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What Tuesday’s Elections Mean For State And Local Marijuana Reform

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Tuesday’s state and local elections across the U.S. saw several gains for the marijuana reform movement, as well as some potential setbacks. Legislatures shifted, cities decided on cannabis business expansion and new officeholders were seated.

A wave of newly elected prosecutors could further shape the drug policy landscape throughout the country, with a “mixed bag” of results coming out of the elections. District attorneys elected in Virginia campaigned on largely pro-reform platforms, but drug warriors kept their seats in places like Pennsylvania and New York.

From Virginia to California, here’s a rundown of the most consequential election outcomes as it concerns marijuana policy.

Virginia

In Virginia, where broad marijuana reform has routinely stalled session after session, Democrats seized the majority in both the Senate and Assembly. The new composure of the legislature bodes well for the prospects of passing cannabis decriminalization and comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in 2020.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who campaigned on decriminalization during his election in 2017, said on Wednesday that the issue remains a priority, and Attorney General Mark Herring told Virginia Mercury last month that lawmakers will likely pursue that policy change first and then “get to work on a larger study about how and when we could move toward legal and regulated adult use.”

“The majority shift will bring a sea change to marijuana policy in the Commonwealth,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, said. “Virginia spent over $100M in 2018 enforcing prohibition, which flies in the face of public opinion. Three quarters of Virginians favor fines not crimes for possession of marijuana, and six out of ten support legalizing adult-use. Finally, Virginia has a path to implement evidence-based policies that reflect the attitudes of its constituents.”

Voters in the state also elected several reform-minded prosecutors, including Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and Steve Descano, who’s pledged that his office would not prosecute low-level cannabis offenses. Buta Biberaj, who also won her bid for a prosecutor position in the commonwealth, agreed that nobody should be incarcerated for marijuana possession.

Kentucky

In one of the most notable development of the night, a Democratic candidate who supports medical cannabis legalization appears to have beaten out an incumbent Republican in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race. Current Attorney General Andy Beshear narrowly defeated Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who has also spoken in favor of medical marijuana but adamantly opposes recreational legalization.

Beshear’s campaign site states that he wants medical cannabis legalization to be put to voters as a proposed constitutional amendment, which he said he’d vote for, in part because of its potential use as an alternative to opioids.

“I would vote for it because I’ve seen the impact opioids have had on every Kentucky community,” the governor-elect said. “So many Kentucky families have seen a loved one fall into addiction, and their lives have been devastated. If medical marijuana is an alternative and gives people the chance to get pain relief without being subjected to opioids, I think it’s something we’ve got to explore.”

Beshear also said that legalization could generate tax revenue that can be used to fund the state’s pension system—a position that puts him at odds with Bevin.

During an interview with WBKO in April, Beshear also voiced support for decriminalizing drug possession, including for substances beside cannabis.

“No one who is caught simply possessing marijuana should ever go to jail, or should ever go to prison,” he said, adding that those suffering from addiction to other illicit drugs should be “in treatment, not jail.”

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, a strong proponent of the the hemp industry, held onto his seat. Following the election, Quarles celebrated the expansion of the hemp industry, noting that “during the first term we were dedicated to putting Kentucky first… and here in Kentucky, we are making hemp great again.”

But while the commissioner said he’s not opposed to medical cannabis legalization, he’s decidedly less vocal about the issue compared to his competitor Robert Conway, who brought up the policy during his concession speech.

Cannabis was also featured in the concession speech for Greg Stumbo, who ran for attorney general and lost to Daniel Cameron. Stumbo closed his speech “with an anecdote about medical marijuana helping a family” and called for its legalization, Courier Journal reporter Matthew Glowicki said.

Colorado

In Mead, voters chose not to allow adult-use cannabis businesses to operate in their city. Loveland voters similarly rejected a proposal to allow marijuana firms, six years after the city first banned them. But the cannabis market did get a boost in Louisville, where voters approved a marijuana excise tax and adopted a policy allowing cannabis cultivation facilities to operate in their jurisdiction.

Illinois

The city of Deerfield’s Village Board voted in favor of allowing adult-use marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdiction. Meanwhile, Arlington Heights Village Board opted not to welcome cannabis firms.

“For me, there is no compromise on this issue,” Mayor Tom Hayes said.

Maine

Voters in Camden elected to establish a process to obtain licenses for cannabis manufacturing businesses. Retail facilities for recreational and medical cannabis will be allowed under ordinances approved by voters in Newry on Tuesday.

Massachusetts

A nonbinding referendum to allow adult-use cannabis sales in Agawam was soundly defeated in a 2,682-1,831 vote.

Michigan

Ten cities throughout Michigan voted on measures to allow or prohibit adult-use marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdictions—and seven of those opted to block the industry. The votes come roughly a year after the state’s legal cannabis law was approved by voters.

Allen Park, Hudson City, Keego Harbor,  Marenisco Township, Mount Pleasant, South Haven and Walled Lake each voted against proposals to allow cannabis businesses to operate in their towns, or in favor of measures calling for a ban on recreational cannabis facilities. Crystal Township, Lincoln Park and Northfield Township residents cast votes in favor of the industry.

New Jersey

Efforts to reform New Jersey’s marijuana laws have been complicated, largely because of opposition from the Republicans in the legislature. Those efforts will face a slightly tougher road following Tuesday’s election, where the GOP picked up seats in the Assembly, as well as one seat in the Senate. That said, lawmakers have said they may take a shot at passing a legalization bill in the lame duck session before the newly formulated legislature is seated.

Ohio

Three cities in Ohio voted in favor of resolutions to decriminalize the possession of cannabis, while three others rejected similar proposals. The pro-decriminalization votes build on gains the state has made at the local level over the past four years, which have seen more than a dozen cities approve measures to loosen penalties on possession, either through voter-approved initiatives or the local government action.

Three More Ohio Cities Approve Marijuana Decriminalization Measures, But Three Others Are Defeated

This piece was updated to add comment from Virginia NORML.

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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Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Gets Boost From New TV Ad But Draws Opposition From Unlikely Source

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An Oregon ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes is getting a boost from a nonprofit veterans group’s new TV ad. But meanwhile, the campaign is seeing pushback from an unexpected source.

On the one side, the Heroic Hearts Project—which helps connect veterans to entheogenic-based healing and provides complementary counseling—is airing an advertisement in the state that highlights the therapeutic potential of taking psilocybin in a clinical setting.

The 30-second spot doesn’t explicitly mention the reform measure that will appear on Oregon’s November ballot, but it could help inform how voters approach that question when they head to the polls nonetheless. According to the group, it will play on television frequently enough that the average viewer should see it about seven or eight times.

Here’s the script of the ad: 

“As a scientist, I’m impressed by the research. Major universities findings show psilocybin therapy can be effective for depression and anxiety.

It’s plant medicine [the Food and Drug Administration] calls breakthrough therapy, meaning it can be an improvement over available options.

The psilocybin therapy program: Research-based with patient safety top of mind, strictly regulated.

We’re in a mental health crisis. The science is real, the restrictions smart. Psilocybin therapy: Healing, providing hope.”

Heroic Hearts Project is largely focused on the plant ayahuasca. But the group says psilocybin is another treatment option that’s shown promise in mitigating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In Oregon and across the country there has been a big decriminalization movement, there’s been a big push to do similar to what we’re doing but also allow for access within the U.S. because there’s a lot of people that understand the power and the efficacy of these treatments,” Jesse Gould, founder of the organization, told Marijuana Moment.

“Within Oregon, there is this historic opportunity where they’re trying to create licensed and regulated psilocybin and therapy—and there’s a lot of veterans in Oregon—so just having that availability of it in a place that they can rely on, that they know it’s safe, is a tremendous value to the veterans in Oregon,” he said. “I think it will also be a model for other states and other localities to adopt it.”

Again, the ad doesn’t explicitly promote the psilocybin legalization initiative that will appear on Oregon’s November ballot—but there has been a strong push from a wide range of experts and advocates to pass the historic measure. The Oregon Democratic Party also formally endorsed the psychedelic therapy proposal earlier this month.

“Oregonians are suffering from the most severe mental health crisis in the country,” Sam Chapman, campaign manager for the psilocybin measure, told Marijuana Moment. “We know that if we want to help terminally ill cancer patients, veterans, and so many others who are struggling to combat depression and anxiety due to COVID, we need a licensed and regulated system that people can trust.”

But while these developments could help bolster the campaign, there’s also been surprising dissent from certain psychedelics reform advocates who argue that the proposed legal therapeutic model for psilocybin would threaten equitable access to entheogens.

Decriminalize Nature (DN), the group advancing a localized psychedelics decriminalization movement across the country, is urging Oregonians to vote “no” on the initiative.

“M109 threatens equitable access by not ending the prohibition of personal use and establishing supremecy [sic],” DN said in a tweet.

The group’s Portland chapter, which said earlier this year that it would pursue psychedelics decriminalization through the City Council, announced last week that it’s now against the psilocybin measure and declining to endorse a separate proposal to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs and fund treatment services that will also appear on the state’s ballot.

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Decrim Nature Oregon Groups Encourage No on M109 Oregon Psilocybin Services Measure . . DN Nature lovers, When Oregon first created it’s statewide initiative, decriminalization language was included and all signatures were accounted for. After a sizeable donation, the #Oregon Psilocybin Service measure removed the decriminalization language thereby continuing the prohibition of psilocybin mushroom gathering, growing, or having an experience in the safety of one’s own home. Negotiations broke down with the key sponsor of this initiative last week to ensure the protection of equitable access to entheogenic plants for the most vulnerable. M109 threatens this due to sections that do nothing to end the prohibition of personal use and also establishes statewide supremacy. Therefore, Decrim Nature groups in Oregon are taking a No position on the Oregon Psilocybin Service measure. In solidarity with our local groups in Oregon, we share this with our DN network.

A post shared by Decriminalize Nature (@decriminalizenature) on

DN Portland said they are “advocating that all people who care about ensuring access to entheogenic medicines for all people regardless of financial status, those who care about protecting these medicines from the profit motives of capital, and those who wish to see big money removed from the equation of psychedelic medicines.”

David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, has helped finance a slew of marijuana and psychedelics reform campaigns for years, including the psilocybin legalization initiative. Private messages that DN decided to release show the executive expressing concern about certain internal politics within the movement, including disputes between DN and the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative about including peyote within the scope of decriminalization measures.

In a blog post, he wrote that Dr. Bronner’s “is fully committed to the Decriminalize Nature (DN) movement, but have recently lost faith in its national leadership.” Regardless, “we still fully support regional DN campaigns such as DC’s effort to decriminalize plant medicines.”

In turn, DN alleged that Bronner “is resorting to divide and conquer tactics to control the Decriminalize Nature movement. ”

Under the Oregon psilocybin ballot measure, adults would be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. Last month, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”

The campaign behind the separate drug decriminalization and treatment funding initiative recently released its first ad urging Oregonians to support it.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Initiative Endorsed By Environmental Conservation Groups

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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Colorado Governor Grants Thousands Of Marijuana Pardons With New Clemency Powers

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The governor of Colorado on Thursday signed an executive order granting nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.

Pursuant to a new law that he signed in June, Gov. Jared Polis (D) made the pardons on the first day the policy took effect. While the law gives him authority to grant clemency for cases of possession of up to two ounces, his office explained that he limited it to one ounce because that’s the legal possession limit under Colorado’s cannabis program.

“We are finally cleaning up some of the inequities of the past by pardoning 2,732 convictions for Coloradans who simply had an ounce of marijuana or less,” Polis said in a press release. “It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970’s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success.”

Convictions impacted by the governor’s action range from those that took place in 1978 though 2012.

“Too many Coloradans have been followed their entire lives by a conviction for something that is no longer a crime, and these convictions have impacted their job status, housing, and countless other areas of their lives,” he added. “Today we are taking this step toward creating a more just system and breaking down barriers to help transform people’s lives as well as coming to terms with one aspect of the past, failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”

The new law allows the governor to use his clemency power for cannabis offenses without consulting with prosecutors and judges involved in the cases, as is typically required under statute.

“For the individuals pardoned in this Executive Order, all rights of citizenship associated with the pardoned conviction are restored in full without condition,” the order states. “All civil disabilities and public sufferings associated with the pardoned conviction are removed.”

People who are eligible for the pardons don’t have to do anything to clear their own records; it’s automated, and individuals can check a website to see if they’ve been processed.

Those who have municipal marijuana convictions, or who were arrested or given a summons, don’t qualify for the pardon. The action only applies to state-level convictions.

A frequently asked questions document states that while Polis has declined for now to use the full extend of his pardon power by applying it to people with convictions of up one to two ounces, the “administration will continue to evaluate” cases that could receive clemency. A representative from the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a question from Marijuana Moment about whether plans are imminent to expand the pardon pool.

The governor’s action also calls on the state Department of Public Health to “develop a process to indicate on criminal background checks which individuals’ convictions have been pardoned pursuant to this Executive Order.”

Colorado isn’t alone in pursuing opportunities to enact marijuana-focused restorative justice policies.

In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor.

The governors of Washington State and Illinois have both issued pardons for cannabis offenses since their states legalized the plant.

Polis told Westword that beyond the practical benefits of having these records cleared, the move is “also symbolically important, because it shows that as a state and nation, we’re coming to terms with the incorrect discriminatory laws of the past that penalized people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

Marijuana Arrests Decline Nationally For First Time In Four Years, FBI Data Shows

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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Marijuana Arrests Decline Nationally For First Time In Four Years, FBI Data Shows

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Marijuana arrests in the U.S. declined in 2019 for the first time in four years, a new federal report shows.

While many expected the state-level legalization movement to reduce cannabis arrests as more markets went online, that wasn’t the case in 2016, 2017 or 2018, which each saw slight upticks in marijuana busts year-over-year. But last year there was a notable dip, the data published this week shows.

There were a total of 545,601 marijuana arrests in 2019—representing 35 percent of all drug arrests—according to FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. That’s down from 663,367 the prior year and 659,700 in 2017.

Via FBI.

Put another way, police across the country made a cannabis bust every 58 seconds on average last year. Of those arrests, 500,394 (92 percent) were for possession alone.

“A decline in cannabis related arrests is better than seeing an increase for a fourth year in a row, but the amount of these arrests is still abhorrent,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “There is no reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. Arresting adult cannabis consumers has a dramatically disproportionate impact on communities of color, is a massive waste of law enforcement officials’ time and resources and does nothing to improve public health or safety.”

Overall, arrests for drug sales, manufacturing and possession amounted to 1,558,862 for the year—approximately 15 percent of all busts reported to FBI from local and state law enforcement agencies. That’s one new drug case every 20 seconds.

Before 2016, the country had seen a consistent decline in marijuana arrests for roughly a decade. It should be noted, however, that not all local police participate in the federal agency’s program, so these figures are not holistic.

Nonetheless, this data shows that American law enforcement carried out more arrests for marijuana alone than for murder, rape, robbery, burglary, fraud and embezzlement combined.

“At a time when a super-majority of Americans support marijuana legalization, law enforcement continues to harass otherwise law abiding citizens at an alarming rate,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Now is the time for the public to collectively demand that enough is enough: end prohibition and expunge the criminal records to no longer hold people back from achieving their potential.”

While there’s no solitary factor that can explain the recent downward trend in cannabis cases, there are one-off trends that could inform the data. For example, marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, and that seems to be connected to the legalization of hemp and resulting difficulties police have had in differentiating the still-illegal version of the cannabis crop from its newly legal non-intoxicating cousin.

At the federal level, prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in March.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in December.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

Mixed Arizona Marijuana Polls Raise Questions About Legalization Ballot Measure’s Prospects

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