Germany’s Health Minister Indicates That Legalization Will Proceed
The German health minister has indicated that adult-use legalization will move forward in the European country, reports Marijuana Moment. Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Tuesday that he has received “very good feedback” from the European Commission and expects his bill to be formally presented “in the next few weeks.”
“We’ll soon present a proposal that works, that is, that conforms to European law,” Minister Lauterbach said. Throughout the lobbying process, the minister has indicated that his efforts aim to improve public health in Germany via regulating adult-use cannabis. In 2022, the Federal Cabinet of Germany adopted a preliminary outline for legalization legislation. Still, the government required EU approval to ensure that adopting the change wouldn’t violate their international duties.
Under the government’s soon-to-be-revised proposal, which is currently only a 12-page framework and not actual legislation, adults 18 and older would be permitted to purchase and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis from establishments with federal licenses, potentially including pharmacies. Moreover, they may raise up to three plants for their own use.
Legalization the Hot Topic at SXSW 2023
Global Cannabis Consultant and Strategic Advisor Andrew DeAngelo, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) gathered onstage to discuss federal cannabis legalization at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin. The panel, called “Which Political Party Will Legalize Weed?” gave the two representatives an opportunity for a lively discussion on the end of federal cannabis prohibition. Moderator DeAngelo pushed the politicians on the lack of progress in the Capitol, according to Green Market Report.
Blumenauer is said to be “more optimistic” than last year, referencing President Biden’s pardoning of cannabis prisoners and the fact that Biden is also keeping the possibility of descheduling on the table after initiating a review of cannabis classification. However, he was said to be more critical of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) inability to get a voting measure passed by the House, quoted as saying their desire for perfect legislation is behind the continued stalling but believes the two had “learned their lesson” and are more open to compromise.
Mace was reportedly less optimistic, saying if any change is going to happen, it needs to be done before June, as after that, “it’ll be about the presidential election,” she said. The South Carolina Republican also noted that President Biden could use it to his advantage to boost his reelection hopes.
Snoop Extends Death Row Cannabis Product Offering
Following the sold-out first product drop of its debut offerings LA Runtz, Trop Cherry, Strawberry Garry and SFV OG, Death Row Cannabis has launched two new additions, True OG and Strawberry Gelato (Apple Fritter x Lemon Cherry Gelato hybrid), on March 10. Plus, fans of LA Runtz can be reassured that the popular strain also be returning. Like the first fire drop, these new cultivars were carefully by Death Row Cannabis’ Head of Operations, AK, a longtime West Coast legacy cultivator.
“We’re very excited to introduce California consumers to Death Row Cannabis’s newest heavy hitter, Strawberry Gelato,” Travis “Shaggy” Marshall, head of product, said. “It has a loud, unique strawberry nose that’s tart and sharp on the front but sweet and creamy on the back. To me, it’s what I’d imagine a strawberry shortcake-flavored milkshake would taste like. Not only is it uniquely delicious, but testing at over 35% it also packs a punch for heavier smokers like me.”
No Increase in Traffic-Related Hospitalizations Following Cannabis Legalization
The introduction of adult-use marijuana sales in Canada isn’t linked to a rise in hospitalizations for traffic-related injuries, according to data published in the journal Addiction, reports NORML. Researchers compared the national rates of hospital admissions and emergency room visits in the years before and immediately after legalization.
“Overall, there’s no clear evidence that RCL [recreational cannabis laws] had any effect on rates of ED visits and hospitalizations for either motor vehicle or pedestrian/cyclist injury across Canada,” the authors concluded.
The results align with an earlier Canadian study from 2021, which “found no evidence that the implementation of the Cannabis Act was associated with significant changes in post-legalization patterns of all drivers’ traffic-injury ED visits or, more specifically, youth-driver traffic-injury ED presentations.”
The effort to reform the nation’s cannabis laws made new strides in 2022 with the passage of recreational marijuana legalization ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri in the November midterm elections. Success was not universal, however, as similar propositions on the ballot in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota failed to gain the approval of voters.
Looking at 2023, new milestones have already been achieved this year, with Connecticut launching regulated retail sales of adult-use cannabis on January 10, a move that was preceded by the expungement of nearly 43,000 marijuana-related convictions in the state at the dawn of the new year. And as we head further into 2023, several states across the country are likely to make new ground in the struggle to end cannabis prohibition.
A New Focus
Brian Vicente, a founding partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm, Vicente Sederberg LLP, says that despite spending millions of dollars on lobbying federal lawmakers in 2022, the efforts of cannabis activists were unable to result in the passage of any meaningful marijuana policy reform at the next level. With the change in the political climate in Washington, D.C., efforts this year will take a new focus.
“With Republicans taking over the House, any federal reform in the two years seems exceedingly unlikely. Fortunately, movement leaders have begun coalescing around a strategy to cut back on federal lobbying and instead push resources toward state-level reform,” Vicente said in an email. “These efforts are aiming to flip as many as 10 states to adult-use in just three years, which would not only open new markets for consumers, but also create intense pressure on Congress to pass legislation aligning federal law with the thirty-odd states where cannabis is legal for adults.”
As the new year begins, more than a half-dozen states are likely to consider legislation to reform their marijuana laws, with most activity centering in the South and Midwest regions. Outside those broad areas, Hawaii could be poised to make progress on the issue with a new governor at the helm, Democrat Josh Green, who included support for expanding the state’s current legalization of medical marijuana to include adult-use cannabis as part of his campaign for office last year. On January 11, Democratic state Rep. Jeanné Kapela announced her plans to introduce a recreational marijuana legalization bill, saying, “this year, we stand on the precipice of history.”
“We now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands,” Kapela said in a statement quoted by Marijuana Moment. “Legalizing cannabis is not just a matter of money, it is a matter of moralities.”
Snowden Stieber, a regulatory analyst with cannabis compliance technology firm Simplifya, notes that the bill has some hurdles to clear before it can get to Green’s desk, however.
“The Hawaii Senate President, Ron Kouchi, has already come out with statements expressing skepticism on any fast movement for cannabis legalization, and many elected officials are still waiting on the upcoming report from the Dual Use of Cannabis Task Force to guide their votes in the new year,” he said in an email. “While it is of course possible that the task force recommends full legalization, prior experience in other states would suggest that legislators will take their time with any report’s findings and that a sudden move toward legalization is unlikely.”
Vicente believes three states in the South—Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina—could pass legislation to legalize medical marijuana this year. With the nearby states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida already demonstrating that a regulated marijuana industry can provide jobs and tax revenue, other states in the region are likely not far behind.
South Carolina, where Rep. Nancy Mace has become one of the few Republicans in Congress advocating for cannabis policy reform at the national level, is one of the few remaining states that still hasn’t legalized marijuana in any form. But reform is popular with the state’s residents, with a Winthrop University poll conducted before last year’s midterm elections showing that more than 75% of voters support the legalization of medical cannabis. This year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pre-filed separate medical marijuana legalization bills for the 2023 legislative session. But Simplifya regulatory analyst Justin Bedford isn’t optimistic about the fate of the legislation.
“Though these may seem like promising developments, history suggests that South Carolina still has a long way to go before any form of commercial legalization occurs,” he wrote in an email. “All 14 cannabis-related bills that were deliberated during the 2022 legislative session failed to pass, with most dying in the early stages of development. Nothing has changed in the state’s sociopolitical environment that would suggest anything will be different this year.”
In North Carolina, the state Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in June 2022, but the House of Representatives declined to take up the legislation. Brian Fitzpatrick, chairman and CEO of cannabis software developer Qredible Inc, notes that public support for medical marijuana legalization is strong, and if a bill makes it to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, he’s likely to sign it into law.
“A poll carried out in January 2021 by Elon University found that 73% of North Carolinians supported medical cannabis,” Fitzpatrick said in an email. “A subsequent poll in May 2022 showed that support had increased to 82% across bipartisan lines. I believe that the governor is aware of this and will fully support the legalization of a medical cannabis bill in 2023.”
In Kentucky, where an executive order from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear decriminalizing medical marijuana went into effect on New Year’s Day, a bill to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis was unveiled by lawmakers on January 7. The measure, Senate Bill 51, would legalize and regulate the “possession, cultivation, production, processing, packaging, transportation, testing, marketing, sale and use of medical cannabis and adult-use cannabis,” according to a report from the online resource Business Insurance. With Kentucky being one of the nation’s largest hemp producers, industry insiders believe the legislation has a good chance of success this year.
The Midwest and Surrounding States
Several states in the Midwest could make advancements in cannabis policy reform in 2023. In Ohio, voters could get the chance to vote on a cannabis legalization measure championed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which was kept off the ballot for the November midterm election after legal challenges. Last week, Secretary of State Frank LaRose reintroduced the proposal, which would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and levy a 10% tax on commercial cannabis products. If the state legislature doesn’t approve the measure within four months, the coalition can collect signatures to put the proposal before the votes in the fall. Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director of cannabis commerce platform Jushi, believes legalization efforts have an even chance of success in Ohio this year.
“It is very unlikely that the legislature acts on the initiated stature in the next four months, but reasonably likely that the Coalition will be able to gather the additional required signatures for the effort to make the ballot,” he says. “While polling would suggest a ballot initiative legalizing cannabis would pass, the Senate president and other legislators disagree. And, even if voters approved an initiated statute, the legislature would have unrestricted authority to repeal or materially revise legalization.”
Like Hawaii, Pennsylvania has a new governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro, who has expressed support for legalizing recreational marijuana. The issue has been stymied in years past by Republican lawmakers, but a new Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives may help the chances at success.
“While we’ve heard some interest from both sides of the aisle in previous years, conversations about legalization seem to be happening among a much larger group of legislators with increased frequency and specificity,” Woloveck says. “It also sounds like many legislators, including several previously unwilling to engage in any cannabis-related discussions, now acknowledge something has to be done about the illicit market and to stop revenue from flowing to neighboring states where people can buy legal, regulated cannabis for non-medical purposes.”
After legalizing low-potency THC edibles last year, cannabis policy experts say Minnesota could be the most likely state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2023. The state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) is now in charge of both the legislative and executive branches of government, and party leaders including Gov. Tim Walz have said that cannabis legalization will be a priority for 2023. Last Wednesday, a bill sponsored by DFL lawmakers Rep. Zack Stephenson and Sen. Lindsey Port received the approval of a legislative committee, with more hearings on the measure to come.
In Oklahoma, where 10% of adults hold cards to participate in the state’s liberal medical marijuana program, voters will decide on a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in March. If passed, State Question 820 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. The measure also contains provisions to expunge past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. Proponents of the measure had hoped it would appear before voters during the November midterm elections, but a delay in certifying petition signatures and legal challenges from opponents prevented its inclusion on the ballot.
Lawmakers in other states including Georgia and Delaware could also take up measures to legalize marijuana this year, although the prospects for success in 2023 seem unlikely given the political climate in those states. But progress in cannabis policy will probably continue if the trend seen over the last decade goes on.
“Since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis, we’ve seen an average of two states per year pass adult-use laws,” Vicente notes. “I predict that 2023 will continue this trend with both Oklahoma and Minnesota looking very likely to legalize.”
Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado on Thursday introduced legislation designed to prepare the country for national cannabis legalization, laying the groundwork for drafting regulations to govern legal marijuana at the federal level. The bill, the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment (PREPARE) Act, directs the U.S. attorney general to develop a regulatory framework to be in place for the eventual federal legalization of cannabis by Congress, which is likely inevitable as the popularity of cannabis policy reform continues to grow.
Hickenlooper was the governor of Colorado when voters legalized recreational marijuana with the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012. A month later, he convened the Amendment 64 Task Force to provide recommendations for the establishment of regulations that set the stage for Colorado’s successful legal cannabis industry. Last month, 10 years after Amendment 64 was approved by Colorado voters, Hickenlooper revealed that he planned to introduce the bipartisan PREPARE Act to create a similar commission at the federal level.
“A decade after Colorado pioneered marijuana legalization, Americans overwhelmingly support the same at the federal level,” Hickenlooper said in a statement from the senator’s office. “This bipartisan, bicameral framework, based on Colorado’s Amendment 64 Task Force, will replicate our success nationally.”
Companion Measure To House Bill
Hickenlooper’s legislation is a companion bill to a House version of the measure sponsored by Representative Dave Joyce, a Republican from Ohio.
“I’m thrilled that the PREPARE Act has been introduced in the Senate, making it not only further bipartisan, but bicameral, and bringing it one step closer to becoming law,” said Joyce. “This legislation gives lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform, safely and effectively regulate it, and remedy the harms caused by the failed war on cannabis.”
“With those answers, Congress can develop a much-needed federal regulatory framework that not only respects the unique needs, rights, and laws of each state, but also ensures a responsible end to prohibition and a safer future for our communities,” he continued. “I was proud to lead the introduction of this commonsense bill in the House and thank Senator Hickenlooper for advancing it in the Senate.”
The bill directs the attorney general to establish a “Commission on the Federal Regulation of Cannabis” to advise on the development of a regulatory framework, which would be modeled after existing federal and state regulations for alcohol. The 24-member commission would consist of representatives from relevant government agencies and offices, individuals nominated by Senate and House leadership and individuals nominated by other government agencies.
The legislation requires the plan developed by the commission to account for the unique needs, rights and laws of each state, and directs the commission to present the plan to Congress within one year of enactment of the PREPARE Act. The commission would not have rulemaking authority. The panel’s only role would be to develop proposals and make policy recommendations.
The regulatory framework developed by the commission would be required to include “ways to remedy the disproportionate impact cannabis prohibition has had on minority, low-income and veteran communities; encourage research and training access by medical professionals; encourage economic opportunity for individuals and small businesses; and develop protections for the hemp industry,” according to Hickenlooper’s office.
Growing Support For Cannabis Policy Reform
Hickenlooper’s bill highlights the growing support for cannabis policy reform in the United States. In October, President Joseph Biden announced he would pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession, and last week a new Pew Research poll found that 90% of Americans favor legalizing cannabis in some form.
“President Biden recently—and correctly—declared the federal government’s categorical criminal ban on cannabis a failure and urged executive leadership at the state and federal levels to take concrete steps to bring about rational reform,” Shane Pennington, an attorney with the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, wrote in an email to High Times. “The PREPARE Act seeks to ready the federal government for the far broader reforms, which are now imminent. Undoing decades of inane cannabis laws and regulations will require a coordinated and concerted effort at every level of government and among countless federal agencies. The PREPARE Act would lay the necessary groundwork to ensure that the federal government carries out legalization in a fair, efficient, and effective manner.”
Khadijah Tribble, the CEO of the trade group the US Cannabis Council, said the “Biden administration’s review of cannabis scheduling, midterm ballot measures, and polling on cannabis decriminalization all signal that the end of cannabis prohibition isn’t just inevitable — it’s imminent. The PREPARE Act would help ensure that the federal government has a plan in place to ensure a smooth and responsible transition to legal cannabis.”
“We commend Sen. Hickenlooper and his counterparts in the House for the forethought and attention reflected in the PREPARE Act’s robust legislative framework, which wisely aims to also address the unjust consequences of the War on Drugs by developing recommendations on social equity and policies that create economic opportunity for minority entrepreneurs who want to operate in the legal marketplace,” she continued. “The US Cannabis Council will continue to work with Congress to help the nation get ready for the day legal cannabis is the law of the land.”
The PREPARE ACT is supported by a range of stakeholders and cannabis policy reform advocates including the US Cannabis Council (USCC), the City of Denver, the National Hispanic Cannabis Council, Black Cannabis Equity Initiative, VS Strategies, Vicente Sederberg LLP, Metric, National Cannabis Industry Association, and Better Organizing to Win Legalization.
It’s unfair and inaccurate to say that nobody likes President Joe Biden. After all, his disapproval rating is “only” 55.6% according to the most recent FiveThirtyEight analysis—but that’s cold comfort. Along with the increasing number of Democrats so disenchanted that they think Biden should only serve one term, it’s undeniable that the forty-sixth president has also deeply disappointed and angered drug-policy reform advocates, as well as most anyone connected with the marijuana legalization movement and/or the cannabis industry.
All this was true before last Thursday, when WNBA star and erstwhile Russian league player Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison, her punishment for the cannabis oil cartridges discovered in her luggage at a Moscow airport during a February search. In a statement, the president condemned the situation as “unacceptable” and demanded Griner’s release—and then was greeted by an avalanche of blowback from cannabis advocates.
But is it fair to hate on Joe Biden for not breaking the Constitution (and opening himself up to hostile Supreme Court challenges) for not legalizing cannabis, something law experts recently told Cannabis Now he almost certainly cannot do?
Maybe not, but at the same time, observers contacted for this article struggled to identify a coherent White House drug-policy reform policy—and could name several setbacks and disappointments that preceded any Griner-related hypocrisy.
Less Talk, More Action Needed
In July, six progressive US senators asked the president to start moving on granting promised clemency to nonviolent cannabis prisoners—and by the end of the month, all the White House could muster was some version of, “We’re working on it.”
“We’re not getting what we need at the federal level, at all,” said Justin Dye, chairman and CEO of dispensary chain Schwazze, which has locations in Colorado and New Mexico. “I think the Biden Administration and the Democrats had a real opportunity over the last two years to get something done and win over a number of voters in favor of cannabis—and they didn’t do that.”
And when the White House has done something on weed, it’s usually bad. Lobbyists and members of activist circles in Washington D.C. pointed out some unforced errors, such as purging the White House of low-level staffers who committed the crime of honest and copped to smoking cannabis on questionnaires during his first few months in office—and then following that up with a 2022 directive discouraging employees from even owning stock in publicly-traded cannabis companies. All that makes some wonder whether Biden even truly wants to decriminalize, and whether that wasn’t just a campaign line cooked up to shut up progressives whose preferred candidates endorsed legalization.
“Does he really believe in decriminalization? Nobody really knows,” said one national-level observer, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely.
A Familiar Stalemate
At the same time, expecting Biden to solve the legalization question is to fail Civics 101. After all, making and changing laws (that would include the Controlled Substances Act) is Congress’s job.
“We’re waiting for Congress to put legislation on his desk—after all, that’s the way things are supposed to work,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. NCIA advocates for smaller businesses, and has been waiting in vain for the Senate to pass a version of the banking reform bills that have repeatedly passed the House of Representatives.
“I couldn’t imagine a world in which that isn’t signed into law,” said Smith, who added that in most worlds—including ours—even modest cannabis policy reform would be an enormous nonpartisan win.
For that familiar stalemate, Smith and others blame the intractable United States Senate more than the White House. And anyone keeping score would note that compared to President Donald Trump, whose first attorney general, former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, put the industry on red alert with vague threats to prosecute state-legal businesses, Biden’s approach has at least been lawful neutral.
He hasn’t interfered with state-legal businesses; he hasn’t sent federal law enforcement after anyone obeying state law; and legalization continues to spread across the United States without any federal interference.
At the same time, Biden has indeed thus far failed to fulfill a campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana and failed to free federal cannabis prisoners (though how many federal cannabis prisoners there are is unclear; as WeedWeek found, it’s probably way less than 40,000; most people in trouble for marijuana in America are punished under state law, which federal decriminalization would likely not affect.)
Maybe pinning hopes on Biden to legalize cannabis by fiat was naive and wishful thinking. Other observers have said that when confronted with a full plate of COVID-19, an infrastructure bill, climate change, and military conflicts in Afghanistan and now Ukraine, Biden simply does not have the time, energy or ability to make strides on cannabis.
“Criminal justice reform is not a place where the president is going to try to spend political capital,” as Andrew Sidman, a political science professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told PolitiFact.
Joe Biden would not be the first president to fail to deliver on a campaign promise. Guantanamo Bay is still open and there isn’t a wall separating Mexico from the United States, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Still, if Joe Biden does have a clear idea what he wants to do on the extremely popular issue of federal cannabis legalization, he is doing a tremendous job keeping it a state secret—and, unless it’s “do nothing,” he’s also not getting it done.
With Congress set to break for its traditional August recess––and with this year’s midterm elections drawing nearer––Democrats in the Senate finally appear ready to introduce a bill that would end the federal prohibition on pot.
The Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism has scheduled a hearing for next week that is titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”
The chair of the subcommittee, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), has taken a leading role in crafting the Senate’s cannabis reform legislation.
The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Bloomberg had reported previously that Senate Democrats intended to introduce the bill this week.
Whenever the legislation drops, it will represent long-awaited action from a Democratic caucus that has moved methodically on cannabis reform––despite repeated pledges from party leaders that it will get done.
At the beginning of April, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed their own pot legalization package: the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.
Senate Democrats said they would move forward with their own cannabis reform bill that has been overseen by Booker, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
After previously saying that the Senate would release its own version by the end of April, Schumer said that the bill would likely be introduced closer to the Congressional recess in August.
And after recent suggestions that Senate Democrats might be looking to offer up a more modest reform package, it now appears that they will seek to match the House and end the federal prohibition as well.
Politico reported last month that Schumer “doesn’t have the votes to pass a sweeping marijuana decriminalization bill — despite repeatedly touting his support for ending federal prohibition,” and that “realization is leading Senate Democrats to look for a compromise on weed.”
But Bloomberg reported last week that Democrats will indeed introduce the bill that Booker, Wyden and Schumer have been working on: the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which will also remove pot from the Controlled Substances Act, although it would also give states discretion to establish their own cannabis laws.
Bloomberg noted that “the legislation faces long odds in the evenly divided chamber,” with 60 votes necessary for passage.
The bill faces significant opposition from Republicans in the chamber, and even some Democratic members.
Earlier this week, Biden reiterated his belief that no one “should be in prison for the use of marijuana,” and said that he is working with Congress on a bill to fulfill his promise to release inmates serving time for pot-related offenses.
It is unclear whether he supports either the House’s MORE Act or the Senate’s Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.
Despite the slow-motion progress of the bill in the Senate, Schumer has been unequivocal in his support for sweeping cannabis reform.
“We will move forward,” Schumer told Politico last year. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”
“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, ‘Well what changed?’ Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” he added. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”
One of the most pressing current issues for cannabis advocates across the country is how U.S. senators, including GOP party members, plan to vote on multiple pieces of federal legislation to end the prohibition of cannabis. Ten or more GOP senators, as well as every Democrat vote, would be needed to pass.
Shortly after the advancement of the MORE (Marijuana Reinvestment and Expungement) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, a journalist from CNS News confronted several senators at the Capitol on April 5 and asked them if they themselves consume cannabis. The senators disagreed on whether or not cannabis should be legalized and left up to states to decide—almost entirely on party lines.
CNS News asked Senator Ted Cruz, “The House voted last week to legalize cannabis. Do you use cannabis, and if not, why not?”
“I don’t because it’s illegal and because it’s harmful to you, Senator Cruz replied. “It’s not healthy.” Senator Cruz has flip-flopped back and forth on the topic of cannabis over the past several years.
Senator Cruz’s statement was followed up by other GOP senators, including Senators James Lankford and Rick Scott. When also asked if he consumes cannabis, Senator Lankford said, “Do I use it? No, I absolutely do not.”
Lankford added that consumers need to follow the science. “I understand the House is going to try and skip the science and say we’re not going to look into that because people use it; we’re just going to allow it,” said Lankford. “But increasing the use of cannabis doesn’t make our streets safer, doesn’t make our workplaces safer; it doesn’t make our families stronger.”
Senator Rick Scott said, “Okay, I don’t support that. I’ve had family members who have had a lot of drug issues, and so I’m not going to do it.”
One Democrat was also interviewed. Senator Elizabeth Warren was also asked if she smokes cannabis by a CNS News correspondent, and alluded that you don’t have to consume it to understand that cannabis should be legalized. “I don’t use it, but I believe it should be lawful,” she said. “We need to regularize our banking laws and our tax laws around a business that will bring in billions of dollars for users and take a lot of risk out of a system right now that is legal in some places, but illegal at the federal level, and it makes no sense.”
April 1, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and passed the MORE Act, or H.R. 3617, in a floor vote. It’s the second time the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill as the historic piece of legislation makes its way to the Senate.
The MORE Act was approved on a mostly party-line 220-204 vote. A previous version of the bill was approved in December 2020—also on a mostly party-line vote—and was the first comprehensive cannabis policy reform legislation to receive a floor vote or be approved by either chamber of Congress.
“Specifically, it removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana,” the bill summary reads.
The MORE Act faces what some call an uphill battle, as it would need GOP support to approve the bill and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
We’ve done it — weed is finally legal! Or is it? As legalization is spreading across the globe, current marijuana charges are now under review, making cannabis consumers hopeful for real change. Long are the days when you would get arrested for smoking a joint. But depending on where you live, you could get a […]
The psychedelics boom is underway, that’s for sure, and its moving full steam ahead. Perhaps pushed on by the success of the cannabis industry, which has been lighting the way, psychedelics have much more quickly come into the spotlight and gained acceptance. While they are still mainly federally illegal, recent breakthrough therapy designations given by the FDA indicate that at least one government body is pushing for legal psychedelics.
The FDA might not have explicitly stated it, but its breakthrough therapy designations given to companies studying psilocybin and MDMA make a pretty big statement, and it seems the FDA wants legal psychedelic medications.We cover everything important in the growing field of psychedelics, so subscribe to The Cannadelics Newsletter for more stories like this, and to stay on top of the big news items coming out of the industry.
What is a breakthrough therapy?
The FDA – Food & Drug Administration, is the US federal agency that governs and regulates all medicines that can be marketed and sold in the US. The FDA sits under the Department of Health and Human Services, and is responsible for more than drugs, also regulating the food industry, tobacco products, dietary supplements, over-the-counter medications, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, vaccines, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting products, animal food, veterinary products, and cosmetics.
In order to get a medication approved, a compound must go through different rounds of testing through clinical trials. After it has passed this part, a company must submit a new drug application to the FDA, and then the FDA decides whether the medicine should be approved or not. The FDA is the sole body to do this, so if it does not approve, a medication cannot legally be sold.
When a drug is in the testing phase, the company that created it and is having it go through trials, can submit it to the FDA for a ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation. This goes for whether the drug is specifically illegal according to the Controlled Substances list, or not. The term ‘breakthrough therapy’ is defined this way by the FDA, as a:
“…drug that treats a serious or life-threatening condition and preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement on a clinically significant endpoint(s) over available therapies.”
What is this designation meant to do? According to the FDA, the “Breakthrough therapy designation is intended to expedite the development and review of drugs for serious or life-threatening conditions.” Let’s say a new drug is going through testing that could be used in place of chemotherapy, and which shows promise as a better option in preliminary testing for treating cancer. Then the company that made the drug can apply for a ‘breakthrough therapy’ designation to quicken its product to market, with the hope that this could in turn save lives.
So the point of it is essentially to speed things up. If the FDA gives this designation, it wants to get the drug through trials, and get it on pharmacy shelves. This, of course, becomes all the more interesting when the drugs in question are Schedule I drugs, deemed by the federal government to be dangerous, and with no medical value. Having said that, we all know the government can get it wrong, as it also has cannabis in Schedule I.
How does the breakthrough therapy designation apply to psychedelics?
The FDA has now officially given out three breakthrough therapy designations to three different companies studying either psilocybin or MDMA. All of which has occurred within the last few years. Which companies got it? And what are they studying?
One company to get such a designation is Compass Pathways which received the designation in 2018 for research into psilocybin for use with treatment resistant major depression. The following year, the company Usona Institute also applied for, and received, this designation for its research into psilocybin for treatment resistant depression.
It doesn’t stop at psilocybin though. In fact, before Compass or Usona got their designations, a 2017 breakthrough therapy title was given to the organization MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) for its research into MDMA for PTSD. And in this case, the FDA went a step further than simply giving it the title to speed things along.
When it came time for MAPS’ phase III trials, they were designed with help by the FDA. The two organizations came up with a ‘Special Protocol Assessment’ to ensure that trial outcomes would be in line with regulation. So not only has the FDA basically said it’s cool with these drugs being studied for use as medications, but it actually helped one of the companies to make sure that should the study results be positive, that there will be no issue with them breaking regulation. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems to outwardly imply that the FDA wants the drugs approved.
Are all psychedelics illegal?
The recent moves by the FDA to give breakthrough therapy designations to psilocybin and MDMA, is just another part of a general trajectory when it comes to psychedelics. Back in 2019, the FDA very quietly (as in, under cover of night quietly) legalized a form of ketamine for use with treatment-resistant depression, called esketamine. This is odd when you consider just how much of a debate exists with legalizing cannabis, or when it comes to the legalization of pretty much any drug. Why was this done without discussion, or the public being aware at all?
The US government isn’t big on explaining its moves, but it seems the most probable reason for this change, was related to the quickly expanding gray market ketamine industry which relies on off-label prescribing. As ketamine is Schedule III, this is possible within general regulation, but makes for a market that is untaxed by the federal government, at least beyond standard taxing. Think about how many taxes are applied to the cannabis industry. It would be silly to think a psychedelics industry wouldn’t have the same, so ketamine proposes an issue to the US government.
If this burgeoning market was the reason for the esketamine legalization, the government failed on a couple levels. For one, it requires a regular antidepressant to be taken as well, and that defeats the purpose of using esketamine for treatment, while also making it more likely to have drug interactions. And second, it was only cleared for treatment resistant depression despite the large amount of evidence for it to be used for pain. This is odd considering the current opioid epidemic, and the ability for ketamine to not only deal with pain issues, but also possibly with the addictions that have grown around opioids. In fact, the US government has made no mention of using esketamine in this way at all, while 75,000+ people die a year from opioid overdoses.
Apart from esketamine, there’s another psychedelic that has been legal for quite some time: DXM – dextromethorphan. DXM is a dissociative psychedelic which is in the morphinan class, and not only has it been legal since 1958, but despite its known abuse, it’s been an over-the-counter drug the whole time. And one that can be accessed by anyone of any age. DXM can be found in tons of cold medicine products, and the US government has actually turned down initiatives to make it a prescription medication, though some states like California and Oregon have made their own regulation to stop the sale of DXM to minors.
State’s rights and psychedelics
Everything I just went through relates to federal guidelines, but there’s a caveat here, and it’s the same reason we have legal cannabis in 18 states: whatever isn’t covered explicitly by the constitution, falls under ‘states’ rights’, which are also ‘personal rights’. Because of this, psychedelics are not illegal everywhere.
Several locations throughout the US have instituted decriminalization measures, including: Denver, Colorado; Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Arcata in California; Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Detroit, Michigan; Washington, DC; Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, and Easthampton in Massachusetts; and Seattle, Washington.
Not only that, but as of the 2020 elections, the entire state of Oregon decriminalized psychedelics, while legalizing them for medical use. Three more states are looking to up the ante with full state recreational legalization policies: California, Michigan, and Washington. Though they propose different measures in their respective bills, in all cases legalizations would be made for the recreational use of at least some psychedelics, generally in the form of entheogenic plants (plants with psychedelic compounds).
Right now psychedelics are on the cusp of a major growth spurt, aided in part by breakthrough therapy designations from the FDA, the momentum of the cannabis industry, and the lightening mood of the population toward these two drug classes. I tend to think, when there’s this much of a rally, it can be expected that change is coming. So even if the three current states don’t get their bills through this time, something will pass soon enough. The one thing for sure is, psychedelics are coming.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.
Amazon said this week that it supports a Republican congresswoman’s proposal to end the prohibition of marijuana on the federal level, the company’s latest embrace of legalization.
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Amazon said it was “pleased to endorse” a bill introduced by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC).
“Like so many in this country, we believe it’s time to reform the nation’s cannabis policy and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort,” the company said.
Mace introduced the legislation, called the “States Reform Act,” in November, saying at the time that “Washington needs to provide a framework which allows states to make their own decisions on cannabis moving forward.”
The bill would remove cannabis from Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, a law that has kept weed illegal on the federal level and has made some states hesitant to pursue their own cannabis laws.
“Today, only three states lack some form of legal cannabis,” Mace said in her November announcement. “My home state of South Carolina permits CBD, Florida allows medical marijuana, California and others have full recreational use, for example. Every state is different. Cannabis reform at the federal level must take all of this into account. And it’s past time federal law codifies this reality.”
Mace said that her bill would enshrine protections for veterans who have used cannabis to treat their PTSD, and would be respectful of each state’s own unique laws.
“This is why I’m introducing the States Reform Act, a bill which seeks to remove cannabis from Schedule I in a manner consistent with the rights of states to determine what level of cannabis reform each state already has, or not,” she continued in her announcement. “This bill supports veterans, law enforcement, farmers, businesses, those with serious illnesses, and it is good for criminal justice reform. Furthermore, a super-majority of Americans support an end to cannabis prohibition, which is why only three states in the country have no cannabis reform at all. The States Reform Act takes special care to keep Americans and their children safe while ending federal interference with state cannabis laws. Washington needs to provide a framework which allows states to make their own decisions on cannabis moving forward. This bill does that.”
On Tuesday, Mace touted the bill’s endorsement from Amazon, saying the company “is making a common-sense decision that many other businesses, large and small, agree with.”
“Amazon employs nearly a million U.S. workers, and this opens up their hiring pool by about 10 percent. Cannabis reform is supported by over three quarters of the American public, and the States Reform Act is something both sides of the aisle can get behind,” Mace said.
For Amazon, America’s second largest employer, the endorsement is yet another sign of the company’s weed-friendly stance.
Last June, Amazon said that it would “no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program for any positions not regulated by the Department of Transportation, and will instead treat it the same as alcohol use.” In September, the company went further, saying it was reinstating “employment eligibility for former employees and applicants who were previously terminated or deferred during random or pre-employment marijuana screenings.”
The are also emerging signs that the company is set to ramp up its pro-marijuana lobbying efforts, with Politico reporting in July that cannabis groups “are pinning their hopes on Amazon using its experienced lobbying team and deep pockets to support their efforts, believing it could help them launch ad campaigns and persuade lawmakers opposed to legalization—especially those who represent states where cannabis is legal—to change their minds.”
Congressional Democrats are targeting next year for a major overhaul of the nation’s cannabis laws.
In a memo sent last week, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, urged colleagues to build on the successes of 2021 hailed as a “a transformative year for cannabis reform, in which five new states—New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Connecticut—legalized adult-use cannabis, and Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical cannabis.”
“A wealth of policy ideas targeted at ending cannabis prohibition on the federal level have also been introduced on Capitol Hill,” they wrote in the memo, sent on Thursday of last week. “This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people.”
Blumenauer and Lee outlined a series of policy priorities for the party to tackle in 2022, including a bill to legalize pot on the federal level.
Described by Blumenauer and Lee as “the most comprehensive cannabis reform bill to be developed and considered by Congress to date,” the MORE Act would “decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, to provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, to provide for expungement of certain cannabis offenses and for other purposes.”
The bill, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), was most recently reported out of the Judiciary Committee in September, and the memo said that Blumenauer and Lee “are vigorously working to see that it gets a vote in the House soon.”
Blumenauer and Lee also highlighted the SAFE Banking Act, which would eliminate legal barriers that prevent the cannabis industry from accessing certain financial services.
The bill has passed the House of Representatives several times, most recently in April, and the memo from Blumenauer and Lee described it as a way to address “the pressing public safety need caused as result of cannabis businesses being forced to operate in all cash, would allow state and tribal legal cannabis-related businesses to access financial services.”
They noted that “polls show bipartisan public support for rationalizing drug policy is at an all-time high, with Gallup now reporting 68 percent of Americans, and a majority of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana.”
Democrats will be under considerable pressure to get something meaningful done on cannabis reform next year, with the 2022 midterms on the horizon and Republicans in prime position to win back the majority.
The memo from Blumenauer and Lee made it clear that the clock is ticking for a party that appeared eager to embrace legalization after the 2020 election.
As we enter another election year, it’s more important than ever to seize the moment and heed the calls of the American public,” the memo said. “We are poised to take bold action to end the failed War on Drugs once and for all.”
On the other side of the capitol, Senate Democrats appear ready, as well. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in an interview earlier this year the party “will move forward” on legalization, pointing to the wave of pot-related reforms implemented at the state level.
“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer said.