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Federal Marijuana Action Is An ‘Inevitability,’ Trump FDA Chief Says

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Federal action on marijuana policy is inevitable and will happen “soon,” according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

Exactly what kind of action he’s anticipating is unclear, though. After dismissing the idea that botanical cannabis has therapeutic value, Gottlieb said in a CNBC appearance on Friday that there’s “probably going to be a policy reckoning around this at some point in the future.”

“Obviously it’s happening at the state level, and I think there’s an inevitably that it’s going to happen at the federal level at some point soon,” he said.

Gottlieb’s comments could be interpreted as a suggestion that legalization is happening at the state level and the end of federal cannabis prohibition is the inevitability. Or the “policy reckoning” could be some kind of increased enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

If it’s the former, it’s possible that the commissioner could be alluding to a bipartisan bill that would amend the Controlled Substances Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from its provisions—a piece of legislation that Gottlieb’s boss, President Donald Trump, said he “really” supports.

In response to Marijuana Moment’s request for clarification, an FDA spokesperson said, “Unfortunately I don’t have anything additional to share.”

During the CNBC interview, “Squawk Box” co-anchor Joe Kernen claimed that “every spirits and wine company sees a huge opportunity in cannabis” and asked if the country will be “OK” if marijuana becomes as common as alcohol.

“Because it’s a different high, it’s a different feeling,” Kernen said. “You know, you can have two drinks—if you take two hits of the way pot is nowadays, it’s like terminal pricing. You get there right away.”

“Is society going to survive OK, do you think?”

Gottlieb said that recreational marijuana doesn’t “fall within our purview right now” and then talked about the agency’s role in policing medical claims that some companies have made about cannabis.

The FDA issued warning letters to several manufacturers of cannabidiol (CBD) products last year, claiming the businesses were “illegally selling products online that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure cancer without evidence to support these outcomes.”

“But look, we do regulate compounds that are making drug claims and we regulate botanical use of marijuana,” the commissioner said in the TV interview. “We have approved compounds derived from marijuana, but there is no demonstrated medical use of botanical marijuana. That’s the bottom line.”

“All the people who are making claims around botanical marijuana—medical claims around it and around its purported benefits—those haven’t been demonstrated.”

Of course, there have been numerous studies demonstrating that botanical cannabis has medical value, but this isn’t the first time that Gottlieb has drawn that distinction. Two months ago, appearing on the same news program, the commissioner said he worried about the impact of natural marijuana on the lungs and developing brains.

At the same time, however, he signaled support for federal marijuana decriminalization.

Gottlieb seems especially bullish about researching and approving synthetically produced cannabinoids or medicines derived from cannabis like Epidiolex, a CBD epilepsy medication the FDA approved earlier this year.

That said, in the process of approving Epidiolex, the FDA also concluded that CBD doesn’t really deserve to be federally scheduled at all. The ingredient has “negligible potential for abuse” and “currently accepted medical use in treatment,” the agency said.

Top Trump Health Official Signals Support For Marijuana Decriminalization

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/FDA.

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Trump Treasury Official Wants Congress To Fix Marijuana Businesses’ Banking Issues

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Congress needs to come up with a solution for banking access by the marijuana industry, a top federal Treasury Department official said on Wednesday. And he hopes that will happen by 2020, if not sooner.

Joseph Otting, the comptroller of the currency, told reporters that lawmakers “have to act at the national level to legalize marijuana if they want those entities involved in that business to utilize the U.S. banking system,” according to PoliticoPro.

Cannabis businesses acting in compliance with state law face uncertainty when dealing with federally regulated financial institutions. And banks potentially risk being penalized for servicing those businesses, leading many to avoid the industry altogether.

That said, a steadily growing number of banks are operating accounts for cannabis companies anyway, federal data shows.

“If I’m a betting person, I’m like 25-30 percent maybe next year, but I would hope by 2020 we can get this issue resolved,” said Otting, who was also recently assigned to double duty as acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

He previously called the existing situation “generally not healthy,” echoing comments made by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who said “it would be great if [the banking issue] could be clarified.”

Similarly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has described the banking conflict as untenable. He said last year that his department was “reviewing the existing guidance,” referring to a 2014 Obama-era policy memo meant to provide direction for banks on how to service marijuana businesses.

“We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe,” he said.

More Banks Welcome Marijuana Business Accounts, New Federal Report Shows

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Legal Marijuana Advocates Rank The Best And Worst Governors On Cannabis

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The U.S.’s 50 state governors just got their annual report cards from a leading national marijuana legalization organization, and—for the first time—over half of them got passing grades.

The new scorecard, released on Wednesday by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), comes at a time when a growing number of governors are focusing on ending cannabis prohibition in their states. Over the past week, for example, at least eight governors have devoted portions of their inaugural or State of the State speeches to highlighting their support for marijuana law reform.

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 Jurassic Blueberries.

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Where Presidential Candidate Kirsten Gillibrand Stands On Marijuana

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) tossed her hat in the 2020 presidential ring on Tuesday, announcing that she’s forming an exploratory committee.

The senator, who has an A grade from NORML, has become one of the most vocal advocates for federal marijuana reform in Congress, co-sponsoring multiple pieces of legislation and frequently talking about the issue in speeches and on social media.

Legislation And Policy Actions

While Gillibrand did not co-sponsor any cannabis-related bills during her time in the House, she’s signed her name onto several notable Senate bills in recent years. That includes the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and punish states that enforce cannabis laws disproportionately against people of color.

She also co-sponsored legislation designed to protect medical marijuana states from federal interference, make it easier to conduct research on cannabis and legalize industrial hemp. Another research-related bill she co-sponsored would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study how marijuana can treat specific conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

During testimony at a Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee hearing in 2016, Gillibrand said that “I know some people are saying that we should wait until there’s more research before changing the laws, but the one thing blocking the research is the law.”

In April 2018, Gillibrand sent a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting that he attend a meeting with some of her constituents who’ve been arrested for non-violent marijuana offenses.

“It is an American principle that, no matter the law, it should be applied equally to all people, regardless of their race or background,” she wrote. “Sadly, as you will hear from my constituents, for decades, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has not been pursued with equality.”

She also joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who sent a letter to Sessions, imploring him to update them on the status of applications to cultivate cannabis for federal research purposes.

Quotes And Social Media Posts

For the last five years, Gillibrand has made Twitter a central platform for her marijuana reform advocacy.

But while she initially focused on medical cannabis, her views on the issue evolved and so did the tweets on her feed.

Gillibrand has routinely railed against the pharmaceutical industry, which she criticized for opposing cannabis legalization.

“To them, it’s competition for chronic pain, and that’s outrageous because we don’t have the crisis in people who take marijuana for chronic pain having overdose issues,” the senator said. “It’s not the same thing. It’s not as highly addictive as opioids are.”

She also criticized Sessions for rescinding Obama-era guidance that directed prosecutors to generally not interfere with state marijuana laws.

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” Gillibrand said in a press release. “Just one minor possession conviction could take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail or prison down the road.”

“The reality that my 14-year-old son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana is shameful. Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”

Beyond Capitol Hill, Gillibrand has worked to build support for legislation to legalize marijuana in her home state of New York. He office has issued numerous press releases about cannabis policy in recent years.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Gillibrand doesn’t appear to have publicly discussed whether she has ever consumed marijuana, but she has repeatedly cited conversations with families and patients who’ve benefited from medical cannabis as a motivating factor behind her reform advocacy.

Marijuana Under A Gillibrand Presidency

It stands to reason that the senator would prioritize federal marijuana reform as president, especially in light of her co-sponsorship of the Marijuana Justice Act and the extent to which she has focused on the issue in public statements. It seems likely that she would continue that record if elected to the Oval Office.

Where Presidential Candidate Julián Castro Stands On Marijuana

Photo element courtesy of Gillibrand 2010

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