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Wife Of Prohibitionist Group Co-Founder Backs Reclassifying Marijuana In Congressional Bid

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Amid her campaign for Congress, the wife of one of the most prominent voices advocating for keeping marijuana illegal says that she supports federally reclassifying cannabis from its current restrictive status.

Amy Kennedy is one of the Democratic candidates for Congress seeking to unseat Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, after he flipped his party affiliation to Republican and pledged his “undying support” for President Trump.

Kennedy’s husband is Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island and a co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the nation’s leading cannabis prohibitionist group.

Current candidate Kennedy, like SAM, opposes broad marijuana legalization—but she also disagrees with the group’s platform on at least one key point. Kennedy wants marijuana removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, she recently told The Press of Atlantic City. That departs from SAM doctrine, which calls rescheduling “neither necessary nor desirable.”

As far as SAM is concerned, even modest rescheduling is still a step too far and “would do nothing to allow more cannabis-­based medicines.”

In a statement provided to Marijuana Moment by a spokesman, SAM President Kevin Sabet, who cofounded the group with Patrick Kennedy, rejected the idea of any conflict.

“Ms. Kennedy’s position against marijuana commercialization and in favor of research is consistent with SAM’s and the American Medical Association,” Sabet said. “SAM has helped write legislation to create a new schedule for marijuana in order to encourage research while not legalizing, and we are working with a number of campaigns from both parties on smart marijuana policies.”

Kennedy’s campaign did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment on this story.

SAM policy calls for a near-total departure from existing medical cannabis programs implemented by the states. State-licensed cultivation, manufacturing and dispensaries would be replaced by federally authorized “non-psychoactive,” “non-smoked” and “yet-to-be-approved” components of marijuana, and not the plant itself.

Experts have indicated that providing a pathway for any such system would require additional research. But as long as marijuana remains in Schedule I, such studies will prove challenging, as scientists must go through numerous hoops to lawfully investigate the plant’s effects.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), acknowledged last year that the legal status of cannabis makes research “very difficult.”

For years, SAM has been insisting that Schedule I is not a barrier to cannabis research. But Sabet, the group’s president, serves on the the Board of Scientific Advisors for another group called Friends of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, a coalition of other anti-legalization health advocates and researchers that has argued in congressional submissions that cannabis’s Schedule I status does in fact impede studies.

Kennedy, the current congressional candidate, also backs decriminalizing marijuana possession as well as expunging prior cannabis convictions—positions backed to some degree by the organization her husband cofounded.

“First we should move to decriminalize, and then do the research and see where that takes us,” she said, according to The Press of Atlantic City. “I’m mostly worried about a for-profit industry [selling marijuana] without having done the research, and the impact it would have. We want to make sure our tax dollars don’t have to go back into our public health.”

SAM has called for treating marijuana possession as a “civil offense” but also says that people caught with it should be “subject to a mandatory health screening and marijuana-education program as appropriate.” The group also floats referring such individuals to treatment programs and says they “could even be monitored for 6-12 months in a probation program designed to prevent further drug use.”

It’s not clear if Kennedy wants to force cannabis consumers who encounter police to jump through all of those hoops, or if she supports having them simply cited and fined as is the case in many states with decriminalization policies.

SAM’s position on expungement is somewhat inconsistent. One part of its website broadly backs “expungement of any personal record regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana” but another recommends states adopt a more restrictive approach providing only for “automatic expungement for first-time offenders who complete treatment or education program without further violations within one year.”

When it comes to medical cannabis, rather than the total repeal-and-replace of existing and popular medical cannabis programs backed by SAM, Kennedy said she supports having health insurance providers cover the often-steep cost of medical marijuana—provided, of course, medical research supports the idea that cannabis is beneficial.

“If we’re saying it has a benefit, let’s get the evidence-based research and get it covered,” she said.

But bolstering research in a significant way would almost certainly require a change in federal law that her husband’s creation, SAM, staunchly opposes. The organization insists that research is possible within the status quo.

SAM also strongly opposes the way in which medical cannabis is administered in states such New Jersey.

“Medical marijuana should really only be about bringing relief to the sick and dying, and it should be done in a responsible manner that formulates the active components of the drug in a non-­smoked form that delivers a defined dose,” the organization’s website states. “However, in most states with medical marijuana laws, it has primarily become a license for the state-sanctioned use of a drug by most anyone who desires it.”

Although Kennedy backs certain modest reforms, her opposition to legalization in a primary field of other Democratic candidates who openly back the idea—which, despite campaign trail promises from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to end prohibition, has yet to happen in the Garden State—makes here perhaps the most conservative on marijuana policy.

Even the now-GOP incumbent Drew appears to back the idea of easing restrictions on research.

“We are quite sure now…that medical marijuana, if used properly, can certainly help people,” he told the local newspaper. “I have supported legalizing medical marijuana and expanding its use in a medical sense, as well as enabling more research to occur.”

He also backs decriminalization, though like Kennedy opposes broad legalization. “I just don’t know that we need another recreational drug,” he said. “And I don’t think it will help urban areas.”

In any case, Kennedy’s support for rescheduling in order to bolster research does make her more progressive on cannabis than the organization her husband, himself a former member of Congress, founded.

While Amy Kennedy’s departure from the SAM platform is notable, she isn’t the only Kennedy who sees a need for reform where Patrick Kennedy’s SAM does not. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) announced last year that he’s in favor of cannabis legalization after previously standing against the policy change and unsuccessfully campaigning to defeat a 2016 ballot measure to end prohibition in his state.

The congressman is mounting a primary challenge to unseat Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and has transformed from a legalization skeptic to a supporter.

New York Governor Will Visit Legal Marijuana States To Take Lessons Back Home

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.

Chris Roberts is a reporter and writer based in San Francisco. He has covered the cannabis industry since 2009, with bylines in the Guardian, Deadspin, Leafly News, The Observer, The Verge, Curbed, Cannabis Now, SF Weekly and others.

Politics

Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

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

Likewise 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. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, 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.”

Finally, 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 reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

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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Arizona Legal Marijuana Campaign Asks Supreme Court To Allow Electronic Signatures Amid Coronavirus

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Several campaigns to put initiatives on Arizona’s November ballot—including one to legalize marijuana—are asking the state Supreme Court to allow electronic signature gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has made in-person ballot petitioning all but impossible.

Smart and Safe Arizona, the group behind the cannabis measure, along with three other campaigns, filed a petition with the court on Thursday, requesting that it direct the secretary of state to let them digitally collect signatures. They stressed that the infrastructure already exists, as residents are able to use a system called E-Qual to sign ballot petitions for individual candidates running for office.

While the marijuana campaign has already gathered more than 320,000 signatures, which is well over the required 237,645 signatures for statutory proposals, they have yet to be verified and activists would like to continue collection efforts to ensure that they qualify for the ballot.

In the filing, the groups argued that limiting the E-Qual system to office seekers is unconstitutional. However, state law stipulates that it can only be used for that purpose, so it remains to be seen whether court action will produce the intended result. There was a bill filed last year to expand its utility to allow digital signature gathering for initiatives, but it has not advanced in the legislature.

“Legal access to E-Qual for these citizen initiatives is the right thing for public health and democracy,” attorneys representing the groups said in a statement. “Following Governor Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order issued Monday and current CDC recommendations, gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures on paper, at people’s homes, or in public spaces, is impossible to do safely and responsibly during this pandemic. E-Qual is a very reasonable remedy.”

The legalization petition would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. People could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program

Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.

The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.

“The Committees have explored potential alternatives, such as mailing petitions to interested persons to circulate within their families,” Smart and Safe Arizona Campaign Manager Stacy Pearson said in a declaration filed with the court. “This, however, is expensive, inefficient, and has no realistic likelihood of permitting the Committees’ to gather large numbers of valid petition signatures.”

The legalization group was joined by campaigns to limit school vouchers, provide sentencing reform and increase taxes on the wealthy to fund public education in the petition. Separately, two other campaigns—to enact voting reform and end surprise hospital billings—filed a similar lawsuit in a federal court on Thursday.

Smart and Safe Arizona is not the only drug policy reform campaign to request electronic signature gathering since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Activists in California released a video last month asking officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

Others have generally shut down campaign activities in light of the pandemic, which has resulted in shutter businesses and shelter-in-place orders across the country.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, 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.”

Idaho Activists Suspend Campaign To Legalize Medical Marijuana Due To Coronavirus

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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