Here’s our marijuana news recap for March 2021. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on throughout the world, vaccine rollouts have seen promising results.
While we’re still ways away from having the pandemic under control, the cannabis industry continues to move forward with record sales and continuing legalization efforts.
Here are the month’s top stories.
Las Vegas Now Allows Cannabis Retail Drive-Thrus
Drive-thrus are big in Las Vegas. You can get married, buy alcohol, gamble, catch a strip show, and now buy weed at the drive-thru. The new rule will now make it safer to buy weed, especially during the pandemic.
However, the move comes too little too late, especially since states like Maryland, California, and Massachusetts already allowed weed drive-thrus starting last March. In addition, many other Nevada cities were already on board the drive-thru train.
Mexico Moves Forward with Historic Legalization Bill
Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies passed a bill that would move forward with the regulation of cannabis and hemp. Now, the chamber’s revisions head to the Senate for final approval before they reach the desk of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for a signature.
Experts predict the industry still has a long way to go before being fully operational. The industry’s regulations must still be developed and implemented.
The bill approved by Mexico’s lower house removed a requirement to create a new regulatory body called the Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis. Instead, the National Commission Against Addictions will be tasked with regulating and licensing the cannabis industry.
In November 2020, the Senate passed a version of the bill for approval in the lower house. Now, lawmakers are hoping to reach a compromise by the Supreme Court’s spring deadline. Lawmakers have already asked for several deadline extensions in the past.
Rhode Island Governor Wants to Legalize Recreational Weed
In his 2022 budget, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee (Democrat) proposed legalizing recreational pot and issuing 25 retail licenses annually with a tentative program launch in April 2022.
Governor McKee stepped in after former Governor Gina Raimondo accepted a position as President Joe Biden’s Commerce Secretary.
McKee’s proposal includes the following:
5 of the 25 retail licenses would be issued to minority businesses
An Office of Cannabis Regulation would regulate and license the industry
A retail excise tax of 10% in addition to the state’s 7% sales tax
A task force tasked with economic development including job training, small business funding, and community development
Arizona’s Adult-Use Sales Start Off Strong
During the first 10 days of Arizona’s recreational cannabis market launch, the state made $2.9 million according to state sales data.
Arizona’s adult-use market launched on January 22, 2021, after being approved by voters in the November 2020 general election. Experts predict the state could bring in nearly $400 million dollars in its first year of sales.
California Awards $15 Million in Social Equity Grants
California’s Office of Business and Economic Development and the Bureau of Cannabis Control awarded $15 million in grant funding to 10 cities and counties with social equity programs. This new and third round of funding adds to the $40 million awarded in the past.
Nearly all of the grant funding ($11.5 million) will be awarded directly to social equity entrepreneurs through grants and loans. $75,000 will be given to 8 local governments each to create social equity programs.
Colorado Passes Social Equity Law
Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill that would award $4 million from the state’s tax fund to its social equity program. The program would include the following:
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Loans to social equity licensees for seed capital and ongoing business expenses
Grants to social equity licensees for innovation and job creation
Technical assistance such as business plan development, consulting services, and other technical assistance programs
Social equity licensees must be Colorado residents who own a majority share of a marijuana business. They must also meet the following requirements:
The applicant or an immediate family member was arrested or convicted for a cannabis offense
The applicant lived in a community disproportionately affected by the war on drugs for a minimum of 15 years between 1980 and 2010
The applicant’s income is below a certain threshold
Cannabis Banking Reform Efforts Continue in Congress
In March, a cannabis banking reform bill was reintroduced into the US House of Representatives. In September 2019, the same measure passed the House but was dead on arrival in the Senate. The SAFE Banking Act would allow financial institutions to work with cannabis establishments without federal prosecution.
One week after the bill passed the House, a parallel bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate. The SAFE Banking Act has a better chance of passing this Democratic-controlled Congress.
However, the executive director of a new federal cannabis coalition predicts the full federal legalization of cannabis is still years away and will be an uphill battle for the current Congress.
Cannabis Proposals Fail in North Dakota and Maryland
North Dakota’s Senate defeated an adult-use bill by a landslide, in an unsurprising move by a Republican-controlled Senate. North Dakota’s Congress was attempting to pass a more conservative cannabis bill instead of waiting for a more progressive proposal from voters on the 2022 ballot.
In Maryland, bills to legalize recreational cannabis use were stalled in chamber committees and unable to pass before the deadline. Now, Maryland’s lawmakers are working on amendments to help it pass in 2022.
New Mexico Governor Pushes to Pass Adult-Use Legalization
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is wasting no time by calling a special legislative session starting on March 30, 2021, to pass recreational cannabis legalization. In February 2021, the State House passed an adult-use bill.
While a couple of Senate committees amended the proposal, Senate lawmakers prioritized other matters before the end of the session on March 20th. The governor is hoping to pass cannabis legalization soon to increase state revenue.
South Dakota Governor Seeks Cannabis Law Restrictions
In South Dakota, the fight against its voter-approved medical cannabis law lost steam. Governor Kristi Noem and lawmakers in Congress were attempting to delay its implementation but were able to reach a compromise.
Now, the governor is trying to make the proposal more restrictive. The restrictions include the following:
Prohibit individuals under the age of 21 to smoke or vape medical cannabis
Limit the number of medical cannabis plants that can be grown at home to 3
As far as the adult-use bill goes, Noem has filed a lawsuit to try to stop the measure from being implemented. A lower court agreed with her but the case is now being appealed to the State Supreme Court.
Missouri Brings in Nearly $25 Million in Total Revenue
Since Missouri’s medical marijuana program launched in October 2020, this state has brought in nearly $25 million, or about $2 million per week. While the state’s program is new, it has registered about 90,000 medical cannabis patients. Experts predict the state to reach up to $300 million in sales in 2021.
Vermont Cities Approve Commercial Cannabis Sales
In March, at least 27 cities and towns voted on whether to allow adult-use cannabis in their jurisdictions.
Vermont’s largest city, Burlington, its state capital, Montpelier, and at least 16 other towns approved commercial cannabis sales. Recreational sales are expected to start on October 2022 at the earliest.
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Virginia Moves Up Recreational Cannabis Timeline
Virginia’s House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Governor Ralph Northam are pushing for the adult-use law to be legalized sooner rather than later.
The governor proposed to legalize home growing and possession on July 1, 2021, instead of the January 1, 2024 date approved by lawmakers.
Adults would be able to possess up to one ounce of weed and grow up to 4 cannabis plants. Commercial cultivation and sales would still be scheduled for July 1, 2024.
New York Legalizes Recreational Weed
It finally happened. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) legalizing commercial cannabis use, sales, and production. Under the law, the following is legal:
Adults over the age of 21 can buy, use, and grow cannabis
Adults can possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrates
Adults can grow up to 6 plants for personal use (up to 3 mature plants) or up to 12 plants per household
50% of the licenses have to be directed to social equity applicants
Prior cannabis convictions will be automatically expunged or resentenced
Social consumption establishments and delivery services are permitted
The medical cannabis program will be expanded
Hemp flower is legal
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The Mid-East countries might be outwardly against drugs, but that doesn’t mean their people aren’t using, or involved in the trade. From published research showing the growing trend of hash among youth in Saudi Arabia, to Syria and its new position as a Captagon narco state, it kind of seems like the Mid-East, is right in the middle of it all.
What’s a ‘narco state’?
We hear the term ‘narco state’ a lot, particularly when talking about the international drug trade. For those who don’t follow the news, the word ‘narco’ is still pretty out there, what with the array of television shows portraying the lives of famous illicit drug entrepreneurs. But what exactly does it mean? According to collinsdictionary, it’s pretty simply:
“A country in which the illegal trade in narcotic drugs forms a substantial part of the economy.” That certainly paints a picture, but more in depth definitions explain the concept even better. Oxford reference explains it further, saying,
“A nation state whose government, judiciary, and military have been effectively infiltrated by drug cartels, or where the illegal drug trade is covertly run by elements of the government. It can also refer to a region under the control of organized crime for the purposes of producing or trafficking drugs where legitimate political authority is absent.”
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It then goes on to explain that the term “‘Narco state’ is more a journalistic phrase than an entity under international law. It has been used to describe Colombia, Guinea-Bissau, Suriname, and Mexico at various times….”
Basically, a narco state refers to a situation whereby those who control the drug trade, also hold a substantial power in governance. This generally undermines the political parties and/or laws of a country, often making such entities look rather powerless in comparison (though they’re often involved). Take Mexico, for example. It’s one of the most well-known examples of a country which is essentially run by its criminal organizations, and where very few people expect the government to do much about it.
A country dubbed a ‘narco state’ can go from being a narco state to a non-narco state if the structure that allows the criminal organizations their power, is fundamentally changed. Likewise, a country not known by this term, can easily become associated with it, if for some reason its drug trade is suddenly elevated. Such is the current case with Syria, as the drug Captagon propels it to narco state status.
A country can become a narco state based on the trade of different drugs. Some of the drugs most responsible for incurring large drug trades, include heroine (opium), cocaine (coca), and cannabis. But there are plenty more drugs that rise and fall in popularity, and right now, the Mid-East is home to one of the burgeoning drugs to create a narco state – Captagon.
Captagon – or fenethylline – is a codrug and prodrug of amphetamine, meaning it works well with amphetamine, and breaks down into it within the body. It also goes by the spellings phenethylline and fenetylline, and by the names: amphetaminoethyltheophylline and amfetyline. Its been marketed under the names Captagon, Biocapton, and Fitton, as a psychostimulant. And as of now, it comes with no identifiable death toll. At all.
Psychostimulant is a nonspecific word that goes hand in hand with the word ‘uppers’. It applies to drugs that increase activity in the central nervous system, and bring on positive feelings like euphoria. The category includes everything from cocaine, to methamphetamine, to caffeine, to Captagon.
Captagon was first synthesized in 1961 by German chemicals company Degussa AG. For many years it was used as an alternative to amphetamine as it provides a milder response. One of its benefits over amphetamine, is not causing quite as extreme an increase in cardiovascular function. Even as it proved safer than amphetamine, and enjoyed use as a medication for narcolepsy, ADHD, and depression; the US illegalized it, putting in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances list in 1981.
This was followed up in 1986 by the World Health Organization adding it to the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, essentially leading to its illegalization in much of the world. And this while amphetamine remained legal, with Schedule II designation in the US. Though the drug certainly exists in many places, it’s found most in the countries of the Middle East. Like most any illicit drug industry, this also means the trafficking and sale of counterfeit Captagon.
As is stands now, Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest Captagon consumers, and the majority of the drug gets trafficked in through Syria. The industry has grown so exponentially in the country, that Syria has become a Captagon narco state.
Syria and Captagon
Syria – the Syrian Arab Republic – sits in Western Asia. To its west are the Mediterranean, Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel; to its south is Jordon; to its south and east is Iraq; and to its north is also Turkey. Arabs are the largest ethic group in the country, but are joined by Kurds, Turkmens, Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians, Albanians, and Greeks. The most common religion is Muslim, but there are also plenty of Christians, Alawites, Druze, and Yazidis.
Since March of 2011, there’s been civil war in Syria, mostly because of the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, who took over in 2000, upon the death of his father Hafez al-Assad. The current leadership has been roundly associated with human rights abuses like executions of political prisoners, and wide-ranging censorship. Assad’s rule is challenged by political groups like Syrian Interim Government, Syrian Salvation Government, and Rojava. This civil war has claimed the lives of over a half million people, and led to a refugee crisis involving upwards of seven million displaced residents, and around five million refugees.
All of this is important because it shows the instability of the leadership of the country. Captagon at one point was associated with Islamic State fighters (part of the a militant Islamist group that promotes the Salafi jihadist branch of Sunni Islam), which makes it less surprising that its manufacture and use has spread so far. In fact, this illegal $10 billion/year industry is directly tied to al-Assad…as well as his enemies. According to international French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP), Captagon exports dwarf all legal exports out of the country.
Now, to be clear, there are no hard numbers for an illegal drug industry, or at least none that get reported. The size of an illegal industry is approximated through drug busts and seizures. Which realistically means that a country that puts more effort into rooting out drugs and making seizures, could look to have a bigger industry than a country with more drugs, but less push to catch them. It’s said that Syria is the biggest producer and Saudi Arabia the biggest importer, but these assumptions are only based on who has been caught.
In the case of Captagon, its approximated that pills average at about $5. A real Captagon pill costs approximately $25 on the high end, while a knockoff can be as low as $1. In 2021, 460 million pills were taken in seizures, which leads to the total estimate of 2.3 billion pills produced, if 80-90% of trades go through. And this accounts for about $10+ billion in revenue. It’s expected that for every shipment which gets intercepted, that nine others likely make it alright. In reality, the $10 billion estimated from 2021, is probably a low number.
Whether Syria really is the biggest narco state, is arguable at best. Though it makes for killer headlines, its hard to imagine Syria outdoing a country like Mexico. Even so, the real meat of the story, is simply that the growing popularity of Captagon, has led Syria to join the list of countries considered narco states.
Further details of Syria and its relationship with Captagon
Captagon has its place in Syria as a party drug, but its cheapness, and ability for discretion make it a popular choice over the more socially unacceptable alcohol. As the kind of stimulant associated with pulling an all-nighter in school, and for helping soldiers fight longer, its not shocking its used by workers who want to get more work done. There are even stories of bosses spiking their worker’s drinks with the pills, in order to get more work out of them.
France24 spoke with several illegal operators out of Syria, and though most required anonymity, they were able to shed some light on the situation. Said one fixer and trafficker, a big shipment is usually organized by five or six different entities in order to cover the cost of the raw materials, transporting, and necessary bribes; all of which can total around $10 million.
He explained, “The cost is low and the profits high,” and that getting intercepted sometimes isn’t the worst thing because even just one shipment out of ten making it, means enough profit for all involved. In terms of who these people are, he explained “There’s a group of more than 50 barons… They are one big web, Syrians, Lebanese and Saudis.”
Though the Syrian government plays some role (or at least takes money from it), much of the trade happens through Bedouin confederation Bani Khaled, which can often support the entire process of production in Syria, through delivery in a country like Saudi Arabia. This means less hand offs between different organizations, and an easier ability to maintain control. As the network reaches to Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, from Syria and Lebanon, this gives a large area to work within with one entity overseeing it.
Syria is currently the biggest producer of Captagon, manufacturing approximately 80% of the circulating Captagon globally. This is according to security services, that go on to say that the Captagon trade is worth three times the entire Syrian national budget. Assad-controlled areas are some of the biggest hotspots for this trade, though Assad’s brother Maher al-Assad plays a role as well, and is said to be one of the biggest winners in the Captagon game. It’s reported that many labs get “the raw material directly from the 4th Division, sometimes in military bags,” of which Maher is the de facto head.
The trade has done well to build up groups like Hezbollah, which is said to play a part in patrolling the Lebanese border to ensure safe trafficking. Said an ex-Syrian government adviser who remains anonymous, “Syria is in dire need of foreign currency, and this industry is capable of filling the treasury through a shadow economy from importing raw materials to manufacturing and finally exporting.”
The trade is big enough that many other organizations, including rebel groups, are in on it, particularly in the south of Syria. Sweida and Daraa, two provinces along the border with Jordan, have smuggling routes to Saudi Arabia. Abu Timur, a spokesman for the armed group Al-Karama, explained,
“The smuggling is organized by the tribes who live in the desert in coordination with over 100 small armed gangs,” and that “Captagon brought together all the warring parties of the conflict… The government, the opposition, the Kurds and ISIS.”
Syria might be the new Captagon narco state, but the drug isn’t killing anyone. If you look up ‘Captagon deaths,’ nothing comes up; which greatly begs the question why this matters. Why would anyone go this far to care about something not causing a problem? The only real assumption, is money. The situation has now gone so far, that this no death-toll drug, is reason for a shoot-to-kill policy in Jordan, concerning traffickers of Captagon out of Syria. Meaning a drug that doesn’t kill anyone (much like cannabis), is now the reason for many deaths.
While its always nice to see different sides come together, perhaps the pursuance of a drug trade isn’t the best reason. However, low-grade knock-offs aside, Captagon isn’t the most intense drug, and far better than other options like opioids, which cause many deaths.
If you had the choice, you’d probably prefer your kid took a couple Captagon pills, over ever popping a fentanyl; but today’s reality is that you can get shot and killed over a drug, that doesn’t actually kill anyone.
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2020 brought us Oregon and the first legalization for psychedelic mushrooms in the US. 2022 brought us Colorado doing the same, but with more compounds legalized, and a separate pre-emptive legalization for MDMA. Now, it’s a new year, so let’s take a look at which states are looking to reform their psychedelics policies, going into 2023.
The first two: Oregon and Colorado
In the 2020 elections, Oregon put Measure 109 and Measure 110 to the voters, both of which passed, with 55.75%, and 58.46% of the vote, respectively. The first law is a measure to legalize some use of psilocybin mushrooms, and the second is a decriminalization measure for the personal possession of illicit drugs. Together they make for a full drug decriminalization in the state, as well as a drug legalization under certain parameters.
The parameters were made more clear in 2022 upon the release of rules for the new industry. For one thing, the legalization only covers psilocybin mushrooms, and of those mushrooms, only one species: Psilocybe cubensis. Furthermore, all legal use must be done in a certified center under the watchful eye of a non-medical tripsitter. Different municipalities have the option of opting out of this allowance.
In the 2022 elections, Colorado joined in as the second state to legalize some form of a psychedelic, though Colorado went a bit further. Instead of focusing on just psilocybin mushrooms, the state made it about entheogenic plants as part of a natural medicine program, though not all medicinal plants are a part of this. It includes the compounds: psilocybin, psilocin, DMT, mescaline (minus Peyote), and ibogaine. It also sets up regulation for trip centers, but does allow administration of the compounds outside of this. It decriminalizes use of these compounds outside legal administration.
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Colorado made it so that when the measure passed, the entire state was obligated to oblige. Unlike Oregon, no individual locations have the ability to say no, making for a standard law throughout the state. Colorado also was the first state to pass a pre-emptive legalization for medical MDMA. This legalization lies in wait for a federal legalization first, and has no power until that happens. When it does, Colorado is set to go with regulations for its medical MDMA industry.
California and Washington are both coming off of failed psychedelics bills in the previous year. And both are already back with new bills to offer, both of which have been tweaked to create more passable versions in the hopes of having a better chance this time around.
California is offering SB 58 as an improved version of SB 519. SB 519 didn’t actually die like other failed bills, but instead was intentionally pulled by its creator, Sen. Scott Wiener. SB 519 would have decriminalized the possession of both natural and synthetic compounds, as well as legalizing medical use for patients in need, and mandating further research. The new SB 58 narrows its scope to the same five compounds as Colorado: psilocybin, psilocin, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline; with synthetics like LSD and MDMA removed. It omits the research requirement.
As the previous bill passed the Senate in California, as well as its first two Assembly committees, there’s plenty of reason this newer version should also do well. Wiener pulled the previous bill because of the edits made to it, which downgraded it to nothing more than a research initiative; taking out everything else. The hope is that with the scope minimized to just the chosen entheogenic plants, the bill will pass through.
Washington is coming back with SB 5263 to take the place of the failed SB 5660. Some of the revisions to this new bill include a longer implementation time of 24 months, to make sure everything goes smoothly; greater worker protections for those administering the drugs; the requirement of group sessions for drug administration; the ability for administration outside of a service center (like Colorado); greater privacy for users; and no maximum doses under 50mg. It also doesn’t allow individual locations to opt-out.
One of the other things this new bill does, is move away from the standards of tripsitting that have thus far been employed by the two legal states. Washington will instead require a new license that is earned with 120 classroom hours, and 250 practice hours. In comparison, Oregon only mandated tripsitters to go through 40 hours of training.
Other states looking for psychedelics reform in 2023 – CT, IL, NY
The psychedelics industry is moving at breakneck speeds, going from a snowball to an avalanche in no time at all. Connecticut is one state looking for psychedelics reform in 2023. It’s doing so with a bill (H.B. No. 5102) which legalizes “the use of psilocybin for medicinal and therapeutic purposes, including, but not limited to, the provision of physical, mental or behavioral health care.” The bill is being spearheaded by democratic democratic Representative David Michel, who had this to say:
“Decriminalizing will help end the targeting of certain communities… and authorizing psilocybin for medical and therapeutical use, I believe, is key when mental health is at an all-time low.” He went on, that “It’s more needed than ever,” and that its senseless to be “constantly going through pharmaceutical products when nature-based approaches can be very effective.”
Illinois is another state looking for psychedelics reform in 2023. In the beginning of January, democratic Representative La Shawn Ford pre-filed the Compassionate Use and Research of Entheogens Act. This law would take psilocybin out of the controlled substances list of the state, and create an advisory board concerning therapeutic services for the compound. According to Ford, this bill, which would also expunge criminal records, is a main point for the season.
New York also wants in on psychedelics reform for this year. Democratic Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal pre-filed a bill early in January to legalize some entheogenic plants for an adult-use market of 21 and above. State statutes would be updated to allow the “possession, use, cultivation, production, creation, analysis, gifting, exchange, or sharing by or between natural persons of twenty-one years of age or older of a natural plant or fungus-based hallucinogen.”
The wording of the bill means inclusion of the standards like psilocybin, DMT, and mescaline, and could work to legalize more if not naming the drugs specifically. The bill would open up an industry of psychedelics services, and allow use of the plants in religious ceremonies (something that already applies to mescaline.)
Even more states looking to get in on it in 2023– NJ, MO, VA, MO, MN, NH
No, we’re not done, there are several more states looking for psychedelics reform in 2023. Like New Jersey. Democratic Senate President Nicholas Scutari filed a bill last year that’s still in play. The bill would legalize not just the possession of psilocybin mushrooms, but their cultivation as well. Like most others of its kind, it would seek to set up locations where psilocybin services could be administered. New Jersey already signed off on a bill in 2021 to substantially reduce penalties for up to one ounce of psilocybin possession.
In Missouri, Representative Tony Lovasco re-filed a previously failed bill for psychedelics reform (HB 869), on January 18th of this year. The revised version would set up psilocybin service centers for issues like treatment-resistant PTSD and depression, and would require a doctor’s recommendation. Said Lovasco to Marijuana Moment, “We’re going to have to limit it to psilocybin initially as that’s what we have the most data and research on.”
Virginia also has a take on how to reform the issue. Out of several initiatives in the state, one of the most promising is from democratic Delegate Dawn Adams who put forth HB 1513, which would legalize psilocybin for “refractory depression or post-traumatic stress disorder or to ameliorate end-of-life anxiety.” All requiring a doctor’s prescription. The law comes with provider protections, and decriminalizes the non-medical use of the drug as well. Adams has yet another bill in play (HB 898) to decriminalize a host of psychedelic compounds.
A third bill in the state, filed by democratic Senator Ghazala Hashmi (SB 932), moves psilocybin from schedule I to schedule III. This bill would also seek to set up strategies for setting up psilocybin clinical services via a Virginia Psilocybin Advisory Board.
Next up is Montana which hasn’t released anything yet, but is working on two bills so far this year. The first would legalize medical psilocybin for psychiatric purposes. The second one is simply to set up a research initiative about psychedelics for medical use in general. Both are still in the draft stage.
Minnesota isn’t missing out, with a bill also in draft stage by democratic Representative Andy Smith. This bill would legalize, in some capacity, medical psychedelics. According to Smith, “For decades scientific research into the positive effects of psychedelic medicine has been muzzled by the ‘war on drugs,’ but that is [starting] to change.” No official bill is released yet.
Last up? New Hampshire. On January 5th, republican Representative Kevin Verville submit HB 328 which would institute an adult use market of 21 and above for a number of psychedelic compounds including synthetics like LSD, and entheogenic plants like psilocybin. The bill actually isn’t more specific than this in terms of exactly which drugs it applies to. Beyond creating an adult-use market for these drugs, it would work to lower penalties for the manufacture, possession, and sale of LSD and PCP.
It’s unlikely that all of the psychedelics reform bills for 2023 will go through, but some of them should. And then next year? Even more. The psychedelics world is really opening up, and within a few years we can easily expect the landscape to look very, very different.
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The Jan. 2022 death of cannabis worker Lorna McMurrey brought to light a number of health hazards faced by workers in the legal weed industry. Leafly’s investigative series, Death of a Trimmer, documented the serious safety risks that often go unchecked in today’s industry.
NIOSH officials don’t care that you’re growing marijuana. They just want to keep workers safe.
Although marijuana remains a federally illegal Schedule I drug, there is an agency that’s eager to work with state-licensed cannabis companies to safeguard worker health.
And unlike OSHA, the federal government’s worker-safety enforcement arm, NIOSH is not in the business of penalizing noncompliance. They just want to help companies keep workers safe and healthy.
More about cannabis worker safety
NIOSH ready to offer custom recommendations
NIOSH offers health hazard evaluations (HHE) at any and all cannabis processing facilities. These can be requested by a group of three or more employees, a union, or the business itself.
“If you have particular issues you have concerns about, we can address that.”
– James Couch, NIOSH
NIOSH experts will offer a set of customized recommendations pertaining to worker safety, either remotely (by having conversations with the relevant parties), or via an in-person visit or visits, during which they may collect samples.
“If they have particular issues they have concerns about, we can address that,” says James Couch, chief of NIOSH’s Hazard Evaluations and Technical Assistance Branch. Couch is one of the federal health experts who in 2015 visited the farm of Tom Lauerman, a longtime cannabis grower and industry leader, to learn and develop worker-safety protocols specific to cannabis.
“We basically work directly with [each] company to do it very individualized,” says Couch. That consultation results in a final report that’s publicly available on the NIOSH website. “And as a part of that, other folks in the industry can kind of take those guidelines and apply it to their own workplace.” The company’s name is not included in the public report, and no proprietary business information is revealed.
Regulators can call on NIOSH, too
NIOSH also makes its experts available to work with state agencies on cannabis health and safety protocols. Couch says his organization offers research that “walk through some of the different issues that we have found at facilities, and people can use those to implement different recommendations or guidelines into their own facilities, to hopefully reduce potential exposures.” The agency has worked with several states, he says, including Colorado and California.
NIOSH gets about three or four HHE requests from cannabis facilities or employees annually, which is substantially higher than in the past, pre-legalization. (In the past, most such requests had come from law enforcement organizations handling plants seized during investigations.)
But given the size of the industry, that’s still a tellingly low figure. Couch expects that number to increase over time, as more states legalize and more companies and workers become familiar with the HHE program.
Employees, unions, and cannabis producers can request an HHE here, and they can email HHERequestHelp@cdc.gov to ask questions or gather more information about the program. The agency’s final HHE reports can be searched and reviewed here.