The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) isn’t exactly known as big fan of marijuana. But in a new Federal Register filing set to be published soon, the anti-drug agency is moving to more than quintuple the amount of cannabis that can legally be grown in the U.S. for research purposes—from roughly 1,000 pounds in 2018 to more than 5,400 pounds next year.
At the same time, DEA is also pushing to reduce the amount of certain opioid drugs—such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl and others—that are produced in the U.S.
“We’ve lost too many lives to the opioid epidemic and families and communities suffer tragic consequences every day,” DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said in a press release. “This significant drop in prescriptions by doctors and DEA’s production quota adjustment will continue to reduce the amount of drugs available for illicit diversion and abuse while ensuring that patients will continue to have access to proper medicine.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization, added that “the opioid epidemic that we are facing today is the worst drug crisis in American history… Cutting opioid production quotas by an average of ten percent next year will help us continue that progress and make it harder to divert these drugs for abuse.”
The proposed quotas for cannabis and other drugs “reflects the total amount of controlled substances necessary to meet the country’s medical, scientific, research, industrial, and export needs for the year and for the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks,” DEA said.
The 2,450,000 grams of marijuana the narcotics agency wants grown in the country in 2019 is a significant bump up from the 443,680 grams the agency authorized for 2018.
In addition to the huge increase in marijuana cultivation, DEA is also proposing to allow production of 384,460 grams of tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) in 2019, the same amount the agency cleared for this year.
Since 1968, a farm that the University of Mississippi has maintained a monopoly on the production of cannabis that can legally be used for research in the U.S. But scientists have long complained that it is sometimes hard to get approvals to obtain marijuana from the facility and that its product is often of low quality.
In response to these concerns, DEA moved in the waning months of the Obama administration to end the monopoly and create a process for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to license additional cultivators. But while more than two dozen facilities have filed proposals to become licensed to legally grow marijuana for research, Sessions’ Justice Department has blocked DEA from acting on the applications.
Members of Congress have repeatedly pressed Sessions on the issue, during hearings and most recently in a letter signed last month by eight senators.
“Research and medical communities should have access to research-grade materials to answer questions around marijuana’s efficacy and potential impacts, both positive and adverse,” the lawmakers wrote. “Finalizing the review of applications for marijuana manufacturing will assist in doing just that.”
During a Senate hearing last October, Sessions said that adding new facilities that could compete with the University of Mississippi would be “healthy.” Pressed again in April, he told senators that movement on the issue was expected “soon.”
But no announcements on authorizing more cultivators have been made.
The DEA’s huge increase in marijuana production quotas for 2019 could be a sign that it anticipates eventual approval of some of the additional grower applications, or it could just indicate that reserve stocks at the Mississippi farm are getting low and that it’s time to re-up the federal cannabis stash as interest in marijuana’s medical benefits and other effects increases among the public and scientists who wish to study it.
“While the drastic increase in requested production of marijuana by the DEA is a positive sign, significant barriers still exist including but not limited to the NIDA monopoly on cultivation and undue hurdles for researchers to qualify for a permit,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal in an interview. “It’s time that Congress look at the 28,000 plus peer-reviewed studies currently hosted on the National Institute of Health’s online database and reform federal law by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act all together.”
Once the DEA quota notice officially runs in the Federal Register, members of the public will be able to submit comments for a period of 30 days, after which time the agency may seek to amend and finalize the proposal.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Presses Housing Secretary About Marijuana Eviction Policies
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pressed the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession on Tuesday.
During a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, the congresswoman first quoted HUD Secretary Ben Carson from a 2017 speech where he acknowledged that the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted minority communities.
“Do you acknowledge that the war on drugs disproportionately impacted black communities and communities of color despite marijuana and other drug use levels being comparable to white communities?” she asked the secretary for the record.
“Traditionally that has been the case,” Carson replied.
@SecretaryCasron: "I'm always in favor of more flexibility." pic.twitter.com/7ze07GqZc9
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 21, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez went on to say that she was concerned that “the negative impact of the war on drugs has not been limited to incarceration” and that “we had legislative rippling effect that also seems to have been codified in our housing system”
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Carson said that property owners in individual jurisdictions have discretion when it comes to enforcing the policy, but he conceded that these rules are in effect under federal law.
“So a person could be stop and frisked and be found in possession of a small amount of marijuana and then be evicted or have their entire family evicted from public housing?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
“That is a possibility,” Carson said.
Who says progressives can’t get stuff done?
Thank you @SecretaryCarson for your testimony in front of the Financial Services Committee today.
We have many crises in housing, & I look forward to reversing the unjust legacy laws from the War on Drugs in our public housing system. https://t.co/ZK8aFsyIxo
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 21, 2019
The congresswoman then asked if Carson was aware of the “no fault” rule, to which he replied that the “use of such activity is extremely limited, if ever used.” Ocasio-Cortez responded by stating that the policies “are still codified in federal law” and asked whether the official supports “reversing some of these provisions” such as the “no fault” rule.
Carson said he was willing to talk about individual cases, and the congresswoman followed up by noting that there’s a lack of holistic review for these cases. Given Carson’s interest in hearing details about individual cases, she wondered if he’d “support being able to move some of these policies to a more holistic review.”
“Should that case-by-case consideration be codified in federal law instead of having blanket, one-strike or no fault policies?” she asked.
“I’m always in favor of more flexibility,” he said, signaling that he’d be open to reforming some of the anti-drug policies in effect federally at HUD.
Should Carson decline to take action, legislation introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in April would protect public housing residents who use marijuana in compliance with state law from being evicted.
Ocasio-Cortez herself has filed a bill that would prevent public housing applicants from being denied due to a low-level drug conviction that resulted in a sentence of under ten years and prohibit drug testing of applicants “as a condition of such housing assistance,” among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Presidential Candidates Are Cosponsoring A New Marijuana Descheduling Bill
Four 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have signed onto new legislation to federally deschedule marijuana—while a handful of other White House hopefuls are notably missing as original cosponsors.
The companion bills introduced on Monday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and use some tax revenue from marijuana sales to provide grants to socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals to participate in the legal industry.
It would also set aside money to support efforts to expunge past marijuana convictions.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—who are each seeking the Democratic presidential nomination—are cosponsoring the bills.
But Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) have so far declined to give the legislation their signature, despite their overall support for marijuana reform.
Bennet was an original cosponsor of a similar bill that Schumer filed during the 115th Congress.
The reasons he and other candidates decided against joining as original cosponsors of the new legislation are unclear, though some of them may end up adding their names at a later date.
For Booker, it’s possible that the senator doesn’t feel that the bill goes far enough in terms of promoting social equity—which is why he hasn’t supported separate cannabis reform legislation introduced this Congress.
Outside of the presidential candidates, Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Carper (D-DE) also cosponsored last year’s version but are not yet on the new proposal.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to pass more modest cannabis reform legislation, including a bipartisan bill to give marijuana businesses access to banks that cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.
Two Federal Agencies Schedule Meetings To Discuss Marijuana-Related Issues
Two federal agencies recently announced that they will be holding meetings this summer to discuss public health and safety issues related to marijuana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a notice published in the Federal Register last week that its Board of Scientific Counselors will convene on July 16 and 17 to tackle a wide variety of topics, including how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and how to balance intramural and extramural research initiatives.
On the second day of the meeting, which will be open to the public, the panel of experts will also discuss the role of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in “addressing public health concerns related to marijuana.”
Separately, on June 11 and 12, members of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Testing Advisory Board will meet for a conversation about federal workplace drug testing policies. Part of that meeting will involve a discussion of “emerging issues surrounding marijuana legalization.”
While the Federal Register filing does not spell out which “emerging issues” will be specifically addressed during the first day’s public session, it also notes that the board will discuss the “impact of cannabis laws on drug testing and future direction” in a closed session on the second day of the meeting.
The federal discussion comes as marijuana reform advocates have stepped up efforts to end the employer practice of penalizing workers who test positive for THC metabolites.
In New York City, for example, a City Council measure prohibiting pre-employment drug testing for cannabis in specific industries and another barring such tests for people on probation were both enacted this month without the mayor’s signature.
While federal marijuana laws continue to strictly prohibit cannabis, the growing legalization movement has forced various agencies to address the issue. Officials from some federal divisions have observed in recent months that the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law has inhibited research into its public health benefits and risks.
In December, representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse were part of a workshop focusing on cannabis research.
U.S. government agencies have also used Federal Register notices to solicit the public’s help in identifying studies about the effects of cannabis on disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.