California Legislature Strips Psychedelics Decriminalization from Senate Bill

Provisions of a California bill that would have decriminalized psychedelic drugs including magic mushrooms, LSD, and MDMA were stripped from the measure by a legislative committee last week, with lawmakers instead amending the bill to only study the issue.

The measure, Senate Bill 519 from Senator Scott Wiener, would have allowed for the personal possession and use of psychedelic drugs including mescaline, ibogaine, MDMA, and psilocybin. Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, has said that the legislation would have helped address the disproportionate enforcement of the state’s drug laws while allowing for the therapeutic use of psychedelics, which have been shown to have potential as treatments for serious mental health issues including addiction, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Wiener originally introduced the legislation in the California Senate last year, where it passed with a narrow majority. But opposition to the legislation in the State Assembly led him to delay a vote on the bill until this year. The Assembly Appropriations Committee considered the measure on Thursday, passing an amended version of the bill that removes the psychedelics decriminalization provisions. Instead, the new language of the bill only authorizes a study of the proposal.

The bill was amended without debate or discussion under what the Sacramento Bee characterized as “California’s shadiest rules for lawmaking,” whereby the Appropriations Committee determines which of hundreds of bills that include costs for the state will advance to a vote of the full Assembly. The senator did not learn of the change until the next day, when he said he would reintroduce the bill next year.

“I’ve now confirmed that SB 519 – decriminalizing possession and use of small quantities of certain psychedelic drugs – was amended by the Assembly Appropriations Committee to remove the decriminalization aspect of the bill,” Wiener said in a statement from his office. “As a result, the soon-to-be-amended version of SB 519 is limited to a study. While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs. Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up.”

A spokesman for Wiener reportedly said that he would withdraw the amended bill from consideration.

Psychedelics Decriminalization for Mental Health in California

When he introduced the legislation in 2021, Wiener said that it would allow those with mental health conditions including PTSD and anxiety to take advantage of the potential mental health benefits of psychedelics. The legislation was supported by many drug policy and mental health advocates, although some balked at provisions that set limits on the amount of psychedelics that would be decriminalized.

“I understand the frustration from advocates over possession limits added to the bill, and my preference would have been not to have possession limits at all,” Wiener said last year, adding that the legislation stood a better chance of passage with the limits. “But sometimes you have a choice about, do you want to pass a meaningful bill, or do you want to insist on the perfect and pass no bill?”

Law enforcement groups that had originally opposed Wiener’s bill had reportedly eased their position and were willing to compromise. A spokesperson for Wiener’s office said that he was “prepared to scale the bill back” in response to concerns that were raised over the legislation, including limiting the measure to entheogenic plants and fungi, which would remove LSD and MDMA from the decriminalization bill.

SB 519 was gutted by the Appropriations Committee despite bipartisan support in the legislature and no formal opposition to the measure. The Sacramento Bee noted that 58% of Californians support psychedelics decriminalization and the bill was on a path to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk for approval. But with the bill now stripped of its decriminalization provisions, veterans and others living with severe mental health disorders will have to wait at least another year to use psychedelics for relief without fear of law enforcement interference.

“The problem, as with all moral victories in politics, is that real people suffer from the delay. Like the cancer-stricken veterans who waited years for Congress to expand health care coverage to include burn pit exposure, those with PTSD will have to wait longer until they can safely access psychedelics in California that could save their lives,” Yousef Baig, assistant opinion editor of the Sacramento Bee, wrote in an editorial. “The same applies to people with addiction disorders or other mental illnesses who struggle to find relief. All they have to do is survive until California lawmakers realize that their crooked practices have consequences.”

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Cannabis Cafes Emerge in Post-Legalization Thailand

Reuters reports this week that “several” such cannabis cafes have opened in the capital city of Bangkok since Thailand decriminalized pot in June, becoming the first country in Asia to do so.

When the government removed cannabis from its list of banned substances earlier this summer, officials were adamant that they were not legalizing recreational pot use.

“It’s a no,” Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told CNN when asked if recreational use would be permitted. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”

But that isn’t exactly how it has played out.

The new law “has led to an explosion in its recreational use,” according to Reuters, “something that government officials – concerned about negative effects on health and productivity often linked to uncontrolled use of the drug – have retro[s]pectively tried to discourage.”

“The law does not cover recreational cannabis use… and so tourism promotion is focused on medical (aspects),” the national tourism authority’s Deputy Governor, Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, said, as quoted by Reuters.

According to Reuters, a “parliamentary committee is now debating a bill to regulate cannabis use that is expected to finalise in September and could impact the cannabis cafes.”

The “pushback against the way the new policy is being interpreted has caused some confusion, with authorities resorting to issuing piecemeal regulations such banning public smoking of cannabis and its sale to under 20s,” Reuters reported.

CNN reported in June that the new law meant that it “is no longer a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products, or use parts of the plant to treat illnesses,” and that “cafes and restaurants can also serve cannabis-infused food and drinks — but only if the products contain less than 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive compound.”

“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Charnvirakul told CNN at the time. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”

“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong,” he added. “Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”

Tourists have not heeded his warning, however.

Reuters this week spotlighted one such cafe called RG420, located in “Khao San, an area of Bangkok popular with backpackers.”

RG420’s owner Ong-ard Panyachatiraksa told Reuters that his cafe has had “hundreds” of visitors every day.

“Europeans, Japanese, Americans – they are looking for Thai sativa,” Ong-ard said. “Cannabis and tourism are a match.”

The new marijuana law has been fraught with controversy since it was enacted earlier this summer. Last month, more than 850 doctors in Thailand came together to speak out against cannabis decriminalization, warning that it posed dangers to young people.

“Cannabis was removed from the Public Health Ministry’s Narcotic list on June 9, but no policies have been launched to control the use of cannabis for personal pleasure,” a spokesperson for the group of physicians said. “This lack of [legal] direction makes cannabis more accessible for children and teenagers.”

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Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Cannabis Decriminalization Bill

A Senate panel met on Tuesday to consider a bill that would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, less than a week after the legislation was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and two Democratic colleagues. The bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, was introduced on July 21 by Schumer, the senior senator from New York, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon and New Jersey’s Senator Cory Booker.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, which is chaired by Booker, discussed the legislation and heard testimony from witnesses at a hearing held at the nation’s Capitol on Tuesday. Under the nearly 300 pages of legislation, marijuana would be removed from regulation under the federal Controlled Substances Act, where the drug is listed under the most restrictive Schedule I, and states would be allowed to create their own cannabis policies. The measure would also establish a national tax on cannabis products, expunge records of past federal cannabis convictions, and allow nonviolent cannabis prisoners to request resentencing.

Booker, the chair of the subcommittee and the only Black senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that national cannabis prohibition has “miserably failed” and has led to a “festering injustice” of enforcement policy that disproportionately targets Black and Brown communities. According to a 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union, Black people in America are almost four times more likely to be arrested for a cannabis-related offense than whites, despite relatively equal rates of pot use.

“Cannabis laws are unevenly enforced and devastate the lives of those most vulnerable,” Booker said during the Tuesday hearing.

Witnesses Testify To Support Cannabis Decriminalization Bill

Weldon Angelos, a former federal cannabis prisoner and criminal justice reform advocate, appeared before the subcommittee to testify in favor of the legislation. Sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for a first-time cannabis conviction and firearms possession charge, Angelos spent 13 years behind bars before being released in 2016. He told the senators at the hearing that expungement is a vital element of cannabis policy reform.

“Each arrest, prosecution, conviction and sentence makes the world a little bit smaller for those bearing the modern scarlet letter,” Angelos said, referring to what life is like for those with a conviction for a drug offense.

Representatives of the law enforcement community also testified in favor of the legislation to reform the nation’s marijuana laws. Edward Jackson, chief of the Annapolis Police Department, told the subcommittee that “there is nothing inherently violent” about cannabis.

Jackson said that decriminalization would permit police officers to concentrate on more serious crimes and help restore the community’s trust in law enforcement.

“I have spent far too much time arresting people for selling and possessing cannabis,” Jackson testified.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Missouri, lodged his opposition to the cannabis legalization bill and expungement, arguing that the legislation “would wipe clean the criminal records of illegal alien traffickers.”

“When these criminals trafficked marijuana, they broke the law,” Cotton told his colleagues on the subcommittee. “Whether some find that law unfashionable or even unfair, what they did was illegal.”

Cannabis Industry Reacts to Senate Hearing

Mason Tvert, partner at cannabis policy consulting firm VS Strategies, told High Times after Tuesday’s hearing that it “is refreshing to finally see a significant discussion of cannabis policy in Congress’ upper chamber.”

“History has shown that the more people talk about and hear about cannabis, the more quickly support grows for ending its prohibition,” Tvert wrote in an email. “Hopefully there will be more to follow, and members will have an opportunity to continue hearing about the many important aspects of this major policy issue, from expungement and equity to the economics and public safety benefits of legalization.”

Ryan G. Smith, co-founder and CEO of online cannabis wholesale platform LeafLink, urged lawmakers to approve comprehensive cannabis policy reform at the national level.

“For far too long, communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by unjust cannabis laws,” Smith wrote in an email to High Times. “Today’s hearing was a step forward, but now it’s time for Congress to take real action to end prohibition and support communities that have been unfairly targeted and left behind.”

But George Mancheril, co-founder and CEO of cannabis industry lender Bespoke Financial, is not optimistic that meaningful cannabis policy reform measures will be approved in the near future, noting that less controversial bills such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow banks to offer financial services to legal cannabis companies, have not fared well in the upper chamber of Congress.

“This hearing was an important step towards federal cannabis legalization but illustrated the long road still ahead. Passing comprehensive legislation is significantly harder than limited scope proposals such as the SAFE Banking Act which stalled in the Senate numerous times,” Mancheril said in an email. “The current political and economic environment will likely continue to keep all such cannabis focused bills on the fringe of political discussion and unlikely to pass any time soon but we hope that future hearings will drive the discussion towards the mechanics and timeline for federal regulation to provide greater clarity and transparency to the industry and to all stakeholders.”

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British Chief Constable Supports Cannabis Decriminalization

In a further sign that more cannabis reform is in the offing in the U.K., the head of one of the largest regional police forces in the country, John Campbell, of the Thames Valley Police, has come forward to support cannabis decriminalization. In testimony delivered to the Home Affairs select committee, citing evidence that he says would reduce violent crime, Campbell said that it is the “lucrative” illegalization of weed that promotes criminal behavior associated with the plant.

He has been joined in his support for cannabis reform by the Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales who has suggested that the entire issue of ending Prohibition should be addressed, albeit approached with “a great deal of caution.”

That said, such comments are still, sadly, an anomaly from Britain’s senior police leaders. Indeed, the majority of PCCs do not support forward motion on normalization saying that it will lead to more violent crime. Currently British law punishes cannabis possession with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Regardless, it is a significant development, particularly set against the intention of London mayor Sadiq Khan to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. The Metropolitan Police Service (or Met) is the U.K.’s largest police force. Thames Valley Police is the fifth largest (out of 43). It covers 2,200 square miles and three counties which are home to 2.34 million people. Thames Valley Police has also had to weather criticisms that it is considerably less diverse than the population it serves and as a result, tends to disproportionately target Black people and submit them to stop-and-searches as well as detaining them under the Mental Health Act. Such actions are unavoidably and frequently linked to cannabis possession.

The Slippery Slope of Decriminalization

The majority of British authorities may not support the final step of cannabis normalization, but it is now a war they are clearly losing. Medical use when prescribed by a doctor was legalized in the U.K. in November 2018. However, obtaining a prescription is still exceedingly difficult, and many patients are forced, just as they are in places like Germany, to obtain their cannabis via the black market—or grow their own. Beyond this, the legit CBD industry is growing in leaps and bounds.

For all of these reasons, it is imminently clear that the U.K. is on the same “slippery slope” towards full legalization as everywhere else, particularly as medical efficacy of the plant can no longer be refuted. Patients who can get to sympathetic doctors can now obtain a “cannabis patient card.” And beyond this, those who head up patient collectives are increasingly finding that if busted, judges are much more lenient.

All of this points to a changing legal environment for cannabis use—of which the police are well aware. Busts of cannabis farms are down significantly since a high of 758,943 between 2009-2010. Last year, there were 500,448. For every bust, there is of course, the administrative costs of the arresting police officers, plus court time.

In the U.K., like elsewhere, the economics of Prohibition, particularly given the changing environment and views towards cannabis increasingly don’t add up. Beyond this, public sentiment is moving towards support for legalization. The most recent national poll conducted in January of this year showed that a slight majority of Britons opposed recreational reform—but just like everywhere else, times they are a’changin.

The police everywhere are the most conservative segment of mainstream society when it comes to decriminalization and legalization issues. However even the most staid members of law enforcement know that cannabis as medicine is increasingly becoming accepted—and that a family member might end up being a cannabis patient if not a “criminal” for the same. Beyond this, draconian punishment for non-violent personal possession is a bogeyman of the past, and unfortunately, the present.

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Athens, Georgia on Cusp of Major Decriminalization Ordinance

The city of Athens, Georgia is on the brink of a significant drug reform, with the Athens-Clarke County Legislative Review Committee passing a measure that is being hailed as “Georgia’s most comprehensive marijuana decriminalization ordinance.”

The ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the committee last week, “would reduce the penalties for possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana (defined as less than 28 grams) by making such infractions a 1$ fine,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which highlighted some of its advocacy efforts in Athens-Clarkes County in a blog post on Thursday.

The group says it has been “lobbying Athens Clarke county to reduce penalties for cannabis possession” since 2017, and that it was ultimately “able to bring together community stakeholders and local officials before the legislative review committee to hatch out a plan of attack.”

Once implemented, the ordinance would make “possessing under 28 grams of any marijuana product a civil infraction,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, while also enshrining the “already common practices by the District Attorney and Athens Clarke County Police not to prosecute or arrest citizens; 19 other municipalities across Georgia have already passed similar ordinances.

The ordinance will help Athens, the home of the University of Georgia, stand apart in a state that has been slow to embrace cannabis reform.

After the vote by the committee last week, Raiden Washington, the University of Georgia Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter president said, that drug policy “that provides equitable access and harm reduction resources is a non-partisan issue.”

“The Drug War has affected all communities across identity and political lines, whether that’s due to losing loved ones to overdoses or incarceration. It’s time we stand together for our entire community’s betterment,” Washington said. “The tools of the masters have been used by those who are oppressed.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy noted that Georgia is “one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of marijuana, and one of only 13 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law.”

“The criminalization of drug possession fuels the US and Georgian mass criminalization system. GA has 183 jails in 159 counties. Georgia’’s total county jail population in 2019 was 45,340. There were 420,000 people on probation in the state,” Jeremy Sharp, SSDP’s South Eastern Regional Director, wrote in the blog post on Thursday. “There were 54,113 people under the jurisdiction of the GA Dept of Corrections in 34 state and private detention centers. The GA Department of Corrections had a staff of 9,169 employees and a budget of $1,205,012,739. 1 in 20 Georgians are on probation, parole, in Jail, or under some sort of supervision. The national average is 1 and 99. Private probation is an offender-funded system. Private companies with state or local contracts are allowed to charge individuals on probation with all kinds of extra fees and surcharges that far exceed their court fines. Failure to pay these fees can represent a violation of probation and risk re-entry into incarceration. Georgia has a long history of oppressive legal mechanisms used to disenfranchise.”

The lack of access to medicinal cannabis in the state has been particularly frustrating for advocates.

Lawmakers in Georgia legalized the treatment back in 2015 by passing the Haleigh’s Hope Act, which permitted qualifying patients to receive cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC. But seven years after the bill’s passage, those patients still are unable to legally access the oil.

A bill that sought to change that failed in the Georgia state senate this spring.

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West Virginia Advocates Collecting Signatures for Decriminalization Ballot Measures

A West Virginia cannabis advocacy group called Charleston Can’t Wait has recently been collecting signatures to put a decriminalization measure on the ballot this November in Fairmount and Charleston.

The organization is connected to West Virginia Can’t Wait, which is led by former 2020 governor candidate Stephen Smith. Described as “a movement to win a people’s government in the Mountain State,” it strives to support political candidates who represent the people of West Virginia and aren’t accepting donations from corporations or the fossil fuel industry.

Charleston Can’t Wait is on track to collect the required 2,000 signatures for its decriminalization effort by July 14. As of May 27, the organization’s Facebook page reported an update on the overwhelming support from local residents. “We’re a whole heap of signatures closer tonight! Why? Because nearly every single person we ask says YES,” the organization said on its social media.

If voted into law, those caught in possession of cannabis would be charged a fine similar to that of a speeding ticket. “So, that’s what the goal is, and essentially, the ordinance that we have would do. It’s commonly referred to as, ‘No fines, no time and no court costs,’” said West Virginia Can’t Wait Director Sarah Hutson.

According to the Times West Virginia, Charleston Can’t Wait is aiming to collect 3,000 signatures in Fairmount. Only 2,010 are required, which is 15% of the city’s 13,402 residents, but they currently have under 100 signatures. In Charleston however, only 1,919 valid signatures are required, and over 1,000 signatures have been collected so far.

“In Charleston’s Charter, you do not need to pre-file to do a ballot initiative, you just start collecting signatures and then turn them in at the end,” Hutson said. “Whereas, here in Fairmont, you have to actually start with a committee of five people who are going to be responsible for the petition and you have to have an affidavit signed by each of them, then the city provides the format of the signature collection.”

Fairmount was chosen as a focus location because the organization had previously been established there in 2020 with Smith’s run for governor. To Hutson though, it was a matter of local support. “We didn’t really choose Fairmont, Fairmont chose us.”

West Virginia passed a medical cannabis law in 2017, which was signed by Gov. Jim Justice. However, the state didn’t open up license registration until May 2021, which initially began with 1,400 applicants and quickly increased to 4,000 by November 2021. West Virginia welcomed the opening of its first dispensary, located in Morgantown, in November 2021.

Medical cannabis dispensary rollout has continued, albeit not at a rapid pace. According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, seven out of the 10 cultivators are operational now, but only 17 out of the state’s 100 dispensary allowances are currently open.

Johnny McFadden, co-founder of Mountaineer Integrated Care, explained that the state’s 17 dispensaries aren’t enough to serve the state’s many medical cannabis patients. “Unfortunately, they’re not spread out, especially the Eastern Panhandle.” said “You look at the map, there’s nothing, and that is a huge barrier to patient access right now.” To date, West Virginia’s Office of Medical Cannabis has received 10,031 medical cannabis patient applications.

McFadden added that the desire to hire local has caused a few delays. “You couldn’t possibly have legal cannabis experience as a potential employee, unless you’re breaking the law, which makes it tough to put it on a resume,” McFadden said.

Charleston Can’t Wait advocates are regularly hosting education and signature collecting events, which are happening nearly every weekend between now and July 14.

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Thailand Removes Weed From List of Banned Substances

Thailand removed cannabis from the nation’s list of banned drugs on Thursday, making the country the first Asian nation to decriminalize pot. Government officials warned, however, that the move does not legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.

Under Thailand’s new regulations, marijuana and hemp cultivation and commerce are no longer illegal. Restaurants and cafes will be permitted to sell foods and beverages infused with cannabis, but only if they contain no more than 0.2% THC. Products with higher concentrations of THC are permitted for medicinal purposes.

Boosting Economic Growth

Anutin Charnvirakul, the Thai health minister and deputy prime minister, told CNN before the policy reform was enacted that legalizing cannabis will help foster economic growth and development in Thailand. But he added that the non-medical use of high-THC cannabis is still not allowed under decriminalization.

“It’s a no,” Anutin said, referring to the legalization of recreational cannabis. “We still have regulations under the law that control the consumption, smoking or use of cannabis products in non-productive ways.”

Thailand is retaining strict penalties for the recreational use of cannabis. Under the country’s Public Health Act, smoking cannabis in public can be punished with a fine of about $800 and up to three months in jail.

“We [have always] emphasized using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” Anutin said. “There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating people to use cannabis in terms of recreation — or use it in a way that it could irritate others.”

The health minister also had a warning for tourists who may believe that Thailand’s new stance on cannabis presents an opportunity to simply enjoy weed. While cannabis tourism for medicinal purposes will be permitted, recreational use is still not allowed, particularly in public places.

“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes,” said Anutin. “If [tourists] come for medical treatment or come for health-related products then it’s not an issue but if you think that you want to come to Thailand just because you heard that cannabis or marijuana is legal … [or] come to Thailand to smoke joints freely, that’s wrong. Don’t come. We won’t welcome you if you just come to this country for that purpose.”

Leading the Way on Cannabis Reform in Asia

In 2018, Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize cannabis for medical use. Two years later, the Thai cabinet approved amendments to the country’s drug laws to allow for the production and sale of medical marijuana, including cannabis flower. Last month, the Thai government announced that the country would remove cannabis from its list of banned substances and permit the home cultivation of an unlimited number of plants for medical purposes. At the same time, Anutin said that the health and agricultural ministries would collaborate to distribute one million free cannabis plants for residents to grow at home for medicinal purposes.

“This will enable people and the government to generate more than 10 billion baht (nearly $300 million annually) in revenue from marijuana and hemp,” Anutin said after making the announcement. “Meanwhile, people can showcase their cannabis and hemp-related products and wisdom and sell their products nationwide.”

He added that cannabis decriminalization and initiatives such as the distribution of free plants will help fuel the growth and development of agriculture and commerce in Thailand.

“We expect the value of [the cannabis] industry to easily exceed $2 billion dollars,” he told CNN, highlighting recent incentives such as collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry to distribute 1 million free cannabis plants to households across the country. “Thailand, from what I was told, is one of the best places to grow cannabis plants.”

With Thailand’s new policy going into effect, the country planned to release about 3,000 prisoners incarcerated for marijuana or hemp offenses on Thursday. However, law enforcement agencies seem eager to continue the harsh prohibition of the past. Only last week, police in the eastern province of Chonburi arrested a 56-year-old woman for growing one potted cannabis plant, which plainclothes officers had noticed growing in her home through her bedroom window. Her husband later said that the woman has high blood pressure and diabetes so the couple was growing the plant to add to their food. The health minister said that the four officers involved in the case had been reprimanded and disciplined.

“They were given warnings and suspended. They did not obey the law we have just established,” Anutin said. “However, we need to [educate] ordinary people and the law enforcers and let them know how far they can go in terms of using cannabis content … within the legal framework. This is what we have been trying to do, to give as much information as we can to educate people.”

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Five Texas Cities to Vote on Decriminalization This Year

This could be a big year for Texas, as there are currently five different decriminalization measures on November ballots from five different cities. It appears that, even though progress is happening slowly, this will be a big year for decriminalization across the super-sized state. 

Last week, activists in Harker Heights with the progressive group Ground Game Texas announced that they have collected enough signatures for a decriminalization measure on their local ballot, making them the fifth city to do so in Texas thus far. All of these cities will be following in the footsteps of Austin, a city that has successfully passed decriminalization. 

In order to be on the ballot in Harker Heights, advocates needed signatures from more than 25% of registered voters, and they exceeded their goal.

“Following the success of Prop A in Austin and the recent securing of ballot initiatives in Killeen and San Marcos, Ground Game Texas is proud to give Harker Heights residents the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana,” Julie Oliver, the organization’s executive director, claimed, according to a press release. “Ground Game Texas continues to demonstrate that popular policies around issues like workers, wages, and weed can help expand and electrify the electorate in Texas when they’re put directly in front of voters.”

The goal with the Harker Heights Freedom Act is to ensure that “police officers shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses,” except in certain circumstances such as a violent felony or a felony-level narcotics case that has been “designated as a high priority investigation” by the police. In other words, the goal is to only focus on high-level drug trafficking, not regular folks using cannabis.

If this measure passes, it would also ensure that police can’t give out citations to folks who simply have resonated or otherwise used paraphernalia. This will keep the system clear of those who either have small amounts of cannabis or simply a used pipe. 

In order for this measure to become a reality, city officials will still need to formally authorize the signatures and ensure they are all valid before the measure makes it onto the ballot. This initiative is just one in a broader effort to enact cannabis policy reform one city at a time, since currently in Texas, there is no process to add this to the ballot statewide. 

In the past, Austin proved that this process can work when the city approved a ballot measure to decriminalize cannabis. It also banned no-knock warrants by police in general, all thanks to the work from Ground Game Texas. 

The group also works with Mano Amiga, a criminal justice reform group committed to freeing cannabis customers. They worked with them to make sure there were more than enough signatures to get decriminalization on the ballot in San Marcos as well, continuing the reform sweep across the state. 

Also, in May, Ground Game Texas reported that activists got enough signatures to put decriminalization on the ballot for Killeen too. Similarly, activists have collected enough signatures in Denton as well, and once they are verified, hope to also get that added to the ballot. Lastly, signature collectors have also collected enough signatures in Elgin. 

In each of these cities, local officials on city councils are also able to enact these proposals as municipal law instead of ballot measures, meaning legalization could spread even faster.

As Texas continues to take on decriminalization the slow way, one city at a time, hearts and minds are changing and the overall conversation of legalization is getting closer to become a reality nationwide. 

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B.C. Decriminalizes Drugs… But Why?

A federal exemption has allowed British Columbia (B.C.) to decriminalize drugs. Adults in British Columbia will be able to possess small amounts of substances. Things like opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA. Because drug prohibition is Ottawa’s responsibility, there had to be an exemption for British Columbia. B.C. is the first and only province to receive […]

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British Columbia Plans 3-Year Decriminalization Test

British Columbia will decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs for three years in an attempt to address the province’s crisis of overdose deaths. The Canadian federal government announced on Wednesday that it had approved a request from provincial officials to enact the plan, which will decriminalize possession of street drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis,” federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

In November, British Columbia officials requested an exemption from enforcing the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for a period of three years. Under the plan, personal possession of up to a cumulative total of 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA will not result in an arrest, citation, or confiscation of the drugs. The limited drug decriminalization plan, however, will not apply at airports, schools and to members of the Canadian military.

“This is not legalization,” Bennett told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. “We have not taken this decision lightly.”

Under the plan, possession of larger quantities of the drugs and the sale or trafficking will remain illegal. The limited decriminalization test program will begin on January 31, 2023, and continue until January 31, 2026.

British Columbia Overdose Deaths Soaring

British Columbia, which has been especially hard hit by the nationwide opioid crisis, declared a public health crisis in 2016 due to the spike in overdose deaths. The number of deaths has continued to climb since then, with a record 2,236 fatal overdoses reported last year in the province. According to provincial officials, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among people aged 19 to 39.

Public officials hope that the decriminalization test plan will help reduce the stigma surrounding drug use and addiction and make it easier for people with substance misuse disorders to seek treatment.

“Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” said British Columbia’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson, adding that the exemption will help the officials address substance abuse issues in the province.

In the request to the federal government, British Columbia officials wrote that criminalizing drug use disproportionately impacts marginalized communities and fails to treat substance use disorders as a health issue. Federal drug policies, the province wrote, are failing their goals and making drug overdoses more likely.

“Criminalization and stigma lead many to hide their use from family and friends and to avoid seeking treatment, thereby creating situations where the risk of drug poisoning death is elevated,” provincial officials wrote in the request for the exemption.

The 2.5-gram limit set by the federal government is smaller than the maximum of 4.5 grams requested by British Columbia officials. In the request for the exemption submitted to Health Canada, the province wrote that limits that are too low have been ineffective and “diminish progress” on the goals of drug decriminalization.

“The evidence that we have across the country and [from] law enforcement … has been that 85 percent of the drugs that have been confiscated have been under 2 grams,” Bennett said to explain the lower limit, “and so we are moving with that.”

Public health advocates, local and provincial government officials and even some chiefs of police have asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to decriminalize possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use. In 2018, Canada legalized cannabis nationwide, a drug policy change that was supported by Trudeau.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is among the public officials who have championed efforts to decriminalize drugs. Each Monday, he gets an email reporting the number of drug overdoses and resulting deaths in the city. One week, the death of one of his family members was included in the report’s grim statistics. On Monday, the mayor learned that the decriminalization plan for British Columbia had been approved.

“I can tell you I felt like crying, and I still feel like crying,” he told the Washington Post. “This is a big, big thing.”

“It marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs,” Stewart added.

Bennet said that British Columbia’s plan to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs will be monitored as it progresses. If it succeeds, it could be a model for drug policy change nationwide.

“This time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada,” she said. “Real-time adjustments will be made upon receiving analysis of any data that indicates a need to change.”

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