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Mississippi Becomes Latest State to Legalize Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

With the signature of Gov. Tate Reeves (R) on a compromise medical marijuana bill on Wednesday, Mississippi becomes the 37th state to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Mississippians should see dispensaries operating before year's end. (Sondra Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)
Mississippi voters had overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana at the polls in November 2020, passing a broad medical marijuana measure, Initiative 65, with 74% of the vote (and rejecting a more restrictive legislative alternative, Initiative 65A.) But that victory was nullified by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the state's signature gathering requirements for initiatives could not be complied with, invalidating not only Initiative 65 but also the whole initiative process in the state.

Heedful of the will of the people, both the legislature and the governor vowed to get a medical marijuana bill passed. The Supreme Court ruling was in May 2021; it took until now for the executive branch and the legislative branch to come to agreement on how to replace what the judicial branch threw out. Meanwhile, patients waited increasingly impatiently.

They got medical marijuana, but in a more restrictive form that what the voted for back in 2020. The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 2095) allows patients to purchase smokeable marijuana, but only ¾ of an ounce per week, and there is no provision for home cultivation. Marijuana flower must be no more than 30 percent THC, while concentrates must be no more than 60 percent.

People with a specified list of conditions -- cancer, Parkinson's, Huntington's, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, sickle cell anemia, Alzheimer's, agitation of dementia, PTSD, autism, pain refractory to opioid management, diabetic/peripheral neuropathy, spinal cord disease, or severe injury -- qualify for medical marijuana.

People with chronic medical conditions that produce wasting, severe nausea, seizures, severe muscle spasms, and chronic pain also qualify, but chronic pain is narrowly defined as "a pain state in which the cause of the pain cannot be removed or otherwise treated, and which in the generally accepted course of medical practice, no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts by a practitioner."

Doctors, certified nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and optometrists can all sign recommendations for patients if they believe the patient "would likely receive medical or palliative benefit" from medical marijuana. But before they can do that, they have to have completed eight hours of continuing medical education courses on medical marijuana (and five hours each year after that) and have performed an in-person examination of the patient.

People who want to get in the medical marijuana business can obtain licenses if they pay nonrefundable application fees ranging from $1,500 for a 1,000-square foot canopy micro-cultivator license to $100,000 for the largest operators. There is no cap on the number of medical marijuana businesses. There will be a wholesale tax of 5 percent in addition to the state sales tax of 7 percent.

Marijuana reform advocates generally praised the passage of the bill, though with some reservations.

"With this victory, tens of thousands of Mississippians with debilitating health conditions will finally be able to safely and legally access something that can alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life. Mississippi now serves as the latest example that medical cannabis legalization is possible in any state in the country. We are hopeful that this move will add to the growing momentum towards cannabis policy reform in the South," said Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) in a press release.

"Marijuana access is long overdue for Mississippi's patients," NORML's State Policies Manager Jax James said in a blog post. "The overwhelming majority of voters decided in favor of this policy change over a year ago, and for the past 14 months the will of the people has been denied."

But James also expressed disappointment in some of both what the bill does contain and what it does not.

"We remain concerned that lawmakers saw fit to add unnecessary taxes on cannabis products, that patients are prohibited from home-cultivating limited amounts of cannabis for their own personal use, and that those with chronic pain are restricted from accessing cannabis products until first using more dangerous and addictive substances like opioids," she said.

For MPP, though, the bottom line was that another state now allows patients access to medical marijuana.

"Despite tremendous support, Mississipians faced an uphill battle for a medical cannabis program. With this new law, justice has finally prevailed. Patients in Mississippi who are seriously ill will no longer be subject to arrest and criminal penalties for using medical cannabis and instead will be met with compassion. We applaud the legislature for working to restore the will of the voters in one of the most conservative states in the nation and Gov. Reeves for signing it into law," said Kevin Caldwell, MPP Southeast legislative manager.

The state Department of Health will begin issuing patient registry cards in 60 days, begin accepting applications from practitioners and begin licensing marijuana businesses other than dispensaries within 120 days, and licensing dispensaries within 150 days. The clock is ticking.

SD MJ Legalization Init Thrown Out, New Zealand Legalizes Drug Checking, More... (11/24/21)

A federal jury finds major drugstore chains culpable in two Ohio counties' opioid crisis, St, Louis decriminalizes marijuana possession, and more.

drug checking kits (SSDP)
Marijuana Policy

South Dakota Supreme Court Throws Out Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the voter-approved Amendment A marijuana legalization initiative violates the state constitution because it violated a provision limiting constitutional amendments to one subject. The court held that encompassing medical marijuana and recreational marijuana as well as setting out a taxation and regulatory structure made the amendment too broad to be considered a single subject.

While the ruling derails legalization for now, it may not be derailed for long. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the group behind Amendment A, is already undertaking a signature-gathering drive to get another, single-issue initiative on the 2022 ballot, and the state legislature has already committed to taking up marijuana legalization in the legislative session that begins in January.

St. Louis Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession. The city's Board of Alderman voted unanimously Tuesday night to repeal an ordinance making it illegal to possess 35 grams or less of marijuana, and to bar police from enforcing state and federal law against small amounts or paraphernalia. Mayor Tishaura O. Jones (D) says she will sign the bill as soon as it reaches her desk.

Opioids

Ohio Jury Finds Drugstore Chains Culpable in Opioid Crisis. A federal jury has found that three major retailers -- CVS, Walgreens and Walmart -- helped flood two Ohio counties with opioids, contributing to the area's opioid crisis. The two counties, Lake and Trumbull, argued that the pharmacies did not do enough to stop large quantities of opioids from reaching the black market, and the jury agreed. Two other pharmacy chains -- Giant Eagle and Rite Aid -- previously settled with the counties for undisclosed amounts.

The counties' attorneys estimated the opioid epidemic cost each one more than a billion dollars. "For decades, pharmacy chains have watched as the pills flowing out of their doors cause harm and failed to take action as required by law," the counties' legal team said. "Instead, these companies responded by opening up more locations, flooding communities with pills, and facilitating the flow of opioids into an illegal, secondary market. The judgment today against Walmart, Walgreens and CVS represents the overdue reckoning for their complicity in creating a public nuisance."

No mention was made about the need to protect chronic pain patients from the spillover effects from opioid crackdowns. In 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control issued a statement detailing ways in which its 2016 guidance on pain prescribing had been misapplied to harmfully restrict patients' access to pain medications.

International

New Zealand Becomes First Country to Legalize Drug Checking. With a vote in parliament this week, New Zealand has made permanent and explicitly legal a pilot drug checking program. The pilot program approved last December was set to expire next month. The Health Ministry had recommended in April that the program be made permanent after data showed high percentages of people who took advantage of the drug checks changed their behavior and better understood the potential harms. The bill creates broad legal protections for people offering and using drug checking services.

OR Has Another $270 Million for Drug Treatment Programs, Germany to Legalize Marijuana, More... (11/19/21)

Germany is moving to legalize marijuana, DC is moving to legalize marijuana sales, and more.

Employers are beginning to move away from drug testing workers and job applicants, a new survey finds. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

DC Council Holds Hearing on Legal Marijuana Sales Bill. The DC Council on Friday held its first public hearing on a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana in the District. Marijuana has been legal in the District since voters approved Initiative 71 in 2014, but not sales, which has instead emerged as a sort of gray market via the practice of "gifting" marijuana. There is widespread support for legalizing sales, from Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) to members of the Council. That would require ending a six-year-old congressional prohibition on sales, which Democrats are already moving to repeal, but which may not happen this year. And then there's the possibility that Republicans can take back control of the House next year and reinstate the ban. But at the Council, the debate is now underway.

Drug Testing

Survey: Nearly One-in-Ten Employers Dropping Drug Testing Requirements to Attract Workers. A survey of some 45,000 employers in North America and Europe finds that about one out of 10 are dropping drug testing requirements as a way to attract new hires and keep current employees. Nine percent of those responding said they had "eliminated job screenings or drug tests" as a way to either attract or keep their employees. Sixty-nine percent of respondents acknowledged experiencing "difficulty" in filling staffing positions in the current job market, a 15-year high. The increasing number of states that have legalized marijuana is also having an impact, with Amazon dropping pre-employment marijuana testing in June, and a number of cities and states have enacted policies restricting testing for marijuana.

Drug Treatment

Oregon Set to Spend $270 Million on Drug Treatment Centers as Part of Decriminalization Law. The state Oversight and Accountability Council, created as part of the successful Measure 110 drug decriminalization initiative passed last November, is set to distribute $270 million to groups treating people addicted to drugs. The council has now opened the grant process for groups to seek a share of those funds, which come from legal marijuana tax revenues as mandated by Measure 110. Meanwhile, the council is continuing to craft rules for the new Behavioral Health Resource Networks to increase access to treatment and other services. "Our vision is that by funding BHRNs, there will be a collaboration of networks that include culturally and linguistically specific and responsive, trauma-informed and gender affirming care that will meet the needs of anyone seeking services who have been negatively affected by substance use and the war on drugs," said Oversight & Accountability Tri-chair LaKeesha Dumas.

International

German Coalition Parties Agree to Legalize Marijuana. The three parties set to form the country's next governing coalition have agreed to legalize marijuana and its sale. The Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats are prepared to "introduce the regulated sale of cannabis to adults for consumption purposes in licensed stores," according to the coalition's health group's findings paper. Legalization would ensure quality control, protect minors, and prevent the distribution of contaminated products, the paper said. It is not clear, however, whether home cultivation will be allowed.

Oregon Drug Decrim is Slashing Drug Arrests, Massively Funding Services [FEATURE]

In a groundbreaking move a year ago now, Oregon voters approved decriminalization for personal use amounts of all illicit drugs, with Measure 110 passing with a healthy 59 percent of the vote. That made the state the first in the US to make this dramatic break with decades of the war on drugs. Now, as other states pondering a similar move look for evidence to bolster their case, some of the initial results in Oregon are looking pretty impressive.

Oregon's Mt. Hood. (David Mark/Pixabay)
Measure 110 promised not only thousands fewer drug arrests, but also a turn from the punitive to the compassionate -- providing hundreds of millions of dollars for greatly expanded access to evidence-informed drug treatment, peer support, housing, and harm reduction services, without raising taxes to do so. Services would be funded through excess marijuana tax revenue (over $45 million) and savings from no longer arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting people for drug possession. State analysts estimated the excess marijuana tax revenue alone should result in over $100 million in funding for services in the first year and up to $129 million by 2027.

The state analysts were off the mark. Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), whose legislative action arm, Drug Policy Action spearheaded the successful campaign, and the Oregon Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which is working to implement treatment, harm reduction, and support programs, announced they had secured funding of $302 million over the next two years. That's over $150 million a year, including $30 million lawmakers agreed to release ahead of schedule in May of this year.

That initial round of grants went to 70 organizations in 26 of the state's 36 counties, with these results:

  • 33 harm reduction and addiction recovery service providers expanded access to treatment services for indigent, uninsured individuals.
  • 52 organizations hired peer support specialists -- a role that addiction medicine experts have long heralded as essential to one's recovery journey.
  • 32 service providers added recovery, supportive and transitional housing services.
  • 30 organizations increased harm reduction services, which include life-saving interventions like overdose prevention; access to naloxone, methadone and buprenorphine; as well as drug education and outreach.

"We were about to have to close our doors in Wasco County, which would have been devastating to the people that depend on us for support there, but thanks to Measure 110 passing, we were not only able to get the funding we needed to stay open, but also to expand the services and spectrum of care we were able to provide our clients," said Monta Knudson, Executive Director of Bridges to Change, a nonprofit that offers peer recovery support, housing and treatment services in the state.

"Addiction has touched us all somehow, some more personally and heartbreakingly than others," said Tera Hurst, Executive Director of the Health Justice Recovery Alliance. "Too many of us have lost loved ones to addiction, or struggled with it ourselves. COVID-19 has made things much worse, decreasing access to care during a time when Oregonians need these services more than ever before. That's why we celebrate the great strides made when it comes to addressing Oregon's addiction crisis, while recognizing that there's still much work to be done. Our immediate focus is to ensure every Oregonian knows these critical harm reduction and recovery services are being invested in and expanded so that they will be available to anyone who wants and needs them, and that they can feel comfortable and safe accessing them."

But while the huge expansion of treatment, harm reduction, and related social services is undeniably a good thing, drug decriminalization is ultimately about getting people out of the criminal justice system by not getting them sucked into it in the first place. It's looking like Measure 110 is achieving that goal.

According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, there were roughly 9,000 drug arrests a year prior to passage of Measure 110, and while it is too early to have precise numbers, thousands of Oregonians who would have been arrested for drug possession this year have instead faced only their choice of a $100 fine or a health assessment. It won't be 9,000 fewer drug arrests, though, because some felony drug possession arrests (possession of more than the specified personal use amounts) have been downgraded to still arrestable misdemeanors. Still, it will be thousands fewer people subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system and all the negative consequences that brings.

"A year ago, Oregonians voted yes on Measure 110 to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs and expand access to health services. Now, because of this measure, there are thousands of people in Oregon that will never have to experience the devastating life-long barriers of having a drug arrest on their record, which disproportionately and unjustly affected Black and Indigenous people due to targeted policing," said DPA Executive Director Kassandra Frederique. "Because of this measure, there is more than $300 million in funding that did not exist before being funneled into community organizations to provide adequate and culturally competent care that people desperately need. And while the devastation of 50 years of cruel and counterproductive policies can’t be erased overnight, by all metrics we hoped to achieve, and what voters asked for, we are going down the right path."

A number of states -- including Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Maryland and Kansas -- the District of Columbia, and even the United States Congress have introduced bills or launched campaigns to similarly remove criminal penalties for drug possession and increase access to health services since the passage of Measure 110. These initial results should provide plenty of ammunition for advancing those campaigns.

DEA to Increase Research Production Quotas for Marijuana & Psilocybin, SD MedMJ Home Grows Endangered, More... (9/1/21)

Panama legalizes medical marijuana, the DEA boosts quotas for production of marijuana and psilocbyin for research purposes, and more.

South Dakota lawmakers want to ban medical marijuana home grows even though the voters approved them. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

The DEA Seeks to Increase Federal Production Limits for Psilocybin and Marijuana Research. The DEA has published a new document in the Federal Register proposing a significant increase in federal quotas for the production of psilocybin, psilocin (the metabolized version of psilocybin), and marijuana for research purposes. Both psilocybin and psilocin had a ceiling of 50 grams, which has been increased to 1500 grams and 1000 grams, respectively. The DEA also wants to raise the production quota for marijuana from 1.5 million grams this year to 2 million grams next year, as well as doubling upscale marijuana extract production to 500,000 grams. "DEA firmly believes in supporting regulated research of schedule I controlled substances," wrote the agency. "Therefore, the [Aggregate Production Quota] increases reflect the need to fulfill research and development requirements in the production of new drug products, and the study of marijuana effects in particular, as necessary steps toward potential Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of new drug products."

Medical Marijuana

South Dakota Legislative Panel Recommends Overruling Voters and Banning Medical Marijuana Home Grows.The legislature's Medical Marijuana Subcommittee voted 6-4 Monday to recommend banning home grown medical marijuana cultivation, even though it is expressly allowed under the language of IM 26, the medical marijuana initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters last November. The issue now goes to the legislature's full Marijuana Study Committee, which consists of eight senators and 16 representatives. Lawmakers on the adult use committee also discussed banning home grown marijuana on Wednesday as the state awaits a Supreme Court ruling on whether the voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative is unconstitutional.

Psychedelics

Denver Activists Push to Expand Psilocybin Decriminalization to Allow Gifting and Communal Use. The activists who successful managed a campaign to make Denver the first city in the US to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms are now aimed to legalize the noncommercial gifting and communal use of the substance. Kevin Matthews, founder of Vote Nature and head of the city's Psilocybin Mushroom Review Panel, said the proposal would ensure that people "have the liberty to gather in private group settings to celebrate and commune with psilocybin mushrooms without worrying about law enforcement intervention." The proposal is included in the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel's 2021 Comprehensive Report, which has already been approved by the district attorney and is pending further sign-off by other officials.

International

Panama Legalizes Medical Marijuana. After five years of consideration, the national assembly on Monday unanimously approved Bill 153, which legalizes medical marijuana in the Central American nation. The bill allows for home grown medical marijuana but bars its sale. It also requires the government to import marijuana in pill and liquid drop form. That medicine will be distributed through pharmacies that have applied for a permit and pass a site inspection.

RI Legislature Passes Safe Injection Site Bill, CA Coerced Treatment Bill Advances More... (7/2/21)

The Mississippi Supreme Court continues to smack down the will of the people on medical marijuana, a coerced drug treatment bill advances in California to the dismay of reformers, and more.

The InSite safe injection site in Vancouver has been operating successful for years. Now, Rhode Island wants to emulate it.
Medical Marijuana

Maine Legislature Approves Bill to Give Caregivers, Patients Input in Medical Marijuana Regulations. A bill that would require the state's Office of Marijuana Policy, which regulates both medical and recreational marijuana, to work with patients, caregivers, and medical marijuana enterprises in crafting regulations has passed both houses of the legislature. LD 1242 was passed as an emergency measure and has been enacted as law without the signature of Gov. Janet Mills (D), effective July 1. The bill was a response to proposed rules changes announced earlier this year by the Office of Marijuana Policy, which caregivers and the industry found onerous, including 24/7 surveillance and requiring growers to use the state's inventory tracking system, as is done with adult use marijuana. "This gives the people that are in the industry the real power in making and designing the laws and the rules that we will work around," said Susan Meehan, a medical marijuana caregiver, and chairperson of the Maine Cannabis Coalition.

Mississippi Supreme Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling Throwing Out Medical Marijuana Initiative Victory. In a two-page decision released Thursday, the state Supreme Court has rejected a call for it to reconsider its May decision throwing out a voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state. In that decision, which essentially invalidated the state's initiative process, the court held that because the state constitution called for signatures to be gathered in all five of the state's congressional districts, the initiative was unconstitutional because the state has had only four congressional districts since redistricting in 2000. In its decision this week, the court said that the parties asking for a reconsideration should have done so last November and that "the present motion for leave to intervene is not well take and should be denied." There is pressure on Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to call a special session to enact the will of the voters, but he has yet to do so.

Drug Treatment

California Coerced Drug Treatment Bill Advances. A bill that would let Yolo County create a locked drug treatment facility for people convicted of "drug-motivated felonies" has already passed the Assembly and this week was approved nearly unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 1542 would not be used for people simply convicted of drug possession or other misdemeanors, and those eligible would be "assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment." Those found suitable "would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well." While the bill has strong political support in Sacramento, there is strong opposition in the treatment and reform community. Even Human Rights Watch has weighed in, writing:"It [the bill] runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people." The bill is now headed to the Senate Health Committee.

Harm Reduction

Rhode Island Legislature Approves Safe Injection Site Pilot Program. With a final vote Thursday, the state legislature has approved a bill, 2021-H 5245A/2021-S 0016B, to authorize a two-year pilot program to create "harm reduction centers" where people could "safely consume pre-obtained substances," otherwise known as a safe injection site. The bill would require local approval before such a site could open, but it could also face a federal challenge. An earlier effort to open a safe injection site in Philadelphia was blocked by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled it would violate the Controlled Substance Act. But that case was brought by a conservative US attorney during the Trump administration. To sue to block this bill -- if enacted into law -- would require a Biden administration US attorney to bring a case, and it's not clear that would happen. Also, Rhode Island sits in the 1st US Circuit Court district, not the 3rd, so that Philadelphia decision is not binding there.

Mississippi's Medical Marijuana Law Struck Down Before It Can Take Effect [FEATURE]

Mississippians want medical marijuana. They said so at the polls last November when 74% of them voted for Amendment 65, the medical marijuana initiative that had jumped through all the procedural hoops to make it onto the ballot. They also said they wanted that specific language, rejecting a watered-down Alternate Amendment 65A sponsored by the Republican-dominated state legislature in a bid to seize control over the issue.

Mississippi Supreme Court (mississippi.org)
But before the voters had spoken, long-time Republican Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed suit to have the initiative thrown out on what can fairly be described as a technicality. And last Friday, the state Supreme Court, consisting of five justices appointed by Republican governors and four selected in nonpartisan elections, agreed, overturning the clear will of the voters because the legislature has failed to act for two decades on a constitutional housecleaning issue.

Under a provision of the state constitution added in the 1990s, Section 273, initiative campaigns are required to get one-fifth of signatures from each of five congressional districts, which seems straightforward enough. The only problem is that since congressional reapportionment after the 2000 census, the state only has four districts, making it impossible for any initiative to comply with the constitutional language.

Since 2000, the state has seen numerous initiatives, with many, including a 2011 voter ID initiative, becoming state law. None of them have been thrown out because of the conflict between the Section 273 language and reality. Until now.

In its 6-3 decision in Butler v. Watson (Watson being the secretary of state), the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the state's loss of a congressional seat renders the Section 273 language "unworkable and inoperable on its face," and instead pronounced itself bound to find Amendment 65 "insufficient" because it cannot meet the five district requirement. And it pointed a finger back at the legislature:

"Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress," the court held. "To work in today's reality, it will need amending -- something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court."

The decision is not going over well, and not only with medical marijuana advocates, but also in the state legislature, where this week calls arose among lawmakers for a special session to deal with medical marijuana and with the constitutional initiative problem.

"The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement. "Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people's constitutional right. It's a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn't matter."

"The Supreme Court's decision effectively told the people of Mississippi: 'You have no voice, no vehicle for voter initiative, y'all's power is over,'" said Diesoul Blankenship of Mississippians for Medical Marijuana. "It's nothing short of erroneous and illegal."

"228,000 Mississippians signed petitions to put medical marijuana on the ballot last year, and an overwhelming majority of the state voted to approve it in November," said Angie Calhoun, Board Member of the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association. "In addition to silencing the votes of three-fourths of the state, today the Supreme Court squashed the hope of thousands of patients like my son, who will now not be able to find relief through medical marijuana. As a mother of a patient, I am heartbroken and outraged that this was allowed to happen."

National supporters of Amendment 65 chimed in, too.

In a statement last Friday, Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew Schweich called it a "cruel and tragic day" for Mississippi patients and described the court decision as "deeply flawed."

"As a result, tens of thousands of Mississippians with debilitating health conditions will be denied safe, legal access to something that can alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life. Instead, they will once again be treated as criminals under the law, Schweich said. "To add insult to injury, this decision not only nullifies the will of hundreds of thousands of voters, it also effectively eliminates Mississippians' right to bring forward ballot initiatives to amend their state's constitution. The legislature must take action to fix the ballot initiative requirements and honor the will of their constituents by enacting Amendment 65 into law through the legislative process."

"Our hearts are broken for the patients in Mississippi who need access to medical cannabis, as well as their families who will continue to watch their loved ones needlessly suffer. We stand with them. The fight for a compassionate medical cannabis law in Mississippi will continue."

There are growing bipartisan calls for a special session to rectify the situation.

Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn said Monday he is open to the special session. "If the legislature does not act on an issue that the people of Mississippi want, then the people need a mechanism to change the law. I support the governor calling us into a special session to protect this important right of the people," the Republican representative said in a statement.

Democratic state Rep. John Hines told said Tuesday the court's decision against the electorate was shocking and Reeves needed to act. "The governor's in the driver's seat when we're out of session," he said. "It's his prerogative to call a session or not call a session."

A poll released Tuesday could add to the mounting pressure on the governor. It found 60% of respondents disapproved of the Supreme Court ruling and wanted Reeves to call a special session.

Reeves, though, is so far noncommittal. In remarks Tuesday, he said: "The people have spoken. They made their voice heard and voted overwhelmingly to have a (medical marijuana) program and Mississippi should have that."

But when asked directly about calling a special session, his response was: "We are a long way from being able to make that decision."

And the people of Mississippi wait, thwarted.

AL Becomes Latest MedMJ State, MS Supreme Court Throws Out Voter-Approved MedMJ Initiative, More... (5/17/21)

Ohio medical marijuana regulators expand the list of qualifying conditions, West Virginia medical marijuana regulators ponder allowing patient home grows, Kenyan Rastafaris petition seek to have their marijuana use legalized, and more.

The Mississippi Supreme Court. It just threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. (mississippi.org)
Medical Marijuana

Alabama Becomes Newest Medical Marijuana State. With the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey (R) on Senate Bill 46, medical marijuana is now set to become legal in the state. The new law allows the use of medical marijuana for a set of specified medical conditions and creates the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee how marijuana is grown.

Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill Wins Committee Vote. A medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 158, has been approved by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee after it approved several amendments. This is the second time the committee has approved the reform proposal for this session. But in March, the House sent the bill back to the committee for further consideration.

Mississippi Supreme Court Voids Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law. The state Supreme Court last Friday threw out a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative, ruling that it did not meet the state's requirement that 20% of signatures come from each of five congressional districts. The problem is that the state has only had four congressional districts since the 2000 census, and legislative efforts to redress the issue have yet to succeed. Three justices strongly dissented, saying that the secretary of state has rightfully put the measure on the ballot. "The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi," Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a statement. "The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right. It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter."

Ohio Medical Marijuana Panel Approves Three New Qualifying Conditions. A panel of the Ohio Medical Board has added three new qualifying conditions allowing state residents to use medical marijuana: arthritis, chronic migraines and complex regional pain syndrome, all of which fall into the existing category of chronic or intractable pain.

West Virginia Regulators Considers Allowing Patients to Grow Their Own. The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is considering a possible recommendation to allow state medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. Patient advocates cited the cost of buying medical marijuana dispensaries and obstacles to access for residents who do not live near dispensaries. A decision will come some weeks down the road.

International

Kenyan Rastafaris File Petition Seeking to Legalize Marijuana. The Rastafarian Society of Kenya has filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of the country's drug laws and seeking the suspension of that section of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1994 dealing with marijuana when it comes to Rastafaris. "The Petitioners aver that followers/believers of the Rastafari faith use bhang or cannabis by either smoking, drinking, eating, bathing and/or burning of incense for spiritual, medicinal, culinary and ceremonial purposes as sacrament as the ultimate of manifesting their religion as a Rastafari to meditate and or reason with others in order to connect with their God," the petition said.

CA Psychedelic Decrim Bill Advances, CT Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances, More... (4/7/21)

New York police will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, the Montana House passes a trio of competing legalization implementation bills, a cartel massacre in Mexico leaves more than two dozen dead, and more.

LSD and other psychedelics would be decriminalized under a bill advancing in California. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut Governor's Marijuana Legalization Bill Advances. A marijuana legalization bill supported by Governor Ned Lamont (D), House Bill 5853, passed the General Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. But lawmakers cautioned that changes are coming to the bill as it winds through the committee process. The bill awaits further action in the Senate.

Montana House Advances Three Marijuana Legalization Implementation Bills. The House on Tuesday approved three competing Republican-backed bills for regulating legal marijuana after voters approved it in November. The bills all departed from the voter-approved initiative, which called for legal sales to begin next January and for many revenues to be used for conservation efforts. Republican legislative leaders urged lawmakers to approve all three, arguing that doing so would give the Senate more options as it considers its course of action.

New York Police Will No Longer Be Able to Search Vehicles Solely Because of the Smell of Marijuana. With the legalization of marijuana possession now in effect, police in the state will no longer be able to search vehicles based solely on the smell of weed. More than three ounces of marijuana -- the personal possession limit -- will have to be visible to create the probable cause required to do a search. "While law enforcement across the state are continuing to review and discuss the ramifications of the new laws, what is clear is the fact we cannot search vehicles based on the odor of cannabis or even witnessing small quantities of cannabis," said Chautauqua County Sheriff James Quattrone.

New Orleans City Council to Take Up Marijuana Decriminalization Resolution. Council President Helena Moreno and five council members have filed a resolution to support an effort in the state legislature to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. "This is just common sense at this point, from criminal justice reform to job creation to funding critical needs," said Moreno. "It addresses a fundamental source of racial and economic inequity in our criminal justice system. Public support for decriminalization is finally catching up to the truth: black and brown communities bear the brunt of marijuana enforcement, disrupting lives and reinforcing existing biases while failing to make any appreciable effect on public safety. And because of this reality, the taxation piece must be a thoughtful one. Investment in communities of color must be prioritized… Let's do this, the time is now."

Psychedelics

California Psychedelic Decriminalization Bill Advances A bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of several psychedelic drugs, Senate Bill 519, passed its first legislative hurdle Tuesday as it won approval in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. It now heads for the Assembly Health Committee before going for an Assembly floor vote. "By decriminalizing we're not inviting people to use. We're taking, instead of a criminal approach to drug use, a health-minded approach," bill sponsor state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told the committee before the vote.

Harm Reduction

Nevada Naloxone in Schools Bill Advances. A bill to allow schools to get overdose reversal drugs has passed the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, Assembly Bill 205, amends an existing law allowing school officials to have Epi-Pens on hand to prevent anaphylactic shock to add auto-injector devices containing drugs such as naloxone.

Vermont Buprenorphine Decriminalization Bill Advances. The House Human Services Committee on Tuesday approved House Bill 225, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the opioid-addiction medication buprenorphine. The bill passed unanimously in committee and now heads for a House floor vote.

International

Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Wins Second Committee Vote in As Many Days. The Second Legislative Studies Committee approved a rapidly-advancing marijuana legalization bill Tuesday, one day after it won approval in the Justice Committee. It must still get through the Health Committee, which could happen as early as Wednesday, clearing the way to a final Senate vote as early as Thursday.

Mexico Cartel Massacre Leaves 27 Dead in Michoacan. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is being blamed for the mass killing of rival gang members in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacan, last week. The Citizens' Intelligence Unit said that member of United Cartels had surrendered to the CJNG and were subsequently executed. And now, someone has stolen 26 of their bodies and eight decapitated heads from the local morgue.

Drug Decriminalization is Starting to Show Up at the Statehouse [FEATURE]

With marijuana prohibition mortally wounded and on its last legs in the United States -- only Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska still allow no form of legal marijuana -- the next frontiers are beginning to open up. Last week, we looked at the spread of interest in the loosening of laws around psychedelics, with eight states seeing legislation this year. This week, we will turn our attention to the spread of broader efforts toward drug decriminalization.

The Washington state capitol in Olympia. Lawmakers there and elsewhere are wrestling with drug decriminalization. (CC)
With both psychedelic drug reform and broader drug decriminalization, voters in Oregon led the way, continuing a tradition of pioneering drug reform that began when it became the first state to decriminalize weed back in 1973 and was among the earliest to adopt medical marijuana (1998) and marijuana legalization (2014). Last November, they broke new ground again by approving Measure 109 legalizing therapeutic psilocybin use and Measure 110 decriminalizing the possession of personal use amounts of all drugs.

With Oregon leading the way, legislators in other states are now taking up the cause. As with marijuana legalization, getting bills actually passed will likely prove to be an arduous, multi-year task, but you have to start somewhere, and here's where it's starting this year (with a big tip of the hat to Marijuana Moment, which provides a list of marijuana, psychedelic, and other drug reform bills to its paying subscribers):

Kansas -- Drug Decriminalization with an Authoritarian Twist

Twenty-year-old freshman Rep. Aaron Coleman (D-Kansas City), who ran on a fairly progressive platform, has filed House Bill 2288, which would indeed decriminalize drug possession, replacing a criminal charge with a maximum $100 fine, as well as reducing penalties for drug manufacture and distribution. But the bill also mandates forced drug treatment -- "the county or district attorney shall refer such person for participation in the certified drug abuse treatment program… or another drug abuse treatment program available in the community" -- and creates a new crime of failing to comply with drug treatment. That would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to five days in jail, six months on probation, and a $250 fine. The bill was introduced February 9 and assigned to the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, where it has sat without action ever since.

Maryland -- Decriminalization of Drug Paraphernalia

A bill that would decriminalize the possession of "drug paraphernalia to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled dangerous substance," Senate Bill 0420, was approved by the Senate on March 4. Meanwhile, a companion measure, House Bill 0372, has passed the House, and that bill is now before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

New York -- Drug Decriminalization

State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D, WF-The Bronx) has filed Senate Bill 1284, which "[e]liminates criminal and civil penalties for possession of controlled substances; establishes the drug decriminalization task force to develop recommendations for reforming state laws, regulations and practices so that they align with the stated goal of treating substance use disorder as a disease, rather than a criminal behavior." The bill is in the Senate Codes Committee, where it has sat unmoving since it was filed in January. The House version of the bill, Assembly Bill 6583, died on March 24, when its sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), removed her support for it. Maybe next year.

Vermont -- Drug Decriminalization

House Bill 422, which currently has 14 cosponsors, would create a board with the Department of Health to set personal use and personal supply quantities and subsequently decriminalize the possession or supply of amounts under those limits. Violations would be punishable by no more than a $50 fine, which could be waived if the person agrees to a drug screening. It was introduced on March 10 and has been in the Committee on Human Services ever since.

Virginia -- Drug Decriminalization Study

A bill that would have directed "the Virginia State Crime Commission to study the propriety and effectiveness of alternative approaches to the Commonwealth's enforcement scheme for the possession of controlled substances, including decriminalization of the possession of such substances," House Bill 530, was introduced in January but killed in a House Rules Committee subcommittee in February.

Washington -- Drug Decriminalization

In February, the state Supreme Court lobbed a bomb into the criminal justice system when it ruled the state's felony drug possession law unconstitutional on the grounds that, unlike all other state criminal laws, it didn't require defendants to "knowingly" possess drugs. That inspired at least three legislative attempts to remedy the situation: Senate Bill 5471 to decriminalize unknowing drug possession; Senate Bill 5475 to make knowingly possessing drugs a crime but also create a working group to study drug possession laws; and Senate Bill 5468, which would simply refelonize drug possession. But before the court decision and all the bills it has lately inspired was a pure decriminalization measure, House Bill 1499. It's still alive, having passed the House Public Safety Committee in February, and is now before the House Appropriations Committee.

If any drug decriminalization bills in the states actually get passed and signed into law this year, that would be a pleasant surprise, but they are now beginning to pop up like they never did before. Getting things done through state legislatures is a frustrating and time-consuming process, as we see when it gets to trying to pass something as popular as marijuana legalization. With marijuana legalization, the early successes came from the initiative process, not state legislatures. Decriminalization victories may well come first from the voters, as in Oregon, not lawmakers. And that could make the prospects for next year better than this year.

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