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Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue

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Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.

While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”

That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”

Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.

It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.

“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”

One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.

“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”

Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”

That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.

“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”

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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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Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.

While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.

Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”

“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”

“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”

One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.

Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.

In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.

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Mike Bloomberg Attacks Marijuana Legalization In Controversial Resurfaced Recording

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Before Mike Bloomberg launched his 2020 Democratic presidential bid, he really wasn’t shy about his disdain for marijuana legalization.

The former New York City mayor has been widely criticized this week after a recording surfaced of him defending controversial stop-and-frisk practices and racially disparate marijuana arrests during a 2015 Aspen Institute speech. But while that short clip went viral on social media, the full audio recording from the event also features Bloomberg condemning cannabis legalization efforts at length.

Asked by an audience member about his thoughts on Colorado’s decision to end marijuana prohibition, Bloomberg said, “I think it is just a terrible, terrible idea.”

Some of the remarks from the talk were previously reported by The Aspen Times, such as when Bloomberg asserted that marijuana use is associated with reduced IQ among young people—something President Trump also said in a recently revealed secret recording.

“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” Bloomberg told the Aspen audience. “Kids’ brains are being formed while they are teenagers.

But much of his anti-cannabis commentary from the talk has not been reported until now.

“If you’re my age, of course you smoked a joint in the 60s—but it was very different and just because we did doesn’t make it right,” the former mayor, who has previously acknowledged his own past marijuana consumption, said. “It was not easily accessible compared to today. Today it’s much stronger and potentially much more damaging.”

Listen to Bloomberg’s anti-marijuana remarks below: 

“We are making progress in reducing smoking. We are making progress in reducing obesity and diabetes. We are making progress in reducing automobile deaths and a variety of other things,” he said. But cannabis reform is going in “exactly in the other direction.”

Bloomberg also disparaged the idea that a regulated market can prevent youth from accessing cannabis, stating that “even if you have a law that says we’re not going to sell it to them, let’s get serious: if there’s more of it around, they’re going to get it.”

“I just can’t imagine why society is doing this,” he said. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”

Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the newly revealed remarks show just how much work Bloomberg has ahead of him if he intends to reform his image as a tough-on-crime, anti-cannabis candidate.

“Bloomberg and his wealthy friends may be able to sit around and joke about how he was able to smoke a joint in the 60’s and be just fine, but that is cold comfort to the over 440,000 Americans who were put in handcuffs for marijuana possession in New York City during his tenure as mayor,” Altieri said. “He is painfully ignorant and out of touch with sound public policy and basic scientific facts.”

“If he expects voters to treat him as anything other than an awful relic of a bygone drug war era he needs to correct himself on marijuana law reform issues immediately and somehow attempt to make amends for the countless lives he had a role in ruining,” he said. “Unfortunately, given the number of other candidates vying for the presidency who are leaps and bounds ahead of him on this, that still might be too little too late for his self-funded presidential aspirations.”

Bloomberg has been sharply rebuked this week over a different clip from the same 2015 recording where he defended the use of stop-and-frisk policing that disproportionately impacted communities of color.

An “unintended consequence” of targeting policing in those communities, he said, is that “people say, ‘oh my god, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’”

“Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” he said. “Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”

Bloomberg has taken steps since launching his campaign to pivot away from his reputation as anti-reform, voicing support for decriminalizing cannabis possession and allowing states to set their own policies.

But he continues to oppose cannabis legalization, and his past comments haven’t been forgotten. A Denver-based reporter brought up the candidate’s 2019 statement that legalization is  “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done” and asked whether that meant he felt Colorado voters were stupid for approving the policy change.

“Colorado has a right to do what they want to do,” he replied. “I would advise going slowly to any other state because it’s not clear, doctors aren’t sure whether or not it’s doing damage. But if a state wants to do it, and Colorado and Washington were the first two that did it, that’s up to the state.”

“But what I really object to is putting people in jail for marijuana,” he added. “That’s really dumb.”

Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden are the only two Democratic candidates in the 2020 race who oppose federally legalizing cannabis.

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Bipartisan Lawmakers Ask Colleagues To Cosponsor Medical Marijuana Research Bill For Veterans

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A bipartisan duo of lawmakers sent a letter to fellow members of the House this week, asking for additional cosponsors on a bill to promote research into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans.

Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Clay Higgins (R-LA) cited a survey from the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) that showed 83 percent of its members support medical cannabis legalization and 90 percent are in favor of researching medical marijuana.

“Therefore, medical research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis usage for medical purposes is timely, necessary, and widely supported by the veteran community,” the lawmakers, who are the sponsors of the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act, wrote in the Wednesday letter.

That legislation currently has 102 cosponsors—representing nearly one-forth of the House’s membership. It would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct double-blind clinical trials on the safety and effectiveness of various forms of marijuana in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

“Congress made great progress in reforming our cannabis laws in 2019, proving that Americans are ready for change. Veterans deserve to be a part of this change and have their medical needs taken seriously by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Correa told Marijuana Moment. “My bill puts veterans’ health front and center. With over 100 bipartisan co-sponsors, it’s time to move the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act and take care of our vets.”

After the bill’s introduction last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee On Health and the full panel held hearings on the issue, but it has not received a vote yet. During the subcommittee meeting, VA officials voiced opposition to the proposal, arguing that the scope of its research requirements is too large.

“As many veterans are currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes, it is important that clinicians be able to fully advise veterans on the potential impacts, harms, and benefits of cannabis use on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain,” the letter from Correa and Higgins states.

The bill would also “authorize a long-term observation study of participating veterans,” require the VA to “preserve all data collected or used and require the department to submit reports on the implementation of the legislation annually for five years.

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Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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