The governor of Virginia on Thursday officially proposed pushing up the timeline to implement marijuana legalization—one of a series of amendments to the reform legislation that he’s submitting to lawmakers, who will consider them next week.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also addressed concerns over provisions dealing with home cultivation, expungements and worker protections.
Top legislators and reform advocates have been pushing for many of these changes, particularly moving up the effective date. The governor’s proposal would make it so possession of cannabis by adults 21 and older would be legal on July 1, rather than in 2024 as the measure currently stipulates.
Home cultivation would be allowed starting on July 1 as well. Plants would have to be labeled with “identification information, out of sight of public view, and out of range of individuals under the age of 21,” a summary states.
“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Northam said in a press release. “Virginia will become the 15th state to legalize marijuana—and these changes will ensure we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice. I am grateful to the advocates and legislators for their dedicated work on this important issue, and I look forward to this legislation passing next month.”
Virginia is ready to legalize adult-use marijuana—and I believe we should get it done starting July 1, 2021.https://t.co/RF1DR0lRPC
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) March 31, 2021
The Senate version of the legalization bill would have legalized possession by July 1, but the House of Delegates pushed for delaying the effective date until legal sales launch on January 1, 2024, and that chamber won out following negotiations on sending the bill to Northam’s desk last month. That said, the House speaker and other top lawmakers shifted their position in recent days, joining the call to legalize ahead of schedule.
Lawmakers will now take up Northam’s proposed changes in a short session on April 7.
The governor also asked the legislature to adopt an amendment to expedite automatic expungements for people with prior marijuana convictions.
Additionally, he called for immediate funding for a public education campaign “on the health and safety risks of marijuana,” as well as money for law enforcement training to train officers to “recognize and prevent drugged driving.”
Further, he proposed a revision stating that regulators should have the authority to “revoke a company’s business license if they interfere with union organizing efforts, fail to pay prevailing wage as defined by the United States Department of Labor, or classify more than ten percent of employees as independent contractors.”
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Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) said that “Virginia’s communities of color deserve equity—and that means taking action now to end the disproportionate fines, arrests, and convictions of marijuana offenses” and he is “proud of the work to improve this bill for all of the people we serve, and I look forward to this legislation becoming law.”
Advocates are pleased with some of the amendments, but say they wanted more from the governor.
“While a number of important improvements were made, we’re disappointed that Virginia is not following the common-sense pathways previously established by other states that have successfully expanded from medical-use to adult-use,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “In the interest of public and consumer safety, Virginians 21 and older should be able to purchase retail cannabis products at the already operational dispensaries in 2021, not in 2024.”
Pedini, who also serves as NORML’s national development director, said “such a delay will only exacerbate the divide for equity applicants and embolden illicit activity.”
Advocates also pressed the governor to address concerns about new criminal penalties for issues related to driving with an open container, public consumption or bringing marijuana into the state from neighboring jurisdictions—but Northam’s press release makes no mention of changes on those issues.
Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D), who had previously expressed concerns about enacting legalization this year but who came around to the idea in recent days, said the governor’s amendments “will stop the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws beginning this summer, while also focusing on public safety and educating our youth.”
“This is a very important step for equity,” she said, “and I’m grateful for the Governor’s leadership.”
Herring said last week that any move to legalize early must be accompanied by “a plan for education and public safety,” which was addressed in one of the governor’s other changes.
Days after the governor first signaled that he’d be open to allowing certain provisions of the legalization measure to take effect earlier, other leaders of Virginia’s House of Delegates joined that call, with Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) saying that “change is long past due and it cannot wait.”
She listed three revisions she hoped would be incorporated into the legislation: 1) giving people with non-violent cannabis convictions the opportunity for resentencing, 2) automatically expunging convictions for non-violent marijuana offenses starting July 1 and 3) legalizing home cultivation for personal, adult use on that date as well.
On the speaker’s first point, Northam’s press release said he “will continue working hand in hand with legislators to make Virginia’s criminal justice system more equitable, including through efforts to re-sentence those previously convicted for marijuana offenses.”
After the governor announced his decision, Filler-Corn said the changes represent “another step towards ending the targeting of minority communities over marijuana-related offenses & enacting a framework for the legal sale & use of cannabis.”
These amendments are another step towards ending the targeting of minority communities over marijuana-related offenses & enacting a framework for the legal sale & use of cannabis. I’m grateful to the Governor, my colleagues, and advocates who worked on this important legislation. https://t.co/k31QhIJuDa
— Eileen Filler-Corn (@EFillerCorn) March 31, 2021
Advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Virginia and Marijuana Justice, were highly critical of the legislature’s move to delay legalization until 2024.
Meanwhile, a Republican congressman recently wrote to Northam, calling marijuana a “gateway drug” and asking the governor to veto the legislation altogether—a proposal that was rejected.
Lawmakers in both chambers will need to approve Northam’s amendments next week in order for them to be added to the bill.
Support for legalizing marijuana is strong in Virginia, according to a poll released this month. It found that more than two-thirds of adults in the Commonwealth (68 percent) favor adult-use legalization, including a slim majority (51 percent) of Republican voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
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.