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Seattle Becomes Largest U.S. City To Decriminalize Psychedelics

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Seattle’s City Council approved a resolution Monday to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.

The landmark measure extends what is already Seattle city policy not to arrest or prosecute people for personal drug possession to further protect the cultivation and sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi for “religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices.”

The legislation, passed by a unanimous vote, declares “that the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of anyone engaging in entheogen-related activities should be among The City of Seattle’s lowest enforcement priorities” and requests the city’s police department “move toward the formal codification and adoption of that practice as departmental policy.”

Further, it expresses the council’s intent “to determine what changes would be necessary to protect from arrest or prosecution individuals who cultivate entheogens” and to make those changes through a subsequent ordinance.

“These nonaddictive natural substances have real potential in clinical and therapeutic settings to make a really significant difference in people’s lives,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who introduced the resolution, said before the vote. “This resolution really sets the stage as the first significant action in the state of Washington to move this policy forward.”

“Entheogens, commonly known psychedelics, have been shown to benefit the well-being of individuals suffering from depression, severe anxiety, problematic substance use, post-traumatic stress, end-of-life anxiety, grief, and intergenerational trauma,” a press release from the councilman’s office said. “These and other physical and mental conditions are plaguing many communities, which have been further demonstrated to be exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19.”

The resolution was inspired in part by the City Council’s interest in reducing opioid-related deaths. Members in June formally asked a local task force studying the overdose crisis to examine “public policy governing psychedelic medicines.” Three months later, the task force recommended the city decriminalize psychedelics and consider removing criminal penalties around all drugs.

Meanwhile, members of the advocacy group Decrim Nature Seattle has spent more than two years lobbying the council to end penalties for cultivating and sharing psychedelics. In May, the group submitted a draft ordinance to Lewis’s office at the councilmember’s request.

Decrim Nature Seattle (DNS) on Monday cheered the council’s adoption of the resolution, noting that Seattle is now the largest city in the country to have passed a decriminalization measure.

“We’re happy that our years of effort have paid off in making this a reality,” said Kody Zalewski, DNS co-director and chair of policy and research, who thanked volunteers for making the victory possible. “This is only the very beginning of conducting a much larger push to expand access to psychedelic medicine across Washington State, and codifying the intent of this resolution via citywide ordinance.”

“Public opinion is changing, and many people are waking up to the fact that the War on Drugs leads to unnecessary incarceration, impedes access to profoundly effectively medicine and impinges on both religious freedom and personal liberty,” Zalewski continued. “Social progress rarely happens through sweeping changes, but rather occurs from winning one small battle at a time.”

Tatiana Luz Quintana, the group’s co-director and co-chair of education and outreach, stressed the importance of crafting local and state policy around psychedelics that guarantees access for marginalized and oppressed groups, for example by including the right to grow and share psychedelic plants with other adults. Home cultivation of marijuana, by contrast, remains illegal in Washington State.

“While we have been following in the footsteps of cannabis decriminalization, we must reflect on the policies that fell short,” Quintana said. “Creating equitable access to psychedelics must be at the forefront of how we continue to move this legislation forward.”

Lewis, the councilmember who introduced the resolution, told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that he believes “we’re in a position where, I think, we could see movement pretty quickly from the state,” noting that he’s received very little blowback from constituents about his own proposal.

Last month, advocates announced a push to put a measure on Washington’s 2022 ballot that would decriminalize all drugs and invest state money in treatment and recovery.

During debate on the local measure on Monday, Councilmember Kshama Sawant questioned why the vehicle for the policy change was a resolution rather than a formal ordinance that would amend the city’s municipal code.

“We have not pushed for resolutions in place of ordinances when it is possible and realistic and necessary from a political and moral standpoint for the council to have an ordinance passed to decriminalize psychedelics,” she said, adding that to decriminalize “in fact, rather than just in rhetoric, would require an ordinance, and it is the City Council, not the police department that has the authority to pass such an ordinance.”

The version of the Seattle resolution passed by the City Council includes some minor changes to an initial draft that was heard late last month by the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee. Specifically, it removes a provision that would have requested the city’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations draft a decriminalization bill for legislators to introduce at the state level. It also replaces a reference to “Native Americans” with “Indigenous people of the American Southwest.”

The latter change is in reference to the historical use of peyote, a cactus endemic to Mexico and parts of the American Southwest, which would not be decriminalized under the council’s resolution. The measure specifically excludes peyote from its definition of entheogens, citing its vulnerable ecological status and unique cultural significance to certain Indigenous groups.

Peyote matures slowly and is currently categorized by conservationists as “vulnerable” after an uptick in illicit harvesting. The cactus currently has no federal protection in the U.S., while in Mexico only Indigenous people can legally harvest it.

Groups such as the National Council of Native American Churches, which uses peyote ceremonially, have been urging activists and lawmakers not to include peyote on lists of allowed plants and fungi. The group argued in a letter last year that the cactus should be “preserved for utilization by and for Indigenous peoples.”

In Santa Cruz, one of the first U.S. cities to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi, the City Council last month amended its policy to specifically exclude peyote as well as other cacti that contain mescaline.

The change was supported by leaders of Decriminalize Santa Cruz (DSC), which helped pass the original measure. In a statement, the group apologized “for our lack of cultural sensitivity surrounding the Peyote cacti (Lophophora williamsii) and discounting Indigenous consultation in the process of decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi.”

How to reform drug laws while respecting Indigenous peoples’ centuries-old relationship with the threatened cactus has caused some controversy within the psychedelic advocacy community, however, and not all activists agree with the peyote carveout.

Carlos Plazola, the co-founder and chair of Decriminalize Nature National, opposed the change in Santa Cruz and spoke Monday during the Seattle City Council’s public comment period, arguing that prohibiting personal cultivation of peyote will put the cactus at further risk of extinction.

“For 100 years plus, we’ve had peyote criminalized, and it’s only led to its decline,” he told the council, though he said he nevertheless supported the council’s passage of the resolution.

The Seattle measure notes that “entheogens have been recognized as sacred to human cultures around the world for centuries, and continue to be revered and utilized to this day by venerable and sincere cultural and spiritual leaders and communities throughout the world and the United States.”

Lewis, for his part, said the issue of whether to include peyote is “certainly a conversation I’m willing to continue” if the policy is crafted into a formal city ordinance.

Like much of the rest of the country, Washington State is contemplating major changes in how it treats drug use. Earlier this year, state lawmakers considered legislation that would have removed all penalties for possession of relatively small, “personal use” amounts of drugs and instead invested in treatment and recovery services. While that bill died in committee, lawmakers from both parties acknowledged at the time that the state’s drug control apparatus was broken.

Shortly thereafter, the state Supreme Court overturned Washington’s felony law against drug possession completely, sending lawmakers scrambling to replace the law. Ultimately they approved a modest reform, reducing the state’s felony charge for drug possession to a misdemeanor and earmarking more money for treatment. But the law’s criminal penalties will expire in 2023, an effort to encourage lawmakers to revisit the policy.

Jurisdictions across the country are increasingly removing or reducing penalties around drug possession and consumption, especially when it comes to psychedelics. Since Denver in 2019 became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, a number of states and municipalities have made similar changes to dismantle the drug war.

Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers extend psychedelics decriminalization to include cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use.

Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.

In California, activists last month were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms. The cities of Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization, and last year Oakland lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

Meanwhile, Denver activists have set their eyes on broader psilocybin reform, with plans to allow noncommercial gifting and communal use of the substance.

Detroit currently stands to become one of the next major cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with the reform proposal making the local ballot for this November.

Elsewhere in Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities. And last week the City Council in Grand Rapids advanced its own decriminalization resolution, but it fell far short of what activists had hoped. Rather than making any formal changes to city policy, it merely expresses support for future reform.

Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change include NorthamptonSomerville and Cambridge. In July, state lawmakers heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

The governor of Connecticut recently signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.

A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.

The Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill this year, but it later died in the Senate.

At the federal level, congressional lawmakers in May filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have eased rules that currently limit research into Schedule I drugs, but it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation identify a need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research, including into the potential therapeutic value of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also recently announced funding for a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.

Elon Musk Says People Should Be ‘Open To Psychedelics’ And Predicts The Next Generation Of Politicians Will Normalize The Substances

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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California Officials Have Failed To Seal Thousands Of Marijuana Conviction Records

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“There are a ton of paper records. Courts we know are dealing with that in various ways.”

By Alexander Lekhtman, Filter

Nearly five years after California voters legalized marijuana, potentially hundreds of thousands of residents still have publicly available cannabis-related criminal records that the law requires to be sealed—even though the state passed a bill to address this three years ago. While this continues, people’s cannabis convictions can still be searched by employers and police, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and targeting.

Former Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1793 into law in September 2018. Known as the “Bonta bill,” after its lead sponsor (current Attorney General Rob Bonta), this created “automatic sealing” for cannabis criminal records. It required prosecutors in the state Department of Justice to review records dating back over 40 years, and was meant to provide justice for people who’d been arrested, convicted or sentenced on charges that would no longer apply post-legalization.

But the deadline for California to complete this sealing process—July 2020—passed over a year ago. And California residents, advocates and officials reached by Filter confirmed, to different degrees, that the state has failed to honor its promise to provide justice for people with cannabis records, who are disproportionately people of color. Disappointingly, even California government officials can’t give exact details on how many people are affected.

Expunging a record usually means it is permanently destroyed, while sealing—which is what California does—merely hides it from public view or from being searched. In either case, it’s an urgent need.

Having a criminal record makes it legal for employers, banks and schools, among others, to discriminate against you. There are over 44,000 different forms of sanctioned discrimination against people with records, in all areas of life. And the dangers are even greater for immigrants in the US; a simple drug possession violation can subject undocumented immigrants, and even legal permanent residents, to deportation.

In California, the legal non-medical cannabis market is already valued at $5 billion and growing fast. It is absurd that while businesses can sell cannabis as legally as an iPhone, people can still have their cannabis records searched when applying for a job.

Why Advocates Sought Automatic Record-Sealing

Perhaps the biggest barrier with expungement and sealing in general is that too many people with cannabis records remain in the dark about this whole process and what their rights are. That’s why advocates call for legislation like the Bonta bill, making the process automatic.

“Expungement is not really straightforward,” Felicia Carbajal, programming director for National Expungement Works (NEW), told FilterNEW has worked for over three years to share education and support for expungement all over the US.

“So many people don’t know that they’re eligible,” she continued. “I imagine a lot of the folks who have those convictions aren’t running to their local agencies to get this taken care of, nor are they taking it upon themselves to do it because it is arduous. It’s not an easy process if you’ve never filled out forms or if you’re operating from a space of trauma. Many times people from historically-underserved communities get so underwhelmed when they’re put in these situations.”

California offers the option of sealing your record manually. But this puts a burden on impacted people. Carbajal noted that someone in Los Angeles County might have to pay $200 in various fees to seal a record, in addition to extra costs like missing work, paying for gas or obtaining legal support. “If folks have to decide between eating and taking care of an expungement … it’s not a priority.”

The difficulties of manual record sealing, especially for low-income residents, led to the movement for “automatic” sealing in California. Governments that now admit the injustice of marijuana prohibition ought to do the hard work to clear these records, goes the reasoning—not impacted people.  

Despite the software’s convenience, there are problems algorithms can’t yet solve, like political stonewalling.

In January 2018, months before California’s legislature passed the Bonta bill, then-San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón became the first in the state to jump-start the automatic sealing movement. He announced his office would take action to seal and reclassify thousands of cannabis records dating back to 1975.

In May 2018, Gascón’s office partnered with Code for America, a digital technology nonprofit. The company developed a software, “Clear My Record,” which vastly sped up the process: It reads thousands of criminal records, identifies those eligible for sealing, and submits them to the DA in a matter of seconds.

This innovation has helped DA offices throughout California—and in other states like Illinois—to process tens of thousands of cannabis records at a time. But despite its convenience, there are problems algorithms can’t yet solve, like political stonewalling.

How automatic cannabis record sealing works in California.

Why Has Automatic Expungement Ground to a Halt?

Here’s what was supposed to happen under the Bonta bill.

First, the DOJ was required to identify which records were eligible for sealing, and which sentences could be reduced. The state’s courts estimated about 220,000 cannabis convictions, in total, would be eligible.

The DOJ was then required to file a petition for each eligible case—a request to seal a record or reduce a sentence—to district attorneys in each of California’s 58 counties, by July 2019. 

The DAs then had one year to approve or reject these petitions, by July 2020. Finally, county courts would have to seal the approved records and inform the DOJ, whiich would then update its own database of records.

“Nobody knows—I don’t care who you ask, that’s the answer.”

So what has gone wrong with a process designed to protect hundreds of thousands of people?

“Nobody knows—I don’t care who you ask, that’s the answer,” William Armaline, human rights director at San José State University, told Filter. “We don’t actually know right now the status of these clearance efforts across the state.” Armaline was part of the local movement that fought to seal over 11,000 cannabis records in Santa Clara County.

Nonetheless, sources described to Filter some of the various different causes, and potential causes, of this failure. These include inaction from county courts, and the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down government functions.

Record-Keeping Differences Cause Chaos

The California Department of Justice (DOJ) keeps a “criminal record repository” where it records each person with a record throughout the state. County trial courts, meanwhile, keep records of specific cases.

So if someone were convicted of three misdemeanors in Los Angeles County, there would be one record at the DOJ which lists those three convictions—but three different records in the LA court system. Even if the DOJ seems to have largely fulfilled its first obligation of filing petitions to the counties, the sheer complexity of matching records from these different systems seems to have been one factor in the delay.

“There are aspects of record-keeping in California that made this all incredibly complicated to do and measure in terms of finding the status of this,” Armaline said. “There is differentiation between records held at DOJ, and various forms of records held in the individual counties that have different histories in terms of records.”

“Some [counties] have records older than others, some have old paper systems, others got rid of it … the differences are boringly long and complicated.”

Others who have worked with the counties agreed. “There is definitely room for error in the record-keeping, given there are multiple places where the records are held,” Alia Toran-Burrell, an associate director for Clear My Record, told Filter. “Ideally, what is in the courts’ records matches the DOJ’s records, but that’s not always the case.”

And those who work for the counties also shared this concern. “Record-keeping agencies like ours went through different systems in time,” Ruben Marquez, assistant public defender for Los Angeles County, told Filter. Marquez worked with the LA DA’s office to clear over 66,000 cannabis records. He estimates over 90 percent of them were felonies.

“One of the issues we had to keep circling back on was identifying all the potential eligible cases for dismissal,” he said.

And different counties have taken different approaches to these problems.

“There are a ton of paper records,” Toran-Burrell said. “Courts we know are dealing with that in various ways. Some felt like they need to take those paper records and digitize them in order to clear them. Other courts are contemplating not doing anything with the paper records because for background check purposes, people are not accessing the paper records … so it’s less of a barrier for folks. If the paper records are not impeding people’s lives … nothing would need to be done except for court staff not to disclose them.”

Are District Attorneys Dragging Their Feet?

Since September 2019, Clear My Record has been available for all California district attorneys to use free of charge. Toran-Burrell estimates that about 40 percent of the state’s DAs have used the tool. Some chose not to, she said, simply because they have their own record-keeping processes. Asked if any of the DAs were resistant in any way towards doing this work, Toran-Burrell had nothing bad to say about them.

However, California’s DAs have sometimes worked hard to delay record-sealing. In Santa Clara County (San José), for example, DA Jeff Rosen refused for years to clear 11,500 cannabis records, ignoring local activists and even turning down free help from Code for America. He finally acted to seal the records in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

And in Los Angeles, former DA Jackie Lacey objected to the sealing of over 2,100 cannabis records. She argued they weren’t eligible, based those people’s prior convictions for other offenses. The public defenders’ office has objected—but even with a new DA in place, the problem isn’t fully resolved. (The new DA, ironically, is George Gascón, formerly of San Francisco.)

How many other counties throughout California have also made such oversights? It’s impossible to know.

“A number of those cases, we’ve continued working with the DA’s office and have gotten them dismissed,” Marquez said. “There are some remaining, but we’ve continued to talk with their office. It is our hope the new DA leadership will dismiss the smaller number of remaining cases.”

Just to show how confusing all of this is: On September 27, Gascón’s office announced it had identified about 60,000 eligible cannabis records dating back 30 years in Los Angeles County. These county records are separate from the 66,000 records that former DA Lacey addressed, which were only taken from the state DOJ database

That means roughly twice as many cannabis records should have been sealed as the former DA actually acted on. How many other counties throughout California have also made such oversights? It’s difficult to know.

The Courts’ Delays

Toran-Burrell believes that DA’s offices throughout California have largely done their job to approve (or reject) cannabis records for sealing. The last hurdle is the courts, she said.

Marquez agreed with this, and speculated that the failure of the courts to act—together with the failure of the DOJ to update its own records in cases where courts have sealed records—has delayed justice for thousands.

“It’s theoretically possible that the DOJ met its burden in notifying the prosecution, the prosecution met its burden in notifying the public defenders offices in terms of what charges if any they would object to, and that cases were dismissed by the [local county] court,” he said. However, “It’s possible that there were delays by the [county] Superior Courts in updating their records, and it’s possible there were delays by the DOJ in updating their records.”

“We were hoping courts would prioritize clearing records; we just don’t know if that’s happened.”

“The law did not give a deadline to courts,” Toran-Burrell said. “It just said courts have to update their records […] Assuming district attorneys have done their role, it’s now in the courts’ hands.”

“Last year we tried to reach out to courts to find out the status of record clearance and it was pretty challenging getting info from courts about what’s going on,” she continued. “We acknowledge of course that COVID has been a massive challenge for everyone … at the same time, given the economic implications of COVID, people’s records being cleared is super-important for economic recovery. We were hoping courts would prioritize clearing records; we just don’t know if that’s happened.”

Court representatives from Fresno, San Bernardino and Orange Counties did not respond to Filter‘s requests for comment by publication time. All three counties have currently or previously banned nonmedical cannabis sales, as have over half of counties statewide.

After publication, the Orange County Court contacted Filter to confirm that the local DA’s office completed its petition to seal thousands of cannabis records, which the court granted. The court notified the state, as required. But for cases that could not be identified in its system, it returned them to the DA for further action.

The Path Forward: Will Lawmakers Take Action?

Reached by Filter, a press representative of the California Attorney General’s Office declined to give specifics about statewide progress on marijuana record-sealing.

“We defer to local agencies on the status of these updates and the challenges they are facing,” they said. “We are also unable to speak to what is being released by local agencies, but for awareness, none of our records are publicly searchable.”

Filter also contacted the Judicial Council of California, which oversees the state’s court systems.

“We don’t have this info—you’d have to go to each of the state’s 58 courts,” said Peter Allen of the Judicial Council. “Issues courts have identified to us include processing delays associated with the pandemic, such as receiving data from the DOJ or safely pulling old case records from off-site storage.”

Allen confirmed that some courts have had trouble retrieving older criminal records, while others are working to electronically report records all at once.

According to a December 2018 budget document obtained by Filter, the Judicial Council estimated that about 220,000 marijuana convictions in the entire state would be affected by the Bonta bill. They requested from the legislature a total of about $17 million spread over two years, to help county courts pay the costs of processing marijuana record clearance and reduction. The legislature agreed to the full budget request.

The money and tools for California to fulfill its promise would doubtless materialize if the political will existed.

The path forward from here is unclear. It’s possible the only solution is for the legislature to somehow force the courts to complete this process. The same Rob Bonta who first wrote the expungement bill is now California’s top law enforcement official—potentially a powerful platform to help finish the job he started. And Governor Gavin Newsom, who just won a divisive recall election to keep his job, could also go to bat on this issue for his voters.

The money and tools for California to fulfill its promise would doubtless materialize if the political will existed. Its leaders just need to focus on the problem—for the sake of all the people who were wrongly targeted to begin with.

This article was originally published by Filter, an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.

Bank Of America Cancels Account Of Marijuana And Psychedelics Research Institute Registered With DEA

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States Promote Federal Hemp Survey Being Mailed Out This Week To More Than 20,000 Farmers

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is officially beginning a nationwide survey of hemp producers this week, and state officials are working to make sure farmers in their jurisdictions participate.

The survey, which USDA began mailing out on Monday, asks producers about issues such as outdoor cultivation, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.

After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of 20,500 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) announced in August that the forms were being finalized to be filled out via mail or online. Now, the survey is officially in the mail and the agency is accepting responses on its website.

The questionnaire also goes over whether farmers are hand-trimming the hemp they produce, if they plan to extract cannabinoids or terpenes from the crop, what kind of yields they’ve harvested and how they obtain the seeds and clones they use.

Meanwhile, state agriculture departments across the country are encouraging local farmers to take part, and for good reason. The more respondents in each state, the bigger its hemp market will look and there will be more data will be available to analyze its needs. States with a lot of active hemp farmers may be seen as more attractive to investors in the industry and to ancillary businesses that serve producers of the crop. There may also be a greater likelihood that federal officials will see that state as a promising market for hemp—likely increasing the chances that businesses that are located there will win grants or other assistance.

Already, agriculture departments from states like Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington State have made social media posts calling attention to the survey.

“This inaugural hemp survey will establish a necessary benchmark and provide critically-needed data for the hemp industry,” said Kevin Barnes, acting administrator of USDA’s NASS, said in a press release. “The information collected can help inform producers’ decisions about growing, harvesting, and selling hemp as well as the type of hemp they decide to produce. The resulting data will also foster greater understanding of the hemp production landscape across regulatory agencies, producers, state and Tribal governments, processors, and other key industry entities.”

Responses need to be submitted online or mailed back by October 25, and the department plans to publish the results on February 17 of next year.

USDA initially published a notice about its intent to secure White House permission to conduct the survey in February.

Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.

Hemp was federally legalized via the 2018 Farm Bill.

There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.

While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.

The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”

USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.

Last month, USDA said it is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds out of hemp fields.

Meanwhile, members of Congress continue to work on further changes to federal hemp policy.

Farmers Switch From Raising Chickens For Slaughter To Growing Hemp With Help Of Animal Advocacy Group

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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Oakland Psychedelics Activists Launch Initiative To Legalize Community-Based Sales With Support From City Council

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Oakland activists are hoping to expand upon the city’s current psychedelics decriminalization ordinance by creating a community-based model through which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from local producers.

In 2019, the California city became the first in the U.S. to broadly decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

Now, advocates are announcing a “Go Local” Legislative Initiative to build upon their progress, and they have the backing of a key member of the City Council. Essentially, they are staging a year-long project to solicit feedback on how best to provide people with lawful access to entheogenic substances, leading up to the planned introduction of city-level legislation that would accomplish that goal in 2022.

Decriminalize Nature and related groups have been behind a multitude of local psychedelics reform efforts across the country, enacting decriminalization ordinances in cities in states like California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington.

Building upon the initial Oakland decriminalization of the personal use and cultivation of entheogenic plants and fungi, local lawmakers there approved a second resolution in late 2020 that urges California legislators to allow local jurisdictions to permit healing ceremonies where people could use entheogenic substances.

Advocates are now preparing to push Oakland to make the move on its own in the interim.

Carlos Plazola, chair of Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview last week that “part of [the future legislation] is sales and distribution and testing and holding space” for psychedelics ceremonies. But unlike with cannabis commercialization that’s been enacted in California and elsewhere, this would be focused on support the local economy, he said.

By doing so, “you actually do bring other values into the equation beyond profiteering, because it becomes part of the story that people want to support in the community,” Plazola said.

The process of drafting the legislation, which will be championed by Councilmember Noel Gallo (D), will begin with a series of public workshops and getting input from stakeholders and advocates across the country. The goal is to have a measure presented to the Oakland City Council early in the summer of 2022. And, ideally, other activist chapters in additional cities across the U.S. will follow suit, Plazola said.

Here’s an outline of possible reforms that are being considered for the forthcoming legislation: 

Examples of Zoning Changes

  • Change residential zones to allow small scale commercial agriculture
  • Change mixed used commercial zones to allow indoor nursery, testing labs, and distribution
  • Allow community-based gatherings in residential and commercial zones

Examples of business taxation and permitting changes

  • Local residency requirements
  • Fee waivers in low-income census tracts
  • No limits on number of business permits
  • Fee waivers for non-profit businesses
  • Permit fees used to provide business training for people who live in low-income census tracts

Examples of New Regulations

  • Creation of sacred plant adult farmer’s market permits
  • Limits on sizes of cultivation areas
  • Limits on investors with primary residency outside of Oakland
  • Limits on size of investments
  • Zoning and building permit processes to fit into existing, non-cannabis, processes. Cannabis process for permitting and building permit processing too onerous. Fit into food or agriculture existing processes.
  • No limits on number of local businesses engaging in sales of entheogens. Sales only in business mixed use business districts, and adults only allowed if sold in retail spots
  • No local consumption of entheogens where sales occur

Examples of disincentives to outside control and value extraction

  • Limits on outside capital allowed
  • All capital must originate from within Oakland city limits, proof of residency required
  • Only cannabis dispensaries with 100% local ownership to qualify for sales of entheogens
  • No sales of synthetics in powder form.
  • All products must identify local source of cultivation and production. “grown by: _____”  “produced by_____” “tested by ________”. All must be local Oakland locations.
  • Allowable products include original plant materials, actual plants or fungi in wet or dry form, mixed teas or elixirs, or powder form one step from dried material (i.e. No synthetics from extracted molecular compounds).

“Our indigenous ancestors have used these plant medicines safely and successfully for thousands of years, despite efforts to oppress and extinguish their use,” Gallo said in a press release. “So, it makes sense that the benefits of the discovery or rediscovery of the healing power of these entheogens by the west are enjoyed first and foremost by indigenous people, communities of color, and local communities, in general.”

Beyond Oakland, local officials in two other California cities— Santa Cruz and Arcata—have effectively decriminalized a wide range of psychedelics

Statewide, a bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.

California activists are separately collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.

Outside of the state, psychedelics reform is being pursued by legislators and activists across the country.

Seattle’s City Council recently approved a resolution to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.

Detroit could be one of the next to enact a policy change, with voters set to weigh in on a local ballot measure next month to decriminalize entheogenic substances.

At the same time that local advocates are pursuing reform, a pair of Michigan state senators introduced a bill last month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline. If voters in the state’s most populous city approve the local measure, it could make state lawmakers take a more serious look at broader reform.

Also in Michigan, the Grand Rapids City Council approved a resolution last month calling for decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics. The Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.

After Ann Arbor legislators passed that decriminalization resolution last year, the Washtenaw County prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi, “regardless of the amount at issue.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The top Democrat in the Florida Senate filed a bill last month that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.

Earlier this year, Texas enacted a law directing state officials to study psychedelics’ medical value.

The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.

Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.

In Massachusetts, the Northampton City Council passed a resolution in April stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.

A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.

The Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill this year, but it later died in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led the 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have set their eyes on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic. A city panel there is recommending expansion of the decriminalization policy to cover gifting and social use.

In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee last month.

For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said this month that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill “this year.”

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.

An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.

In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

Nevada Sold More Than $1 Billion In Marijuana In One Year, Officials Report

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