Vermont’s governor is apparently open to legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana sales in the state—a significant shift from his earlier position.
While the legislature legalized low-level possession and home cultivation in 2018, the current law doesn’t allow for sales, and Gov. Phil Scott (R) has said in the past that he’s wary about allowing such commercial cannabis activity, citing concerns about impaired driving.
But the 2020 session could be different, as Scott is reportedly eyeing tax-and-regulate legislation and considers it a potential source of revenue to support an after-school program he’s pushing. The governor still wants to ensure any reform legislation includes provisions to prevent driving under the influence.
“If we do end up there, this might be a good use of any revenues from there,” Administration Secretary Susan Young told Vermont Public Radio in an interview released on Wednesday. “That’s not exclusively how we plan to fund it, but we’re going to have to be creative and looking like we did with clean water to find a source.”
Listen to Young’s comments in the audio clip below:
Another state official, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said in a radio interview last month that legalizing marijuana sales would better protect public health than current policy does.
“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” she said. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”
According to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill, with most members in favor of the reform move.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said last month that she believes “there is a solid tri-partisan majority in the House that would like to see tax and regulate pass this year.” While she has expressed reluctance about the legislation in the past, the speaker now says she won’t block her chamber from passing it.
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears (D) and House Government Operations Committee Chairwoman Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D) said in a press conference that the time is right to act on marijuana legalization.
“We are shipping tax dollars out of state and fueling the economy in those states in this industry in another state,” Sears said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.”
“We look forward to working with our House counterparts in a conference committee to arrive at a bill that is supported by most members of the legislature, the governor and the general public,” he added.
Copeland-Hanzas said adults in Vermont “need to have safe and legal access to cannabis.”
“This is an opportunity—and a very unique opportunity—to stand up a new industry and to create jobs and to fill some of our vacant manufacturing and warehouse facilities in Vermont,” she said.
Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed.
“It seems clear to me in the year 2020 there is no state in the U.S. that is more ready to regulate cannabis sales than Vermont,” he said.
Other political observers in the state seem to think that Scott is coming around to legalizing sales despite his earlier reluctance.
“The governor already seems to be counting those chickens that are going to be hatched from whatever tax-and-regulate system we have as it relates to revenue that’s going to be generated by a retail marijuana market,” Pete Hirschfeld of Vermont Public Radio said in a recent TV appearance. “If we read the tea leaves we can see that Governor Phil Scott has essentially resigned himself that this is an eventuality and is counting on using legal marijuana tax dollars to fund his priorities.”
Watch Hirschfeld’s comments, about 17:10 into the video below:
While it remains to be seen whether the governor will ultimately back a tax-and-regulate bill, such as legislation that was approved by the Senate last year—a proposal discussed again by the body’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday—advocates are optimistic this legislative session will be a success.
The Senate-passed bill, which is still alive for 2020, has already been approved by one House committee. At the press conference last week, Sears expressed some frustration about how long it is taking for House committees and leadership to deal with legislation, saying he wants to get finalized legislation through a bicameral conference committee and to the governor’s desk by early March.
Scott could feel additional pressure to support a commercial marijuana model given that he’s facing a reelection challenge this year from Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman (Vermont Progressive Party), who is strongly in favor of taxing and regulating the state’s cannabis market.
It’s official: I’m running for Governor. For the past 25 years, I've worked with you to make our state better. Now, I'm asking for your support. Let's go.#vtpoli #vt #ZuckermanforVT pic.twitter.com/l6VfUJZGiG
— David Zuckerman (@zuckermanforvt) January 13, 2020
“I think every year we go by not doing it, we are perpetuating the underground, unregulated, unjust system that we have today while other states are moving forward,” Zuckerman said in 2018.
Over in neighboring New Hampshire, lawmakers have decided to take a lesson from Vermont and pursue non-commercial cannabis legalization this session—a move that was described to Marijuana Moment as an incremental, albeit important, step toward eventual commercialization.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
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.