The head of a federal health agency recently acknowledged racial disparities in drug enforcement and the harm that such disparate practices have caused—and now NORML is asking her to go on the record to further admit that this trend in criminalization is more harmful than marijuana itself.
While NORML said it’s not arguing that cannabis is harmless, the group maintains that the role of discriminatory cannabis enforcement in systemic racial injustices that are the focus of mass protests across the country cannot be overstated.
Open Letter to NIDA Demanding that Marijuana Prohibition Be Recognized as More Damaging than Marijuana Itself https://t.co/dCLNN4hBwW
— NORML (@NORML) June 8, 2020
“The long history of discrimination against racial minorities in America bears directly on NIDA’s mission to address addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing to be dealt with through punishment,” National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow wrote in a blog post last week. “Whites and Black/African Americans use drugs at similar rates, but it is overwhelmingly the latter group who are singled out for arrest and incarceration. This use of drug use and addiction as a lever to suppress people of a particular race has had devastating effects on communities of color.”
If NIDA is willing to concede that usage rates for marijuana and other drugs are similar across racial lines but that black people are much more likely to bear the brunt of enforcement, then the agency should similarly recognize that this pattern of disparate criminalization and the long-term consequences are more damaging to public health than cannabis consumption, NORML said.
The group wants Volkow to publicly call for the end of marijuana prohibition, and is asking its supporters to send her letters of encouragement.
“We believe that taking this public position would be consistent with NIDA’s mission to promote and enhance public health,” NORML said, adding that “we believe, and based upon your recent public statements we have faith that you do too, that marijuana’s potential public health risks to the individual adult consumer pale in comparison to the known public health burden imposed by its continued criminalization.”
What is more harmful?
The effects of cannabis?
Or the criminalization of cannabis?
— NORML (@NORML) June 9, 2020
Damages resulting from marijuana criminalization include jail time, criminal records, loss of employment, child custody, housing, student aid, voting rights, adoption rights and welfare benefits, NORML said.
The group also stated that ending cannabis prohibition isn’t a panacea that would resolve the systemic racial injustices in this country—but “nonetheless we understand, all too well, the role that marijuana criminalization has played—and continues to play—in upholding the systemic racism that NIDA has now gone on record to condemn.”
“That is why, in the interest of both enhancing public health and confronting the institutional racism that plagues our nation, we ask you and NIDA to publicly acknowledge that the perpetuation of the criminal enforcement of marijuana prohibition, as well as the stigmatization of those adults who use it responsibly, is far more detrimental to public health than is the behavior these policies are intended to discourage.”
“We all have an important part to play right now in acknowledging the role that racially-motivated drug war policies have played in perpetuating systemic injustice in America,” NORML’s open letter concludes. “We hope that you continue to use your voice to call attention to this issue, and that you consider joining those of us in calling for long overdue public policy changes.”
America’s decades-long prohibition of marijuana was founded upon racism and bigotry & in the modern era of enforcement continues to be disproportionately applied to people of color. That is why we are asking NIDA to demand an end to marijuana prohibition.https://t.co/7rWGsZohjh
— NORML (@NORML) June 9, 2020
NORML is speaking to a point that several top officials have recently made, connecting protests over racial injustice to the need for drug policy reform.
Several House lawmakers sent letters to the attorney general last week, condemning the recent expansion of Drug Enforcement Administration authority amid mass protests and criticizing the agency’s objectives as out of step with the movement to legalize marijuana and reschedule other drugs.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) described his states’s legalization of marijuana as a “civil rights” matter last week. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said that the passage of cannabis decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana enforcement is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last month, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs. It now has 160 cosponsors.
That measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana.
Local Colorado Lawmakers Say Psychedelics Reform Needs To Be Handled At State Or Federal Level
The Aspen, Colorado City Council on Monday discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
While numerous cities across the U.S. have adopted measures to deprioritize enforcement of laws against entheogenic plants and fungi—and Oregon voted to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical use—the local legislators did not take action beyond talking about psychedelics research and outlining the various policy challenges associated with state and federal prohibition.
“We’re heading in this direction—it’s just research needs to be done and the groundwork needs to be laid,” one member said at the work session, which was first reported by Aspen Daily News.
Watch the Aspen lawmakers discuss psychedelics policy, starting around 14:25 into the video below:
There was considerable discussion during the meeting about Denver’s historic move to decriminalize psilocybin in 2019. But while one member said the council “could take similar actions,” another member pointed out that there is no municipal law prohibiting the substance as it stands, and so it would require a state law change to actually decriminalize.
Also, if Aspen moved to loosen restrictions on psychedelics on its own, some members worried that could make them targets of federal enforcement.
So instead of moving to independently enact a policy change, members could “informally” express support for “research to see what the benefits of these drugs are and how they can be used in therapy.” They could do that “by resolution or not,” the member said.
But in the end, there was no direction for council staff to write up a resolution. Several members said it would put too much of a workload on staff, and others said that formally promoting decriminalization could create complications for law enforcement.
Last year, the Colorado Springs City Council also talked about decriminalizing psychedelics—with the body’s president sharing a personal anecdote about psilocybin treatment for a relative who had cancer—but no action was taken at that meeting either.
While the Aspen City Council might not be ready to unilaterally advance reform, numerous other local governments have moved to stop criminalizing people over entheogens since Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin via voter initiative.
The Northampton, Massachusetts City Council is the latest example, with members unanimously adopting a resolution last month to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca.
Two other Massachusetts cities—Somerville and Cambridge—have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics. Outside of that state, four other cities—Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor and Washington, D.C.—have also decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”
At the state level, the Texas House of Representatives approved to a bill last week that would require the state to conduct a study into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
Meanwhile, two Senate committees in California have recently approved a bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics and create a working group to study broader reform.
CBD Company’s Appeal Could Let Marijuana And Psychedelics Companies Trademark Businesses Pre-Legalization
As it stands, you can’t trademark a product that’s not currently legal under federal law—like marijuana or psychedelics. But a CBD beverage company is appealing that rule, and it could have wide-ranging implications for burgeoning industries surrounding potentially soon-to-be-legal substances.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) says that companies cannot secure trademarks for products that aren’t lawful for commerce, even if they’re simply submitting “intent to use” applications that could take years to process while a pending policy change works its way through Congress or federal agencies.
“While applicant may be anticipating that CBD-based beverages will be made lawful at the federal level within the time frame for filing an allegation of use, that anticipation does not make this application registrable,” USPTO wrote in explaining its decision to deny a registration to Joy Tea, which markets hemp-derived CBD drinks. “The lawfulness of the goods is determined at the time the application is filed and not what may or may not be lawful at the federal level years from now.”
Joy Tea is appealing the rejection with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
While hemp and its derivatives like CBD were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, USPTO denied its trademark request because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently have regulations in place that allow for the lawful marketing of cannabinoids in food items or dietary supplements.
While the federal food regulator has said it’s working on rules to allow for the marketing of CBD-infused products, USPTO says that for now, “FDA intentions, public opinion in favor of legalization of cannabis, and anticipation of change in the current law have no bearing on the prosecution of a trademark application.”
But Larry Sandell, an intellectual property attorney at Mei & Mark LLP who is representing Joy Tea, told Marijuana Moment that it’s improper to deny his client a trademark registration in the meantime.
“The general idea as to why [companies submit intent to use applications]—outside the cannabis space—is if you’re marketing a new product, and you’re starting to lay the groundwork, it would be terrible if somebody could just swoop it up and beat you to the trademark office and steal it out from under you,” he said.
Traditional pharmaceutical companies that are interested in selling products that aren’t currently approved by FDA have this option—but CBD businesses are barred.
“There’s no real logical basis for the split,” Sandell said.
But USPTO said the comparison is “misleading because pharmaceuticals are not per se unlawful.”
Joy Tea “has not argued or demonstrated that it is seeking or has sought FDA approval for the sale of its CBD-based beverages,” the agency said. “Applicant’s goods are not merely ‘unapproved’ but are actually ‘unlawful.'”
To resolve the issue, Joy Tea, is seeking an appeal.
“At base, this Appeal seeks to overturn, or at least narrow, this per se rule,” the company’s filing states. “No statute or applicable regulation supports disqualifying an applicant’s bona fide intent that stems from a belief—especially an objectively reasonable belief—that its intended future commerce will be legal future commerce,”
It further argues that “market movement in cannabis-related stocks evinces that—notwithstanding the current law—many people anticipate changes in federal law toward cannabis legalization in the immediate future and have been willing to invest in this belief.”
If the appeal succeeds and companies are prospectively able to trademark products that aren’t currently legal under federal law, that would have a significant impact on businesses entering the space.
If it fails, however, that would mean that the status quote prevails, putting these companies “in a terrible spot,” Sandell said.
It would mean, for example, that a company could preempt another company that plans to sell a cannabis product by taking their business name and using it for a legal, unrelated purpose.
Should Joy Tea’s current effort fail, Sandell said they will appeal to a federal circuit court. They’re expecting a response to the initial briefing by mid-summer.
Read the text of the appeal on the CBD trademark below:
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Could ‘Absolutely’ Pass Full Legislature If GOP Senate Allows A Vote, Sponsor Says
A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is set for a House floor vote this week, and the sponsor of the legislation is optimistic that it could pass the full legislature—if only the GOP-controlled Senate would just allow a vote on it.
This measure—filed by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers—has moved through a dozen committees since February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
Despite being advanced through 12 House panels, there have been lingering doubts about its prospects in the Senate. But Winkler said in an interview on Sunday that, if Republican leadership in the chamber give it a vote, “it absolutely could pass.”
“Support for legalizing cannabis for recreational or personal use, making sure that we have a safe, regulated marketplace, that we are expunging criminal records for people who’ve been unfairly targeted for law enforcement reasons for cannabis in the past, making sure that we’re creating a marketplace that reflects Minnesota’s values—all those things are our priorities in this bill, and they are priorities for Minnesotans of all political persuasions,” Winkler said.
Pressed on whether the legislation could advance through the Republican-led Senate if it advances through the House, the leader said it “absolutely could pass,” citing public polling on the issue and the fact that South Dakota voters approved a legalization initiative last year.
“It cuts across both parties,” Winkler said. “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t pass both houses if the vote can come up in the Senate.”
But one provision of the legalization bill that the leader isn’t willing to cede on concerns expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions.
Convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses push people into a cycle of poverty that cuts them off from housing and jobs.
That’s why expunging existing cannabis offenses is a non-negotiable piece of our legalization bill. This is an economic and criminal justice issue.
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) May 10, 2021
He said in a tweet on Monday that “expunging existing cannabis offenses is a non-negotiable piece of our legalization bill,” and that “is an economic and criminal justice issue.”
While Republican support remains an open question in either chamber, it is the case that the proposal has earned the support of several GOP members as its moved through an extensive committee process.
That’s despite the fact that Republicans have generally signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.
But a GOP member of the House Taxes Committee, which approved the broader legalization bill last week, indicated that he felt an amendment he introduced and that was adopted could bolster Republican support.
That revision from Rep. Pat Garofolo (R) directs remaining cannabis revenue to a tax relief account after implementation costs are covered and substance misuse treatment and prevention programs are funded.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 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.
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Before the Taxes Committee, the bill passed the Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, State Government Finance and Elections Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The litany of committees the bill has gone through makes it perhaps the most thoroughly vetted legalization measure to move through a state legislature—and it means that a solid portion of the House has already had the chance to review, propose amendments to and vote on the legislation it as it advances to the floor, presumably increasing its chances of passage in the chamber.
The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.
The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.
People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.
Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.