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These States Could Have Marijuana Legalization On Their 2022 Ballots

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Five states legalized marijuana in some form on Election Day this year. When those newly approved laws take effect, about one-third of the nation’s population will live in a state where cannabis is legal for medical or recreational purposes. Now, advocates are already hard at work formulating plans and collecting signatures to extend that success to even more states during the 2022 midterms.

For background, every single marijuana measure placed on state ballots this year passed: Arizona (recreational), Mississippi (medical) Montana (recreational), New Jersey (recreational), South Dakota (recreational and medical). The victories represent a continuation of the state-level reform movement that has consistently expanded in election after election.

But while advocates see this momentum as building pressure for federal policy change, they aren’t giving up statewide pushes.

Nebraska and Idaho activists are already in the process of qualifying medical marijuana measures for midterm ballots in 2022, for example. And it’s unlikely that those will be the only states were voters will get to decide on cannabis reform in two years.

Matthew Schweich, the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project who was involved in several of the successful reform initiatives this year, told Marijuana Moment that the election results make him optimistic that “there’s a path to victory in multiple states [in 2022] and we just need to survey the landscape.”

“The biggest takeaway is that we can probably run competitive campaigns on either issue [medical or recreational] in any state,” he said. “It’s just a question of what are the strongest opportunities to make the greatest positive impact given the resources available.”

Here’s a rundown of the most likely states where marijuana legalization will make the ballot two years from now.

Recreational: 

Arkansas

Activists attempted to put a legalization measure on the 2020 ballot—and even secured a procedural victory when a court mandated that the state accept signatures that were not collected in-person or notarized due to the coronavirus pandemic. But they were nonetheless unable to garner enough petitions to qualify to put the issue before voters this year.

Although Arkansas voters already approved medical cannabis in 2016, the effort to put up another fight for broader legalization could be bolstered by voters in neighboring Mississippi, another traditionally conservative state, approving a medical marijuana initiative on Election Day this year, which signaled that reform has momentum regionally.

Florida

Florida activists announced back in January that, due to restrictive ballot qualification policies in the state, they will be pursuing a marijuana legalization initiative in 2022, rather than this year as initially planned.

The Make It Legal Florida campaign filed a lawsuit with the state’s Supreme Court at the beginning of the year, alleging that a new law that imposes restrictions on the signature gathering process is unconstitutional. They didn’t prevail in that case, however, and the legalization measure didn’t make the ballot.

Now, advocates will turn their attention to 2022, though it is worth noting that cannabis reform measures have traditionally had better success in presidential election years rather than during midterms—and Florida rules require an initiative to get 60 percent of the vote in order to pass rather than a simple majority. While a Florida medical cannabis measure fell just short of the supermajority needed for approval during the 2014 midterms, a follow-up attempt two years later was successful.

Missouri

There was a push to put recreational cannabis legalization on the state’s 2020 ballot, but activists announced in March that the coronavirus pandemic meant they would have to suspend their campaign. While they have not made any official decisions, a spokesperson said that “it is likely we will return to pursue this goal in 2022.”

Missouri voters approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in 2018, and dispensaries made the state’s first cannabis sales to patients in October.

North Dakota

A campaign to legalize cannabis in North Dakota worked hard to put the reform measure on this year’s ballot. They ceased campaign activities amid the COVID-19 outbreak in April, but considered starting back up in a limited capacity when businesses started reopening. Ultimately, however, advocates stopped pushing for the proposal and conceded that it would more likely appear on the 2022 ballot.

“Our whole thing is about ending people going to prison, our whole point is about ending the dangers of the war on drugs, so it would be irresponsible for us to endanger people while we try to do it,” a spokesperson said in May. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. We’re going to try, but [qualifying for November] likely still isn’t in the cards. That just means we have more time to get prepared to push for that 2022 date.”

Meanwhile, advocates are stepping up the push to get lawmakers to enact marijuana reform bills following a formal review of the issue conducted by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Ohio

Ohio was another example of a state where activists attempted and failed to qualify an initiative to legalize marijuana for adult use, due in large part to restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

A proposed legal cannabis measure was filed in March, just before social distancing measures that made signature collection all but impossible were enacted. Now, advocates are looking ahead to 2022, when it may be possible to mount a successful ballot qualification bid.

Meanwhile, a group called the Sensible Movement Coalition has been pursing local marijuana decriminalization initiatives through municipal ballots. They tried to go through the courts to get the state to allow digital signature gathering amid the pandemic—and at first they got a victory when a federal judge ruled in their favor—but an appeals court shut that lawsuit down in June. That said, they did succeed in getting four more Ohio cities to adopt local measures to decriminalize cannabis during the November election.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma activists filed a proposed ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adult use in December. But they ultimately withdrew that petition in August—again, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have been put in a position of choosing between attempting to give Oklahomans an opportunity to adopt critical marijuana and criminal justice law reforms or protecting the health of ourselves and our fellow Oklahomans,” a campaign spokesperson said. “As necessary as these reforms are for Oklahoma, we cannot in good conscience embark on a campaign that would require hundreds of thousands of interactions in the midst of a global pandemic.”

The campaign said they soonest they would take up the reform proposal would be in 2022. Voters in the state approved a medical marijuana ballot measure during a 2018 primary election. This year, a bill to significantly expand the state’s medical cannabis program advanced through the legislature, but the governor vetoed it and lawmakers declined to pursue an override before adjourning for the session in May.

Medical: 

Idaho

In Idaho, advocates behind a measure to legalize medical marijuana tried to make the 2020 ballot, but they gave up that effort due to COVID-related signature gathering complications and the state’s refusal to provide petitioning accommodations.

Activists have already filed a petition to put the issue before voters in 2022, however.

“We’re really excited about the 2022 campaign because what we’ve proven in 2020 is that the people of Idaho are very much ready for medical marijuana to be passed,” campaign spokesperson and longtime reform advocate Russ Belville told Marijuana Moment last month. “We know the signatures are out there, we know that people are ready for this.”

Nebraska

Nebraska activists have already started petitioning to get a medical cannabis measure on the state’s 2022 ballot.

While the campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative for this year, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. The justices determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.

To avoid getting blocked under the single-subject rule, the language of the new proposal concisely states: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.” It has no regulations.

“Though we profoundly disagree with the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision in September to remove our previous initiative from the ballot, we took good notes,” the campaign said in October. “They argued the previous language violated the single subject rule, so now we’ve drafted one, simple sentence to legalize medical cannabis.”

State Sen. Adam Morfeld (D), a chief petitioner for the initiative, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign “carefully crafted our new language to be in compliance with the new precedent set forth by the Supreme Court in September so we are confident it complies with the single subject rule.”

“Medical marijuana is incredibly popular across partisan and ideological lines in Nebraska and we are confident once we have the signatures and it is on the ballot that it will pass by a wide margin,” he said.

There’s also some speculation that a proposal to legalize for adult use could be in the cards—but that’s less likely.

Beyond The Ballot

Aside from voter-initiated ballot measures, there are multiple states where top lawmakers have said they’re serious about pursing cannabis legalization bills in 2021, including New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island. In Connecticut, the incoming House speaker said that if there aren’t enough votes in the legislature to pass a legalization bill next year, lawmakers will put it on the ballot for voters to decide as a referendum.

Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Get A Congressional Vote Next Week, Leader Announces

Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.

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Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved

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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 merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.

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 secretary of state and other officials 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 6-3 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 four 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.

In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.

Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.

Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below: 

Mississippi Supreme Court m… by Marijuana Moment

Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing

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Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing

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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: 

Norton cannabis housing bill by Marijuana Moment

Drug Possession Is Officially A Crime Again In Washington, But As A Misdemeanor Instead Of Felony

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FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine

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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.

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.

Nebraska Activists Relaunch Medical Marijuana Ballot Campaign After Legislative Filibuster Blocks Bill

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