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North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Campaign Reassesses 2020 Ballot Strategy But Concedes 2022 Is More Likely

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With North Dakota among the states gradually reopening business amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s renewed hope that a campaign to legalize marijuana could soon proceed after temporarily suspending signature gathering. But because of the setback in signature gathering efforts in recent weeks, activists say it’s more likely that the initiative will appear on the state’s 2022 ballot rather than the one voters will see this November.

Legalize ND, the group behind the measure, said last month that door-to-door signature collection would be put on pause due to the risk of spreading the virus. Many businesses that carried the petition on-site were also shuttered due to state orders and social distancing requirements.

The organization’s proposed initiative would allow adults to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching proposal the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses. Voters previously approved a medical cannabis legalization measure in 2016.

On Monday, the campaign signaled that activities may continue again on a limited basis now that North Dakota has entered into a first phase of reopening, allowing certain businesses to resume operations. Legalize ND is soliciting input from businesses that have their petition available for patrons to sign, though they said they feel “it is too soon” to have petitioners go door-to-door to gather signatures at this point.

“What we’re doing is, the state of North Dakota is in phase one of reopening and we want to make sure that business owners are comfortable carrying the petition in their establishment” before publicizing it for voters, Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We don’t want to send a bunch of people to a business and for them to get spooked because of COVID or for them to not have the floor space to be able to handle it.”

So far, it seems that vaping retailers and headshops are most willing to allow voters to sign in support of the measure at their locations. Tattoo shops, meanwhile, carry more risks in terms of exposure to open skin and capacity restrictions, so those will likely not host petitions for the time being.

To qualify for the November ballot, activists would have to collect 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters by July 6. But if they don’t make that cut—and organizers say it’s likely it won’t be possible in that timeframe—the signatures they’ve collected so far won’t go to waste. They have a full calendar year from the launch of the campaign to gather the required signatures to appear on the next election cycle.

In this case, that means Legalize ND has until December to meet that requirement and qualify for the July 2022 primary election.

The debate over how and when to let petitioners go door-to-door largely comes down to differences in opinion among board members from rural and urban areas of the state, Owen said.

“North Dakota is weird, right? We have cities and we have rural areas,” he said. “In the super rural areas, it might be as simple as a mask and [santizing pens] every time you hand it to someone. But in, say, Fargo where you’re hitting apartment buildings and you’re going to hundreds of people, well maybe we don’t want to allow that yet.”

“It’s hard to create a one-size-fits-all policy for a state,” he said.

Asked what his message to supporters is during this period of uncertainty, Owen said the campaign is “going to try” to make the November ballot, “but we don’t want to put people’s lives at risk,” and it’s unlikely that they will meet that earlier deadline.

“Our whole thing is about ending people going to prison, our whole point is about ending the dangers of the war on drugs, so it would be irresponsible for us to endanger people while we try to do it,” he said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. We’re going to try, but [qualifying for November] likely still isn’t in the cards. That just means we have more time to get prepared to push for that 2022 date.”

He added that while some who haven’t signed the petition yet might be compelled to head to businesses to sign it now that the state is reopening, individuals should practice serious caution, especially those who are immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable.

“If you are someone who hasn’t signed the petition and has issues—whether it be immuno, whether it be caring for someone—please don’t rush out to go sign the petition,” he said. “This is important, it’s not that important. It’s not worth killing yourself over.”

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a serious and wide-ranging blow to the drug policy reform movement in 2020, with numerous campaigns either closing down or suspending. Several activists have asked for state assistance to help qualify for ballots, but those calls have largely gone unanswered.

A Montana cannabis legalization campaign that sued the state to allow digital signature collection had their case dismissed last week, but organizers say they may file an appeal and will be pushing ahead despite the legal setback.

In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort are petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.

A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law also asked for a digital petitioning option.

A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 last month due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.

Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Activists behind a campaign to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska are holding out hope that they will qualify and recently unveiled a new strategy amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded last month that the 2020 legalization push is “effectively over” in the legislature. Coronavirus shifted priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

There have also been several COVID-related developments on the psychedelics reform front as well.

California activists had hoped to get a measure to legalize psilocybin on the state’s November ballot, but the campaign stalled out amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers in Oregon are holding out hope that a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes will make the ballot. The campaign already collected enough raw signatures to qualify, though they’ve yet to be validated.

Also in Oregon, a separate proposed ballot measure would decriminalize possession of all illicit drugs and use existing marijuana tax revenue to fund expanded treatment services. Activists in nearby Washington State are also working on a similar drug decriminalization and treatment measure.

Washington, D.C. activists behind a psychedelics decriminalization campaign are more confident that they will be able to make the ballot after the District Council voted in favor of a series of changes to signature gathering protocol on Tuesday. The campaign also has a new strategy to test the waters and deliver petitions and mailers directly to voters who could then sign and send them back to their headquarters.

DC Council Approves Bill That Will Help Psychedelics Decriminalization Initiative Qualify For Ballot Despite Coronavirus

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.

Politics

DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo 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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