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.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Winning In Latest Poll
North Dakota voters appear poised to legalize marijuana via a ballot measure next month, according to a new poll.
Measure 3, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over in one of the country’s most conservative states—and with no possession limits—is ahead among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent in the survey released on Sunday.
North Dakota has brought marijuana policy reform supporters pleasant surprises before. Medical cannabis was approved there by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2016, for example, and will be available to patients sometime in 2019.
And despite little pro-legalization funding and relatively large spending in opposition to the ballot measure—a flip of the usual paradigm seen in most other states with cannabis initiatives—libertarian-leaning and younger voters on the prairie appear to be pushing Measure 3 towards a slim victory.
The results sharply contrast to those of another poll released earlier this month, which found the marijuana measure losing, 59 percent to 30 percent.
And although legalization support was significantly larger than opposition in the new survey, 13 percent of the 412 respondents say they are still undecided, leaving the issue very much in balance in the lead up to Election Day.
Nonetheless, legalization advocates are pleased with the new polling result.
“Despite a big-money funded misinformation campaign from the opposition, this poll reveals that most North Dakotans are ready to end the failed prohibition of marijuana in the state,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “By voting ‘Yes’ on Measure 3, North Dakotans could save the state millions of taxpayer dollars currently being spent on arresting otherwise law-abiding adults for possession of a plant that is objectively less harmful than legal alcohol and tobacco, allow law enforcement to allocate their limited resources to focus on violent crime, and defend individual freedom.”
But activists know that the opposition has more money, and aren’t taking anything for granted over the next few weeks.
“The message of ending marijuana arrests is resounding in North Dakota, and these results demonstrate that voters are hearing our call for action. This is a dogfight, and LegalizeND will continue to set the record straight when it comes to adult-use marijuana,” Cole Haymond, a campaign advisory for Legalize ND, said.
Consistent with other states where medical marijuana has become legal, the measure performed best with voters under 50 in the new poll. Fifty-seven percent of respondents were 50 or older, suggesting that if younger voters turn out on Election Day, the measure may stand an even better chance of success.
“Passage of Measure 3 is greatly dependent upon the voters under the age of 50 voting in at least their historical percentages,” reads a polling memo by The Kitchens Group, which conducted the survey. “If the electorate is skewed toward the older, more conservative voters, passage could be problematic.”
But Measure 3 is being sold to voters on a personal responsibility platform, with emphasis on harsher penalties for sales to minors—and on marijuana’s proven ability to alleviate opiate-related overdoses and deaths.
When these aspects of the ballot measure were mentioned to poll respondents, support increased by the end of the eight-question survey.
Both before and after the push-polling, the percentage of voters who said they would “definitely” vote no stayed at a consistent 29 percent, suggesting that North Dakota has only a hardcore minority of prohibition-minded voters, with many more undecideds and pro-legalization voters.
The ballot measure is very far-reaching compared to those proposed in other states. It would allow possession, cultivation and sales of marijuana, with no set limits, though lawmakers would almost certainly enact regulations in the event of the measure’s passage. It would also expunge prior cannabis convictions.
The poll was conducted between October 11 and 14, and has a margin of error or +/- 4.9 percentage points.
Voters in seven states will consider marijuana ballot measures on Election Day this year.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Measure 3 legalized only small amounts of marijuana. The text of Measure 3 legalizes marijuana for adults 21 and over with no possession limits. This article has been updated.