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In Historic Come-from-Behind Victory, Denver Magic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative Passes [FEATURE]

Hours after numerous media outlets (including us) had the Denver magic mushroom initiative going down to defeat Tuesday night, it managed a near-miraculous last-minute comeback to squeak out a victory by a margin of 50.56% to 49.44%, late Wednesday afternoon, according to unofficial Denver Election Division results.

Denver
Election officials tweeted that "the results remain unofficial" until the city certifies them on May 16. If they hold, Denver will become the first locality in the United States to effectively decriminalize the use and possession of a psychedelic substance.

Even Decriminalize Denver, the group behind the measure, had conceded defeat Tuesday night, with group leader Kevin Matthews saying "it's not a loss, it's a lesson," as the measure trailed by thousands of votes throughout the evening. But then the worm turned, and now Denver has broken new ground.

With passage of I-301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, voters have told the city they want to "deprioritize, to the greatest extent possible, the imposition of criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms." The measure also "prohibits the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties on persons 21 years of age and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms."

Personal possession is defined under the measure to include growing one's own mushrooms, but the mushrooms not be "used or displayed in public." The measure does not decriminalize sales, saying they are still subject to prosecution under state law.

Decriminalize Denver campaigned on the criminal and social justice implications of the proposal, as well as touting the potential therapeutic benefits of magic mushrooms. Interest in those benefits is part of a psychedelic renaissance underway for years now that is manifested not only in significant increases in the number of young people reporting having used hallucinogens, but also an explosion of research into the therapeutic properties of psychedelics.

magic mushrooms (Greenoid/Flickr)
Denver may be the first place where the psychedelic renaissance passes an electoral test, but it won't be the last where it's tried. The Oregon Psilocybin Society is already in the signature-gathering phase of its 2020 Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, while just to the south, a group calling itself Decriminalize California is just beginning efforts to get on the 2020 ballot with a statewide decriminalization there. Those same activists tried but failed to get on the ballot last year.

For the Drug Policy Alliance, Wednesday's victory in Denver was only the beginning.

"No one should be arrested or incarcerated simply for using or possessing psilocybin or any other drug," said the group's Colorado state director, Art Way. "If anything, this initiative doesn't go nearly far enough. Given the scientific and public support for decriminalizing all drugs, as Portugal has done successfully, we need broader reforms that can scale back the mass criminalization of people who use drugs."

The state -- and the nation -- need to go further, Way said: "More than a million people are arrested each year in the US for drug possession, but this has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs or the harms they can cause. More comprehensive is necessary to achieve the cost savings and public health outcomes that will maximally benefit Colorado."

But Denver's magic mushroom decriminalization is a beginning.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: Urge NC Gov to Veto Overdose Homicide Bill, Mexico Wants Out of Plan Merida, More... (5/9/19)

Congressmembers call on DEA to permit more research marijuana grows, the Denver magic mushroom initiative comes up short (or so we thought at publishing time), Mexico's president wants an end to Plan Merida and economic development help instead, and more.

Mexico wants less drug war aid, more economic development. (Borderland Beat)
Marijuana Policy

Majority of State Attorneys General Tell Congress to Pass Marijuana Banking Bill. Attorneys General from 38 states and territories have called on Congress to pass legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to gain access to the financial system. "Businesses are forced to operate on a cash basis. The resulting grey market makes it more difficult to track revenues for taxation and regulatory compliance purposes, contributes to a public safety threat as cash-intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity, and prevents proper tracking of billions in finances across the nation," the attorneys general wrote in a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday.

Medical Marijuana

Congress Members Call on DEA to Approve More Marijuana Growers. Some 30 members of Congress have sent a letter to the Justice Department and the DEA Tuesday asking the agencies to speed the process of approving new federally authorized marijuana growers. There is currently only one authorized cultivation facility, at the University of Mississippi. Although new applications are supposed to be approved, the representatives called the process "arduous and long."

House Committee Votes on Veterans Medical Marijuana Bills Canceled. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, cancelled votes on two bills concerning medical marijuana and veterans that were set for Wednesday. He said he now plans to hold a later hearing on the legislation but gave no reason for canceling the votes or the delay.

Texas House Passes Second CBD Medical Marijuana Bill. The House on Tuesday gave final approval to HB 3703, which would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating conditions that qualify for cannabis oil. It passed a similar bill, HB 1365, on Monday. Both now head to the Senate.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

ONDCP Releases Report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a report on the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The report "outlines the progress the Trump Administration has made to curb addiction and tackle drug demand and the opioid crisis through prevention, interdiction, and treatment." It cites an ad campaign, decreases in opioid prescribing, prosecutions of fentanyl traffickers, and an increase in access to buprenorphine, among other highlights.

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Opioid Package. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) rolled out the CARE Act on Wednesday, a $100 billion plan to fight the opioid crisis. "The ongoing opioid crisis is about health care. But it's about more than that. It's about money and power in America -- who has it, and who doesn't. And it's about who faces accountability in America -- and who doesn't," Warren wrote. "If the CARE Act becomes law, every single person would get the care they need… We should pass it -- not in two years, not after the 2020 elections -- but immediately." The measure would provide $100 billion in federal funding over the next decade, with $2.7 billion annually for what Warren described as the "hardest hit" counties and cities, including those with the highest rates of overdoses. It would also give $500 million each year to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) filed a companion bill in the House.

Andrew Yang Calls for Opioid Decriminalization. Democratic presidential contender Andrew Yang is calling for the decriminalization of opioids as part of his platform. "We need to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of opioids," Yang says. "Other countries, such as Portugal, have done so, and have seen treatment go up and drug deaths and addiction go down. When caught with a small quantity of any opioid, our justice system should err on the side of providing treatment."

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Narrowly Defeated. [Update: Last-minute mail-in ballots put the initiatve over the top by the following morning.] An initiative that would have effectively decriminalized the possession of magic mushrooms and psilocybin was defeated at the polls Tuesday. The initiative would have made the drugs law enforcement's lowest priority. It lost by a preliminary margin of 52% to 48%.

Sentencing

North Carolina Overdose Homicide Bill Goes to Governor. A bill that would make people who provide drugs to others who later overdose on them subject to murder charges has passed the legislature and is now on the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper (R). Harm reductionists are calling for the measure, HB 474, to be vetoed and urging folks to let the governor know their opposition.

International

Mexico President Wants End to Plan Merida, Economic Development Aid Instead. Mexican President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador said Tuesday he wants the US to end the anti-drug Merida Initiative and instead invest in economic development in southern Mexico and Central America. "We want the Merida Initiative to be completely reoriented, because it hasn't worked. We don't want cooperation on the use of force, we want cooperation on economic development. We don't want the so-called Merida Initiative," Lopez Obrador told a press conference. "The proposal we're making is a development plan for southeastern Mexico and Central America. We want investment dedicated to productive activities and job creation. We don't want attack helicopters."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: IL Governor Unveils Marijuana Legalization Bill, Mexico Ponders Drug Decrim, Legal Sales, More... (5/6/19)

Reform measures are piling up on the Colorado governor's desk, the Illinois governor rolls out a marijuana legalization bill, Denver votes on decriminalizing magic mushrooms tomorrow, and more.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador pushes forward with drug reform plans. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Illinois Governor, Legislators Announce Marijuana Legalization Bill. Gov. JB Pritzker (D) and key legislators on Saturday announced a long-awaited marijuana legalization bill and were set Monday to introduce the measure as an amendment to an already filed Senate bill. The bill would legalize the possession of up to 30 grams for state residents (15 grams for non-residents) and allow up to five plants to be grown for personal use. Taxes would be 10% on pot with less than 35% THC, 20% on all infused products, and 25% on pot with more than 35% THC. The bill contains social equity provisions, including restrictions on ownership to prevent consolidation by a small number of businesses. It also has an expungement provision.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas's First Dispensary Approved, Will Open Shortly. The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, which regulates medical marijuana, has issued its first approval for a dispensary, Doctor's Orders RX in Hot Springs. The shop underwent final inspection last Friday and could be open for business as soon as the end of this week.

Colorado Medical Marijuana Bills Head to Governor's Desk. The legislature last week approved two medical marijuana bills and sent them to the governor. SB 19-013 would give physicians the option of recommending medical marijuana for any condition that is being treated by opioids, while SB 19-218 would allow dentists and advanced practice practitioners to recommend medical marijuana.

Hemp

Florida Legislature Approves Hemp Bill. A bill to legalize hemp production has unanimously passed both the House and Senate. SB 1020 now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Psychedelics

Denver Votes on Decriminalizing Magic Mushrooms Tomorrow. Voters in the Mile High City go to the polls Tuesday to vote on Ordinance 301, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative. If approved, the measure would make adult psilocybin possession the city's lowest law enforcement priority" and bar the city from criminally penalizing adults found in possession of the drug.

Asset Forfeiture

Alabama Asset Forfeiture Practices Challenged in Federal Court. Attorneys in Birmingham have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court challenging the state's asset forfeiture laws and practices. The lawsuit seeks to have the laws declared unconstitutional because it allows civil courts to determine whether the law enforcement agency involved can keep the property. It also alleges that the state fails to provide notice of a hearing, fails to hold prompt hearings, allows excessive fines, and allows police to have a direct financial interest in proceedings that could profit them.

Sentencing

Colorado Drug Defelonization Bill Heads to Governor's Desk. A bill that would turn drug possession felonies into misdemeanors won final approval in the legislature last Thursday and now heads for the desk of Gov. Jared Polis (D). HB 19-1263 would, if signed into law, make the state the sixth to defelonize drug possession since 2014.

International

Mexico President Proposes Drug Decriminalization, Legal Drug Supply Via Prescription. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has submitted to the Congress a plan to remove criminal penalties for drug possession and divert drug addicts into drug treatment programs. The plan also suggests providing drug users with a "supply of doses with prescription," indicating a form of legalization.

Microdosing Psychedelics "Could Be Beneficial," Study Suggests [FEATURE]

Microdosing -- ingesting very small doses of psychedelic drugs -- has emerged as a popular pastime among Silicon Valley types and harried executives on both coasts, who have claimed anecdotally that it boosts creativity and helps them function more effectively.

A little dab'll do ya. (Creative Commons)
Now, for the first time, comes some hard scientific evidence that microdosing really can be beneficial. In a new, peer-reviewed study in the journal Chemical Neuroscience, researchers at the University of California -- Davis fed small doses of the psychedelics to lab rats and found that microdosing can have positive impacts on mental health.

"This is the first time anyone has demonstrated in animals that psychedelic microdosing might actually have some beneficial effects, particularly for depression or anxiety," David Olson, assistant professor in the UC Davis departments of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, who led the research team said in a press release.

In the study, the researchers used the powerful hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which they said was appropriate because its "molecular structure is embedded within the structures of popular microdosing drugs such as LSD and psilocybin." Every three days for three weeks, hey gave the rats one-tenth of the dose that would bring on a psychedelic trip. At the end of the three weeks, researchers found that the animals overcame their "fear response" in a test measuring anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and also seemed to be less immobile in a test measuring antidepressant effects.

"Prior to our study, essentially nothing was known about the effects of psychedelic microdosing on animal behaviors," Olson said. "Our study demonstrates that psychedelics can produce beneficial behavioral effects without drastically altering perception, which is a critical step towards producing viable medicines inspired by these compounds."

In other words, you don't have to trip to get the benefits of psychedelics.

It wasn't all good news, though. Researchers found some potential problems: Male rats who microdosed showed significant increases in body weight, while females showed signs of neuronal atrophy.

"It's exciting, but the potentially adverse changes in neuronal structure and metabolism that we observe emphasize the need for additional studies," Olson said. The changes in female neuronal structure were particularly puzzling, he said, because those changes did not occur when female rats took larger doses. That could suggest that acute hallucinogenic doses and repeated microdoses produced different biochemical and structural phenotypes, he said.

The study suggests there is indeed a biochemical basis for some of the positive effects of microdosing reported in less scientifically rigorous studies of humans, such as the study by Canadian researchers who found microdosers scored higher on measures of mental health and well-being.

"We found that microdosers scored higher on measures of wisdom, open-mindedness and creativity," reported researchers Thomas Anderson of the University of Toronto and Rotem Petranker of York University. "Microdosers also scored lower on measures of dysfunctional attitudes and negative emotionality, which is very promising."

That study recruited microdosers from Reddit communities, but did not include trials with placebos, so more research to validate the results is needed, the researchers conceded.

"As promising as they seem, we don't know whether microdosing actually caused any of these differences," they reported. "Maybe people with better mental health were more likely to experiment with microdosing, or perhaps there is some unknown cause that made people both more likely to microdose and to be creative."

But this month's UC-Davis rat study strongly suggests that it is the microdosing -- and not other variables -- that accounts for the difference.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In Historic First, Denver Will Vote on Decriminalizing Magic Mushrooms [FEATURE]

Its official: Voters in Denver will go to the polls in May to decide whether to allow residents to use and possess magic mushrooms and psilocybin, the hallucinogenic substance that makes those mushrooms so magic, without fear of criminal penalty. The city's Election Division confirmed last Friday that an initiative petition to decriminalize the mushrooms had received enough signatures to qualify for the May 7 municipal ballot.

magic mushrooms (Creative Commons)
That will mark the first time any jurisdiction in the United States has taken up the issue. A California statewide initiative campaign last year failed to achieve any traction and never made it to the ballot. An Oregon statewide initiative is aiming at the 2020 ballot, but if it makes it, that vote will take place a year and a half after the Denver vote.

Denver is building a reputation as a leader in progressive drug policy. Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize marijuana in 2012, and in 2016 Denver became the first city in the country to allow for the consumption of marijuana at retail establishments, including bars.

The group behind the initiative, Decriminalize Denver, wants to make the use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms by people 21 and over the city's "lowest law enforcement priority." The initiative would also prevent the city from using its resources to punish adults who are caught using or possessing the mushrooms.

What the proposed ordinance would not do is legalize the sale of the drug in retail shops. One step at a time is the apparent plan.

"We're a pretty progressive city when it comes to drug policy," Decriminalize Denver director Kevin Matthews told NBC News. Still, he said he didn't foresee magic mushroom retail stores similar to pot shops "in the near future."

The initiative has won the approval of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is pushing more broadly for drug decriminalization.

"Under current Colorado law, with the exception of marijuana, simple drug possession can carry felony charges leading to devastating consequences including incarceration and a lifelong criminal record. People across the state want to do things differently," said Art Way, the group's Colorado state director. "While psilocybin is behind a relatively small portion of these arrests, it's terrific that Denver voters will have the opportunity to chip away at the drug war through this initiative."

Even if the initiative were to pass, magic mushrooms would remain illegal under both state and federal law, which considers them a Schedule I controlled substance -- the most dangerous, with no approved medical use and high potential for abuse--a designation shared with heroin, ecstasy, and, bizarrely enough, marijuana.

But are magic mushrooms really so dangerous? The Global Drug Survey, with more than 120,000 participants in more than 50 countries, doesn't think so. Of the more than 12,000 people who reported taking the drug in the 2016 survey, only 0.2 percent required emergency medical treatment, a rate dramatically lower than for ecstasy, LSD, or cocaine.

"Magic mushrooms are one of the safest drugs in the world," addiction psychiatrist and Global Drug Survey founder Adam Winstock told The Guardian, adding that the biggest risk was that people could pick and eat the wrong mushrooms. "Death from toxicity is almost unheard of with poisoning with more dangerous fungi being a much greater risk in terms of serious harms."

Still, magic mushrooms aren't completely harmless, Winstock said. "Combined use with alcohol and use within risky or unfamiliar settings increase the risks of harm most commonly accidental injury, panic and short-lived confusion, disorientation and fears of losing one's mind." In some cases, people can experience panic attacks, he added, advising people who are thinking about using them to "plan your trip carefully with trusted company in a safe place and always know what mushrooms you're using."

Come May, we will see whether voters in Denver are ready to take the next step in progressive drug reform.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Drug Policy Alliance is a financial supporter of Drug War Chronicle.

Chronicle AM: Denver Psilocybin Init Advances, WA Governor to Pardon Pot People, More... (1/7/19)

The Denver magic mushroom initiative campaign hands in signatures, medical marijuana bills proliferate in Texas, Washington's governor announces plans to pardon small-time pot offenders, and more.

Decriminalize Denver handed in thousands of signatures for its municipal psilocybin initiative Monday. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Connecticut House Speaker Vows to Work on Legalization. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D) has said he would support marijuana legalization and work with his caucus to advance it. "I think we should legalize it," he said. "I will work with my caucus to get there, but it needs to be done in a responsible fashion that mirrors our medical marijuana program." The Senate president and the governor-elect have also said they are ready to end pot prohibition this year.

Massachusetts Commission Report Lists 19 Steps to Toughen Driver Drug Testing. A special commission has issued a report recommending 19 steps lawmakers should take to open the way for tougher drug testing of drivers in the wake of marijuana legalization there. One recommendation was to train more than 300 drug recognition experts; another was to expand the state's implied consent law for driving while intoxicated to include impairment due to drugs.

Washington Governor Will Pardon Small-Time Pot Possessors. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said last Friday he plans to pardon thousands of people convicted of personal pot possession charges. He said he would create an expedited process so some 3,500 people could apply for and receive pardons without having to go to court or hire a lawyer.

Medical Marijuana

Texas Sees a Dozen Medical Marijuana Bills Filed. The session hasn't even opened yet, and there are 12 medical marijuana bills already prefiled. Two to watch are SB 90, a standard medical marijuana bill, and HB 209, which would allow the home cultivation of medical marijuana.

Kratom

Utah Bill Would Keep Kratom Legal. State Sen. Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has said he will sponsor a bill to keep kratom legal after hearing from the herb's supporters. "I view this kind of in the same vein as medical marijuana," he said. "I've had people tell me kratom is an alternative for addictive opiates and that's what convinced me." He said his bill will keep kratom legal in its "pure" form, but not if "adulterated" with other additives.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Hands in Signatures. Organizers with Decriminalize Denver handed in more than 8,000 raw signatures Monday for their municipal magic mushroom initiative. The measure would make psilocybin and the mushrooms that contain it the lowest law enforcement priority and would bar the use of city funds to impose penalties on users or possessors. The measure needs 4,726 verified signatures to make it to the ballot.

The Year in Drugs I: The Top Domestic Drug Policy Stories of 2018 [FEATURE]

This is a year that just about everybody is eager to see come to an end, but when it comes to drug policy, 2018 hasn't been half-bad, at least in the US. (Check back next week for our Top International Drug Policy Stories.)

We've seen marijuana legalization spread further, we're on the verge of seeing Congress pass major sentencing reform legislation, and the ban on domestic hemp cultivation is coming to an end, among other things.

A lot went on in drug policy in 2018. Here are eight stories that helped define the year:

1. Overdose Deaths Remain Unconscionably High But Appear to Have Leveled Off

That's enough fentanyl to kill you. It killed thousands this year. (dea.gov)
The nation's fatal drug overdose crisis is far from over, but it now looks like it at least didn't get any worse this year. Driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl, overdose deaths reached a stunning 72,000 in 2017, a figure ten times the number in 1980 and double that of only a decade ago.

But preliminary reports on the 2018 overdose numbers suggest that this may be the year the crisis began to ease. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data showing that overdose deaths had declined for six straight months, dropping 2.8 percent from their 2017 peak. That report also found that opioid overdose deaths had declined by 2.3 percent.

With both heroin and prescription opioid deaths declining, fentanyl has emerged as the most common drug involved in overdoses, being implicated in about a quarter of all drug overdose deaths. While the apparent decline in opioid overdose deaths this year is good news, the recent increases in cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths is not. And while any break in a years-long climb in overdose deaths is certainly welcome, another 70,000 or so Americans will still have died from them this year. We have a long, long way to go.

2. Safe Injection Sites Draw Nearer, But Feds Fire Warning Shots

Safe injection sites -- also known as supervised consumption sites, among other names -- where drug users can consume their doses under medical supervision and with an opportunity to engage with social services are a proven harm reduction intervention. More than a hundred cities around the world, mainly in Europe, Canada, and Australia have resorted to such facilities as a means of providing better outcomes, not only for drug users but also for the communities in which they live.

There are no legally permitted safe injection sites in the United States (although some underground ones are reportedly operating in Seattle, and there may be more in hiding), but this year saw mounting pressure and serious efforts to get them up and running in a number of American states and cities. It also saw mounting resistance from federal officials.

At the state level, California, Colorado, Missouri, and New York all saw safe injection site bills filed. Only the bill in California made it out of the legislature, but to the great frustration of reformers, it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who cited long outdated beliefs about substance use in his veto message. Still, the fact that bills are being filed shows the issue is gaining momentum.

The momentum is even stronger among a handful of major cities. Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, and Seattle have all taken steps to clear the way for safe injection sites this year, although none are yet in place.

While like California's Gov. Brown, some state and local level political figures are hesitant to embrace them, a major reason none is yet in place is federal hostility. As the clamor for the facilities grows louder, so does opposition from the Trump administration. As Denver publicly pondered opening one, the local DEA and the US Attorney loudly warned they would be illegal, and the Philadelphia US Attorney did the same thing. Early in the year, the DEA in Washington issued a warning against safe injection sites, and in August, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authored an op-ed in the New York Times issuing similar dire threats.

3. A Major Federal Sentencing Reform Bill Is Set to Pass

A rare example of bipartisanship on the Hill. (Creative Commons)
The first major federal sentencing reform bill in eight years is now one vote away from passing Congress. The bill, known as the First Step Act (S.3649), is the culmination of years of work by the likes of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and includes prison reform language as well as provisions that would reduce sentences for certain drug offenses. It very nearly died earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced he would not bring it to a Senate floor vote, but under broad pressure, including from President Trump, McConnell relented, and the bill passed the Senate Tuesday

The sentencing reforms include retroactivity for the Fair Sentencing Act (the 2010 law that reduced the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity), allowing the potential release of around 2,600 people; expansion of the "safety valve" allowing judges more discretion to sentence beneath mandatory minimum sentences; reform of the "three strikes" law, reducing the "second strike" mandatory minimum of 20 years to 15 years, and reducing the "third strike" mandatory minimum of life-in-prison to 25 years.

The late word is that the bill will pass the House easily, but that hasn't happened as of this writing. If and when it does, the country will have taken a significant step toward a more just and humane federal criminal justice system. The passage has also drawn major media attention as a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington today.

4. Marijuana Legalization Advances in the States

At the beginning of the year, marijuana for adult recreational use was legal in eight states, all in the West or New England and all thanks to the initiative process. As 2018 comes to a close, that number has jumped to ten, with Vermont in January becoming the first state to legalize it through the legislature and Michigan in November becoming the first Midwest state to legalize it.

The initiative process is available in only half the states, and when it comes to legalizing weed, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. A legalization initiative in conservative Nebraska went down to defeat this year, and remaining initiative states like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are among the most socially conservative and least likely to free the weed. But prospects are rosier in initiative states Arizona, Missouri, and Ohio. We are likely to see pot on the ballot in all three in 2020.

Vermont remains the sole state to legalize it legislatively, but a handful of states edged ever closer close this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) wanted pot legalized in his first 100 days. That didn't happen, and legalization hasn't gotten through the legislature yet, but there is a small chance it could still happen this year and a very good chance it will be a done deal by early next year. Legislatures throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and Northeast grappled with the issue, laying the groundwork for next year and the year beyond, and just this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for legalization next year. The long march continues.

5. Marijuana Is Still Federally Illegal, But the Crackdown Never Came

As the year comes to end, legal weed is still here and Jeff Sessions isn't. President Trump's first attorney general was an avowed foe of marijuana (as well as drug and criminal justice reform in general), but despite rescinding the Obama-era Cole memo, which basically told federal prosecutors to leave state law-abiding pot businesses alone, the much-feared crackdown on the industry never came.

Federal prosecutors, for the most part, continue to view legal marijuana businesses as a low priority, especially when faced with much more serious drug problems, such as the opioid overdose epidemic. But Sessions was also undercut by his own boss, who in April arranged a deal with Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in which he agreed to support a bill protecting states that have broken with federal pot prohibition in return for Gardner's allowing Justice department appointments to move forward.

This year saw a plethora of federal marijuana reform bills, but with Republican leadership in both houses firmly opposed, the Capitol was where marijuana reform went to die. With Democrats in control of the House next year, things promise to be different next year, although the GOP-led Senate will remain an obstacle. But with pot consistently polling in the 60s, those Republican senators may grudgingly start coming on board.

6. Marijuana Legalization is Nice, But We Need Social Justice, Too

This year saw social justice concerns around marijuana legalization move front and center in two distinct ways: demands for the expungement of marijuana arrest records for people whose offenses are no longer crimes and demands for restorative racial justice from communities that have suffered the brunt of the war on drugs.

The year started with two major West Coast cities, San Francisco and Seattle, leading the way on expungement. The, in September, California became the first state to put state-level automatic expungement into effect. Delaware and Rhode Island, which have both decriminalized but not legalized pot, also passed expungement bills this year. Expungement is also a contentious issue in the ongoing battle to get legalization passed in New Jersey.

After a half-dozen years of legalization and well-heeled white guys making bank off legal weed, the call for racial justice, whether in terms of set-asides to guarantee minority participation in the industry or for funding streams aimed at restoring drug war-ravaged communities, is growing too loud to be ignored. This is an ongoing struggle now being played out not only in pot-legal states, but especially in states on the cusp of legalization. Moving forward, it's likely that every successful state legalization bill is going to have to address issues of social and racial justice. As they should.

7. Industrial Hemp Becomes Federally Legal

The sun rises on the American domestic hemp industry. (votehemp.org)
Finally, the absolutely most ridiculous aspect of federal marijuana prohibition is dead. Recreational marijuana's country cousin, hemp can't get anyone high, but is extremely useful in a broad range of industries, from foods to textiles and beyond. Thanks to a lawsuit from hemp interests more than a decade ago, hemp could be imported for American firms to use in their products, but because the DEA refused to recognize any distinction between hemp and recreational marijuana, American farmers were forced to stand on the sidelines as their competitors in China, Canada, and other countries raked in the rewards.

But having a hemp-friendly senator from a hemp-friendly state allowed hemp legalization to move this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually fought for the hemp bill, shepherding it into the must-pass farm appropriations bill and keeping it in there through negotiations with the House. President Trump has signed the farm bill, including the hemp provision, into law.

8. Here Come the 'Shrooms

Initiative campaigns to legalize or decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms began popping up in 2018. Actually, the first state-level initiative came last year in California, but this past summer it failed to qualify for the fall ballot.

Right now, there are two psilocybin initiatives in the signature-gathering phase, a municipal initiative in Denver that would decriminalize the use, possession, and cultivation of psilocybin-containing mushrooms, and the statewide Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative, which would decriminalize possession of psilocybin, allow magic mushrooms to be grown with a license, and would allow for therapeutic use of psilocybin. The Denver initiative would go before voters in May 2019, while the Oregon initiative aims at the 2020 election.

If psilocybin initiatives follow the pattern set by marijuana legalization initiatives, the first time may not be the charm. But more will follow.

Oregon Initiative Would Decriminalize Psilocybin [FEATURE]

An initiative that would decriminalize most psilocybin offenses and open the door to regulated production and therapeutic use of the psychedelic substance in Oregon is moving forward.

Magic mushrooms could be decriminalized under the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative (Wikipedia)
Late last month, the secretary of state approved ballot title language for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative. The next step is a signature-gathering drive to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. Some 117,578 valid voter signatures are required, and petitioners have until next July to obtain them.

Under the initiative, anyone possessing up to 50 grams of dried magic mushrooms or 10 doses of psilocybin would not be charged with a crime, but with a violation similar to a speeding ticket. The only punishment would be a fine. Similarly, distribution of up to 50 grams or 10 doses without a license would be a violation -- unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor.

As quantities possessed increase, so do the potential penalties. Possession of more than 50 but less than 100 grams would still be a violation, except for the two prior felony folks, who would then face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 100 grams but less than 500 would still be a violation, except for people with one or more previous felonies, who again would face a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 500 grams but less than a kilogram would be a misdemeanor for all. It would take possessing more than two kilograms to earn a felony charge for all.

Similarly, unlicensed sales of up to 50 grams or 10 doses would not be a crime but a violation punishable only by a fine-- unless that person has two or more prior felony convictions, in which case, he would be hit with a misdemeanor. Penalties gradually stiffen, but under the initiative, it would take the sale of more than 15 kilograms to trigger felony charges for anyone regardless of prior criminal history.

Under federal law, possession of any amount of psilocybin is a felony. Under Oregon state law, though, possession of small amounts is only a misdemeanor, although possession of "substantial amounts" (more than 60 grams) is a felony, as is distribution.

But while the changes in the state's criminal code would be significant, the primary goal of the petitioners is to clear the way for the therapeutic use of psilocybin via licensed and regulated producers, processors, and therapists.

"The intent of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon is to advance a breakthrough therapeutic model currently being perfected in research settings at top universities around the world," chief petitioners Tom and Sheri Eckert wrote on the campaign web site. "The service model involves a sequence of facilitated sessions, including assessment and preparation, psilocybin administration, and integration afterward. We envision a community-based framework where licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, blaze trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards."

The move comes as both the public and the scientific community are shifting their opinions on marijuana and psychedelics. Recent studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of therapeutic use, including reducing anxiety in people with cancer and as a treatment for depression and alcoholism. There is also new evidence that magic mushrooms are among the safest recreational drugs.

Chronicle AM: FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin, MI Pot Poll, More... (10/29/18)

The Michigan marijuana initiative still has a healthy lead as Election Day nears, the FDA has granted "breakthrough therapy" status for psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, and more.

The FDA thinks there could be something magic in these mushrooms. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative With Comfortable Lead. A new Detroit Free Press poll has the Proposal 1 legalization initiative favored by a margin of 57% to 41%. That's nearly unchanged from the previous Detroit Free Press poll in September, which had the issue winning 56% to 41%. "Even though there are some law-enforcement groups and others that are putting out information against the proposal, it seems to have pretty solid support," the pollsters noted. "There has always been a perception that there are far too many people in jail for a minimal amount of use and that it prohibits the police from spending time on more serious crimes."

Michigan Marijuana Foes Spending Big Bucks. The organized opposition to Proposal 1, known as Healthy and Productive Michigan, has collected more than $1 million in the past quarter, nearly double the $529,000 raised by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Coalition, which is leading the "yes" campaign. The opposition still has $600,000 in the bank, which it is using for a series of cable TV ads. But the polling suggests the ads aren't working. Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) ponied up more than $600,000 to defeat the measure, while executives from DTE Energy have donated more than $300,000.

Oregon County's Lawsuit Challenging State Legalization Thrown Out. A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit from Josephine County contending that federal law criminalizing marijuana preempts the state's law allowing commercial production and sales. US District Court Judge Michael McShane ruled last Thursday that cities and counties don't have standing to sue a state in federal court. The county has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Celebrate First Day of Legal Sales. The Sooner State saw its first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales last Friday. Some 600 dispensary licenses have already been approved, but only a handful of stores were actually open on opening day. That will change in the coming months.

Psychedelics

FDA Grants "Breakthrough Therapy" Status for Psilocybin to Treat Depression. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy status to psilocybin -- the psychedelic ingredient in magic mushrooms -- for use in treating depression after early experimental results showed promise. The designation allows the FDA to expedite research and review of psilocybin-based treatments. It is aimed specifically at a Phase IIb trial currently underway investigating the optimal dose range for psilocybin used for severe treatment-resistant depression.

Chronicle AM: CA Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Sites Bill, MI Pot Poll Looks Good, More... (10/1/18)

Jerry Brown signs and vetoes drug bills, the drug czar's office confirms the existence of a secretive marijuana committee, Johns Hopkins researchers suggest psilocybin should be Schedule IV, and more.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has been very busy lately. (Facebook)
Marijuana Policy

White House Confirms It's Been Running An Anti-Marijuana Committee. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) has confirmed the existence of a secretive committee operated from the White House with an agenda to portraying marijuana as a national threat and propagating negative attitudes toward the drug and its users. The existence of the committee was revealed by Buzzfeed News last month, and ONDCP confirmed its existence in a letter to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who inquired after the initial media report. ONDCP claims the work of the committee will be unbiased.

California Governor Signs Cannabis Equity Act into Law. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1294, the Cannabis Equity Act. The law aims to reverse some of the damaging impacts marijuana prohibition has had on people from disadvantaged communities. It is the first social equity marijuana law passed in the United States. Four California cities -- Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Francisco -- have already established local equity programs, and they will be well-placed to receive funding under this new law.

Michigan Poll Has Legalization Initiative Winning. A new poll from EPIC/MRA for the Detroit Free Press has the Proposal 1 marijuana legalization initiative winning the support of 55% of respondents, with 41% opposed. While that is a fairly comfortable lead, it is down from the 61% support reported by the same pollsters in a March poll.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative Opponents Pony Up Cash. Opponents of the Prop 2 medical marijuana initiative are ponying up big bucks in a bid to defeat the measure. Wealthy Utahns have contributed $230,000 to the opposition group Drug Safe Utah in recent months and $65,000 to another anti group, the Truth About Proposition 2, while initiative sponsors the Utah Patients Coalition has raised only $68,000, with $50,000 of that coming from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Hemp

California Governor Signs Hemp Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1409, which clarifies the state's existing hemp laws. The law ends some certification requirements on hemp seed cultivars and restriction on how hemp can be produced.

Psychedelics

Johns Hopkins Researchers Suggest Psilocybin Should Be Reclassified as Schedule IV. In an evaluation of the safety and abuse research on psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggested that if the drug clears clinical trials, it should be scheduled as Schedule IV, like prescription sleeping aids. It is currently classified as Schedule I, a drug with no known medical potential and a high potential for abuse.

Harm Reduction

California Governor Vetoes Safe Injection Site Bill. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed Assembly Bill 186, which would have allowed San Francisco to open overdose prevention services that would let drug users use controlled substances under the supervision of staff trained to treat and prevent drug overdose and link people to drug treatment, housing, and other services. "I am shocked that the Governor turned his back on the science and the experts and instead used outdated drug war ideology to justify his veto," said Laura Thomas, Interim State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "He cited long-disproven ideas about substance use in his veto message rationale. It's disturbing that Governor Brown apparently believes these myths about the need for coercive treatment and even more disturbing that people will die because of his veto. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in California. How many people have to die before Governor Brown is willing to listen to the science and evidence and experience? How many families have to lose a loved one?"

Sentencing

California Governor Signs Bill Giving Judges Power to Set Aside Five-year Sentencing Enhancement. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed into law Senate Bill 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Act. The bill will give state judges the discretion not to impose five-year sentencing enhancements if they feel they are unwarranted. "This new law is a crucial step in ending the mandatory use of failed and punitive policies from California's tough on crime era," said Eunisses Hernandez, Policy Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This five-year enhancement is one of the most used enhancements in California; with close to 100,000 years applied to sentences of people in custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. California can and must continue to be a leader in repealing ineffective and punitive policies that waste millions in taxpayer dollars on incarceration, tear families apart, and fail to help our communities thrive."

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