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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.

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 20-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

GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago

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A U.S. senator appears to be taking a hit at the governor of his home state over a disagreement on hemp legalization, and he’s using a decades-old picture of his own father growing the crop to do it.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) shared a photo on Facebook last month showing his dad harvesting the crop in South Dakota about 80 years ago. While it might seem benign, some political observers believe the post was a subtle dig at Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who vetoed legislation earlier this year to re-legalize industrial hemp in the state.

The senator referenced the picture during a telephone town hall event, where he was asked about the potential of hemp in the textile industry. Rounds said the plant was used to make ropes for the Navy during World War II.

“It’s of my dad (Grandpa Don, left) as a young boy working in a South Dakota hemp field,” he wrote of the photo. “We believe it was taken sometime in the late 1930s/early 1940s.”

The implication seems to be that the crop has a long history in South Dakota and that generations have relied on it prior for its federal prohibition. But even after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, Noem has maintained that it should remain criminalized under state law.

The Argus Leader first connected the Facebook post with Noem’s hemp opposition.

Marijuana Moment reached out to Rounds’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.

In March, the governor rejected legislation that arrived on her desk to legalize industrial hemp, arguing that the reform move would pave the path toward legalization of adult-use marijuana. The Senate didn’t have enough support to override the veto.

Lawmakers have said they plan to introduce similar legislation next year, but Noem pledged in September to veto it again.

As far as Rounds is concerned, South Dakota should be allowed to experiment with industrial hemp. He told the Sioux City Journal last month that “I personally don’t see a problem with at least trying it” and he voted in favor of the Farm Bill last year.

Despite Noem’s opposition to the non-intoxicating form of cannabis, activists in the state are moving ahead with efforts to more broadly legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Signatures on two reform initiatives were submitted to the secretary of state last month and, once verified, the issues are expected to be decided by voters during next year’s election.

Both measures are being backed by national advocacy groups, and the adult-use legalization proposal is being sponsored by a former federal prosecutor.

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

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Killer Mike Credits Bernie Sanders For Inspiring Marijuana Legalization Movement

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Rapper Killer Mike says that the national push to reform marijuana laws in recent years can be largely attributed to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sanders, who became the first major presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization during his 2016 run, has continued to raise the issue as he campaigns for the 2020 Democratic nomination. In the years since he first proposed the policy change, numerous states have pursued reform and pro-legalization stances are increasingly commonplace, especially among Democratic lawmakers.

“Marijuana decriminalization was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” Killer Mike said in an interview on MSNBC on Sunday. “Yet within four years, I’ve seen a nationwide push for it, in big part to his campaign.”

Watch Killer Mike’s marijuana comments, starting around 1:25 into the video below: 

“How does that affect me as the father of a 17-year-old boy? If my son gets caught with marijuana, it could ruin his life for the rest of his life,” he said. “Now we have an environment where he literally will get scolded as a child and get a chance to be a fruitful adult without a felony on his record. I think that that resonates in our community.”

The rapper, who serves as a surrogate on Sanders’s campaign, also talked about the economic potential of legalization and the importance of social equity policies during a town hall event with the candidate in North Carolina in September.

“We have an opportunity this time to take the people that are exiting jail, have expunged records and creating a pathway as wide as this aisle directly to legal marijuana and creating economic sustainability in the same communities that were robbed of that opportunity,” he said at the time.

It’s not just Sanders who deserves credit for contributing to the cannabis reform movement, Killer Mike said at a panel on free speech in June. Rap artists have also played a key role, featuring the plant in music stretching back decades.

“We know that with national decriminalization of marijuana now, a lot of people are going to get credit for it—a lot of activists, a lot of workers,” he said. “But I can show you a line that leads straight back to Cyprus Hill, that leads straight back to Snoop Dogg, that leads straight back to people like Rick James.”

Some of the most impactful work that rappers have produced are songs inspired by social issues like the drug war, he and several other artists argued in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court earlier this year in defense of a rapper who was convicted for threatening Pittsburgh police officers in a song.

AOC Says She’ll Introduce More Psychedelics Legislation In Congress

Photo courtesy of MSNBC.

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Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

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A top Vermont health official is endorsing the legalization of recreational marijuana sales.

During a radio interview on Monday, Cynthia Seivwright, director of the state Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, said that regulating cannabis commerce in the state would better protect public health than current policy does.

Monday’s discussion on WDEV’s Dave Gram Show included the relationship between marijuana-related health consequences and the state’s failure to regulate cannabis after lawmakers there became the nation’s first to legalize marijuana by an act of legislators in January 2018. Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed the bill, which allows low-level possession and home cultivation but continues to prohibit sales, later that month.

“Without the regulation, we don’t know what’s in it,” Seivwright said when asked whether a regulatory model that is similar to that for alcohol makes sense for cannabis. “We can’t control the potency of it. We can’t control the access, and we definitely don’t want children and adolescents to have access to it.”

“Even regulating how it’s tested,” she said, “should be done by an independent lab. Even the packaging. How do we regulate the packaging so that it isn’t desirable for children, to look like candy if it’s going to be edible? We at the Health Department support a regulated system.”

Listen to Seivwright’s marijuana legalization comments at about 1:07:00 into the audio below: 

The Department of Health’s support—a first for the state agency—was welcomed by Dave Silberman, an attorney and pro bono drug policy reform advocate from Middlebury.

“Vermonters of all political stripes are eager to enact a strong regulatory system that puts consumer safety at the forefront, and generates significant revenues for the Department’s broader addiction prevention and treatment efforts,” he told Marijuana Moment. “Rather than burying their heads in the sand and wishing for a drug-free America, the Department seems to finally be taking a facts-based approach to cannabis, rooted in harm reduction instead of stigma. That is a very good thing.”

Seivwright’s support also comes on the heels of renewed attention to the question of regulating marijuana commerce among Vermont legislators. In January, the state Senate approved a cannabis sales legalization bill. But as the legislative session came to a close in the spring, it became clear that the legislation would not reach the House floor for a vote despite having advanced at the committee level.

Although other Democratic leaders have insisted that a marijuana marketplace legalization bill will advance in 2020, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D) said there is no guarantee, VT Digger reports.

In particular, Johnson noted that if the bill is to see a floor consideration in the new year, it will need the 76 votes required for passage in the House—indicating that she doesn’t intend to put any muscle into rounding up the support needed to pass it. Concerns such as roadside safety, youth usage and the marijuana production’s impact on the environment must also be addressed, she said.

The speaker’s stance is in contrast to the Vermont Democratic Party, which adopted support for a legal marijuana marketplace as part of its platform last year.

And last year, when the legal marijuana marketplace bill failed to reach the House floor for a vote, Majority Leader Jill Krowinski (D) reaffirmed her party’s commitment to the legislation’s eventual passage, promising that lawmakers would “finish it early” in 2020.

Over the weekend, Krowinski doubled down on her prediction that the House will vote on the legislation in the upcoming session.

“A version of that will get to the floor,” Krowinski said, according to VT Digger.

Lawmakers File Resolution Demanding Congress Apologize For The Racist War On Drugs

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

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