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’ve 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 “Coloney Partners”) 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’s 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 “aggregated small donations.” 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’s voters said they support medical marijuana, but the state’s governor, Gary Herbert (R) has pledged to “actively oppose” 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.
UN Committee Unexpectedly Withholds Marijuana Scheduling Recommendations
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) was expected to make recommendations about the international legal status of marijuana, which reform advocates hoped would include a call to deschedule the plant and free up member countries to pursue legalization.
But in a surprise twist, a representative from the organization announced that WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, would be temporarily withholding the results of its cannabis assessment, even as it released recommendations on an opioid painkiller and synthetic cannabinoids. The marijuana recommendations are now expected to come out in January.
Earlier this year, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) released a pre-review of marijuana that included several positive, evidentiary findings. Cannabis has never caused a fatal overdose, the committee said, and research demonstrates that ingredients in the plant can effectively treat pain and improve sleep, for example.
The pre-review results prompted a more in-depth critical review, one of the final stages before the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) makes a determination about whether marijuana should remain in the most restrictive international drug classification. But on Friday, as observers anxiously awaited that determination, WHO pumped the brakes. The committee said it needed more time “for clearance reasons,” according to the International Drug Policy Consortium.
The @WHO's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence met in November to discuss the scheduling of cannabis and related/other substances.
— IDPC (@IDPCnet) December 7, 2018
“This decision to withhold the results of the critical review of cannabis appears to be politically motivated,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has pushed for international reform, said in a press release.
“The WHO has been answering many questions about cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate. I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on cannabis, findings we expect to be positive based upon recent WHO statements and their other actions today.”
Those other actions include recommending that the opioid painkiller tramadol should not be scheduled under international treaties out of concern that such restrictions would limit access and hurt patients. In August, the committee made a similar recommendation about pure cannabidiol, or CBD, a component of marijuana.
While the critical review of marijuana itself has been postponed, the committee’s recommendations for its international scheduling are still expected to go up for a vote in the CND in March. If the committee does decide to recommend that cannabis be removed from international control, that would have wide-ranging implications for the reform efforts around the world.
In the U.S., the federal government has routinely cited obligations under international treaties to which it is a party as reasons to continue to ban marijuana and its derivatives. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration said in May that CBD doesn’t meet the criteria for federal scheduling at all, but that international treaties obliged it to recommend rescheduling to Schedule V.
“If treaty obligations do not require control of CBD, or if the international controls on CBD change in the future, this recommendation will need to be promptly revisited,” the agency said.
Where Trump’s Pick For Attorney General Stands On Drug Policy
President Donald Trump said on Friday that he plans to nominate William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.
Barr, who previously served in the position under President George H. W. Bush’s administration, seems less openly hostile to marijuana compared to other potential nominees whose names were floated—like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who pledged to crack down on state-legal cannabis activity during his failed 2016 presidential bid.
That said, he developed a reputation as anti-drug while overseeing harsh enforcement policies under Bush.
….and one of the most highly respected lawyers and legal minds in the Country, he will be a great addition to our team. I look forward to having him join our very successful Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
The prospective nominee seems to share a worldview with the late president under whom he served. Bush called for “more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors” to combat drug use and dramatically increased the federal drug control budget to accomplish that goal. In 1992, Barr sanctioned a report that made the “case for more incarceration” as a means to reduce violent crime.
Barr wrote a letter explaining why he was releasing the report, which has now resurfaced as observers attempt to gauge how he will approach drug policy in the 21st century.
“[T]here is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets,” he wrote. “Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them.”
“Revolving-door justice resulting from inadequate prison and jail space breeds disrespect for the law and places our citizens at risk, unnecessarily, of becoming victims of violent crime.”
He also wrote a letter to lawmakers in 2015 defending the criminal justice system—including mandatory minimum sentences—and encouraging Congress not to bring up a sentencing reform bill.
“It’s hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one,” Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump’s recent endorsement of sentencing reform.”
“The vast majority of Americans believe the war on drugs needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next Attorney General be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies. William Barr is a disastrous choice.”
Another window into Barr’s criminal justice perspective comes from 1989, when he wrote a Justice Department memo that authorized the FBI to apprehend suspected fugitives living in other countries and extradite them to the U.S. without first getting permission from the country. The intent of the memo seemed to be to enable the U.S. to more easily capture international drug traffickers.
In 2002, Barr compared drug trafficking to terrorism and described the drug war as the “biggest frustration” he faced under Bush. The administration “did a very good job putting in place the building blocks for intelligence building and international cooperation, but we never tightened the noose,” he said.
Interestingly, as The Washington Post reported, Barr would be heading up a department where his daughter, Mary Daly, also works. Daly is the director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, and she’s established herself as an advocate for tougher criminal enforcement aimed at driving out the opioid epidemic.
Today’s drug policy landscape is a lot different than it was in the early 1990s, though, and it’s yet to be seen how Barr, if confirmed by the Senate, will navigate conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. He’ll also be inheriting a Justice Department that no longer operates under an Obama-era policy of general non-intervention, after Sessions moved this year to rescind the so-called Cole memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement.
But for advocates, at least it’s not the guy who said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” anymore and it won’t be one who campaigned for president saying he’d enforce federal prohibition in legal states, either.
Marijuana Bills Are Already Being Pre-Filed For 2019 Legislative Sessions
If you thought 2018 was a big year for marijuana, gear up for 2019. Before the next legislative session has even started, lawmakers in at least four states have already pre-filed a wide range of cannabis reform bills.
In Missouri, where voters approved a medical marijuana initiative during last month’s midterm election, a state lawmaker has already drafted a piece of legislation that would legalize cannabis for adult-use—though it would not establish a retail sales system. Instead, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
At least one marijuana decriminalization bill will be on the table in Virginia next year. The legislation would reduce the penalty for simple possession from a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum of a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail to a civil penalty punishable by a $50 fine for first-time offenders, $100 for second-time offenders and $250 for subsequent offenses.
Marijuana Moment is currently tracking more than 900 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Down in Texas, lawmakers in the state House and Senate have already pre-filed no fewer than 12 marijuana-related bills. The legislative proposals range from constitutional amendments to fully legalize and regulate cannabis to simple decriminalization policies to lessen penalties for low-level possession.
Finally, in Nevada, where cannabis is legal for adults, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of what are called “bill draft requests” that relate to marijuana. Proposals to revise cannabis tax policies, create a state bank that could potentially service the legal industry and regulate hemp cultivation—among several others—could be taken up by the state legislature next year.
While the pre-filing process has already started in most states, there’s still time and it’s possible that more cannabis legislation will be introduced for consideration in coming days and weeks prior to the formal start of 2019 legislative sessions.