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Drug Reform Initiatives Already on the November Ballot and Those That Could Still Make the Cut [FEATURE]

With signature-gathering deadlines now past nearly everywhere, the picture of where voters will have a chance to vote on drug reform initiatives becomes clearer -- although not yet finalized because state officials are still counting petitions in some cases. Marijuana legalization will be on the ballot in at least two states and as many as four states and ditto for medical marijuana. Groundbreaking initiatives on psychedelic policy and drug decriminalization will also go before voters.

Voters in a number of states will have the chance to weigh in on drug reform initiatives in November. (Creative Commons)
In a handful of cases, statewide initiative campaigns had qualified before the coronavirus reared its head, but most campaigns had to struggle to find ways to get signatures in the midst of virtual lockdowns. The virus proved particularly lethal to marijuana legalization efforts in the Heartland as initiative campaigns in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all succumbed. It also helped fell a Washington state drug decriminalization campaign, with organizers there opting instead to go the legislative route.

But in some other states, organizers managed to overcome such obstacles and have -- as of this writing -- either already qualified for the ballot or have handed in enough raw signatures to suggest that they well could qualify once state officials get their counting done.

Here's where things stand at this juncture.

QUALIFIED:

Mississippi -- Medical Marijuana. Ballot Initiative 65 qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. If approved, it would allow patients with any of 22 specified medical conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

New Jersey -- Marijuana Legalization. A constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana was already on the ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of marijuana under the purview of the already-existing Cannabis Regulatory Commission, with sales subject to the state's sales tax. This is not a citizens' initiative -- the state doesn't have those -- but a legislative one. After the governor and the legislature couldn't manage to come to agreement on a legalization bill last year, the state's elected officials punted, instead passing a resolution in December that refers the question to the state's voters.

Oregon -- Drug Decriminalization. For the first time, drug decriminalization will go before voters after the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (IP44) qualified for the November ballot. The initiative would decriminalize the possession of personal use amounts of drugs and channel marijuana tax revenues into drug treatment.

Oregon -- Therapeutic Psilocybin. Using an online signature-gathering strategy after pandemic lockdowns took effect, the campaign behind Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator qualified for the November ballot in early July.

South Dakota -- Marijuana Legalization. With support from the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC, Constitutional Amendment A has qualified for the November ballot before the pandemic hit. It would legalize the personal possession of up to an ounce and the cultivation of up to three plants by adults, as well as setting up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana sales. The measure would also compel the legislature to come up with regulations for medical marijuana and hemp by 2022.

South Dakota -- Medical Marijuana. Maybe the third time will be the charm. South Dakota is the only state to twice defeat medical marijuana initiatives, in 2006 and by an even bigger margin in 2010. Initiated Measure 26, another New Approach-supported campaign, would allow patients from a list of qualifying conditions to possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants, as well as create a system of dispensary sales.

WAITING TO HEAR:

Arizona -- Marijuana Legalization. Backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act marijuana legalization initiative filed more than 420,000 raw signatures with the secretary of state's office on July 2. It only needs 237,465 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The initiative would allow people 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, allow for cultivation, distribution, and retail sales, and use tax revenues from those sales to fund public education and public safety programs.

District of Columbia -- Natural Entheogens. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures on July 6, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will rule officially in 30 days.

Montana -- Marijuana Legalization.New Approach Montana, the group behind the I-190 marijuana legalization initiative and the C-118 constitutional amendment to set the legal age for marijuana at 21, turned in more than 52,000 raw signatures for the initiative (it needs 25,000 valid voter signatures) and 80,000 signatures for the amendment (it needs 50,000 valid voter signatures) on June 19. Now it's nail-biting time as organizers wait for the state to see if they came up with enough good ones.

Nebraska -- Medical Marijuana. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the state's proposed medical marijuana initiative, handed in some 182,000 raw signatures on July 2. They need at least 121,669 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The campaign must also meet a requirement that at least 5% of voters in at least 38 counties sign up.

STILL GATHERING SIGNATURES:

Idaho -- Medical Marijuana. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition had given up the ghost in the face of the coronavirus back in March, but its medical marijuana initiative has received an unexpected boost and could still make the ballot after federal court decisions around electronic signature-gathering for an unrelated initiative opened the door for a potential revival. Now, the group is asking the state to allow them to collect signatures electronically. They would still need some 55,057 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Come November, medical marijuana and marijuana legalization could continue to expand across the country, while we could also break new ground on drug decriminalization and psychedelics. Let's get out and vote. As if you needed to be told that this year.

Democratic Platform to Call for Rescheduling and Decriminalizing Marijuana But Not Legalizing, Canada Police Chiefs Want Drug Decrim, More... (7/13/20)

Democratic task forces working on the party platform have settled on rescheduling and decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it, the Justice Department rips a Massachusetts dope squad for its resort to excessive force, Canadian police chiefs call for drug decriminalization, and more.

The Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative has qualified for the ballot. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Proposed Democratic Platform Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Descheduling. Task forces charged with drafting the Democratic Party platform are calling not for the total federal legalization of marijuana but for decriminalizing it and for rescheduling it for medical purposes. The recommendations will be provided to the platform committee, which will ratify it before the Democratic national convention next month. According to NJ.com, the proposals include allowing states to decide on whether to legalize marijuana, expunging past convictions, and calling on states that have legalized marijuana to reinvest revenues in communities that have borne the brunt of the drug war.

Kansas City to Remove Marijuana Violations from City Code. The city council voted last Thursday to remove possession or control of marijuana as a violation within the city. The ordinance, introduced on June 18 by Mayor Quinton Lucas and four City Council members, passed by a 9-4 vote. Two years ago, the Jackson County (Kansas City) prosecutor announced her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, with the exception of illegal sales, distribution and impaired driving.

Hemp

Hawaii Legislature Approves Industrial Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize industrial hemp in the state passed the Senate last Wednesday after having already passed the House. The bill, HB1819 HD2 SD3, now goes to the desk of Gov. David Ige (D). Ige vetoed a similar bill last year, citing concerns it was unenforceable, but this year, legislators worked closely with Ige's office to ensure it would get signed.

Law Enforcement

Democratic Progressives Announce BREATHE Act to Reform Policing. House Democratic members including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) are pushing for a wide-ranging bill called the BREATHE Act, which would transform the country's criminal justice system. Among its provisions are a call to eliminate life sentences, retroactively expunge drug convictions, shut federal prisons and immigration detention centers, and afford voting rights and "lifetime education" for prisoners. The bill would also move to defund the DEA and ICE, end mandatory minimums, and decriminalize drug possession, among other provisions.

Justice Department Accuses Springfield, Massachusetts Narcotics Bureau of Using Excessive Force. In a report released last Wednesday, the Justice Department said an investigation has revealed that there is "reasonable cause" to suspect the Springfield Police Department's Narcotics Bureau regularly resorted to excessive force. "Our investigation of the Springfield Police Department over the last year revealed chronic issues with the use of force, poor record-keeping on that subject, and repeated failures to impose discipline for officer misconduct," said US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling. The Justice Department said the bureau violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects the public from the unreasonable use of force by the police. In the report, Justice said "our investigation identified evidence that Narcotics Bureau officers repeatedly punch individuals in the face unnecessarily, in part because they escalate encounters with civilians too quickly, and resort to unreasonable takedown maneuvers that, like head strikes, could reasonably be expected to cause head injuries."

North Carolina Cops Confronted by Hostile Crowd After Drug Bust. Police in High Point, North Carolina, were swarmed by an angry crowd after police searched a home as part of a drug investigation. People kept arriving at the scene until "a hostile crowd of approximately 50 people had taken over the street in front of the residence," police reported. Police said the crowd blocked the roadway and swarmed a police vehicle, and police resorted to pepper spray to clear the area. Police seized 85 grams of heroin and 15 grams of marijuana and arrested two people.

Psychedelics

Oregon Therapeutic Psilocbyin Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot. Initiative Petition 34, which would legalize psilocybin to use for therapeutic purposes in a controlled setting with a licensed facilitator, has qualified for the November ballot, the secretary of state's office announced last Wednesday.

DC Natural Psychedelic Initiative Faces Challenge from GOP Congressman. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a longtime foe of allowing Washington, DC, to move forward with drug reform efforts, says that he plans to force a vote in Congress to block the proposed natural psychedelic initiative. He said he plans to force a House Appropriations Committee vote next week.

International

Canadian Chiefs of Police Call for Drug Decriminalization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has recommended that simple drug possession should be decriminalized. The report by the association's special committee on decriminalization of illicit drugs calls for the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform. "Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives," association president and Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a statement. "We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, health care and all levels of government."

House Spending Bills Include MedMJ Protections, DC Psychedelic Initiative Hands in Signatures, More... (7/7/20)

Mexico once again looks set to move forward with medical marijuana, House funding bills include protections for medical marijuana -- but not recreational marijuana -- and more.

Decriminalize DC has handed in signatures for its natural psychedelic lowest priority initiative. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

House Spending Bills Include Medical Marijuana Protections for States, Banking Systems, and Universities. The Democratically-controlled House unveiled its versions of funding bills this week, and they include provisions that would protect banking businesses and universities doing business with medical marijuana operations, as well as the states that oversee medical marijuana programs. The protections do not extend to state-legal recreational marijuana.

Psychedelics

DC Activists Submit Signatures for Natural Psychedelic Initiative. Decriminalize DC, the folks behind Initiative 81, which would makes natural psychedelics law enforcement's lowest priority, handed in some 35,000 raw signatures Monday, the deadline for submitting them. They need 24,712 valid voter signatures, and organizers say they have already independently verified they have 27,000 valid signatures. DC officials will make it official in 30 days.

International

Mexico to Implement Medical Marijuana Law as Marijuana Legalization Delayed. The Mexican Secretariat of Health has announced that it plans to finalize medical marijuana regulations within the next two months. Mexican law was amended to allow for medical marijuana in 2017, but the Health Secretariat has so far failed to issue them. Now it has until September 9 to issue them. The move comes as broader marijuana legalization has been delayed by political bickering and coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.

DOJ Whistleblower Accuses Barr of Anti-Pot Bias, Marijuana Reform Pioneer Dr. Lester Grinspoon Dies, More... (6/25/20)

Bill Barr is accused of improperly pushing probes of legal marijuana companies, DARPA is funding research into psychedelic-inspired drugs for military purposes, Virginia's Black Legislative Caucus wants marijuana legalized this summer, and more.

The Swiss are moving to ease access to medical marijuana. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy, 

Justice Department Whistleblower Accuses Attorney General Barr of Targeting Legal Marijuana Industry with Antitrust Probes. Attorney General William Barr improperly targeted legal marijuana companies with anti-trust investigations because he "did not like" the industry, a Justice Department whistleblower told Congress Wednesday. John Elias, a senior official in the department's antitrust division, told the House Judiciary Committee that his office was "forced for political reasons" to pursue unjustified investigations of the industry. "These mergers involve companies with low market shares in a fragmented industry; they do not meet established criteria for antitrust investigations," the statement says. "While these were nominally antitrust investigations and used antitrust investigative authorities, they were not bona fide antitrust investigations. Nonetheless, they accounted for 29% of the antitrust division's full-review merger investigations in Fiscal Year 2019," Elias said.

Virginia Black Lawmakers Push to Legalize Marijuana in Special Session This Summer. The legislature and the governor just approved marijuana legalization, but the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus has included full legalization as part of its list of priorities for a special session this summer. The caucus also plans to file bills dealing with a ban on no-knock warrants,  racial data reporting on low-level arrests, and other criminal justice reforms.

Medical Marijuana

New Jersey Department of Health Announces Waiver to Allow Medical Marijuana Alternative Treatment Centers to Provide Home Delivery. The state Department of Health Thursday issued a waiver that allows Alternative Treatment Centers to provide home delivery of medical marijuana to patients and designated caregivers. This marks a significant first step in implementing the full home delivery provisions found in Jake Honig’s Law, which was signed by Governor Murphy last summer. Deliveries will be conducted by ATC employees who have undergone a criminal background check, and delivery vehicles will need to be equipped with security measures, including GPS tracking and a secure lock box.

Psychedelics

US Military Spending $27 Million to Develop New Class of Psychedelic-Inspired Drugs. The Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has funded $26.9 million for research that "aims to create new medications to effectively and rapidly treat depression, anxiety, and substance abuse without major side effects.” The researchers are looking at ketamine and psilocybin, but hope to develop drugs without "their hallucinogenic, addictive, and disorienting side effects make their clinical use limited,” said Brian L. Roth, a professor of pharmacology at UNC School of Medicine and the research project’s leader.

Drug Policy

Marijuana Reform Pioneer Dr. Lester Grinspoon Dead at 92. Lester Grinspoon, a Harvard professor, psychiatrist, and author of a dozen books, including Marihuana Reconsidered, the single most comprehensive and thoughtful and convincing explanation of the crucial need to end marijuana prohibition and establish a legal marijuana market, died Thursday at age 92. Back in the 1970s, Grinspoon began reviewing the literature on marijuana at the behest of his Harvard colleague Carl Sagan and concluded that marijuana should not only not be criminalized, but could be an enriching experience. Dr. Grinspoon was also a long-serving member of NORML’s Board of Directors, including many years as board chair. He served as a member of the NORML Advisory Board until his death.

International

Swiss Government Moves to Ease Access to Medical Marijuana. The Federal Council on Wednesday submitted a revised version of the country's drug law that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana without prior authorization. Under current law, they must first get an exceptional approval from the Federal Office for Public Health. The proposal has the support of all parties except the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

NBA Foregoes Recreational Drug Testing, DC Psychedelic Init Gets Signature Boost During Protests, More... (6/9/20)

As a California psilocybin initiative bites the dust, a DC natural psychedelic initative gets a boost; the NBA gives up on recreational drug testing of its players, the Dutch move closer to a pilot program to supply legal marijuana to the country's cannabis cafes, and more.

caption:true]Marijuana Policy

Montana Democratic Party Endorses Marijuana Legalization. The state Democratic Party has formally endorsed marijuana legalization, making it part of its platform. The party supports the "removal of Marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Federal Controlled Substances Act," one plank states. The party also endorsed adding language to the state constitution to "establish the legal age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing marijuana at 21 years of age or older." It also calls for "addressing substance abuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal issue," among other reform policies. The move comes as a pair of marijuana legalization initiatives sponsored by New Approach Montana seek to gather signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Dies as Special Session Ends. House Bill 2017, which would have set up a system of state-regulated medical marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sales, has died as a special short session ended without it moving in the Republican-led legislature. It will be next January before the legislature meets again, so the issue is effectively dead for the rest of this year.

Drug Testing

NBA Will Not Test for Recreational Drugs When Season Resumes. The National Basketball Association has not been testing players for recreational drugs during the coronavirus-inspired suspension of the 2019-2020 season, and the league will reportedly continue that approach once play resumes. The league will still test players for performance enhancing drugs, though.

Psychedelics

California Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative Officially Dead for This Year. The state secretary of state's office announced Monday that the California Psilocbyin Decriminalization Initiative had failed to qualify for the November ballot. Like other initiative campaigns, this campaign struggled with signature-gathering as social distancing measures and lockdowns took hold in March. Look out for 2022.

Washington, DC, Natural Psychedelic Lowest Priority Initiative Campaign Gets Signature Boost Amidst Mass Protests. The measure, I-81, had been struggling to gather signatures during the coronavirus lockdown, but has received an unexpected boost as the streets of the city fill with demonstrators protesting police brutality. Organizers said they had added some 5,000 new signatures during the street protests. They have until July 6 to come up with 30,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The measure would not legalize or decriminalize natural psychedelics but would make them the city's lowest law enforcement priorities.

International

Dutch Government Announces Applications for Regulated Marijuana Grows to Open Next Month. The Justice Ministry announced Tuesday that marijuana growers who wish to take part in a pilot program to grow regulated marijuana for the country's famous cannabis cafes can sign up to apply beginning July 1. Up to 10 growers will be licensed to supply the cafes in a bid to address the country's lingering "back door problem," where cafes are allowed to sell marijuana products, but there is no legal source of supply. That has only strengthened black market producers.

Israel Coalition Government Will Push for Marijuana Legalization Reforms. The Likud/Blue and White coalition government says it will push legislation in the Knesset "to arrange the issue of decriminalization and legalization [of marijuana] via a responsible model." In the same statement, the government said both parties have also decided to push for reforms to medical marijuana to increase ease of access for patients and make it easier for growers to get licenses.

MN House Leader Files Marijuana Legalization Bill, DC Psychedelic Decrim Campaign Catches Break, More... (5/6/20)

A Republican pollster in Pennsyvania calls on GOP legislators to consider supporting marijuana legalization, new New York City drug testing rules go into effect next week, a Minnesota legalization bill is introduced, and more.

Marijuana Policy

Minnesota House Leader Introduces Marijuana Legalization Bill. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would legalize adult use of marijuana. The bill, HF 4632, would legalize and tax cannabis sales, and establish the Cannabis Management Board to regulate licensing, inspection, and testing of cannabis products. The regulatory scheme would be "focused on developing micro-businesses and a craft market," according to Winkler. Cannabis-related convictions would be expunged. And home cultivation would be allowed. "We made a commitment to introduce legislation this session, and we wanted to follow through on that commitment," Winkler said in a statement. "Our current priority is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but after the town halls and discussions around this issue, we still wanted to put a strong bill forward. As we look to come out of this crisis as a better, stronger Minnesota, we need to continue working toward legalizing cannabis for responsible adult use."

Pennsylvania Poll Has Strong Majority for Marijuana Legalization. A Republican-affiliated pollster, Harper Polling, has found that 62% of Pennsylvanians favor marijuana legalization, with even larger majorities favoring the taxation of legal marijuana sales "as a way to address the state's projected budget deficit. "The pollster argues state Republicans might want to embrace legalization. "Far from being an electoral drag, supporting adult use cannabis has positive effects for a Republican legislator," the pollster wrote in a memo. "Meanwhile, a third of Democrats would be more likely to vote for a Republican legislator who they knew 'supported controlling, regulating and taxing the sale of adult use cannabis,'" the memo asserts.

New York City Marijuana Drug Testing Ban Takes Effect Next Week. On May 10, a law passed by the New York City Council -- Int. No. 1445-A -- will take effect and prohibit employers in New York City from requiring prospective employees to submit to drug testing for the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol. (THC), in their system as a condition of employment. There are exceptions for police officers, child and health care workers, and workers in safety-sensitive positions.

Psychedelics<

DC City Council Approves Bill to Help Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative Qualify for Ballot in Time of Coronavirus. The council unanimously approved a bill Tuesday that would ease the way for a proposed psychedelic decriminalization initiative by allowing for electronic signature-gathering during the pandemic. The bill allows ballot initiative campaigns to electronically distribute petition sheets to their signature gatherers and let those petitioners return their collections to organizers in digital form. Voters would still have to physically sign printed sheets, but those could then be scanned and sent back to campaign headquarters.

With Psychedelic Legalization on the Horizon, How Should We Get There from Here? [FEATURE]

At this point, it's almost a commonplace to say that a psychedelic renaissance is underway. Microdosing has been a thing for years now, scientists around the world are reporting exciting spiritual and therapeutic research results, and venture capitalists are beginning to edge their way into what they hope is the next lucrative drug commodity market.

magic mushrooms (Creative Commons)
But also bubbling up is a social and political movement to free psychedelics (and their users) from the fetters of drug prohibition. Beginning with Denver, a handful of cities across the country have passed what are in effect municipal decriminalization ordinances, with the Decriminalize Nature campaign promoting similar efforts in dozens more.

This year, Oregon and the District of Columbia have psychedelic reform initiatives still in the signature-gathering phase. While hobbled by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, both could still make the ballot this year. (A similar campaign in California recently bit the dust, citing said pandemic.)

The late April Psychedelic Liberty Summit sponsored by the Chacruna Institute for Plant Medicines, was yet another manifestation of the rising interest in psychedelics. "We provide public education and cultural understanding about psychedelic plant medicines and promote a bridge between the ceremonial use of sacred plants and psychedelic science," the institute says in its mission statement. It envisions "a world where plant medicines and other psychedelics are preserved, protected, and valued as part of our cultural identity and integrated into our social, legal and health care systems."

Originally set for San Francisco, the two-day series of wide-ranging panels and presentations instead went virtual in the face of pandemic social distancing requirements. "Attendees" viewed remotely as panelists covered topics ranging from "Sacred Peyote Conservation" to "Psychedelic Medicalization: Unpacking the Landscape of Drug Development and Commercialization" to " How Can We Ensure Respectful, Safe, Ethical, Inclusive and Sustainable Sourcing for Psychedelic Plants and Materials?" and beyond.

Numerous panels were devoted to advancing the cause of ending psychedelic prohibition, and weighing heavily on those involved were questions about just how to proceed. Should reform initiatives target a single psychedelic, as the Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative does, should they target all psychedelics or only natural ones (sorry LSD and MDMA), or should the target be broader drug decriminalization?

Similarly, what role should private investment capital play? Are there lessons to be learned from the commodification of cannabis under state-level legalization? And just how should legal or decriminalized psychedelics be made available to the public? Attempts to answer these questions were a central theme of the summit, and what was clear was that although reform thinkers share a common general goal, there's a breadth of opinion about the details.

For Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML and one of the authors of the groundbreaking 1996 Prop 215 campaign that legalized medical marijuana in the state with bare-bones language, psychedelics are a different ball game.

"I don't think marijuana and psychedelics should be legalized on the same model," said Gieringer. "Marijuana is pretty safe even for novices, but psychedelics need to be treated with more respect. This is not something that should just be sold over the counter to adults from the very get go; first time users should be informed of certain cautions, and we need a new paradigm for distributing psychedelics, maybe something more like drug user clubs, with nonprofit organizations -- not commercial operations -- in charge of manufacturing, distributing, and educating users on the use of psychedelic drugs, as well as being responsible for any harmful effects of the drugs."

Gieringer pointed back to Prop 215 and the reefer revolution it unleashed as he urged initiative campaigns to keep it simple.

"I advise the movement to be cautious about overprescribing elaborate regulatory regimes. We didn't do that with marijuana; we just had a set of principles that people shouldn't be arrested for using or cultivating for personal use. We did that deliberately; we knew it was going to be very complicated in a federal system and we left it to government to fill in the details," he said.

"Prop 215 was a very short initiative," Gieringer reminded. "The Oregon initiative has 71 pages and you still can't have psilocybin mushrooms in your house or use them outside one of these organizations that gets set up under the initiative."

That's the wrong approach, he suggested: "We should go back to a broad initiative that embraces the notion that people should be able to use psychedelics for spiritual, medical, and personal illumination in general, and leave it to the state and federal government to fill in the details."

And not just do it one hallucinogen at a time.

"We ought to approach this more broadly and not just do one drug at a time," he argued. "If we do psilocybin, what about peyote? What about ayahuasca? What about everything else? I favor a broader approach making psychedelics available to people want them on a private use basis. Let's think globally and act locally and wait for our eggs to hatch here. Let's go for simple initiatives that give people direct access to psychedelics."

Any such movement for psychedelic legalization or decriminalization -- as opposed to broader drug legalization or decriminalization -- will need to be self-generating and self-supporting, argued Sean McAllister, a Denver-based attorney who was chairman of the board for Sensible Colorado when that group led the nation's first successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2012 and a consultant for Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the city's 2019 psilocybin initiative.

"Unlike cannabis, psilocybin has only been used by an estimated two to five percent of the population, and only one tenth of one percent are current psychedelic users," he noted. "That's a much smaller pool, and any drug reform initiative requires the support of those who do not use. We're asking the majority to protect our rights, so we have to convince the majority our movement makes sense and won't endanger the public safety or health."

By including reporting requirements for psilocybin-related law enforcement encounters and other public safety and public health impacts via the mayor's psilocybin review panel, on which McAllister sits, the Denver initiative was helping lay the educational groundwork for doing that convincing, he argued.

"We'll write a report at the end of the year assessing the impacts of the initiative, but really nothing has changed," McAllister reported. "Law enforcement was concerned people would be dealing psilocybin on the streets and getting high on the streets, but our community is pretty self-regulating. There's been no explosion or public health or public safety problems. We hope that our report will be of great value to other cities looking to decriminalize psilocybin and to the movement as we attempt to change laws across the country."

But that movement won't be able to count on the largesse of traditional drug reform funders, McAllister warned, noting that statewide initiative campaigns cost millions of dollars.

"There is just not that much interest in psychedelics only," he said. "The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) believes in legalizing all drugs; it doesn't believe in drug exceptionalism. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is primarily focused on MDMA and PTSD. We don't have tens or hundreds of thousands of people in prison, so we don't have the same social justice issues around psychedelics. The ACLU isn't going to lead our movement. We have to step up and build our own organizations and come together as a movement."

"There are a lot of benefits to decriminalizing psychedelics that we need to study further, and it's fascinating to see all these movements for decriminalization popping up around the country, but at the same time I'm ambivalent about it because there's also simultaneously a movement to just decriminalize all drugs," said Jag Davies, who has long stints as a communications specialist for the DPA and MAPS under his belt.

"And I don't think drug decriminalization is as big a deal and as revolutionary as it's made out to be," Davies continued. "Right now, we have a national poll showing 55 percent support for decriminalizing all drugs."

Even though the argument that "marijuana is safer" was used to great benefit in the Colorado marijuana legalization campaign, Davies warned of its hazards.

"One of the mistakes made with marijuana reform messaging is framing it as a safe or safer drug," he argued. "All drugs are the same in that criminalization isn't an effective policy and is counterproductive to public health, but at the same time there will be some difference in how we think about policies. We need to think about who is benefitting and who is left behind. The benefits of decriminalizing more dangerous drugs are much greater," he added, pointing out that the other Oregon initiative would do just that.

In any case, psychedelic warriors should be part of a greater effort, Davies said.

"Drug decriminalization is perhaps a more effective strategy to reduce the harm in the long term," he said. "Even if you're a psychedelic exceptionalist, it's beneficial to join forces with the broader drug reform movement and the criminal justice movements and get the buy-in from those communities before you make your move."

David Bronner, the Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner's natural soaps, straddles both worlds. He has long supported broad drug reform efforts and this year is putting a million dollars into the Oregon therapeutic psilocybin initiative.

"Having a well-structured therapeutic model makes it accessible to the average person who is not familiar with psychedelics," Bronner said. "The Oregon model is very much about accessing therapy and likewise making sure there is only minimal taxation -- enough to cover the cost of the program -- but keeping it limited in size and scope, so you can make a good livelihood but not have a hundred chain clinics."

"These are preventative measures so we don't see what happened with cannabis and with there being some kind of controls," he added. "The polling says people aren't familiar with mushrooms and want to see strict controls on access, that it can't be accessed outside the therapeutic model."

What Bronner was alluding to -- the undesirability of turning something ineffable like marijuana or psychedelics into just another capitalist commodity -- Steve DeAngelo addressed head on. And he's particularly well-positioned to: A long-time marijuana movement activist, he founded one of the first dispensaries in the nation, Harborside in Oakland, but also the Arcview Group, the first dedicated marijuana investment network, creating a Faustian bargain with profit-seeking capital.

"With Arcview, we hit on the energy of free enterprise to power the social change we wanted, and a lot of the progress we made is because we did invite the investor class in, but it came at a cost, a significant cost," he said. "Prior to Arcview inviting the investor class in, the movement was driven by people who loved cannabis, but we attracted a lot of people whose motivation was not love of cannabis but love of making money."

"I expected the energy to come but was a little taken aback at the urgency and ferocity of it," DeAngelo continued. "Cannabis lovers took investment money and then ceded control to investors. I saw a lot of people who had spent their lives representing the plant start to lose power, their livelihoods, and their influence over how to explain cannabis to the rest of the world. I fear we could see a lot of the same thing with psychedelics. If that happens, the way these substances are taught to the world is going to change. We could see a model for psychedelics more geared to return for investors than toward a meaningful experience for an individual or for positive social change."

"Psychedelics have always been part of my path and one lesson I learned is that intention drives result," DeAngelo said. The consciousness with which we approach something will have a profound influence on what happens. On a psychic level, on a cosmic level, a different vibration is created when psychedelics are evangelized for the aim of making more money than with a motive of love and sharing and bringing about social change. I'm much more comfortable with a message from people who love psychedelics than people who love money."

And so it goes as the nascent psychedelic liberation movement emerges. There is great debate over tactics and strategies, but a commonality of purpose linked to human liberation and social justice. The path forward is uncertain, but it is one we will make as we walk it.

Push to Allow Marijuana Businesses Pandemic Aid, Bloody Gun Battles in Mexico, More... (4/23/20)

A push is on in Congress to secure coronavirus pandemic relief aid for the legal marijuana industry, a poll suggests that a DC psychedelic decriminalization initiative could win -- if it can make the ballot -- and more.

Some senators and representatives are pushing to get legal marijuana businesses included in pandemic relief funding. (CC)
Marijuana Policy

US Senators Want Small Marijuana Firms Included in Coronavirus Aid. A group of 10 US senators led by Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jackie Rosen (D-NV) have sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to include small, state-legal marijuana businesses and related companies in any future coronavirus relief packages. The letter comes a week after nearly three dozen House members sent a similar one.

Lawmakers File Bill to Let Marijuana Companies Have Access to Coronavirus Relief Funds. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) on Thursday filed an as yet unnumbered bill, the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, which would allow legal marijuana businesses to access disaster relief loans and other programs available during the COVID-19 crisis.

Psychedelics

DC Voters Would Approve Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiative If It Makes Ballot, Poll Says. A poll commissioned by Decriminalize DC, the folks behind the psychedelic decriminalization initiative, suggests the measure could pass -- if it manages to make the ballot. Signature-gathering for initiative campaigns around the country have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and DC is no exception. The poll found 51% said they were in favor when read the actual text of the measure, but that figure rose to 60% when voters were provided more information and settled at 59% when voters had heard pro and con arguments.

International

Mexico Sees 13 Dead in Violence in Guerrero Poppy Fields. At least 13 people were killed over the weekend in multisided clashes between community vigilantes, police, soldiers, and members of the Cartel del Sur in the opium poppy-growing town of El Naranjo, Guerrero. Clashes and gun battles lasting for hours broke out Saturday as cartel gunmen duked it out with a "grassroots citizens militia" (vigilante group) called the United Front of Community Police of Guerrero, a repeat of clashes last summer when the vigilantes tried unsuccessfully to force out the cartel. After Saturday's clashes, authorities called in the National Guard, soldiers, and state police, who then engaged in another gun battle, killing four presumed cartel members. Later another four executed bodies were found, and on Monday the bodies of five more men covered in blankets were discovered at the bottom of a ravine surrounded by shell casing.

NY Governor Says No Legalization in State Budget, First Federal Prisoner COVID-19 Death, More... (4/1/20)

It looks like coronavirus has killed marijuana legalization in New York this year, a new nonprofit focused on psychedelic education has emerged, a nonviolent drug offender is the first federal prisoner to die of COVID-19, and more.

Prison is no place to be in the midst of a pandemic. (ussc.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Advocates Call on Governor to End Ban on Recreational Marijuana Sales. Marijuana legalization advocates, doctors, and Cannabis Control Commission member Shaleen Title are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker (R) to end his ban on recreational marijuana sales because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most other legal marijuana states are allowing some form of sales. Baker has argued that because Massachusetts is one of the only states in the region that allows recreational marijuana sales, leaving the stores open would attract traffic from other states.

New York Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Won't Be in Budget. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Tuesday the state is not likely to legalize marijuana as part of its budget process, dramatically reducing the likelihood that such a measure will pass this year. Cuomo had pushed for inclusion in the budget, but with the budget deadline looming and the state in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo said legalization wasn't likely.

Incarceration

First Known Federal Inmate, a Nonviolent Drug Offender, Dies of Coronavirus. The US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has confirmed that a federal prisoner had died from COVID-19. That is the first known coronavirus death in the federal system. He was identified as Patrick Jones, 49, who was serving a 27-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime. He was doing time at a low-security federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana. Fourteen other prisoners and 13 staff members are also infected by the virus.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Orders Prisoner Lockdown. The BOP announced Tuesday that it is moving to Phase Five of its COVID-19 Action Plan, which means all federal prisoners will be confined in their cells for the next 14 days to slow the spread of the virus. The move comes "in response to a growing number of quarantine and isolation cases in our facilities," the BOP said. The BOP also said it is coordinating with the US Marshals Service to "significantly decrease" the arrival of new prisoners. BOP said it would reevaluate after 14 days.

California to Release 3,500 Prisoners Early as COVID-19 Spreads in State Prisons. Lawyers for the state told a panel of federal judges Tuesday the state is taking "extraordinary and unprecedented protective measures" to slow the spread of the virus, including plans to accelerate release and parole dates for 3,500 inmates serving terms for nonviolent crimes and already due to be released within 60 days. The releases are to be conducted "within the next several weeks." The state has already been locking down cell blocks where prisoners exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Psychedelics

Denver-Based Nonprofit Launches National Organization to Educate Public and Develop Leadership in Psychedelic Ecosystem. The Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education ("SPORE") announced today its nonprofit status as an organization that envisions a world where everyone has safe and responsible access to psychedelics, including psilocybin mushrooms. SPORE was founded by two proponents of the Denver Psilocybin Initiative, Kevin Matthews and Matthew Duffy, to educate the public and develop leadership in the rapidly growing psychedelic ecosystem to support human wellbeing. The group is being sponsored by the nonprofit group Reconsider and a $50,000 donation from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

Two Takes on the Global Drug War and Global Drug Cultures [FEATURE]

America shows signs of emerging from the century-long shadow of drug prohibition, with marijuana leading the way and a psychedelic decriminalization movement rapidly gaining steam. It also seems as if the mass incarceration fever driven by the war on drugs has finally broken, although tens if not hundreds of thousands remain behind bars on drug charges.

As Americans, we are remarkably parochial. We are, we still like to tell ourselves, "the world's only superpower," and we can go about our affairs without overly concerning ourselves about what's going on beyond our borders. But what America does, what America wants and what America demands has impacts far beyond our borders, and the American prohibitionist impulse is no different.

Thanks largely (but not entirely) to a century of American diplomatic pressure, the entire planet has been subsumed by our prohibitionist impulse. A series of United Nations conventions, the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, pushed by the US, have put the whole world on lockdown.

We here in the drug war homeland remain largely oblivious to the consequences of our drug policies overseas, whether it's murderous drug cartels in Mexico, murderous cops in the Philippines, barbarous forced drug treatment regimes in Russia and Southeast Asia, exemplary executions in China, or corrupted cops and politicians everywhere. But now, a couple of non-American journalists working independently have produced a pair of volumes that focus on the global drug war like a US Customs X-ray peering deep inside a cargo container. Taken together, the results are illuminating, and the light they shed reveals some very disturbing facts.

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov and Pills, Powder, and Smoke by Antony Loewenstein both attempt the same feat -- a global portrait of the war on drugs -- and both reach the same conclusion -- that drug prohibition benefits only drug traffickers, fearmongering politicians, and state security apparatuses -- but are miles apart attitudinally and literarily. This makes for two very different, but complementary, books on the same topic.

Loewenstein, an Australian who previously authored Disaster Capitalism and Profits of Doom, is -- duh -- a critic of capitalism who situates the global drug war within an American project of neo-imperial subjugation globally and control over minority populations domestically. His work is solid investigative reporting, leavened with the passion he feels for his subject.

In Pills, Powder, and Smoke, he visits places that rarely make the news but are deeply and negatively impacted by the US-led war on drugs, such as Honduras. Loewenstein opens that chapter with the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, which was not directly related to the drug war, but which illustrates the thuggish nature of the Honduran regime -- a regime that emerged after a 2009 coup overthrew the leftist president, a coup justified by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which has received millions in US anti-drug assistance, mainly in the form of weapons and military equipment.

Honduras doesn't produce any drugs; it's only an accident of geography and the American war on drugs that we even mention the country in the context of global drug prohibition. Back in the 1980s, the administration of Bush the Elder cracked down on cocaine smuggling in the Caribbean, and as traffickers sought to evade that threat, Honduras was perfectly placed to act as a trampoline for cocaine shipments taking an alternative route through Mexico, which incidentally fueled the rise of today's deadly and uber-wealthy Mexican drug cartels.

The drug trade, combined with grinding poverty, huge income inequalities, and few opportunities, has helped turn Honduras into one of the deadliest places on earth, where the police and military kill with impunity, and so do the country's teeming criminal gangs. Loewenstein walks those mean streets -- except for a few neighborhoods even his local fixers deem too dangerous -- talking to activists, human rights workers, the family members of victims, community members, and local journalists to paint a chilling picture. (This is why Hondurans make up a large proportion of those human caravans streaming north to the US border. But unlike Venezuela, where mass flight in the face of violence and economic collapse is routinely condemned as a failure of socialism, you rarely hear any commentators calling the Honduran exodus a failure of capitalism.)

He reexamines one of the DEA's most deadly recent incidents, where four poor, innocent Hondurans were killed by Honduran troops working under DEA supervision in a raid whose parameters were covered up for years by the agency. Loewenstein engaged in extended communication with the DEA agent in charge, as well as with survivors and family members of those killed. Those people report they have never received an apology, not to mention compensation, from the Honduran military -- or from the United States. While the Honduran military fights the drug war with US dollars, Loewenstein shows it and other organs of the Honduran government are also deeply implicated in managing the drug traffic. And news headlines bring his story up to date: Just this month, the current, rightist president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, of meeting with and taking a bribe from a drug trafficker. This comes after his brother, former Honduran Senator Juan Antonio Hernández, was convicted of running tons of cocaine into the United States in a trial that laid bare the bribery, corruption, and complicity of high-level Hondurans in the drug trade, including the president.

Loewenstein also takes us to Guinea-Bissau, a West African country where 70 percent of the population subsists on less than $2 a day and whose biggest export is cashews. Or at least it was cashews. Since the early years of this century, the country has emerged as a leading destination for South American cocaine, which is then re-exported to the insatiable European market.

Plagued by decades of military coups and political instability, the country has never developed, and an Atlantic shoreline suited for mass tourism now serves mainly as a convenient destination for boatloads and planeloads of cocaine. Loewenstein visits hotels whose only clients are drug traffickers and remote fishing villages where the trade is an open secret and a source of jobs. He talks with security officials who frankly admit they have almost no resources to combat the trade, and he traces the route onward to Europe, sometimes carried by Islamic militants.

He also tells the tale of one exemplary drug bust carried out by a DEA SWAT team arguably in Guinean territorial waters that snapped up the country's former Navy minister. The DEA said he was involved in a "narco-terrorist" plot to handle cocaine shipments for Colombia's leftist FARC guerillas, who were designated as "terrorists" by the administration of Bush the Junior in a politically convenient melding of the wars on drugs and terror.

It turns out, though, there were no coke loads, and there was no FARC; there was only a DEA sting operation, with the conspiracy created out of whole cloth. While the case made for some nice headlines and showed the US hard at work fighting drugs, it had no demonstrable impact on the use of West Africa as a cocaine conduit, and it raised serious questions about the degree to which the US can impose its drug war anywhere it chooses.

Loewenstein also writes about Australia, England, and the United States, in each case setting the historical and political context, talking to all kinds of people, and laying bare the hideous cruelties of drug policies that exert their most terrible tolls on the poor and racial minorities. But he also sees glimmers of hope in things such as the movement toward marijuana legalization here and the spread of harm reduction measures in England and Australia.

He gets one niggling thing wrong, though, in his chapter on the US. He converses with Washington, DC, pot activists Alan Amsterdam and Adam Eidinger, the main movers behind DC's successful legalization initiative, but in his reporting on it, he repeatedly refers to DC as a state and once even mistakenly cites a legal marijuana sales figure from Washington state. (There are no legal sales in DC.) Yes, this is a tiny matter, but c'mon, Loewenstein is Australian, and he should know a political entity similar to Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory.

That quibble aside, Loewenstein has made a hardheaded but openhearted contribution to our understanding of the multifaceted malevolence of the never-ending war on drugs. And I didn't even mention his chapter on the Philippines. It's in there, it's as gruesome as you might expect, and it's very chilling reading.

Vorobyov, on the other hand, was born in Russia and emigrated to England as a child. He reached adulthood as a recreational drug user and seller -- until he was arrested on the London Underground and got a two-year sentence for carrying enough Ecstasy to merit a charge of possession with intent to distribute. After that interval, which he says inspired him to write his book, he got his university degree and moved back to Russia, where he picked up a gig at Russia Today before turning his talents to Dopeworld.

Dopeworld is not staid journalism. Instead, it is a twitchy mish-mash, jumping from topic to topic and continent to continent with the flip of a page, tracing the history of alcohol prohibition in the US at one turn, chatting up Japanese drug gangsters at the next, and getting hammered by ayahuasca in yet another. Vorobyov himself describes Dopeworld as "true crime, gonzo, social, historical memoir meets fucked up travel book."

Indeed. He relates his college-boy drug-dealing career with considerable panache. He parties with nihilistic middle-class young people and an opium-smoking cop in Tehran, he cops $7 grams of cocaine in Colombia and tours Pablo Escobar's house with the dead kingpin's brother as a tour guide, he has dinner with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's family in Mexico's Sinaloa state and pronounces them nice people ("really chill"), and he meets up with a vigilante killer in Manila.

Vorobyov openly says the unsayable when it comes to writing about the drug war and drug prohibition: Drugs can be fun! While Loewenstein is pretty much all about the victims, Vorobyov inhabits the global drug culture. You know: Dopeworld. Loewenstein would bemoan the utter futility of a record-breaking seizure of a 12-ton load of cocaine; Vorobyov laments, "that's 12 tons of cocaine that will never be snorted."

Vorobyov is entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and he brings a former dope dealer's perspective to bear. He's brash and breezy, but like Loewenstein, he's done his homework as well as his journalistic fieldwork, and the result is fascinating. To begin to understand what the war on drugs has done to people and countries around the planet, this pair of books makes an essential introduction. And two gripping reads.

Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov (August 2020, St. Martin's Press, hardcover, 432 pp., $29.99)

Pills, Powder, and Smoke: Inside the Bloody War on Drugs by Antony Loewenstein (November 2019, Scribe, paperback, 368 pp., $19.00)

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