It’s safe to say that cannabis was a major winner in this past US Election. Five states voted to legalize medical or recreational use of cannabis, pushing the country much closer to full, federal legalization. While this is a victory and lends hope to other countries in their fight for legalization, it is also a cautionary tale that mirrors the importance of equity.
The US is infamously known for the war on drugs. For years, politicians and advocates have been working diligently to undo many of those impacts. As each state has forged its standard for social equity, their answer to years of oppressive laws, sentences, and policing that primarily impacted Black and Brown bodies. It has become clear that the fight for total inclusion remains an uphill battle.
New Jersey, equity and the future of legalization
Among the five states that voted to legalize was New Jersey. This win was no surprise since interested parties have been building an infrastructure to prepare since at least 2017. While the legislation appears ideal on the surface, the bill makes no mention of expungement. Additionally, A-21 indicates that taxation from sales is allocated to police departments statewide. Unfortunately, the average voter that voted “yes” to Question 1 on the ballot read, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?” Seems simple enough, right?
The problem with A-21
Last week, members of the newly formed New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission introduced NJ bill A-21 to put structure to the legislation. Community advocates have pointed out that A-21 leaves out expungement and allocates funding from sales of cannabis directly to police departments.
Founding director of Salvation and Social Justice, Rev. Charles Boyer criticized the bill saying, “this bill has been shaped by the industry and shaped by law enforcement. What it does lack is real, robust shape from the people most devastated by the drug war.” To the same degree, Minorities For Medical Marijuana representative Jessica Gonzalez noted in her critique that “in 206 pages, nearly 90,000 words, the work “social equity” does not appear once.”
Why New Jersey matters and what we can learn
The state would be the first to legalize the Northeast region of the United States. Legislation here could most likely set the stage for how Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York structure their recreational programs. If A-21 passes with no requirement for expungement or social equity, it could be detrimental to Black and Brown communities.
As we work towards legalization here, advocates must be involved in every area. We must fight to ensure that we have a fighting chance to survive and thrive with the economy of legal cannabis.
Bill Maher Thinks Republicans Will ‘Steal’ Pot Legalization
Time is ticking, and political commentators are starting to wonder about the president’s inaction on cannabis reform—an issue with high support among Democrats. And since Democrats are currently in control of the White House and Congress, it’s on them to push a bill to the finish line.
During a June 3 “Overtime” segment on YouTube, the Real Time with Bill Maher host read an audience-submitted question to his guest, former Attorney General Eric Holder, about why President Joe Biden hasn’t pushed for the federal legalization of pot. After all, decriminalization of cannabis at the federal level was one of President Biden’s promises on the election trail.
Maher—who denies alignment with any party—said that dealing with the issue would be “dealing with reality,” and it would also bring political benefit. But if Democrats continue to fail to legalize cannabis at the federal level, Maher thinks Republicans will take up the slack.
“Republicans are gonna steal the issue. I think eventually,” Maher told Holder. “I mean, someone like John Boehner works for a marijuana company now. I mean, it could be one of those freedom issues. And, of course, Republicans smoke lots of pot too.”
“Not enough,” Holder said to instant laughter in the audience. “They need to mellow out just a little more.”
Some Republicans have used cannabis as a freedom issue. Politico reported on leaders who are joining the fold, viewing cannabis “through the prism of states’ rights, personal freedom, job creation and tax revenue.”
In a survey, conducted by Pew Research Center from April 5-11, 2021, the majority—72%—of Democrats said cannabis should be legal for medical and recreational purposes versus 47% of Republicans. Only among “conservative” Republicans, the majority of people surveyed said they aren’t in favor of legalizing cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes. While it’s less popular among Republicans, there are some leaders launching their own bills such as Congresswoman Nancy Mace, with her States Reform Act.
Maher pointed out the recent push for social equity measures transforming the industry slowly, but it is an issue Republicans aren’t onboard with. It’s the social equity provisions that are one of the few dividing points when it comes to cannabis bills. On the other hand, leaders like Senator Cory Booker believe social equity provisions are critical for any cannabis reform bill.
“Now I understand the impetus to want to, like, for example, if you’re gonna have new businesses that are legal in the marijuana field, yeah, they probably should go to the people who suffered the most during the drug war,” Maher said. “Republicans, of course, are saying this is a deal-breaker.”
Maher acknowledged that leaders are not aligning with certain details on the issue, but didn’t exactly provide a full solution.
“What do you want, half a loaf? If they said okay, no equity, is it better to have the law passed or changed or is it better to hold out for equity?” Maher asked.
“It’s better to have the law changed,” Holder responded. “And as I said, deal with the societal reality that we have and, you know, and try to make it as equitable as you possibly can, but I wouldn’t want to stop the movement that I think makes sense for the sake of equity.”
Maher serves on the advisory board with NORML and is a longtime known advocate for cannabis, and is known for slamming religion and political correctness in general. Maher was in the same room as High Times this past May, when the political talk show host made an appearance at Woody Harrelson’s grand opening of The Woods in West Hollywood.
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LeBron James Calls for Brittney Griner’s Release from Russian Prison
NBA superstar LeBron James on Sunday called on the U.S. government to work to secure the release of WNBA champion and Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner, who has been held in a Russian prison on a cannabis possession charge for nearly four months.
“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together,” James wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
James also shared a message from his brand Uninterrupted that calls on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to work for Griner’s release. The post also encouraged readers to learn more about the case online.
“For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones,” reads a message from Uninterrupted that was included in the social media post. “As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
James also posted a link to an online petition hosted by Change.org that maintains that “Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others.” James encouraged fans to share and sign the petition, which had collected more than 250,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Olympic and WNBA Superstar
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also twice won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for the WNBA. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The date of the arrest was not given and Griner was not named in the report. The customs also released a video that appeared to show Griner with security officials at an airport security checkpoint.
The Russian state news agency TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. After news of the arrest made headlines, the WNBA and the players’ union issued messages of support for the star athlete.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league wrote in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.
Griner’s arrest by Russian authorities has led to an outcry from lawmakers, cannabis advocates, celebrities, and fellow athletes. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the star athlete’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into Griner’s arrest.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
A month after her arrest, Russian authorities announced that Griner’s detention would be extended for two months. TASS reported on March 17 that Griner was being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending further investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights group Public Monitoring Commission, a quasi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.
In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified Griner’s status, saying that she had been “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the State Department wrote in an email to ESPN. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Since then, however, the status of Griner’s case has remained unchanged, prompting the renewed calls for her release from James on Sunday.
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SAHPRA Issues Africa’s First License to Conduct Psilocybin Clinical Trials; Aim is to Treat Depressed Women who are HIV Positive
Cannsun receives SAHPRA go ahead for psilocybin clinical trials
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has issued Africa’s first license allowing psilocybin to be used in clinical trials. Mutinational cannabis company Cannsun, which has a major grow-op at Atlantis in the Western Cape, said in a press release on 14 April 2022 that SAHPRA had given it the go-ahead “to commence an in-human women’s specific clinical trial to evaluate a safety and efficacy of psilocybin in 30 HIV positive study participants suffering from Major Depressive Disorder.”
Cannsun describes itself as a “bio-pharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing new medicines to optimize human potential with operations in South Africa and Thailand.”
Donaghue Woodman, Head of Research and Development at Cannsun Group PLC says:
“It is vitally important to have a deeper understanding of how woman respond to medical treatment for major depression versus men in order to develop psychedelic therapies and treatment protocols for women that have clinically significant outcomes that are safe and effective. This research to be conducted in South Africa follows a globally renewed interest in psychedelics aimed at exploring the treatment benefits of these previously misunderstood compounds.”
Mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disease burden in the world, according to a 30-year global systematic analysis published in Lancet Psychiatry. As MDD is one of the more prevalent co-morbidities in HIV and in women, where an estimated 7.7 million people are living with HIV in South Africa, the trial will to be conducted in an all-female HIV positive group. Women have previously been underrepresented in clinical trials related to mental health, trials where women were included, the published results were not gender specific.
SA Trials to be done by TASK
Cannsun Medicinals has contracted TASK, a South African-based clinical research institute to conduct the clinical trial.
TASK is a multinational clinical research institute which conducts clinical trials to determine the treatment effects of novelties in healthcare and offers services in conducting complex clinical trials in a wide variety of therapeutic areas.
Established in 2005, TASK is a renowned research specialist organization in infectious diseases, most notably in tuberculosis, COVID-19 treatment and vaccines and has been published and mentioned in several leading journals, notably in the New England Journal of Medicine. Similarly, TASK’s founder Professor Andreas Diacon has been celebrated by the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation as a ‘hero in the field’ for his contribution to TB drug development.
“The TASK team are proud to have been selected by the Cannsun group to conduct this ground-breaking trial, first in our unique African population. We look forward to making progress in the treatment of mental health disorders and to the influence this trial may have in generating further investment in psychiatric research with innovative compounds.” Duncan McDonald, Head of Business Development at TASK.
Stellenbosch University closely involved in upcoming psilocybin clinical trials
TASK will work in conjunction with Soraya Seedat, a distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Executive Head of the Department of Psychiatry at Stellenbosch University. She has more than 20 years of clinical, epidemiological and basic neuroscience research experience as a psychiatrist.
She has also been the recipient of several awards including the World Federation of the Society of Biological Psychiatry Fellowship, the Lundbeck Institute Fellowship Award in Psychiatry, an MRC mid-career award, research fellowship from the University of California San Diego, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America Career Development Award, the Humboldt Research Award in memory of Neville Alexander, the Chancellor’s Award for Research from Stellenbosch University and an MRC Gold Merit Award.
“Mental health is a global pursuit, and we are hopeful this research may bring advancement of treatment of depression and anxiety illness. Our research will be conducted in South Africa where women’s heath in a clinical setting is underrepresented, 25% of the adult women population between ages 15-49 are HIV positive. Our R&D team at Cannsun aim to further advance medical treatments in South Africa utilizing emerging medicines.” David Parry, Chief Executive Officer at Cannsun Group PLC.