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New York Lawmakers Divided On Marijuana Legalization Study Proposal

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The State of New York might conduct a study on marijuana legalization. Or it might not. That depends on which chamber of the legislature prevails on the issue in ongoing budget negotiations.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed an official examination of the possibility of ending cannabis prohibition in his budget proposal.

“Notwithstanding any inconsistent provisions of law, so much funds as shall be determined necessary by the commissioner of health, shall be available for the office of public health to conduct a study in consultation with other state agencies, to review, including but not limited to, the health, criminal justice, and economic impacts of a regulated marijuana program in the state of New York; including the consequences to the state of New York resulting from legalization in surrounding states,” the provision reads.

Last week, the heavily Democratic state Assembly agreed, including the plan in its budget resolution.

But the Republican-controlled Senate disagreed, explicitly rejecting the governor’s proposal in its own budget resolution.

“The Senate denies the Executive recommendation to…allow for DOH to study regulated marihuana,” that chamber’s legislation reads, nonetheless adding the qualifier that the body is “sensitive to the State’s desire to study the consequences to the State of New York resulting from the legalization of marihuana in surrounding states.”

Cuomo, a longtime opponent of marijuana law reform who forced lawmakers to significantly scale back a proposed medical cannabis program before agreeing to sign it into law in 2014, surprised many observers by including the proposed legalization study in his budget this year.

The move was spurred by moves to end cannabis prohibition in neighboring states. In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization last year and included tax revenue from possible marijuana sales in a budget proposal released this month.

New Jersey Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization In Budget Proposal

“The world is changing all around us. New Jersey is talking about legalizing recreational marijuana. Massachusetts has legalized recreational marijuana. On the other hand the federal government is saying they’re going to get aggressive against states that are legalizing marijuana. So this is a topic of concern,” Cuomo said in an interview after releasing the proposal. “I say let’s get some facts so we actually have an informed debate on the issue, and that’s what the study will do.”

Joel Giambra, a former Erie County executive who is mounting an independent bid to challenge Cuomo’s reelection this year, supports legalizing outright. His campaign commissioned its own report, which concluded that the move would generate $500 million in new annual tax revenue.

“There’s no more need to study this,” he said. “It’s time to be aggressive. It’s time to be proactive.”

Legalization bills are currently pending in the Senate and Assembly. While Assembly committees conducted a joint hearing on the issue earlier this year, no votes have yet been scheduled.

In the meantime, whether or not the state conducts the formal legalization study will depend on the results of behind-closed-doors negotiations this spring between the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker to craft a final spending plan for Fiscal Year 2019.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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.

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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