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Top Canadian Police Association Says It’s Time To Decriminalize All Drugs

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The top police chiefs association in Canada made a bold call for drug policy reform on Thursday, arguing that low-level possession should be decriminalized and substance misuse should be treated as a public health matter.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) said that its recommendation is motivated by an interest in reducing overdose deaths and promoting treatment. This announcement comes two years after the organization created a commission tasked with studying decriminalization, the results of which were released in a new report.

“Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives,” CACP President Adam Palmer said in a press release. “We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focussed approach that requires partnerships between police, healthcare and all levels of government.“

In addition to decriminalizing simple possession of currently illicit drugs, CACP said additional resources should be invested into treatment and social services in order to divert people away from the criminal justice system. That said, the group stressed it would continue to go after those who engage in drug trafficking, manufacturing and importation.

“While law enforcement continues to be required to stop those putting poisoned and illegal substances on our streets, the traditional role of frontline policing has fundamentally shifted to harm reduction when interacting with people experiencing addiction or mental health issues,” Palmer said. “Frequently, our officers are the point of first contact and the ones who will assist individuals in accessing appropriate services and pathways of care.”

CACP said a national task force should be established to research drug policy reform proposals that would help accomplish their goal of harm reduction. They cited a specific federal statute on possession that they feel should be revised to provide alternatives to criminal penalties for possession.

“Evidence suggests, and numerous Canadian health leaders support, decriminalization for simple possession as an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use.”

“Some evidence has shown that [decriminalization], coupled with other interventions (e.g. harm reduction, prevention, enforcement, and treatment strategies) has led to an increase in treatment uptake, a reduction in drug-related deaths, and importantly, no increase in drug use rates,” the commission report states. However, policymakers must also determine what amount constitutes simple possession, what penalties would be appropriate and how to encourage people to enter treatment, the police group pointed out.

“We must adopt new and innovative approaches if we are going to disrupt the current trend of drug overdoses impacting communities across Canada,” the report says. “Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective. Research from other countries who have boldly chosen to take a health rather than an enforcement-based approach to problematic drug use have demonstrated positive results.”

“Implementing a response model centered on diversion that provides individuals impacted by problematic substance use access to health resources may be more effective than our current model of enforcement or de facto decriminalization. Responding to problematic substance use in our communities is a complex issue requiring a full spectrum of options and partnerships to impact real change. Finding pathways of care and support for individuals with problematic substance use is critical to reducing overdose deaths. Health is best positioned to address problematic substance use and not the police.”

The CACP report also weighed the pros and cons of going beyond decriminalization and regulating currently illicit drugs. It recognized that decriminalization alone would not eradicate the illegal market and noted that higher-risk drugs could potentially be tightly regulated through prescriptions, for instance.

“Developing a regulation framework should also apply lessons learned from what has and has not been effective in the regulation of other drugs, such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and cannabis,” the association said, adding that legalization “may lead to increased drug use, and potentially increase addiction rates, with greater access and reduced prices, unless heavy taxation is in place.”

The group said that while its leaders currently “do not support the legalization of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or opioids,” they do back “evidence based medical treatment that includes a safe supply.”

Noting that some people resort to theft or robbery in order to obtain money needed to buy drugs, CACP said that “diverting individuals to a safe supply may reduce crime that is committed to support a drug addiction and enhance public safety.”

“Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective.”

Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), told Marijuana Moment that, “Once again, Canada has the right idea.”

“In the U.S., we tend to get hung up on minor points of disagreement, but what communities and most police can agree on is that right now we’re asking our police to do too much, to the detriment of everyone involved,” he said. “We should follow the lead of the CACP and seek a more effective system where police focus on real crime and allow public health, social services, and drug abuse counselors to keep as many people as possible out of the criminal justice system and in programs that actually better their lives.”

Liberal delegates in Canada voted in favor of a resolution that sought to remove criminal penalties for drug offenses at a convention in 2018, hoping to put the policy on the party’s campaign platform. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau disappointed advocates by dismissing the proposal despite his advocacy for marijuana legalization.

“We are going to focus on getting the control and regulation of [the] marijuana regime right, and that’s quite a handful right now,” he said. “We’re not looking at any other steps.”

But despite opposition from the prime minister, some Liberal lawmakers have continued to push for decriminalization. MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a bill last year that would repeal sections of federal drug law that concern possession, effectively decriminalizing controlled substances.

And the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, which is controlled by the majority Liberals, issued a report recommending the government “work with provinces, territories, municipalities and Indigenous communities and law enforcement agencies to decriminalize the simple possession of small quantities of illicit substances.”

And on Thursday, two ministers of Trudeau’s government issued a statement expressing appreciation for the new CACP report.

“Today, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police released a report that recognizes substance use as a public health issue and examines a range of alternatives to criminal sanctions in response to the offence of simple possession,” Justice Minister David Lametti and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said. “We welcome their endorsement of a holistic approach including harm reduction and diversion, and thank them for their recommendations.”

Over in the U.S., reform advocates are increasingly exploring decriminalizing drugs beside cannabis. An Oregon initiative to decriminalize drug possession and expand substance use treatment formally qualified for the ballot last week, for example. In Washington State, advocates behind a similar proposal said they will be shifting their focus away from the ballot and onto the legislature to enact the reform during the next session.

While Congress has so far declined to pursue decriminalization outside of marijuana, a number of top prosecutors visited Portugal to learn about the country’s decriminalization policy last year.

Task Force Doesn’t Recommend Legalizing Marijuana To Biden, Despite Support From Panel Members

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State Of Montana Launches Online Hemp Marketplace To Connect Buyers And Sellers

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Say you’re a Montana farmer who has planted acres of industrial hemp. As harvest nears, you’re looking to offload it. Where do you go to find a buyer?

Montana’s Department of Agriculture says it has the answer.

The state this week announced the launch of an online “Hemp Marketplace,” unveiling an online portal meant to connect the hemp farmers with buyers in search of seeds, fiber and derivatives such as cannabidiol, or CBD.

“The Hemp Marketplace concept originated from the same idea as the department’s Hay Hotline,” the Agriculture Department says on its website, “only instead of hay and pasture, the online tool connects buyers and sellers of hemp and hemp derivatives.”

Listings are free of charge.

Montana online Hemp Marketplace screenshot

Montana Department of Agriculture

Montana farmers have embraced industrial hemp since the state legalized its production under a federal pilot program. The first legal crop was planted in 2017, and in recent years the state has led the country in terms of space dedicated to the plant. In 2018, for example, licensed farmers in Montana grew more acreage of hemp than any other U.S. state. While other states have since eclipsed the state’s hemp production—the crop became broadly federally legal through the 2018 Farm Bill—Montana remains an industry leader.

But to make revenue, farmers have to be able to sell their crop. That’s where the new hemp marketplace comes in. The online portal is essentially a sophisticated bulletin board for buyers and sellers, split into “Hemp for Sale” and “Hemp to Buy” categories.

“With hemp being a relatively new crop grown in Montana, the department recognizes that these markets are still developing,” Department of Agriculture Director Ben Thomas said in a statement. “The Hemp Marketplace was designed to help facilitate connections between buyers and sellers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the marketplace will continue to advance the industry.”

Listings include what type of products are on offer (or being sought), whether a given crop is organic and even whether laboratory testing data is available. The portal also organizes products into one of four varieties based on whether the hemp seeds have been certified by regulators. None of the products may contain more than 0.3 percent THC—the upper limit for what qualifies as hemp under both state and federal law.

Meanwhile, Montana voters are set to decide on Tuesday whether the state will legalize hemp’s more infamous cousin, high-THC marijuana. According to a poll released this week, passage looks likely: The survey, conducted by Montana State University at Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot. Another 38 percent said they were opposed, while 7 percent remained undecided.

At the federal level, officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration are still working to revise rules around marijuana and hemp to reflect Congress’s move to legalize hemp broadly in 2018. While the public comment on the proposals closed earlier this month, nine members of Congress cautioned the agency against adopting its proposed changes, warning some could put hemp producers at risk of criminal liability. Already a number of arrests and seizures have been made by law enforcement officers confused whether products were legal hemp or illicit marijuana.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), meanwhile, has faced separate criticism over its own proposed hemp rules, though it has been more proactive in addressing them. Following significant pushback from the industry over certain regulations it views as excessively restrictive, the agency reopened a public comment period, which closed again this month.

USDA is also planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the market.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak

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New Jersey Governor Steps Up Marijuana Legalization Push As New Ad Touts Economic Benefits Days Before Election

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With just a few days to go before Election Day, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is continuing to stump for marijuana legalization in that state, extolling the economic and social justice benefits he says the change would bring. His latest comments came shortly after the release of a new campaign ad focusing on legalization’s economic impact.

“We’ll build an industry, it would be a revenue-generator,” Murphy said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “I think at first it would be modest, but ultimately will grow, I think, into several hundred million dollars in the state budget.”

“Along with social justice,” he added, “that’s a pretty good, winning combination.”

Recent polling suggests voters are mostly on board with legalization, with surveys showing upwards of 60% support for Public Question 1, a referendum to legalize and establish a commercial industry around the drug. If it passes, some lawmakers hope legal sales to adults 21 and older could begin as soon as next month, though regulators and some advocates have pushed back on the plan to start sales in existing medical cannabis dispensaries, saying that it could lead to access and supply issues for patients.

Legalization would indeed likely bring in millions of dollars to the state budget, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. But Murphy claims his chief motivation for supporting the measure is racial justice.

“When I became governor, we had the widest white–nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated, believe it or not, of any American state. The biggest reason was low-end drug offenses,” he said. “So I get there first and foremost because of social justice.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, one of the campaign committees behind New Jersey’s legalization effort, NJ CAN 2020, released a new 30-second ad emphasizing the economic benefits legalization could bring the cash-strapped state.

“At a time when this crisis has created challenges we all face—a budget deficit and a lack of funding for services we need—New Jersey could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to support our local schools, vital health care services and community programs, by simply voting yes on Public Question 1,” the ad says.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also filmed a video in support of the measure. Appearing in a NJ CAN campaign video released Wednesday, he said prohibition “has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”

“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help, they’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said.

Black, Latino and low-income communities are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement of drug laws, Booker added. “We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”

In other legal states, cannabis has been a rare bright spot in terms of tax revenue. Oregon, for example, saw record sales this summer even as other areas of the economy slowed. State budget analysts said last month that they expect the strong sales to continue.

“Since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast,” Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis said in a recent report. “Expectations are that some of these increases will be permanent.”

Other established markets, such as Washington state, Colorado and Nevada, have also seen “strong gains” in marijuana sales amid the pandemic, Oregon’s budget office noted.

Big money has also been flowing into New Jersey’s legalization campaign itself. A report released Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised more than $2 million in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.

“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”

If voters approve the referendum, lawmakers will still need to pass a bill to establish a framework for the state’s legal marijuana market. A legislative hearing to get a head start on planning was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when a state senator leading the proposal went into quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus.

Friday’s appearance by Murphy is the latest effort by the governor to encourage voters to back legalization. He also recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month and recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

In July, Murphy described legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.

The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”

Also this month, the NJ CAN campaign scaled up its advertising push, releasing a series of English- and Spanish-language videos.

In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces of marijuana a civil penalty without the threat of jail time. The bill hasn’t advanced in the Senate.

Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week

Photo courtesy of Gov. Phil Murphy

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.
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Oregon Psilocybin Ballot Measure Can Help Dying People Find Peace, Doctor Says In TV Ad

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Oregon’s first-of-its-kind ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy has the potential to help ease mental suffering for terminally ill people, a medical doctor says in a new TV ad for the initiative.

“I’ve worked in end-of-life care for 28 years. In hospice, we believe when people are dying, we should treat their pain—physical or mental distress,” Dr. Nick Gideonse says in the 30-second spot. “There’s often mental suffering that comes with a terminal diagnosis.”

“So I support Measure 109 to allow psilocybin therapy for terminally ill people suffering from depression. It’s humane,” he said. “Yes on 109 will help those near death come to terms with their diagnosis and find peace.”

If approved by voters, adults would be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.

A previous ad released earlier this month by the campaign featured a state senator who is also a medical doctor saying that the measure “promotes safety for a therapy that can help people who are suffering.”

That followed an independent spot by the nonprofit Heroic Hearts Project going on the air in Oregon to tout the benefits of psilocybin therapy, but it didn’t mention the specific ballot measure.

A campaign working to pass a separate measure on the Oregon ballot to decriminalize drug possession and expand substance misuse treatment also recently released a series of ads.

The Oregon Democratic Party formally endorsed both measures last month.

Meanwhile, the psychedelic reform measure has drawn opposition from an unlikely source. Decriminalize Nature, which has led efforts to pass local policies reducing criminal enforcement against psilocybin and other entheogens, has argued that it could threaten equitable access to the substance.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. In August, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”

Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.

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.
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