As Texas lawmakers returned to work for a new session this week, leaders of both chambers of the state’s legislature said they expect to see action on marijuana bills this year, particularly when it comes to expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program. But both top legislators noted that sweeping reform in the form of recreational legalization is unlikely, in part due to skepticism in the Senate.
“Last session we had several bills that dealt with marijuana, whether it’s decriminalization of small amounts, full-out legalization of marijuana or marijuana for health-related issues,” said House Speaker Dade Phelan (R). “I think the House will look at those again and review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.”
Phelan, who was officially elected to the top House office on Tuesday, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the state Senate, both gave wide-ranging interviews on to KTRK-TV about the agenda for the legislature, which convenes in Texas only once every two years.
Asked if far-reaching marijuana legislation has a shot of passing his chamber in 2021, Patrick replied simply that “it didn’t last time,” referring to his efforts to kill cannabis bills in the past.
But when it comes to a potential expansion of the state’s current limited medical cannabis laws, the lieutenant governor said he is “sure that will be looked at this session.”
Lawmakers prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session, including measures that would legalize marijuana for adult use, legalize high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize small-scale possession of marijuana.
While Patrick signaled he’s open to some medical cannabis-related changes, he downplayed the more ambitious efforts.
“We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California,” he said, “where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use.”
Watch Patrick discuss marijuana, about 12:35 into the video below:
Texas currently has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country, allowing patients with a small number of serious conditions to legally access products with up to 0.5 percent THC, barely more than the 0.3 percent allowed in federally legal hemp. Because of that, some policy observers and advocacy groups, including NORML, don’t consider it a true medical marijuana program at all.
While the program was initially open only to people with intractable epilepsy, a 2019 expansion added qualifying conditions such as terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.
“For serious medical issues, we’ve already taken that step in the past,” Patrick said in Monday’s interview. “I’m sure that will be looked at this session.”
Advocates are calling on lawmakers to further expand the program. They want to see post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain on the list of qualifying conditions, as is common in other states. Ultimately, they say, doctors themselves should be responsible for determining which patients might benefit from medical cannabis—just as laws in Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Mexico and many other states already allow. They also want patients to be able to access more forms of cannabis for medical use.
“As the lieutenant governor said, we should not look to California as a model for Texas’ medical cannabis program,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday. “Instead, let’s look to Oklahoma or New Mexico, both of which allow patients safe and legal access to cannabis with a doctor’s approval.”
The biggest hurdle to expansion is in the Senate. Phelan, who has said he supports medical marijuana in part because he has a sister with epilepsy, has also supported broader reform. Last session he co-authored legislation that would have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. While the House passed the bill, Patrick quickly declared the bill dead in the Senate.
“I thought that was a reasonable approach,” Phelan said of the decriminalization bill in the new interview. “But the House has always looked at that a little differently than, I think, the other chamber.”
Watch Phelan discuss marijuana, about 6:15 into the video below:
Phelan also noted in the interview that he won’t “have a thumb on the scale trying to move legislation through the chamber.”
“Like any other issue, it is up to that member to get that bill to the House floor, and to get their votes,” he said. “It’s up to each individual member to do that.”
Even though he backs decriminalizing cannabis possession, Phelan isn’t necessarily on board with broader marijuana legalization.
In a separate interview this week, he told the Port Arthur News that the reform wouldn’t be a feasible way to avoid cuts planned to the state budget this year, as tax revenue from legalization wouldn’t impact the current budget cycle.
Fazio, at Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said that while it’s clear advocates still have a long way to go to ensure the state’s medical marijuana system keeps maturing, the recent statements from Patrick and Phelan are an encouraging sign.
“We’ve seen how the Compassionate Use Program has improved the quality of life for thousands of Texans, and it’s refreshing to see leaders in both the Texas House and Senate recognizing that further expansion of the program will be on the table for discussion this session,” she said. “Advocates have a lot of work to do to secure the vote, but we are on our way to a real medical cannabis program, similar to what’s been enacted in 36 other states.”
Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”
By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury
Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.
The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.
Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.
The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.
The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.
“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Cannabis Oversight is meeting now. You can find the agenda and links to livestream and to provide public comment at https://t.co/f1wsPn7SV7
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) October 14, 2021
Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.
Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.
They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.
“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.
DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.
LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.
Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.
Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:
For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:
And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:
DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.
“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.
“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”
Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:
|All other tetrahydrocannabinol||1,000||2,000|
A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.
It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.
Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.
A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.
Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.
Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.
Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.
But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.
Disappointed but not surprised U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear our case. We’re pursuing our claims in federal court. As that litigation proceeds, Biden administration will have to take a position, which it avoided by waiving its right to respond to our Supreme Court petition.
— Safehouse (@SafehousePhilly) October 13, 2021
“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”
That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.
“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.