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Oakland Officials Decriminalize Psychedelics And Say They’ll Work To Legalize Sales Next

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Oakland, California may become the first city in the United States to legalize the distribution and sale of psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca, in a way similar to how the city was the first to normalize commercial medical marijuana sales.

Much has to happen before that broader drug policy reform becomes a reality, but the Oakland City Council took a decisive first step on Tuesday when it voted 6 to 0 to approve a measure decriminalizing the possession of “entheogenic” plant- and fungi-based substances, also including mescaline and ibogaine.

Such plants have therapeutic potential in treating mental health conditions like addiction, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a slowly but steadily growing chorus of researchers and experts, but access to patients remains risky illegal behavior under current federal and state laws prohibiting them.

Under the terms of the unanimously approved Oakland resolution, “entheogenic plant practices,” including ayahuasca ceremonies and the consumption of mushrooms, are now “amongst the lowest priority” for law enforcement, and “any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties” for adult use and possession is restricted.

In the immediate term, Decriminalize Nature Oakland, which led the charge to build support for the measure, will run similar campaigns in other California cities. The first will be next door in Berkeley, said Larry Norris, a cofounder of Decriminalize Nature.

“People see this, they can see we brought a community out, we made a resolution happen,” he told Marijuana Moment.

Lawmakers heard more than an hour of very personal, often emotional testimony from dozens of advocates who claimed the plants in questions solved addiction and other life-threatening conditions.

“I was homeless. I was hopeless. I hated myself,” said Christopher Laurance, who said “one experience” with ibogaine helped him overcome an addiction to heroin.

Similar “lowest priority ordinances” singularly focused on marijuana have preceded the establishment of licensed cannabis cultivation and sales in Oakland and other cities.

And last month, voters in Denver narrowly approved a ballot initiative that also decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, but not the other naturally derived substances included in the Oakland plan.

Now that local lawmakers have made the initial move of decriminalizing psychedelics, the way is clear for advocates to begin building toward the next step: legal and reliable access.

Councilmember Noel Gallo, the sponsor of the decriminalization measure approved on Tuesday, told Marijuana Moment in an interview that lawmakers can now “establish a process” similar to what occurred with cannabis.

That would possibly require action via the statewide ballot.

Last year, proponents of a California legalization initiative that sought to legalize hallucinogenic mushrooms for adults 21 and over failed to collect enough signatures to qualify the measure for a vote.

But other advocates are already working to place a psilocybin decriminalization initiative on the California statewide ballot in 2020, and now they’ll be working with the momentum picked up from Oakland’s successful vote.

Gallo voiced support for such an effort on Tuesday. But for now, at the municipal level, what was likely to have been the chief obstacle—resistance from law enforcement—seems mostly sorted, Gallo said.

“The police have agreed” in principle to the far-reaching moves, Gallo said before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with some caveats.

It didn’t hurt that law enforcement reported only a handful of arrests for possessing hallucinogenic plants over the past decade, according to testimony given before a successful first decriminalization vote at a Public Safety Committee hearing last week—and it’s also helpful that there does not appear to be a violence-inducing, for-profit illicit trade in the substances.

The lone voice of caution at last week’s hearing, Councilmember Loren Taylor, introduced a series of amendments intended to “mitigate” any negative impacts. Among them: A disclaimer that entheogenic plants “are not for everyone”—particularly people with personal or family histories of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder—and exceptions to the lowest-priority ordinance for anyone driving while under the influence of the plants, possessing them in schools or “causing a public disturbance.”

Still, not all is completely copacetic. “There are some plants that the police say are way out there” and not appropriate for decriminalization, Gallo said, without specifying which species they have in mind.

“Now,” he added, “we have to agree on what’s being regulated and identify a pathway for distribution and sales. Like with marijuana, we have to establish a process.”

The details will require more legislating but, if cannabis is any precedent, it would look something like this: With possession decriminalized, psychedelic plants will become generally easier to obtain. The permissive atmosphere might allow for private “clubs,” like the storefronts that sold recreational cannabis under Measure Z, a lowest-priority law for marijuana that Oakland voters approved in 2004.

Once those sorts of operations are up and running, the path towards some kind of regulated commercial retail sales of psychedelic plants is at least visible, if not open.

“Oakland was the first city in the nation to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis sales,” City Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who was also that measure’s author, told Marijuana Moment. Thus, doing something similar with entheogenic plants at least has precedent.

In addition to the local and statewide efforts in California, Oregon activists are currently collecting signatures to place a 2020 measure to legalize the medical use of psilocybin and otherwise lower penalties for the substance before voters. And in Iowa, a Republican state lawmaker has introduced a mushroom-related bill in the state legislature.

Congressional Lawmakers Have Little To Say About Decriminalizing Psychedelics Following Denver Victory

This story has been updated to reflect that the vote tally was 6 to 0 and not 8 to 0 as initially reported. Two Council members were not present for the vote.

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo.

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.

Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

Politics

New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip

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The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.

The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”

Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:

Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.

The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.

Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.

The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.

Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.

Federal Data Shows Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing Under Legalization

Photo courtesy of CBS 6.

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 Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research

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Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.

The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.

“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.

Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.

Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.

“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”

Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.

Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.

Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:

DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.

Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.

Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.

“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.

The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.

Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.

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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Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

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Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”

“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”

What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.

That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.

“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”

She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”

“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”

“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”

Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.

Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.

“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.

The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.

Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.

Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

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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