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Congress Votes To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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The House of Representatives approved legislation on Wednesday aimed at finally letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis, as is the case under current law.

The intent of the provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, is to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.

While the main components of the INVEST in America Act concern funding for highway and transportation projects, the legislation as introduced also contains a separate section that would require legal marijuana states—and only those states—to consider methods of educating people about and discouraging impaired driving from cannabis.

Several lawmakers filed additional cannabis-related amendments in committee. Most were either withdrawn, defeated or never formally debated, but a wide-ranging marijuana measure that was recently filed by the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was successfully attached.

The provision calls for the Department of Transportation to consult with the attorney general and Department of Health and Human Services to develop a report with recommendations on providing researchers with access to “samples and strains of marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully being offered to patients or consumers” in legal states.

The report should also explore “establishing a national clearinghouse to collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research,” and that would include cannabis from state-legal markets. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), sponsor of the main bill as well as the manager’s amendment the new marijuana language is part of, further wants the report to outline ways to provide researchers in states that haven’t legalized marijuana with access to cannabis from such a clearinghouse to study impaired driving.

Finally, the measure states that the report, which would be due two years after the bill’s enactment, should analyze “statutory and regulatory barriers to the conduct of scientific research and the establishment of a national clearinghouse for purposes of facilitating research on marijuana-impaired driving.”

Some of these components deal directly with transportation, but others seem to address broader issues in cannabis research that advocates and scientists have repeatedly identified as problematic. As it stands, researchers can only access marijuana from a single federally authorized manufacturing facility, and the quality of the products it produces has been criticized. At least one study found that its marijuana is chemically closer to hemp than what’s actually available to consumers in commercial markets.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is taking steps on its own to increase the number of licensed cannabis cultivation facilities beyond the current sole source at the University of Mississippi, but the process has seen long delays. A public comment period on its most recent proposal ended in May. However, even if the federal government does license additional research cultivation facilities, that still wouldn’t resolve the problem of scientists’ lack of access to marijuana from state marketplaces.

“There is a growing awareness among the public, politicians, and especially among those within the scientific community that the current regulations unduly limiting researchers’ ability to access and clinically study real-world cannabis products is both illogical and counterproductive,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment. “It makes zero sense that tens of millions of Americans can now readily purchase and consume these products, but that scientists cannot access these same products for the purpose of studying their effects on human subjects in the course of a controlled trial.”

The other cannabis provision that was included in the base bill has not been well-received by reform advocates.

Under the legislation, a section of current law requiring that states establish highway safety programs would be amended to add a section stipulating that states “which have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana shall consider programs in addition to the programs…to educate drivers on the risks associated with marijuana-impaired driving and to reduce injuries and deaths resulting from individuals driving motor vehicles while impaired by marijuana.”

While advocates are supportive of measures to reduce impaired driving, some have raised issues with the implication that legalizing cannabis increases the risk of people driving while under the influence. Research isn’t settled on that subject.

A congressional research body said in a report last year that concerns expressed by lawmakers that cannabis legalization will make the roads more dangerous might not be totally founded. In fact, the experts tasked by the House and Senate with looking into the issue found that evidence about cannabis’s ability to impair driving is currently inconclusive.

Beside that contention, the legislation seems to neglect to take into account that cannabis-impaired driving isn’t exclusive to legal states and that public education could be beneficial across all states regardless of their individual marijuana policies.

Despite pushback from advocates, no lawmakers filed amendments to strike the language or revise it to apply to all states instead of just ones that have ended prohibition.

Hundreds of other amendments were filed on the legislation, both in the Transportation Committee and for potential floor action, with several others dealing with cannabis that didn’t make the cut.

That includes one calling for studies into the effects of cannabis on driving and the development of an “objective standard for measuring marijuana impairment.” Another would establish a grant program for research into marijuana-impaired driving. Both of those were withdrawn during the Transportation Committee hearing on the bill last month.

Another amendment contained a section that would require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to “carry out a collaborative research effort to study the effect that marijuana has on driving and research ways to detect and reduce incidences of driving under the influence of marijuana.” It was defeated in a 25-35 vote.

There was also an amendment filed that called for the creation of a pilot program to promote education about the risks of impaired driving from prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The sponsor never ended up formally offering it.

In the House Rules Committee, which held a hearing last week to prepare the bill for floor action, an amendment was offered to make it so the Transportation Department would “establish a program to provide grants on a competitive basis to States to educate the public on the dangers of drug-impaired driving.” The measure wasn’t made in order, however.

The panel did advance another drug-related measure that would create “a pilot program to provide funding to states to incorporate wastewater testing for drugs at municipal wastewater treatment plants and to develop public health interventions to respond to the findings.”

“This would allow public health departments to monitor drug consumption and detect new drug use more quickly and in a more specific geographic region than methods currently in use while preserving individual privacy,” the text of the measure, which was approved by a voice vote in a bloc along with other amendments on the House floor, states.

The overall infrastructure bill was approved by a vote of 233-188. It’s not clear if the Senate will include cannabis provisions in any related legislation it takes up this year.

Read the text of the manager’s amendment on expanding marijuana research and access to state-legal cannabis products below: 

SEC. 3014. REPORT ON MARIJUANA RESEARCH.

(a) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, shall submit to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate, and make publicly available on the Department of Transportation website, a report and recommendations on—

(1) increasing and improving access, for scientific researchers studying impairment while driving under the influence of marijuana, to samples and strains of marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully being offered to patients or consumers in a State on a retail basis;

(2) establishing a national clearinghouse to collect and distribute samples and strains of marijuana for scientific research that includes marijuana and products containing marijuana lawfully available to patients or consumers in a State on a retail basis;

(3) facilitating access, for scientific researchers located in States that have not legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, to samples and strains of marijuana and products containing marijuana from such clearinghouse for purposes of research on marijuana-impaired driving; and

(4) identifying Federal statutory and regulatory barriers to the conduct of scientific research and the establishment of a national clearinghouse for purposes of facilitating research on marijuana-impaired driving.

(b) DEFINITION OF MARIJUANA.—In this section, the term ‘‘marijuana’’ has the meaning given such term in section 4008 of the FAST Act (Public Law 114–94).

Arizona Marijuana Activists Turn In 420,000 Signatures To Qualify Legalization Measure For Ballot

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Canada Will Let Terminally Ill Patients Use Psychedelic Mushrooms For End-Of-Life Care

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Four cancer patients in end-of-life care will be become the first people in decades to legally possess and consume psilocybin mushrooms in Canada after a landmark decision Tuesday by the country’s minister of health.

The patients petitioned Health Minister Patty Hajdu back in April for exemptions from the country’s laws against psilocybin in order to use psychedelic mushrooms as part of psychotherapy treatment. On Tuesday afternoon, Hajdu officially granted the patients’ request, the nonprofit TheraPsil, which assisted with the application, announced.

The approvals mark the first publicly-known individuals to receive a legal exemption from the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act to access psychedelic therapy, Therapsil said, and the first medical patients to legally use psilocybin since the compound became illegal in Canada in 1974.

“This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion. I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing,” one of the patients, Thomas Hartle, said in a statement Tuesday.

The applicants, as well as various advocates for psychedelic therapy, had personally appealed to Hajdu via a concerted social media campaign during the months their applications were pending.

“Health Canada is committed to carefully and thoroughly reviewing each request for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of potential benefits and risks or harms to the health and safety of Canadians,” a government spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email. “These exemptions do not change the fact that the sale and possession of magic mushrooms remain illegal in Canada.”

In statements issued Tuesday, other patients thanked Hajdu and said they were optimistic that more patients will one day have safe, legal access to psilocybin for therapeutic use.

“I want to thank the Health Minister and Health Canada for approving my request for psilocybin use. The acknowledgement of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result,” said Laurie Brooks, an applicant from British Columbia. “I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission.”

TheraPsil said on Tuesday that it expects more people to petition the government for exemptions following the first four patients’ approval. A separate request by the nonprofit to allow therapists to use psychedelics themselves in preparation for treating patients with psilocybin was not addressed in Tuesday’s announcement, the group said.

The government, in its statement to Marijuana Moment, said that the use of “magic mushrooms also comes with risks, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, flashbacks and bad trips that may lead to risk-taking behaviour, traumatic injuries and even death.”

All of the four patients who received the new exemptions have been diagnosed with untreatable cancer. Therapists who use psychedelics in their practices say that psilocybin-aided therapy sessions can help patients deal with issues such as depression and anxiety, allowing them to better accept death as a natural part of existence.

“At this point psilocybin is a reasonable medical choice for these individuals,” TheraPsil’s executive director, Spencer Hawkswell, told Marijuana Moment in an interview last month. “This is about the minister being compassionate and using her ministerial abilities to help give patients access to something that’s going to help them.”

The therapeutic potential of psychedelics has attracted attention in recent years from a growing number of academics, policy makers and even the U.S. government. In September of last year, Johns Hopkins University announced the launch of the nation’s first-ever psychedelic research center, a $17-million project to study whether psychedelics can treat conditions such as opioid use disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In June, the University of North Carolina (UNC) announced a $27 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to research and develop an entirely new class of psychedelics-inspired drugs. The program, UNC said, “aims to create new medications to effectively and rapidly treat depression, anxiety, and substance abuse without major side effects.”

Meanwhile, activists in the United States have advocated for state- and local-level reforms to research, decriminalize and in some cases even legalize psychedelics.

In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to enact such a reform, with voters approving a measure that effectively decriminalized psilocybin possession. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. In January of this year, the City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities.

Reformers are pushing for similar changes in other jurisdictions. A proposal in Washington, D.C. would allow voters to decide this fall whether to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine. A decision on whether that initiative will make the ballot is expected later this week. In Oregon, voters in November will consider a measure that would decriminalize all drugs and expand access to treatment. A separate Oregon proposal would legalize psilocybin therapy—the same therapy sought by the Canadian cancer patients.

Lawmakers in Hawaii earlier this year approved a plan to study psilocybin mushrooms’ medical applications with the goal of eventually legalizing access.

This story was updated with comment from Health Canada.

Psychedelic Therapists Petition Government For Permission To Dose Themselves In Order To Better Treat Patients

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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Arizona Governor Slams Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure In Voter Pamphlet Argument

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Ahead of what’s shaping up to be a contentious campaign season around marijuana in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and other opponents are claiming that legalization would unleash a host of public health hazards on the state.

In an official voter guide argument published on Monday against a proposed initiative that’s likely to be on the November ballot, the governor called legalizing cannabis “a bad idea based on false promises.”

“We know from states that have fully legalized marijuana that it has real consequences: more deaths on highways caused by high drivers, dramatic increases in teen drug use, and more newborns exposed to marijuana,” Ducey claimed in his comments.

It’s not yet certain whether the legalization proposal, from Smart and Safe Arizona, will make it to the ballot. County officials have until August 7 to validate hundreds of thousands of signatures submitted by activists last month. But on Monday afternoon, the Arizona secretary of state’s office published arguments submitted both for and against the measure, including a handful from elected officials.

The arguments, which will be printed and mailed to registered voters, give a taste of what’s to come during the mounting fight over legalization in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

As with politics in general in 2020, expect considerable disagreement over basic facts. For instance, Ducey’s argument that cannabis legalization has led to “dramatic increases in teen drug use” seems at odds with available evidence. Even according to legalization opponents, such as the federal government’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, teen use rates have actually gone down since the end of prohibition for adults.

In a presentation last month to North Dakota lawmakers, who themselves are considering whether to legalize marijuana, the Colorado-based deputy coordinator of the federal National Marijuana Initiative acknowledged that data from government drug use surveys show that Colorado saw a general decline in the number of teens using marijuana after the state enacted legalization.

Another of Ducey’s claims, that Colorado has a particularly high rate of teen cannabis use compared to other states, is true. But his submission fails to mention that was also true during the years before legalization.

Ducey wasn’t the only official to argue that legalization would increase teen consumption in the new official ballot arguments pamphlet. State Sen. Sine Kerr (R) wrote that she was “deeply saddened by the prospect of how this initiative would harm children.”

“Kids would become easy prey for an industry hungry to create a new generation of users,” Kerr argued, noting that legal products would include vape pens and edible products such as gummies, cookies and candy, which she implied would appeal to children. (Gummy bears would be banned due to a provision forbidding animal-shaped products.)

“The industry will succeed in hooking too many of our kids and stealing their potential early,” she wrote.

Other common arguments against the proposal centered on the increased risk of impaired driving, fears of unbridled advertising by the commercial cannabis industry and economic impacts resulting from unmotivated employees or worker impairment.

“In Arizona, positive marijuana workplace tests have nearly tripled over the past eight years since legalization of medical marijuana,” wrote Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, an outspoken cannabis opponent. “Workplaces with higher rates of drug use have employees that are less productive, suffer higher absenteeism, and have more accidents.”

Polk, whose office prosecutes cannabis cases, also downplayed the impact that legalization would have on the criminal justice system.

“As for their argument that legalizing recreational pot will empty our prisons? Not a single state has seen a reduction in prison population because of legalization,” she argued. “This is because, contrary to the myth, our prisons are not filled with people serving time for marijuana possession.”

Legalization supporters, however, point to Polk’s own office as a reason to reform marijuana laws. In recent years, Polk famously filed felony charges against a black medical cannabis patient for possessing a small amount of marijuana concentrate purchased legally from a dispensary. Critics accused Polk’s office of exhibiting racial bias in the case.

Advocates for the proposed legalization measure, meanwhile, said in ballot arguments that the initiative takes a relatively measured, sensible approach by taxing and regulating marijuana rather than handling it as a criminal matter.

“The war on drugs failed,” wrote Chad Campbell, chair of Smart and Safe Arizona, the organization behind the proposed ballot measure. “Marijuana is safest when it’s sold in a taxed, tested and regulated environment—not on a street corner.”

The campaign says legalization will also bring in at least $300 million in tax revenue that can be used to support things like education, public health, infrastructure and safety. Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana would go up under the proposal, and millions of dollars in funding would be funneled toward drug treatment and mental health programs.

As for youth use, organizers argue, “we know a well-regulated, licensed, legal environment is the best way to keep marijuana out of the hands of children—period. We set the legal age at 21, limited potency, required childproofed packaging, required products to be unattractive to kids and forbade advertising to youth.”

The state’s voters narrowly defeated a legalization measure in 2016, but a poll released last month indicates the current initiative is on the path to being approved. The survey found that more than 6 in 10 Arizona voters saying they support legalizing marijuana.

Another supporter, former Gov. Fife Symington (R), who served from 1991 to 1997, wrote in his argument that voters “must constantly re-evaluate our policies in the face of new evidence.”

“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he said. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the rights of adults to choose to consume marijuana while taxing and regulating its production and sale.”

The proposal imposes significant penalties for selling marijuana products to minors, Symington wrote, allows law enforcement to target drivers who demonstrate impairment and allows employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.

“Finally, and perhaps more importantly,” he wrote, “it frees up law enforcement to deal with more serious issues that actually jeopardize public safety.”

Perhaps the most balanced ballot argument submitted over the measure came from Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, who said the proposition “poses public health risks and benefits.” Humble‘s statement, which identifies what he said are both risks and benefits of legalization, is printed twice—once alongside ballot arguments against legalization, and again next to arguments in support of it.

One one hand, Humble argued, ending felony charges for cannabis possession would reduce mental, physical and economic impacts for individuals and families. “Incarceration and felony convictions for marijuana offenses have multigenerational social, economic, and health impacts that have been disproportionately thrust on communities of color,” Humble wrote, “because they are more likely to be arrested for and convicted of marijuana offenses.”

Humble noted the measure also includes provisions to regulate and test cannabis products, support evidence-based public health programs and prevent sales to minors—although he acknowledged those efforts won’t eliminate all risks, which he said include “impaired neurological development from use in adolescence, increased visits to emergency rooms from marijuana intoxication or accidental ingestion by children, adverse birth outcomes from maternal use, and injuries caused by impaired driving or workplace use.”

Humble argued that if voters choose to pass the measure, regulators should be prepared to take the new legal sector seriously.

“If the Act passes,” he wrote, “we urge the state to use its full regulatory authority to enforce purchasing age-limits, packaging and potency standards, regulate advertising and place of use restrictions, enact workplace use policy requirements, and solidify motor vehicle operation restrictions and penalties. Arizona officials should also partner with state universities to analyze and publish data on its public health impacts.”

Read the arguments for and against the Arizona legal marijuana measure below:

Arizona Marijuana Legalizat… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition To Take Effect

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McConnell Slams Pelosi Over Claim Marijuana Is A ‘Proven’ Therapy Amid Coronavirus Debate

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took a shot at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday, criticizing recent comments she made defending marijuana provisions that were included in her chamber’s latest coronavirus relief legislation.

The majority leader, who has consistently railed against the inclusion of cannabis banking protections in the House COVID-19 bill, said on the Senate floor that Pelosi is “still agitating for strange, new special interest carve-outs for the marijuana industry and even claiming they are COVID-related.”

“She said that, with respect to this virus, marijuana is ‘a therapy that has proven successful.’ You can’t make this up,” he said.

“I hope she shares her breakthrough with Dr. Fauci,” McConnell wryly added, referring to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who has been helping to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

McConnell is referring to remarks Pelosi made last week after she was asked about components of the House Democrats’ bill that Republicans have criticized as not germane, including specifically the marijuana language.

The speaker said she took issue with the suggestion that cannabis banking reform was not relevant amid the pandemic and said marijuana “is a therapy that has proven successful.” Prohibitionists have seized on that comment, interpreting it to mean that Pelosi believes cannabis can treat COVID-19.

That said, it wasn’t clear from the brief comment whether that was the case or if Pelosi was broadly referring to the therapeutic benefits of marijuana.

The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.

Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.

Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation last week, and it does not include the cannabis provisions. And given McConnell’s particular focus on those components, it seems likely that any attempt to get the language inserted in a bicameral conference will be met with resistance on the Senate side.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also recently slammed Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments on Twitter, saying “let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot.”

Meanwhile, the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.

Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.

In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.

McConnell’s latest comments also come a week after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.

Top House Democrat Talks Marijuana Reform With Major Cannabis Company

Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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