NY Advocates Rally After Governor Ignores Recommendations from State’s Own Experts

Advocates held a rally on Tuesday, following last week’s revelations by The City’s Rosalind Adams showing the plan to finance New York’s cannabis industry moved forward despite the major concerns of numerous people involved in the process of implementing the state’s recreational cannabis program.

The Juneteenth Eve rally included elected officials, social justice advocates, and people impacted personally by New York’s longtime war on cannabis. They hoped to protect the progressive aspects of New York’s legalization law, prevent corporate control and increase the weight of community voices moving forward.

Chief among those advocates’ concerns across the 500 emails obtained by The City got access to was the fact that the deal sucked. The things that immediately raised eyebrows included steep costs and unreasonable repayment timelines. Most importantly these concerns were raised with the Governor Kathy Hochul as her office pushed to make her previous promises on funding the cannabis program a reality. 

“The social equity component of the MRTA is absolutely essential for our communities in Brooklyn and Queens,” said Senator Julia Salazar. “MRTA implementation is a chance to address the harm that too many New Yorkers have experienced due to many years of criminalization. But the encroachment of big cannabis corporations in New York’s market poses a threat to the MRTA’s success, especially for small, legal cannabis businesses. For the good intent of the MRTA to become reality for more communities of color and justice-impacted New Yorkers, we need Governor Hochul to allow the Cannabis Control Board to function as an independent body, and for the Office of Cannabis Management to be empowered to continue to implement the MRTA equitably.”

Salazar hit the nail on the heart in terms of who should be taking the lead. The concerns from New York’s Office of Cannabis Management about the funding deal were ignored. Following the struggle for New York to provide true access statewide, the OCM was thrown under the bus for the state’s failure despite raising numerous red flags they found and raised about the Chicago Atlantic Group deal. The City noted an OCM financial analyst used all caps to note how BAD it was. 

The Drug Policy Alliance calls New York City home and has been at the forefront of the work to get New York legal over the years. Executive Director Kassandra Frederique offered a scathing critique as news first got out about Hochuls’s administration moving ahead with a predatory lender that exploited Black and Brown cannabis licencees while keeping lawmakers in the dark. 

Frederique called the Hochul administration’s mishandling of the legal marijuana rollout deeply concerning, and strikingly echoed the Governor’s congestion pricing reversal. 

“In both instances, she bypassed the Legislature’s will and rejected agency expertise to enact sweeping changes without a concrete plan,” Frederique said, “It’s now clear that her administration knew of DASNY’s failures to build retail space and ignored repeated warnings from the Office of Cannabis Management about predatory loans harming mostly Black and Brown licensees. Instead of addressing these issues, the Hochul administration agreed to unfavorable loan terms with a disreputable creditor and then scapegoated the former OCM leader for the rollout’s failures.

Frederique went on to note how devastating this was to the communities of color most decimated by disproportional enforcement of the state’s cannabis laws in their neighborhoods. 

“What Governor Hochul calls social equity has only made cannabis licensees more vulnerable to exploitation,” Frederique said, “Our communities deserve better—real equity, real opportunities, and an administration that follows the law’s intent. The Governor must present a clear plan for delivering the next phase of our justice-centered cannabis framework in accordance with the law.”

Shaleen Title has spent the last two decades pushing for an equitable cannabis industry. She is founder and director of the drug policy think tank Parabola Center, which creates model policies to protect people rather than corporate profits. She currently serves as Distinguished Cannabis Policy Practitioner in Residence at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and as vice-chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition. It’s tough to find a voice that carries more weight on the regulatory side when it comes to discussing Social Equity in cannabis. 

We asked Title her thoughts on what was happening in New York. She said DPA offered a great statement on the subject already but offered some further reading.

“The governor’s narrative that the Office of Cannabis Management was “inexperienced” deserves further examination,” Title said, “The new evidence shows that the governor’s office ignored OCM’s warnings and moved ahead with a failed initiative and then used the OCM and its leadership as a scapegoat.”

Title closed pointing to the positive aspects of what is happening in New York despite the hiccups. 

“Any fair evaluation of New York’s rollout comparing its metrics against its own goals, and metrics in other states, demonstrates that New York leads the nation in terms of racial equity and cannabis — not surprising, given that its staff has been led by some of the country’s top experts on cannabis and equity, data, civil rights law, and antitrust law,” Title said, 

Ahead of the rally outside of Hochul’s office, DPA noted other positives from New York’s rollout being overshadowed in the controversy of the moment. Those include things like 95% of New York’s cannabis retail market is small businesses. But more importantly, New York has nearly tripled the number of Black-owned retail dispensaries nationwide in just 15 months.

“The Governor can change the players, but for NY activists who know that this is a marathon for equity and not a sprint, the game doesn’t change. We will continue to hold her accountable to the letter of the most equitable cannabis law in the country. This means that fifty percent of the market must be comprised of social equity outcomes including those from communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. We will not stop advocating for the state budget and support that it will take for NY to get there, despite the machine, including MSOs, that we are up against,” said Annette Fernandez, Managing Partner, High Exposure Agency; Founder, La Casa Lola; and Provisional Retail License Applicant.

The post NY Advocates Rally After Governor Ignores Recommendations from State’s Own Experts first appeared on High Times.

Justice Advocates Call For More Relief After Maryland Governor Pardons Thousands

Restorative justice advocates in Maryland are calling on Democratic Governor Wes Moore to take additional steps to provide relief to those with marijuana-related convictions, only days after the governor announced he was pardoning thousands. Moore signed an executive order on Monday that issued a mass pardon for approximately 175,000 weed-related convictions, a move that affected the records of about 100,000 individuals.

“Maryland made history when we legalized cannabis by referendum. But we cannot celebrate the benefits of legalization while forgetting the consequences of criminalization. No Marylander should face barriers to housing, employment, or education based on convictions for conduct that is no longer illegal,” Moore said when he announced the pardons on Monday. “Today, we take a big step forward toward ensuring equal justice for all. But this won’t be our last effort. We must continue to move in partnership to build a state and society that is more equitable, more just, and leaves no one behind.”

With the governor’s action this week, Maryland joins a growing number of states that have issued thousands of pardons to absolve convictions for cannabis-related offenses, particularly as laws prohibiting marijuana are relaxed across the country. A similar move was made at the federal level, with President Joseph Biden becoming the first president to issue a mass pardon for marijuana crimes in October 2022. The president expanded his order in December 2023 with a pardon that covered thousands more federal marijuana convictions.

According to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), approximately 2 million people have had a cannabis-related conviction pardoned or expunged in recent years, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Supporters of the mass pardons note that a criminal conviction, even for a minor offense, can have long-lasting repercussions. In an interview with NPR, Moore acknowledged the difficulties faced by those with a criminal record while noting the scope of his executive order.

“The barriers to everything from employment to education to the ability to buy a home and to be able to start gaining wealth for your family, all of these things are being blocked,” Moore told NPR. “By doing what is the largest state misdemeanor cannabis pardon in the history of this country, essentially what it’s doing is, we want to make second chances actually mean something.”

Is a Pardon Enough?

Some justice advocates, however, say the pardons announced this week do not go far enough to ease the harm of a criminal conviction and are calling for records to be expunged instead. In Maryland, a pardoned conviction still appears on an individual’s criminal record with a notation that the offense has been forgiven. Colleen Chien, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, said that research shows that any criminal record, even for only an arrest, can make employers less likely to contact a job candidate for an interview.

“A record, whether or not it’s been pardoned, whether or not it’s been convicted, is often enough,” said Chien. “And so if the governor wants to sort of ensure that this is policy, that there is as much force behind it as possible, he would probably work with the legislature to also try to turn it from a pardon to some sort of shielding, a sealing, or an expungement.”

Cynthia W. Roseberry, director of policy and government affairs focused on justice issues for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the pardons for minor cannabis convictions in Maryland and some other states are a “good first step, but it is a small step” to address what she characterized as systemic racial inequities in the nation’s criminal justice system.

“This really is a signal that elected officials are beginning to listen to the people,” Roseberry told The Washington Post. “The people want folks to do more, and I think elected officials have to be bold enough to follow the people in that way.”

The Clean Slate Initiative is a campaign supporting legislation for the automated clearing of criminal records known as clean slate laws. Leaders of the initiative estimate that 300,000 people in Maryland have convictions for marijuana-related offenses and other crimes that are eligible for expungement that the state has not yet cleared.

“Pardons and other efforts to reduce the consequences of having a record are important,” Sheena Meade, CEO of the Clean Slate Initiative, told NPR in an email. “However, automatic record clearance for people who meet the requirements is the best way to ensure that a past mistake does not prevent people from having meaningful access to employment, housing, education, and other opportunities.”

The post Justice Advocates Call For More Relief After Maryland Governor Pardons Thousands first appeared on High Times.

Feds Indict 24 in Mexico Cartel and China Drug Operation Alliance

The Justice Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced on June 18 a 10-count superseding indictment, charging Los Angeles-based individuals linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel with conspiring with money-laundering groups linked to a Chinese underground banking network in order to launder drug trafficking proceeds.

Cartel members linked to Mexico used a Chinese underground banking system in order to launder money made from selling meth and cocaine. The Sinaloa Cartel is one of the largest-known crime syndicates in the world. It was run, famously, by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who is currently serving a lifetime sentence at a maximum security prison in Colorado. Investigators also say the Sinaloa cartel is responsible for a glut of fentanyl in the country for the past eight years.

Called “Operation Fortune Runner,” federal agents issued the indictment on April 4 and it was unsealed on Monday, charging a total of 24 defendants with one count of conspiracy to aid and abet the distribution of cocaine and methamphetamine, one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Throughout the course of the conspiracy, over $50 million in drug proceeds flowed between the Sinaloa Cartel associates and Chinese underground money exchanges. Authorities in both Mexico and China alerted U.S. law enforcement that they had caught suspects attempting to flee the U.S. after being charged last year.

To transfer money to the United States, a China-based investor contacts an individual who has U.S. dollars available to sell. Then the seller of U.S. dollars provides identifying information for a bank account in China with instructions for the investor to deposit Chinese currency into that account. Once the owner of the account sees the deposit, an equivalent amount of U.S. dollars is released to the buyer in the United States.

Edgar Joel Martinez-Reyes, 45, of East Los Angeles, who is being named the lead defendant, and others allegedly used a variety of methods to hide their trail of money, “structuring” assets to avoid federal financial reporting requirements, and the purchase of cryptocurrency.  Federal authorities also found a cache of cocaine, shrooms, ecstasy, meth, and ketamine.

“Relentless greed, the pursuit of money, is what drives the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the worst drug crisis in American history,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “This DEA investigation uncovered a partnership between Sinaloa Cartel associates and a Chinese criminal syndicate operating in Los Angeles and China to launder drug money. Laundering drug money gives the Sinaloa Cartel the means to produce and import their deadly poison into the United States. DEA’s top operational priority is to save American lives by defeating the cartels and those that support their operations. This investigation is the latest example, and there is more to come.”

Twenty of the individuals named in the indictment are expected to be arraigned in the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles within weeks, including one who was arraigned on Monday.

The Battle Against Drug Trafficking

“Dangerous drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine are destroying people’s lives but drug traffickers only care about their profits,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “To protect our community, therefore, it is essential that we go after the sophisticated, international criminal syndicates that launder the drug money. As this indictment and our international actions show, we will be dogged in our pursuit of all those who facilitate destruction in our country and make sure they are held accountable for their actions.” 

The investigation involved IRS authorities as well that helped track down the paper trail.

“Drug traffickers generate immense amounts of cash through their illicit operations. This case is a prime example of Chinese money launderers working hand in hand with drug traffickers to try to legitimize profits generated by drug activities,” said Chief Guy Ficco of IRS Criminal Investigation. “We have made it a priority to identify, disrupt, and dismantle any money launderers working with drug cartels and we are committed to our partnerships with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to combat drug cartels and those who assist them in laundering drug proceeds.”

As part of this investigation, law enforcement reported they had seized approximately $5 million in drug  proceeds,with  302 pounds of cocaine, 92 pounds of methamphetamine, 3,000 Ecstasy pills, 44 pounds of psilocybin (magic mushrooms), numerous ounces of ketamine, three semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines, and eight semi-automatic handguns.

The Department of Justice announced similar indictments last January. 

Dozens of individuals allegedly linked to the most powerful cartel in Mexico were arrested and charged by federal agents in California and elsewhere in the western United States, the Department of Justice announced in January

The DOJ said that 14 “indictments were unsealed, charging 47 alleged members of an Imperial Valley, California-based, Sinaloa Cartel-linked fentanyl-and-methamphetamine distribution network with drug trafficking, firearms, and money laundering offenses.”

The post Feds Indict 24 in Mexico Cartel and China Drug Operation Alliance first appeared on High Times.

Psilocybin Treatment Centers Bill Vetoed by Arizona Governor

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed a bill on June 18 that would have permitted the use of psilocybin in designated treatment centers.

If House Bill 1570 became law, it would have granted $5 million in annual funding to go toward psilocybin therapy. The Department of Human Services would have been in charge of the program and developing a regulated approach to licensing therapy centers as well as facilitators who would be trained to assist patients through the experience. Additionally, the Arizona Psilocybin Advisory Board would have also been created, consisting of a variety of members such as the governor, attorney general’s office officials, military veterans and first responders, physicians, and researchers. It would be the responsibility of the board to make recommendations for the law, conduct studies, and ultimately develop a program with which to train staff to work at therapy centers.

According to her veto statement, Hobbs explained her stance on the bill. “The state’s psilocybin research advisory board established last year recently issued its annual report, with a clear message: although psilocybin may be a promising treatment in the future, we do not yet have the evidence needed to support widespread clinical expansion,” Hobbs said. “Arizonans with depression and PTSD deserve access to treatments that may be seen as outside the mainstream, but they should not be the subject of experiments for unproven therapies with a lack of appropriate guardrails.”

In her letter, Hobbs continued by adding that the cost of $400,000 per year was not included in the FY25 budget. “Last year’s budget included $5 million for psilocybin research which will be allowed to continue with this year’s budget,” she concluded. “This will allow research to take place with a goal to ensure that those who seek psilocybin treatment are doing so confidently and safely under proper supervision of qualified professionals with documented and verified research to support the treatment.”

Cameron Arcand, a reporter for local Arizona news outlet The Center Square, published a screenshot of a text sent to him by the bill’s sponsor, T.J. Shope, on social media. “Well, it’s a disappointing result after months of hard work and the overwhelming bipartisan support this received in both houses of the Legislature this year,” Shope stated. “If we were still in session, I’d be pushing to override her veto but I’ll have to settle for trying again next year. I won’t stop fighting for our veterans and first responders to get the mental health care they deserve in these clinical settings. Sadly, Arizonans will now have to continue leaving their own state and country to receive this type of treatment. It’s truly a sad day for those who have put everything on the line for us.”

Arizona now joins California in having bipartisan support on a psilocybin treatment centers bill being vetoed by its governor. Similarly in October 2023, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 58, which would have decriminalized possession and use of psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, and mescaline for adults over 21. While Newsom confirmed that he supports new methods of treatment to tackle mental health conditions, the bill was not yet ready to be passed, in his opinion. “California should immediately begin work to set up regulated treatment guidelines—replete with dosing information, therapeutic guidelines, rules to prevent against exploration during guided treatments, and medical clearance of no underlying psychoses,” Newsom explained in a statement at the time. “Unfortunately, this bill would decriminalize possession prior to these guidelines going into place, and I cannot sign this.”

SB-58 sponsor, Sen. Scott Weiner, expressed his disappointment for the setback, although he plans to continue to fight for alternative drug treatments for veterans and first responders. “This veto is a huge missed opportunity for California to follow the science and lead,” Weiner stated. “This is not the end of our fight, however, and given the Governor’s commitment to work with the Legislature on legislation with a therapeutic focus—and openness to future decriminalization legislation—I look forward to introducing therapeutic-focused legislation next year.” Weiner introduced new legislation under Senate Bill 1012 in February, but currently the last action taken was in May so far.

While Oregon was the first state to legalize licensed psilocybin treatment centers back in November 2020 (although the first license wasn’t approved until May 2023), the program overall appears to be struggling. Between June 2023-June 2024, an estimated 3,500 people had participated in a legal psilocybin therapy session, which is projected to increase to 7,000 people by the end of 2024. However, one treatment center owner, Tori Armbrust of Satori Farms PDX, said that treatment centers may begin to close due to lack of consistent customers. Starting in 2025, Oregon will permit out-of-state business owners to obtain licenses to operate treatment centers, which will create more competition for local business owners.

Another Oregon-based psilocybin treatment center owner, Matthew Wissler, added that most patients come to Oregon from out-of-state or even out of the country to try out the treatment.

The post Psilocybin Treatment Centers Bill Vetoed by Arizona Governor first appeared on High Times.

Study Explores Psilocybin for Anorexia, Rigid Thought Patterns

A new study examined the effects of psilocybin in an animal model for treating anorexia nervosa, showing that the compound improves body weight maintenance in female rats, facilitating what they call cognitive flexibility.

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is deadly—having one of the highest mortality rates of any known psychiatric disease. It killed people such as Karen Carpenter of The Carpenters, or a list of famous models who dealt with unrealistic body goals. It affects women more often but also 10-15% of people with AN are male.

The study, called “Psilocybin restrains activity-based anorexia in female rats by enhancing cognitive flexibility: contributions from 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptor mechanisms,”  was led by Dr. Claire Foldi of the Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute and published recently in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

People with eating disorders often suffer from symptoms like body dysmorphia and a poor self-image. These rigid thought patterns are difficult to overcome, and conventional medicine may not make much of a difference. Researchers observed a specific mechanism within the brain, allowing psilocybin to make “anorexic thinking” more pliable.

Meanwhile, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, aka antidepressants, are the leading treatment, however they are used off-label and don’t appear to improve clinical symptoms in underweight people with anorexia, Foldi said. “Cognitive inflexibility is a hallmark of the condition often arising before symptoms of anorexia nervosa are obvious, and persisting after weight recovery—making this symptom a primary target for therapeutic intervention,” Foldi told MSN News.

Researchers used young female rats in the study because they are particularly vulnerable to developing a particular ABA phenotype—a feature that is not fully understood but has been connected to the increased prevalence of AN in young women. 

To test the effects of psilocybin on cognitive flexibility, saline or 5-HTR antagonists were administered 30 minutes prior to either saline or psilocybin treatment, at the completion of a training session. The following day the reward contingencies of the nose-poke ports were reversed, and rats underwent more testing.

“Clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in people with AN have been ongoing since 2019, with the first pilot study recently reporting that it improves eating disorder symptoms in some individuals, but not others. Psilocybin may have transdiagnostic efficacy through several mechanisms relevant to the pathology of AN, including actions on the serotonergic system and cognitive flexibility. However, the details of how such mechanisms are altered by psilocybin in the context of AN remains unknown. 

The ABA paradigm, as they call it, involves unlimited access to a running wheel and time-restricted food access. At seven weeks of age, rats were individually housed in transparent living chambers with a removable food basket and a running wheel. They were given access to the wheel for seven days to determine baseline running wheel activity (RWA). The following day, psilocybin or saline was administered, wheels were locked for five hours and then it was reopened. Running activity was recorded electronically.

“Here, we show that psilocybin improves body weight maintenance in the ABA rat model and enhances cognitive flexibility in a reversal learning task by both reducing perseverative responding and promoting task engagement when reward contingencies are initially reversed. That psilocybin did not elicit changes in motivated responding (PR) or response suppression (extinction) following the same training and drug administration protocol suggests a selective improvement in adaptive cognition in the face of changing rules.”

Other Studies Show Psilocybin May Be Effective for Eating Disorders

Other studies linked psilocybin with eating disorders (EDs) like anorexia. Recently researchers Elena Koning and Elisa Brietzke explored the ways psilocybin can treat ED by its therapeutic benefits—also in combating rigid thought patterns. Koning, who is a doctoral student, recently wrote about her discoveries for PsyPost, explaining the reasoning behind her research.

Koning mentioned that in the age of social media, EDs are becoming increasingly troublesome, and that new approaches to those types of disorders are needed.

An earlier study, “Psilocybin-Assisted Psychotherapy as a Potential Treatment for Eating Disorders: a Narrative Review of Preliminary Evidence,” was published online ahead of print for Trends Psychiatry.

“Eating disorders (ED) are a group of potentially severe mental disorders characterized by abnormal energy balance, cognitive dysfunction and emotional distress,” researchers wrote. “Cognitive inflexibility is a major challenge to successful ED treatment and dysregulated serotonergic function has been implicated in this symptomatic dimension. Moreover, there are few effective treatment options and long-term remission of ED symptoms is difficult to achieve. There is emerging evidence for the use of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for a range of mental disorders. Psilocybin is a serotonergic psychedelic which has demonstrated therapeutic benefit to a variety of psychiatric illnesses characterized by rigid thought patterns and treatment resistance.”

The new study show’s psilocybin’s potential in the treatment of anorexia and other EDs.

The post Study Explores Psilocybin for Anorexia, Rigid Thought Patterns first appeared on High Times.