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Washington State Activists Announce 2022 Drug Decriminalization Ballot Campaign

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A coalition of drug reform advocates in Washington State have announced they’ll seek to qualify a decriminalization measure for the state’s 2022 ballot, an attempt to build on modest reforms adopted by the state’s legislature during its most recent session.

While a draft of the prospective measure has yet been released, the group behind the proposal said in an email to supporters on Tuesday that it’s currently refining its language, which will “be filed as a new initiative in January for the November 2022 ballot.”

“At a minimum,” the group said, the initiative would make the following changes:

    1. Stop treating drug use as a crime and remove the fear of arrest as a barrier to engagement and recovery;
    2. Commit robust, long-term funding to a plan informed by the lived experiences of people harmed by the War on Drugs; and
    3. Emphasize public health approaches that focus on the social determinants of health and meet the needs of rural and urban communities across the state.

Signature gathering to qualify the prospective ballot measure would begin in February if all goes according to plan.

The group behind the measure, Commit to Change WA, was formerly known as Treatment First WA and in 2020 attempted to qualify a decriminalization measure for that year’s state ballot. That initiative would have made unlawful possession of any drug a civil infraction, referred people found with drugs to a services assessment, and funded a massive expansion of outreach and recovery programs.

When the pandemic interrupted the signature gathering effort for that measure, organizers shifted their focus to the legislature. After months of delay, House Bill 1499, largely based on the earlier initiative, was introduced this past February but eventually died after clearing one House committee.

The group said its name change reflects the fact that “it is past time to change course” on the drug war—and communicates the need for drug policy solutions to take a whole-person approach.

“Prioritizing treatment over incarceration is one important piece of a new approach, but repairing decades of damage caused by the War on Drugs requires a fundamental shift in paradigm,” the group said, “and a long-term commitment to tailoring prevention and recovery strategies to the specific needs of individuals and communities—whether those needs are for treatment, housing, job training, mental health care, or other chronically under-resourced services.”

State lawmakers earlier this year downgraded Washington’s criminal penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, but only under duress. Months earlier, the state Supreme Court had invalidated the state’s decades-old felony law, leaving no valid law on the books against simple possession. While more progressive Democrats urged against reinstating criminal penalties, the legislature ultimately adopted the misdemeanor charge along with plans to create a statewide suite of treatment and recovery services. The law, widely seen by advocates as a half-step toward meaningful reform, took effect in May with Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) signature.

Commit to Change wants to undo the state’s re-criminalization of simple possession and dedicate sustained funding for a new system. While the legislature’s compromise required the development of a statewide recovery plan, the group said, “it didn’t dedicate any funding for the services to be provided, leaving it to the legislature to decide whether and what to appropriate each budget cycle.”

Regardless of what happens with Commit to Change’s latest proposal, Washington’s new misdemeanor possession is already set to expire. As passed by the legislature earlier this year, the law’s criminal penalty provision will dissolve on July 1, 2023, again leaving the state without a law against drug possession. That feature was included as an incentive for lawmakers to revisit the issue in coming years. The possibility of a decriminalization ballot measure in 2022 could create further pressure to act.

Meanwhile, out-of-state advocates are also eying Washington as among the next frontiers for drug reform at the ballot box. David Bronner, the CEO of soap company Dr. Bronner’s and a major funder of drug reform efforts, said at an event last week that he expects statewide measures in 2024 to decriminalize all drugs in at least three states: Washington, California and Colorado.

“No one should be further traumatized with arrest and incarceration who is struggling with addiction,” he told Marijuana Moment in an email Wednesday, adding that there are specific provisions he’s hoping to see adopted into the initiatives in Washington and elsewhere.

“I’m advocating to allies there that the all-drug decrim policy for possession should have substantially higher (ideally no) defined limits for personal possession for plant medicines than Measure 110 in Oregon,” he wrote, referring to the drug decriminalization ballot measure that voters in that state approved last November.

Bronner is also pushing for proposed laws to allow for aggregating personal possession limits to cover “facilitated and supported use.”

“Group healing with plant medicines is great for people struggling with addiction, by helping people process and heal the underlying trauma and emotional pain at issue,” he said.

A task force based in Seattle, meanwhile, recently issued recommendations advising that local and municipal leaders decriminalize psychedelics—and eventually consider legalizing all drugs—as one of a handful of policy changes designed to reduce opioid overdose deaths. Activists at the local group Decrim Nature Seattle have also submitted a draft psychedelics-decriminalization ordinance at the request of City Councilmember Andrew Lewis. Bronner said he’s “hopeful that DN Seattle’s resolution will be voted on and passed before the end of this year.”

Nationwide, states and cities across the country have reconsidered their drug laws in the wake of the 2020 election, when voters in Oregon approved two separate statewide initiatives, one decriminalizing possession of all drugs and another to legalize psilocybin, the main component of psychedelic mushrooms, for therapeutic use. Washington, DC also passed a measure decriminalizing plant- and fungi-based psychedelics.

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

In California, the Senate approved a bill this year to legalize possession of psychedelics. If also cleared two Assembly committees, but its sponsor moved to pull it from further consideration until next year in order to have more time build support within the legislature to ensure passage.

Separately, psychedelics activists in the Golden State recently filed a petition for the 2022 ballot to make the state the first in the nation to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for any use. A fiscal analysis of the proposal found that it would save the state millions in enforcement costs and also generate state and local tax revenue. Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.

Michigan senators introduced a bill last week to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline. Locally, the Ann Arbor City Council approved entheogenic decriminalization last year, and efforts are also underway in Grand Rapids to enact a policy change for psychedelics. Voters in Detroit will decide on a psychedelics decriminalization ballot measure this November.

Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led a 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have their eyes set on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.

In a setback for advocates of broader research into controlled substances, however, 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, the proposal picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.

Read a description of the proposed Washington drug decriminalization ballot measure below:

Washington Drug Decriminalization Campaign by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Minnesota Democratic Leaders Preview Marijuana Legalization Plan For 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

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