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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.

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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.

Politics

New Congressional Resolution Condemns Police Brutality And War On Drugs

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Twelve House members introduced a resolution on Friday condemning police brutality in light of the recent law enforcement killings of two black individuals that have galvanized mass protests. The measure specifically notes the racial injustices of the war on drugs.

The resolution is partly motivated by the killings of George Floyd in Minnesota, where a police officer suffocated him to death, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, where she was fatally shot by police during a botched drug raid.

Protests have erupted across the U.S. this week, with calls for justice and law enforcement accountability. The new House measure, if adopted, would formally align the body with that sentiment, condemning police brutality, racial profiling and excessive use of force.

The drug war has contributed to those problems, the lawmakers said, with people of color being more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white people despite similar rates of consumption.

The “system of policing in America, and its systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of color, particularly Black people, stems from the long legacy of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, and the War on Drugs in the United States and has been perpetuated by violent and harmful law enforcement practices,” a provision of the resolution states.

In addition to condemning “all acts of brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers and calls for the end of militarized policing practices,” the resolution urges the Justice Department to investigate individual cases of police violence and racial profiling and establish all-civilian review boards to provide community oversight of policing.

The measure also “calls for the adoption of sound and unbiased law enforcement policies at all levels of government that reduce the disparate impact of police brutality and use of force on Black and Brown people and other historically marginalized communities.”

Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Karen Bass (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA) led the resolution. Other cosponsors include Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA).

“From slavery to lynching to Jim Crow, Black people in this country have been brutalized and dehumanized for centuries,” Omar said in a press release. “The war on drugs, mass criminalization, and increasingly militarized police forces have led to the targeting, torture and murder of countless Americans, disproportionately black and brown.”

“The murder of George Floyd in my district is not a one-off event. We cannot fully right these wrongs until we admit we have a problem,” she said. “As the People’s House, the House of Representatives must acknowledge these historical injustices and call for a comprehensive solution. There are many steps on the path to justice, but we must begin to take them.”

Advocacy groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, Color of Change, ACLU chapters and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have endorsed the resolution.

This measure is being introduced 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 that letter, the legislators cited prior excessive force incidents with two of the three officers involved in Taylor’s shooting—as well as prior alleged improper enforcement by the department’s SWAT team in a botched marijuana raid—as evidence of the need for an investigation.

“For too long, Black and brown bodies have been profiled, surveilled, policed, lynched, choked, brutalized and murdered at the hands of police officers,” Pressley said about the new resolution. “We cannot allow these fatal injustices to go unchecked any longer. There can be no justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or any of the human beings who have been killed by law enforcement, for in a just world, they would still be alive. There must, however, be accountability.”

Federal Judge Gives Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Activists A Boost With Signature Gathering Ruling

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Joe Biden’s New Disability Plan Includes Boosting Medical Marijuana Research

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Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s new plan for people with disabilities involves promoting research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana.

The former vice president, who remains opposed to broader cannabis legalization, said he will “ensure people with disabilities have a voice in their government and are included in policy development and implementation.” That includes cannabis policy.

“A Biden Administration will prioritize the research needed to advance science-based federal policies related to the use of marijuana for medical conditions, chronic pain, and disabilities,” the plan, released on Thursday, states.

This is another example of Biden featuring marijuana issues in broader policy platforms. Earlier this month, he released a plan on racial justice that included his existing modest cannabis reform proposals for decriminalization and automatic expungements.

But while advocates agree with the need for those policy changes, they’ve remained disappointed about Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization—something they argue should go hand-in-hand with the social justice principles he’s touted.

The presumptive nominee has argued that more research needs to be done on the potential risks and benefits of marijuana before he’s be open to legalization. In a recent interview, a host pushed back and said, anecdotally, there have been decades of research given that millions of people consume cannabis.

Biden agreed and said he knows “a lot of weed smokers” but, in agreeing to that premise, he seemed to signal the people he knows who consume marijuana have demonstrated the need to maintain prohibition.

While he’s given no indication that he’s willing to embrace legalization ahead of the November election, some are holding out hope that a criminal justice task force he formed with former rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will push him in that direction. Most of the members of that group support legalization.

The former vice president does support legalizing medical marijuana, rescheduling cannabis under federal law, decriminalizing the plant, providing for automatic expungements and allowing states to set their own laws.

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Federal Judge Gives Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Activists A Boost With Signature Gathering Ruling

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Activists behind a marijuana legalization initiative in Arkansas are seeing glimmers of hope that they will be able to qualify for the November ballot despite serious setbacks caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal judge ruled on Monday that the secretary of state must accept signatures that were not collected in-person or notarized, as has been required by existing policy, because of excessive burdens that imposes on campaigns amid the health crisis. Legalization advocates say the temporary injunction, which comes before a final ruling, gives them confidence their measure can qualify ahead of a July 3 deadline to submit signatures.

Now people can download, print and mail in signed petitions—significantly bolstering the chances the legal cannabis campaign can make up for the petitioning deficit created by stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements enacted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the April lawsuit that brought about the federal injunction (which was not filed by legalization activists but by another initiative campaign), plaintiffs also made the case that full-scale electronic signature gathering should be permitted. U.S. District Judge P. K. Holmes empathized with that request in his order, noting that in many scenarios outside the ballot process, officials have recognized the validity of digitally signed documents—including in legal proceedings he oversees.

“It is not that electronic signatures cannot similarly be determined to be genuine. In fact, electronic signatures are commonplace and accepted for all manner of official business, and not only by the State, but by this Court,” he said. “Counsel for Plaintiffs and the Secretary of State electronically signed the briefing on this very motion, and the Court has electronically signed this opinion and the order.”

However, the judge said there must be a balance that takes into account the state’s interest in ensuring the validity of signatures and so he’s doubtful the final ruling will provide for digital signatures.

In any case, the court’s temporary injunction bodes well for the marijuana reform campaign, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, which says it was on the path to qualifying before in-person signature gathering was suspended. Melissa Fults, executive director of the group, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday that she’s confident the new policies will help the initiative get placed before voters.

“I am still confident. We’re going to give a hard push these next four-and-a-half weeks—hoping and praying that we get signatures and get them turned in and get on the ballot,” she said. “And I think it’ll pass once it gets on the ballot.”

Arkansas voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016.

As the state begins the process of reopening, Fults said the campaign will also be engaging in limited in-person collection with enhanced safety mechanisms in place, as well as “drive by” gathering for people to sign the initiative from their vehicles.

In order to make the ballot, the group needs to submit about 90,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 3. Fults said they’ve collected roughly 20,000 so far, and so these last five weeks will prove critical.

Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to four ounces of cannabis flower and grow up to six plants and six seedings.

A minimum of one dispensary must be licensed per county, and there must be at least 30 shops per congressional district.

Tax revenue from marijuana sales would first go toward implementation. After that, 60 percent would be used to fund public pre-K and after school programs and 40 percent would fund the operations of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Another campaign that was working to put cannabis legalization on the state’s ballot told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on Tuesday that it is ending its effort for the year and will shift its focus to 2022. An Arkansas True Grass spokesperson said “we weren’t able to do any of our spring events” because of the virus, leaving them without an opportunity to qualify.

Here’s a status update on other drug policy reform efforts throughout the country: 

Activists in Montana and Nebraska have resumed signature gathering with new safety measures in place for campaigns to legalize adult-use marijuana and medical cannabis, respectively.

In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort asked 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. That request was denied but in March the campaign expressed optimism that they had amassed enough signatures to qualify anyway.

Separate Oregon campaigns to decriminalize drug possession while significantly expanding substance misuse treatment and to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes recently submitted more than enough raw signatures to qualify for ballot access, though they must still be verified.

Activists in Washington State are continuing to work on a 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.

A federal judge recently ordered Ohio officials to accept electronic signature submissions to place local marijuana decriminalization measures on the ballot—a decision that could potentially have positive implications for a statewide legalization campaign in the works.

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.

A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law asked for a digital petitioning option, but state officials haven’t signed on.

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

North Dakota activists said they plan to continue campaign activities for a marijuana legalization initiative, but it’s more likely that they will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.

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.”

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.

And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.

Read the federal judge’s order on Arkansas signature gathering below: 

20-5070 Miller Et Al v. Thu… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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