A House committee on Wednesday approved key piece of marijuana research legislation that, among other things, would allow scientists to finally study cannabis from state-legal dispensaries.
In general, the bill would accomplish two goals: First, it would 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.
Second, it would expand the sources of research-grade cannabis that certified scientists would be able to obtain the products. That could resolve an issue identified by researchers and lawmakers, who complain that marijuana produced at the only existing federally authorized facility at the University of Mississippi is difficult to access and is chemically closer to hemp than cannabis available on the commercial market.
The Energy and Commerce Committee moved to advance the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act in a voice vote. The next step for the legislation would be the House floor, thought it’s not clear at this point if or when Democratic leaders plan to take it up there.
Update: HR 3797 was favorably reported, as amended, to the House by a voice vote.
— Energy and Commerce Committee (@EnergyCommerce) September 9, 2020
Initially, the legislation simply stipulated that researchers could access marijuana from additional federally approved private manufacturers. But an amendment in the nature of a substitute that was released on Tuesday and approved by the committee, also via a voice vote, would also provide researchers with access to cannabis from state-legal businesses under certain circumstances.
“I believe there are signs that medical marijuana can be beneficial when used the proper setting for treatment of certain medical conditions,” Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), who filed the substitute language, said. “But the truth is, we don’t really have enough research and we don’t really know what it’s about.”
“The problem is we don’t have enough research to convince people that we need to go forward with this as a medicinal product,” Griffith said, adding that he was appreciative that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for “their technical assistance in developing this amendment which adds clarity to the bill’s processes and definitions.”
“I believe that research can answer a lot of the questions we have about using marijuana as a legitimate medicinal tool in our doctors’ cabinets and in our cabinets,” he said.
This bipartisan legislation would make long-overdue improvements to the Fed Govt’s policies on marijuana research. It would advance the work of scientists and provide more reliable information about any benefits and harmful consequences that result from medicinal marijuana use.
— Morgan Griffith (@RepMGriffith) September 9, 2020
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said during the hearing that while her home state of Illinois legalized marijuana and has seen strong sales, “the researchers at Northwestern University in my district—a leading research institution—have no way to access the cannabis sold at these dispensaries” and the university’s scientists “often face extreme difficulty in securing and maintaining cannabis and federal funding for the research that’s so important.”
The bill would “improve and increase the opportunity for very urgently needed medical marijuana research,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who cosponsored the bill amendment with Griffith, said.
“It’s time. We don’t have the data that we need and we need to get the data,” she said. “The federal framework for conducting research and gaining that objective, scientific data on the medicinal properties of marijuana is decades old.”
The congresswoman added that researchers currently “must contend with a very heavy-handed registration process, burdensome regulatory roadblocks that greatly limit our understanding of the health effects of marijuana or, quite frankly, let a researcher have access to what they need.”
“It’s high time we modernize our nation’s regulatory apparatus to facilitate legitimate medical research into the impacts of marijuana,” she said. “There are a lot of people who would benefit from the use of marijuana, but because they don’t have the research or they think that it’s illegal, they won’t.” One of those people, she said, was her late husband, former Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who she encouraged to try cannabis but had declined because he felt there wasn’t enough research.
Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said that the legislation “takes us in the right direction by reducing barriers to cannabis research.”
“The bill and the changes included in the [amendment in the nature of a substitute] would create a less onerous registration process for those who want to advance cannabis research and encourage additional manufacturers and distributors to supply cannabis for purposes of research, making it easier for legitimate researchers to obtain products that better reflect the changing cannabis landscape,” he said.
In July, the House approved separate legislation that also called for letting researchers study marijuana purchased from businesses in state-legal markets instead of only letting them use government-grown cannabis. The intent of the provision, tucked into a 2,000-plus-page infrastructure bill, was to allow the interstate distribution of such products even to scientists in jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marijuana.
The revised research-focused proposal that advanced on Wednesday stipulates that nothing about the legislation precludes the HHS secretary from enforcing Food and Drug Administration restrictions on the method of administration of marijuana, the dosage or number of patients involved in approved studies. Originally, the bill said the Justice Department could not interfere in the production, distribution or sale of cannabis in compliance with the research guidance, but that was removed with the amendment.
The bill would also make it so there would be no limit on the number of entities that can be registered to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. Additionally, it would require 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.
“This proposed regulatory change is necessary and long overdue,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release. “In fact, NORML submitted comments to the US Federal Register in April explicitly calling for this change.”
“Rather than compelling scientists to access marijuana products of questionable quality manufactured by a limited number of federally licensed producers, federal regulators should allow investigators to access the cannabis and cannabis-infused products that are currently being produced in the legal marketplace by the multitude of state-sanctioned growers and retailers. Doing so will not only facilitate and expedite clinical cannabis research in the United States and provide important data regarding the safety and efficacy of real-world products, but it will also bring about a long overdue end to decades of DEA stonewalling and interference with respect to the advancement of our scientific understanding of the cannabis plant.”
This isn’t the only congressional marijuana vote that advocates are following. House leadership recently announced that there will be a floor vote on a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill later this month.
The more limited marijuana research bill is being led by the unlikely duo of pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and prohibitionist Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).
“As momentum grows in our effort to end the failed prohibition of cannabis, we also need to address failed drug laws like the ones that make it extremely difficult for researchers and doctors to study cannabis,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “With some form of cannabis legal in nearly every state, it’s inexcusable that the federal government is still blocking qualified researchers from advancing the scientific knowledge of cannabis.”
“The bipartisan support of our legislation in today’s committee markup is an important step in removing unnecessary barriers to medical cannabis research and ensuring that patients, clinicians, and consumers can fully understand the benefits and risks of cannabis,” he said.
During an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in January—which was requested by four GOP lawmakers last year—federal health and drug officials, including from DEA, acknowledged that the current supply of cannabis for research purposes is inadequate and that scientists should be able to access a wider range of marijuana products.
In addition to the Blumenauer-Harris research legislation, the panel also examined several other marijuana reform bills during that earlier meeting, including two to federally legalize the plant.
DEA said four years ago that it would be taking steps to expand the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers, but it has not yet acted on applications.
Last year, scientists sued the agency, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite its earlier pledge.
A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.
In March, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.
The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.
That was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released in April as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.
But the bill marked up in committee on Wednesday stipulates that international treaty obligations “shall not be construed to prohibit, or impose additional restrictions upon, research involving marijuana, or the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of marijuana, that is conducted in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act, this Act, and the amendments made by this Act.”
The legislation has drawn support from a broad array of organizations on both sides of the legalization debate, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana, American Psychological Association, Marijuana Policy Project and American Academy of Neurology.
Cory Booker Urges New Jersey Voters To Legalize Marijuana As Data Shows Supporters Outraising Opponents
Another one of the most prominent elected officials in New Jersey is urging the state’s voters to approve a marijuana legalization referendum that’s on their ballots next week. Meanwhile, new campaign finance data released by the state shows that supporters of the cannabis reform measure are outraising opponents by more than a 200-to-1 ratio.
“This is an important question,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in a new video published by the NJ CAN 2020 campaign on Wednesday. “I hope as you fill out the front of your ballot, you will look at the back and see that question, ballot question number one, and that you will vote to legalize marijuana in New Jersey for adult use. We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”
Booker, who has been a leading champion for federal cannabis reform in Congress, said that “we have seen how the drug war has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”
“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help. They’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said, adding that African Americans, Latinos and low-income people are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement.
Meanwhile, a report released on Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised $2,074,030 in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.
“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”
The new numbers reflect data filed through October 20, and additional post-election spending data will be released on December 1.
Earlier numbers released two weeks ago pegged the fundraising disparity at a ratio of nearly 130 to 1.
If voters approve the referendum, legal recreational marijuana sales could potentially begin within mere weeks through the state’s existing medical cannabis dispensaries under a plan laid out this week by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
A hearing to get a head start on planning legal cannabis implementation was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when the senator went into quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Booker, for his part, is framing legalization as a matter of criminal justice reform.
“It will help us to join with other states who are seeing through legalizing you could better regulate its usage, you can have more and more tax dollars that can be applied to state priorities, from education to treatment,” Booker said in his new video. “And, we see how we begin to end what has been a very dark and unfair chapter in criminal justice in America.”
In any case, if polling is any indication, it appears that voters are poised to pass the cannabis referendum on their ballots next week.
A survey released last week found that that 65 percent of New Jersey voters are in favor of the marijuana referendum. Just 29 percent are opposed to the policy change and six percent remain undecided.
The results are statistically consistent with three prior polls from the same firm, as well as one from Fairleigh Dickinson University, which similarly found roughly two to one support for the measure. A separate survey released this month by Stockton University showed three-to-one support for legalizing cannabis among New Jersey voters.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has also been actively campaigning in favor of the referendum, participating in fundraisers and ads to encourage voters to approve it.
For example, the governor recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month, outlining why he’s embraced the policy change. Murphy said that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis in New Jersey wastes taxpayer dollars, and he emphasized that prohibition is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
The governor similarly said in a recent interview that the marijuana reform proposal prioritizes social justice.
“I wish we could have gotten it done through a legislative process,” he said at the time, referencing lawmakers’ inability to advance a legalization bill last session. “We just couldn’t find the last few votes, so it’s on the referendum. I’m strongly supporting it—first and foremost for social justice reasons.”
Murphy also recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast that was circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
He said in July that legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.
The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”
NJ CAN 2020 released a series of English- and Spanish-language video ads this month, after having published one prior ad.
In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces a civil penalty without the threat of jail time, though it hasn’t advance in the Senate.
Arizona Marijuana Opponents Release Five Misleading Attack Ads Ahead Of Legalization Vote Next Week
A campaign opposing a marijuana legalization initiative in Arizona recently released a series of ads imploring voters to reject the proposal.
The digital spots—which range from 16 to 42 seconds in length—argue that cannabis reform would negatively impact young people, increase impaired driving and create workplace risks. In doing so, they make misleading claims about what the proposed Arizona law would allow and what has occurred in other states that have already enacted legalization.
Here’s each ad and script, along with some broader context on the accuracy of the claims:
“When Washington State legalized marijuana, I wasn’t too concerned. What began happening with students, however, was alarming. Marijuana possession increased. We maintained a zero drug policy in our district, and parents and students became confused when students were disciplined for possession of marijuana. Suspensions increased and students lost valuable classroom time. If I could give one piece of advice from this Democrat, school principal from Washington to my new Arizona neighbors vote ‘no’ on 207. It won’t provide the support needed to deal with the problems this law will create. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
Actually, a study published last year by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that youth marijuana use declined in Washington State’s largest metropolitan county after legalization. Other research has reached similar conclusions.
“Marijuana use damages the developing brain of teenagers. Unfortunately, where marijuana is legal for adults, more teens get it and use it. Under Prop. 207, marijuana-laced candies, cookies and vape pens—all very appealing to teens—are not only legal but marijuana marketers can advertise them on TV, radio and social media, a teen favorite. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative states that any advertising “involving direct, individualized communication or dialogue shall use a method of age affirmation is twenty-one years of age or older before engaging in that communication or dialogue.”
“Police pull over the driver next to you for swerving, but there’s no standard of impairment. It’s 2021, and using marijuana is legal right under Prop. 207. There’s no roadside test to gauge marijuana impairment, so they let it go. Nearly 70 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admit to driving stoned. Their traffic deaths doubled after legalization. Keep stoned drivers off Arizona roads. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative explicitly states that it “does not allow driving, flying or boating while impaired by marijuana to even the slightest degree.”
“When you drop your child off at daycare, you expect the caregiver to be sober. Under Prop. 207, employers can only prohibit using marijuana at work. There’s nothing stopping employees from using and then heading to the daycare or elderly care facility or the worksite. Prop 207. ties the hands of employers who want to keep a drug-free workplace. Vote ‘no’ on Prop. 207.”
The Arizona initiative says it “does not restrict the rights of employers to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace or affect the ability of employers to have workplace policies restricting the use of marijuana by employees or prospective employees.” It also “does not restrict the rights of employers, schools, day care centers, adult day care facilities, health care facilities or corrections facilities to prohibit or regulate conduct otherwise allowed by this chapter when such conduct occurs on or in their properties.”
Despite the questionable ad splurge from Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, convincing enough people to vote against the legalization proposal will be a steep task days out from the election, recent polling suggests.
A firm that’s been consistently tracking where residents stand on candidates and ballot questions found that 55 percent of likely voters favor Proposition 207 in a survey released earlier this month. A separate, recent survey showed 56 percent support among registered voters.
Both of those results are largely consistent with an internal poll Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the initiative, shared with Marijuana Moment last month.
These survey results represent promising signals to reform advocates that Arizona is ready to enact legalization, unlike in 2016 when voters rejected a similar proposal.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly also indicated this month that he is inclined to back the legal cannabis measure.
If the Arizona measure is approved by voters, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior cannabis convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program
Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.
The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Montana Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Has Solid Lead In New Poll
Montana voters appear poised to approve a proposal to legalize marijuana next week, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by Montana State University (MSU) Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot, while 38 percent are opposed. Seven percent remain undecided.
There is a stark partisan divide on the measure, with 77 percent of Democrats in favor, and only 31 percent of Republicans agreeing. Sixty-three percent of independents back the reform.
Ending marijuana prohibition has majority support among both men and women in the state, and from voter groups under the age of 65. Those older than that are narrowly divided on legalizing cannabis.
A separate survey released earlier this month showed the measure leading, but without outright majority support. That poll, conducted by a separate team at MSU, found that Montana voters support marijuana legalization, 49 percent to 39 percent.
The new numbers showing continued voter backing for marijuana legalization comes a week after the state Supreme Court rejected a request to block the initiative. The case was filed by opponents who argued that the measure violates the state Constitution by appropriating funds to specific programs.
Under the proposal, half of the public revenue generated from marijuana sales would go toward environmental conservation programs—a provision that earned the campaign key endorsements last month.
In addition to the cannabis revenue earmarked for land, water and wildlife conservation programs, the proposal aims to send funds toward veteran services, substance misuse treatment, health care and local governments, with the rest being pegged to the general fund.
The state Supreme Court didn’t rule on the merits of the challenge but said that opponents needed to take up the issue in lower courts first, which they said they plan to do.
Also this month, a Montana-based federal prosecutor appointed by President Trump sent a press release highlighting his concerns that legalizing cannabis in the state could cause public health and safety harms.
Montana voters will actually see two cannabis questions on their ballots. A statutory measure to legalize marijuana for adult use would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants and four seedlings at home, while a separate constitutional amendment stipulates that only those 21 and older could access the market.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.