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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

Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants

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A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) first announced their intent to file the legislation in November, arguing that it is a necessary reform to ensure patient access by giving people a less costly alternative to buying from dispensaries.

Registered patients who are 21 and older, and who have been residents of the state for at least 30 days, could grow up to six plants in an “enclosed and locked space” at their residence, according to the text of the bill. They would be allowed to buy cannabis seeds from licensed dispensaries

 

In an earlier cosponsorship memo for the new home grow bill, the lawmakers said that letting patients cultivate their own medicine would “help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine.”

The new legislation has three other initial cosponsors in addition to Street and Laughlin.

Street had attempted to get the reform enacted as an amendment to an omnibus bill this summer, but it did not advance.

The senators argue that patients in particular are deserving of a home grow option, as some must currently travel hours to visit a licensed dispensary and there are financial burdens that could be alleviated if patients could grow their own plants for medicine.

Late last year, Laughlin and Street also unveiled a separate adult-use legalization proposal that faces significant challenges in the GOP-controlled legislature. And Street is behind another recent cannabis measure to provide state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with cannabis businesses.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

In the interim, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment through an expedited petition program.

Pennsylvania lawmakers could also take up more modest marijuana reform proposals like a bill filed late last year to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.

Rep. Amen Brown (D) separately announced his intent to file a legalization bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.

Additionally, another pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing last year.

Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization in November that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said last year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released last year found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.

An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last year, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Minnesota Democratic Leaders Preview Marijuana Legalization Plan For 2022

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Minnesota Democratic leaders are preparing for another push to legalize marijuana this session, with the sponsor of the House-passed reform bill saying he will be reworking the legislation in an effort to build further support—though it continues to face an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (D) discussed the legislative strategy during a roundtable event hosted by the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative on Wednesday.

Winkler said that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions—but it is not a perfect bill.”

“As we look ahead to this session…our goal is to go back and reexamine provisions of the bill,” he said. Licensing structures, public safety and substance misuse concerns are among the issues that lawmakers will be looking at to improve upon the legislation.

“We will be working with our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate,” Winkler added. “We’re interested in pursuing legalization to make sure that the bill represents senators’ priorities for legalization as well.”

The leader said that “any effort this year that would be successful would require Republican support as well.”

But while advocates are encouraged to hear that the House may again vote to pass the legalization legislation, the Senate minority leader tempered expectations about the bill’s prospects in her Republican-run chamber.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a path to legalization this year in the Minnesota Senate,” Franzen said. “It’s controlled by the Republican party, and they have there’s a few members who are really adamantly opposed to legalization.”

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is supportive of cannabis legalization, and while the broad reform didn’t advance last session, he did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.

Winkler said on Wednesday that “it was because of the work done” by advocates on legalization that put pressure on Senate Republicans to advance that legislation.

Another cannabis issue playing out in Minnesota concerns CBD. The state agriculture department and pharmacy board have increased enforcement against the sale of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in recent months, prompting calls for legislative reform.

Winkler said that the political dynamics around legalization that led to the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program will be “a template for how we will address challenges with CBD this year.”

“My staff is working very closely with advocates, working with senators, working with other House members to get in a repair for the CBD industry, and I have every confidence that we will be able to do that with your help,” he said.

A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.

Winkler said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

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Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

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A Republican Nebraska senator introduced a bill on Thursday that ostensibly seeks to legalize medical marijuana in the state—but activists have raised concerns that the restrictive measure may be an attempt to subvert an effort to pass even broader patient protections on the 2022 ballot.

Sen. Mike Groene (R) filed the legislation, which would allow certain patients to buy and possess cannabis oils, pills and up to two and a half ounces of flower at a limited number of dispensaries. Smoking or inhaling marijuana would be banned, however, as would making edibles—so it’s not clear how patients would consume the flower they could possess.

But the main problem is, the bill would maintain that cultivating marijuana in Nebraska for commercial or personal use is illegal, meaning dispensaries wouldn’t even have a legal means of obtaining cannabis products for patients.

The bill is also severely restrictive in terms of who would qualify for cannabis. It would only permit access to people with stage IV cancer, uncontrolled seizures, severe muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy or a terminal illness with less than a one year probable life expectancy.

It’s being backed by the Nebraska chapter of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), leading some advocates to suspect that the lack of cultivation provisions is designed to be a “poison pill” while misleading voters into thinking that there is a good faith effort to legalize medical cannabis legislatively.

“This appears to be a political stunt,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Opponents of medical cannabis know there is a viable campaign to put medical cannabis on the ballot, and they know Nebraskans will overwhelmingly support that effort.”

“This is an attempt to take our focus away from that,” he said. “But it won’t succeed because it’s clear that this proposal is not a good faith effort to find some middle ground on the issue.”

The bill comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) continues to work to collect signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives that advocates hope to place on the November ballot. They have until July to collect 87,000 valid signatures to qualify each of their complementary measures.

Activists with the group collected enough signatures to qualify a medical marijuana legalization measure for the 2020 ballot, but the state Supreme Court invalidated it, finding that the proposal violated the single-subject rule for citizen initiatives.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

Now this legislation from Groene is entering the mix for the 2022 session. And SAM Nebraska co-chair John Kuehn told The Lincoln Journal-Star that it’s “a good faith effort and we are willing to look at this as an acceptable alternative to creating a marijuana industry in the state of Nebraska.”

While advocates aren’t necessarily buying that argument given that it would authorize dispensaries without providing the ability to cultivate marijuana products, some like NMM co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D) are willing to work with the senator to get the bill into a more acceptable shape for patients.

“It would be the status quo,” Wishart said. “I want a safe system, but there are practical realities patients are living with every day. No one wants a system that doesn’t work.”

Notably, Groene did support a procedural motion to advance Wishart’s more expansive medical cannabis bill last session.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats, pounced on the restrictive nature of Groene’s bill and said it makes it “not easy or feasible for most” to obtain a medical cannabis recommendation from a doctor.

Shari Lawlor, a member of Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, said that the group is “grateful that Sen. Groene recognizes the importance of medical cannabis,” but as drafted, “this is a medical cannabis bill with no cannabis.”

“It envisions a system with dispensaries but no farmers or cultivators who actually produce the medical cannabis that patients need,” she said. “And since patients are not allowed to cultivate medical cannabis themselves under this proposal, there is effectively no way for patients to get the relief they need.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is no fan of legalization. He partnered with SAM Nebraska on a recent ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state. Given the organization’s support for this new GOP proposal, there’s some suspicion that he might back it to give the appearance that the administration isn’t deaf to calls for reform by voters.

Advocates aren’t going to be deterred by the bill’s introduction. They will be moving forward with the complementary medical cannabis initiatives in hopes to getting the issue to voters.

The campaign deliberately chose to take a bifurcated approach because of the state Supreme Court invalidation over the single-subject rule.

One of the statutory initiatives would establish legal protections for patients and doctors around cannabis, while the other would allow private companies to produce and sell medical marijuana products.

Lawmakers attempted to advance medical cannabis reform legislatively last year, but while the unicameral legislature debated a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May, it failed to advance past a filibuster because the body didn’t have enough votes to overcome it.

Wishart and NMM co-chair Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) announced in late 2020 that they would also work to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use before voters in 2022. But for now their focus appears to be on the medical cannabis effort.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general argued in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

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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