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Elizabeth Warren Wants Marijuana Answers From Trump Health Nominee

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The Trump administration should carefully consider how legalizing marijuana can help reduce opioid addiction and overdose deaths, Sen. Elizabeth Warren says.

“Medical marijuana has the potential to mitigate the effects of the opioid crisis,” she wrote in a letter to Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Warren cited a recent American Journal of Public Health study that found legalization of cannabis in Colorado was associated with short-term reductions in opioid-related deaths, saying the results are “consistent with other data from states that have developed laws for medical or recreational marijuana use.”

In the Tuesday letter to Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, Warren asks:

1. As HHS Secretary, what would you do to further study this potential alternative to opioids?

2. Are you committed to implementing evidence-based policies regarding its use?

3. What steps will you take to improve our knowledge of the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana when used for medical purposes?

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts, where voters approved a marijuana legalization ballot measure last year, has also pressed the federal government on other cannabis issues, such as the ability of growers and sellers in the industry to access banking services. She is a cosponsor of a bill to allow financial services providers to work with marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal drug and money laundering laws.

A Trump administration commission chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) recently rejected the idea that legalizing marijuana could play a role in helping to solve the opioid crisis, despite a growing number of studies indicating that ending prohibition is associated with reduced addiction and overdose deaths.

Azar will appear at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), of which Warren is a member, on Wednesday.

Warren previously questioned the Trump administration first health and human services secretary, Tom Price, about marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid issues prior to his confirmation, but he never responded.

In the new letter to Azar, the Massachusetts senator also asks about syringe exchange programs and supervised injection facilities, which advocates say result in safer outcomes for consumers of illegal drugs.

This piece was originally published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.

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Politics

GOP Congressman: Legal Marijuana Has “Possibility To Create Jobs”

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Legalizing marijuana might be a way to help lift rural areas of Virginia out of poverty, a Republican who represents part of the state in Congress says.

“The lands out in Southwest are conducive to be able to grow that for medicinal purposes, or whatever it is, for other research purposes, and even recreational use for some areas, if Virginia chooses to legalize it in that way,” Congressman Scott Taylor said on Wednesday. “And if Virginia goes that way I think there is the possibility to create jobs down in the Southwest.”

Taylor, who was answering a caller’s question during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, added that he supports letting states set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

“I think we should decriminalize it and leave it up to the states,” he said. “I do believe it’s a state decision, not a federal decision.”

Taylor, a freshman member of Congress, is a cosponsor of a pending House bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

“When I was in the state House we voted to legalize industrial hemp, which is also another product that would grow well in Southwest just as tobacco did,” Taylor added. “So I think there’s product there.”

Advocates believe that Virginia has a good chance of decriminalizing cannabis in 2018. Incoming Gov. Ralph Northam, A Democrat, spoke often about cannabis on the campaign trail, consistently describing criminalization’s impact in stark racial justice terms.

New Virginia Governor Pledges Marijuana Decriminalization

Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment has announced he will file a decriminalization bill when the new legislative session begins in January.

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Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate

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Vermont appears poised to become the next state to legalize marijuana. And, according to top elected officials, it is likely to do so within a matter of weeks.

Last week, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, said she expects “it likely will pass in early January.” Days earlier, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he is “comfortable” signing a cannabis legalization bill into law in early 2018. And on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a member of the Progressive Party, said he and his colleagues “look forward to working with the governor to make sure that that bill gets to the finish line.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of M a n u e l.

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Politics

Here’s What Jeff Sessions Discussed In Secret With Anti-Marijuana Activists

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Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a behind-closed-doors meeting about marijuana with anti-legalization activists.

Now, thanks to the fact that Sessions inadvertently showed an agenda for the meeting to a TV camera that was in the room to capture introductions — along with some high-tech sleuthing — we know what the prohibitionists discussed in secret after reporters were kicked out.

A Twitter user with the handle @MentalMocean was able to enhance a screen capture of the document that Marijuana Moment posted.

Enhanced photo.

The document appears to read:

Agenda

Bertha Madras: Marijuana is not a substitute for opiates as a pain medication.

Dr. Hoover Adger: The harm from today’s marijuana.

Dr. Bob DuPont: The effect of marijuana on drugged driving.

David Evans: The role that the Food and Drug Administration can and should [obscured]

[obscured] The organizations you can speak for and what you and they are [obscured] people from recreational marijuana use.

[obscured] law enforcement thinks of the commercialization of [obscured] law enforcement would support an enforcement initiative.

[obscured] course of marijuana commercialization in the states if the [obscured] not intervene.

The enhanced photo makes clear that the anti-legalization activists made a concerted pitch during meeting to convince Sessions to launch a federal crackdown on states that have ended cannabis prohibition.

In attendance, according to video of the opening introductions captured by a pool photographer and posted by C-SPAN, were:

  • Edwin Meese III, U.S. attorney general under the Reagan administration
  • Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana
  • Bertha Madras, a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer and a member of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis
  • Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition
  • Dr. Hoover Adger, Johns Hopkins Hospital

“I think it’s a big issue for America, for the country, and I’m of the general view that this is not a healthy substance,” Sessions said at the beginning of the gathering. “I think that’s pretty clear. And then have the policy response that we and the federal government needs to be prepared to take and do so appropriately and with good sense.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to hear your analysis on marijuana and some of the related issues,” Sessions told the group. “I do believe, and I’m afraid, that the public is not properly educated on some of the issues related to marijuana. And that would be a matter that we could, all of us together, maybe be helpful in working on and that would allow better policy to actually be enacted.”

The group’s roundtable discussion itself, which took place after initial introductions, was closed to the press.

The gathering comes as the Justice Department’s overall position on marijuana policy remains uncertain. Sessions has in recent weeks sent mixed signals about his plans for federal marijuana enforcement under the Trump administration.

Last month, he testified before Congress that an Obama-era Justice Department memo that generally allows states to implement their own marijuana laws without interference remains in effect. But he separately told reporters at a briefing that his department is actively conducting talks about potential changes to the policy.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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