Mexican cabinet member accepts gifted marijuana plant as lawmakers prepare legalization vote

Marijuana is becoming something of a staple in the Mexican Congress, and not just when it comes to reform bills being considered. Actual cannabis products are regularly being exchanged, displayed and planted in and around legislative chambers as lawmakers work to legalize the plant.

On Wednesday, a top administration official was gifted a marijuana plant by senator, and she said she’d be making it a part of her personal garden.

Interior Ministry Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said that by the time she plants the cannabis gift from Sen. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, she’ll be “fervently hoping that the law [to legalize cannabis] is already passed,” referring to reform legislation that the legislature has been working on the past couple years.

“The medicinal use of marijuana has been a revelation for the world, and second because hemp is industrially interesting from clothes, energy, paper, construction materials, stronger than any other construction material,” she said, according to a translation. “In other words, there is enormous potential with hemp and also the recreational use of marijuana, respecting the principle of the autonomy of the will and the free development of the person.”

Last year, a different lawmaker gave the Sánchez Cordero a marijuana joint on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies.

“I bring you a gift as a reminder of that proposal you made at the beginning, because that goes to be the way to help us build peace. Let’s regulate the use of drugs,” Deputy Ana Lucía Riojas Martínez said at the time.

Cannabis made another appearance in the legislature last month, when Sen. Jesusa Rodríguez of the ruling Morena party decorated her desk with a marijuana plant.

Drug policy reform advocates have also been cultivating hundreds of marijuana plants in front of the Senate, putting pressure on legislators to make good on their pledge to advance legalization.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently said that marijuana reform legislation will advance in the new session.

A legalization bill was approved by several committees earlier this year, but the reform effort has been stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The nation’s Supreme Court—which deemed the country’s prohibition on personal possession and cultivation unconstitutional in 2018—is currently giving lawmakers until December 15 to enact the policy change.

The legalization bill that’s set to advance this coming session was revised during a joint meeting of the Justice, Health, Legislative Studies and Public Safety Committees in March.

The proposal would allow adults 18 and older to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. Individuals could grow up to 20 registered plants as long as the total yield doesn’t exceed 480 grams per year. Medical patients could apply to cultivate more than 20 plants, however.

Personal possession would be capped at 28 grams, but possession of up to 200 grams would be decriminalized.

The Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis, a decentralized body established under the measure, would be established and responsible for regulating the market and issuing licenses for marijuana businesses.

The bill proposes a 12 percent tax on cannabis sales, with some revenue going toward a substance misuse treatment fund.

Public consumption would be permissible, except in spaces designated as 100 percent smoke-free. Hemp and CBD would be exempt from regulations that apply to THC products.

An earlier version of the legislation was approved by Senate committees last year ahead of the court’s previous October deadline.

Sen. Julio Ramón Menchaca Salazar, also of the Morena party, said in April that while legislators must still resolve certain disagreements about the legislation, legalizing cannabis could fill treasury coffers at a time when the economy is recovering from the pandemic.

While advocates are eager to enact reform, they’ve also raised several concerns with the legislation as drafted, particularly as it relates to restorative justice.

Zara Snapp, a legalization activist with the Instituto RIA and the coalition #RegulacionPorLaPaz, told Marijuana Moment on Friday that while it’s “concerning” that committees haven’t yet scheduled time to take the legalization bill back up, she’s had conversations with senators from all political parties and “they all tell me this will happen this legislative session.”

“We’re going to take them at their word that they will be approving this in the next two to three months,” she said.

This article has been republished from Marijuana Moment under a content-sharing agreement. Read the original article here.

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New FDA guidance will make it easier to approve CBD-based medicines

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is releasing new draft guidelines that are meant to streamline approvals for generic oral CBD medications.

In a notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, the agency said it is soliciting public feedback on its guidance to researchers who are interested in submitting abbreviated new drug applications (ANDAs) for CBD solutions.

To expedite the approval process, FDA said applicants can request a waiver of an in vivo bioequivalence study if they meet certain requirements. This guidance comes two years after the agency approved the brand-name CBD-based epilepsy medication Epidiolex from GW Pharmaceuticals.

Going forward, if a drug company wants to produce generic versions of that 100 mg/mL cannabidiol solution, they could follow specific rules to skip the in vivo bioequivalence study step if the draft guidance is finalized. The drug would have to be derived from Cannabis sativa L, contain no more than 0.1 percent THC and have “no inactive ingredient or other change in formulation from the [reference listed drug] that may significantly affect systemic availability.”

Researchers must use “appropriate analytical methods” such as macroscopic or microscopic analysis or DNA bar-coding methods to determine that the solution is being made from cannabis sativa.

“Due to the many cultivars within this species, identification and authentication of plant species should be conducted at the cultivar(s) level if the potential cultivar(s) will be used as a natural source of the [botanical raw material],” FDA said.

Further, when collecting that raw cannabis, the agency said applicants must follow “established good agricultural and collection practices (GACP) procedures to minimize variations in BRM and eventually ensure the batch-to-batch consistency of the drug substance.”

A public comment period on FDA’s draft guidance will last until November 23. FDA also recently closed a comment period on separate draft guidance on developing cannabis-derived medications. However, three other federal agencies are currently accepting input on a variety of other proposed cannabis- and drug-related regulations.

While this latest document isn’t the separate comprehensive CBD guidance that advocates and industry stakeholders have been waiting for, it’s another example of how the scientific landscape around cannabis is changing, with a federal agency helping to facilitate the production of cannabidiol-based drugs.

Separately, FDA announced on Tuesday that it will be hosting a public meeting in November to discuss gender and sex differences in the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids.

The agency also recently held a meeting to help inform cannabis researchers and cultivators about opportunities to protect their proprietary information and promote studies into the plant.

It also recently submitted draft guidance on CBD enforcement to the White House Office of Management and Budget—a long-anticipated move that comes after hemp legalization.

The agency was mandated under appropriations legislation enacted late last year to provide an update on its regulatory approach to CBD, and it did so in March. The update stated that “FDA is currently evaluating issuance of a risk-based enforcement policy that would provide greater transparency and clarity regarding factors FDA intends to take into account in prioritizing enforcement decisions.”

FDA has been using enforcement discretion for CBD in the years since hemp became legal.

The agency has continued to issue warnings to cannabis businesses in certain cases—such as instances in which companies claimed CBD could treat or cure coronavirus—and provide public notices about recalls.

In July, FDA also submitted a report to Congress on the state of the CBD marketplace, and the document outlines studies the agency has performed on the contents and quality of cannabis-derived products that it has tested over the past six years.

Also that month, a congressional spending bill for FDA was released that includes a provision providing “funding to develop a framework for regulating CBD products.”

The agency is also actively looking to award a contract to help study CBD as the agency develops regulations for products containing the non-intoxicating cannabinoid.

Read FDA’s draft guidance on developing CBD medications below: 

FDA CBD guidance by Marijuana Moment

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California grant program uses marijuana tax revenue to help people harmed by War on Drugs

California announced this week that grant applications are now available to promote public health and economic justice for communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. And those grants are being funded by legal marijuana tax revenue.

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development said the California Community Reinvestment Grants (CalCRG) program is meant to give eligible health departments and community-based nonprofit organizations resources to support “job placement, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, system navigation services, legal services to address barriers to reentry, and linkages to medical care for communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies, also known as the War on Drugs (WoD).”

“The mission of the CalCRG program is to advance health, wellness, and economic justice for populations and communities harmed by the WoD,” the solicitation says.

The state also described the guiding principles of the grant program: 

  • Responsive to and focused on populations and communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
  • Grounded in science and data, while being receptive to emerging and innovative approaches.
  • Advancing whole person, trauma-informed care.
  • Accountable to taxpayers and stakeholders.

Marijuana excise and cultivation taxes are funding the program. For the 2020-2021 fiscal year, $30 million in grants will be made available. That will increase to $40 million for 2021-2022 and then $50 million for 2022-2023. It will remain at $50 million for subsequent years. Last year, the program made its first round of awards, amounting to $9.6 million in support for 69 separate grantees.

The online portal to submit an application for this year’s grant round will open September 28 and close November 2.

The drug war “has disproportionately impacted communities of color, particularly low income African American/Black and Latino/Hispanic populations,” the solicitation says, detailing how people use and sell cannabis at similar rates across racial lines but that “African American/Black and Latino/Hispanic individuals have historically been arrested more frequently for marijuana violations.”

“Harsh federal and state drug policies enacted during the WoD led to the mass incarceration of people of color, decreased access to social services, loss of educational attainment due to diminished federal financial aid eligibility, prohibitions on the use of public housing and other public assistance, and the separation of families,” the document says. “Individuals from populations and communities in California that were disproportionately impacted by the WoD represent the CalCRG program priority populations. The CalCRG program aims to be a resource to address and repair the multi-generational impacts of the WoD.”

The same office behind this grant program also announced in April that it would be providing $30 million in funding for cannabis entrepreneurs from communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

As more states legalize cannabis, there’s been increased interest in ensuring that tax revenue from the market helps promote social equity for people from communities targeted by prohibition’s enforcement.

In May, for example, Illinois announced that it was distributing $31.5 million in restorative justice grants funded by marijuana taxes. The funds are designated for community assessment and planning initiatives as well as service delivery for those in economically distressed areas.

Meanwhile, local jurisdictions are also considering ways to revise where cannabis tax dollars should go.

A new budget proposal released in King County, Washington this week would shift $4.6 million in cannabis tax revenue away from the sheriff’s department and instead use the funds to vacate prior convictions for marijuana, among other programs.

In June, the Portland City Council approved an amendment to a proposed budget that would divest cannabis funds from the city’s police department.

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Lawmakers and advocates discuss cannabis legalization bill ahead of House vote

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and several other leading advocates for marijuana reform took part in a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss cannabis policy ahead of a planned House of Representatives vote on a comprehensive legalization bill.

The senator was joined by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Kassandra Frederique for the conversation, which was organized by The Appeal and NowThis.

The main topic at hand was the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, a bill that would federally deschedule cannabis and promote restorative justice. House leadership recently announced that the legislation would be getting a floor vote next week.

Watch the lawmakers and advocates discuss marijuana reform and the MORE Act below:

Booker is an original cosponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, which was introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), now Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate. Blumenauer, meanwhile, is the architect of a step-by-step blueprint to federal legalization and a leading champion of marijuana reform in Congress.

“I am just really excited about this historic vote that’s about to happen on the MORE Act and really looking forward to seeing and hearing about the House’s momentum that I think could carry us into a Congress if we should take back control of the Senate in this election,” Booker said.

There have been some reports that Democratic support for holding a vote on the MORE Act at this time has waned somewhat, with certain members reportedly voicing concern that passing the bill amid the coronavirus pandemic could be bad optics. But so far there’s been no indication from leadership that the legislation is being pulled.

Blumenauer agreed that “the momentum is building” around marijuana reform in Congress and argued that it only serves to benefit lawmakers to get on board.

“Members of Congress who take a bolder stand are rewarded. Nobody’s losing an election over this. There’s blowback if they aren’t being heard,” he said. “The dawn has settled, and I think the momentum has swelled. I think we’re going to see not just a strong vote in the House, but I think there’s a chance that this is going to move through the Senate, with the leadership of Senator Booker.”

Pressley said that “the war on drugs has criminalized addiction and substance use disorders in a way that has devastated our communities.”

“The thing is this hurt, this harm, was not naturally occurring. These were policy choices,” she said. “For generations, we have had a first row seat to the firsthand grave consequences of this. Now we must be as precise in legislating healing and justice as those policies were inflicting hurt and harm.”

Democrats won’t be the only ones voting in favor of the reform, as three GOP members so far have gone on the record saying they will be “ayes” when it comes to the floor. The latest to say as much, Rep. Don Young (R-AK), said he’s “confident” it will pass the chamber.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the sole GOP cosponsor on the bill, said earlier this month that he would be voting “yes” on the MORE Act, though he expressed criticism about a provision that would impose a federal excise tax on marijuana sales to be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war, calling them “reparations.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) also said “I intend to vote yes on the bill” in a recent interview with Politico. “With respect to timing, I do find it ironic that the only small businesses the Democrats seem to be worried about is cannabis shops, but I would support this bill whenever it is brought to a vote,” he said.

McClintock, along with Gaetz, voted for the MORE Act when it was marked up by the Judiciary Committee last year.

If the House approves the bill, there will still be an open question about whether the Republican-controlled Senate would follow suit. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a strong advocate for hemp, but he’s maintained steadfast opposition to broader marijuana reform. That said, he did hold closed-door meetings with industry representatives last year.

McConnell’s office on Monday sent a press release highlighting some apparent Democratic discontent with plans to hold a vote on the MORE Act.

It’s possible the House action could spur the Senate to take up the STATES Act, however. That bipartisan bill is sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Gardner could use that legislative win as he trails behind former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in his reelection race. And to Gaetz’s point, President Trump has expressed support for the proposal.

The vote on the MORE Act will not be the first time the House has taken up cannabis reform on the floor this Congress.

The chamber approved a coronavirus relief package in May that includes provisions to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. It also approved the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act last year.

Last week, a House committee approved a bill designed to promote cannabis research, in part by allowing scientists to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries.

Advocates were disappointed after lawmakers declined to include marijuana legalization as part of a recent policing reform bill the House passed. Several legislators made the case that it was an appropriate vehicle for the policy change, as ending cannabis criminalization would minimize police interactions.

Featured image by Craig At The Capitol/Shutterstock


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Seth Rogen’s advice on ending COVID: ‘smoke weed and watch movies’

Actor Seth Rogen is urging young people to stay home and smoke marijuana rather than risk spreading the coronavirus by going out — and he’s getting praise for his recommendation from a top Canadian politician.

After British Columbia Premier John Horgan put out a call for Rogen and fellow Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds to use their influence to discourage risky behavior amid the pandemic, the comedian tweeted a message urging young people to practice social distancing while consuming cannabis.

“Please do not go out to parties and BBQs and other large gatherings! The COVID is still out there!” Rogen said. “It’s more fun to hang out alone and smoke weed and watch movies and TV shows anyway! Do that instead! Thank you!”

Horgan quoted the tweet and thanked the actor, linking to the province’s COVID-19 information website that also encourages people not to “pass around drinks, smokes, tokes, and vapes.”

“Now is not the time for sharing anything that’s been in your mouth,” the site from British Columbia’s provincial health officer states.

But while Rogen’s general recommendation was well taken by the top B.C. elected official, some cannabis enthusiasts have argued that people should consider refraining from smoking it and instead consume using alternative methods given the potential additional risk to the lungs at a time when the virus that targets the respiratory system is spreading.

NORML gave that advice in a post in March, saying that “because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, some of you may wish to limit or avoid their exposure to combustive smoke — as this can put undue stress and strain on the lungs.”

“Alternative delivery devices, such as vaporizer heating devices can significantly mitigate combustive smoke exposure, and of course, the use of edibles or tinctures can eliminate smoke exposure entirely,” the group wrote to supporters.

Rogen, who co-owns the cannabis company Houseplant, has been known to leverage his celebrity for advocacy purposes in the past. For example, he released a PSA last year that promoted expungements efforts and highlighted issues that stem from having a criminal record.

On a more casual note, Rogen and Snoop Dogg offered advice to first-time cannabis consumers last year in a joint appearance on Howard Stern’s show, emphasizing the need to take it slow in the beginning.

Rogen also became an outspoken activist for research into Alzheimer’s after he witnessed his mother-in-law develop the disease.

In 2014, he opened his testimony before a Senate committee hearing on Alzheimer’s research by joking that he wasn’t there to discuss the topic some might expect: marijuana.

Combining the two issues last year, Rogen hosted a cannabis-fueled charity carnival to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.

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Biden-Sanders task force may recommend Joe Biden support cannabis legalization. Will he listen?

Members of a criminal justice task force created to inform presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign have been discussing marijuana legalization — a policy the former vice president continues to oppose.

Most of the group—which consists of advisors appointed by both Biden and former primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — support ending cannabis prohibition, and advocates have held out hope that they would recommend that Biden adopt the policy platform in the run-up to the November election.

While some members have publicly talked about the issue since joining the task force, including Linn County, Iowa Supervisor Stacey Walker, who recently commented on the need for reform in light of racial disparities in marijuana criminalization, a new report from Politico appears to be the first confirmation that the group itself is actively considering a formal recommendation on the policy change.

“Multiple people said marijuana policy has been discussed on the criminal justice panel, one of the policy groups of the unity task force,” the outlet reported. “Sanders appointees have advocated for legalization. Some Biden appointees personally support legalizing pot and have debated putting the policy in the panel’s recommendations to the former vice president, according to two people familiar with its deliberations.”

A majority of panel members appointed from both camps have previously gone on record in favor of legalization. That includes Tennessee Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D), former federal prosecutor Chiraag Bains, former Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Walker.

“There’s an opportunity to advance a really bold agenda on criminal justice,” Bains, a Sanders-appointee to the task force, said. “This is part of envisioning a completely different future, not returning to a pre-Trump era. I say that as someone who served proudly in the Obama administration. We just have to be much more aggressive about rooting out systemic racism and injustice in the legal system.”

Biden should “end the War on Drugs, including by legalizing marijuana,” he told Politico.

Walker, whose position on the issue has been lesser-known than other members, also talked about the need for reform during an interview with Little Village that was published on Wednesday. The Iowa official said he knows many white people, including those from prominent families in the state, who consume cannabis and travel to legalized states to obtain it without concern about potential criminal penalties.

“It is no secret that African Americans use marijuana as a substance, recreational substance, just as much as everybody else. I often say, I operate in professional spaces. I know most of my white professional friends in this state use marijuana,” he said. “They do it without ever, ever, ever thinking they will face some sort of legal consequence. It doesn’t even cross their mind. They talk about it openly.”

“They don’t ever think about a legal consequences because it’s not real to them— because they can’t conceive of it because they’ve never faced a consequence,” he added. “We’ve just created a system that over-criminalizes people by their race and by their economic situation. That is not right. It is not fair. It’s an aberration of justice.”

He went on to say that decriminalizing cannabis would minimize police encounters that lead people, particularly from communities of color, to be incarcerated and enter the criminal legal system.

Biden has backed the modest reform of decriminalizing marijuana and said that people should be diverted to treatment instead of facing jail time for possessing drugs, but he’s declined to get on board with the majority of Americans, particularly Democrats, who embrace fully legalizing cannabis. He’s opted instead to draw the line at legalization for medical use, expunging prior records, allowing states to set their own policies and federal rescheduling.

Bains said earlier this month that decriminalization is not sufficient, as it “typically means that you don’t have a criminal penalty, but you could still be issued a civil fine. And then there are other kinds of consequences that could follow from that.”

“It’s still illegal conduct,” he said. “If possession of marijuana is just decriminalized and that is the hook for extensive police involvement in people’s lives, and if you haven’t addressed the underlying systemic problems in policing and the justice system overall, then people could continue to be stopped and searched and frisked and so forth.”

It’s not clear whether the task force will ultimately recommend that Biden adopt a pro-legalization platform—or if he would accept that recommendation even if they did. Pressed repeatedly on the issue, Biden has continued to argue that more research should be done before enacting broad reform.

He also recently indicated that his personal experience knowing individuals who consume cannabis has not convinced him that the plant should be legal for recreational use.

For what it’s worth, Sanders doesn’t seem especially optimistic that the former vice president will evolve further, declining in an April interview to list the policy among those from his own platform that he feels Biden will come around to.

That said, as President Trump’s reelection campaign pushes to frame the incumbent as the criminal justice reform candidate, there may be added pressure on Biden to align himself with more progressive policies such as legalization.

Where members of the Biden-Sanders criminal justice task force stand on cannabis policy: 

Akbari, the Tennessee senator, has filed legislation to legalize marijuana in his state and he’s said the reform move is necessary both to promote social equity and to generate revenue that can be used to fund public schools.

Bains, who also serves as the director of legal strategies at Demos, has voiced support for Sanders’s cannabis legalization plan and emphasized the need for racial equity in the legal industry.

Justin Bamberg, a South Carolina lawmaker, has cosponsored legislation to decriminalize marijuana and legalize medical cannabis.

Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right, backs legalization and has strongly condemned harsh criminalization policies for non-violent drug offenses.

Holder, the former top prosecutor in the U.S., has said that he’d vote in favor of legalizing marijuana if he was in Congress and claimed to have internally tried to convince the administration to reschedule cannabis.

Symone Sanders, senior advisor to Biden, doesn’t have a clear public stance on legalization, but she’s characterized Biden’s modest marijuana reform plan as being progressive.

Scott, a current member of the House, has cosponsored legislation that called for marijuana descheduling and reinvestments in communities harmed most by prohibition.

Walker’s views on the issue became clearer in the recent interview, where he stressed that cannabis laws have been enforced in a racially discriminatory manner.


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New cannabis policy could allow Louisiana to expand qualifying conditions and allow delivery

A Louisiana House committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program by letting doctors issue recommendations to patients for any debilitating condition. Lawmakers also advanced separate legislation to allow dispensaries to deliver products to patients’ homes.

The action represents a rare legislative victory for cannabis reformers in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has largely halted proceedings in states across the country.

Both pieces of legislation approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee were sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley (R). They now move to the full House for debate.

The medical cannabis expansion legislation as originally drafted would have simply added traumatic brain injuries and concussions to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for a marijuana recommendation. But it was amended by the panel to add several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any condition that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”

“I’ll say this. I have never been a proponent of medical marijuana. I voted against every piece of legislation that came down because I just didn’t believe in it and I thought there was an ulterior motive,” Bagley told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “But now, constituents in my area, they come to me and they ask me for help because they’re having pain, they can’t find things to cure the pain. They’re using opioids, some of them, they’ve just got problems that the doctors can’t seem to help.”

“So this is just another avenue. Now their personal physician can write them a script for [cannabis] and they can get it,” he said. “Who knows you better than your personal physician? I thought it made perfect sense.”

As it stands under current law, a list of 14 conditions can qualify a patient for cannabis in Louisiana. That includes cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and severe muscle spasms.

“Lawmakers are increasingly recognizing that it makes no sense to treat medical cannabis more restrictively than far more dangerous prescription medicines, which can be delivered to patients’ doors and prescribed off-label,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Today’s committee votes were an important step toward to a more compassionate, less onerous medical cannabis program in Louisiana.”

The cannabis delivery legislation that also passed the panel would require a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”

The state Department of Pharmacy already set the stage for the policy change, as it released a memo in March temporarily authorizing dispensaries to deliver cannabis to patients during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The mayor of Washington, D.C. similarly announced that medical cannabis deliveries would be temporarily permissible under certain circumstances due to the pandemic.

The new Louisiana bill, if enacted, would allow delivery on a permanent basis.

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North Dakota’s marijuana legalization campaign is setback due to Coronavirus

With North Dakota among the states gradually reopening business amid the coronavirus pandemic, there’s renewed hope that a campaign to legalize marijuana could soon proceed after temporarily suspending signature gathering. But because of the setback in signature gathering efforts in recent weeks, activists say it’s more likely that the initiative will appear on the state’s 2022 ballot rather than the one voters will see this November.

Legalize ND, the group behind the measure, said last month that door-to-door signature collection would be put on pause due to the risk of spreading the virus. Many businesses that carried the petition on-site were also shuttered due to state orders and social distancing requirements.

The organization’s proposed initiative would allow adults to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching proposal the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses. Voters previously approved a medical cannabis legalization measure in 2016.

On Monday, the campaign signaled that activities may continue again on a limited basis now that North Dakota has entered into a first phase of reopening, allowing certain businesses to resume operations. Legalize ND is soliciting input from businesses that have their petition available for patrons to sign, though they said they feel “it is too soon” to have petitioners go door-to-door to gather signatures at this point.

“What we’re doing is, the state of North Dakota is in phase one of reopening and we want to make sure that business owners are comfortable carrying the petition in their establishment” before publicizing it for voters, Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We don’t want to send a bunch of people to a business and for them to get spooked because of COVID or for them to not have the floor space to be able to handle it.”

So far, it seems that vaping retailers and headshops are most willing to allow voters to sign in support of the measure at their locations. Tattoo shops, meanwhile, carry more risks in terms of exposure to open skin and capacity restrictions, so those will likely not host petitions for the time being.

To qualify for the November ballot, activists would have to collect 13,452 valid signatures from registered voters by July 6. But if they don’t make that cut—and organizers say it’s likely it won’t be possible in that timeframe—the signatures they’ve collected so far won’t go to waste. They have a full calendar year from the launch of the campaign to gather the required signatures to appear on the next election cycle.

In this case, that means Legalize ND has until December to meet that requirement and qualify for the July 2022 primary election.

The debate over how and when to let petitioners go door-to-door largely comes down to differences in opinion among board members from rural and urban areas of the state, Owen said.

“North Dakota is weird, right? We have cities and we have rural areas,” he said. “In the super rural areas, it might be as simple as a mask and [santizing pens] every time you hand it to someone. But in, say, Fargo where you’re hitting apartment buildings and you’re going to hundreds of people, well maybe we don’t want to allow that yet.”

“It’s hard to create a one-size-fits-all policy for a state,” he said.

Asked what his message to supporters is during this period of uncertainty, Owen said the campaign is “going to try” to make the November ballot, “but we don’t want to put people’s lives at risk,” and it’s unlikely that they will meet that earlier deadline.

“Our whole thing is about ending people going to prison, our whole point is about ending the dangers of the war on drugs, so it would be irresponsible for us to endanger people while we try to do it,” he said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. We’re going to try, but [qualifying for November] likely still isn’t in the cards. That just means we have more time to get prepared to push for that 2022 date.”

He added that while some who haven’t signed the petition yet might be compelled to head to businesses to sign it now that the state is reopening, individuals should practice serious caution, especially those who are immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable.

“If you are someone who hasn’t signed the petition and has issues—whether it be immuno, whether it be caring for someone—please don’t rush out to go sign the petition,” he said. “This is important, it’s not that important. It’s not worth killing yourself over.”

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a serious and wide-ranging blow to the drug policy reform movement in 2020, with numerous campaigns either closing down or suspending. Several activists have asked for state assistance to help qualify for ballots, but those calls have largely gone unanswered.

  • A Montana cannabis legalization campaign that sued the state to allow digital signature collection had their case dismissed last week, but organizers say they may file an appeal and will be pushing ahead despite the legal setback.
  • In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort are petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow people to sign cannabis petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is currently reserved for individual candidates seeking public office.
  • A California campaign seeking to amend the state’s cannabis law also asked for a digital petitioning option.
  • A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 last month due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
  • Idaho medical cannabis activists announced that they are suspending their ballot campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
  • Activists behind a campaign to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska are holding out hope that they will qualify and recently unveiled a new strategy amid the pandemic.
  • In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded last month that the 2020 legalization push is “effectively over” in the legislature. Coronavirus shifted priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

There have also been several COVID-related developments on the psychedelics reform front as well.

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Joe Biden includes marijuana decriminalization in new ‘Plan for Black America’

Former Vice President Joe Biden is using a newly released plan on racial justice to tout his existing modest marijuana reform proposals.

The presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee said he would “decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all prior cannabis use convictions” as part of a “Plan For Black America” his campaign released on Monday. He also talked about changing broader criminal justice policies, including ending the crack-versus-cocaine sentencing disparity, repealing mandatory minimums, abolishing the death penalty and diverting people with minor drug convictions to treatment instead of prisons.

While advocates generally welcome the proposals, they argue that they do not go far enough to fully address racial equity. Notably absent from his plan is legalizing marijuana for adult use—something activists say is critical to ensure equity and restorative justice.

“Considering the long violent history of the United States war on communities color, this plan is a half measure at best,” Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, told Marijuana Moment. “True equity for our communities would include an admission that our federal government committed a massive crime through the war on drugs, and a plan to undue that damage and make our communities whole.”

“True equity must include a release of all cannabis prisoners, massive community investment and a legal cannabis marketplace owned and operated primarily by people of color,” he added. “I’m not convinced Biden is there yet but we must all continue to push him for the sake our communities.”

What’s more, while Biden’s treatment for substance misuse proposal is viewed as superior to incarceration, advocates largely oppose forcing individuals into treatment as a mandate from drug courts, which continue to handle a health issue through a criminal justice lens.

Drug policy reform advocates have widely criticized Biden’s record as a senator, condemning his role in authoring and promoting punitive anti-drug laws that contributed to mass incarceration. And his ongoing opposition to legalization—a policy supported by a majority of his party’s voters, particularly young people—has been a lingering source of frustration.

“Biden’s plan calls for the decriminalization of cannabis and the end of all incarceration for drug abuse,” Ortiz said. “While that flies in stark contrast to the vice president’s record, it is a promising sign that more modern approaches to criminal justice are being discussed and taken seriously by his campaign.”

By comparison, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who was also a top contender as a presidential candidate before dropping out and endorsing Biden last month, has been a strong champion of comprehensive reform, pledging to legalize marijuana in all 50 states on his first day in office through executive action, for example.

While Biden has thus far refused to embrace federal legalization, he and Sanders did announce the formation of a joint criminal justice working group comprised of individuals who’ve worked with both of them, and it stands to reason that cannabis policy could be one area of discussion.

That said, asked last month what issues he thinks Biden will come around to that he campaigned on, Sanders declined to include marijuana legalization in that list.

The former vice president’s new racial justice plan doesn’t feature any new drug policy proposals; rather, it highlights previous measures that have particular relevance to minority communities.

“Today, too many people are incarcerated in the United States—and too many of them are African American,” the plan states. “To build safe and healthy communities, we need to rethink who we’re sending to prison, how we treat those in prison, and how we help them get the health care, education, jobs, and housing they need to successfully rejoin society after they serve their time. As President, Biden will strengthen America’s commitment to justice and reform our criminal justice system.”

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Thousands of Constituents Urge Governors To Deprioritize Marijuana Enforcement Amid Coronavirus

The marijuana reform group NORML is leading an effort to encourage states to deprioritize the enforcement of cannabis criminalization amid the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, more than 4,000 constituents across the country have participated in the organization’s action campaign launched on Wednesday by sending messages to their governors, urging them to take steps to minimize the spread of the virus by avoiding unnecessary marijuana arrests.

NORML created customized email blasts to supporters in all 39 states that have yet to legalize marijuana for adult use. Each one contains a link to a suggested prewritten letter asking the governor to abide by the group’s public health recommendations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Beyond deprioritizing marijuana enforcement, the organization said states should also drop existing charges for nonviolent cannabis violations “in order to reduce non-essential interactions,” review and release those currently incarcerated for marijuana convictions and waive pending probation requirements for cannabis-related cases.

“Enforcing marijuana prohibition is in itself unfair and unnecessary. Enforcing marijuana prohibition during a global public health crisis, even more so,” Carly Wolf, state policies coordinator at NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “At a time when stress, anxiety, and uncertainty is at an all time high, no one should have the added fear of arrest or expensive fines as a result of low-level possession of a plant during a time when many are experiencing extreme economic hardship.”

“Law enforcement and other correctional personnel are being forced to make physical contact with members of the public solely to enforce an ineffective policy, requiring them to violate social distancing guidelines and in turn detrimentally affect the health and wellbeing of many vulnerable communities. Instead, more common sense, evidence based policies should be put in place to protect the health of everyone, not just some. It’s absolutely essential that state officials deprioritize marijuana enforcement, release those currently serving time for minor possession, and waive and withdraw all pending charges and probation requirements for those solely convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.”

A memo that the group put out in late March made similar points, and it also made recommendations for legal states on how cannabis businesses can safely operate. It also stressed the need to provide the industry with access to federal coronavirus relief funds and banking services. That memo came after NORML issued advice to consumers about best practices amid the pandemic.

In terms of deprioritization, so far no states where cannabis remains illegal or where only medical cannabis is allowed have taken the measure of formally instructing law enforcement to avoid pursuing marijuana offenses.

“I strongly encourage governors and other state officials to work alongside law enforcement agencies to ensure that these emergency actions are taken immediately to protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Wolf said.

NORML’s online action page has links to the state-based opportunities to contact governors about reduced cannabis enforcement.

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