The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that researchers should be able to obtain marijuana from state-legal shops, instead of having to rely exclusively on cannabis from the federal government to study the plant.
In a letter the federal agencies sent to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) late last month, NIH and FDA discussed how federal prohibition inhibits marijuana research in a variety of ways, and that includes limiting the diversity and quality of research-grade cannabis.
Studies have shown that marijuana cultivated at the nation’s only cannabis farm licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) more closely resemble hemp than commercially available marijuana, which the agencies said creates “a significant gap in our understanding of these products.”
The letter, first reported by Politico, came in response to an inquiry Schatz sent in March, requesting information about their clinical research agendas, the “impacts of regulatory barriers for cannabis research” and any recommendations they had to improve the the “quality and validity of cannabis research.”
The senator, who also elicited a separate reply from NIH and FDA on the status of research into psychedelics earlier this year, expressed particular interest in studies looking at the pain relieving potential of cannabis and its use as an alternative to prescription opioids.
After discussing work that’s already been done on marijuana research and their support for the development of cannabis drug development, Acting FDA Commissioner Norman Sharpless and NIH Director Francis Collins wrote that they agreed with the senator that more clinical studies should be done. Ongoing research they pointed to includes investigations into “how local policies around both cannabis and opioids contribute to the use of both retail marijuana and prescription opioids within a particular jurisdiction” and studies looking at cannabis as a possible offramp from “controlled substances like opioids.”
They also recognized that federal prohibition has inhibited such research efforts.
“A larger body of rigorous research, including on cannabis and cannabinoid products that are already in use or that could be developed into FDA-approved medications, is key to furthering our understanding of their potential medical benefits and risks,” NIH and FDA said, adding that there are “a variety of barriers to conducting research on cannabis and cannabinoids.”
“First, through a contract with the University of Mississippi, which is the only entity registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to cultivate marijuana for research purposes, NIDA is the only source of marijuana permitted for use in research, thereby limiting the diversity of products and formulations available to researchers and slowing the development of cannabis-based medications,” they said.
Due to the limitations associated with cultivating all research-grade cannabis at a single facility, NIH and FDA said they “support licensing additional entities to supply cannabis, including extracts and derivatives, to legitimate researchers and drug product developers in the United States.”
Sharpless and Collins said “another barrier to advancing cannabis research is that, under federal law, researchers are unable to purchase strains of marijuana or products containing marijuana from state dispensaries (even with non-federal funds), resulting in a significant gap in our understanding of these products and their impact on health.”
“NIH and FDA support enabling researchers holding Schedule I licenses for marijuana to obtain products from state authorized dispensaries,” the health officials wrote. “Such products could be used for basic or clinical research, provided such materials to be used in clinical studies also comply with FDA chemistry, manufacturing, and control requirements for materials to be used in research conducted under an investigational new drug application.”
They added that licensing “additional entities to supply marijuana may improve the diversity of research products that more closely reflect what is currently consumed.”
DEA announced that it would be accepting application for additional cannabis manufacturers three years ago but has yet to act. Last month, in response to a lawsuit filed by one of the applicants, the agency said it would be taking steps to accept those applications, though it declined to offer a timeline.
Whether it is through new authorized facilities or access to commercial cannabis shops, researchers and policymakers alike have made clear that there’s a need for a greater diversity of marijuana products so that research on the plants benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using.
Yet as recently as last month, the head of the nation’s only federal marijuana farm raised eyebrows after stating in a podcast interview that cannabis containing just eight percent THC—a much lower concentration than what is typically available in dispensaries—is too high and that he doesn’t understand why “people want to smoke or use 20 percent or 15 or 18 or any of those high amounts.”
NIH and FDA said that the “continued placement of marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act creates significant administrative and cost challenges that slow this research and may deter scientists from pursuing cannabis research altogether” and that they “recommend streamlining the process for conducting research with cannabis and other Schedule I substances.”
Read Schatz’s March letter on marijuana research and the federal response below:
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.
Congressman Visits Marijuana Dispensary On Behalf Of Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Campaign
A congressman and staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign toured a marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas on Monday and discussed the need for federal cannabis reform.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who endorsed Sanders’s bid for the White House last week, shared photos on Twitter from the visit to NuWu Cannabis, a tribal-owned shop that features a consumption lounge and a drive-thru where consumers can buy marijuana products.
After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—@BernieSanders marijuana legalization plan will do just that. pic.twitter.com/XFWmIZKuus
— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) January 21, 2020
“After years of an unjust War on Drugs, it’s time we work to ensure all communities can benefit from legalization—[Sanders’s] marijuana legalization plan will do just that,” the congressman tweeted.
While the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wasn’t scheduled to attend the shop and has since had to drop campaign stops in order to participate in the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Pocan and Nevada campaign staff were there on his behalf, Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former state senator who helped coordinate the event, told Marijuana Moment.
“We showed him around, explained on how it works, explained how it’s organized under state law,” Segerblom said of Pocan. “He said he’d never seen anything like it.”
The congressman also talked with business owners about the importance of social equity within the marijuana industry. He didn’t purchase or sample any cannabis products, however.
Segerblom said that while Sanders wasn’t able to attend this tour, he believes it’s important for the candidate to participate in such events and talk about his reform agenda to distinguish himself in the race.
“There’s a lot of people who will vote on this issue, and since [former Vice President Joe Biden] has come out against legalizing cannabis, I think it’s a very important issue for him to emphasize,” he said.
It’s fitting that Pocan would tour a tribal-owned cannabis business, as he was the chief sponsor of a 2016 bill that would have protected tribes from losing federal funds if they enact a legal marijuana program. Although the congressman represents Wisconsin, which doesn’t even have a comprehensive medical cannabis program let alone full adult-use legalization, he has cosponsored several cannabis reform bills this Congress, including two that would end federal prohibition.
State-legal dispensaries are getting a lot of high-profile attention from politicians lately. For example, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg visited a Las Vegas marijuana shop last year, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) paid a visit to a California dispensary and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) toured a business that makes CBD-infused chocolates.
Photo courtesy of Rep. Mark Pocan.
New Vermont Bill Would Decriminalize Psychedelics And Kratom
Vermont lawmakers filed a bill on Wednesday that would decriminalize three psychedelic substances as well as kratom.
Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) introduced the legislation, which would amend state law to carve out exemptions to the list of controlled substances. Psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom would no longer be regulated under the proposal.
Cina told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that he decided to pursue the policy change based on a “belief that I share with many people around the world that plants are a gift from nature and they’re a part of the web of life that humans are connected to.”
“Plants, especially plant medicines, should be accessible to people,” he said. “Use of plant medicine should be considered a health care issue, not a criminal issue.”
Whether plant medicines are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize healing practices that go back to the very roots of our humanity. https://t.co/hRDWWqa7yb
— Brian Cina (@briancinavt) January 22, 2020
While it remains to be seen whether the legislature will have the appetite to pursue the policy change, the bill’s introduction represents another sign that the psychedelics reform movement has momentum. Activists in about 100 cities across the U.S. are working to decriminalize a wide range of entheogenic substances, but the Vermont proposal is unique in that it’s being handled legislatively at the state level.
Text of the bill states that the four substances are “commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.”
Larry Norris, cofounder of the national psychedelics reform group Decriminalize Nature, told Marijuana Moment that he’s especially encouraged by the use of the word “entheogenic,” a term that advocates are hoping to bring into the mainstream to more accurately describe the type of substances they want to decriminalize.
“It is exciting to see emerging interest at the state legislative level to support decriminalizing natural plants and fungi that are ‘commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes,'” he said. “The fact that the word entheogenic is making its way into the legislative lexicon speaks volumes for the shift in perspective that is happening nationwide.”
“While we were not involved in the drafting of this legislation, we look forward to offering any support and guidance to Representative Brian Cina in Vermont or any future state legislators aiming to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi,” Norris said.
Denver became the first city in the nation to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms last year, followed by a unanimous City Council vote in Oakland to make a wide range of psychedelics among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. And while lawmakers have been comparatively slow to raise the issue in legislatures, activists in Oregon are working to put a therapeutic psilocybin initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot and, separately, a measure to decriminalize possession of all drugs with a focus on funding substance misuse treatment. In California, meanwhile, advocates are aiming to put psilocybin legalization before voters in November.
Part of the motivation behind the legislation was “recognizing that the decriminalization of mushrooms seems to be a next step in other places, and thinking that it might have greater success if we can make the point that in the path of decriminalization, the next step after cannabis is psilocybin mushrooms,” Cina said. “It was important for me to make a point about the significance of plants.”
“What it goes back to for me ultimately is that any kind of use of substances should be treated as a health care matter, not a criminal issue,” he said. “Whether those substances are used for treating pain or whether they’re used for seeking pleasure, that is a health care choice, and it’s a waste of society’s resources to criminalize a behavior that goes back to the very roots of our humanity.”
The bill currently has three cosponsors and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. One of the cosponsors, Rep. Zachariah Ralph (P/D) told Marijuana Moment that he supports “the legalization of psychedelics because prohibition, generally, does not to work, and has continued to be enforced disproportionally against low income and minority communities.”
“Research at Johns Hopkins University and other facilities around the country on the medicinal use of psilocybin mushrooms are showing some promising results as a long term treatment of depression, addiction and anxiety,” he said. “This is especially important today as we deal with increased rates of suicides and drug overdoses across the nation and especially in Vermont.”
The bill’s introduction also comes as Vermont lawmakers express optimism about the prospects of expanding the state’s cannabis law to allow commercial sales.
While Gov. Phil Scott (R) has previously voiced opposition to allowing retail marijuana products to be sold, citing concerns about impaired driving, he recently indicated that he may be open to taxing and regulating the market. And according to top lawmakers in the state, the legislature is positioned to advance a cannabis commerce bill this session, with most members in favor of the reform move.
Vermont made history in 2018 by becoming the first state to pass marijuana legalization through the legislature, albeit with a noncommercial grow-and-give model. Now the question is whether lawmakers there will again make history by taking up psychedelics reform and decriminalizing these substances at the state level for the first time.
“We’ve decriminalized and then legalized and now might be regulating and taxing marijuana, which is a plant medicine,” Cina said. “But there are these other plant medicines that have been left behind.”
A Republican lawmaker in Iowa filed a bill to legalize certain psychedelics for medical purposes last year, but it did not advance.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Mexican Lawmakers Plan To Pass Amended Marijuana Legalization Bill Before End Of April
An amended bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales in Mexico is being circulated among lawmakers, setting the stage for a renewed reform push as the legislature goes back into session next month.
The new proposal, which was jointly submitted by the Justice and Health Committees, would allow adults to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis for personal use and cultivate up to six plants. Individuals could apply for a license to possess more than 28 grams but no more than 200 grams.
While Sen. Ricardo Monreal Ávila of the ruling MORENA party said the measure is not final, it’s a next step in the process. He said he’ll be meeting with Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero and Julio Scherer, legal advisor to the president, next week to discuss cannabis reform legislation.
Under the proposed bill, those who possess an amount of marijuana between 28 and 200 grams would be charged a fine amounting to roughly $560, while stricter penalties would be imposed for possession of more than 200 grams.
The Mexican Cannabis Institute, a new regulatory body, would be responsible for issuing business licenses and developing rules for the market. The bill also contains provisions aimed at promoting social equity, such as prioritizing cultivation licenses for individuals from communities most impacted by the drug war.
The institute would also be able to issue grants for research into the cultivation of cannabis for commercial use, according to Milenio.
The introduction of this revised legislation comes more than a year after the nation’s Supreme Court deemed federal laws prohibiting personal marijuana possession and cultivation unconstitutional—a ruling that was followed by a legislative mandate to end the policy. In the months since, lawmakers have worked to develop a regulatory scheme to legalize the plant for adult use.
But while there was progress—with the Senate holding numerous public educational meetings, including one that featured a former White House drug czar—the legislature was unable to reach a compromise on a passable bill before the court’s October 2019 deadline, prompting leading lawmakers to request an extension.
The Supreme Court agreed to extend the deadline for a policy change to April 30.
The new bill going before the Congress is largely similar to the one that Senate committees unveiled just before the earlier deadline, but there have been some minor changes. For example, it amends the business licensing scheme. There will be five types of licenses that the institute can issue: cultivation, transformation, marketing, exports/imports and research.
Monreal stressed that “there is nothing ensured yet” in terms of the prospects for the new draft legislation being passed as written.
— Senadores Morena (@MorenaSenadores) January 21, 2020
“There are those who are not in favor even of the legislation in this matter, so all that we have to pick it up and translate it into the will expressed on the opinion,” he said, adding that the legislature still hopes to pass legalization before the April deadline.
Read the full draft Mexican marijuana legalization bill below: