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Top Federal Drug Official Admits Legalizers Were ‘Right’ About Teen Marijuana Use And Touts Psychedelics’ Therapeutic Potential

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The head of a federal drug agency acknowledged in a new interview that marijuana legalization has not led to increased youth use despite her prior fears, and she spoke about the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics that have long been deemed “dangerous” under federal law.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow discussed a wide range of drug policy issues on a podcast hosted by a longtime legalization advocate that was published on Thursday, including the need to shift from a punitive approach to drugs to one that treats addiction as a public health matter.

Volkow said on Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann’s show that she was “expecting the use of marijuana among adolescents would go up” when states moved to legalize cannabis, but admitted that “overall, it hasn’t.” It was reform advocates like Nadelmann who were “right” about the impact of the policy change on youth, she said.

She also acknowledged that changes to cannabis laws are having a broader range of diverse impacts, saying that some “states that have legalized actually have better outcomes” while “the adverse effects of marijuana use are much worse in some states.”

“Understanding what policies basically protect from negative effects and may actually lead to better outcomes is crucial,” Volkow, who has been in office since 2003, said. “And we’re funding it.”

That said, the top drug official pointed out that current federal law creates significant research barriers. As she’s discussed at various congressional hearings, Volkow said the process for scientists to obtain cannabis for studies is “extraordinary cumbersome, and as a result of that, researchers don’t want to get into the field.”

A main limitation of federally backed marijuana studies to date is that scientists have had to rely on cannabis grown at a single authorized facility at the University of Mississippi—the quality of which has been roundly criticized. But Volkow said she’s encouraged by recent moves by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to expand the number of manufacturers.

In the interview on his Psychoactive podcast, Nadelmann pressed the NIDA head on whether she feels it’s appropriate for DEA, rather than a health-focused agency, to be in charge of drug scheduling decisions. And while Volkow accepted that that’s “the way that the system is organized” right now, she added that she’s discussed how strict scheduling standards have inhibited research in her discussions with international officials at United Nations meetings.

When it comes to drug criminalization, Volkow said that “hopefully science will serve to change policies and reduce the stigma [around addiction] and basically change the notion of criminalizing people to that of treating and helping people and preventing them from relapsing.”

Listen to Volkow’s comments in the podcast below:

Nadelmann pointed out that NIDA has been “operating in a political context in which punitive prohibitionist policies, mass arrests [and] the heavily racial biases that go with all of that has been pervasive.” He asked Volkow to spend more time criticizing the harms of drug policies like these and not just focus on the potential harms of drugs themselves.

“From day one, I’ve been against criminalization of people because they have a problem with substance use disorders. I’ve been very, very vocal,” Volkow, who recently wrote several op-eds on the issue, responded. “One of the reasons why I took this position was because, I say, we can develop the science in such a way that policy changes.”

“I’ve also been openly active in criticizing the policy of incarcerating for crack versus cocaine, which made absolutely no sense,” she said, adding that she tries to address the harms of criminalization during appearances before Congress such as her testimony last month at a Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing. “There are structural systems in such a way that promote certain behaviors, and science is not enough to change those policies.”

Nadelmann told Marijuana Moment in an email that he was “quite surprised” Volkow accepted the invitation to appear on the podcast of a prominent legalization advocate.

“I’m not sure why she did but I’m guessing it’s a reflection of the ways in which the drug policy debate has evolved that she saw this as a positive opportunity,” he said. “Think about it. Even though President Biden is far more backward on drug policy than President Obama was, the Biden administration is the first to formally use the phrase ‘harm reduction’ in its public statements. Drug policy reform has become one of the few areas in which we see Congress acting in a bipartisan fashion.”

Beyond marijuana, another area of research that has faced federal research barriers concerns psychedelics. Nadelmann asked Volkow on the podcast whether we can expect NIDA to “fund stuff on psilocybin and treatment of addiction or even or pain or things like that? Is that on the horizon for the short term?”

Volkow replied that some research to date on the benefits of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression has been an “eye opener” and that more studies are on the way. “We have been funding research that is ongoing—on ketamine for opiate treatment and also ketamine for pain,” she said. “For PCP, if you look at the data, actually, the evidence is strongest for showing potential benefits for depression.”

“We need to learn from what what the evidence is showing us,” she continued. “If we can use ketamine for the treatment of severe depression in a way that is safe, this is an example of really that we can use drugs that we thought were dangerous and use them in ways that are therapeutic.”

The conversation also turned to other funding priorities for NIDA-backed research. Nadelmann said the agency’s principal interest seems to be in exploring the physiological factors that contribute to addiction, rather than the ethnographic context of illicit drug use and sales, explaining how the market operates and what’s driving consumers to seek out certain substances.

Volkow argued that NIDA has spent significant resources looking at market trends. When it comes to the opioid overdose epidemic, for example, she said the agency’s research has demonstrated that there’s a distinct profit model associated with the rise of fentanyl, which is more potent than other opioids and cheaper to obtain.

But she acknowledged that the agency needs more resources and real-time data to effectively detect and analyze variation within the illicit drug market.

With respect to harm reduction, Nadelmann pressed the director on the limited, NIDA-based research on efforts like safe injection sites. She expressed openness to continuing to explore “how these support systems as a community can help people, for example, engage in treatment, how they can prevent them from getting infected from HIV and how they can prevent them from overdosing and dying.”

Nadelmann concluded the interview by asking Volkow, given her various positions, whether she could “envision in your life post-NIDA joining up with drug policy reform organizations to push for policies that are more grounded in public health and human rights in harm reduction and opposing the punitive prohibitionist policies?”

“If they are effective? Yes,” she said. “I don’t just like to think about problems. I like to solve them.”

Feds And California Governor Exploring Rules For Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Mississippi Legislature And Heads To Governor’s Desk

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More than 14 months after voters in Mississippi passed an initiative to legalize medical marijuana—a law the state Supreme Court later overturned—Republican-led lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor on Wednesday that would establish a more limited cannabis program for patients, the result of months of negotiations and last-minute changes to a nearly 450-page bill.

Following a conference committee meeting during which lawmakers from the House and Senate approved a change in how certain marijuana businesses would be zoned, both chambers passed the final legislation with veto-proof majorities. The Senate’s tally was 46-4, with one member voting present, and the House cleared the bill on a 103-13 vote.

While the overall bill remains largely the same as an earlier version passed by the Senate this month, amendments made last week in the House reduced the overall monthly amount of cannabis products available to patients and removed the Department of Agriculture and Commerce from oversight of the industry.

“This has been a long journey, and it’s nice to be in a place where everyone is in agreement,” Rep. Lee Yancey (R), who championed the bill in the House, said at Tuesday’s press conference. “It looks like we will finally be able to provide relief to those people with debilitating illnesses who so badly need it. Medical cannabis will now be an option for them as soon as we get the conference report signed and sent to the governor.”

The legislature will next formally transmit the bill to Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who then has five days, excluding Sundays, either to sign it into law or return it with objections. If the governor doesn’t take any action by the deadline, the bill will become law without his signature.

Reeves has been wary of legalization in recent months, at one point threatening to veto a draft bill if it made it to his desk. Since then, proponents in the legislature have worked to balance the voter-approved initiative’s more permissive proposals against the governor’s calls for tighter restrictions.

The governor said last week that the measure has become “better” with every revision and rightly predicted there would be further amendments by the House.

Provided the bill becomes law, dispensaries would be licensed about six months later, meaning Mississippi’s medical cannabis program could be up and running, at least in limited form, by the end of the year.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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 bill, SB 2095, draws heavily from provisions negotiated by lawmakers in the second half of last year, as legislative leaders prepared a bill for an anticipated special session last summer that the governor never called. Supporters say the lengthy proposal represents a middle ground between the more permissive plan approved by voters and the narrower approach preferred by Reeves and some lawmakers.

The legislation as now approved by both chambers would allow patients with about two dozen qualifying medical conditions to purchase the equivalent of 3.5 grams of marijuana (or 1 gram of cannabis concentrate) per day, with a maximum monthly limit of 3 ounces. Voters approved a monthly limit of 5 ounces in 2020, and the bill as passed by the Senate last week would have allowed 3.5 ounces, but that was further scaled back by the House earlier this week.

Qualifying conditions under the bill include cancer, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, Alzheimer’s, sickle-cell anemia, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, neuropathy, spinal cord disease or severe injury as well as chronic medical conditions or treatments that produce severe nausea, cachexia or wasting, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms or chronic pain.

Further conditions could be added later by regulators via petition. State-issued patient registration cards would cost $25, though some people could qualify for a lower price.

Registered patients would be subject to purchase limits that would restrict them to no more than one “medical cannabis equivalency unit” per day, which the bill defines as 3.5 grams of cannabis flower, one gram of concentrate or up to 100 milligrams of THC in infused products. While those limits are significantly lower than in most states where cannabis is legal for medical patients, Reeves said last year the program should allow only half those amounts.

Patients or caretakers would be forbidden from growing their own cannabis under the proposal. Products from state-licensed companies, meanwhile, would be limited to 30 percent THC for cannabis flower and 60 percent for concentrates.

Medical marijuana would be taxed at a wholesale rate of 5 percent, and purchases would also be subject to state sales tax.

While smoking and vaping cannabis is allowed for patients, both would be illegal in public and in motor vehicles. It would still be a crime for patients to drive under the influence.

The advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, which has criticized some of the plan’s limitations compared to the voter-passed initiative, nonetheless called the bill an important step forward for the state.

“Today is an historic day for the patients of Mississippi,” Kevin Caldwell, the group’s Southeast legislative manager, told Marijuana Moment. “We congratulate the legislature for upholding the will of the people, and we call on Gov. Tate Reeves to sign this legislation into law when presented to him.”

The legislation would task the Mississippi Department of Health to oversee the new industry and establish a nine-member advisory committee to make recommendations on issues such as patient access and industry safety.

Previous versions of the bill also tasked the state Commission of Agriculture and Commerce with regulatory duties, but the House removed the agency through an amendment. Commissioner Andy Gipson, who for months had pushed back against the plan, thanked House Speaker Philip Gunn and other lawmakers for making the change in a statement issued last week.

“The best place for a truly medical program is under the Department of Health, which reflects the will of the voters in Initiative 65,” Gipson said, according to SuperTalk Mississippi. “This change is good policy for Mississippi agriculture and allows us to focus on our core mission. It is also good policy for the taxpayers of Mississippi because it achieves greater efficiency in the use of funds by reducing the number of agencies involved in the program.”

Licensing of cannabis businesses other than dispensaries—including cultivators, processors, transporters, disposal entities, testing labs and research facilities—would begin 120 days after the bill’s passage, with the first licenses issued about a month after that. The dispensary licensing process would kick off 150 days after passage, with the first licenses coming a month later.

In general, local governments could not ban medical cannabis businesses outright or “make their operation impracticable,” the bill says, but a separate provision would allow local governments to opt out of the program altogether within 90 days of the bill’s passage. In such cases, citizens could then petition to put the question to a vote.

There would be no limit on the number of licensed businesses under the plan. Cannabis businesses may have to get seek local approval to operate, however, and municipalities can adopt zoning and land use restrictions.

The original Senate bill would have allowed cultivators and processors to be located only in areas zoned for agricultural or industrial use, and the House later added an amendment to let those businesses set up in commercially-zoned area as well, but the Mississippi Municipal League pushed back on the change. The conference committee altered that by saying that the businesses could only operate commercial zones if granted a variance by a local government.

Mississippi voters decisively approved a broad legalization initiative in November 2020, but the state Supreme Court overturned the measure on procedural grounds last May—simultaneously doing away with the state’s entire initiative process.

For much of last year, it appeared lawmakers were set to pass a medical marijuana bill during a special legislative session, but the governor ultimately decided against calling the special session after reaching an impasse with lawmakers. Those who supported legalization said at the time that responsibility for the failure rested with Reeves.

Later that month, Reeves dodged questions from patient advocates about why he’d failed to call the special session. Then in late December, he said on social media that he had “repeatedly told the members of the Legislature that I am willing to sign a bill that is truly medical marijuana,” but stressed that there should be “reasonable restrictions.”

Last week, before the House floor vote, Rep. Lee Yancey (R), who chairs the House Drug Policy Committee and who’s been working on the legislation with Sen. Kevin Blackwell (R), said that he never imagined he’d be in the position to legalize cannabis. But he said he worked to ensure the bill was focused on providing medicine to patients, not paving a route to a recreational program as critics have claimed.

“When I got involved in this bill, I said, ‘How can we build a wall around this program so the people who get it are the people who need it the most, and only the people who need it the most?” Yancey said. “This is not for everybody out on the street. This is not for a bunch of kids. This is for hurting people with debilitating conditions.”

A poll released in June found that a majority of Mississippi voters support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use, with 63 percent saying they want the legislature to pass a bill that mirrors the ballot measure that was nullified by the Supreme Court.

Amazon Endorses GOP-Led Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana

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Minnesota Governor Puts Marijuana Legalization Funding In Budget Request

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The governor of Minnesota included funding to implement marijuana legalization in his annual budget request to lawmakers on Wednesday—a move that comes while Democratic legislative leaders prepare to advance the reform again this session even as it has stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) has consistently expressed support for the policy change, but he declined to propose putting dollars toward implementation in his last budget request. Now he says he wants funding for multiple programs and departments to launch an adult-use marijuana market in line with a bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House last year.

The governor’s recommended funding for legalization would go to numerous state agencies, including those dealing with education, health, public safety, human services, the state Supreme Court, corrections and more.

The budget “also includes funding for grants to assist individuals entering the legal cannabis market, provides for expungement of non-violent offenses involving cannabis, and implements taxes on adult-use cannabis,” the request says.

“The Governor and Lieutenant Governor know that Minnesota needs modernized solutions to harness the benefits of legalizing cannabis, including expanding our economy, creating jobs across the state, allowing law enforcement to focus on violent crime, and regulating the industry in order to keep our kids safe,” a press release says. “The Governor and Lieutenant Governor recommend funding for the safe and responsible legalization of cannabis for adult-use in Minnesota.”

“A new Cannabis Management Office would be responsible for the implementation of the regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis, along with the medical cannabis program, and a program to regulate hemp and hemp-derived products. The recommendation also includes funding for grants to assist individuals entering the legal cannabis market, additional resources for substance use disorder treatment and prevention, provides for expungement of non-violent offenses involving cannabis, and implements taxes on adult-use cannabis.”

“Prohibiting the use of cannabis in Minnesota hasn’t worked.”

Previously, in 2019, the governor directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.

While advocates are hopeful that the sponsors of that legislation will be able to make revisions and advance it through the House again this year, its prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate are less certain. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (D) discussed the legislative strategy for enacting the reform last week.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

“Because of the hard work done by advocates in recent years, legalizing cannabis for adult-use within a regulated market and expungement of past cannabis convictions is now a mainstream idea that has the support of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Governor Tim Walz,” Winkler said in a press release on Wednesday, reacting to the budget proposal.

“Senate Republicans are now the sole barrier preventing Minnesota from legalizing cannabis and expanding adults’ personal freedoms,” he said. “I invite Senate Republicans to collaborate with advocates and lawmakers this year to advance mainstream policies like legalizing adult-use cannabis and expunging cannabis convictions.”

Winkler previously said that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the floor, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions—but it is not a perfect bill.”

“We will be working with our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate,” he added. “We’re interested in pursuing legalization to make sure that the bill represents senators’ priorities for legalization as well.”

Leili Fatehi, campaign manager of Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation, told Marijuana Moment that the governor’s “inclusion of cannabis legalization as a priority in his proposed supplemental budget is directly responsive to the issues Minnesotans care about most right now.”

That includes “the need for more good-paying jobs and more opportunities for Minnesota’s farmers, small businesses, and local economies; the need to expunge the past cannabis records of people who are needlessly shut out of the struggling labor market; the need to free up our public safety and criminal justice systems to focus on real violent crimes and criminals; and the need to undo the decades of harm our prohibition laws have inflicted on our neighbors and communities of color,” Fatehi said.

While legalization wasn’t ultimately enacted last session, the governor did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.

A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.

The House majority leader said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Governors outside of Minnesota have also been talking up marijuana reform at the start of the new year.

For example, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) released a State of the State book earlier this month that called for the creation of a $200 million public-private fund to specifically help promote social equity in the state’s burgeoning marijuana market. And her budget estimated that New York stands to generate more than $1.25 billion in marijuana tax revenue over the next six years.

The governor of Rhode Island included a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his annual budget plan—the second time he’s done so. And time around, he also added new language to provide for automatic cannabis expungements in the state.

Wisconsin Republicans Announce Limited Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Wisconsin Republicans Announce Limited Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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More than a dozen Republican Wisconsin lawmakers announced on Wednesday that they are filing a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R) and Rep. Patrick Snyder (R) are leading the bicameral effort, though advocates are already skeptical considering how the GOP-legislature has historically resisted and blocked cannabis reform. On Tuesday, for example, the Senate passed a bill to increase penalties for people who use butane to extract marijuana resin, and GOP members also shot down an amendment to the measure that would have legalized adult-use cannabis.

The Republican-led medical cannabis legislation is also fairly restrictive, as it prohibits smokable marijuana products and doesn’t allow patients to grow cannabis for personal use. Patients could only obtain cannabis preparations in the form of oils, pills, tinctures or topicals.

What it would do is allow doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients with one of eight conditions, including cancer, seizure disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has expressed support for medical cannabis reform, and the lead Senate sponsor said at Wednesday’s press conference that Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) is “more than willing” to hold a hearing on the proposal.

Under the bill, a medical marijuana regulatory commission would be established through the Department of Revenue to promulgate rules for the program in consultation with a medical cannabis advisory board. The commission could add more qualifying conditions.

Licensed processors would be taxed at a rate of 10 percent for “each wholesale sale in this state of medical marijuana to a licensed dispensary,” the text of the bill says. Revenue would go toward a medical marijuana fund to support drug prevention and treatment programs.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

It does not appear that the measure contains equity provisions like expungements that are favored by progressives.

“Currently 36 other states, including our neighbors Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota, have passed laws allowing patients with certain medical conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it,” a co-sponsorship memo that Felzkowski and Snyder sent to fellow legislators on Wednesday says. “Medicine is never one-size-fits-all, and it is time for Wisconsin to join the majority of the country in adding another option which may help patients find the relief they need.”

The memo also discusses how voters in multiple cities and counties across Wisconsin have strongly approved local, non-binding ballot referendums expressing support for marijuana reform in recent years.

“Wisconsinites who have discussed the positive benefits of using marijuana for medicinal purposes with their primary care physicians are currently forced to endure pain and physical agony, traffic drugs into Wisconsin and become criminals, or be held hostage by the FDA approved pain killers that may alleviate their pain, but come with a host of side effects that diminish quality of life,” a summary of the proposal says.

This isn’t the only cannabis bill that’s up for consideration in the Wisconsin legislature.

In November, a bipartisan pair of legislators introduced a bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. In August, three senators separately filed legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use in the state.

As it stands, marijuana possession is punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail for a first offense. People convicted of a subsequent offense would face a felony charge punishable by a maximum $10,000 fine and up to three and a half years in prison.

Gov. Tony Evers (D) tried to legalize recreational and medical marijuana through his proposed state budget last year, but a GOP-led legislative committee stripped the cannabis language from the legislation. Democrats tried to add the provisions back through an amendment the next month, but Republicans blocked the move.

Other Republican lawmakers have filed bills to more modestly decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, but none of those proposals advanced during last year’s session.

Evers held a virtual town hall event last year where he discussed his cannabis proposal, emphasizing that polling demonstrates that Wisconsin residents back the policy change.

And in the interim as lawmakers pursue reform, the governor has issued more than 300 pardons during his years in office, primarily to people convicted of non-violent marijuana or other drug offenses.

Colorado Activists File Revised Ballot Initiatives To Legalize Psilocybin And Establish ‘Healing Centers’

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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