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Vermont Lawmakers Prepare Psychedelics And Broader Drug Decriminalization Bills For Introduction

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Vermont lawmakers plan to introduce at least two bills this legislative session to decriminalize the possession of drugs, with one of those proposals expected early next week.

State Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) told Marijuana Moment in an interview that his legislation, which he is planning to introduce on Tuesday, would remove penalties around an array of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics, including psilocybin, mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

“Humans have had a close relationship with plants and fungi that goes back to the very beginning of humanity,” Cina said in an interview. “But the legacy of colonization has left us with the criminalization of these medicinal, spiritual, religious, entheogenic medicines.”

Another forthcoming Vermont bill would decriminalize small amounts of all drugs, although details of that legislation aren’t yet public. Rep. Selene Colburn (P/D) said at a press conference that an all-drug decriminalization bill is currently being drafted and will be introduced later this session.

“We’re still figuring out the model, but it does look to the work that’s happened in Oregon as a potential template,” she said, referring to the drug decriminalization ballot measure that voters in that state approved in November.

Colburn didn’t immediately respond on Thursday to an emailed request for more details.

Sarah George, state’s attorney for Chittenden County, said at Wednesday’s event that drugs “are not illegal because they are dangerous, but they certainly are more dangerous because they’re illegal.”

“Everything is safer when it’s legalized and regulated,” George said, “and legal drugs are safer than illegal drugs.”

Other legislation still in the works for this session could decriminalize buprenorphine, commonly used to treat opioid use disorder, and regulate the sale of kratom, a popular but controversial herbal medicine and painkiller alternative.

“In general there’s many of us trying to decriminalize human behavior that’s become sort of stigmatized and judged by others but the main impact is on the person,” Cina told Marijuana Moment. In the case of substance use, he said, “the greatest impact is the health impact on the person and the social impact.”

Cina previewed the proposal to deregulate plant-based entheogens in a video call this week with the group Decriminalize Nature, which has helped lead successful efforts to decriminalize certain drugs in other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C.

During the event, the lawmaker showed a draft of his bill and walked attendees through how it would amend current law.

“What we do is, right now in the section that defines a hallucinogenic drug, it includes peyote and psilocybin and all these other drugs that you see,” Cina explained. “What we do is we strike those out, we basically say they’re not counted.”

The entire list of drugs that would be removed from “regulated” status—effectively deleting them from the state’s list of controlled substances—includes peyote, ayahuasca, cacti containing mescaline, psilocybin, psilocin, ibogaine, DMT and any plant containing those substances.

“I know other people have other conceptions about how we should do this,” Cina said on the call. “This is one way we’re trying to do it. It’s part of a multi-pronged strategy to defelonize all drugs and decriminalize many.”

Cina told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he expects to have seven co-sponsors for the bill when it’s first introduced, which would be a sign of growing support for the policy change. A similar bill introduced by Cina last session, H.878, earned three other cosponsors and was never heard in committee.

There have been some small changes from last year’s proposal, most notably regarding what drugs it would deregulate. Last year’s bill applied to psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom. This year’s bill removes kratom and expands the list of deregulated plants and substances to include ibogaine, DMT and certain plants and fungi containing those compounds.

“To maximize the decriminalization, we include the substance and the plant,” Cina said.

He said the new bill would likely begin its path in the House Judiciary Committee, although that won’t be known for sure until it’s introduced and referred.

As for kratom, Cina said lawmakers will deal with the drug—already widely sold across the country—under separate legislation, the Kratom Consumer Protection Act, that would legalize and regulate sales. That bill would set a minimum purchasing age for kratom and include rules meant to ensure product purity and dosage.

The bill to decriminalize natural psychedelics takes a different route, simply removing the substances and the plants that produce them from the state’s drug laws. As Cina describes it, the bill would instead treat hallucinogenic plants like non-psychoactive mushrooms and cactuses.

“The best way I can explain it,” he told the Decriminalize Nature audience, “is we’re just treating them like other plants and fungi.”

Some state officials have already expressed opposition to decriminalization of additional drugs beyond marijuana, calling it a step too far.

“Philosophically I would struggle with trying to understand how the public safety or the public health would be improved by the decriminalization of heroin,” Attorney General TJ Donovan said on a podcast hosted by VTDigger this week.

Asked if he would support the decriminalization of any drugs, Donovan replied, “I think we have it: We have marijuana, we have alcohol.”

Donovan acknowledged, however, that he and others are evolving on the idea as they’re presented with evidence that drug reform policies can reduce harm. “Some people use drugs, we know that,” he said. “How do we reduce the harm of that and to the community?”

Donovan said he supports some drug reform policies, such as needle exchange programs, and is “open to the idea” of safe injection sites.

“We should be guided by science, we should be guided by data and we shouldn’t be afraid to have these tough conversations as we continue to evolve,” he said.

The attorney general has already revised his stance on marijuana, initially favoring simple decriminalization of the drug but eventually embracing legalization as a way to regulate safety and eliminate the illegal market. “You can’t tell Vermonters that you can legally possess something and be absolutely silent on how they obtain it,” he said.

The state legalized possession and home cultivation of cannabis sales in 2018 and last year moved to add a legal and regulated sales component.

The Vermont Democratic Party, for its part, signaled late last year that it’s on board with the broader policy change. At a virtual meeting in September, the party adopted a platform that includes a call to “adopt an approach to the possession and misuse of drugs that is motivated solely by the principles of public health and harm reduction, rather than punishing undesirable private behavior, while avoiding the criminal justice system altogether.”

Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate who led the drafting of the platform’s criminal justice provisions, told Marijuana Moment at the time that “as a party, we’ve fully recognized that the War on Drugs has completely failed to reduce problematic drug use, and in fact fuels the racial biases we see in policing today, all without contributing to public safety.”

Elsewhere across the country, lawmakers are considering similar reforms to roll back or eliminate penalties for the possession of many drugs.

A Republican lawmaker in Iowa introduced a bill earlier this month that would remove psilocybin from the list of controlled substances and another to let seriously ill patients use psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, DMT and other drugs.

In Texas, a state legislator introduced a bill last week to require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine in the treatment of certain mental health conditions.

Legislators in Connecticut, FloridaHawaiiKansasWashington State and Virginia are also considering psychedelics and drug policy reform bills for the 2021 session.

On Thursday, a California lawmaker, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) introduced legislation that would legalize the possession and social sharing of a number of drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ketamine, mescaline, ibogaine, DMT and MDMA. It would also provide for the expungement of past criminal records for possession or use. The state would establish a task force under the proposal to study potential future regulatory systems around psychedelics, with a report due in 2024.

“This bill is part of a larger push to end the failed War on Drugs, which has disproportionately harmed underserved communities of color,” said Assemblymember Evan Low (D), a cosponsor of that bill. “Our bill helps to lead us on a path to decriminalizing substance abuse so we can focus on providing addiction treatment instead of paying for jail cells and ignoring the larger problem.”

As Cina in Vermont told Marijuana Moment this week, “We don’t need to police each other more. We need to take care of each other better.”

State Marijuana Regulators Outline Policy Priorities As Congress Pursues Legalization

Photo elements courtesy of carlosemmaskype and Apollo

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.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

Texas Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Bill In Committee

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A bill to decriminalize marijuana possession in Texas—as well as a separate proposal to reduce penalties for possessing cannabis concentrates—advanced out of a key House committee on Friday.

These are the latest developments that have come after a week where Texas lawmakers have considered a medley of marijuana reform measures. But arguably the most significant piece of cannabis legislation to move out of committee would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana a class C misdemeanor that carries a fine but no threat of jail time.

The full House of Representatives approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

This time around, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved the decriminalization bill, which would also prevent law enforcement from making arrests over low-level possession. Other decriminalization proposals that were under consideration by the panel this week would not prohibit that enforcement action, which is key because police are currently able to incarcerate people who are arrested for class C misdemeanors even though the charge itself does not carry the risk of jail time in sentencing.

The advancing legislation, HB 441, sponsored by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D), would also prevent the loss of a driver’s license or the creation of a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce.

Separately, the committee advanced legislation to make possession of up to two ounces of cannabis concentrates a class B misdemeanor.

Both bills were among the subjects a lengthy hearing the panel held on Tuesday.

“Marijuana bills are moving through the committee process at record speed this session,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “There’s good reason to be optimistic about the upcoming votes and the House and advocates will be doubling down their efforts to influence senators.”

This action comes one day after the House Public Health Committee unanimously approved a bill to significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

Sponsored by Chairwoman Stephanie Klick (R), the bill would add cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (for veterans only) as conditions that could qualify people for the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

It would further allow the Department of State Health Services to add more qualifying conditions via administrative rulemaking. And it would also raise the THC cap for medical marijuana products from 0.5 percent to five percent.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

On Thursday, the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee also discussed legislation that would make certain changes to the state’s hemp program, including imposing rules related to the transportation and testing of consumable hemp products.

While the Texas legislature has historically resisted most cannabis reforms, there are signs that this session may be different.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event last month that while he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”

The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.

“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”

Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released last month.

Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.

Leaders in both chambers of the legislature have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.

Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

That said, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber.

Nevada Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Bill To Allow On-Site Consumption Lounges

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Nevada Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Bill To Allow On-Site Consumption Lounges

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A bill to allow on-site marijuana consumption lounges advanced through a Nevada Assembly committee on Friday. The panel separately passed a measure making it so the concentration of THC in a person’s blood cannot be singularly used to determine impairment while driving.

The social use legislation, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager (D), would create two new licensing categories for cannabis businesses in the state. One would be for “retail cannabis consumption lounges” and the other would be an “independent cannabis consumption lounge.”

Existing retailers could apply for the former license and sell products that could be consumed on-site by adults 21 and older. Independent lounges would not be permitted to sell cannabis on their own, but would need to have marijuana products delivered to consumers from another source.

That said, independent licensees could submit a request to regulators to sell cannabis that they produce or to enter into a contract with an adult-use retailer to sell their products.

The state’s Cannabis Compliance Board would also be responsible for creating regulations for on-site facilities and setting fees for license applicants. Businesses that qualify as social equity applicants would have a reduced fee.

Under the legislation, a person “who has been adversely affected by provisions of previous laws which criminalized activity relating to cannabis, including, without limitation, adverse effects on an owner, officer or board member of the applicant or on the geographic area in which the applicant will operate” is considered a social equity applicant.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Yeager proposed a large-scale amendment to the proposal before it was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It builds on the definition and scoring system for social equity applicants, revises public safety requirements for lounges and ensures that products purchased at lounges cannot be removed from the facility, among other changes.

The Las Vegas City Council in 2019 approved an ordinance allowing for social consumption sites within city limits.

That year, Alaska became the first state to enact regulations that provide for the on-site use option at dispensaries. Colorado followed suit with legislation approved that legalized cannabis “tasting rooms” and “marijuana hospitality establishments” where adults could freely use cannabis. Social consumption sites are also provided for in New York’s recently enacted marijuana legalization law.

In Nevada, adding new license types and giving consumers this option—especially in the tourist-centric state—could further boost marijuana and other tax revenues. And Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) has had a particular interest in ensuring that those tax dollars support public education, which he talked about during a State of the State address in January.

Sisolak has also committed to promoting equity and justice in the state’s marijuana law. Last year, for example, he pardoned more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level cannabis possession.

That action was made possible under a resolution the governor introduced that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners.

Under the impaired driving bill that separately cleared the committee on Friday, the per se blood test for THC would no longer be used in determining impairment.

Advocates have argued that the limit is arbitrary and there’s a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a link between the amount of THC metabolites present in the blood and active impairment.

New Mexico Governor Sends Marijuana Bill Sponsors A ‘Save The Date’ For Expected Legalization Bill Signing

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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.
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Biden Gets Yet Another Congressional Letter Blasting Marijuana-Related White House Firings

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President Joe Biden has received yet another letter from a lawmaker demanding answers about his administration’s practice of firing or otherwise punishing staffers for prior marijuana use.

Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) noted the national push to end prohibition and how the White House’s actions reveal a troubling disconnect.

“Cannabis is legal for either medical or adult use in 36 states, with numerous states pursuing efforts to further legalize for adult use,” the congresswoman wrote. “In Minnesota, our state legislature is expected to vote on measures to legalize cannabis in the coming months following years of political and community organizing by activists throughout the state.”

“Minnesotans and the American people are demanding change to our harsh and unequally applied cannabis laws,” she wrote. “I look forward to seeing your Administration reverse course on this harmful and unnecessary hurdle to hiring diverse and talented public servants.”

Craig also mentioned efforts to legalize marijuana at the federal level and commented on Biden’s prior statements on more modest reforms.

“I stand ready to work with you as we revisit our country’s drug laws, including the descheduling of cannabis as a Class 1 drug at the federal level,” she said. “You have previously expressed your commitment to decriminalizing cannabis in acknowledgement that a cannabis conviction or even the stigma of cannabis use can ruin lives and prevent people from voting, gaining employment and contributing to society.”

This is the third letter from lawmakers that Biden has been sent regarding the federal marijuana employment controversy.

A coalition of 30 members of Congress sent a letter last month that sharply criticizes the administration for terminating or punishing multiple White House staffers who disclosed their prior cannabis use. They pointed out that Vice President Kamala Harris and at least one one other Cabinet member are on record about their own marijuana use experiences.

Prior to that, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) sent a similar message to the president condemning news of the marijuana-related firings for people who were honest about their history with cannabis on a federal form that’s required as part of the background check process.

“Simply put, in a nation where the truth is considered malleable, we need to demonstrate to our young public servants that telling the truth is an honorable trait, not one to be punished,” the congressman wrote. “I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki addressed the controversy last month, saying during a press briefing that while Biden could theoretically end the policy of firing staff over prior marijuana use himself, that’s not happening as long as cannabis is federally illegal.

She later said that the president’s stance on marijuana legalization “has not changed,” meaning he’s still opposed to the comprehensive reform.

Psaki has previously attempted to minimize the fallout over the cannabis firings, with not much success, and so her office released a statement last month stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”

Read the new letter to Biden on White House marijuana employment policy below: 

Letter to Biden Regarding C… by Marijuana Moment

New Mexico Governor Sends Marijuana Bill Sponsors A ‘Save The Date’ For Expected Legalization Bill Signing

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