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Addiction Medicine Doctors Group With Prohibitionist Roots Embraces Federal Marijuana Reforms

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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.

ASAM:
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.”

Warren:
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.”

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 removed some mentions of ASAM’s prior position from its website since the addiction group’s new stance was adopted this month.

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:

ASAM 2020 Public Policy Sta… by Marijuana Moment

Montana Voters Poised To Legalize Marijuana, New Poll Shows

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Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

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The Alabama Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Weeks after the chamber’s Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation, it cleared the full floor in a vote of 21-8 following a brief, 15-minute discussion.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes.

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored a similar bill that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without a House vote amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal would establish an 11-member Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, they say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales. After covering implementation costs, 60 percent of revenue would go to the state’s general fund and 30 percent would go to research into the medical potential of cannabis.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved on the floor would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

A separate amendment that cleared the chamber added sickle cell anemia as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction has been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

The Senate’s president voted against medical cannabis in 2020 but said he is open to letting the issue advance again in the new session. Meanwhile, the House speaker said that “if the bill comes up and it has proper restrictions in it, then I’m open to at least debating it.”

There could be additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

New York Marijuana Legalization Proposals Get First Joint Legislative Hearing Of 2021

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New York Marijuana Legalization Proposals Get First Joint Legislative Hearing Of 2021

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New York lawmakers on Tuesday held the first public hearing of the year on proposals to legalize marijuana, specifically focusing on budget implications.

In a joint session with members of the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways & Means Committee, legislators heard testimony from two pro-legalization industry representatives and one opponent, Kevin Sabet of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Notably, despite their ideological differences when it comes to legalization in general, all three panelists were critical of the reform proposal that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) included in his budget request.

NY Cannabis Growers and Processors Association President Allan Gandelman and NY Medical Cannabis Industry Association President Ngiste Abebe both said they favor a legalization measure out of the legislature—the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA)—arguing that its tax structure and social equity provisions are superior to the governor’s plan, even after Cuomo submitted amendments in hopes of shoring up support among skeptical lawmakers.

“We deeply appreciate the possibilities offered in the MRTA. New York will need to balance issues involving taxes, licensing and speed to market,” Gandelman said. “The MRTA does an excellent job allowing for social consumption, cannabis home grow, microbusinesses, home delivery and funding for social equity applicants. These policies should be, without question, integrated into any final legislation enacted by the state.”

Watch the joint public hearing on marijuana legalization in New York below: 

Cuomo did propose amending his legalization plan to add a home delivery option and specify how social equity grants for cannabis businesses would be distributed—but advocates say it still falls short of the MRTA, sponsored by Sen. Liz Kreuger (D), chair of the Finance Committee.

Abebe, who also serves as public policy director for Columbia Care, said that her organization believes “the governor’s proposal could be improved as well—and then, between the [Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act] and the MRTA, there is a pathway to effective legalization in New York.”

But the April 1 deadline to get those improvements included in Cuomo’s budget plan and pass the legislation is quickly approaching, and legislative leadership has indicated that they’d prefer to pass the MRTA first and then begin negotiations with the governor’s office.

“It is my hope and desire that New York will legalize adult-use of cannabis this current session in 2021,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), who has been especially critical of the governor’s proposal, recently said.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) told Marijuana Moment in an interview that there would be room for revisions to the governor’s plan, stating that “much of it is going to be negotiated with the legislature, and all these details can be resolved with their input as well.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 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.

Cuomo said that the changes in his bill reflect “the conversations we’ve had, but I’m hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done. He added that he believes, “because I’ve seen this movie before, “if we don’t get it done by April 1, we won’t get it done.”

This is the third year in a row that Cuomo has included a legalization proposal in his budget plan. The last two times, negotiations with the legislature stalled amid disagreements over certain components such as the tax structure for the market and funding for social equity programs.

Regardless of which direction the legislature ultimately goes on this issue, there’s growing recognition in the state that legalization is an inevitability.

The top Republican in the New York Assembly said in December that he expects the legislature to legalize cannabis this coming session.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said in November that she also anticipates that the reform will advance in 2021, though she noted that lawmakers will still have to decide on how tax revenue from marijuana sales is distributed.

Cuomo also said that month that the “pressure will be on” to legalize cannabis in the state and lawmakers will approve it “this year” to boost the economy amid the health crisis.

The push to legalize in New York could also be bolstered by the fact that voters in neighboring New Jersey approved a legalization referendum in November.

Separately, several other bills that focus on medical marijuana have been filed in New York, and they touch on a wide range of topics—from tenants’ rights for medical cannabis patients to health insurance coverage for marijuana products.

Biden Cabinet Pick Defends Proposal To Use Marijuana Tax Dollars To Fund Schools

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Biden Cabinet Pick Defends Proposal To Use Marijuana Tax Dollars To Fund Schools

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President Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of the Interior Department on Tuesday defended a past campaign promise to support marijuana legalization as a means to diversify her state’s economy and help fund public education.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) was pressed on her 2018 remarks during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the panel’s ranking member, asked whether it was still her position that tax revenue from cannabis sales could be used to support schools as a replacement for oil and gas royalties as part of a plan to shift away from fossil fuels.

“Well, I think the point of that, ranking member, was to say that we should diversify our funding streams for education and not just rely on one,” she replied.

“Is selling marijuana among what the Biden administration calls ‘better choices’ that the Biden administration has promised to give displaced oil and gas workers?” Barrasso asked. “Is that the better choice? Marijuana?”

“I honestly don’t know what President Biden’s stance is on cannabis currently,” the nominee said.

The president’s position on marijuana does depart with Haaland’s, as he has maintained an opposition to adult-use legalization and hasn’t signaled that he’d be interested in enacting the reform as a way to raise revenue for any particular initiative. He supports legalizing medical cannabis, decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession, modestly rescheduling the plant, expunging prior cannabis convictions and letting states set their own policies.

In any case, the senator—along with the Republican National Committee (RNC), which circulated Haaland’s 2018 comments ahead of the hearing—apparently feels that the marijuana position of his nominee to head Interior are damning, despite the bipartisan public support for legalization and broad sentiment that tax revenue from cannabis should be effectively utilized for public services.

“We know what your stances on replacing the revenue, the energy jobs, the jobs that power our economy and the energy that powers our country. And your preference is to turn to drugs is what you’ve recommended to the voters,” Barrasso said. “At a time when there’s high unemployment and energy workers lose their jobs—we’ve seen it in West Virginia, we’ve seen it around the country—there’s been an opioid crisis in this nation. And yet what I hear from you is the answer in a better choice world is marijuana.”

Later in the hearing, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) returned to the ranking member’s line of questioning and said “just to be clear on the marijuana issue, this isn’t a Seattle issue. Out of 39 counties, 20 to 25 counties in the state of Washington supported legalizing cannabis.”

“I don’t blame our legislature or others from getting revenue from that and put it towards public health issues in the state of Washington,” she said. “This is respecting the wishes of the voters and then putting it to good use.”

Watch Cantwell’s marijuana comments, starting around 55:45 into the video below: 

Marijuana also came up during Haaland’s initial committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introducing Haaland and joking about her energy policy by saying that “anybody who thinks you’re going to cut off fossil fuel immediately is smoking pot—that’s legal in the state of Alaska, by the way.”

Watch Young’s cannabis comments, about 37:00 into the video below:

For advocates, while it’s encouraging to see administration nominees embrace pro-reform positions, this was not the most consequential cannabis comment during a confirmation session this week. On Monday, Merrick Garland, the president’s nominee for attorney general said it is not “a useful use of limited resources” to go after people who are complying with state marijuana laws. He also citied cannabis enforcement as an example of the racially discriminatory impact of the criminal justice system.

Another New Mexico House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

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