A medical association focused on combatting drug addiction that has historically resisted marijuana reform efforts and aligned itself with prohibitionists has adopted a new policy position in favor of protecting people who use cannabis in compliance with state laws from being punished by the federal government. It’s also backing the rescheduling of medical marijuana.
“Our nation’s historically punitive approach to cannabis possession and use has caused harms related to arrest and incarceration, which disproportionately impact low-income communities and persons of color, contributing to racial injustice,” the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) said in its new statement.
ASAM made 24 specific marijuana-related recommendations following a board of directors vote that was formalized this month. While some of the proposals are consistent with the organization’s prior policy stances, its embrace of specific federal reforms stands out.
One provision even appears to come close to endorsing the aims of bipartisan legislation—the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act—that is vehemently opposed by prohibitionist groups that the addiction doctors association has closely partnered with in the past.
In fact, the language of the ASAM recommendation closely mirrors a summary of the bill that was included in a press release from its sponsor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), last year.
Amend federal law “so that—as long as states and tribes comply with substantial public health protections—its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with state or tribal laws relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”
Amend federal law “so that—as long as states and tribal nations comply with a few basic protections—its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana.”
The language is identical, but for the replacement of Warren’s “a few basic protections” with “substantial public health protections” (which are undefined) and using “cannabis for non-medical purposes” instead of “marijuana.”
When it comes to its separate medical cannabis rescheduling recommendation, ASAM doesn’t specify which classification it feels marijuana should be placed under after being removed from its current Schedule I status; rather, it simply states that it should be changed “to promote more clinical research and [Food and Drug Administration] oversight typical of other medications.”
Today, we released a new public policy statement on cannabis that provides recommendations to protect public health and mitigate the risks of cannabis use. https://t.co/0a5BtMEe1L pic.twitter.com/MgJ4zXcuxy
— ASAM (@ASAMorg) October 13, 2020
ASAM, which was founded in 1954 and says it represents more than 6,000 physicians, clinicians and associated professionals in the field of addiction medicine, has previously adopted policy positions focused promoting research into cannabis—and it’s supported congressional legislation to that end. But the new recommendations are notable given the direct call for changes to the drug’s classification under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and carve-outs to protect people following state marijuana laws.
In 2014, the group’s then-president, Stuart Gitlow, signed a letter circulated by prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) that asked federal officials to resist pressure to reschedule cannabis under the CSA.
Whereas that letter argued that “rescheduling marijuana is not necessary to facilitate research,” the new ASAM position statement cites the reclassification move as a step needed to “promote more clinical research.”
Gitlow also signed onto a separate SAM letter opposing the Obama administration’s 2013 move to direct federal prosecutors to generally not interfere with state marijuana legalization laws—the aim of the STATES Act that the group’s new position paper adopts language from.
That same year, he sent a letter on ASAM letterhead to senators saying that the organization “supports the enforcement of federal laws that discourage the growth and distribution of marijuana.”
Gitlow, after leaving the organization’s presidency, went so far as to cheer then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s revocation of the Obama-era cannabis policy in 2018.
But ASAM’s new leadership is singing a different tune.
“Today’s public policy statement recognizes that our country’s historically punitive approach to cannabis use has caused significant harms—especially to persons of color, who are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for cannabis possession and use,” Paul H. Earley, president of ASAM, said in a press release. “We must safeguard against the potential harms of cannabis use such as cannabis use disorder, while also recognizing that criminalization is not a constructive way to promote public health.”
While the new ASAM policy position clearly acknowledges the medical uses of cannabis and suggests enacting federal policy changes to accommodate it, the group didn’t always do so.
In 2011, its then-president, Louis E. Baxter, said, “We do not recognize this as a ‘medication,’ having not gone through an official FDA-approval process”—making sure to use scare quotes around “medication.”
In 2012 ASAM published a white paper urging physicians to oppose local reform initiatives, but as more states legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, the group appeared to start taking a more public health-focused stance with its policy positions. For example, in 2015, it adopted a pro-decriminalization position, suggesting that people face civil penalties instead of incarceration for simple possession—though it also said that penalty should be coupled with “mandated referral to clinical assessment, educational activities, and, when indicated, formal treatment for addiction or other substance-related disorders.”
The new policy stance, in contrast, says that under decriminalization, “civil fines and fees should be eliminated whenever possible.” It also suggests a “range of non-mandatory civil penalties to enforce restrictions such as age, place of use, quantity limits” such as referral for clinical assessments or education, but that “there should be no mandatory minimum penalties, which disproportionately punish people of limited means.”
ASAM, while stopping short of embracing any form of legal and regulated cannabis system—saying it has “concerns regarding commercial models of legalization”—is also calling for “automatic expungement for past minor cannabis-related convictions, so that hundreds of thousands of people—disproportionately people of color—do not remain marginalized for prior offenses.”
The group also has suggestions for states that enact marijuana legalization, such as restricting advertising, mandating plain packaging for cannabis products, conducting quality control testing, limiting potency, allowing localities to regulate businesses and earmarking tax revenue for treatment and prevention efforts.
The new ASAM document also calls for FDA regulation of medical cannabis products, while saying that doctors who recommend unregulated medical marijuana preparations to patients should report it to prescription drug monitoring programs. The group also suggests that in most cases “pregnant women should have a choice whether or not to provide consent for cannabis testing including during labor and delivery.”
Again, however, the most significant recommendation from ASAM concerns federal protections for people who comply with state marijuana laws. It’s a position not shared by major prohibitionist groups like SAM that have routinely promoted ASAM’s onetime ardent anti-cannabis policies.
SAM President Kevin Sabet played down the addiction doctors group’s policy announcement when contacted by Marijuana Moment, saying it won’t change the “longtime partnership” between the two organizations and arguing that ASAM’s “new position is in large part consistent with SAM’s positions of non-criminal penalties and public health practices.”
“ASAM calls for the non-enforcement of the CSA in states that adopt significant public health guidelines—but no state has done that, and no current federal marijuana bills being proposed provide for this,” he said. “In fact, a member of the ASAM writing committee told us that if states do not follow these guidelines, the ‘federal government can go after them, not for allowing marijuana but for doing it in dangerous and non acceptable way.'”
Sabet, who did not name the writing committee member he quoted, said his group was in the process of uploading ASAM’s new guidance to its website and that he sees “very little inconsistency between the positions of ASAM and SAM.”
While SAM has historically led efforts to opposed the rescheduling of marijuana, including the letter that ASAM’s former president signed, several years ago it pivoted to calling for the creation of a new special federal category for marijuana in order to bolster research. “Rescheduling is not necessary to do research,” Sabet said in his statement to Marijuana Moment, but conceded that “it would simply make it easier to do.”
Despite SAM’s efforts to frame the new ASAM’s policy as being in line with its own advocacy for largely maintaining the status quo of federal marijuana prohibition, the health group is clear that large-scale changes are needed even as it maintains concerns about commercialization and addiction.
“Our current approach to cannabis use has not only caused confusion about the health harms and potential benefits of cannabis use, but it has caused real harm, both to health of those using poorly regulated cannabis products and to the overall wellbeing of those arrested or incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses,” Earley, ASAM’s president, said. “Without opening the floodgates to a for-profit, commercial cannabis industry to flourish, our country must change course and adopt evidence-based cannabis policies that protect and promote public health, including the ones we recommend today.”
Read ASAM’s full report and recommendations for cannabis policy below:
Top IRS Official Says Marijuana Banking Reform Would Help Feds ‘Get Paid’
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would like to get paid—and it’d help if the marijuana industry had access to banks like companies in other legal markets, an official with the federal department said. She also talked about unique issues related to federal tax deductions for cannabis businesses.
At an event hosted by UCLA’s Annual Tax Controversy Institute on Thursday, IRS’s Cassidy Collins talked about the “special type of collection challenge” that the agency faces when it comes to working with cannabis businesses while the product remains federally illegal.
While IRS isn’t taking a stand on federal marijuana policy, Collins said that the status quo leaves many cannabis businesses operating on a cash-only basis, creating complications for the agency, in part by making it harder for banks to “pay us.”
“The reason why [the marijuana industry is] cash intensive is twofold,” she said. “Number one, a lot of customers don’t want a paper trail showing that they’re buying marijuana, and number two, the hesitancy of banks to allow marijuana businesses to even bank with them.”
Of course, the reason why many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients is because the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.
“There’s been a number of legislative bills that have been introduced—and I am definitely not expressing any opinion personally or on behalf of the IRS about any pending or proposed legislation,” Collins, who is a senior counsel in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, said. “But it is interesting to note that, if the law changed so that the marijuana businesses could have banks, that would make the IRS’s job to collect [taxes] a lot easier. As part of collection, we want the money. That’s our end goal there.”
A major part of what makes cannabis businesses unique is that they don’t qualify for traditional tax credits under an IRS code known as 280E. That policy “prohibits them from claiming deductions for business expenses because they’re technically being involved in drug trafficking,” Collins explained at the event, from which small excerpts of her comments were reported by Bloomberg.
There are some options available to lessen the burden on marijuana firms, however. At the end of the day, “IRS will work with marijuana companies because, again, we want to get paid,” Collins said.
One of the ways the agency works with marijuana business operators is to have them visit designated IRS “tax assistance centers” that accept cash payments in excess of $50,000. But the official warned businesses to “be prepared to be there for a little while” as the center checks—and double checks—the amount of cash being submitted.
“Revenue officers will assist the marijuana companies in paying us,” she said.
IRS officials could also help cannabis firms by having officials accompany them “to the bank in order to try to help the taxpayer secure a cashier’s payment to pay the IRS, as well as using money orders,” she said, adding that “our revenue officers are are wanting to work with the marijuana companies to help assist them to pay us.”
“When the revenue officers are there in person with the taxpayer, that could potentially help increase the likelihood that the bank will cooperate and help the taxpayer transition into a cashier’s check,” she continued. “And that has been a trend since this first became legal [at the state level], that more and more banks are allowing cannabis companies to bank with them.”
In a report published earlier this year, congressional researchers examined tax policies and restrictions for the marijuana industry—and how those could change if any number of federal reform bills are enacted.
IRS, for its part, said last month that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.
As it stands, banks and credit unions are operating under 2014 guidance from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) that lays out reporting requirements for those that choose to service the marijuana industry.
Leaders in both chambers of Congress are working on legalization bills to end federal marijuana prohibition. But stakeholders are hopeful that, in the interim, legislators will enact modest marijuana banking reform. Legislation to protect financial institutions from being penalized for working with cannabis businesses passed the House for the fifth time last month.
Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a Marijuana Moment op-ed this month that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications.
IRS separately hosted a forum in August dedicated to tax policy for marijuana businesses and cryptocurrency.
Earlier this year, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress that the agency would “prefer” for state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to pay taxes electronically, as the current largely cash-based system under federal cannabis prohibition is onerous and presents risks to workers.
Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that he’d like to see Congress approve legislation resolving the cannabis banking issue and he pointed to the fact that IRS has had to build “cash rooms” to deposit taxes from those businesses as an example of the problem.
IRS released updated guidance on tax policy for the marijuana industry last year, including instructions on how cannabis businesses that don’t have access to bank accounts can pay their tax bills using large amounts of cash.
The update appears to be responsive to a Treasury Department internal watchdog report that was released earlier in the year. The department’s inspector general for tax administration had criticized IRS for failing to adequately advise taxpayers in the marijuana industry about compliance with federal tax laws. And it directed the agency to “develop and publicize guidance specific to the marijuana industry.”
Luxembourg Set To Become First European Country To Legalize Marijuana Following Government Recommendation
Luxembourg is poised to become the first European country to legalize marijuana, with key government agencies putting forward a plan to allow the possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use.
The ministers of justice and homeland security on Friday unveiled the proposal, which will still require a vote in the Parliament but is expected to pass. It’s part of a broader package of reform measures the agencies are recommending.
Under the marijuana measure, adults 18 and older could grow up to four plants. However, under the non-commercial model that is being proposed, possessing more than three grams in public would still be a civil offense, carrying a fine of €25-500 ($29-581). Currently, the maximum fine for possession is €2,500 ($2,908).
In terms of access, adults would be able to buy and trade cannabis seeds for their home garden.
Justice Minister Sam Tamson said the government felt it “had to act” and characterized the home cultivation policy change as a first step, The Guardian reported.
👉🏻élaboration du projet de loi usage privé du #cannabis : jusqu’à 4 plantes à domicile & décorrectionnalisation <3g
👉🏻renforcement de la prévention & de l’accompagnement
👉🏻⬆️des moyens de la police
👉🏻élaboration d’un projet de production/vente #Luxembourg pic.twitter.com/8yre0Udt8J
— Sam Tanson (@SamTanson) October 22, 2021
“The idea is that a consumer is not in an illegal situation if he consumes cannabis and that we don’t support the whole illegal chain from production to transportation to selling where there is a lot of misery attached,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to get more and more away from the illegal black market.”
While limited in scope, the reform would make Luxembourg the first country in Europe to legalize the production and possession of marijuana for recreational use. Cannabis has been widely decriminalized in certain countries in the continent, but it has remained criminalized by statute.
Government sources in Luxembourg told The Guardian that plans are in the works to develop a program where the state regulates the production and distribution of marijuana. Tamson said they are working to resolve “international constraints” before taking that step, however, referring to United Nations treaty obligations that multiple U.S. states and other countries like Canada and Uruguay have openly flouted.
The measures include:
🟢 Regulation of cannabis use and cultivation: adults will be able to legally cultivate up to four cannabis plants for their own use, provided the cultivation is happening at their place of residence.
— European Greens (@europeangreens) October 22, 2021
For now, the country is focusing on legalization within a home setting. Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal in early 2022, and the ruling parties are friendly to the reform.
This has been a long time coming, as a coalition of major parties of Luxembourg agreed in 2018 to enact legislation allowing “the exemption from punishment or even legalization” of cannabis.
Meanwhile in the U.S., congressional lawmakers are working to advance legalization legislation. A key House committee recently approved a bill to end marijuana prohibition, and Senate leadership is finalizing a separate reform proposal.
In Mexico, a top Senator said this week that lawmakers could advance legislation to regulate marijuana in the coming weeks. The Supreme Court has already ruled that adults cannot be criminalized over possession or cultivation, but there’s currently no program in place to provide access.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
New Bipartisan Marijuana Research Bill In Congress Would Let Scientists Study Dispensary Products
A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill on Thursday to remove barriers to conducting research on marijuana, including by allowing scientists to access cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.
The Medical Marijuana Research Act, filed by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), would streamline the process for researchers to apply and get approved to study cannabis and set clear deadlines on federal agencies to act on their applications.
“Congress is hopelessly behind the American people on cannabis, and the quality of our research shows why that is an urgent problem,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “Despite the fact that 99 percent of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of cannabis, federal law is still hamstringing researchers’ ability to study the full range of health benefits offered by cannabis, and to learn more about the products readily available to consumers.”
“It’s outrageous that we are outsourcing leadership in that research to Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others. It’s time to change the system,” he said.
Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the cannabis science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.
The new bill filed this week by Blumenauer and Harris, along with six other original cosponsors, would also make it easier for scientists to modify their research protocols without having to seek federal approval.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
It would additionally mandate that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license more growers and make it so there would be no limit on the number of additional entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. It would also require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit a report to Congress within five years after enactment to overview the results of federal cannabis studies and recommend whether they warrant marijuana’s rescheduling under federal law.
“The cannabis laws in this country are broken, including our laws that govern cannabis research,” Blumenauer said in remarks in the Congressional Record. “Because cannabis is a Schedule I substance, researchers must jump through hoops and comply with onerous requirements just to do basic research on the medical potential of the plant.”
The new legislation will “both streamline the often-duplicative licensure process for researchers seeking to conduct cannabis research and facilitate access to an increased supply of higher quality medical grade cannabis for research purposes,” he said, adding that expanded studies will help make sure “Americans have adequate access to potentially transformative medicines and treatments.”
For half a century, researchers have only been able to study marijuana grown at a single federally approved facility at the University of Mississippi, but they have complained that it is difficult to obtain the product and that it is of low quality. Indeed, one study showed that the government cannabis is more similar to hemp than to the marijuana that consumers actually use in the real world.
There’s been bipartisan agreement that DEA has inhibited cannabis research by being slow to follow through on approving additional marijuana manufacturers beyond the Mississippi operation, despite earlier pledges to do so.
In May, the agency finally said it was ready to begin licensing new cannabis cultivators. Last week, DEA proposed a large increase in the amount of marijuana—and psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and mescaline—that it wants produced in the U.S. for research purposes next year.
Under the new House bill, the agency would be forced to start approving additional cultivation applications for study purposes within one year of the legislation’s enactment.
HHS and the attorney general would be required under the bill to create a process for marijuana manufacturers and distributors to supply researchers with cannabis from dispensaries. They would have one year after enactment to develop that procedure, and would have to start meeting to work on it within 60 days of the bill’s passage.
In general, the legislation would also establish a simplified registration process for researchers interested in studying cannabis, in part by reducing approval wait times, minimizing costly security requirements and eliminating additional layers of protocol review.
Read the full text of the new marijuana research bill below: