Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms

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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."

Will Denver Be the First Place in America to Legalize Magic Mushrooms?

Denver could essentially legalize psychedelic mushrooms by next spring if a group of local activists has its way. But they have a few hurdles to overcome first.

This week, members of Denver for Psilocybin handed in to city officials a pair of municipal initiatives aimed at removing penalties for possessing and consuming the fungi, which contain the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin. That's the first step in a process that could see the issue put before voters in the May 2019 local election.

One measure, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative, reflects the activists' maximum program; the other, the Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Enforcement Deprioritization Initiative, is a less ambitious backstop.

Both initiatives would make enforcement of laws against magic mushrooms a low law enforcement priority by adopting language that would "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psychoactive mushrooms." Under both initiatives, the sale of magic mushrooms would remain illegal.

The initiatives differ in two important respects. The broader one allows for the "personal possessions, use, and propagation" of magic mushrooms; the backstop version only allows for possession and use, not propagation. And the broader version contains no limits on possession, while the backstop would limit possession to two ounces.

Kevin Matthews, campaign manager for Denver for Psilocybin, told Westword he hoped the broader measure would pass muster with both city officials and voters, but that allowing propagation may be a bridge too far.

"It’s a natural right. It’s a human right. This one is our Hail Mary victory shot," Matthews said. "It’s more a matter of public opinion," he said of the two-pronged approach. "Are people ready to accept that people are already propagating?"

The Denver City Council now has a week to schedule a comment and review hearing led by Council Executive Director Leon Mason and Assistant City Attorney Troy Bratton. While the hearing is open to the public, there is no opportunity for public comment.

If the council approves, the initiatives then go to the Denver Election Division, which will have three days to decide whether to accept or reject them. Denver for Psilocybin had earlier versions of the initiatives rejected by the Elections Division but hopes it has addressed those issues with the new versions. If approved by the Elections Division, the group will then have to come up with some 5,000 valid voter signatures by January to qualify for the May ballot. They are confident that if they can get the measures on the ballot, they can win.

"I am extremely optimistic. I think we’re gonna win. I think we’re going to pass this thing," he says. Even if voters don't side with the group, "simply getting on the ballot will be a victory."

Denver isn't the only place where moves to legalize or decriminalize magic mushrooms are afoot, but it may be the first place voters get a chance to weigh in. In Oregon, activists aiming at 2020 are working on an initiative that would legalize and regulate the therapeutic use of psilocybin, while just to the south, the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative campaign tried to get their measure on the 2018 ballot, but came up short on signatures. They will be back.

Magic mushrooms remain illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. But so was marijuana when Coloradans voted to legalize it in 2012. And here we are. 

Chronicle AM: Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative; MI, NJ Pot Polls Looking Good, More... (9/12/18)

New polls show strong support for marijuana legalization in Michigan and New Jersey, the Manhattan DA throws out 3,000 pot cases, Denver mushroom activists are pushing a new initiative, and more.

The Denver magic mushroom people are trying another initiative, this one aimed at May 2019 local elections. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan Poll Has Marijuana Initiative Winning. Yet another poll has the Proposal 1 marijuana legalization initiative winning in November. A new Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll has the measure winning with 56% support, in line with earlier polls. "What's interesting is how consistent these numbers have been over two years," said pollster Richard Czuba of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the survey. "There are hardly any undecided people left on this issue. It's baked into the electorate."

New Jersey Poll Has a Plurality for Legal Pot, A Majority If It Cuts Taxes. A private survey obtained by NJ Advance Media has support for legalization at 44%, with 31% opposed. But when asked if they supported legalization if it meant less of a tax burden on residents, 53% said yes. The poll comes as legislative leaders and Gov. Phil Murphy (D) prepare to try to push legalization through the legislature this fall.

Manhattan DA Throws Out 3,000 Marijuana Cases. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. on Wednesday dismissed more than 3,000 marijuana smoking and possession cases, some of them dating back to 1978. "Outstanding warrants for these low-level cases drive law enforcement and our communities apart," Vance said. "New Yorkers with warrants face unnecessary loss of employment, housing and immigration consequences, and because many of them fear they will be arrested for an open warrant, they don't collaborate with the (New York Police Department) and district attorneys to keep our communities safe." As of September 1, New York City residents are no longer subject to arrest for small-time pot offenses, and now, Vance is undoing some of the past damage.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Patient Appeals Ruling That Edibles Are Illegal. Rodney Jones, who was convicted of possessing 0.05 ounces of hashish and sentenced to 2 ½ years in prison, is appealing a state Court of Appeals ruling that upheld his conviction. In that ruling, the appeals court held that hashish and edibles made from marijuana extracts are not covered by the state's medical marijuana law and their possession remains a crime. Jones spent a year behind bars awaiting trial and has since been released, but he still wants the conviction overturned and the appeals court's interpretation of the law thrown out.

Psychedelics

Denver Activists Look to May 2019 Magic Mushroom Initiative. Members of a group calling itself Denver for Psilocybin submitted two initiatives Monday that would essentially allow city residents to consume psychedelic mushrooms without facing legal trouble. Both initiatives would "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the person use and possession of psychedelic mushroom" and neither allows for the sale of the famous fungi. One initiative would decriminalize "the personal possession, use, and propagation" of magic mushrooms with no amount limits, while a second, backup initiative would only decriminalize use and possession -- not propagation -- and set a possession limit of two ounces. The initiatives must now be approved by city officials before they can go to the signature-gathering phase.

Chronicle AM: Good NJ, WI Pot Polls; OH Drug Defelonization Initiative, More... (8/24/18)

New polls in New Jersey and Wisconsin show solid support for marijuana legalization, Chicago harm reduction pioneer Dan Big has died too early, the FDA approves clinical trials of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, an Ohio drug defelonization initiative is on the November ballot, and more.

magic mushrooms (Flickr/Green)
Marijuana Policy

California Legislature Passes Bill to Overturn Old Marijuana Convictions. The state Senate Wednesday approved Assembly Bill 1793, which directs prosecutors throughout the state to overturn convictions for acts that are no longer illegal under the state's Prop 64 marijuana legalization initiative. The bill would also reduce many felony convictions for marijuana-related crimes to misdemeanors. It was approved by the Assembly in May and now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

New Jersey Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Among respondents between 18 and 34, that figure was 90%. The poll comes as Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and legislative leaders push to get a legalization bill passed next month.

Wisconsin Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization. A new Marquette Law poll has support for legalization in the Dairy State at 61%. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is opposed to marijuana legalization, calling it a gateway drug. He's polling at 46% in the same poll.

Medical Marijuana

Mormon Church Sends Out Letter Opposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Salt Lake City-based Church of Latter Day Saints has mailed a letter to church members urging a "no" vote on the state's November medical marijuana initiative. The letter claims the measure would create "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

Psychedelics

FDA Approves Psychedelic Magic Mushrooms Ingredient Psilocybin for Depression Trial. The Food & Drug Administration has approved the use of psilocybin for a drug trial in treatment-resistant depression. Compass Pathways, a life sciences firm, now has a green light to perform the clinical trials. The phase two trial with 216 patients will get underway next month.

Harm Reduction

Chicago Harm Reduction Pioneer Dan Bigg Dead at 59. Dan Bigg, a co-founder of the Chicago Recovery Alliance and a long-time activist died Tuesday at his home. The cause of death remains undetermined pending further tests. He was a pioneering needle exchange worker in the 1990s and pushed for putting naloxone in the hands of drug users and their loved ones as opioid overdose deaths began to soar more than a decade ago. Friends and colleagues said that thousands of people who could have died from overdoses or infectious disease are alive today because of Bigg's stalwart activism. He will be missed.

Sentencing

Ohio Initiative Would Defelonize Drug Possession, Cut Sentences. Voters in the Buckeye State will vote on a constitutional amendment that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug crimes by making drug use and possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Issue 1 also bars the jailing of probationers merely for drug use or possession and allows sentence reductions of up to 25% for inmates who participate in rehabilitation, work, or educational programming.

Psychedelics Are Showing Real Promise for Treating Mental Disorders

Research presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco last weekend is illuminating the rapid advance of psychedelic science. New findings are adding to a growing mountain of evidence that psychedelics could be effective at treating a range of psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and social anxiety.

The research could be laying the groundwork for legal prescribing of psychedelics including MMDA (ecstasy), ayahuasca, LSD, and psilocybin (magic mushrooms). But that's a way down the road: All of these drugs are currently illegal, classified as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. (The two plants that combine to make ayahuasca are not illegal, but DMT, the mind-altering ingredient in ayahuasca, is.)

Researchers began studying psychedelics for their potential healing benefits after the discovery of LSD in 1943, but that research came to a screaming halt in the 1960s, when psychedelics were criminalized in the wake of their widespread adoption by the counterculture. Recent years, however, have seen an efflorescence of interest in the therapeutic benefits of the substances -- and it's starting to pay off.

"Combined with psychotherapy, some psychedelic drugs like MDMA, psilocybin, and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Cristina L. Magalhaes, Ph.D., of Alliant International University Los Angeles, and co-chair of a symposium on psychedelics and psychotherapy. "More research and discussion are needed to understand the possible benefits of these drugs, and psychologists can help navigate the clinical, ethical and cultural issues related to their use."

In one study, researchers questioned 159 participants about their spirituality, their relationship with their own emotion, and their use of hallucinogens. Laurentian University's Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., reported that psychedelic use correlated with higher levels of spirituality, which were associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved emotional stability.

"This study reinforces the need for the psychological field to consider a larger role for spirituality in the context of mainstream treatment because spiritual growth and a connection to something greater than the self can be fostered," said Lafrance.

An ayahuasca study found similar results. That study suggested the drug could help relieve addiction and depression, as well as helping people cope with trauma.

"We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection, and altruism," said Clancy Cavnar, Ph.D., with the Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos (Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Psychoactive Studies).

Another study, led by Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, found that a combination of psychotherapy and MMDA could treat social anxiety in adults on the autism spectrum. In that study, 12 participants with moderate to severe social anxiety twice given doses of MMDA and treated with psychotherapy, and they showed significant, long-lasting reductions in anxiety.

"Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective," said Danforth. "The positive effects of using MDMA and therapy lasted months, or even years, for most of the research volunteers."

Yet another study examined the use of psilocybin in reducing stress and anxiety in people suffering from terminal cancer. In that study, 13 subjects were given psilocybin in conjunction with psychotherapy. Researchers found that the experience helped subjects grapple with their feelings about death and develop new understandings of dying.

"Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence," said Gabby Agin-Liebes, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.

After a decades-long lacuna, psychedelic science is back. How long that will take to translate into psychedelics becoming legally available by prescription remains to be seen, but the groundwork is being laid right now.

Chronicle AM: NJ AG Suspends Pot Prosecutions, Denver Magic Mushroom Init Stalled, More... (7/25/18)

In a surprise move, New Jersey's attorney general suspends marijuana prosecutions, an Oklahoma industry trade group releases proposed draft medical marijuana regulations, a Denver initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms is delayed, and more.

No magic mushroom initiative for Denver this year. Maybe next year. (Flickr/Greenoid)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Attorney General Suspends All Marijuana Prosecutions Until September. State Attorney General Gurbur Gerwal announced Monday night that he had ordered county and municipal prosecutors to suspend marijuana-related cases at least until September. The surprise move came after Grewal met with Jersey City officials over that city's effort to decriminalize small-time possession. Grewal last week initially told the city it couldn't do that, but after the Monday meeting he announced that he was forming a working group to create a statewide policy for prosecutors and: "In the interim, I ask that all municipal prosecutors in New Jersey seek an adjournment until September 4, 2018, or later, of any matter involving a marijuana-related offense pending in municipal court. This adjournment will give my office sufficient time to develop appropriate guidance for prosecutors."

Washington State Felony Marijuana Busts Plummet After Legalization. Felony pot busts have fallen by 90% since the state legalized marijuana in 2012, according to the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council. More than 1,300 felony sentences were handed out in an 18-month period in 2008 and 2009, but only 147 such cases in an 18-month period following the opening of retail marijuana shops in 2014. "It's really heartening," said Alison Holcomb, the director of strategy for the ACLU of Washington who authored and sponsored the legalization initiative. "These are strong signs that this was the right policy choice for Washington state voters to make and we're really grateful that they had the courage to do it."

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma Marijuana Trade Group Releases Proposed Regulatory Framework for New Medical Marijuana Law. With parts of the state's new medical marijuana law set to take effect this weekend, an industry group has released its own proposed regulatory framework for implementing the new law. New Health Solutions Oklahoma says its intent is to provide a resource for a legislative panel reviewing restrictive recommendations made by the state Board of Health. That panel was set to meet Wednesday.

Psychedelics

Denver Magic Mushroom Initiative Won't Be on 2018 Ballot. A proposed initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms will not be on the ballot this year. Advocates were thwarted by the Denver elections division, which has yet to approve ballot language. That means the group has almost no time to gather signatures before the city's mid-August deadline for the November election. They will now aim for the city's May 2019 ballot.

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