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Virginia GOP Lawmakers Open To Allowing Marijuana Sales After Taking Control Of House

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“We need to fix it or all we have is a black market.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Newly empowered Republicans in Virginia say plans to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana won’t necessarily be doomed under their control of the House of Delegates and Executive Mansion.

And some say they’re open to speeding up the timeline for allowing retail sales, which is currently delayed until 2024.

“You almost kind of have to,” said Del. Glenn Davis (R), calling the current state of the law, in which possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana is legal but buying and selling the products is not, has created a quagmire that the party can’t ignore. “I guess we’re kind of half pregnant.”

Davis’ comments echoed House Leader Todd Gilbert’s (R) statements on the subject last week, when he told reporters that GOP members in the House would have no choice but to work with Democrats in the Senate to address the half-finished legislation, which he likened to a “live grenade rolling around.”

“We need to fix it or all we have is a black market,” he said.

Republicans have made it clear, though, that one thing that’s unlikely to find favor among their members are social equity provisions, which Democrats who championed the legislation earlier this year called a driving force behind their bill but failed to finalize before the end of the legislative session.

The proposals under discussion generally aimed to set aside a class of marijuana business licenses for Black Virginians, who during prohibition were three times more likely to face arrest for simple possession than their White counterparts despite studies showing both groups used the drug at roughly the same rate. Because a law that divvied up licenses explicitly by race would likely face a challenge on constitutional grounds, Democrats were considering a criteria that opened them to people with past marijuana convictions, their family members, or graduates of a Virginia historically Black college or university.

The legislation also proposed an incubator program to help finance startups and a reinvestment fund that would send a portion of tax revenues back to neighborhoods subject to disproportionate enforcement.

During debate on the legislation last year, several Republicans said they would have been inclined to vote for legalization, but could not support a bill that prioritized people with marijuana convictions on their records for business licenses.

“I don’t know if I’d call it an equity program. I’d call it a give-a-criminal-a-company program,” said Davis, who a year earlier had voted to reduce the penalty for simple possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time to a $25 civil infraction. He said it would send the wrong message to kids to reward people who broke the law.

Democrats also planned to include pro-union language aimed at making it easier for marijuana industry employees to organize that drew GOP criticism.

Gilbert did not address specifics last week and his spokesman, Garren Shipley, did not return phone calls and messages seeking additional comment. But he has made clear he expects the legislation to look different next year. “I imagine the roadmap that they laid out as to how that would occur…is going to change dramatically,” Gilbert said.

It’s less certain how Republicans would handle criminal justice elements of the law. For instance, Democrats said they ran out of time to include language that would allow resentencing hearings for people currently serving jail and prison time on serious marijuana offenses.

Legalization advocates like Chelsea Higgs Wise, who founded the group Marijuana Justice, urged Democrats to shift their focus on equity from focusing on business licenses to criminal justice reforms, which she said could present an area of bi-partisan agreement. “No one should be in prison just for marijuana and I think some of our Republican lawmakers might be able to have that conversation,” she said.

Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R), meanwhile, said in a tweet during the campaign that he would not seek to repeal marijuana legalization. In a statement at the time, campaign spokesman Matt Wolking added that Youngkin “suspects that revenue projections from legalization are way overstated, as they have shown to be in other states. With legalization, real emphasis must be placed on ensuring minors do not use this drug or have access to it.”

His incoming administration has so far declined to say anything else on the subject, responding with a verbatim copy of the July tweet and statement when asked Wednesday if Youngkin has any additional thoughts on the issue.

Democrats have already been debating whether to speed up the timeline for retail sales, worrying that the decision to end criminal penalties for possession without creating a legal way to buy the drug is empowering the black market.

Lawmakers set a 2024 date for retail sales because they said they wanted to give ample time to establish the new Cannabis Control Authority and write regulations that will govern the industry.

An interim option—allowing the currently existing medical dispensaries to begin retail sales as a stop-gap measure—was rejected by lawmakers who worried it would undermine the planned social equity programs by giving the medical companies an unfair head start.

It’s unlikely GOP lawmakers would share that concern given their general opposition to equity programs. And on the Democratic side, some lawmakers are holding out hope they can do both.

At a meeting of the General Assembly’s Cannabis Oversight Commission on Wednesday afternoon, a representative of Jushi, a multi-state cannabis business holds the medical license to sell the drug in Northern Virginia, told lawmakers the industry has the capacity to sell to medical and recreational customers. Discussions have included proposals that would require medical producers to serve as incubators for future social-equity licensees.

“Our view is essentially that you could start the adult use market on July 1 if it was the will of the General Assembly,” said Alexander Macaulay, a lobbyist for the company.

Virginia NORML, which has been advocating for legalization for decades, also supports allowing medical dispensaries to sell to recreational customers. The organization’s director, Jenn Michelle Pedini, said most other states that have legalized marijuana have taken a similar approach. “The question is how long do we want to maintain this in-between phase, which disadvantages consumers and encourages the illicit market,” Pedini said, saying NORML’s members are “frustrated we have operational dispensaries in the state but unless they have a medical certificate, they cannot shop there.”

Democrats, who still control the commission, are weighing the issue. But the chair of the subcommittee tasked with exploring options, Del. Don Scott (D) acknowledged he’s ultimately unlikely to have much say in the decision and began referring to the sole Republican assigned, Del. Will Morefield (R), as the future chair.

Morefield said that while House Republicans have yet to establish a policy on the issue, but said he is personally open to allowing the dispensaries to sell to recreational customers.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I think this is something we are venturing into that we’ve never ventured into before… We’ve got to fix it and we’ve got to get it right. For us just to say no, we’re not willing to work with one another to make this right would be irresponsible. It’s not the Virginia way.”

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury.

Top Mexican Senator Blames U.S. For Marijuana Criminalization Ahead Of Legalization Vote Expected Next Month

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Missouri Lawmakers Must Legalize Marijuana With Freedom In Mind, Former Prisoner Says (Op-Ed)

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“It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.”

By Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri Independent

In 1984, I was arrested for felony possession of marijuana for a half-pound of marijuana, for which I served five years of probation.

In 1991, I was arrested for possession of two ounces of marijuana, for which I served 60 days in county prison.

Finally, in 1993, I was arrested as an accessory in a deal for seven pounds of marijuana, and although I had no intention of possession or distribution, a jury convicted me and a circuit court judge sentenced me to life in prison under Missouri’s now-repealed prior and persistent offender statute.

During the next 22 years, American voters came to the realization that marijuana was a very beneficial medicine with a low risk profile, and state by state began passing medical marijuana laws or outright legalization.

Ultimately, then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted my sentence after state Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, filed legislation to require parole for marijuana offenders serving life sentences. My case was also supported by a national coalition of people and organizations who were shocked by the harshness of my sentence.

In 2018, Missouri voters passed a medical marijuana proposal at the ballot, which now allows people to obtain a physician’s recommendation for marijuana and has created a legal market for production and sales. The only controversy over legal medical marijuana has been over the restrictions on commercial licensing—85 percent of the over 2,200 applicants for marijuana business licenses were rejected in a process widely seen as arbitrary and unfair.

Now, two different ballot initiative campaigns, backed by different groups claiming to represent the marijuana industry, are competing to again change the Missouri Constitution to legalize recreational marijuana. But both of these proposals have significant flaws. Most significantly, both proposals create limits on personal marijuana possession and allow civil and criminal charges, including felonies, for possession of more than twice the possession limits.

Coupled with tight restrictions on commercial marijuana licensing, Missouri might continue to see a two-tiered system of justice and economic opportunity, where a privileged wealthy few are allowed to profit from legal marijuana sales while poor and politically weak Missourians continue to be sanctioned for the proposed crime of possessing too much marijuana.

By contrast, there is no other item of legal personal property that Missouri law creates a possession limit for, and I’ll point out specifically alcohol, our most dangerous drug, for which there are over 16,000 licenses for on and off premise sales registered in our state and no possession limits for individuals.

In January, the Missouri General Assembly will reconvene, and only the elected representatives of the people have the ability and the political will to consider these issues and take in input from all stakeholders. It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.

Jeff Mizanskey is a resident of Sedalia and veteran of the United States Air Force. In 2015, he was released from a life sentence for nonviolent marijuana charges after then-Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence.

This piece was fist published by Missouri Independent.

Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization

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“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”

By Margaret Menge, The Center Square

Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.

There is some support from Republicans.

“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.

He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.

It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.

Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.

“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”

In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”

The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.

The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.

He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.

Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.

Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.

“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”

Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.

In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.

“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”

Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill

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DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.

The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.

DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”

“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”

In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.

Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.

Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.

“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”

“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.

In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.

When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.

Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.

“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”

“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”

ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.

For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.

NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior 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.

But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.

A federal appeals court recently 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.

Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.

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.

White House Pressed To Mediate Marijuana Finger-Pointing Between DEA And HHS

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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