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Cory Booker Slams Joe Biden’s Marijuana And Criminal Justice Proposal As Inadequate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) released a wide-ranging criminal justice reform plan on Tuesday that, among other things, calls for the decriminalization of marijuana use and automatic expungements for those with prior cannabis convictions. The proposal was swiftly rebuked as inadequate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who is also seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

“Biden believes no one should be in jail because of cannabis use,” a summary of the plan states. “As president, he will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions.”

Further, the Democratic presidential candidate is backing the federal legalization of cannabis for medical purposes, allowing states to set their own policies for adult-use marijuana and rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) “so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.”

It’s not certain what kind of legalization model Biden is envisioning, however. State-level medical cannabis programs generally involve having a doctor issue a recommendation and patients obtaining their cannabis from licensed dispensaries. If marijuana moved to Schedule II, that could potentially require patients to get a prescription that meets the regulatory standards of other Schedule II drugs such as fentanyl and have their prescriptions filled at a traditional pharmacy.

In any case, the proposal includes several other drug policy and criminal reform provisions. The former vice president said he will strive to end sentencing disparities for crack versus powder cocaine convictions, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, abolish the death penalty and stop people from being incarcerated for illicit drug use

“Biden believes that no one should be imprisoned for the use of illegal drugs alone,” the summary reads. “Instead, Biden will require federal courts to divert these individuals to drug courts so they receive treatment to address their substance use disorder. He’ll incentivize states to put the same requirements in place.”

But as Booker was quick to point out, many of the reform proposals the former vice president is making today would target federal laws that he himself played a key role in advancing during his time in the Senate, particularly as it relates to the 1994 crime bill that Biden helped author.

“Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right,” Booker said in a press release. “The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it.”

“While it’s encouraging to see Vice President Biden finally come around to supporting many of the ideas I and others have proposed, his plan falls short of the transformative change our broken criminal justice system needs,” he said. “Any comprehensive plan simply must include the legalization of marijuana, an overhaul of policing practices, ambitious use of presidential clemency power to right past wrongs, and reinvestment in the communities that have borne the costs of mass incarceration. Joe Biden’s plan doesn’t do that.”

Booker, who is the sponsor of a far-reaching marijuana legalization bill, unveiled a criminal justice reform plan last month that would involve immediately establishing a process to grant clemency to about 17,000 federal inmates serving time for non-violent drug offenses—more than half of whom are locked up for cannabis-related convictions.

This isn’t the first time that the senator has taken a swipe at Biden over his record.

It’s not simply that Biden played a role in instituting policies that contributed to mass incarceration and escalated the drug war, Booker said last month, it’s that he seems to have an “inability to talk candidly about the mistakes he made, about things he could’ve done better, about how some of the decisions he made at the time, in difficult context, actually have resulted in really bad outcomes.”

The conversation around marijuana reform among 2020 Democratic candidates has been especially revealing this campaign season, with contenders increasingly seeking to stand out by embracing bolder and bolder proposals that go beyond simply legalizing cannabis but ensuring that social equity and restorative justice are at the forefront of those measures.

To that end, Biden does stand out in that he’s one of the only candidates who hasn’t voiced support for descheduling cannabis and whose recent evolution on the issue stops far short of what many advocates are looking for in a president.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), on the other hand, has taken pains to project an image of a cannabis friendly candidate. Though she was previously dismissive of reform proposals and actively opposed a California measure to legalize marijuana, she’s since signed onto several wide-ranging bills that are embraced by the reform movement.

The most recent example is legalization legislation that she and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced on Tuesday that would remove cannabis from the CSA, expunge prior cannabis convictions and create funds to reinvest in communities disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

Top Congressional Chairman And Presidential Candidate File Marijuana Legalization Bills

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Feds Send Warning Letter To Another CBD Company Over Medical Claims

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to a Florida-based CBD company on Tuesday, alleging that the business made several unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic benefits of their products.

The federal agencies accused Rooted Apothecary of unlawfully asserting that their cannabidiol products could treat symptoms of conditions such as ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, ear aches, ADHD and autism. Those claims appeared on the company’s website and social media accounts, they said.

Certain products appeared to be marketed as dietary supplements, which FDA currently prohibits as it works to develop an alternative regulatory scheme for CBD.

“Cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds are subject to the same laws and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain any other substance,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a press release. “We are working to protect Americans from companies marketing products with unsubstantiated claims that they prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure a number of diseases or conditions.”

“We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements,” he said. “As we examine potential regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of cannabis products, protecting and promoting public health through sound, science-based decision-making remains our top priority.”

FTC’s complaint with the company is that it violated a law that requires businesses that advertise medical claims about their products to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to back them up, which could include human clinical trials. Making or exaggerating such claims through “a product name, website name, metatags, or other means” without proper evidence is also prohibited.

Rooted Apothecary must respond to the agencies within 15 working days to explain what steps it’s taking to resolve the issues. If the company fails to do so, it is subject to legal action, including the possible seizure of its products or an injunction. It may also have to compensate customers.

FDA emphasized that CBD products—other than the prescription medication Epidiolex, for the treatment of intractable epilepsy—are not currently allowed. But it also reiterated that the agency is in the process of developing rules that could allow for the lawful marketing of the compound.

In April, FDA sent warning letters to three other CBD companies that it said was making unauthorized claims about the medical benefits of their products. FTC also submitted warning letters to three separate CBD companies for allegedly advertising misleading statements about their products last month.

These letters are examples of the agency’s use of enforcement discretion. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who recently suggested that the federal government should be involved in regulating state marijuana programs, clarified in March that the agency is only going after companies that make especially misleading claims about their products.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who championed a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalizing hemp and its derivatives, has urged FDA to clear a path for the lawful marketing of CBD products by using enforcement discretion while it develops an interim final rule. A bipartisan group of lawmakers made a similar request in a letter sent to the agency last month.

“The FDA is working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace and protect public health by taking action as needed against companies,” FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said.

“We recognize that there is significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds; however, we must work together to fill in the knowledge gaps about the science, safety and quality of many of these products,” she said. “We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence.”

Hemp Regulations Will Be Issued Within Weeks, Top USDA Official Says

Photo courtesy of Kimzy Nanney.

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Politics

GOP Senator Links Medical Marijuana Claims To Tobacco Industry Advertisements

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Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said on Tuesday that claims about the therapeutic potential of marijuana remind him of decades-old tobacco industry advertisements asserting that the product had medical benefits.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Cornyn discussed a hearing that the International Narcotics Control Caucus, which he co-chairs, will hold on Wednesday to explore the public health impacts of cannabis. He said it was especially important to hear from experts about the subject as more states legalize marijuana and members of Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates, push to end federal prohibition.

The senator made clear he’s skeptical about marijuana’s health benefits.

“There’s no shortage of people who claim that marijuana has endless health benefits and can help patients struggling from everything from epilepsy to anxiety to cancer treatments,” he said. “This reminds me of some of the advertising we saw from the tobacco industry years ago where they actually claimed public health benefits from smoking tobacco, which we know as a matter of fact were false and that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, and is implicated with cancers of different kinds.”

“We’re hearing a lot of the same happy talk with regard to marijuana and none of the facts that we need to understand about the public health impact of marijuana use,” he said.

While Cornyn recognized there’s significant support for cannabis reform, he said that ” for the number of voices in support of legalization, there are even more unanswered questions about both the short- and long-term public health effects.”

He expressed concern about increased levels of THC concentration in cannabis products and stated that it’s “true that for some people that marijuana can indeed be addictive.”

“There’s simply a lack of scientific evidence to determine the link between marijuana and various health risks, and that’s something I would think Congress and the American people would want to know before we proceed further down this path,” Cornyn said. “We don’t know enough about how this could impair cognitive function or capacity or increase the risk of mental illness or perhaps serve as a gateway for other drugs that are even more damaging to the health of a young person.”

The senator made similar remarks during a conversation with a former White House drug czar in August. He said it was important to address the public health impacts of cannabis before moving forward with legislation that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

“With increasing use and a growing number of states giving the green light for marijuana use, we need better answers,” he said.

The surgeon general and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, along with several academics, are scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.

Senate Hearing To Focus On Marijuana And Health This Week

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation Urges Congress To Pass Three Marijuana Research Bills

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A leading advocacy group that’s dedicated to finding treatment options for Parkinson’s disease is backing three pieces of marijuana research legislation in Congress.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF)—named after the actor, who has Parkinson’s and established the nonprofit—said last week that lifting barriers to cannabis research, including rescheduling the plant under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is necessary to promote studies verifying marijuana’s potential therapeutic benefit for conditions such as Parkinson’s patients.

“The MJFF supports increased access to cannabis for medical research. Congress has begun to recognize this need, and there are several bills in the U.S. House and Senate designed to remove barriers that impede safe and legal access to cannabis by medical researchers,” the foundation said on its website. “The MJFF public policy team is tracking these bills and working to educate members of Congress and their staff on their importance to the Parkinson’s community.”

MJFF said it’s in favor of three marijuana bills, which would accomplish the following: 

Medical Cannabis Research Act

—Require the Justice Department to approve additional manufacturers for research-grade cannabis.

—Protect research institutions that conduct studies on marijuana.

—Authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to inform patients about opportunities to participate in federally authorized cannabis studies.

VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act

—Require VA to conduct studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana in the treatment of various conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Expanding Cannabis Research and Information Act

—Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA.

—Free up universities to conduct studies on cannabis by removing certain regulatory requirements.

In a letter to the Senate sponsor of that last piece of legislation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), in June, the foundation stated that marijuana’s current classification under federal law and the inadequate quality of cannabis grown at the only federally authorized manufacturing facility has meant that “researchers do not have the proper materials to conduct the necessary research.”

The foundation noted that it has submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration arguing in favor of rescheduling in 2018 and 2019. It also applauded the Drug Enforcement Administration for announcing that it would take steps to approve additional federal cannabis farms for research.

“Current policies hinder comprehensive medical research on cannabis, making it difficult to generate the evidence needed for clear recommendations,” Andrew Koemeter-Cox, MJFF’s associate director of research programs, said. “This is especially problematic when some products may be unsafe for human use and have the potential for adverse interactions with other medications.”

Ted Thompson, the nonprofit’s senior vice president of public policy, said that removing barriers to research “is one way in which Congress can help scientific researchers determine what the benefits of medical cannabis might be for Parkinson’s disease.”

“Our role on the public policy team is to work with Congress and the administration to ensure there is access and funding for research and care initiatives that can benefit people living with Parkinson’s and, right now, that includes access to medical cannabis for research,” he said.

Senate Hearing To Focus On Marijuana And Health This Week

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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