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GOP Leaders’ Bill Could Let Patients Use Medical Marijuana

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A Republican-backed bill working its way through Congress could have the unintended consequence of allowing seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana.

Under legislation set to be voted on by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, patients with terminal diseases would be able to access drugs that have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The proposal, known as the “Right to Try Act,” lays out certain criteria for what can be considered an “eligible investigational drug,” all of which marijuana appears to meet.

The proposal, known as the “Right to Try Act,” lays out certain criteria for what can be considered an “eligible investigational drug,” all of which marijuana appears to meet.

In order to qualify, a drug has to have completed a phase 1 clinical trial, be under active development and not yet have been approved or licensed for any legal use by the federal government. An eligible medicine also needs to be the subject of an active investigational new drug application and under investigation in a clinical trial intended to form the basis of a claim of effectiveness in support of approval or licensure by the FDA.

Thanks to research being funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), cannabis seems to fit the bill.

The organization, which began its quest for investigational new drug status for marijuana in 2010, is currently in the middle of Phase 2 clinical trials on the use of cannabis by military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The goal is to turn whole-plant marijuana into a legal, FDA-approved prescription medicine.

In the meantime, while the congressional bill appears to open the door to legal access to marijuana, only the most gravely ill patients would qualify.

To access cannabis, they would need to be in “a stage of a disease or condition in which there is reasonable likelihood that death will occur within a matter of months, or a disease or condition that would result in significant irreversible morbidity that is likely to lead to severely premature death.”

They would also need to have “exhausted approved treatment options” and not be eligible to otherwise participate in ongoing clinical trials on the drug because they don’t meet inclusion criteria or live within geographic proximity of where the study is taking place.

“Making medical marijuana available for terminally ill patients would certainly be a significant step forward for federal policy. If MAPS’s current Phase 2 clinical trial of marijuana for symptoms of PTSD in military veterans qualifies marijuana for use under the proposed Right to Try Act, then the trial will already have helped a lot of people,” Brad Burge, MAPS’s director of strategic communications, said in an interview. “Still, only making marijuana available for those on the verge of dying isn’t nearly enough, and the best thing the federal government can do for patients is to end the federal monopoly on marijuana for research currently being upheld by Jeff Sessions.”

Under longstanding U.S. policy, all marijuana used in scientific research is grown at a University of Mississippi farm licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Researchers have long complained that it is difficult to obtain cannabis from the government-sponsored lab and that the product is often of low quality. In 2016, the Obama administration moved to allow more cultivation facilities, but the Department of Justice under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reportedly blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration from acting on any of the license applications it has so far received.

Because the Right to Try bill is being brought forth on an expedited basis known as “suspension of the rules,” it needs support from two-thirds of House members present and voting, with a roll call expected to take place Tuesday evening. A similar bill was approved by the Senate last August.

If the House passes the legislation, the two chambers will work to reconcile the versions into a single proposal to be sent to President Trump, who pledged his support during his State of the Union address in January.

Republican and Democratic staffers for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over food and drug safety, did not respond to a request for comment.

State-based legislation that explicitly outlines a right to try cannabis for terminally ill patients has advanced this year in Utah and Missouri.

UPDATE: The bill fell just short of getting the necessary two-thirds support it needed to pass the House under suspension of the rules on Tuesday evening.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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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 serves as chairman of 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

More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization

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Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.

In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.

A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”

The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”

The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.

In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.

That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”

New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.

The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.

In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”

“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”

And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.

That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.

“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”

The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.

Support for Marijuana Legalization At Record High, New Survey Shows

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James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization

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Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.

On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.

“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.

“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”

While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.

“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”

“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”

See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:

In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.

“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.

He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.

“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.

Photo courtesy of FBI.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory

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About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.

Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).

That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.

Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios  of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.

CNMI Marijuana Legalization Bill by MarijuanaMoment on Scribd

One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)

Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.

“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”

“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”

So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.

“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”

That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.

“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”

Here’s what the bill would accomplish

  • Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
  • CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
  • Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.

U.S. Territories Could Legalize Marijuana Soon

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