have the votes, you don’t have the votes.”

Even so, Cuomo didn’t rule out the possibility of passing cannabis legalization this session, despite the issue being “very difficult.”

He told WAMC in a separate interview on Tuesday that marijuana reform remains a central tenet of his agenda, even if he’s facing a resistance in the Senate.

(You can listen to the conversation by following this link; the discussion on cannabis starts at about 11:00.)

“They have work to do,” he said. “They are stopping surrogacy, they are stopping the ERA, they are stopping marijuana, they are stopping drivers licenses, they are stopping prevailing wages, they are stopping gay panic defense.”

Legislators “need to get things done if they’re going to vindicate the promise they made the people of this state when we elected a Democratic Senate and we promised the most progressive laws in the country,” he said.

New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization, Expungements And Medical Cannabis Expansion

Photo elements courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Carlos Gracia.

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

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

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.

The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.

“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.

“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.

Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”

“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.

“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”

The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.

To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.

A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”

“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”

Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.

Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:

FINAL Letter to DOJ Re. Can… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

People Are Skipping Sleep Aids In Favor of Marijuana, Study Reports

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Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative

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Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.

Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.

A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.

To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.

Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.

He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”

The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.

DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.

At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.

Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”

He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”

“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.

All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.

Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.

Scientist Talks Benefits Of Psychedelics At Federal Health Agency Event

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020

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North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.

Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.

It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.

The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”

But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.

Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:

“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”

In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.

“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”

Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:

Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.

In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.

Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.

Marijuana Summit Will Give Virginia Governor ‘More Tools’ To Back Legalization, Attorney General Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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