Over 200 Drug Policy, Harm Reduction, Health Care, and Community Groups Call on Biden Administration to Prioritize Public Health Solutions to Curb Overdose Crisis and Dismantle Drug War

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  Over 200 drug policy, harm reduction, health care, and community based organizations from across the country today sent a letter to Rahul Gupta, Team Lead for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on President-Elect Biden’s Transition Team. The letter urges the Biden administration to implement proven, bold solutions to curb the overdose crisis and begin dismantling the drug war. Led by People’s ActionVOCAL-NY, the Drug Policy Alliance, and National Harm Reduction Coalition, the letter also makes clear the disproportionate consequences the drug war and overdose crisis have on Black, Brown, and low-income communities, which have contributed to the U.S. leading the world in mass incarceration and preventable overdose deaths.

“Like the President-elect, we too have watched the nation stigmatize our loved ones for substance use, and, instead of judging, we unconditionally love and support them. And, like the President-elect, we too have experienced the insurmountable grief brought on by the loss of family members,” the groups wrote. “It is our strong hope and belief that ending the drug war that has inflicted incredible harm in communities across this nation, and centering evidence-based solutions to address the overdose crisis, could be a great catalyst for a national transformation.”

In the letter, the groups outline immediate and longer-term policy recommendations based on to combat the overdose crisis and begin dismantling the drug war, such as:

  • Ground the ONDCP in evidence-based drug policies backed by science and public health approaches;
  • Commit the ONDCP to dismantling the drug war, advancing a national drug budget that prioritizes harm reduction, treatment and recovery and looks beyond enforcement and supply side strategies that only perpetuate mass incarceration, systemic racism and the failed drug war;
  • Include in FY22 budgets and future COVID relief packages dedicated funds to sustain harm reduction providers including syringe service programs;
  • Direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw litigation challenging the operation of overdose prevention centers (OPCs), refrain from filing new lawsuits against or from prosecuting organizations that operate OPCs, and work with Congress to revise federal laws to permit the operation of OPCs;
  • Permanently extend the SAMHSA/DEA COVID-19 accommodations for methadone and buprenorphine access (the gold standard for opioid use disorder treatment); and
  • Support policies that would eliminate requirements that inhibit practitioners to easily prescribe medication for opioid use disorder, prohibit state Medicaid programs from requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment, and include people directly impacted by the crisis to help decide where resources would be best targeted locally.

The full text of the letter, which includes the 212 organizations that signed on, may be found here.

CEI Leads Coalition Letter Supporting MORE Act Provision To De-Schedule Cannabis

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, Leader McCarthy, and Whip Scalise:

On behalf of the many of Americans whose views and values our organizations represent, we respectfully urge you to support efforts to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. While we oppose many aspects of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, we support its provision to de-schedule cannabis, which would restore the right to decide how to regulate the substance to the people and their state representatives. The undersigned organizations agree that this action is an important step toward undoing the harms caused by the misguided drug war and protecting our nation’s principle of federalism.

In the past election, voters in five states authorized medical cannabis use, recreational use, or both. In fact, every cannabis-legalization ballot measure throughout the country was approved by voters, bringing the total number of states that have legalized medical cannabis to 35 plus the District of Columbia and the number of states that have legalized recreational cannabis use for adults to 15, along with the District. In fact, all but two states have legalized or decriminalized cannabis in some form, properly adapting state policies to reflect the needs and opinions of their constituents. Yet, such responsive governance is hampered by the fact cannabis remains federally prohibited.

Congress has recognized the need to resolve this conflict for many years. Amendments to prevent federal interference in state cannabis regulation enjoy a long history of support among both House Republicans and Democrats. These measures can give states some flexibility to set policies in accordance with the will of their people. But the dual legal status of cannabis has created confusion and put the welfare of many citizens and businesses in jeopardy.

The federal prohibition has excluded small cannabis businesses from many of the financial and legal services or benefits afforded to other industries. The conflict also creates hazards for consumers of legal cannabis products, extending to issues of employment, housing, property rights, firearms purchasing, and civil asset forfeiture, among others. For example, patients who wish to participate in their state’s legal medical marijuana program must choose between their medicine and owning a gun, because the Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits anyone who uses controlled substances from possessing guns or ammunition. Only Congress can resolve this conflict and there is strong, bipartisan public support for such action.

According to a November 2020 Gallup poll, 68 percent of all Americans believe the use of marijuana should be made legal, including 52 percent of Republican voters. There is even greater support for allowing states to make the decision without federal interference. A 2017 CBS News Poll found that 64 percent of Republican voters, 76 percent of Democrats, and 72 percent of independents opposed federal attempts to stop states from legalizing cannabis.

The undersigned organizations vary in our opinions on the specifics of cannabis legalization, but we are in strong accord when it comes to whether the federal or state governments should have the power to make such decisions. Our Constitution limits federal power and leaves most issues of law enforcement to the individual states for good reason. We are a nation of diverse backgrounds, opinions, and values. State authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their populace and must be free to decide how best to protect public health and safety and direct limited resources toward those priorities. What works for California may not be appropriate for Utah and vice versa. The federal government need not endorse one approach or another nor condone cannabis use; it needs only to respect the states’ authority to choose how best to regulate cannabis.

As a coalition of groups and individuals supporting free market solutions and the protection of essential constitutional principles, we strongly urge you to respect our nation’s federalist structure and support the MORE Act’s provision to de-schedule cannabis.

Sincerely,

Michelle Minton
Senior Fellow
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Andrew Langer
President, Institute for Liberty

David Williams
President
Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Arthur Rizer
Director of Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties Policy
R Street Institute

Cannabis Caucus Of Michigan’s Democratic Party Releases List Of Candidate Endorsements

2020’s general election is the most significant election in modern American history, and cannabis law reform is a significant part of every election in America- and in Michigan.”

— Rick Thompson, Elections Committee Chair

MICHIGAN:   Pro-cannabis candidates for election have been identified and endorsed by the Michigan Democratic Party’s Cannabis Caucus. The Caucus has endorsed contestants in both national and in-state contests being decided at the General Election on November 3rd.

The Caucus endorses Joe Biden as President and recommends that the state voters return Gary Peters to the US Senate. The full list of endorsements is included below incorporates candidates for select national and state House races; county prosecutors and sheriffs; and local offices. This is not an exhaustive list, as the corona virus and a lack of statewide cannabis ballot proposal has kept cannabis off the minds of many who are running for political office.

The list of endorsements includes:

President
Joe Biden

US Congress
Gary Peters, Senate

US House of Representatives
Dan Kildee 5th District
Elissa Slotkin 8th District
Andy Levin 9th District
Haley Stevens 11th District
Debbie Dingell 12th District
Rashida Talib 13th District
Brenda Lawrence 14th District

Michigan House of Representatives:
Tenisha Yancey District 1
Joseph Tate District 2
Shri Thanendar District 3
Abraham Aiyash District 4
Cynthia Johnson District 5
Tyrone Carter District 6
Helena Scott District 7
Stephanie Young District 8
Karen Whitsett District 9
Abdullah Hammoud District 15
Darrin Cammilleri District 21
Cynthia Neeley District 34
Julia Pulver District 39
Mari Manoogian District 40
Nicole Breadon District 43
John Cherry District 49
Yousef Rabhi District 53
Nancy Smith District 65
Lily Cheng-Schulting District 72
Rachel Hood District 76

County Level Endorsements
Krystle DuPree, Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education
Julie Dye, Cass County Commissioner
Richard Clement, Detroit Public Schools Community District
Carol A Siemon, Ingham County Prosecutor
Val C. Toops, Jackson County Sheriff
Karen McDonald, Oakland County Prosecutor
Vincent Gregory, Oakland County Sheriff
Nick Roumel, Washtenaw Circuit Judge
Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecutor

The Cannabis Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party is Michigan’s partisan cannabis advocacy group and features Mike McCurdy as Chairman and Rick Thompson as Elections Committee Chair. The group has a Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/MICannaCaucus/

Governor Wolf: Legalization Of Adult-Use Cannabis Can Lead To Economic Gains And Restorative Justice For Pennsylvanians

PENNSYLVANIA:  Governor Tom Wolf visited The Mountain Center in Tobyhanna, Monroe County today to talk about the economic growth potential and restorative justice benefits of legalizing adult-use cannabis, something the state General Assembly has not yet done despite multiple requests from the governor and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman to take up legislation this fall.

“This year, I again went to the General Assembly and asked them to make legalizing adult-use cannabis a priority for the fall as we work to find ways to overcome the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gov. Wolf said. “To date, there has been no movement to advance legislation. So, I’m here today to ask again, and to focus on two particular benefits of legalization – potential economic growth and much-needed restorative justice.”

The governor described how legalizing adult-use cannabis offers the same potential for economic growth that the historic farm bill of 2018 did for hemp farming after decades of government prohibition of the industry.

Hemp was once a widespread crop in Pennsylvania, cultivated in the commonwealth for more than 250 years and grown for seeds, fibers and extracts. Though they look similar, the governor was quick to point out that hemp is not marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are two different varieties of the same plant species, but hemp does not contain high levels of THC, the chemical that makes marijuana a controlled substance.

“Much of our knowledge about how to grow, process and use hemp was lost after industrial hemp was regulated and banned along with marijuana in the 1930s,” Wolf said. “And Pennsylvania lost the benefits of an industry with a long history of providing jobs and resources here in the commonwealth. When hemp and marijuana were banned, we didn’t just lose jobs, we lost decades of research opportunities, innovation and economic growth.”

The governor was joined by Representative Maureen Madden and hemp farmer Eric Titus White.

White described how his hemp farm has provided him with economic opportunities along with a chance to literally put down roots in his home state of Pennsylvania.

“The cannabis plant is capable of stimulating our economy, healing our soil, and bringing the focus back to natural medicine and natural farming,” White said.

“I fully support the administration’s efforts to introduce the legalization of adult recreational cannabis in such a way that invests much-needed financial resources in our underserved communities and enacts restorative justice programs throughout the Commonwealth,” Rep. Madden said.

Monroe County Senator John Blake offered his support for adult-use cannabis legalization.

“I appreciate the work of the Governor and the Lt. Governor to gauge public support for the legalization of adult use cannabis and also to weigh the potential economic benefit of legalization in PA,” Blake said. “Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program has proven to be among the best in the nation and I believe strongly that many of the protocols, regimens and controls could be replicated to ensure positive economic benefit and proper regulation of adult-use cannabis in our Commonwealth.”

Along with stressing that legalizing adult-use cannabis will create economic growth opportunities, the governor focused on how cannabis criminalization laws have disproportionately harmed minority communities in Pennsylvania, and contributed to economic harm and trauma in historically disadvantaged areas of the state.

“Every year in Pennsylvania, another 20,000 people get cannabis-related criminal charges that can keep them from getting the jobs and housing they want,” said Lt. Gov. Fetterman. “It’s time we stop ruining people’s futures over something that’s already legal in several states and something that most Pennsylvanians don’t even think should be illegal.”

“We are taking steps to reverse the injustices caused by marijuana criminalization,” Gov. Wolf said. “In 2018, I signed the Clean Slate bill, which allows for the sealing of records for certain low-level offenses if a person has been free from convictions for ten years. That law can be applied to certain marijuana-related offenses, and the Board of Pardons has expedited pardons for low-level marijuana offenses. But there is much more that needs to be done to reverse decades of injustice. And we need to start by decriminalizing cannabis and legalizing it for adult use.”

125 Groups Urge Congressional Action On The MORE Act

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, and 123 other national and state organizations today called on House Leadership to swiftly advance the bipartisan Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) to the House floor when Congress returns in September. The MORE Act, the most comprehensive marijuana justice legislation to be considered in Congress, is needed now more than ever to alleviate economic hardship caused by COVID-19 and meet the calls for justice reform echoing all across America.

“In November 2019, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it advanced the MORE Act, becoming the first congressional body to vote favorably for a marijuana de-scheduling bill. Since that time, the circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward,” the groups said in the letter.

The MORE Act, a sweeping marijuana measure that addresses criminal justice reform, racial justice, and equity, would:

  • Remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, thus decriminalizing the substance at the federal level and enabling states to set their own policy, expanding research opportunities, and broadening access to medical marijuana to underserved populations such as veterans.
  • Emphasize reparative justice, establishing social equity programs that acknowledge those who have been most impacted under criminalization by building community infrastructure and diversifying the regulated marijuana marketplace.
  • Provide for the expungement and re-sentencing of marijuana offenses.
  • Prevent the government from denying an individual federal benefits, student financial aid, or security clearances needed to obtain government jobs because of marijuana use.
  • Protect non-citizens from immigration consequences due to marijuana activity, including non-citizens working in state-legal marijuana marketplaces.

The MORE Act is supported by the Marijuana Justice Coalition as well 125 national and state organizations.

The signatories and letter are available here.

House Approves Blumenauer Amendment To Protect Cannabis Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  As national support for federal marijuana legalization continues to climb, the U.S. House of Representatives today approved important legislation to protect state, territory, and tribal cannabis programs from federal interference.

The amendment, introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), was approved 254–163 and would ensure legal cannabis programs in Oregon and dozens of other states, territories, and tribal lands are protected from Department of Justice intervention.

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said. “As we work to ultimately end the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs, these amendments will help ensure the protection of legal state, territory and tribal cannabis programs.”

“For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in our discriminatory past and have continued inflicting harm on communities of color. As the public’s views toward cannabis have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies follow suit and move toward restorative justice,” Lee said. “I’m proud to have worked alongside Reps. Blumenauer, McClintock, and Holmes Norton on this crucial amendment to protect the progress states, tribes, and territories have made toward ending the discriminatory war on drugs.”

A copy of the amendment approved Thursday by the House can be found here.

And here’s a video of Blumenauer speaking in support of the amendment today on the House floor.

U.S. House Of Representatives Approves Cannabis Banking Reform In Larger COVID-19 Relief Package

Lawmakers voted 208-199 (23 not voting) in favor of coronavirus “HEROES” relief package

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: On Friday evening (5/15/20) lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives passed additional coronavirus relief legislation to provide continued economic and government support to the country. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes the language of the SAFE Banking Act, which would prevent federal financial regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis businesses across the country have been deemed essential and continue to operate. However, many of these businesses still lack access to the same financial services that are granted to every other industry in the United States. Because it is possible that coronavirus can be transmitted on currency — placing private industry and government workers at risk when handling large amounts of cash — allowing the cannabis industry to access banking services is now more crucial than ever. This policy change would also ensure that small and minority-owned businesses can access the financial assistance designed for them in many state programs.

The HEROES Act, which includes provisions to allow banks and financial institutions to provide services to the cannabis industry without fear of criminal prosecution, will now head to the Senate for consideration. In September 2019, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act, but the legislation has since stalled in the Senate.

Statement from Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project:
“I’m encouraged that the House recognizes the urgency of this issue and has taken this strong and necessary position. We thank Chairwoman Maxine Waters and Rep. Ed Perlmutter for their leadership on the issue.

“Continuing to exclude the cannabis industry from accessing basic and essential financial services during this time will result in more harm than good. Not only will it make the country’s economic recovery that much harder, but the provisions intended to help minority-owned businesses would continue to be absent within the industry.”

Statement from Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project:
“In light of the public health and public safety benefits of this specific change in policy, the Senate has good reason to pass this language into law. This is a change in policy that the banks are asking for even more than the cannabis companies. We urge the Senate Banking Committee to adopt the SAFE Banking provisions to ensure financial institutions can provide basic banking services to businesses that are compliant with state law.”

Read more

iCAN: Israel-Cannabis CEO Saul Kaye Comments on New Israeli Cannabis Initiatives

ISRAEL: Kupat Holim Meuhedet, Israel’s third largest health maintenance organization (HMO), announced yesterday that it was opening an internal cannabis unit using a digitalized system that will allow for significantly faster medical cannabis approval for patients in need.

In the framework of the new independent unit, the family doctor will transfer the request of the Meuhedet patient with a recommendation to the unit within the fund, which will approve the request. The process will shorten the generally long wait that typifies the unit of the Ministry of Health.  As a result, other health funds are considering the possibility of setting up similar units.

“We congratulate Meuchedet on their forward-thinking attitude to cannabis medicine and breaking the barriers that currently exist in Israel for patient access. For too long the HMOs have been complacent in the long and complicated process of obtaining medical cannabis in Israel. I hope to see the next news that they are covering the cost of cannabis for reimbursement as part of the medical system in Israel.  Meuchedet is the most supportive Israeli health fund. They have the most doctors who understand the importance of medical cannabis treatment and have the knowledge to prescribe it,” said iCAN: Israel-Cannabis CEO Saul Kaye.

In addition, also yesterday, Israeli news organizations reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will support a bill tabled by Likud MK Sharren Haskel that would, in effect, legalize cannabis by allowing all Israelis to grow one cannabis plant for personal consumption.  Dealing cannabis would remain illegal.

“No one should be criminalized for growing a cannabis plant and using the leaves as they see fit.  This is an important step in the process of decriminalizing cannabis in Israel and I hope this legislation passes soon after the Knesset is back from its summer recess. I have worked closely with MK Haskel on all of her cannabis initiatives and wish her well in the upcoming elections as Israel’s true cannabis voice in the Government,” said Kaye.

MJNews Analysis: In New Hampshire It’s Live Free…Or Not

By Roger Tilton 

Now that the New Hampshire State Senate Judiciary Committee has “re-referred” the legal reefer bill to next year’s session, we wonder if Reefer Madness prohibitionists will continue to prevail until the Great Bay Oyster Reef Restoration is complete. What? That would be until Halloween in 2021, more than two years away.

The five-year reef-refresh began in 2016. You know what else happened in 2016? (Besides that.) Neighboring states Maine and Massachusetts legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older to enjoy. Last month, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission reported sales statewide reached the $100 million mark since retail stores opened last November. And at a 17% state-tax rate, and a 3% local tax, that cannabis revenue starts to add up. Legalization proponents often cite tax revenue as a main argument to end the war on marijuana. I’ll add another main argument: Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, California. In the laboratory of the states, marijuana is a winner.

Here in New Hampshire, the state is taking a turn for the worse. Remember that slogan, the one plagiarized from a letter that Revolutionary War hero General John Stark wrote in 1809: “Live free or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.” The state adopted “Live Free or Die” as the state motto in 1945. Then in 2018, the State Division of Travel and Tourism shortened it to “Live Free.” Check out their website.

New Hampshire likes to boast about being “first in the nation (#fitn).” Maybe for presidential primary elections, but not much else, especially cannabis. And it would seem such a natural fit: ‘first in the nation’ and ‘live free or die’ cries out for legal weed! Five years ago, I ran for state senate on a platform of “let’s be third-in-the-nation!” Voters and established politicians were not quite ready to be third. The state, however, has made some progress, allowing medical sales in 2013 and decriminalizing in 2017.

Roger Tilton talks to MJNews

New Hampshire’s problem with weed comes down to this: old people don’t like it. Polls in New Hampshire show residents approve adult-use legalization by a 3-1 margin. However, without citizens’ initiative laws allowing us to make or change laws through ballot measures, which is how most adult-use legal states became that way, New Hampshire doesn’t stand a chance—for a while. The legislature skews older, and old people (born prior to 1954) are the only segment of our population still opposed to legalization. Then there’s the governor problem. That would be Chris Sununu, born in 1974, and clueless. Had the state senate not “re-referred” the reefer-legalization bill, and had it made it out of the full senate—the state house already passed it—our boy-gov Chris vowed to veto. Why? I’d call it “Orange Syndrome.” Chris, who has visited the White House and the Orange One there at least ten times (at last count). And like the Orange One, our boy-gov is resistant to learning and to science.

Tilton2018art

As a West Coast transplant to NH in 2003, I have watched for 16 years now how patrician and provincial most politicians act. Slow to change, oblivious to what’s going on in this country, especially “out west.” Yes, progress moves from West to East in this country. New Hampshire will get there—eventually—probably on the coattails of the removal of cannabis as a Schedule One Narcotic from the Controlled Substances Act. And it would be so New Hampshire: not first in the nation, not live free or die, just follow the federal government—like the minimum wage. Yes, New Hampshire does not have a minimum wage law, meaning New Hampshire employers would pay as little as they could, like a-dollar-an-hour, but they have to pay at leas $7.25 an hour, thanks to the federal minimum wage laws. And that pretty much sums up New Hampshire.

And that Great Bay Oyster Reef restoration that I noted earlier, The Nature Conservancy is spearheading the effort, not the state of New Hampshire.

 

Representative Tulsi Gabbard To Lead Landmark Bipartisan Marijuana Reform

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), along with Rep. Don Young (AK-AL), NORML, and other supporters, will hold a press conference introducing two bipartisan marijuana bills.

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019 would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances list and allow states the freedom to regulate marijuana as they choose, without federal interference.

The Marijuana Data Collection Act of 2019 would study the effects of state legalized medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana programs from a variety of perspectives, including state revenues, public health, substance abuse and opioids, criminal justice, and employment.

Details:

Day-of Contact: Lauren McIlvaine: (202) 713-6040

Thursday, March 7, 2019:

Who:

  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02)
  • Rep. Don Young (AK-AL)
  • Erik Altieri, Executive Director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

When: 11:00 AM ET

Where: House Triangle, U.S. Capitol