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Utah Medical Marijuana Opponents Have More Money, But Supporters Have More Individual Backers

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In Utah, the fight for voters’ hearts and minds on the issue of medical marijuana has heated up, as opposition Political Issues Committees (PICs) are ramping up their fundraising to exceed those of groups that support a legalization measure on the state’s ballot next month, according to new campaign finance reports.

Despite only fundraising for the last few months, the groups campaigning against the cannabis proposition have a substantial edge in terms of dollars raised, with a $263,347 advantage over supporters. But according to Marijuana Moment analysis, the proponents have many more individual contributors, which may signal stronger support.

Proposition 2 would provide for individuals with qualifying conditions to receive a medical marijuana card in accordance with a physician’s recommendation. Smoking cannabis would remain prohibited. During any 14-day period, an individual would be allowed to buy either two ounces of unprocessed marijuana or an amount of marijuana product with no more than 10 grams of THC or CBD. The measure would also allow, starting in January 2021, individuals with medical cards who live further than 100 miles from a dispensary to grow six marijuana plants at home.

A Committee known as Utah Patients Coalition (a.k.a. Utah Patients First) has been organizing and spending money since 2017, and succeeded in gathering the required 145,000 signatures to get the proposition on the ballot.

In 2017, the Coalition raised $355,221 and spent $309,359. So far this year they‚Äôve raised a total of $458,698, of which $155,527 has come in the last five months since the measure’s ballot qualification.

The largest donor for the Utah Patients Coalition is the national organization Marijuana Policy Project, which has contributed $198,173 in cash and $12,468 worth of in-kind staff time. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which makes hemp-infused products, donated $50,000 in January, and the non-profit patient group¬†Our Story has contributed $49,000. Individual liberty organizations¬†Libertas Institute in Salt Lake City and the DKT Liberty Project in Washington, D.C. have each contributed $35,000 this year.

Only six individuals made donations of $1,000 or more, and only two of those gave more than $1,100. One is Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com, who contributed $46,000. More than 300 other donors have contributed from $5 to $500. The average donation, including the big donors, is $1,465.

The two opposition PICs did not start operations until the proposal appeared on the ballot. Contributions to both PICs are driven by one man: Walter Plumb, a lawyer and businessman. Plumb is the President of the PIC called Drug Safe Utah, AKA Neighbors for Informed Decision-Making and AKA Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah. He has invested $115,000 in cash and $46,680 in-kind into the PIC.

A corporation for which he is the registered agent, Colony Partners LLC (listed in the contributions report as ‚ÄúColoney Partners‚ÄĚ) has also contributed $100,000. The owner of a company that shares the same office with Plumb in Salt Lake City, Kem Gardner, has also contributed $100,000. Plumb‚Äôs individual contributions and those of Colony and Gardner make up 48 percent of the PICs total 2018 contributions of $656,195.

The other notable donors to Drug Safe Utah include the faith-based Miller Family Philanthropy (backed by Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller), Keller Investments and real estate developer Roger Boyer with $100,000 each. The Utah Medical Association has donated just $500 in cash but $35,000 worth of in-kind staff time.

Only nine other donors make up the rest of the donations, plus $150 reported as ‚Äúaggregated small donations.‚ÄĚ The average donation is $43,746.

The other anti-proposition PIC, Truth About Proposition 2, is funded almost exclusively by Plumb and cross-donations from the Drug Safe Utah PIC. The PIC reported contributions of $65,850.00. $50,000 of that came from the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which is a DBA of Drug Safe Utah. Plumb contributed another $15,750 of his own cash. A single donation of $100 from an individual is the only other cash contribution.

Drug Safe Utah has also donated $47,108 in radio ads as an in-kind donation to Truth About Proposition 2. The two groups together have spent $506,372 through September 30.

Patient group TRUCE Utah (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), which has actively been campaigning to legalize medical marijuana, had not to this point registered as a PIC but has recently indicated their intention to do so.

In a March survey, 77 percent of Utah‚Äôs voters said they support medical marijuana, but the state‚Äôs governor, Gary Herbert (R) has pledged to ‚Äúactively oppose‚ÄĚ the initiative. Opposition from the influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other popular politicians such as U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney may also be a factor when voters go to the polls on November 6.

That said, the opposition can’t necessarily count on more money and institutional opposition to translate to a victory against marijuana reform. In June, for example, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a medical cannabis ballot initiative¬†despite the fact that supporters had far fewer monetary resources than did opponents, who also had elected officials, medical groups and law enforcement on their side against the measure.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Campaign Reports Show Grassroots Can Trump Big Money

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.

Polly has been creating print, web and video content for a couple of decades now. Recent roles include serving as writer/producer at The Denver Post's Cannabist vertical, and writing content for cannabis businesses.

Politics

Federal Agency Loosens Marijuana-Related Grant Funding Restrictions For Mental Health Treatment

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The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) loosened restrictions this week on grant funding for state health providers and other entities that allow patients to use medical marijuana for mental heath treatment.

The Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs flagged the new policy change in a notice to SAMHSA grant recipients on Monday. It said that the federal agency has removed language from its terms and conditions that until now has prevented grant funds from going to any institution that “provides or permits marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders.”

This restriction led the state department to issue a memo in June warning recipients and applicants about the possible withholding of funding.

Despite the recent change, SAMHSA is still continuing a narrower ban that says federal funds themselves “may not be used to purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana.”

The broader prohibition, which has now been rescinded, prompted a notice last year from Maine’s Education Department, which said is was no longer eligible for certain federal funds to support mental health programs in schools because the state allows students to access medical marijuana.

It seems the federal agency is now being somewhat more permissive.

Here’s how SAMHSA’s updated marijuana restriction reads:

“SAMHSA grant funds may not be used to purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana. See, e.g., 45 C.F.R. 75.300(a) (requiring HHS to ensure that Federal funding is expended in full accordance with U.S. statutory and public policy requirements); 21 U.S.C. 812(c)(10) and 841 (prohibiting the possession, manufacture, sale, purchase or distribution of marijuana).”

The older, more broad prohibition read:

“Grant funds may not be used, directly or indirectly, to purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana. Treatment in this context includes the treatment of opioid use disorder. Grant funds also cannot be provided to any individual who or organization that provides or permits marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders. See, e.g., 45 C.F.R. ¬ß 75.300(a) (requiring HHS to ‚Äúensure that Federal funding is expended in full accordance with U.S. statutory requirements.‚ÄĚ); 21 U.S.C. ¬ß¬ß 812(c)(10) and 841 (prohibiting the possession, manufacture, sale, purchase or distribution of marijuana). This prohibition does not apply to those providing such treatment in the context of clinical research permitted by the DEA and under an FDA-approved investigational new drug application where the article being evaluated is marijuana or a constituent thereof that is otherwise a banned controlled substance under federal law.”

The marijuana restrictions were first added to grant award terms for Fiscal Year 2020. The language was initially carried over to Fiscal Year 2021 but was more recently switched out for the narrower language by the federal agency.

In a January 2020 FAQ that the Pennsylvania department shared from SAMHSA this June, the federal agency responded to a prompt inquiring whether grant recipients can serve patients who are “very clear about their wish to remain on their medical marijuana for their mental or substance use disorder.”

‚ÄúNo. The organization cannot serve a patient who is on medical marijuana for a mental or substance use disorder and wishes to remain on such treatment,‚ÄĚ it said. ‚ÄúSAMHSA promotes the use of evidence-based practices and there is no evidence for such a treatment; in fact, there is increasing evidence that marijuana can further exacerbate mental health symptoms.‚ÄĚ

While the agency seemed adamant in enforcing that policy at the time, it appears to have had a change of heart and has since loosened the restriction.

A SAMHSA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment that the new rules took effect on Sunday, but played down their significance.

“This Aug. 1 clarification simply made clearer what was already in place: SAMHSA funds should not be used to procure a federally prohibited substance,” he said in an email.

While it is true that the revised provision, as was the case in the prior language, states that federal funds cannot be used to pay for marijuana, the spokesperson avoided commenting on the new deletion of the broader prohibition on grants going to entities that otherwise allow patients to use medical cannabis to treat substance use or mental disorders.

After SAMHSA announced in 2019 that its marijuana policy would impact organizations applying for its two main opioid treatment programs and another that provides funding to combat alcoholism and substance misuse, the Illinois Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority issued notices on the impact of the rule.

Read the Pennsylvania department’s notice on the SAMHSA marijuana policy change below:¬†

Pennsylvania SAMHSA marijuana by Marijuana Moment

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Mexican Lawmakers Could Finally Legalize Marijuana Sales Next Month (Op-Ed)

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The legislature missed repeated deadlines, and then the Supreme Court moved to allow homegrow. What’s next?

By Zara Snapp, Filter

Mexico has never seemed so close and yet so far from fully regulating the adult-use cannabis market.

A first Supreme Court resolution determined in 2015 that the absolute prohibition of cannabis for personal use was unconstitutional because it violates the right to the free development of personality. To reach jurisprudence in Mexico, five consecutive cases, with the same or more votes each time, must be won before the Supreme Court. This was achieved in October 2018, which detonated a legislative mandate that within 90 days, the Senate should modify the articles in the General Health Law that were deemed unconstitutional.

The first deadline came and went without the Senate modifying the articles; so the Senate requested an extension, which was granted. The second deadline to legislate expired on April 30, 2020‚ÄĒbut another extension was provided because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At first, it looked like the third time was the charm. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the Federal Law to Regulate and Control Cannabis in November 2020 and passed it to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, for review and approval. Since the deadline of December 15, 2020, was fast approaching, the Chamber asked for its own extension. The Supreme Court granted it (until April 20, 2021) and the bill underwent significant changes before being approved by the Chamber on March 10, and so sent back to the Senate.

The Senate certainly had enough time to review and either reject or accept the changes made by the lower house. That would have made this a shorter story. However, the Senate had other plans. Rather than approve the bill or request an additional extension, it simply did not do anything. June’s national midterm elections were approaching, and political calculations were made. The legislative process came to a standstill.

Since the Senate did not approve the bill by the deadline, the Supreme Court basically did what it had mandated Congress to do. It activated a mechanism to guarantee rights that had only been undertaken once before in Mexican history: the General Declaration of Unconstitutionality (GDU).

On June 28, the Supreme Court approved, with a qualified majority of eight of the 11 Ministers, that two articles in the General Health Law must be modified to permit adults to cultivate cannabis for personal use in their homes.

These changes were officially published on July 15, with specific instructions to the Health Secretary to approve authorizations for any adult who applies.

The GDU has certain restrictions attached, including that this is only for personal use and cannot be used to justify any commercialization of cannabis or cannabis-derived products. Adults cannot consume in front of minors, or other adults who have not expressly given their permission. Nor can they operate heavy machinery or drive while under the effects.

With the GDU, the judicial process concludes. However, the Supreme Court was clear in its final recommendations: Congress can and should legislate to clear up inconsistencies and generate a legal framework for cannabis users.

Whether the Senate decides to take up the matter again in September when it returns to its legislative session will depend largely on its political whim. The body no longer has a deadline to meet; however, there are growing calls from society to regulate the market beyond home-grow, as well as several legal contradictions that obviously need to be harmonized.

The General Health Law has now been modified and the health secretary must approve permits or authorizations for adults to cultivate in their homes. But the Federal Criminal Code has not changed‚ÄĒit still penalizes those same activities with sanctions ranging from 10 months to three years or more in prison.

The Supreme Court decision ignores the need for a comprehensive regulation that would allow the state to apply taxes to commercial activities, which are currently still criminalized with penal sanctions. It also overlooks the urgency of an amnesty program for the thousands of people currently incarcerated on low-level cannabis charges, or hampered by criminal records for such charges.

The Senate should now revisit the bill it initially passed. It should maintain the positive aspects of the bill, which would improve things well beyond the scope of the Supreme Court decision. These include provision for cannabis associations (permitting up to four plants per person for up to 20 members), for home-grow without the need to request authorization, and for a regulated market with a social justice perspective‚ÄĒallocating 40 percent (or more!) of cultivation licenses to communities harmed by prohibition and imposing restrictions on large companies.

The Senate could also build upon the previous version of the bill by eliminating simple possession as a crime, by allowing the associations to operate immediately and guaranteeing the participation of small and medium companies through strong government support.

During the last three years, and before, civil society has closely accompanied the process of creating this legislation, providing the technical and political inputs needed to move forward in a way that could have great social benefits for Mexico.

By becoming the third country in the world to regulate adult cannabis use, after Uruguay and Canada, Mexico could transition from being one of the largest illegal producers to being the largest legal domestic market in the world. As well as economic benefits, this could have substantial impacts on how criminal justice funds are spent, freeing up law enforcement dollars to focus on high-impact crimes and changing the way the state has shown up in communities that cultivate cannabis.

Rather than eradicating crops, the government could accompany communities in gaining legal licenses, provide technical assistance and improve basic services. These positive externalities of regulation could signal a shift from a militarized state of war to a focus on rights, development and social justice.

Of course, this all depends on key political actors recognizing the benefits‚ÄĒand that requires political will. Mexico deserves better; however, it remains to be seen whether legislators will act.

This article was originally published by Filter, an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.

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Oregon Governor Plans To Veto Bill To Regulate Kratom Sales That Advocates Say Would Protect Consumers

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The governor of Oregon has announced her intent to veto a bill that’s meant to create a regulatory framework for the sale and use of kratom for adults.

The Oregon Kratom Consumer Protection Act is bipartisan legislation that would make it so only people 21 and older could purchase the plant-based substance, which some use for its stimulating effects and which others found useful in treating opioid withdrawals.

Vendors would have to register with the state Department of Agriculture to sell kratom. The agency would be responsible for developing regulations on testing standards and labeling requirements. The bill would further prohibit the sale of contaminated or adulterated kratom products.

But while the House and Senate approved the legislation in June, Gov. Kate Brown (D) said on Sunday that she plans to veto it, in large part because she feels the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is better suited to regulate the products.

‚ÄúGiven there is currently no FDA-approved use for this product and there continues to be concern about the impacts of its use, I would entertain further legislation to limit youth access without the state agency regulatory function included in this bill,” the governor said.

This comes as a disappointment to advocates and regulators who share concerns about the risks of adulterated kratom but feel a regulatory framework could help mitigate those dangers and provide adults with a safe supply of products that have helped some overcome opioid addiction.

“Kratom has been consumed safely for centuries in Southeast Asia and Americans use it in the same way that coffee is used for increased focus and energy boosts. Many use kratom for pain management without the opioid side effects,” Rep. Bill Post (R), sponsor of the bill, wrote in an op-ed published in June. “The problem in Oregon is that adulterated products are being sold.”

“Kratom in its pure form is a natural product,” he said. “Adulterated kratom is a potentially dangerous product.”

Pete Candland, executive director of the American Kratom Association, said in written testimony on the bill in February that four other states‚ÄĒUtah, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada‚ÄĒhave enacted similar legislation with positive results.

He said that “the number of adulterated kratom products spiked with dangerous drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and morphine in those states has significantly decreased” in those states.

Meanwhile, six states‚ÄĒVermont, Alabama, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Rhode Island‚ÄĒhave banned kratom sales altogether.

Candland said that number is actually a testament to the noncontroversial nature of the plant, as prohibition is only in effect in six states despite “a full-throated disinformation campaign on kratom by the FDA with outrageously untrue claims about kratom being the cause of hundreds of deaths.”

After failing to get kratom prohibited domestically, FDA recently opened a public comment period that’s meant to inform the U.S. position on how the substance should be scheduled under international statute.

‚ÄúKratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects,‚ÄĚ FDA wrote in the notice. ‚ÄúKratom is available in several different forms to include dried/crushed leaves, powder, capsules, tablets, liquids, and gum/ resin. Kratom is an increasingly popular drug of abuse and readily available on the recreational drug market in the United States.‚ÄĚ

Responses to the notice will help inform the federal government’s stance on kratom scheduling in advance of an October meeting of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, where international officials will discuss whether to recommend the substance be globally scheduled.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a report to spending legislation¬†that says federal health agencies have ‚Äúcontributed to the continued understanding of the health impacts of kratom, including its constituent compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.‚ÄĚ

It also directed the Health and Human Services secretary to continue to refrain from recommending that kratom be controlled in Schedule I.

Late last year, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) asked the public to help identify research that specifically looks at the risks and benefits of cannabinoids and kratom.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year separately received more than one thousand comments concerning kratom as part of another public solicitation.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/ThorPorre.

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