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Seattle Councilmember Says He’ll Introduce Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure By Year’s End

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Following a Seattle task force’s recommendation that the city decriminalize psychedelics as a possible way of curbing opioid deaths, City Councilmember Andrew Lewis renewed his commitment to introducing an ordinance by the end of this year that would put possession of the substances at the bottom of the city’s law enforcement priorities.

“For myself, it is a priority to at least introduce an ordinance this year,” Lewis told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview. “And frankly, if there’s sort of a consensus and there’s lightning in a bottle, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that an ordinance could be passed this year. I think it’s actually pretty reasonable.”

Decriminalization of psychedelics—and eventually, all drugs—was one of five policy recommendations unveiled in recent weeks by the Overdose Emergency Innovative Recovery (OEIR) task force, convened and led by the organization VOCAL-WA and other community organizers. Lewis and another councilmember, Lisa Herbold, led a majority of their colleagues in formally asking the task force in June to “add to their work plan an examination of public policy governing psychedelic medicines.”

Another group, Decrim Nature Seattle, is calling on the City Council to pass an ordinance decriminalizing psychedelics. The group submitted a draft ordinance earlier this year.

Statewide reform advocates, meanwhile, are gearing up for a push to decriminalize all drugs in Washington through a prospective 2022 ballot measure announced earlier this week.

Lewis hosted a symposium about psychedelics last Wednesday, featuring experts—including doctors, academics, advocates and a person in recovery from substance use disorder—who spoke mostly about the potential therapeutic use of psychedelics and their relatively low risk of harm compared to commonly abused drugs such as opioids.

 

The councilmember spoke to Marijuana Moment after the symposium to discuss his interest in psychedelics reform, what’s ahead for Seattle and the possibility of a state-level policy change. Below is a transcript of the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Marijuana Moment: To get things started, how did you get involved in exploring decriminalization in the first place? Why is that something that’s important to you?

Andrew Lewis: I generally do not think that the criminal legal system is a good place to deal with issues related to addiction and substance dependency. So just as a starting point, I would say that I have a longstanding interest in developing systems where we figure out how we are going to have treatment-based, harm reduction-based approaches to substance addiction instead of carceral or court-supervised regimes. We know now, obviously, there were incredibly strong political and racist motivations behind those that had nothing to do with any kind of policy consideration.

I think that we started—in the ’90s and then going into the 2000s—seeing sort of this progressive movement to change to a system of acknowledging treatment is going to be a way we’re going to deal with drug policy. But there are still sort of these criminal nexuses, so we’re going to do it through court supervised treatment settings. I’m not going to completely write that off. I think that, depending on the model and depending on the judge who’s doing it, there can be a lot of success. But it’s the culture of that is—it’s still hard to do, and there’s a lot of space for implicit bias and other things to hamper a system like that to be equitable.

So that kind of brings us to where we are now in sort of this new wave. Like, kind of a public health best practice of diversion completely away from the criminal legal system—decriminalization of possession and use as something that the criminal legal system should not be spending its time on. Speaking very generally, that’s kind of my overall view.

That conceded, as I said at the symposium, I really did not know a whole lot before this year, scientifically, about psychedelics. I didn’t know necessarily that they weren’t addictive. I guess I’d never really thought about it too much. Typically the public policy challenges that we’re presented with don’t intersect with psychedelics as presenting public policy problems. By that I mean, I don’t get emails from constituents that are like, you know, “Some guy, high on psilocybin, just, you know, broke into my car.” There’s a lot of focus on the public safety and public policy area on meth, on opioids, but there hasn’t been as much of disorder associated with these substances.

MM: What led you to get involved with Decrim Nature Seattle and their goal of decriminalizing psychedelics in the city?

AL: Earlier this year, I think all of us on the council got hit up by Decrim Nature sort of individually. And I was really, really impressed by the organization, how they kind of presented their policy goals, the potential of these substances. So I kind of went through this process of incrementally learning more about these substances, by continuing to engage with them, by talking to other experts, talking to other people just in my life, like friends from law school, friends from the city attorney’s office, nationally people who I know in public policy—just kind of being like, “Hey, what do you think of this?”

I was expecting, frankly, there’d be a little bit more of a weird stigma or kind of reactive and reflective prejudice based opposition from [broadcast news station] KOMO or local conservative media. I’m sure there’s been some grumbling, but I was surprised. I give a lot of credit on that to Michael Pollan and some other writers who are sort of credible messengers for white boomers. There was sort of this consensus of people who you wouldn’t necessarily expect that are like, “Oh yeah, totally! Why wouldn’t we do that?”

So then I kind of took it to the next level. There was this OEIR task force that was gearing up. I went to my colleague Councilmember Herbold, who chairs the Public Safety Committee. I assume that’s probably where this work will go through, actually, and I serve on that committee. So I basically just queued up: “OK, we should get into this, and probably the way we should start is let’s get this on the work plan.”

I’ll be completely honest, our bandwidth is limited as a council. We can only do so much stuff at once. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed that there’s a lot of insanely pressing things we’re dealing with right now around public safety and almost everything else. So, I’m seeing this taskforce coming along, asked Councilmember Herbold, and she enthusiastically agreed and was like, “Let’s ask them formally to incorporate this into their work.”

MM: I know you said earlier this year that after the recommendations came in, you would “almost certainly” be introducing an ordinance to make psychedelics the lowest-level law enforcement priority. Is that something you still plan to do?

AL: Yeah, I would say this is my personal goal: to introduce an ordinance like that this year—before the end of this year. And I feel comfortable saying that on the record. There’s other things beyond my personal control in terms of queuing up exactly how quickly that can happen, mostly due to the fact that we’re butting up against budget. For myself, it is a priority to at least introduce an ordinance this year.

And frankly, if there’s sort of a consensus and there’s lightning in a bottle, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that an ordinance could be passed this year. I think it’s actually pretty reasonable.

MM: How does this fit in with state-level reform? The approach you’re describing seems to sort of parallel what [City Attorney] Pete Holmes’s office did with respect to deprioritizing cannabis possession before it was legalized at the state level.

AL: Yeah, exactly. And expectation-setting is really important, because what I tell people all the time, they’re like, “Oh, Seattle’s gonna decriminalize,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I mean, we sort of will.” I have to keep saying that we can’t, strictly speaking, do it to the extent of what I think people are expecting.

But the state can, and I honestly think we’re in a position where I think we could see movement pretty quickly from the state. Let me put it this way: I am not getting beat up a lot by constituents that are emailing saying, you know, “The streets are going to run wild with people that are strung out on psychedelics!” For that reason I think that you could conceivably see the legislature do it without punting it to the voters.

MM: You feel that way even after seeing how lawmakers handled both the state Supreme Court’s decision in Blake and the bill last session that would have removed penalties around possession and funded treatment?

AL: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s hard to look at last session for too much precedence. Mostly because that kind of came through at the end of the session; it was kind of rushed. Frankly, it’s a heavy lift. You’re the legislature, tasked with completely redesigning our social contract around how we treat substance dependency. But then it’s like, you have to reconcile that new system with how the criminal legal system interacts with it.

I think you were seeing that towards the end, where you’ve got some great leaders in the legislature like [state Sen.] Manka Dhingra. If we could just make Sen. Dhingra the czar mandating from on high how that system would work, there are a few people who better understand how you could create a system that harmonizes the interplay between the criminal legal system and treatment regimes or whatever. But she had to grapple with a lot of people who don’t want to look soft on crime and people that just frankly didn’t have the bandwidth to download that many that much of a systems redesign issue in such a short amount of time.

I’ll tell you what I’ve been surprised by—and maybe it’s all happening behind the scenes so I just haven’t seen it—but I thought there’d be a lot more work during interim to parse things out. Maybe I’m just not privy to it. But I do think that there is going to be some appetite for at least doing some kind of psychedelic carveout. I do think at a certain level, we should be able to grab low-hanging fruit when we can, if there’s a consensus, because there are really big implications for psychedelics.

MM: One of the things some of us saw we might see in the early OEIR recommendations was something about safe consumption sites. You might know that Rhode Island just passed a pilot program this session. Is that something that, as a councilmember, is on your radar at all for Seattle?

AL: The council has funded safe consumption sites several times. And I support them, a majority of my colleagues support them. I think it’s certainly part of the answer to reduce the harm from public opioid use and to save people’s lives. But in the United States generally there’s all sorts of massive friggin’ barriers that you’re well aware of. The legal status of a lot of these schemes is in flux.

So all of that is to say, the council continues to pass proposals to do it, and it continues to run into implementation problems from the executive. I think that’s probably the cleanest way to put it. And I don’t think it’s from a lack of interest from the executive, I think that they’re trying. It’s just that there’s all sorts of legal and practical hurdles to getting stood up. Obviously we had a completely wasted four years from the Trump administration, which was, of course, incredibly hostile to the concept. I think that’s just where it is. I do think there’ll be more recommendations that will be promulgated from the task force.

Washington State Activists Announce 2022 Drug Decriminalization Ballot Campaign

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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Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill

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The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.

His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.

“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.

“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”

It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.

The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.

This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.

The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.

CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.

Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.

legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).

A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.

There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.

After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.

Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.

Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”

While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.

The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.

Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.

The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.

That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.

“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.

Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.

“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”

The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.

She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”

However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.

While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.

She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

USDA Teams Up With Cornell University For Hemp Education Webinar Series

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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