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Washington Lawmakers Approve Drug Decriminalization Bill In Committee Vote

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A landmark drug decriminalization and treatment bill in Washington State cleared its first legislative hurdle on Monday, with a panel of lawmakers voting to advance the measure just hours before a key deadline.

The House Public Safety Committee voted 7–6 to approve the Pathways to Recovery Act, HB 1499, which would remove penalties for “personal use” amounts of illegal substances and expand outreach and recovery services. The vote is the first time a panel of lawmakers in any U.S. state has voted to remove criminal penalties for possession of all drugs.

“This bill is an assertion that substance use disorder is treatable brain disease from which people recover,” lead sponsor Rep. Lauren Davis (D) said before the vote. “This bill is about reaching each and every person living with substance use disorder, before they ever touch the criminal legal system.”

Voters in neighboring Oregon passed a similar measure last year, expanding treatment and replacing criminal penalties for small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine or referral to treatment. The Washington proposal, by contrast, does not include a fine.

Instead, the bill would drastically expand outreach and recovery services, part of what supporters have called a holistic “continuum of care” to support people with drug use disorders. While Washington has a relatively strong drug treatment system, they say, the state has long overlooked funding proactive outreach and long-term recovery.

“We fund one leg of a three-legged stool,” Davis said at an earlier committee hearing Friday at which lawmakers took testimony on the proposal. “We pay for treatment over and over, because insurance covers it, but we fail to fund the outreach on the front end and the recovery support services on the back end that are absolutely foundational to fostering sustained recovery.”

Watch lawmakers and advocates discuss the drug decriminalization bill below:

Lawmakers and advocates introduced the measure earlier this month, after scrambling to finalize the bill’s language and sponsors. Organizers at Treatment First Washington originally planned to put the proposal on last November’s ballot, but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the signature-gathering effort, and last summer the group announced it would take the proposal to lawmakers instead.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 600 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.

Despite attracting two-dozen House sponsors (including a lone Republican, Rep. Carolyn Eslick), HB 1499 almost didn’t come to a vote at all this session. Following Friday’s committee hearing, Chairman Rep. Roger Goodman (D) told Marijuana Moment the panel likely wouldn’t move the measure because it was introduced too late in the session. By Sunday, however, it was added to the committee’s schedule.

“This late submission has caused great inconvenience,” Goodman, who voted in favor of the bill, said at Monday’s hearing. “On behalf of the rest of the committee, I do apologize.”

Nor was the bill’s hearing on Monday particularly smooth. The panel initially approved an amendment that would have removed the decriminalization part of the bill, more or less gutting the overall thrust of the legislation. Within minutes, however, Democrats met in a caucus meeting and then moved to reconsider the vote, and Rep. Tina Orwall (D) switched to a “no” vote on the amendment, defeating it.

Ultimately the panel moved forward with an updated version of the bill, which includes a number of changes from the original. Among them, the substitute legislation delays the implementation of decriminalization for six months, from December 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023.

Regulators at the state Health Care Authority (HCA) would have until April 1, 2023 to adopt rules and define how much of each drug constitutes a “personal use amount.” A panel consisting of public defenders and prosecutors, along with people who currently use illegal drugs and others who are in recovery, would advise HCA on that decision.

The substitute bill also explicitly states that decriminalization wouldn’t prevent employers from establishing or enforcing rules against drug use. And it removes an earlier provision that would have allowed people with past drug convictions to have those records expunged without meeting current law requirements for vacating convictions. Individuals could still have their convictions expunged under the bill, but they would not be exempt from existing rules.

Watch the committee debate and vote on the drug decriminalization bill below:

Opponents have argued that by removing the threat of criminal sanctions, HB 1499 goes too far.

“The way the bill is currently written,” Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R) said Monday, “if you walk up to a police officer and hold a bag of heroin or meth or fentanyl—even in front of their face—you can simply walk away. And that seems wrong on so many different levels.”

Others argued that removing penalties could actually hurt drug consumers, “I have seen incarceration save many, many lives,” said Rep. Brad Klippert (R), a military and law enforcement veteran.

Mosbrucker and Klippert both voted against the bill, along with Reps. Jenny Graham (R), Dan Griffey (R), John Lovick (D) and Jesse Young (R).

Rep. Tarra Simmons (D), who voted in favor of the change, said that in her experience as someone in recovery, criminalization only prevents people from getting help.

“As a person who now has 9 1/2 years in recovery from substance use disorder that included opiates, methamphetamine and marijuana,” she said, “I remember wanting to get help but being afraid because it was a crime.”

Despite hesitancy by some in law enforcement, others said the bill made sense. King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, for one, told lawmakers that prosecuting people for such small amounts of drugs is “simply not an effective strategy” to combat use or overdose deaths.

“This is a gram,” he said, holding up a single packet of Splenda to emphasize the relatively small amounts of hard drugs that would be allowed under the bill. “It’s not an ounce, it’s not a kilo. It’s a tiny, tiny amount consistent with the need to use drugs daily.”

A number of international drug experts also weighed in at last week’s hearing. Ruth Dreifuss, the former president of Switzerland and a member of the United Nations Global Commission on Drug Policy, began her comments by expressing “my deep recognition for the quality of the proposed House bill.”

“The free choice of those who control their consumption and don’t harm other should be respected,” Dreifuss said. “To those who are ill of addiction, access to treatment should be guaranteed.”

Also speaking in favor of the bill was João Augusto Castel-Branco Goulão, the national drug coordinator for Portugal, the first country to decriminalize all drugs.

In response to questions from skeptical lawmakers about how decriminalization had gone in that country, he argued the country has seen “a clear improvement in all of the indicators available.” Overdose deaths have declined, youth drug use has decreased and the estimated number of people with drug use disorders has fallen, he said.

The next step for the bill is the House Appropriations Committee and then, potentially, a full floor vote.

Some other state legislatures are also considering similar reforms. A Kansas lawmaker late last week introduced a measure to replace criminal penalties for simple drug possession with a $100 fine. People caught with drugs other than marijuana would be referred to mandatory treatment, and failure to comply would be a misdemeanor.

In New York, a Senate bill introduced last month would decriminalize low-level possession of any controlled substance and instead levy fines of $50.

Activists across the country have also been pursuing a more targeted decriminalization model to deprioritize enforcement of laws against naturally produced psychedelics, such as psilocybin and ibogaine.

A Republican lawmaker in Iowa introduced a bill last week to remove psilocybin from the list of controlled substances.

In California, a lawmaker said late last year that he planned to file a bill that would decriminalize psychedelics. And activists are hoping to see further legislation to broadly remove criminal penalties for simple drug possession.

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

In Washington, meanwhile, Goodman, the chair of the committee that cleared the decriminalization bill on Monday, told Marijuana Moment that the state will “keep pushing hard and riding this wave.”

“Washington State will lead the way as we wind down the drug war,” he said.

New Mexico Lawmakers Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee

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

Minnesota Marijuana Legalization Bill Clears 12th And Final House Committee, Advancing To The Floor

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota has been approved by its final House committee and will now advance to the floor.

The road to get to this position has been long and winding, with 12 panels hearing and voting on the measure since it was introduced in February.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the proposal, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Members of the House Ways & Means Committee approved the legislation in a 16-10 vote on Friday.

Winkler previously said that he expects a floor vote this month, though that has yet to be scheduled. The legislature is slated to adjourn on May 17.

The bill “helps to correct wrongs that have been done for too long in Minnesota to communities who’ve been over-policed who have been targeted for cannabis enforcement to further a prohibition of cannabis that does not work,” the majority leader said in opening remarks.

Winkler said that “legalizing and creating a safe marketplace by taxing cannabis and using the proceeds from those taxes to pay for cannabis regulation to help invest in a cannabis industry” would reflect “the values of Minnesotans and help to address the harm that is caused by cannabis prohibition on our black and brown communities.”

The panel adopted an amendment from Winkler that expands the definition of social equity applicants to include those from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition and makes changes to how regulators would address rules violations by businesses. It would also revise the amount of funding for various state agencies, including a reduction in appropriations for the Department of Corrections.

A proposal to require that the label on marijuana products include information about the maximum dose that is considered safe within a 24-hour period was also approved.

An additional amendment that would have required marijuana products to be labeled with a warning that cannabis remains illegal under federal law was rejected.

Prior to taking up the legalization bill, members adopted an amendment to separate budget legislation that would provide funding for the implementation of the cannabis program for the first biennium, after which time marijuana tax revenue would more than cover costs.

It the measure does clear the full House chamber, it’s still expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

That said, a GOP member of the Taxes Committee, which approved the legalization bill on Wednesday, indicated that he felt an amendment he introduced and that was adopted could bolster Republican support.

That revision from Rep. Pat Garofolo (R) directs remaining cannabis revenue to a tax relief account after implementation costs are covered and substance misuse treatment and prevention programs are funded.

“The adoption of this amendment is a gamechanger,” Garofalo said in a press release. “The Democrat majority accepting this amendment means that if signed into law, this bill will result in lowering taxes Minnesotans are FORCED to pay, financed with the revenue generated from taxes that people are CHOOSING to pay.”

Before the Taxes Committee, the bill passed the Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy CommitteeEducation Finance CommitteeState Government Finance and Elections CommitteeJudiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

“At the beginning of the year, a House committee had never passed a legalization bill. Now, we’re on the verge of passing a bill off the House floor,” Winkler said in an email to supporters on Friday. “We have the ability to change laws in a way that improves people’s lives, whether it’s expunging cannabis-related records, targeting economic opportunity for those impacted most by the war on drugs, providing relief for veterans suffering from PTSD and serious health conditions, and more.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 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 litany of committees the bill has gone through makes it perhaps the most thoroughly vetted legalization measure to move through a state legislature—and it means that a solid portion of the House has already had the chance to review, propose amendments to and vote on the legislation it as it advances to the floor, presumably increasing its chances of passage in the chamber.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

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

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Wisconsin Governor’s Marijuana Legalization Proposal Stripped From Budget By GOP-Led Committee

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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Feds Announce New Standard THC Dose To Be Used In Marijuana Research, Effective Immediately

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A top federal health agency announced on Friday that it has determined the standard dose of THC that should be used for marijuana studies moving forward.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) said in a notice to researchers that there is a “new requirement to measure and report results using a standard THC unit in all applicable human subjects’ research,” which is effective immediately. That standard unit is five milligrams of THC.

NIDA said that inconsistencies in measuring and reporting THC exposure “has been a major limitation in studies of cannabis use, making it difficult to compare findings among studies.” Therefore, a “standardized measure of THC in cannabis products is necessary to advance research by providing greater comparability across studies of both its adverse effects and potential medical uses.”

The agency recognized, however, that “the same quantity of THC may have different effects based on route of administration, other product constituents, an individual’s genetic make-up and metabolic factors, prior exposure to cannabis, and other factors.”

But by creating a standard THC dose, it will nonetheless be easier to compare studies that involve THC exposure, which is a “high priority” of NIDA and the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.

“It is not the intent of this Notice to prescribe the quantity of THC that is permissible for use in research projects. Indeed, investigators are free to use more or less than 5mg of THC as appropriate for their study,” the notice states. “However, for applicable studies, investigators will be required to report the quantity of THC using the standard unit. Investigators may also report the quantity of THC in other units (e.g., milligrams) as appropriate.”

This comes one year after NIDA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, first solicited feedback on a proposal to standardize THC content in cannabis research.

The agency said that it carried out “extensive stakeholder input,” along with “consultation with experts in the field,” to arrive at the decision to set the standard unit at 5 mg.

“This guidance will apply to applications where THC is a focus of the research,” the new notice continues. “Applicants are responsible for determining whether use of this standard unit is applicable to their research and for determining best approach to applying it in their research applications. A justification should be provided for research that does not propose to use the standard unit.”

NIDA Director Nora Volkow discussed the importance of establishing a standard THC unit in commentary published in the journal Addiction last year.

Citing research that calls for a five milligram THC standard, Volkow said she agreed with the study’s conclusion despite complicating factors. Those factors include potential issues related to the effect of having cannabis products with the same THC level but different concentrations of other cannabinoids such as CBD.

The complexities in research beyond having a standardized measure of THC “hardly negate the value” of setting one, Volkow said in her commentary. “In fact, having and using such a standard is a prerequisite for comparing the effects of various cannabis products on THC bioavailability, pharmacokinetics and pharmacological effects, which is knowledge fundamental to studies pertaining to medical use of cannabis.”

“Although cannabis remains an illicit substance in the United States, the expanded legalization by states requires us to develop the knowledge base that can help states develop policies to minimize risk from cannabis exposures, such as limits on the THC content of cannabis products,” she said.

Volkow has been vocal about the importance of streamlining and improving research into cannabis, and she’s laid partial blame for the the lack of studies on marijuana’s restrictive federal classification.

Kansas Senate Running Out Of Time To Pass Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Cleared House

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Kansas Senate Running Out Of Time To Pass Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill That Cleared House

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As advocates applaud the passage of a medical marijuana legalization bill in the Kansas House of Representatives, anxieties remain high over its prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The chamber has days left being the end of the legislative veto session, and Senate leadership has signaled that they do not view the reform legislation as a priority.

“The Senate is not real high on the issue at this point” Senate President Ty Masterson (R) told an Associated Press reporter in a pun-filled text message on Thursday, adding that “we may roll it into a joint committee and see if we can weed out the issues.”

Whether he was serious about the joint committee or simply making an attempt at cannabis-related humor is unclear. A spokesperson for his office separately said that the chamber is focused on passing a budget bill and a school funding measure in the final days of the session.

“I can’t imagine we’d take the subject matter up this year,” Masterson said earlier this week ahead of the House vote.

If the Senate doesn’t take up the medical marijuana bill by May 11, it would still be alive for the second half of the legislative biennium that starts early in 2022 and could be acted upon then.

But even if senators do make time to establish a bicameral conference committee to consider the proposal, there are still serious doubts about whether the body would approve the resulting negotiated legislation. And defeat in the Senate this year would mean lawmakers would have to start the process all over again if they wanted to pursue the reform again next year.

Getting the bill to this stage alone has proved challenging.

It moved through the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after a series of hearings and onto the floor in March, but then it was rereferred to the panel for further consideration. Members then adopted several additional amendments before sending it back on the floor.

The legislation would establish a medical marijuana program for qualified patients. It lists about two dozen conditions that make a person eligible for cannabis, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 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.

Smoking and vaping products would be prohibited. The bill would also not provide for home growing.

The state would license medical cannabis growers, testing labs, processors distributors and retailers, and counties would be able to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdiction.

Patients would be able to purchase up to a 90 day supply of cannabis from licensed dispensaries, which would be regulated by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). That department would also be renamed the Division of Alcohol and Cannabis Control.

The secretary of the Department of Health and Environment would have to develop regulations to administer the medical cannabis program by July 1, 2023.

Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, supports medical cannabis and would be expected to sign a bill if it arrived on her desk.

She pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.

Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed. And with the small timeline before the session’s end, the time to apply that pressure would be now.

While both pieces of legislation would make it so Kansas would join the vast majority of states that have legal medical marijuana markets, advocates view them as restrictive, particularly as it concerns the limited methods of consumption that would be permitted.

A separate medical cannabis legalization bill was introduced by the Senate Commerce Commerce in February, though it has not seen action beyond being referred to another panel.

Alabama Governor Will Give Medical Marijuana Bill A ‘Thorough’ Review, Spokesperson Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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