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Oregon Advocates Launch Drug Decriminalization And Treatment Ballot Campaign

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Get ready to hear a whole lot more about drug policy in Oregon in the lead-up to November’s election.

Reform advocates on Saturday announced the official launch of a ballot measure campaign “designed to establish a more humane and effective approach to drugs.” If approved, the initiative would fund the expansion of access to drug treatment and—in a historic first—decriminalize low-level possession of all drugs statewide.

The measure, titled the “Drug Treatment and Recovery Act,” represents an effort to reframe drug use as a public health issue rather than a matter of criminal justice. The proposal would take money from the state’s existing marijuana tax revenue and use it to establish addiction recovery centers throughout the state. It would expand services focusing on evidence-based treatment, provide housing support for people with substance use disorders and emphasize a harm-reduction approach to overdose prevention and drug education.

While campaign is quick to emphasize that the measure “does not legalize any drugs,” it would decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.

State laws around the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances would remain the same, with some offenses carrying felony charges. What would change is how the law would regard possession of small amounts for personal use. Instead of being charged as a misdemeanor crime, possession would be charged as a civil infraction—a class E violation, punishable by a maximum $100 fine and no jail time. The fine could be avoided by completing a health assessment through an addiction recovery center, which would include a screening by licensed health care worker.

The goal of IP 44, advocates say, is to ensure that people have access to effective drug treatment rather than try to address the problem through policing and punishment—a strategy that has shown to be ineffective over decades of the war on drugs.

Also on Saturday, the campaign announced its first 20 endorsements, including from ACLU Oregon, United Seniors of Oregon, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, Oregon State Council For Retired Citizens, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Action. Other supporting organizations represent victims of violence, rental tenants, concerned mothers and a variety of other communities.

A newly released campaign video makes the case for reform through the story of Janie Gullickson, the executive director of the Mental Health and Addiction Association of Oregon and one of the chief petitioners on the proposed measure. Gullickson, who describes herself as “a person in long-term recovery,” was addicted to drugs for more than 22 years, she says in the video, before treatment and recovery taught her “a new way to live.”

“Instead of access to treatment, what we have today is actually criminalization of addiction. That ruins lives,” Gullickson said. “Addiction cost me my kids, my education and my freedom.”

Oregon ranks near last among all U.S. states in access drug addiction treatment, the campaign notes, pointing to the federal government’s own data on patients “needing but not receiving treatment at a specialty facility for substance use.” Though Gullickson was in the system—she’d been in and out of jail multiple times—she says incarceration never addressed her addiction or its underlying causes.

“I started getting in that cycle of incarceration, and in jail there wasn’t access to treatment,” she says. “There wasn’t any social worker or case manager that came in and asked, ‘What is the underlying issue? How can we help you?’ No. I just repeated that cycle over and over and over.”

After finally receiving treatment, Gullickson said, her life changed. “Treatment was the turning point, that key piece that taught me a new way to live,” she said. “Today I have a relationship with my children that had been completely severed. I was there for my parents as a daughter they could feel safe with as they went through the end of their life.”

The proposal to expand the state’s treatment services and decriminalize drugs was first filed in September, and the campaign began limited signature gathering late last year as a test of how viable the measure is. Now that advocates have decided to go ahead with the effort to qualify for the ballot, they need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from registered voters.

The IP 44 campaign is expected to release updated signature numbers next week, but according to state filings, the campaign as of Friday had collected 48,471 signatures, which still need to be validated.

A separate Oregon ballot campaign is attempting to qualify a measure that would legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin, the primary active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. Retail sales would not be allowed, but adults would be able to visit licensed facilities and have the drug administered under medical supervision. That campaign had filed a total of 38,805 signatures as of Friday.

One notable group hasn’t yet taken an official position on the new drug treatment and decriminalization campaign: Oregon’s teachers’ union. The Oregon Education Association last year that it “supports these policy objectives” of the decriminalization measure, but has concerns over how its treatment component would be funded. IP 44 would redirect some cannabis tax revenue away from schools, which the group called “troubling” in a comment filed with state elections officials in October.

The measure “essentially caps the marijuana tax revenue available to fund schools, by requiring the transfer of all revenues in excess of $11,250,000 ($11.25 million) quarterly into the new drug treatment fund,” the union said. That could mean as much as a two-thirds reduction in cannabis taxes going to schools.

Activists in other states, meanwhile, are working to put a host of marijuana-focused reform measures before voters this fall. State voters in South Dakota will vote on both a medical marijuana and an adult-use measure this year, and Mississippi advocates collected enough signatures to qualify an initiative to legalize medical cannabis. In New Jersey, the legislature approved a resolution late last year that will put full legalization on the ballot.

Ohio Marijuana Legalization Measure To Be Filed For November Ballot This Week

Photo courtesy of Markus Spiske.

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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State Of Montana Launches Online Hemp Marketplace To Connect Buyers And Sellers

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Say you’re a Montana farmer who has planted acres of industrial hemp. As harvest nears, you’re looking to offload it. Where do you go to find a buyer?

Montana’s Department of Agriculture says it has the answer.

The state this week announced the launch of an online “Hemp Marketplace,” unveiling an online portal meant to connect the hemp farmers with buyers in search of seeds, fiber and derivatives such as cannabidiol, or CBD.

“The Hemp Marketplace concept originated from the same idea as the department’s Hay Hotline,” the Agriculture Department says on its website, “only instead of hay and pasture, the online tool connects buyers and sellers of hemp and hemp derivatives.”

Listings are free of charge.

Montana online Hemp Marketplace screenshot

Montana Department of Agriculture

Montana farmers have embraced industrial hemp since the state legalized its production under a federal pilot program. The first legal crop was planted in 2017, and in recent years the state has led the country in terms of space dedicated to the plant. In 2018, for example, licensed farmers in Montana grew more acreage of hemp than any other U.S. state. While other states have since eclipsed the state’s hemp production—the crop became broadly federally legal through the 2018 Farm Bill—Montana remains an industry leader.

But to make revenue, farmers have to be able to sell their crop. That’s where the new hemp marketplace comes in. The online portal is essentially a sophisticated bulletin board for buyers and sellers, split into “Hemp for Sale” and “Hemp to Buy” categories.

“With hemp being a relatively new crop grown in Montana, the department recognizes that these markets are still developing,” Department of Agriculture Director Ben Thomas said in a statement. “The Hemp Marketplace was designed to help facilitate connections between buyers and sellers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the marketplace will continue to advance the industry.”

Listings include what type of products are on offer (or being sought), whether a given crop is organic and even whether laboratory testing data is available. The portal also organizes products into one of four varieties based on whether the hemp seeds have been certified by regulators. None of the products may contain more than 0.3 percent THC—the upper limit for what qualifies as hemp under both state and federal law.

Meanwhile, Montana voters are set to decide on Tuesday whether the state will legalize hemp’s more infamous cousin, high-THC marijuana. According to a poll released this week, passage looks likely: The survey, conducted by Montana State University at Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot. Another 38 percent said they were opposed, while 7 percent remained undecided.

At the federal level, officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration are still working to revise rules around marijuana and hemp to reflect Congress’s move to legalize hemp broadly in 2018. While the public comment on the proposals closed earlier this month, nine members of Congress cautioned the agency against adopting its proposed changes, warning some could put hemp producers at risk of criminal liability. Already a number of arrests and seizures have been made by law enforcement officers confused whether products were legal hemp or illicit marijuana.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), meanwhile, has faced separate criticism over its own proposed hemp rules, though it has been more proactive in addressing them. Following significant pushback from the industry over certain regulations it views as excessively restrictive, the agency reopened a public comment period, which closed again this month.

USDA is also planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the market.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak

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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New Jersey Governor Steps Up Marijuana Legalization Push As New Ad Touts Economic Benefits Days Before Election

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With just a few days to go before Election Day, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is continuing to stump for marijuana legalization in that state, extolling the economic and social justice benefits he says the change would bring. His latest comments came shortly after the release of a new campaign ad focusing on legalization’s economic impact.

“We’ll build an industry, it would be a revenue-generator,” Murphy said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “I think at first it would be modest, but ultimately will grow, I think, into several hundred million dollars in the state budget.”

“Along with social justice,” he added, “that’s a pretty good, winning combination.”

Recent polling suggests voters are mostly on board with legalization, with surveys showing upwards of 60% support for Public Question 1, a referendum to legalize and establish a commercial industry around the drug. If it passes, some lawmakers hope legal sales to adults 21 and older could begin as soon as next month, though regulators and some advocates have pushed back on the plan to start sales in existing medical cannabis dispensaries, saying that it could lead to access and supply issues for patients.

Legalization would indeed likely bring in millions of dollars to the state budget, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. But Murphy claims his chief motivation for supporting the measure is racial justice.

“When I became governor, we had the widest white–nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated, believe it or not, of any American state. The biggest reason was low-end drug offenses,” he said. “So I get there first and foremost because of social justice.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, one of the campaign committees behind New Jersey’s legalization effort, NJ CAN 2020, released a new 30-second ad emphasizing the economic benefits legalization could bring the cash-strapped state.

“At a time when this crisis has created challenges we all face—a budget deficit and a lack of funding for services we need—New Jersey could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to support our local schools, vital health care services and community programs, by simply voting yes on Public Question 1,” the ad says.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also filmed a video in support of the measure. Appearing in a NJ CAN campaign video released Wednesday, he said prohibition “has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”

“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help, they’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said.

Black, Latino and low-income communities are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement of drug laws, Booker added. “We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”

In other legal states, cannabis has been a rare bright spot in terms of tax revenue. Oregon, for example, saw record sales this summer even as other areas of the economy slowed. State budget analysts said last month that they expect the strong sales to continue.

“Since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast,” Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis said in a recent report. “Expectations are that some of these increases will be permanent.”

Other established markets, such as Washington state, Colorado and Nevada, have also seen “strong gains” in marijuana sales amid the pandemic, Oregon’s budget office noted.

Big money has also been flowing into New Jersey’s legalization campaign itself. A report released Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised more than $2 million in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.

“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”

If voters approve the referendum, lawmakers will still need to pass a bill to establish a framework for the state’s legal marijuana market. A legislative hearing to get a head start on planning was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when a state senator leading the proposal went into quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus.

Friday’s appearance by Murphy is the latest effort by the governor to encourage voters to back legalization. He also recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month and recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

In July, Murphy described legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.

The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”

Also this month, the NJ CAN campaign scaled up its advertising push, releasing a series of English- and Spanish-language videos.

In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces of marijuana a civil penalty without the threat of jail time. The bill hasn’t advanced in the Senate.

Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week

Photo courtesy of Gov. Phil Murphy

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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Oregon Psilocybin Ballot Measure Can Help Dying People Find Peace, Doctor Says In TV Ad

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Oregon’s first-of-its-kind ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy has the potential to help ease mental suffering for terminally ill people, a medical doctor says in a new TV ad for the initiative.

“I’ve worked in end-of-life care for 28 years. In hospice, we believe when people are dying, we should treat their pain—physical or mental distress,” Dr. Nick Gideonse says in the 30-second spot. “There’s often mental suffering that comes with a terminal diagnosis.”

“So I support Measure 109 to allow psilocybin therapy for terminally ill people suffering from depression. It’s humane,” he said. “Yes on 109 will help those near death come to terms with their diagnosis and find peace.”

If approved by voters, adults would be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.

A previous ad released earlier this month by the campaign featured a state senator who is also a medical doctor saying that the measure “promotes safety for a therapy that can help people who are suffering.”

That followed an independent spot by the nonprofit Heroic Hearts Project going on the air in Oregon to tout the benefits of psilocybin therapy, but it didn’t mention the specific ballot measure.

A campaign working to pass a separate measure on the Oregon ballot to decriminalize drug possession and expand substance misuse treatment also recently released a series of ads.

The Oregon Democratic Party formally endorsed both measures last month.

Meanwhile, the psychedelic reform measure has drawn opposition from an unlikely source. Decriminalize Nature, which has led efforts to pass local policies reducing criminal enforcement against psilocybin and other entheogens, has argued that it could threaten equitable access to the substance.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. In August, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”

Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.

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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