South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg toured a marijuana grow house and dispensary in Las Vegas on Wednesday. During the event, which Marijuana Moment attended, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate spoke with business owners about the challenges they face under federal prohibition and expanded on his vision for cannabis reform.
Buttigieg visited Top Notch, a minority-owned marijuana shop that says it services more than 1,000 customers and patients per day. He asked the staff questions about how people choose cannabis products that are right for them, the manufacturing process and what legislative fixes are needed at the federal level to ensure that these businesses have access to financial services available to most industries.
He did not purchase any cannabis during the visit, however, despite acknowledging that he has indulged a “handful of times a long time ago.”
“I’m on the clock and it’s going to be a long work day for me,” he said before departing for a town hall event.
Alright the reveal: Mayor @PeteButtigieg is touring a minority-owned cannabis dispensary in Vegas to talk about his reform agenda. Earlier today he toured a grow house. Stick with me/@MarijuanaMoment for the latest! pic.twitter.com/yCv3OWsdMi
— Kyle Jaeger (@kylejaeger) October 23, 2019
Buttigieg said that “people have a certain imagery of dispensaries or the marijuana industry that dates back to outdated stereotypes,” but when you visit a shop like Top Notch, “it almost reminds you of an Apple store, how tidy and carefully it’s laid out, knowledgeable employees and a legitimate business that still struggles because federal policy hasn’t caught up.”
“It was very helpful to be able to see it myself,” he said.
The mayor weighed in on a variety of cannabis-related issues following the dispensary tour, including his proposal to decriminalize possession of all drugs because oftentimes, “a sentence has done more harm than the offense that it was intended to deal with” when it comes to low-level drug charges.
Buttigieg, who served in the military, told Marijuana Moment that he’s “met a lot of veterans who rely on cannabis for the treatment of diagnosed or undiagnosed issues, often service-connected issues like post-traumatic stress.”
He voiced support for allowing doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend medical cannabis to veterans and said that federal legalization could “pave the way for [the policy] to be supported with the VA.”
“We also see a lot of chronic pain conditions that are being medicated with opioids where there might be an alternative,” he said. “It’s very clear that the policies around this are not based on science or reason, they’re based on habit and in some cases prejudice, and we have an opportunity to change that.”
Asked whether he felt that medical cannabis should be covered under health insurance plans, Buttigieg told Marijuana Moment that “legitimate medical use of cannabis should be covered, as any therapy ought to.”
“Now there are questions about what should be approved for what indications. This should go through the same highly rigorous process that any pharmaceutical therapy would,” he said. “But there’s no reason that it should be excluded. When we get to legalization, that’ll change.”
He also ruled out the prospect of using executive action to decriminalize marijuana, stating that it “needs to be [achieved] legislatively so that this is not the whim of the president, it’s the direction our country is taking.”
Inside the shop pic.twitter.com/2QyfTrHi5D
— Kyle Jaeger (@kylejaeger) October 23, 2019
The trip to the dispensary reminded Buttigieg about another issue he’s dealt with as mayor: synthetic cannabinoids.
“One of the things that went through my mind as I saw just how carefully they monitored the safety of the products sold here is the danger of something that doesn’t get talked about enough, which is so-called synthetic marijuana, or synthetic cannabinoids, many of which have nothing at all to do with actual cannabis,” he said. “They’re incredibly toxic, they’re often legal—sold at gas stations in communities like mine—and disproportionately consumed by and harming people of color, even while things that don’t have those same toxicity are being made available in a smart, well-regulated way in places like Nevada.”
“It is time for the laws of the country to evolve,” he said, “and I think we can learn a lot from how Nevada has developed the right legal.”
The site of the shop tour was intentional. Buttigieg lauded Nevada’s regulatory system and the economic benefits of legalization, but he emphasized that federal reform should be pursued with a “lens on equity and on health” and should “empower a diverse workforce, make sure that there’s diverse ownership and support independent or family-operated businesses.”
Top Notch is a rare example of such a business in Nevada, owned and operated Kema Ogden, the state’s first female minority owner of a cannabis dispensary.
Ogden told Marijuana Moment that the mayor “basically just wanted to get an idea of the flow and how things work for us and how we got into this—how it started and some of our obstacles that we go through and what would federally help us.”
Larry Smith, managing member of G Five Medical Consultant who also participated in the tour, said that a major congressional priority should be, at minimum, rescheduling cannabis under federal law “so it can open up banking” for businesses like his.
This story has been updated to correct Smith’s title. A previous version described him as a co-owner of Top Notch.
Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved
A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules in place.
While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.
Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.
The state pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.
But in the court’s ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.
“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”
In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.
“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”
“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.
One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having five congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.
In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their measure and saw 68 percent of voters approve it last year.
Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.
This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.
While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.
Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below:
Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing
A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.
As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.
It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”
The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below:
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.
Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.
The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.
MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.
“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”
Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.
It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.
Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.
FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.
The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.