Reform advocates in Oregon quietly filed a proposed initiative last month to decriminalize low-level possession of all drugs that could appear before voters on the state’s 2020 ballot.
The measure, titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act,” places an emphasis on the need to treat drug addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter. Possession of small amounts of illegal substances, including heroin and cocaine, would be considered a class E violation, punishable by a maximum $100 fine and no jail time.
There would be an option to avoid the fine by completing a health assessment through an addiction recovery center. That process would involve a substance use disorder screening from a licensed health professional.
Manufacturing and distributing controlled substances would still cary heavy penalties, including felony charges.
Additionally, the initiative would use tax revenue from legal marijuana sales to establish grant programs designed to significantly expand access to addiction treatment services throughout the state.
Petitioners said that the purpose of their measure is to “make health assessment, treatment and recovery services for drug addiction available to all those who need and want access to those services and to adopt a health approach to drug addiction by removing criminal penalties for low-level drug possession.”
Advocates are still in the early phases of determining whether they will be able to mount a well-funded effort to qualify the measure for next year’s ballot.
“It’s too early to know if this initiative petition will go forward—Oregon has a long process—but I hope it does, because we desperately need it,” Anthony Johnson, a chief petitioner on the campaign, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “Oregon ranks 50th in the country in access to drug addiction treatment, and I’m hopeful about the prospect of redirecting a portion of cannabis tax revenue so that everyone struggling with addiction can have access to the treatment services they need.”
Johnson also served as chief petitioner for Oregon’s successful 2014 marijuana legalization effort.
Another petitioner listed on the new drug decriminalization measure is Janie Gullickson, executive director of the Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon.
Oversight of the drug treatment grant program funded by the initiative would be the responsibility of a council that would be established by the Oregon Health Authority. The body would be tasked with expanding access to health services by providing funding to organizations that are “evidence-informed, trauma-informed, culturally responsive, patient-centered, and non-judgmental.”
An example of an eligible health provider would be one that offers harm reduction interventions, including “overdose prevention education, access to naloxone hydrochloride and sterile syringes, and stimulant-specific drug education and outreach.”
Talk of a prospective all-drug decriminalization proposal being introduced in Oregon led the founders of a separate reform group, Oregon Psilocybin Society (OPS), to drop similar provisions from their proposed 2020 measure to legalize psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.
OPS said that part of the reason it omitted decriminalization language from a revised draft of their measure was because it heard that the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) planned to introduce a separate initiative that would remove the threat of jail time for any kind of low-level drug possession charge.
DPA confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it is considering getting involved in multiple potential state-level decriminalization efforts but said it hasn’t yet decided whether to support a full-scale effort to qualify the Oregon proposal for the ballot.
“We’ve been looking at a number of states, including Oregon, that could benefit from moving towards a health-centered approach to drugs and away from criminalization,” Matt Sutton, DPA’s director of media relations, said in an email. “At this point in time, we have connected with various groups on the ground and are exploring all of our options.”
“It is much too soon to determine whether or not we will move forward with this measure, however, the process to get something on the ballot in Oregon can be lengthy, and we wanted to make sure the door was still open for the potential measure to proceed,” he said.
Regardless of what DPA chooses to do in the state, the change to OPS’s original psilocybin measure has already caused conflict among other reform organizations who insist that therapeutic legalization should be coupled with decriminalization, regardless of what outside groups are pursuing.
Oregon’s attorney general issued a certified ballot title for the psychedelic mushroom initiative on Friday, and now petitioners are cleared to collect the required 112,020 valid signatures from voters by July 2, 2020 in order to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
If the state Elections Division determines this month that petitioners on the drug decriminalization measure submitted at least 1,000 valid initial signatures, the attorney general would then have five business days to prepare a draft ballot title.
Read the general resolution of the drug decriminalization initiative below:
DRUG ADDICTION TREATMENT AND RECOVERY ACT
Whereas, Oregonians need adequate access to drug addiction treatment. Oregon ranks nearly last out of the 50 states in access to treatment, and the waiting lists to get treatment are too long. Every day, one or two Oregonians die because of drug overdoses. Drug treatment and recovery ought to be available to any Oregon resident who requests it.
Whereas, Oregonians suffering from substance use disorder also need adequate access to recovery services, peer support and stable housing. One in every 11 Oregonians is addicted to drugs. Drug addiction exacerbates many of our state’s most pressing problems, such as homelessness and poverty.
Whereas, Oregon needs to shift its focus to addressing drugs through a humane, cost-effective, health approach. People suffering from addiction are more effectively treated with health care services than with criminal punishments. A health care approach includes a health assessment to figure out the needs of people who are suffering from addiction, and it includes connecting them to the services they need.
Whereas, Oregon still treats addiction as a criminal problem. Law enforcement should spend more time on community safety, but Oregon law enforcement officers in 2017 arrested more than 8,000 people in cases where simple drug possession was the most serious offense. In many instances, the same people were arrested for drug possession, again and again, because they are unable to get treatment.
Whereas, punishing people who are suffering from addiction ruins lives. Criminalizing drugs saddles people with criminal records. Those records prevent them from getting housing, going to school, getting loans, getting professional licenses, getting jobs and keeping jobs. Criminalizing drugs disproportionately harms poor people and people of color.
Whereas, punishing people who are suffering from addiction is expensive. It costs an average of $15,000 per case where a misdemeanor drug conviction is the most serious offense. That is more than the typical cost to provide treatment.
Whereas, marijuana tax revenue has grown significantly. Oregon now receives more than $100 million in marijuana tax revenue a year. The amount of marijuana revenue is expected to grow by more than $20 million per year.
The People of Oregon therefore propose this Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act of 2020 to expand access to drug treatment and recovery services and pay for it with marijuana tax revenue.
Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign
A congressman and staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign toured a marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas on Monday and discussed the need for federal cannabis reform.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who endorsed Sanders’s bid for the White House last week, shared photos on Twitter from the visit to NuWu Cannabis, a tribal-owned shop that features a consumption lounge and a drive-thru where consumers can buy marijuana products.
After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—@BernieSanders marijuana legalization plan will do just that. pic.twitter.com/XFWmIZKuus
— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) January 21, 2020
“After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—[Sanders’s] marijuana legalization plan will do just that,” the congressman tweeted.
While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wasn’t scheduled to attend the shop and has since had to drop campaign stops in order to participate in the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Pocan and Nevada campaign staff were there on his behalf, Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former state senator who helped coordinate the event, told Marijuana Moment.
“We showed him around, explained on how it works, explained how it’s organized under state law,” Segerblom said of Pocan. “He said he’d never seen anything like it.”
The congressman also talked with business owners about the importance of social equity within the marijuana industry. He didn’t purchase or sample any cannabis products, however.
Segerblom said that while Sanders wasn’t able to attend this tour, he believes it’s important for the candidate to participate in such events and talk about his reform agenda to distinguish himself in the race.
“There’s a lot of people who will vote on this issue, and since [former Vice President Joe Biden] has come out against legalizing cannabis, I think it’s a very important issue for him to emphasize,” he said.
It’s fitting that Pocan would tour a tribal-owned cannabis business, as he was the chief sponsor of a 2016 bill that would have protected tribes from losing federal funds if they enact a legal marijuana program. Although the congressman represents Wisconsin, which doesn’t even have a comprehensive medical cannabis program let alone full adult-use legalization, he has cosponsored several cannabis reform bills this Congress, including two that would end federal prohibition.
State-legal dispensaries are getting a lot of high-profile attention from politicians lately. For example, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited a Las Vegas marijuana shop last year, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) paid a visit to a California dispensary and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) toured a business that makes CBD-infused chocolates.
Photo courtesy of Rep. Mark Pocan.
New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom
Vermont lawmakers filed a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize three psychedelic substances as well as kratom.
Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) introduced the legislation, which would amend state law to carve out exemptions to the list of controlled substances. Psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom would no longer be regulated under the proposal.
Cina told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that he decided to pursue the policy change based on a “belief that I share with many people around the world that plants are a gift from nature and they’re a part of the web of life that humans are connected to.”
“Plants, especially plant medicines, should be accessible to people,” he said. “Use of plant medicine should be considered a health care issue, not a criminal issue.”
Whether plant medicines are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize healing practices that go back to the very roots of our humanity. https://t.co/hRDWWqa7yb
— Brian Cina (@briancinavt) January 22, 2020
While it remains to be seen whether the legislature will have the appetite to pursue the policy change, the bill’s introduction represents another sign that the psychedelics reform movement has momentum. Activists in about 100 cities across the U.S. are working to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, but the Vermont proposal is unique in that it’s being handled legislatively at the state level.
Text of the bill states that the four substances are “commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.”
Larry Norris, cofounder of the national psychedelics reform group Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment that he’s especially encouraged by the use of the word “entheogenic,” a term that advocates are hoping to bring into the mainstream to more accurately describe the type of substances they want to decriminalize.
“It is exciting to see emerging interest at the state legislative level to support decriminalizing natural plants and fungi that are ‘commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes,'” he said. “The fact that the word entheogenic is making its way into the legislative lexicon speaks volumes for the shift in perspective that is happening nationwide.”
“While we were not involved in the drafting of this legislation, we look forward to offering any support and guidance to Representative Brian Cina in Vermont or any future state legislators aiming to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi,” Norris said.
Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year, followed by a unanimous City Council vote in Oakland to make a wide range of psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. And while lawmakers have been comparatively slow to raise the issue in legislatures, activists in Oregon are working to put a therapeutic psilocybin initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot and, separately, a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment. In California, meanwhile, advocates are aiming to put psilocybin legalization before voters in November.
Part of the motivation behind the legislation was “recognizing that the decriminalization of mushrooms seems to be a next step in other places, and thinking that it might have greater success if we can make the point that in the path of decriminalization, the next step after cannabis is psilocybin mushrooms,” Cina said. “It was important for me to make a point about the significance of plants.”
“What it goes back to for me ultimately is that any kind of use of substances should be treated as a health care matter, not a criminal issue,” he said. “Whether those substances are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize a behavior that goes back to the very roots of our humanity.”
The bill currently has three cosponsors and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. One of the cosponsors, Rep. Zachariah Ralph (P/D) told Marijuana Moment that he supports “the legalization of psychedelics because prohibition, generally, does not to work, and has continued to be enforced disproportionally against low income and minority communities.”
“Research at Johns Hopkins University and other facilities around the country on the medicinal use of psilocybin mushrooms are showing some promising results as a long term treatment of depression, addiction and anxiety,” he said. “This is especially important today as we deal with increased rates of suicides and drug overdoses across the nation and especially in Vermont.”
The bill’s introduction also comes as Vermont lawmakers express optimism about the prospects of expanding the state’s cannabis law to allow commercial sales.
While Gov. Phil Scott (R) has previously voiced opposition to allowing retail marijuana products to be sold, citing concerns about impaired driving, he recently indicated that he may be open to taxing and regulating the market. And according to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill this session, with most members in favor of the reform move.
Vermont made history in 2018 by becoming the first state to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature, albeit with a noncommercial grow-and-give model. Now the question is whether lawmakers there will again make history by taking up psychedelics reform and decriminalizing these substances at the state level for the first time.
“We’ve decriminalized and then legalized and now might be regulating and taxing marijuana, which is a plant medicine,” Cina said. “But there are these other plant medicines that have been left behind.”
A Republican lawmaker in Iowa filed a bill to legalize certain psychedelics for medical purposes last year, but it did not advance.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Mexican Lawmakers Plan To Pass Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill Before End Of April
An amended bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among lawmakers, setting the stage for a renewed reform push as the legislature goes back into session next month.
The new proposal, which was jointly submitted by the Justice and Health Committees, would allow adults to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis for personal use and cultivate up to six plants. Individuals could apply for a license to possess more than 28 grams but no more than 200 grams.
While Sen. Ricardo Monreal Ávila of the ruling MORENA party said the measure is not final, it’s a next step in the process. He said he’ll be meeting with Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero and Julio Scherer, legal advisor to the president, next week to discuss cannabis reform legislation.
Under the proposed bill, those who possess an amount of marijuana between 28 and 200 grams would be charged a fine amounting to roughly $560, while stricter penalties would be imposed for possession of more than 200 grams.
The Mexican Cannabis Institute, a new regulatory body, would be responsible for issuing business licenses and developing rules for the market. The bill also contains provisions aimed at promoting social equity, such as prioritizing cultivation licenses for individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war.
The institute would also be able to issue grants for research into the cultivation of cannabis for commercial use, according to Milenio.
The introduction of this revised legislation comes more than a year after the nation’s Supreme Court deemed federal laws prohibiting personal marijuana possession and cultivation unconstitutional—a ruling that was followed by a legislative mandate to end the policy. In the months since, lawmakers have worked to develop a regulatory scheme to legalize the plant for adult use.
But while there was progress—with the Senate holding numerous public educational meetings, including one that featured a former White House drug czar—the legislature was unable to reach a compromise on a passable bill before the court’s October 2019 deadline, prompting leading lawmakers to request an extension.
The Supreme Court agreed to extend the deadline for a policy change to April 30.
The new bill going before the Congress is largely similar to the one that Senate committees unveiled just before the earlier deadline, but there have been some minor changes. For example, it amends the business licensing scheme. There will be five types of licenses that the institute can issue: cultivation, transformation, marketing, exports/imports and research.
Monreal stressed that “there is nothing ensured yet” in terms of the prospects for the new draft legislation being passed as written.
— Senadores Morena (@MorenaSenadores) January 21, 2020
“There are those who are not in favor even of the legislation in this matter, so all that we have to pick it up and translate it into the will expressed on the opinion,” he said, adding that the legislature still hopes to pass legalization before the April deadline.
Read the full draft Mexican marijuana legalization bill below: