Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed legislation on Friday to remove a legal barrier that scientists say makes it unnecessarily difficult for them to study the medical benefits of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin and MDMA.
Psilocybin, the active component of so-called “magic mushrooms,” and MDMA, commonly referred to as “ecstasy,” have “shown promise in end of life therapy and treating PTSD,” a summary of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal says.
The measure, which is an amendment to a large-scale appropriations bill funding parts of the government for Fiscal Year 2020, would delete a longstanding rider that prohibits spending federal money for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I” of the Controlled Substances Act.
“Academics and scientists report that provisions like this create [stigma] and insurmountable logistical hurdles to researching schedule I drugs,” the summary states.
Cannabis is classified under Schedule I as well, and researchers wishing to study it also have to overcome procedural hurdles that don’t exist for other less-restricted substances.
The existing policy in question that Ocasio-Cortez is seeking to overturn has been attached to legislation funding the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education since at least 1996.
“This language has served as a gag rule on government employees discussing the benefits of legalization,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said. “We are moving away from the war on drugs—slowly but surely—and language like this belongs in Nancy Reagan’s journal, not in a Democrat bill.”
From the opioid crisis to psilocybin’s potential w/ PTSD, it’s well past time we take drug use out of criminal consideration + into medical consideration.
That begins with research. I’m proud to introduce an amendment that helps scientists do their jobs. https://t.co/V1BziVeNtr
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 8, 2019
Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) filed a separate amendment to the new spending bill that would block the Department of Education from moving “to deny or limit any funding or assistance to institutions of higher education” that allow the use or possession of medical marijuana in states where it has been legalized.
The potential loss of federal funds has been held up by many colleges and universities as the reason they won’t allow students to bring medical cannabis onto campus even though they are legal patients under state law.
Ocasio-Cortez’s psychedelics amendment is especially timely.
Voters in Denver, Colorado approved a ballot measure last month making their city the first in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. Earlier this week, the Oakland, California City Council unanimously passed a resolution decriminalizing not only shrooms but also ayahuasca, mescaline and ibogaine.
On Monday, the House Rules Committee, which prepares bills for action on the floor, will decide whether either or both of the drug policy reform amendments will be allowed for votes when the full body considers the funding legislation later in the week.
While it remains to be seen if the chamber’s new Democratic leadership will clear the amendments’ advancement, Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern (D-MA) has repeatedly criticized his Republican predecessor for blocking cannabis-related amendments and pledged that he would take a different approach.
“I’m not going to block marijuana amendments like my predecessor has done,” he said shortly after last year’s midterm elections in which his party won back control of the House. “As chairman of the Rules Committee, I’m not going to block marijuana amendments. People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate.”
More than 500 amendments altogether have been submitted to the spending bill so far.
Meanwhile, a separate bill funding other parts of the federal government for the next fiscal year, as approved by a House appropriations subcommittee, already contains a provision to protect banks that serve marijuana businesses from being punished by financial regulators. That legislation also deletes a longstanding rider preventing Washington, D.C. from spending its own local tax dollars to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.
And the House Appropriations Committee has included language in reports attached to several funding bills that address issues such as protection of benefits for military veterans who use cannabis, roadblocks to research created by marijuana’s Schedule I status, CBD regulation, hemp legalization implementation and the issuance of licenses to additional growers of cannabis to be used in scientific studies.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.
In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.
While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”
That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”
Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.
It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.
My Op Ed in today’s @WSJopinion – The tragic vape injuries involving THC demand that we consider a federal reckoning when it comes to the dangerous conflict between state and federal pot laws that leave federal regulators on sidelines https://t.co/HGptTfx8Db
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 11, 2019
“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”
One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.
My Op Ed in @WSJopinion – The conflict between federal and state law when it comes to marijuana has created a dangerous gap in oversight. It's about time we consider a new federal paradigm when it comes to regulation of cannabis and its active ingredients https://t.co/QifVa5Dbfq
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) October 13, 2019
“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”
Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”
That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.
“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”
Mexican Senate Committees Will Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week
Mexican Senate committees will introduce an updated proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use within days.
During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced that they would remain in permanent session as they go through various legalization bills that lawmakers have already filed and present a comprehensive new piece of legislation on Thursday.
Sen. Miguel Ángel Navarro Quintero of the ruling MORENA party, who is a cosponsor of one existing reform bill, said the development “is a positive step to regulate—it is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.
The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero last year, senators said. However, there are about a dozen other legalization bills on the table, including one to have the federal government control the marijuana market, and they said provisions of each proposal would be taken into consideration.
The panels will also look at public input and expert testimony—including a panel led by a former White House drug czar—that were gathered as part of a weeks-long series of cannabis events that the Senate organized.
“It is a backbone that we are taking into account,” Sen. Julio Menchaca of the MORENA party said of Sánchez Cordero’s bill, which the cabinet member filed while previously serving as a senator, adding that “each of the initiatives that different senators have presented are also very important.”
Quintero said “if we are committing an open parliament, all opinions must be taken into account, because if not, we would be simulating a process.”
If the committees are successful in advancing the legislation, that would put the chamber one key step closer to meeting a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court last year. After ruling that the country’s ban on possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults is unconstitutional, it gave lawmakers until the end of October to change federal drug policy.
The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was on track to vote on a legalization bill ahead of that deadline.
Separately, the chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Sen. José Narro Céspedes, said on Thursday that legalization will be an economic boon for farmers and must be implemented in a way that disrupts the illicit market.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.