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Washington Voters Could See Drug Decriminalization And Treatment Initiative On November Ballot

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Activists in Washington State are working to place an initiative to decriminalize drug possession and expand access to treatment services on the November ballot.

At a time when multiple drug policy reform campaigns in states across the country have suspended signature gathering amid the coronavirus outbreak, ACLU of Washington says they remain determined to qualify Initiative 1715, which would make possession of illegal substances for personal use a civil infraction that does not carry the threat of jail time.

People who police encounter possessing illicit drugs would be referred to a mandatory service assessment under the proposal, with the intent being to have them screened for a substance use disorder within 72 hours of the citation. The measure—titled the Substance Use Disorder Treatment, Recovery and Education Act—would also provide a means for individuals previously convicted of drug offenses covered in the act to petition courts to have their records vacated.

Fees associated with the citation would be waived upon completion of the service assessment.

The new Treatment First Washington campaign is also hoping to expand the state’s drug treatment programs, and it plans to use some existing tax revenue from legal marijuana sales to accomplish that. A similar effort is underway in neighboring Oregon, where activists said last month that they’ve been forced to temporarily end in-person signature collection due to the pandemic.

ACLU of Washington isn’t oblivious to the impact current social distancing measures could have on their prospects, but they’re hoping to dedicate all of June to signature gathering, as Crosscut first reported. Alison Holcomb, political director of the group and author of the state’s successful 2012 cannabis legalization ballot initiative, said they will continue to reevaluate the situation over the weeks to come.

“The essence of 1715 is to stop arresting and jailing people for substance use disorders,” she said. “This is a public health issue. Let’s have the law say that.”

Marijuana Moment reached out to Holcomb and the campaign for additional information about the initiative, which was filed on March 9, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.

Text of the measure, which had its ballot title approved on April 10, states that the intent is to “to expand availability of and facilitate access to effective, health-based approaches to the substance use disorder crisis facing our state, funded by existing marijuana taxes and health insurance, and to direct people with substance use disorder to treatment and recovery services through changes to laws criminalizing drug use.”

If voters approve the measure in November, an advisory group consisting of health experts and representatives from various state agencies would be established in order to determine the maximum amount of illicit drugs that could be considered possession for personal use under the new law. The panel would have to submit its recommendations by September 1, 2022. Decriminalization would then take effect that December.

The proposal’s intent section says that the “people find that a significant percentage of people with substance use disorders in our state are not receiving necessary services,” and that’s due in part to “gaps between the service needs and available system capacities, and gaps in information about substance use disorders and how to get help.”

Further, the “people also find that treating substance use like a crime, arresting and incarcerating people for personal use offenses, makes matters worse by disrupting and further destabilizing their lives.”

Here’s how the measure would appear on the ballot: 

“This measure would direct some marijuana tax revenue to treatment, training, and public education; decriminalize and require service assessments for certain personal-use drug offenses; facilitate vacating drug-related convictions; and amend related law.

Should this measure be enacted into law? Yes [ ] No [ ]”

Its summary reads as:

“This measure would make certain offenses for possession of drugs and use of drug paraphernalia civil infractions if they involve personal-use amounts; refer persons cited for mandatory service assessments; direct some marijuana taxes to treatment and recovery services, law enforcement training, and public education; facilitate vacation of certain drug-related convictions; and exempt certain substance use related personal information from public disclosure. State agencies would determine personal-use amounts and oversee expansion of substance use disorder treatment.”

The group estimated that the cost of increasing access to substance misuse treatment and promoting a public education campaign will be about $135 million annually, in addition to administrative implementation costs.

To qualify, the campaign needs to collect 259,622 valid signatures from voters and submit them by July 2, leaving advocates little wiggle room amid the current health crisis. Holcomb of ACLU of Washington said that if they can overcome those logistical challenges, they’re optimistic based on internal polling that voters will support it. The group also conducted focus groups consisting of swing voters that signaled the initiative would be successful if it qualifies, according to Crosscut.

So far, Treatment First Washington has reported receiving an initial $2,225 contribution from the state ACLU chapter, and its treasurer is strategist Jason Bennett.

The other decriminalization campaign in neighboring Oregon said that while they’re suspending signature gathering for the time being, they’re close to meeting their goal and need about 8,000 more submissions to safely make the ballot.

It remains to be seen when social distancing orders will be loosened or businesses reopened. That uncertainty, coupled with fast-approaching deadlines, has derailed numerous drug policy reform efforts across the country.

Oregon activists for separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. And in Missouri, an adult-use marijuana legalization campaign is officially over for the year due to the health crisis.

Idaho activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign to legalize medical cannabis, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

In Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.

North Dakota advocates said earlier this month that they are suspending their campaign to put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded that the legalization push in the legislature is “effectively over” for 2020. He also said on Saturday that the policy change may prove too complicated for lawmakers to take up remotely via video conferencing.

D.C. Would Vote To Decriminalize Psychedelics, Poll Shows

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo 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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