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GOP Congressman Wants Trump To Help Legalize Medical Marijuana

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Rep. Matt Gaetz has been in Congress for less than a year, but the Florida Republican has already become one of the House’s foremost leaders working to reform federal marijuana policies. From pushing to protect state laws to advocating marijuana’s reclassification to pressuring the Justice Department on expanding studies into the drug’s medical benefits, Gaetz is pursuing cannabis reform on multiple fronts.

Just one problem: GOP leadership doesn’t seem especially interested in giving the issue a fair shake.

This year, Congressional Republicans have blocked numerous cannabis amendments from even being voted on, including ones to shield state laws from federal interference, to remove research roadblocks and even to allow military veterans increased access to medical marijuana.

Gaetz, who has been a sponsor or cosponsor of several of those measures, wants to turn up pressure on House leadership to get out of the way, and he thinks that advocacy effort could get a serious boost from none other than Donald Trump.

“We need presidential leadership,” Gaetz said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “President Trump made a commitment during the campaign to support medical marijuana, and we need the president to continue to be a force for good on this issue.”

Support for cannabis law reform is largely generational rather than partisan, the 35-year-old congressman argues.

“Many millennials voted for the president because they believed he was a new type of Republican on the marijuana issue,” he says. “The most dispositive factor in determining whether or not someone is likely to support cannabis reform is their age, not their party affiliation. It’s hard to find Republicans under the age of 40 that oppose medical marijuana research.”

Trump, 71, repeatedly pledged during the presidential election that he would respect state marijuana laws, going so far as to say he personally knows people who benefit from medical cannabis. But administration officials such as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime staunch legalization opponent, have sent concerning and at times conflicting signals about federal enforcement policy.

For now, it remains to be seen to what extent the president himself will step into the debate about marijuana, but Gaetz is continuing to press his fellow Republicans in Congress on the issue, with some signs of success.

In a hearing this month he got House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to pledge on the record to work to make marijuana research easier.

Scientists have long complained that cannabis’s current status under Schedule I — a category that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with no medical benefits —  creates unnecessary hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other drugs.

“Chairman Goodlatte has made a commitment that we will liberalize access to medical marijuana for research purposes in universities and in medical facilities,” Gaetz says. “It’s my view that that cannot occur in a world in which the federal government takes the position that cannabis has no medical value. So in my mind, Chairman Goodlatte has committed to remove cannabis from the list of Schedule I drugs.”

Goodlatte’s commitment came during a debate on an amendment that Gaetz filed which would have forced Sessions to study the benefits of medical marijuana for police officers. He ended up withdrawing the proposal and not forcing a vote per Goodlatte’s request and in service of pursuing broader opportunities to expand research in partnership with the chairman.

It was the second time in recent months that Gaetz pulled a marijuana amendment from consideration in the committee, and he was visibly frustrated during the hearing that Goodlatte’s staff hadn’t yet followed through on their boss’s prior commitment to work on cannabis legislation the first time he forced a committee debate on the issue this summer.

“That frustration continues to grow because as I sit here two weeks from that commitment, the Judiciary staff hasn’t produced the first word of legislative text to fulfill the chairman’s commitment,” Gaetz says of the most recent hearing.

Beyond the committee, the Florida Republican has taken the fight for marijuana reform to the floor, for example delivering a passionate speech earlier this month about how medical cannabis can help people with breast cancer.

Gaetz, who is the only GOP member of Congress to have previously authored a state medical marijuana law, says he gets his passion for working on the issue from families who are directly impacted.

As a member of Florida’s House of Representatives he introduced and successfully fought to enact a limited program that allows certain patients to access medicines derived from cannabidiol, a component of marijuana.

“In Florida I’ve made promises to families enduring very complicated medical situations that I would fight for them, and I don’t feel relieved of that commitment just because I’ve been elected to Congress,” Gaetz says. “Much of the work I’ve done in Florida to liberalize access to medical cannabis will be for naught if we don’t create broader research opportunities and a clinical environment in which cannabis treatments can be administered When you work together with families on legislation that’s helped them, helped their children, helped their parents and grandparents, you create bonds with people. And those bonds are enduring.”

Last November, Florida voters went a step further by enacting a comprehensive program that will allow patients to have access to a broader array of medical marijuana products. And polls in the state now show that majority support exists for even broader legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes, but Gaetz isn’t there yet.

“That’s not my role in the movement,” he says. “My role in the movement is to focus on medical access, research and the improvement of healthcare outcomes. I think that my efforts are best focused on those issues.”

When asked if he would support a legalization proposal as a voter if it appeared on the state’s ballot, he demurred, saying that “there are so many alternate causalities I would have to consider regarding, particularly, adolescent access.”

But when it comes to medical cannabis, Gaetz is a proud champion and wants to use his own experience as an example for other members of Congress who still think the issue is a political liability.

“Too many Republicans hear that support for cannabis reform creates primary vulnerability. I’m the best example of why that isn’t true,” he says. “I’m in a district that’s blood red. And in my primary election, a very substantial amount of money was spent litigating the cannabis reform issue against me and I leaned into it and I won overwhelmingly.”

“And so I want to use my own political experience as a source of comfort to other members in deep red districts. The day has long lapsed when anyone is going to lose an election anywhere in America among any segment of the electorate because they support medical marijuana. But bridging the perception and the reality on that political question is a really important step to move cannabis reform.”

And Gaetz is very optimistic about medical marijuana’s future.

“It is not a matter of if but when medical cannabis readily accessible to every American,” he says. “My hope is that we set up a truly clinical paradigm to give people confidence in the medicine they take. Right now, the barriers to research really limit our ability to have the best healthcare outcomes. That’s ludicrous.”

This piece was originally published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Congressman Matt Gaetz’s office.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Tell DEA To Let Researchers Study Marijuana From Dispensaries

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A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from the House and Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.

The letter, led by Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), cites feedback from federal health agencies, which have said that existing restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research. One problem in particular is that there’s only one federally authorized manufacturer of research-grade marijuana.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that it is in the process of approving additional manufacturers, it’s been more than three years since they first announced that applications for more growers would be accepted and, more recently, the agency said it would have to develop alternative rules to approve proposals that have been submitted.

“At the same time, the status quo does not address a barrier to research raised by both [the National Institutes of Health] and [the Food and Drug Administration],” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter. That barrier is a ban on researchers being able to obtain marijuana from dispensaries.

“Both agencies recommended that researchers should be able to obtain cannabis from state-legal sources,” the letter states.

Further, the lawmakers said that there are “problems in industry development of licensed drugs with data from products obtained from third-parties, such as the University of Mississippi.”

“In many states, cannabis law and regulations already provide for licensing of industrial manufacturing activities, and products are available for medical use in those states, but not for research leading to FDA licensure,” they wrote.

“There is a need for a greater diversity of cannabis products so that research on benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using. NIH and FDA have strongly recommended streamlining the process for conducting research and product development activities with cannabis and other Schedule I substances, and that the DEA take action to assure that interpretations of processes and policies are universally applied in local DEA jurisdictions.”

The lack of chemical diversity in the federal government’s cannabis supply has been repeatedly pointed out. One study found that the research-grade cannabis is more similar to hemp than marijuana in commercial markets.

To resolve the research issues, the coalition made two recommendations: 1) to amend internal policy “so as to allow researchers with Schedule I licenses to obtain cannabis-derived products from state authorized dispensaries for research purposes” and 2) issue guidance clarifying that hemp researchers do not need a DEA license to obtain and study hemp because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The letter requests a response from DEA by December 20.

A total of 21 members of Congress signed the letter, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA) Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Joe Kennedy (D-MA).

“Our nation’s cannabis research laws are archaic,” Rouda said in a press release. “Forty-seven states have legalized some form of cannabis consumption—we must ensure our federal agencies and other licensed institutions can comprehensively study the benefits and risks of cannabis products.”

“I thank Senator Schatz, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, for joining me to make this common-sense request,” he said. “It’s time to bring our drug research policies into the 21st century.”

Attorney General William Barr received a similar letter from lawmakers about the need to expand the number of federally authorized marijuana cultivators in April.

Read the lawmakers’ full letter on expanding marijuana research below:

FINAL Letter to DOJ Re. Can… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

People Are Skipping Sleep Aids In Favor of Marijuana, Study Reports

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Oregon Activists Begin Signature Gathering For 2020 Drug Decriminalization Initiative

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Oregon activists have begun collecting signatures for a statewide initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs.

Three months after petitioners quietly submitted the proposed ballot measure—titled the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” (DATRA)—the signature gathering process has started, with organizers deployed to Portland to raise support.

A long road lies before the activists, who need to collect 112,020 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify for the 2020 ballot. Funding and polling will decide whether they mount a full push for the decriminalization measure in the months to come.

To that end, their efforts are being helped by David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, who told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he will be investing $250,000 in the decriminalization campaign. An additional $500,000 will go to a separate Oregon initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which backed Oregon’s successful marijuana legalization initiative in 2014, is also supporting this new effort to make low-level drug possession an infraction punishable by a $100 fine with no jail time, rather than a misdemeanor. It remains to be seen how involved in the campaign DPA will be, however.

Peter Zuckerman, a chief petitioner for the decriminalization initiative, told OregonLive on Thursday that it’s not guaranteed that the campaign will proceed and that much rides on how much money the group can raise, whether there’s public support for the reform move and how staff recruitment comes together.

He said the main thrust of the measure is to take a “health-based approach to drug addiction rather than a criminal justice-based approach.”

The proposal caught the attention of Oregon’s teachers’ union, which said that it supports decriminalizing drug possession but wrote in a comment submitted to the secretary of state in October that it was not taking an official position because it’s concerned about another provision that would shift cannabis tax revenue away from schools.

DATRA would make it so most of that revenue would be used to fund addiction treatment programs.

At the same time that activists are collecting signatures and weighing whether to move ahead with the broad decriminalization initiative, another advocacy group is pushing for a measure to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, allowing individuals to receive treatment with the psychedelic fungus at licensed health facilities. The group launched its signature drive in September.

Advocates in Portland are also hoping to advance a local measure to decriminalize psilocybin and other psychedelics such as ayahuasca and ibogaine.

Bronner wrote in a blog post that the decriminalization and therapeutic psilocybin legalization campaigns are “already coordinating closely and conserving resources on the statewide signature drive.”

He told Marijuana Moment that “we see this as the perfect one two punch in Oregon, legalizing psilocybin therapy that has so much promise for treating drug addiction, at the same time Oregon shifts to a treatment not jail approach.”

“And 100 percent confident it’s coming together,” he said.

All of this comes amid a national movement to decriminalize psychedelics, with activists in almost 100 cities across the U.S. considering pushing for reduced penalties for substances such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. Decriminalize Nature, which is aiding in and tracking these efforts, is also receiving donations from Bronner, he said.

Decriminalization is also gaining traction on the national stage, with two presidential candidates—South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—voicing support for the policy change. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, another candidate, recently said that he’s open to broad decriminalization, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang backs decriminalizing opioids.

Scientist Talks Benefits Of Psychedelics At Federal Health Agency Event

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.
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North Dakota Activists Submit Measure To Legalize Marijuana In 2020

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North Dakota activists submitted a measure to legalize marijuana for adult use to state officials on Thursday, an organizer confirmed to Marijuana Moment.

Legalize ND, the group behind the proposed statutory initiative, delivered the measure to the secretary of state’s office. It’s expected to be validated within days, after which point petitions will be distributed to collect signatures in support of qualifying for the 2020 ballot.

It’s been about a year since organizers began working on the measure, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis for personal use. The proposal is more narrowly tailored than a legalization initiative from the same organization that voters rejected in 2018, however.

The previous version didn’t include any restrictions on cultivation or possession, and it didn’t involve a licensing scheme. By contrast, the new measure would prohibit home cultivation, limit possession to two ounces, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

“One of the largest complaints from last time was the mantra of ‘poorly written,'” Legalize ND’s David Owen told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “They targeted the lack of legal experience from our team and they targeted a lack of ‘qualified lawyers’ to be drafting language that would go into the state’s statutory law.”

But he said he’s confident the campaign will be successful this time around, in part because they spent months drafting the language with the North Dakota Legislative Council.

Asked what he’d say to voters still on the fence about legalization, Owen replied that it would depend on what their initial concerns were:

“If it’s a concern over home grow, well it’s simple, we don’t have that anymore. If it’s a concern of people having too much, we have a reasonable possession limit now—in their eyes, I still think possession limits are fundamentally arbitrary, but they wanted a possession limit so we have that now. If people go, ‘well what about the quality of the language?’ I can point to how it’s literally written by Legislative Council, so either every attorney who works for the state of North Dakota is incompetent or this is well written.”

In order to qualify for next year’s ballot, the group must collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6, 2020.

“I think the most important thing isn’t what it would do, but what it would stop from happening,” Owen told local radio station KFGO on Wednesday. “We currently have a system where people are unable to find a job because of a criminal record, we have a system where people are continuing to get marijuana charges and lose their housing, we have families being separated because of parents losing custody over their children for marijuana charges. That all stops when this is legalized.”

Listen to Owen’s radio interview about the new marijuana ballot measure below:

Internal polling that received outside funding, which Owen said cannot be publicly released because of the wishes of the donor, shows the initiative is “slightly ahead” among voters.

In an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment in February, Owen said that it’s “very probable that we can do it” this time around, but much of that depended on the extent to which opposition campaigns are involved and how much funding outside groups are able to offer.

Currently, North Dakota has a medical cannabis program, and the governor signed legislation in May decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession.

Marijuana Summit Will Give Virginia Governor ‘More Tools’ To Back Legalization, Attorney General Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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.
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