What is the impact of marijuana legalization in states that have adopted it? That’s what the proponents of a newly filed U.S. House bill are hoping to find out.
The Marijuana Data Collection Act, introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors, would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with other federal and state government agencies to study “the effects of State legalized marijuana programs on the economy, public health, criminal justice and employment.”
“For decades, bad data and misinformation have fueled the failed war on drugs that’s wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, incarcerating Americans for nonviolent marijuana charges,” Gabbard said in House floor speech previewing the bill on Monday evening. “Our outdated marijuana policies have turned everyday Americans into criminals, strained our criminal justice system, cost taxpayers tremendously and torn families apart.”
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) July 24, 2018
If the legislation is enacted, the National Academy of Sciences would carry out the research and publish initial findings within 18 months, with follow-up reports to be issued every two years after that.
So far, the bill’s backers seem to consist solely of those who support marijuana law reform, a situation that legalization advocates decried.
“This is not a marijuana bill, it is an information bill,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said in an interview. “No member of Congress can intellectually justify opposition to this legislation. Our public policy needs to be based on sound data and science, not gut feelings or fear-mongering. Approving the Marijuana Data Collection Act would provide legislators with reliable and fact-based information to help them decide what direction is most beneficial to society when it comes to marijuana policy.”
In 2016 alone, nearly 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession. Our laws must be informed by facts — not emotion, manufactured stigma and myths.
— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) July 24, 2018
Leading prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana did not respond to a request for comment about its position on the legislation.
Gabbard held a Tuesday morning press conference with other supporters, including lead GOP cosponsor Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and former U.S. Attorneys Barry Grissom of Kansas and Bill Nettles of South Carolina.
W/ overwhelming support for state regulation of marijuana in #FL26 , federal government must stop being an obstacle to modernizing our #cannabis laws. Proud to introduce the #Marijuana Data Collection Act with @TulsiPress today to ensure state data is collected by @theNASciences. pic.twitter.com/DAgl12Vodw
— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) July 24, 2018
Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Darren Soto (D-FL), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Dina Titus (D-NV), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Tom Garrett (R-VA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Salud Carbajal (D-CA).
Federal drug policies should be based on facts and not some reefer madness-mentality from a century ago. I am proud to introduce the Marijuana Data Collection Act along with a bipartisan group of House Members. https://t.co/ZgcnUpAvIs
— Dina Titus (@repdinatitus) July 24, 2018
Here are the specific data points the bill directs federal officials to track:
REVENUES AND STATE ALLOCATIONS
The monetary amounts generated through revenues, taxes, and any other financial benefits. The purposes and relative amounts for which these funds were used. The total impact on the State and its budget.
MEDICINAL USE OF MARIJUANA
The rates of medicinal use among different population groups, including children, the elderly, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. The purpose of such use. Which medical conditions medical marijuana is most frequently purchased and used for.
The rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of admission in health care facilities, emergency rooms, and volunteer treatment facilities related to overdoses with opioids and other painkillers. The rates of opioid-related and other painkiller-related crimes to one’s self and to the community. The rates of opioid prescriptions and other pain killers.
IMPACTS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE
The rates of marijuana-related arrests for possession, cultivation, and distribution, and of these arrests, the percentages that involved a secondary charge unrelated to marijuana possession, cultivation, or distribution, including the rates of such arrests on the Federal level, including the number of Federal prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity of the prisoners; and the rates of such arrests on the State level, including the number of State prisoners so arrested, disaggregated by sex, age, race, and ethnicity. The rates of arrests and citations on the Federal and State levels related to teenage use of marijuana. The rates of arrests on the Federal and State levels for unlawful driving under the influence of a substance, and the rates of such arrests involving marijuana. The rates of marijuana-related prosecutions, court filings, and imprisonments. The total monetary amounts expended for marijuana-related enforcement, arrests, court filings and proceedings, and imprisonment before and after legalization, including Federal expenditures disaggregated according to whether the laws being enforced were Federal or State. The total number and rate of defendants in Federal criminal prosecutions asserting as a defense that their conduct was in compliance with applicable State law legalizing marijuana usage, and the effects of such assertions.
The amount of jobs created in each State, differentiating between direct and indirect employment. The amount of jobs expected to be created in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, as a result of the State’s marijuana industry.
South Carolina Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Bill In Subcommittee Vote
A South Carolina Senate subcommittee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would legalize access to medical marijuana. The legislation, known as the Compassionate Care Act, now moves to the full Senate Medical Affairs panel for discussion and a possible vote.
The subcommittee vote of 5 to 1 came after lawmakers approved several amendments to the bill. Some of those changes include narrowing the list of medical conditions that would qualify a patient to legally use medical cannabis, banning certain workers from being able to access the treatment and requiring physicians to have specific qualifications before being able to recommend marijuana.
“I want to thank the law enforcement officials, business leaders and physicians who worked with members of this subcommittee to ensure that this medical cannabis bill reflects the will of the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians … but to also draw a bright line against the recreational use of cannabis,” said Sen. Tom Davis, the bill’s author.
Advocates say they’re happy the bill is moving, but are expressing concerns about the changes that were adopted. Judy Ghanem, the executive director of patient advocacy group Compassionate SC, said she worries the bill will ultimately limit how many people will actually be able to access cannabis for their medical needs.
“The main concern that we have is, will enough doctors actually be recommending [medical cannabis] and will enough patients be able to get the medicine,” she told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.
The original text of the bill authorized primary care physicians to recommend cannabis to their patients with debilitating medical conditions. “There might not be as many specialists that are willing to recommend as there would be regular physicians,” Ghanem said.
“Concessions have to be made, and we understand that, but from a logistics standpoint, we need to have a law that’s workable,” she continued. “We hope that it’s not narrowed any more than it is now. We’re still going to be happy that patients will get the medicine, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do everything we can to increase the number of patients that can have access.”
Also on Wednesday, a group of faith leaders held a news conference at the State House to show their support for legalization.
The bill still faces an uphill battle, as opponents from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), S.C. Sheriffs’ Association and S.C. Medical Association have all said they won’t get behind the legislation without the Food and Drug Administration’s stamp of approval on medical marijuana.
“Never before have we determined what medicine is by popular vote or legislation,” SLED Maj. Frank O’Neal told the Post & Courier.
This is the fourth year the Compassionate Care Act has been introduced in the South Carolina legislature. Last year, it was approved by both the Senate Medical Affairs Committee and the House Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs (3M) Committee, but it did not receive floor consideration in either chamber before the session ended.
A January poll found that a majority of South Carolinians support legalizing medical marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
FDA Chief Warns CBD Rulemaking Could Take Years Without Congressional Action
The outgoing head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested on Tuesday that it would take several years for the agency to come up with rules around allowing hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) in food products—unless Congress steps in.
At a Brookings Institution event, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recognized that there’s strong interest among the cannabis industry and lawmakers in developing a regulatory framework through which CBD from hemp could be extracted, sold and introduced into the food supply. The problem is that “CBD didn’t previously exist in the food supply, and it exists as a drug under the statute.”
“It can’t just be put into the food supply,” he said, arguing that current law only allows the FDA to “contemplate putting a drug that wasn’t previously in the food supply into the food supply if it goes through a rulemaking process.”
That rulemaking process can take two to three years for conventional products, and so because CBD is “more complex”—due to its association with marijuana—and has already been approved by the FDA as a drug to treat epilepsy (in the form of Epidiolex), it could theoretically take much longer to develop those regulations.
“We’ve never done this before,” Gottlieb said. “It would be a highly novel rulemaking process.”
In the meantime, the FDA is putting together a “high-level work group” that will work to identify “some potential legislative pathways might be to create a framework for allowing CBD into the food supply.”
Gottlieb said he expects the group to release some recommendations by the summer, as Business Insider first reported.
The commissioner said the work group will be formally announced within the next week and would involve a public meeting to solicit comments from stakeholders.
While Congress might have intended to permit the marketing of hemp-derived CBD through the 2018 Farm Bill, the commissioner indicated that additional legislation that specifically addresses CBD regulations would be necessary to allow the ingredient in the food supply. He said there’s precedent for such actions, citing legislation around human growth hormone and fish oil.
“I think you need to come up with a framework that defines concentration levels, where you would create some kind of cut off, and that would be up to the agency to do,” he said. “Congress would obviously give directions to the agency to do that.”
“CBD in high concentrations isn’t risk-free, and in low concentration, it probably is safe—I don’t want to make a declaration here. It’s also a question of whether it’s providing any kind of therapeutic benefit in those concentrations, although people seem to believe that it has some value. But this is a process that the agency would have to work through. I think the most efficient way to get to a pathway would be through legislation, probably that would just be legislation that would specifically address CBD.”
Gottlieb made similar comments in response to questions from members of a House Appropriations subcommittee last month, where he announced that the agency would hold a public meeting in April to gather input from stakeholders on CBD regulation.
In the new comments, the commissioner also added that he felt the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would have to “formally de-schedule” hemp-derived CBD before moving forward with regulatory changes, in spite of the fact that the agriculture legislation shifted regulatory responsibility for the crop and its derivatives from the Justice Department to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I think the prevailing view is that the plain language of the statute [of the Farm Bill] intended for that, but I’m not sure that DEA has done that yet,” he said. “But that’s another step that would have to take place. DEA would have to formally de-schedule CBD derived from hemp.”
The desire for clarity around CBD’s legality post-Farm Bill passage has been widespread. For example, the U.S. Postal Service issued an advisory earlier this month spelling out rules for mailing hemp-derived CBD. Representatives from state agriculture departments also heard talk about “alternative approaches” to regulating the compound at a conference last month.
In his remarks at Brookings, Gottlieb announced that the CBD work group would be co-chaired by Amy Abernethy, FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, and Lowell Shiller, the agency’s acting associate commissioner for policy.
In the meantime, it is clear that lawmakers want FDA to move on the issue.
“Every meeting I go into on Capitol Hill, almost every meeting, I get asked about this,” Gottlieb said.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Brookings Institution.
Beto O’Rourke Says Prosecute Pharma Execs And Legalize Marijuana
The federal government should end the prohibition of marijuana and prosecute pharmaceutical executives who recklessly marketed addictive opioid painkillers, Beto O’Rourke argued at a rally in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate received enthusiastic applause in response to the pitch from the crowd in the early primary state, which has been hard hit by the opioid crisis.
“We’re going to acknowledge an incredibly warped system of justice in this country,” the former congressman said, singling out Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, over its products’ role in the addiction problem.
“The vast majority of those who are addicted today began with a legal prescription,” he said. “Those executives understood the addictive properties of what they sold and did not share that with the public, and not a single one of them has done a single day in jail.”
“Yet, we have the largest prison population on the face of the planet, disproportionately comprised of people of color, far too many there for possession of a substance that is legal in most states of this country, marijuana.”
Watch O’Rourke’s marijuana and drug policy comments, about 20:00 into the video below:
The candidate expanded on the unfairness, noting that rates of cannabis use are roughly the same for different races but “only some are more likely than others to be arrested, to serve time, to upon release be forced to check a box” rendering them ineligible for student loans and making it more difficult to secure employment.
“We need real criminal justice reform,” he said. “We need to end the prohibition of marijuana, expunge the arrest records for everyone arrested for possession of something that’s legal in so many other places, and make sure that we have a full prosecution and accountability for those who are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans in this country.”
"O’Rourke spoke about reforming the justice system, ending prohibition on marijuana charges, ensuring universal health care & making those implicated in the opioids crisis accountable. He received the biggest cheers for promising action on climate change" https://t.co/UCRvn5Ef2c
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) March 20, 2019
There were signs that drug reform would be a main feature of O’Rourke’s campaign in the weeks leading up to his announcement, and he’s quickly confirmed that suspicion on the trail. He sent out an email blast about marijuana reform before declaring his bid and he discussed ending cannabis prohibition on the day of his announcement.
But contrasting the unchecked malfeasance of the pharmaceutical industry with the aggressive enforcement of cannabis laws represents an evolution in O’Rourke’s messaging on the issue.
It’s not dissimilar to a talking point often heard at rallies for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who frequently talks about the injustice of failing to prosecute Wall Street executives for their role in the 2008 financial crisis while locking up individuals for non-violent marijuana offenses.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), another 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has also criticized the pharmaceutical industry for misleading prescribers about the risks of potent opioid painkillers while opposing marijuana reform.
“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,” she said, adding that she doesn’t see cannabis as a gateway to opioids. Rather, “the opioid industry and the drug companies that manufacture it, some of them in particular, are just trying to sell more drugs that addict patients and addict people across this country.”
She said last month that the U.S. criminal justice system “puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full.”
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Circa.