Maine’s Education Department announced this month that it is no longer eligible for certain federal funds to support mental health programs in schools because the state allows students to access medical marijuana.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) quietly rolled out a new policy last year barring individuals and organizations from receiving grants if they’re used directly or indirectly to provide for cannabis treatment. It also stipulated that its federal dollars can’t go to institutions that provide or permit “marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders.”
In other words, when it comes to the already-approved $3.3 million worth of school grants at play in Maine, the federal agency determined that it is so concerned about permitting the use of medical marijuana by a relatively small number of students that it is threatening to undermine school education programs that are specifically meant to support mental health and substance misuse prevention programs for all students.
Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin said in a letter to Superintendent Deb Alden on May 6 that the state is ineligible for continued funding “because of our state’s medical marijuana law, which requires schools to allow students who have written certification from their medical provider indicating their need for medical marijuana to receive such treatment while at school.” The Sun Journal first reported the letter.
“SAMHSA has a new requirement starting in Year 3 requiring recipients of Aware grants to guarantee that funding will not be provided to organizations who permit the use of marijuana for the treatment of mental illness or of substance use disorder,” the commissioner wrote. “Maine schools have a statutory obligation to permit such use if a student holds a written certificate that requires it.”
Past year applications for SAMHSA’s Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) grant program didn’t include language stating that state-legal cannabis policies could disqualify organizations from receiving the funds. For the fiscal year 2020 application, however, the agency said the following:
“SAMHSA grant funds may not be used to: Directly or indirectly, purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana. Treatment in this context includes the treatment of opioid use disorder. Grant funds also cannot be provided to any individual who or organization that provides or permits marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders.”
It’s not clear whether SAMHSA proactively reached out to applicants or past recipients in states with laws allowing medical cannabis at schools to flag the policy change or if Maine officials determined they were ineligible independently based on a reading of the revised form. Representatives from SAMHSA and the Maine Department of Education were not able to immediately respond to questions raised by Marijuana Moment.
“Medical marijuana is a prescribed medicine for many Mainers, and Maine residents have the right to access the medicines that are prescribed by licensed medical professionals,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) told Marijuana Moment. “By denying Maine the continuation of a significant mental health programming grant, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has undermined Maine schools’ ability to provide support services for their students.”
“During this stressful time, letting ideological views degrade mental health resources will harm young people in Maine,” she said.
Maine’s medical marijuana law allows individuals to obtain a cannabis recommendation for any condition that a physician deems fit. It also protects students from being denied attendance at schools solely because they possess a medical marijuana card, and schools must provide reasonable on-campus accommodations for students to use non-smokable cannabis for their conditions.
“Because of these provisions in Maine law, we are ineligible for participation in the AWARE grant program after September 30th, 2020,” Makin said. “I am very sorry to share this news with you, and deeply appreciate your advocacy on behalf of your students.”
Maine isn’t the only state with such at-school medical marijuana policies on the books, however. According to Americans for Safe Access, 12 states and Washington, D.C. allow students to access medical cannabis in schools.
It stands to reason that schools in states such as Illinois, Colorado and New Jersey, for example—which provide such reasonable accommodations for students with cannabis recommendations to possess and consume non-smokable forms of marijuana—could also miss out on federal grant funds.
In Florida and Washington State, the decision about whether to permit such activity on school grounds is up to the district, so eligibility for the SAMHSA program may be different across districts.
In November 2019, SAMHSA announced that that its marijuana policy change will also impact organizations applying for its two main opioid treatment program and another that provides funding to combat alcoholism and substance misuse. The Illinois Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority said the rule meant it would not be eligible for certain grants.
A search of SAMHSA’s website shows that the prohibition also applies to other grant programs administered by the agency.
Read the letter from Maine’s education commissioner below:
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Arizona Governor Slams Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure In Voter Pamphlet Argument
Ahead of what’s shaping up to be a contentious campaign season around marijuana in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and other opponents are claiming that legalization would unleash a host of public health hazards on the state.
In an official voter guide argument published on Monday against a proposed initiative that’s likely to be on the November ballot, the governor called legalizing cannabis “a bad idea based on false promises.”
“We know from states that have fully legalized marijuana that it has real consequences: more deaths on highways caused by high drivers, dramatic increases in teen drug use, and more newborns exposed to marijuana,” Ducey claimed in his comments.
It’s not yet certain whether the legalization proposal, from Smart and Safe Arizona, will make it to the ballot. County officials have until August 7 to validate hundreds of thousands of signatures submitted by activists last month. But on Monday afternoon, the Arizona secretary of state’s office published arguments submitted both for and against the measure, including a handful from elected officials.
The arguments, which will be printed and mailed to registered voters, give a taste of what’s to come during the mounting fight over legalization in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
As with politics in general in 2020, expect considerable disagreement over basic facts. For instance, Ducey’s argument that cannabis legalization has led to “dramatic increases in teen drug use” seems at odds with available evidence. Even according to legalization opponents, such as the federal government’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, teen use rates have actually gone down since the end of prohibition for adults.
In a presentation last month to North Dakota lawmakers, who themselves are considering whether to legalize marijuana, the Colorado-based deputy coordinator of the federal National Marijuana Initiative acknowledged that data from government drug use surveys show that Colorado saw a general decline in the number of teens using marijuana after the state enacted legalization.
Another of Ducey’s claims, that Colorado has a particularly high rate of teen cannabis use compared to other states, is true. But his submission fails to mention that was also true during the years before legalization.
Ducey wasn’t the only official to argue that legalization would increase teen consumption in the new official ballot arguments pamphlet. State Sen. Sine Kerr (R) wrote that she was “deeply saddened by the prospect of how this initiative would harm children.”
“Kids would become easy prey for an industry hungry to create a new generation of users,” Kerr argued, noting that legal products would include vape pens and edible products such as gummies, cookies and candy, which she implied would appeal to children. (Gummy bears would be banned due to a provision forbidding animal-shaped products.)
“The industry will succeed in hooking too many of our kids and stealing their potential early,” she wrote.
Other common arguments against the proposal centered on the increased risk of impaired driving, fears of unbridled advertising by the commercial cannabis industry and economic impacts resulting from unmotivated employees or worker impairment.
“In Arizona, positive marijuana workplace tests have nearly tripled over the past eight years since legalization of medical marijuana,” wrote Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, an outspoken cannabis opponent. “Workplaces with higher rates of drug use have employees that are less productive, suffer higher absenteeism, and have more accidents.”
Polk, whose office prosecutes cannabis cases, also downplayed the impact that legalization would have on the criminal justice system.
“As for their argument that legalizing recreational pot will empty our prisons? Not a single state has seen a reduction in prison population because of legalization,” she argued. “This is because, contrary to the myth, our prisons are not filled with people serving time for marijuana possession.”
Legalization supporters, however, point to Polk’s own office as a reason to reform marijuana laws. In recent years, Polk famously filed felony charges against a black medical cannabis patient for possessing a small amount of marijuana concentrate purchased legally from a dispensary. Critics accused Polk’s office of exhibiting racial bias in the case.
Advocates for the proposed legalization measure, meanwhile, said in ballot arguments that the initiative takes a relatively measured, sensible approach by taxing and regulating marijuana rather than handling it as a criminal matter.
“The war on drugs failed,” wrote Chad Campbell, chair of Smart and Safe Arizona, the organization behind the proposed ballot measure. “Marijuana is safest when it’s sold in a taxed, tested and regulated environment—not on a street corner.”
The campaign says legalization will also bring in at least $300 million in tax revenue that can be used to support things like education, public health, infrastructure and safety. Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana would go up under the proposal, and millions of dollars in funding would be funneled toward drug treatment and mental health programs.
As for youth use, organizers argue, “we know a well-regulated, licensed, legal environment is the best way to keep marijuana out of the hands of children—period. We set the legal age at 21, limited potency, required childproofed packaging, required products to be unattractive to kids and forbade advertising to youth.”
The state’s voters narrowly defeated a legalization measure in 2016, but a poll released last month indicates the current initiative is on the path to being approved. The survey found that more than 6 in 10 Arizona voters saying they support legalizing marijuana.
Another supporter, former Gov. Fife Symington (R), who served from 1991 to 1997, wrote in his argument that voters “must constantly re-evaluate our policies in the face of new evidence.”
“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he said. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the rights of adults to choose to consume marijuana while taxing and regulating its production and sale.”
The proposal imposes significant penalties for selling marijuana products to minors, Symington wrote, allows law enforcement to target drivers who demonstrate impairment and allows employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.
“Finally, and perhaps more importantly,” he wrote, “it frees up law enforcement to deal with more serious issues that actually jeopardize public safety.”
Perhaps the most balanced ballot argument submitted over the measure came from Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, who said the proposition “poses public health risks and benefits.” Humble‘s statement, which identifies what he said are both risks and benefits of legalization, is printed twice—once alongside ballot arguments against legalization, and again next to arguments in support of it.
One one hand, Humble argued, ending felony charges for cannabis possession would reduce mental, physical and economic impacts for individuals and families. “Incarceration and felony convictions for marijuana offenses have multigenerational social, economic, and health impacts that have been disproportionately thrust on communities of color,” Humble wrote, “because they are more likely to be arrested for and convicted of marijuana offenses.”
Humble noted the measure also includes provisions to regulate and test cannabis products, support evidence-based public health programs and prevent sales to minors—although he acknowledged those efforts won’t eliminate all risks, which he said include “impaired neurological development from use in adolescence, increased visits to emergency rooms from marijuana intoxication or accidental ingestion by children, adverse birth outcomes from maternal use, and injuries caused by impaired driving or workplace use.”
Humble argued that if voters choose to pass the measure, regulators should be prepared to take the new legal sector seriously.
“If the Act passes,” he wrote, “we urge the state to use its full regulatory authority to enforce purchasing age-limits, packaging and potency standards, regulate advertising and place of use restrictions, enact workplace use policy requirements, and solidify motor vehicle operation restrictions and penalties. Arizona officials should also partner with state universities to analyze and publish data on its public health impacts.”
Read the arguments for and against the Arizona legal marijuana measure below:
McConnell Slams Pelosi Over Claim Marijuana Is A ‘Proven’ Therapy Amid Coronavirus Debate
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took a shot at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday, criticizing recent comments she made defending marijuana provisions that were included in her chamber’s latest coronavirus relief legislation.
The majority leader, who has consistently railed against the inclusion of cannabis banking protections in the House COVID-19 bill, said on the Senate floor that Pelosi is “still agitating for strange, new special interest carve-outs for the marijuana industry and even claiming they are COVID-related.”
“She said that, with respect to this virus, marijuana is ‘a therapy that has proven successful.’ You can’t make this up,” he said.
“I hope she shares her breakthrough with Dr. Fauci,” McConnell wryly added, referring to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who has been helping to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
McConnell is referring to remarks Pelosi made last week after she was asked about components of the House Democrats’ bill that Republicans have criticized as not germane, including specifically the marijuana language.
The speaker said she took issue with the suggestion that cannabis banking reform was not relevant amid the pandemic and said marijuana “is a therapy that has proven successful.” Prohibitionists have seized on that comment, interpreting it to mean that Pelosi believes cannabis can treat COVID-19.
Speaker Pelosi is still holding up this entire package over bizarre unrelated things like carveouts for the marijuana industry. She even claimed to the press that pot is a proven COVID-19 therapy!
I hope she’s shared this breakthrough with Dr. Fauci.
Can we get serious yet? https://t.co/CksSWrMKDN
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) August 4, 2020
That said, it wasn’t clear from the brief comment whether that was the case or if Pelosi was broadly referring to the therapeutic benefits of marijuana.
The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.
Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.
Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation last week, and it does not include the cannabis provisions. And given McConnell’s particular focus on those components, it seems likely that any attempt to get the language inserted in a bicameral conference will be met with resistance on the Senate side.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also recently slammed Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments on Twitter, saying “let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot.”
Meanwhile, the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.
Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.
McConnell’s latest comments also come a week after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Top House Democrat Talks Marijuana Reform With Major Cannabis Company
A top House Democrat said during a recent interview with a major marijuana company that small farmers could benefit from growing cannabis to offset losses in the tobacco industry, and he argued that Democrats view decriminalization as a priority in policing reform discussions.
Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) joined Canopy Growth’s David Culver for a new series the company launched called “Under The Canopy” last week, and the pair discussed a wide range of marijuana issues. Notably, the former chair and current member of the Congressional Black Caucus said the group considers decriminalizing cannabis “a big, big issue” in the context of policing reform.
“Most of this is generational like anything else, but it carries the day. Decriminalization carries the day in the caucus,” he said. ” I think that when you look at demilitarization…I think these issues are majority issues with the Congressional Black Caucus, and I think it’s also the same with our House Democratic Caucus.”
Advocates had hoped that House leaders would have heeded the calls of various lawmakers calling for marijuana reform as part of their last policing bill, but that did not ultimately materialize.
Clyburn, the third-highest-ranking House Democrat, added that he’s been nudged on marijuana reform repeatedly by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), whose amendment to protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention passed on the House floor last week. The whip was among the 267 members who voted in favor of that measure.
“You cannot have a bigger advocate than Earl Blumenauer. Blumenauer beats up on me almost every day with that,” Clyburn, who is a cosponsor of a bill to federally legalize cannabis, said. “I keep telling him, ‘Blumenauer, I’m with it. Go beat up on somebody else.'”
Later in the interview, Culver talked about the economic opportunities that cannabis reform could mean for farmers in South Carolina and other states. Clyburn replied that he’s “very interested in what you’re doing and what we can do to make you more effective and what you can do for us to make life a little bit easier for some of my constituents.”
Representative @WhipClyburn knows that the cannabis industry is here to stay, offering numerous economic and health benefits to the U.S.
— Canopy Growth (@CanopyGrowth) August 3, 2020
“I want to see small businesses coming out of this pandemic that was only dreamed about before,” he said.
“A lot of people used to grow tobacco, grow cotton, they’re now out of businesses,” the congressman continued. “There was a time you could make a real good living with 25-30 acres of tobacco. You can’t do that today.”
Just as solar farms have helped replace those crops, Clyburn said it’s the “same thing with growing [cannabis] products that you need in order to stay in business. Some of these small farmers, small landowners, need to be involved in some of your efforts.”
At the beginning of the interview, Canopy’s Culver and the congressman discussed their shared appreciation for Jack Daniel’s whiskey and Diet Coke. But by the end, the marijuana executive floated the idea of meeting in-person down the line and having “some cannabis and coke.”
“I don’t know about joining you in that, but thank you so much,” Clyburn said, laughing.
The top Democrat in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), also recently weighed in on marijuana policy, defending the chamber’s inclusion of cannabis banking protections in a coronavirus relief package and asserting that the plant’s therapeutic benefits are “proven.”
Sources told Marijuana Moment recently that House leaders plan to hold a floor vote next month on legislation to federally legalize cannabis.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.