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Federal Courts Hear Major Marijuana Cases This Week

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If plaintiffs in two far-reaching lawsuits being heard in federal courts this week have their way, marijuana will no longer be classified under the U.S.’s most restrictive category, and the federal government will have to rescind a policy that treats cannabidiol as a Schedule I drug even when it is derived from legal hemp.

On Wednesday, a federal district court judge in Manhattan will hear oral arguments in a case alleging that cannabis is improperly classified under the most restrictive category of Schedule I, which is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value.

Plaintiffs in the case include former NFL player Marvin Washington and a 12-year-old girl who treats epilepsy with medical cannabis.

And on Thursday, a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will convene in San Francisco to hear a separate case challenging a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) move that advocates say oversteps the agency’s authority.

That dispute centers on a Federal Register notice DEA filed in late 2016 creating a new drug category code for marijuana extracts. The Hemp Industries Association and individual businesses are suing the government, claiming that the action puts in jeopardy farmers and researchers who are growing and processing legally grown hemp in accordance with provisions of the congressionally approved Farm Bill.

The Wednesday hearing, in the broader case about cannabis’s Schedule I status, concerns a Justice Department motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The case’s impact “will not necessarily be immediate,” Joseph Bondy, an attorney in the case, told Marijuana Moment in an interview. No matter who wins, it will likely be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

But the Justice Department might find itself having to begin compiling documents for discovery and preparing officials for depositions in the case very soon.

Presiding Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein has a “track record of ruling very, very quickly after the argument,” Bondy said, meaning that he may officially reject the government’s motion to dismiss as soon as Wednesday.

The judge is giving the case “prioritized attention,” the New York Times reported.

While the Justice Department will almost certainly seek to prevent U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions from having to testify in the case, Bondy said he might have to anyway.

“He’s been so vocal, and rescinded the Cole Memo and put all these things in place himself,” he said in the interview. “He wasn’t the passive repository of the Controlled Substances Act. This is going to unfold well if we just get over this hurdle. The whole landscape has shifted and it really favors us.”

And even if the plaintiffs ultimately lose, or the case proceeds slowly, its impact will still be “powerful,” Bondy predicted, saying it will likely lead to “additional fallout” in terms of emboldening policymakers to change cannabis laws legislatively.

Several similar lawsuits challenging how the federal government treats marijuana have been unsuccessful, but advocates believe that the shifting political climate surrounding the issue puts them in a better position for a favorable ruling this time.

“We might not have been able to do this 10 or 15 years ago,” Bondy told the Times. “But the climate is very different now.”

The two federal cannabis lawsuits represent an escalation in tactics as legalization advocates continue to gain momentum.

“This is a perfect a storm of cannabis legalization support and its growing momentum,” Nelson Guerrero, co-founder of the Cannabis Cultural Association and plaintiff in case being heard on Wednesday, told Marijuana Moment in a statement. “As activists, we must use every avenue possible to move the needle forward to ultimately end cannabis prohibition – whether it’s in the courts, on the streets, or through the media.”

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Congress Votes To Block Feds From Enforcing Marijuana Laws In Legal States

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The House of Representatives approved a far-reaching measure on Thursday to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales.

The amendment, which also shields cannabis laws in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, is now attached to a large-scale appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.

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.)

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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Watch Live: Congressional Committee Discusses Medical Marijuana And Military Veterans

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A congressional committee held a hearing on four bills that concern veterans and medical marijuana on Thursday.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discussed one piece of legislation that would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis recommendations in states where it’s legal. That bill was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

The panel also took up a bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) that would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

“The men and women that I meet back home vouch for the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis and support further research into the issue,” Correa said in testimony prepared for the hearing. “The legislation provides a framework for that research to ensure a scientifically-sound study on the issue.”

“Cannabis must be objectively researched. Period,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the committee, said in support of the legislation. “Medicinal cannabis may have the potential to manage chronic pain better than opioids and treat PTSD.”

Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), ranking member on the committee, agreed that VA should be studying the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans but complained that the proposed bill is excessively prescriptive. The congressman, who introduced a similar piece of legislation in January, said lawmakers shouldn’t “be telling the scientists how to design their studies.”

Other legislation that came up for consideration was a bill from Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a 2020 presidential candidate, that would provide training on medical cannabis for VA health practitioners.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on another Moulton proposal that would require VA to conduct a survey to “measure cannabis use by veterans.”

Watch the hearing below:

Witnesses who testified before the committee include Adrian Atizado, deputy national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Travis Horr, director of government affairs with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Carlos Fuentes, director of national legislative service for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The VFW representative said the organization supports all but one of the cannabis bills. While the group agrees with the intent of allowing VA doctors to recommend cannabis, it “believe it is unacceptable for VA providers to recommend a treatment that they are unable to provide veterans and force patients to pay for the full cost of such care.”

DAV voiced support for legislation requiring VA to study medical cannabis and also to survey veterans on their marijuana usage.

And IAVA came out in strong support for the research bill. In testimony, the group said that “without research done by VA surrounding cannabis, veterans will not have conclusive answers to ways cannabis might aide their health needs. This is unacceptable.”

“VA houses some of the most innovative and best-in-class research this country has to offer. It should not be shutting its doors on a potentially effective treatment option because of politics and stigma,” the group said. “Our nation’s veterans deserve better.”

Larry Mole, chief consultant of population health services at the federal Veterans Health Administration, testified that VA opposes all four of the cannabis bills.

He expressed concerns that VA doctors would be penalized if they recommend medical cannabis, that the research requirement would be excessively onerous and that VA is already studying marijuana, that VA doctors already have access to training materials on the subject and that the proposed anonymous survey would require veterans to disclose information that could make them identifiable.

“The legislation would prescriptively define how the surveys would be conducted, but it does not provide the purpose, goals, or objectives for the surveys,” he said. “We have significant concerns that veterans will not want to participate, despite the survey being anonymous.”

Several committee members pressed Mole on VA’s current research efforts, noting the widespread support among veterans to study the medicinal benefits of marijuana.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) said that he meets with veteran constituents each week and asked the VA representative, “[w]hat am I to tell them when they ask when is this [research] actually going to happen?”

“When is this research going to occur? When is the VA going to listen to the 92 percent of veterans across all political stripes and ideologies that want to see this done?” he said.

Mole pointed to the single ongoing VA clinical trial that just recently recruited its first participant focusing on the benefits of CBD for post-traumatic stress disorder. He encouraged Levin to tell his constituents to look up the study and apply to participate if they were interested.

Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) characterized the VA’s study as “a baby steps approach” to the issue given that CBD alone isn’t representative of the products that veterans are using in the commercial market.

After the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on several of the cannabis proposals in April, the full committee was set to vote on two marijuana measures last month. That hearing was cancelled, however.

Blumenauer is also pursuing cannabis reform for veterans through a different vehicle: an appropriations bill that’s being debated on the House floor this and next week. He introduced an amendment that would prohibit VA from “interfering with a veteran’s participation in a state medical cannabis program, denying a veteran who participates in a state medical cannabis program from being denied VA services, and interfering with the ability of VA health care providers to recommend participation in state medical cannabis programs.”

This was the second congressional committee hearing on marijuana-related issues this week. On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee met to discuss challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry.

This story has been updated to include additional testimony from witnesses.

House Passes Amendments Stripping DEA Funding And Pushing FDA To Regulate CBD

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House Passes Amendments Stripping DEA Funding And Pushing FDA To Regulate CBD

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Two drug policy amendments cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, building on reform victories in the chamber the day before.

One measure addresses funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the other would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish regulations for adding CBD to foods and dietary supplements.

The first amendment, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), would transfer $5 million from the DEA to an opioid treatment program. It passed without opposition on a voice vote and is now be attached to the House version of a large-scale spending bill, but it remains to be seen how the Senate will set funding levels for the agency in its own version of the funding legislation.

“I offer this amendment because ending the war on drugs has to mean changing our priorities in order to keep all communities safe and healthy,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The best way we do that is by offering people the help and support they need before arrest and criminalization should be considered in the first place.”

She added that the DEA is still receiving $2.36 billion in funding, which is $90 million higher than was appropriated for the last fiscal year. It’s also about $78 million higher than President Trump requested in his budget.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles Justice Department funding, rose in support of the amendment, stating that opioids “are a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and we must do everything we can to combat this epidemic.”

Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment that the successful vote “should send a message to the DEA—it’s not business as usual anymore.”

“We want to end the drug war and we will fight for it. We will drain you dollar-by-dollar, cent-by-cent, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) claimed time designated for the opposition on the floor but said he supports the amendment. The congressman did note, however, that funding for opioid abuse prevention grants has increased by 360 percent since 2017 and that “we want to work with both sides to make sure we have the appropriate funds necessary to make sure we fight this opioid addiction that has taken over so many parts of the country.”

In closing, Ocasio-Cortez said “just as the epidemic is exploding so should our commitment to address this problem.”

“We have overfunded one agency and we should move that to make sure that we are getting people the care they need,” she said.

Dan Riffle, senior counsel and policy advisor in Ocasio-Cortez’s office told Marijuana Moment that the amendment is “a good start, but it’s not enough.”

“Every dollar we waste trying and failing to reduce supply is a dollar that should be spent on treatment and demand reduction,” he said.

This is the second drug policy amendment the freshman congresswoman has introduced that’s been brought to the House floor. However, her earlier proposal, which was meant to lift barriers to research for psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA, was rejected when it came up for a vote as part of separate appropriations legislation last week.

The FDA amendment, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), was approved as part of an en bloc voice vote combining other relatively noncontroversial measures and it did not receive debate on the floor. The measure aims to resolve a problem that the FDA has repeatedly raised since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

Because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and has never been allowed in the food supply before, the agency’s former commissioner said Congress may have to pass separate legislation to provide for its lawful marketing.

The amendment’s description directs FDA to “undertake a process to make lawful a safe level for conventional foods and dietary supplements containing cannabidiol (CBD) so long as the products are compliant with all other FDA rules and regulations.”

Two other drug policy amendments were debated in the chamber on Wednesday. A measure that would block the Justice Department from using its funds to intervene in state marijuana laws was approved on a voice vote but still needs to pass in a recorded vote; another that extends similar protections to tribal cannabis programs passed without a request for a recorded vote.

Congress Clashes On Marijuana Amendments In Floor Debate

This story was updated to include comment from Riffle.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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