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Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana Approved By Key House Committee

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A key House committee on Thursday approved a bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity.

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act cleared the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on a 26-15 vote. The tally fell largely along party lines, with all Democrats supporting the measure and all but two Republicans voting against it.

The development comes one week after the full House voted in favor of a defense spending bill that includes an amendment that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

“This long overdue and historic legislation would reverse failed federal policies criminalizing marijuana. It would also take steps to address the heavy toll this policy has taken across the country, particularly among communities of color,” Nadler said in opening remarks. “I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only made it worse, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said that “this is an important criminal justice reform bill, and I commend the chairman for once again introducing this bill and bringing it before the committee. In fact, it consolidates the discussions that we’ve had about the overincarceration of individuals who were addicted or caught up in the cycle of drugs, many of them people of color in inner city neighborhoods.”

Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) voiced opposition to the proposal, calling it a “radical, out-of-touch Democrat priority” and a “marijuana stimulus bill.”

Watch lawmakers debate and vote on the legalization proposal in the video below:

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) discussed how cannabis criminalization has been historically used to target communities of color. He said the time for legalization “has come, and time came a long time ago.”

Nadler also emphasized the racial disparities in marijuana enforcement by pointing out that his own son was caught selling cannabis in high school but was brought back to his home rather than incarcerated. The chairman said if his son was black, police “would have arrested him.”

Although most Republicans who spoke argued against the bill, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is a cosponsor of it, made the case for reform.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the MORE Act because the federal government has screwed up marijuana policy in this country for a generation,” he said. “We lied to people about the effects of marijuana. And then we used marijuana as a cudgel to incarcerate just wide swaths of communities, and particularly in African-American communities.”

“We cannot honestly say that the war on drugs impacted suburban white communities in the same way it affected urban black communities. We can’t say that marijuana enforcement was happening the same way on the corner than it was happening in the fraternity house,” he said. “We have an opportunity to fix that problem. The war on drugs, much like many of our forever wars, has been a failure. If there’s been a war on drugs, drugs have won that war.”

However, he expressed certain concerns about provisions of the legislation such as the proposed federal excise tax on cannabis sales. While Gaetz also said that while he supports the MORE Act, he doesn’t feel it stands a chance in the Senate and recommended advancing more modest reform.

While the legislation has largely stayed intact compared to the prior version that passed the chamber last year in a historic vote, there were some modest revisions that were incorporated upon its reintroduction in May.

The panel on Thursday considered additional changes before moving the measure forward, although much of the time was spent debating unrelated issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, abortion policy and protests against police violence.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) sought to remove the bill’s tax provisions as well as grant funds it would create to help repair the harms of the war on drugs.

A libertarian-leaning lawmaker, Massie backs the general idea of ending cannabis prohibition but is not in favor of creating new government programs.

“If you want a bill that is not politically paralyzed, if you want a bill that can reach across the aisle, if you want a bill that can pass the Senate—that they’ll be motivated to bring up in the Senate—then please vote for my amendment, which leaves most of the bill intact.” Massie said. “Let’s work across the aisle and let’s get a serious bill to the floor.”

The amendment was ruled out of order by the chairman, however, because it proposed changes to sections of the bill that are under the jurisdiction of other committees.

A proposed amendment from Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) would have prohibited people with convictions for rioting, looting or destruction of property from benefiting from justice-related grants established under the bill. It was defeated in a 19-15 vote.

Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI) filed an amendment that would have similarly restricted grant funds from going to people who have been convicted of trafficking drugs while possessing firearms. It failed by a vote of 20-15. Fitzgerald also put forth a proposal aimed at blocking people who have cheated on their taxes from benefitting from the grant programs. That too was rejected, by a 20-16 tally.

An amendment from Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) would have made it so the awarding of marijuana revenue-funded grants could not “discriminate against or otherwise disfavor an individual or entity on the basis of the COVID-19 vaccination status of an individual or the advocacy by an individual or entity with respect to any COVID-19 vaccination mandate.” It was defeated in a 21-18 vote.

Bishop also filed an amendment to require the Department of Transportation to develop best practices for detecting marijuana-impaired driving, but it was deemed to be not in order because it falls under the jurisdiction of another committee.

Nadler’s cannabis legislation passed the House last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control. This time around, advocates are optimistic that something like the chairman’s bill could be enacted now that Democrats run both chambers and the White House, and as more states are moving to enact legalization.

The legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), allow people with cannabis convictions to have their records expunged and create a federal tax on marijuana with the revenue going to support community reinvestment and other programs.

It also contains language to create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for cannabis offenses, protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over marijuana and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), who cochair the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, released a joint statement calling the Judiciary Committee vote part of a “monumental effort to get the federal government in step with the rest of America, and [a] move toward modernizing our federal cannabis policies and realizing restorative justice.”

“This is the most comprehensive piece of cannabis legislation Congress has ever seen, and continuing its momentum couldn’t be more important to our fight to address the fact that Congress continues to lag behind 37 states that have legalized either adult-use or medical cannabis,” they said. “We will continue to build a broad coalition of support in Congress and work closely with our allies in the Senate to put forth a successful framework to finally reform our outdated, out-of-touch cannabis laws, because it’s time for Congress to catch up with the American people.”

The ACLU and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—which includes NAACP, Human Rights Campaign, Anti-Defamation League, National Organization for Women and People for the American Way, National Urban League, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and the AFSCME and AFL-CIO labor unions—wrote a letter of support for the legislation ahead of the markup.

The groups said the MORE Act “addresses the collateral consequences of federal marijuana criminalization and takes steps to ensure the legal marketplace is diverse and inclusive of individuals adversely affected by prohibition.” It also “takes significant steps to right the wrongs of decades of federal marijuana criminalization by providing for the expungement and resentencing of marijuana offenses.”

But while advocates have broadly embraced the legislation and urged its passage, some have raised concerns about certain provisions and hope the bill can be revised as it moves through the process.

ACLU and the Leadership Conference, for example, expressed concerns about a component that was added to render so-called drug “kingpins” ineligible for expungements, pointing out that such language “has been interpreted broadly by courts and would prevent individuals who are not high-level participants from seeking relief under the bill’s expungement and resentencing provisions.”

“If the exclusion remains, individuals excluded from the expungement process will continue to be blocked from accessing employment, housing, and an education based on their prior convictions,” it said. “We believe the bill should be amended to ensure that those with excluded convictions are eligible for expungement within five years, assuming there have been no new convictions in the intervening time. Such a change will stay true to the intent of the bill and provide relief to those caught up in outdated enforcement efforts.”

Meanwhile, there’s been some contention between advocates and stakeholders on which reform should come first: the bipartisan banking legislation that’s cleared the House in some form five times now or the comprehensive legalization bill that passed the chamber for the first time late last year.

Legalization advocates do want to see legislation from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) become enacted, as there are public safety problems caused by all-cash businesses and it would take an important step toward normalizing the growing industry. But social equity-minded activists argue that advancing the incremental reform first would mainly benefit large marijuana businesses without addressing the harms of cannabis criminalization.

The fate of the banking proposal will likely be decided in conference with the Senate, which has not included the policy change in its National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and where key lawmakers have insisted that they will push for broader reform before allowing the incremental change to be enacted.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (R-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are also leading the charge on a legalization bill in their chamber. But weeks after a public comment period on a draft version of the proposal closed, finalized text has yet to be formally filed—and it’s far from certain that Schumer will be able to find enough votes to advance the comprehensive reform through his chamber.

It should be noted that President Joe Biden remains firmly opposed to adult-use marijuana legalization. While he supports more modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis, expunging prior records and letting states set their own marijuana policies, there’s an open question about whether he would be moved to sign a broad bill like the MORE Act or the Senate legalization legislation should such a proposal reach his desk.

With respect to the MORE Act, the latest version does not include language that was added just before last year’s House floor vote that would have prevented people with previous cannabis convictions from obtaining federal permits to operate marijuana businesses. That was a contentious provision that appeared at the last minute and which advocates strongly opposed.

And whereas the the prior version of the legislation contained language to help economically disadvantaged people enter the legal marijuana market, that language was revised to extend Small Business Administration (SBA) aid—such as loans, financial literacy programs and job training—to help people who have been harmed by the war on drugs pursue business opportunities in any industry, not just cannabis.

Advocates are encouraged by the new revisions to the bill, but there are still additional components they hope to see changed as it goes through the legislative process. For example, they also took issue with provisions added to the MORE Act prior to last year’s vote that would have stipulated that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.

The current version of the MORE Act has 76 cosponsors. In addition to the Judiciary Committee, it has been referred to eight other panels. While last Congress’s version of the bill went straight to the floor after clearing its first stop because other committees waived their jurisdiction, it’s not clear if that will happen again this time.

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said a floor vote should be scheduled immediately.

“Never before has public support from every corner of the political spectrum been so aligned as to demand that Congress take action to end the shameful experiment with marijuana prohibition,” he said. “The continued criminalization of marijuana by the federal government is an affront to our professed ideals of freedom, liberty and justice. By advancing the MORE Act, the House will demonstrate that the majority of our political leaders are ready to correct this injustice and enact cannabis policy reform that undoes the harms that have been inflicted upon millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

Separately, a proposal to federally deschedule marijuana that does not include social equity components was filed by a pair of Republican congressmen in May.

Chuck Schumer Says Key Senators Have ‘Agreement’ Not To Advance Marijuana Banking Reform Before Legalization

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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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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