The head of the White House’s drug policy office was asked about marijuana, CBD and racial inequities in treatment access during a congressional appearance on Thursday.
Rep. Jim Jorden (R-OH) kicked off the cannabis questioning during the House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on the opioid crisis by asking both Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director James Carroll and a Florida sheriff about their positions on “liberalizing marijuana laws” in the country.
The sheriff flatly said he was “1,000 percent” against it and peddled a gateway drug theory, claiming that parents have told him that their children were referred to other drug dealers after seeking out cannabis and began taking “coke and heroin and other things.” Carroll’s response was only somewhat less alarmist.
“What we’ve seen is that the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school,” he said. “Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage. Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He added that edible marijuana can have THC levels as high as 90 percent and said that, at this point, the government doesn’t understand how such products impact health.
“We’re doing more research,” he said. “[The Drug Enforcement Administration] is working hard, [the Department of Health and Human Services] is working hard, to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Later, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) turned the drug czar’s attention to another aspect of the cannabis plant: hemp-derived CBD.
The congressman, who is a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner and champion of hemp legalization, said that he’s been increasingly interested in exploring alternative pain management options to offset opioid prescriptions. After discussing his state’s hemp market, which he said was “really booming” as an “emerging industry,” he mentioned that CBD oil derived from the plant has particular potential.
The oil is “non-THC, so we’re not talking marijuana, we’re talking about hemp,” he said. “Non-THC CBD oil for treatment of minor pain like inflammation and other forms of minor pain.”
“This seems to be really making a difference. We also, in my research, my staff, we’ve listened to physical therapists, chiropractors, other forms of alternative forms of pain treatment,” he said, asking Carroll whether he had any thoughts about moving forward with such alternative therapies.
Carroll declined to directly weigh in on CBD’s therapeutic potential but said “that’s something, again, I think HHS is going to regulate to make sure we understand the health impact of it.”
Finally, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) addressed the director more broadly about racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws and access to treatment services, noting that while much of the country and Congress is focused on opioids, some regions in the U.S. are experiencing increased addiction to other substances such as methamphetamine.
“Our country unfortunately has a history of racial inequity when it comes to how we pursue either enforcement or treatment, depending on the type of drug,” she said. “I was wondering if you agree that one of our goals should be to increase treatment for all drug addiction, including addiction to methamphetamines, cocaine and other drugs in addition to opioids.”
Carroll agreed with the congresswoman, saying that while opioids are especially problematic, the country is experiencing an “addiction crisis” and “we have to treat people as we find them.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/House Oversight and Reform Committee.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.