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Voters Across The U.S. Will Decide On Marijuana And Psychedelics Ballot Measures Next Month

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Marijuana and psychedelics are on the ballot at the local and state level across the U.S. next month.

It might be an off-year election, but advocates and lawmakers have been hard at work pushing to get everything from local cannabis decriminalization to psychedelics reform on their ballots this cycle. That’s not to say that legalization activists necessarily support all the measures that will go before voters on November 2.

As congressional lawmakers fight to end federal marijuana prohibition and advocates continue to build support for psychedelics reform, there are numerous proposals that voters in states like Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania will decide on next month. And in Virginia, although cannabis technically isn’t on the ballot, the fate of the recently enacted legalization law is.

Here’s a rundown of the drug policy measures and relevant elections that will appear on the November ballot: 

Colorado

The state was among the first to enact adult-use marijuana legalization. And while officials have consistently touted how cannabis tax revenue is supporting schools and other programs, some education advocates see additional opportunities.

The Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) program initiative, would raise cannabis taxes to fund programs that are designed to reduce the education gap for low-income students. The proposal, if approved, would give low- and middle-income families a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer learning activities.

To pay for it, the state excise tax on sales adult-use cannabis products would be increased from 15 percent to 20 percent.

Supporters say this policy is especially needed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students.

But some marijuana industry stakeholders—and even the state’s largest teachers union—have expressed concerns about the proposal. Some cannabis advocates have have argued that the hike in marijuana taxes would detract from social equity efforts.

Meanwhile, Denver voters will decide on a local proposal to increase the city’s marijuana tax by 1.5 percent to fund pandemic-related research.

The extra local funds raised by the Denver measure would be used for research into “advanced technologies to protect the public from the spread of pandemic pathogens, including at schools, businesses, and hospitals.” The studies will also look into “pandemic preparedness and recovery, including urban, economic, and school planning.”

Detroit, Michigan

Cities across the U.S. have enacted policies to deprioritize enforcement of laws against certain psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca. Detroit could be one of the next to follow suit.

Detroit activists successfully placed a measure on next month’s local ballot that would similarly decriminalize psychedelics.

At the same time that local advocates are pursuing reform, a pair of state senators introduced a bill last month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline. If voters in the state’s most populous city approve the local measure, it could make state lawmakers take a more serious look at broader reform.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Ohio Municipalities

In Ohio, voters in more than a dozen municipalities will decide on local ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana next month.

The initiatives will go before voters in Brookside, Dillonvale, Laurelville, Martins Ferry, McArthur, Morristown, Mount Pleasant, Murray City, New Lexington, New Straitsville, Powhatan Point, Rayland, Tiltonsville and Yorkville.

As it stands, 22 jurisdictions across the state have already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing cannabis possession, some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils.

Now, activists have succeeded in collecting enough signatures to qualify cannabis proposals for the November ballot to reduce the local punishment for low-level marijuana possession to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law,” which is zero days in jail and a fine of zero dollars.

In McArthur, which will vote on cannabis decriminalization next month, the police department seems less than enthused about the reform, posting and then deleting a press release that warned of a societal “downhill tumble” that could come if voters approve the measure.

Separately, Ohio activists have also recently been cleared to begin signature gathering for a 2022 statewide ballot initiative to legalize cannabis. Meanwhile, a pair of Republican lawmakers announced a new bill to legalize marijuana this week. Advocates hope that as voters make their voices heard by passing reform measures in a growing number of local jurisdictions, pressure will build for statewide legalization.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia City Council has placed a referendum on the local November ballot urging the state to enact legalization. The hope is that the local vote could further motivate the legislature to move ahead with legalization.

The measure stipulates 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.”

The local push comes amid a whirlwind of reform efforts taking place statewide in the legislature.

A much-anticipated bipartisan Senate bill to legalize marijuana in the state that has been months in the making was formally introduced last week, for example. Separately last week, a Democratic representative announced his intent to file a reform bill that he’ll be working on with a Republican senator who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier. A third pair of state lawmakers also recently unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing.

While the Philadelphia referendum would not make any immediate changes to the law if approved by voters in the state’s most populous city, it would add pressure on state legislators to act on the growing number of bills that are being filed.

Virginia

Virginia advocates are closely following next month’s election, in which voters will decide who becomes the next governor and which part controls the state House of Delegates. While the legislature legalized adult-use cannabis earlier this year—and possession and limited home cultivation were made legal immediately in July—the incoming governor and state legislators will play a key role in implementing the commercial cannabis market in the months to come.

Under the final deal agreed to by lawmakers last session, nearly all of the legal cannabis sales provisions of the law are subject to reenactment by the legislature in the 2022 session. Depending on who voters choose as governor, and which party ends up controlling the legislature during the election, the new government could drastically roll back planned reforms or undo them completely.

As such, advocates are urging voters to get to the polls next month to elect politicians who will effectively support the cannabis legalization policy.

While marijuana isn’t technically on the ballot—at one point the state Senate included language in a legalization bill that would have allowed voters to directly weigh in on the policy change with a referendum, though that didn’t make it into the final legislation—legalization’s fate is very much at stake, advocates say.

The most consequential race on the marijuana front is the contest for governor. NORML has given the race’s Democratic candidate, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an A grade, noting his public statements calling for legalization. The Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, a private equity executive, has a D grade from the group, which notes Youngkin supports only limited cannabis decriminalization—though his campaign has stressed that he doesn’t plan to overturn legalization if elected.

The incoming governor would have the opportunity to veto or make amendments to any marijuana bills that reach his desk. A hostile governor could torpedo legalization completely, and it’s unlikely Democrats, even if they do maintain their current slim legislative majority, could muster the supermajority of votes needed to override any veto from Youngkin.

Other races on Virginia’s ballot next month could also be consequential, and the question of legalization has become a wedge issue between Democratic and Republican candidates despite bipartisan support among voters.

Other Jurisdictions

As is the case in almost every election now, voters in a number of municipalities within states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana will decide on local measures concerning whether and how to allow or tax cannabis businesses.

Officials in several New York municipalities, for example, have moved to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries and/or on-site consumption areas by the December 31 deadline laid out in the state’s legalization law that was enacted earlier this year. Voters in at least nine cities, towns and villages will have the opportunity to weigh in directly on the issue next month, according to a tracker compiled by Cannasigliere, LLC.

Looking ahead to 2022, activists are also hard at work trying to get drug policy reform on the ballot.

South Dakota’s secretary of state on Tuesday gave activists approval to launch a signature gathering drive to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Last week, Oklahoma activists filed a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program.

Nebraska marijuana activists have begun petitioning for a pair of complementary initiatives to legalize medical cannabis that they hope to place on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Ohio activists have cleared a final hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.

Florida activists recently filed a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for adult use.

New Hampshire lawmakers are pursuing a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Lawmakers in Maryland are also crafting legislation to place a marijuana legalization referendum on the 2022 ballot after the House speaker called for the move.

Missouri voters may see a multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s ballot next year, with a new group filing an adult-use legalization proposal that could compete with separate reform measures that are already in the works.

Arkansas advocates are collecting signatures to place adult-use marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Activists in Idaho are working to advance separate measures to legalize possession of recreational marijuana and to create a system of legal medical cannabis sales. State officials recently cleared activists to begin collecting signatures for a revised initiative to legalize possession of marijuana that they hope to place before voters on the 2022 ballot. Meanwhile, a separate campaign to legalize medical cannabis in the state is also underway, with advocates actively collecting signatures to qualify that measure for next year’s ballot.

After a House-passed bill to legalize marijuana in North Dakota was rejected by the Senate in March, some senators hatched a plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. While their resolution advanced through a key committee, the full Senate blocked it. However, activists with the group North Dakota Cannabis Caucus are collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis for the 2022 ballot.

Wyoming’s attorney general recently issued ballot summaries for proposed initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession, freeing up activists to collect signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

And it’s not just marijuana measures that reform activists are seeking to qualify for state ballots next year. A California campaign was recently cleared to begin collecting signatures for an initiative to legalize psilocybin. And advocates in Washington State have announced plans to put a proposal to decriminalize all drug before voters.

Republican Ohio Lawmakers Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill, Reflecting Recent Bipartisan Shift On Issue

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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California Officials Have Failed To Seal Thousands Of Marijuana Conviction Records

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“There are a ton of paper records. Courts we know are dealing with that in various ways.”

By Alexander Lekhtman, Filter

Nearly five years after California voters legalized marijuana, potentially hundreds of thousands of residents still have publicly available cannabis-related criminal records that the law requires to be sealed—even though the state passed a bill to address this three years ago. While this continues, people’s cannabis convictions can still be searched by employers and police, leaving them vulnerable to discrimination and targeting.

Former Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1793 into law in September 2018. Known as the “Bonta bill,” after its lead sponsor (current Attorney General Rob Bonta), this created “automatic sealing” for cannabis criminal records. It required prosecutors in the state Department of Justice to review records dating back over 40 years, and was meant to provide justice for people who’d been arrested, convicted or sentenced on charges that would no longer apply post-legalization.

But the deadline for California to complete this sealing process—July 2020—passed over a year ago. And California residents, advocates and officials reached by Filter confirmed, to different degrees, that the state has failed to honor its promise to provide justice for people with cannabis records, who are disproportionately people of color. Disappointingly, even California government officials can’t give exact details on how many people are affected.

Expunging a record usually means it is permanently destroyed, while sealing—which is what California does—merely hides it from public view or from being searched. In either case, it’s an urgent need.

Having a criminal record makes it legal for employers, banks and schools, among others, to discriminate against you. There are over 44,000 different forms of sanctioned discrimination against people with records, in all areas of life. And the dangers are even greater for immigrants in the US; a simple drug possession violation can subject undocumented immigrants, and even legal permanent residents, to deportation.

In California, the legal non-medical cannabis market is already valued at $5 billion and growing fast. It is absurd that while businesses can sell cannabis as legally as an iPhone, people can still have their cannabis records searched when applying for a job.

Why Advocates Sought Automatic Record-Sealing

Perhaps the biggest barrier with expungement and sealing in general is that too many people with cannabis records remain in the dark about this whole process and what their rights are. That’s why advocates call for legislation like the Bonta bill, making the process automatic.

“Expungement is not really straightforward,” Felicia Carbajal, programming director for National Expungement Works (NEW), told FilterNEW has worked for over three years to share education and support for expungement all over the US.

“So many people don’t know that they’re eligible,” she continued. “I imagine a lot of the folks who have those convictions aren’t running to their local agencies to get this taken care of, nor are they taking it upon themselves to do it because it is arduous. It’s not an easy process if you’ve never filled out forms or if you’re operating from a space of trauma. Many times people from historically-underserved communities get so underwhelmed when they’re put in these situations.”

California offers the option of sealing your record manually. But this puts a burden on impacted people. Carbajal noted that someone in Los Angeles County might have to pay $200 in various fees to seal a record, in addition to extra costs like missing work, paying for gas or obtaining legal support. “If folks have to decide between eating and taking care of an expungement … it’s not a priority.”

The difficulties of manual record sealing, especially for low-income residents, led to the movement for “automatic” sealing in California. Governments that now admit the injustice of marijuana prohibition ought to do the hard work to clear these records, goes the reasoning—not impacted people.  

Despite the software’s convenience, there are problems algorithms can’t yet solve, like political stonewalling.

In January 2018, months before California’s legislature passed the Bonta bill, then-San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón became the first in the state to jump-start the automatic sealing movement. He announced his office would take action to seal and reclassify thousands of cannabis records dating back to 1975.

In May 2018, Gascón’s office partnered with Code for America, a digital technology nonprofit. The company developed a software, “Clear My Record,” which vastly sped up the process: It reads thousands of criminal records, identifies those eligible for sealing, and submits them to the DA in a matter of seconds.

This innovation has helped DA offices throughout California—and in other states like Illinois—to process tens of thousands of cannabis records at a time. But despite its convenience, there are problems algorithms can’t yet solve, like political stonewalling.

How automatic cannabis record sealing works in California.

Why Has Automatic Expungement Ground to a Halt?

Here’s what was supposed to happen under the Bonta bill.

First, the DOJ was required to identify which records were eligible for sealing, and which sentences could be reduced. The state’s courts estimated about 220,000 cannabis convictions, in total, would be eligible.

The DOJ was then required to file a petition for each eligible case—a request to seal a record or reduce a sentence—to district attorneys in each of California’s 58 counties, by July 2019. 

The DAs then had one year to approve or reject these petitions, by July 2020. Finally, county courts would have to seal the approved records and inform the DOJ, whiich would then update its own database of records.

“Nobody knows—I don’t care who you ask, that’s the answer.”

So what has gone wrong with a process designed to protect hundreds of thousands of people?

“Nobody knows—I don’t care who you ask, that’s the answer,” William Armaline, human rights director at San José State University, told Filter. “We don’t actually know right now the status of these clearance efforts across the state.” Armaline was part of the local movement that fought to seal over 11,000 cannabis records in Santa Clara County.

Nonetheless, sources described to Filter some of the various different causes, and potential causes, of this failure. These include inaction from county courts, and the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down government functions.

Record-Keeping Differences Cause Chaos

The California Department of Justice (DOJ) keeps a “criminal record repository” where it records each person with a record throughout the state. County trial courts, meanwhile, keep records of specific cases.

So if someone were convicted of three misdemeanors in Los Angeles County, there would be one record at the DOJ which lists those three convictions—but three different records in the LA court system. Even if the DOJ seems to have largely fulfilled its first obligation of filing petitions to the counties, the sheer complexity of matching records from these different systems seems to have been one factor in the delay.

“There are aspects of record-keeping in California that made this all incredibly complicated to do and measure in terms of finding the status of this,” Armaline said. “There is differentiation between records held at DOJ, and various forms of records held in the individual counties that have different histories in terms of records.”

“Some [counties] have records older than others, some have old paper systems, others got rid of it … the differences are boringly long and complicated.”

Others who have worked with the counties agreed. “There is definitely room for error in the record-keeping, given there are multiple places where the records are held,” Alia Toran-Burrell, an associate director for Clear My Record, told Filter. “Ideally, what is in the courts’ records matches the DOJ’s records, but that’s not always the case.”

And those who work for the counties also shared this concern. “Record-keeping agencies like ours went through different systems in time,” Ruben Marquez, assistant public defender for Los Angeles County, told Filter. Marquez worked with the LA DA’s office to clear over 66,000 cannabis records. He estimates over 90 percent of them were felonies.

“One of the issues we had to keep circling back on was identifying all the potential eligible cases for dismissal,” he said.

And different counties have taken different approaches to these problems.

“There are a ton of paper records,” Toran-Burrell said. “Courts we know are dealing with that in various ways. Some felt like they need to take those paper records and digitize them in order to clear them. Other courts are contemplating not doing anything with the paper records because for background check purposes, people are not accessing the paper records … so it’s less of a barrier for folks. If the paper records are not impeding people’s lives … nothing would need to be done except for court staff not to disclose them.”

Are District Attorneys Dragging Their Feet?

Since September 2019, Clear My Record has been available for all California district attorneys to use free of charge. Toran-Burrell estimates that about 40 percent of the state’s DAs have used the tool. Some chose not to, she said, simply because they have their own record-keeping processes. Asked if any of the DAs were resistant in any way towards doing this work, Toran-Burrell had nothing bad to say about them.

However, California’s DAs have sometimes worked hard to delay record-sealing. In Santa Clara County (San José), for example, DA Jeff Rosen refused for years to clear 11,500 cannabis records, ignoring local activists and even turning down free help from Code for America. He finally acted to seal the records in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

And in Los Angeles, former DA Jackie Lacey objected to the sealing of over 2,100 cannabis records. She argued they weren’t eligible, based those people’s prior convictions for other offenses. The public defenders’ office has objected—but even with a new DA in place, the problem isn’t fully resolved. (The new DA, ironically, is George Gascón, formerly of San Francisco.)

How many other counties throughout California have also made such oversights? It’s impossible to know.

“A number of those cases, we’ve continued working with the DA’s office and have gotten them dismissed,” Marquez said. “There are some remaining, but we’ve continued to talk with their office. It is our hope the new DA leadership will dismiss the smaller number of remaining cases.”

Just to show how confusing all of this is: On September 27, Gascón’s office announced it had identified about 60,000 eligible cannabis records dating back 30 years in Los Angeles County. These county records are separate from the 66,000 records that former DA Lacey addressed, which were only taken from the state DOJ database

That means roughly twice as many cannabis records should have been sealed as the former DA actually acted on. How many other counties throughout California have also made such oversights? It’s difficult to know.

The Courts’ Delays

Toran-Burrell believes that DA’s offices throughout California have largely done their job to approve (or reject) cannabis records for sealing. The last hurdle is the courts, she said.

Marquez agreed with this, and speculated that the failure of the courts to act—together with the failure of the DOJ to update its own records in cases where courts have sealed records—has delayed justice for thousands.

“It’s theoretically possible that the DOJ met its burden in notifying the prosecution, the prosecution met its burden in notifying the public defenders offices in terms of what charges if any they would object to, and that cases were dismissed by the [local county] court,” he said. However, “It’s possible that there were delays by the [county] Superior Courts in updating their records, and it’s possible there were delays by the DOJ in updating their records.”

“We were hoping courts would prioritize clearing records; we just don’t know if that’s happened.”

“The law did not give a deadline to courts,” Toran-Burrell said. “It just said courts have to update their records […] Assuming district attorneys have done their role, it’s now in the courts’ hands.”

“Last year we tried to reach out to courts to find out the status of record clearance and it was pretty challenging getting info from courts about what’s going on,” she continued. “We acknowledge of course that COVID has been a massive challenge for everyone … at the same time, given the economic implications of COVID, people’s records being cleared is super-important for economic recovery. We were hoping courts would prioritize clearing records; we just don’t know if that’s happened.”

Court representatives from Fresno, San Bernardino and Orange Counties did not respond to Filter‘s requests for comment by publication time. All three counties have currently or previously banned nonmedical cannabis sales, as have over half of counties statewide.

After publication, the Orange County Court contacted Filter to confirm that the local DA’s office completed its petition to seal thousands of cannabis records, which the court granted. The court notified the state, as required. But for cases that could not be identified in its system, it returned them to the DA for further action.

The Path Forward: Will Lawmakers Take Action?

Reached by Filter, a press representative of the California Attorney General’s Office declined to give specifics about statewide progress on marijuana record-sealing.

“We defer to local agencies on the status of these updates and the challenges they are facing,” they said. “We are also unable to speak to what is being released by local agencies, but for awareness, none of our records are publicly searchable.”

Filter also contacted the Judicial Council of California, which oversees the state’s court systems.

“We don’t have this info—you’d have to go to each of the state’s 58 courts,” said Peter Allen of the Judicial Council. “Issues courts have identified to us include processing delays associated with the pandemic, such as receiving data from the DOJ or safely pulling old case records from off-site storage.”

Allen confirmed that some courts have had trouble retrieving older criminal records, while others are working to electronically report records all at once.

According to a December 2018 budget document obtained by Filter, the Judicial Council estimated that about 220,000 marijuana convictions in the entire state would be affected by the Bonta bill. They requested from the legislature a total of about $17 million spread over two years, to help county courts pay the costs of processing marijuana record clearance and reduction. The legislature agreed to the full budget request.

The money and tools for California to fulfill its promise would doubtless materialize if the political will existed.

The path forward from here is unclear. It’s possible the only solution is for the legislature to somehow force the courts to complete this process. The same Rob Bonta who first wrote the expungement bill is now California’s top law enforcement official—potentially a powerful platform to help finish the job he started. And Governor Gavin Newsom, who just won a divisive recall election to keep his job, could also go to bat on this issue for his voters.

The money and tools for California to fulfill its promise would doubtless materialize if the political will existed. Its leaders just need to focus on the problem—for the sake of all the people who were wrongly targeted to begin with.

This article was originally published by Filter, an online magazine covering drug use, drug policy and human rights through a harm reduction lens. Follow Filter on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for its newsletter.

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States Promote Federal Hemp Survey Being Mailed Out This Week To More Than 20,000 Farmers

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is officially beginning a nationwide survey of hemp producers this week, and state officials are working to make sure farmers in their jurisdictions participate.

The survey, which USDA began mailing out on Monday, asks producers about issues such as outdoor cultivation, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.

After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of 20,500 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) announced in August that the forms were being finalized to be filled out via mail or online. Now, the survey is officially in the mail and the agency is accepting responses on its website.

The questionnaire also goes over whether farmers are hand-trimming the hemp they produce, if they plan to extract cannabinoids or terpenes from the crop, what kind of yields they’ve harvested and how they obtain the seeds and clones they use.

Meanwhile, state agriculture departments across the country are encouraging local farmers to take part, and for good reason. The more respondents in each state, the bigger its hemp market will look and there will be more data will be available to analyze its needs. States with a lot of active hemp farmers may be seen as more attractive to investors in the industry and to ancillary businesses that serve producers of the crop. There may also be a greater likelihood that federal officials will see that state as a promising market for hemp—likely increasing the chances that businesses that are located there will win grants or other assistance.

Already, agriculture departments from states like Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia and Washington State have made social media posts calling attention to the survey.

“This inaugural hemp survey will establish a necessary benchmark and provide critically-needed data for the hemp industry,” said Kevin Barnes, acting administrator of USDA’s NASS, said in a press release. “The information collected can help inform producers’ decisions about growing, harvesting, and selling hemp as well as the type of hemp they decide to produce. The resulting data will also foster greater understanding of the hemp production landscape across regulatory agencies, producers, state and Tribal governments, processors, and other key industry entities.”

Responses need to be submitted online or mailed back by October 25, and the department plans to publish the results on February 17 of next year.

USDA initially published a notice about its intent to secure White House permission to conduct the survey in February.

Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.

Hemp was federally legalized via the 2018 Farm Bill.

There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.

While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.

The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”

USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.

Last month, USDA said it is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds out of hemp fields.

Meanwhile, members of Congress continue to work on further changes to federal hemp policy.

Farmers Switch From Raising Chickens For Slaughter To Growing Hemp With Help Of Animal Advocacy Group

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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Oakland Psychedelics Activists Launch Initiative To Legalize Community-Based Sales With Support From City Council

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Oakland activists are hoping to expand upon the city’s current psychedelics decriminalization ordinance by creating a community-based model through which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from local producers.

In 2019, the California city became the first in the U.S. to broadly decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

Now, advocates are announcing a “Go Local” Legislative Initiative to build upon their progress, and they have the backing of a key member of the City Council. Essentially, they are staging a year-long project to solicit feedback on how best to provide people with lawful access to entheogenic substances, leading up to the planned introduction of city-level legislation that would accomplish that goal in 2022.

Decriminalize Nature and related groups have been behind a multitude of local psychedelics reform efforts across the country, enacting decriminalization ordinances in cities in states like California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington.

Building upon the initial Oakland decriminalization of the personal use and cultivation of entheogenic plants and fungi, local lawmakers there approved a second resolution in late 2020 that urges California legislators to allow local jurisdictions to permit healing ceremonies where people could use entheogenic substances.

Advocates are now preparing to push Oakland to make the move on its own in the interim.

Carlos Plazola, chair of Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview last week that “part of [the future legislation] is sales and distribution and testing and holding space” for psychedelics ceremonies. But unlike with cannabis commercialization that’s been enacted in California and elsewhere, this would be focused on support the local economy, he said.

By doing so, “you actually do bring other values into the equation beyond profiteering, because it becomes part of the story that people want to support in the community,” Plazola said.

The process of drafting the legislation, which will be championed by Councilmember Noel Gallo (D), will begin with a series of public workshops and getting input from stakeholders and advocates across the country. The goal is to have a measure presented to the Oakland City Council early in the summer of 2022. And, ideally, other activist chapters in additional cities across the U.S. will follow suit, Plazola said.

Here’s an outline of possible reforms that are being considered for the forthcoming legislation: 

Examples of Zoning Changes

  • Change residential zones to allow small scale commercial agriculture
  • Change mixed used commercial zones to allow indoor nursery, testing labs, and distribution
  • Allow community-based gatherings in residential and commercial zones

Examples of business taxation and permitting changes

  • Local residency requirements
  • Fee waivers in low-income census tracts
  • No limits on number of business permits
  • Fee waivers for non-profit businesses
  • Permit fees used to provide business training for people who live in low-income census tracts

Examples of New Regulations

  • Creation of sacred plant adult farmer’s market permits
  • Limits on sizes of cultivation areas
  • Limits on investors with primary residency outside of Oakland
  • Limits on size of investments
  • Zoning and building permit processes to fit into existing, non-cannabis, processes. Cannabis process for permitting and building permit processing too onerous. Fit into food or agriculture existing processes.
  • No limits on number of local businesses engaging in sales of entheogens. Sales only in business mixed use business districts, and adults only allowed if sold in retail spots
  • No local consumption of entheogens where sales occur

Examples of disincentives to outside control and value extraction

  • Limits on outside capital allowed
  • All capital must originate from within Oakland city limits, proof of residency required
  • Only cannabis dispensaries with 100% local ownership to qualify for sales of entheogens
  • No sales of synthetics in powder form.
  • All products must identify local source of cultivation and production. “grown by: _____”  “produced by_____” “tested by ________”. All must be local Oakland locations.
  • Allowable products include original plant materials, actual plants or fungi in wet or dry form, mixed teas or elixirs, or powder form one step from dried material (i.e. No synthetics from extracted molecular compounds).

“Our indigenous ancestors have used these plant medicines safely and successfully for thousands of years, despite efforts to oppress and extinguish their use,” Gallo said in a press release. “So, it makes sense that the benefits of the discovery or rediscovery of the healing power of these entheogens by the west are enjoyed first and foremost by indigenous people, communities of color, and local communities, in general.”

Beyond Oakland, local officials in two other California cities— Santa Cruz and Arcata—have effectively decriminalized a wide range of psychedelics

Statewide, a bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.

California activists are separately collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.

Outside of the state, psychedelics reform is being pursued by legislators and activists across the country.

Seattle’s City Council recently approved a resolution to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.

Detroit could be one of the next to enact a policy change, with voters set to weigh in on a local ballot measure next month to decriminalize entheogenic substances.

At the same time that local advocates are pursuing reform, a pair of Michigan state senators introduced a bill last month to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline. If voters in the state’s most populous city approve the local measure, it could make state lawmakers take a more serious look at broader reform.

Also in Michigan, the Grand Rapids City Council approved a resolution last month calling for decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics. The Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.

After Ann Arbor legislators passed that decriminalization resolution last year, the Washtenaw County prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi, “regardless of the amount at issue.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

The top Democrat in the Florida Senate filed a bill last month that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.

Earlier this year, Texas enacted a law directing state officials to study psychedelics’ medical value.

The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.

Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.

In Massachusetts, the Northampton City Council passed a resolution in April stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.

A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.

The Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill this year, but it later died in the Senate.

Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led the 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have set their eyes on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic. A city panel there is recommending expansion of the decriminalization policy to cover gifting and social use.

In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee last month.

For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said this month that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill “this year.”

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.

An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.

In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

Nevada Sold More Than $1 Billion In Marijuana In One Year, Officials Report

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