Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) dismissed criticism of her record as a prosecutor who jailed marijuana offenders and later joked about her own cannabis consumption on Wednesday, refusing to respond to an attack that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) laid during the Democratic presidential debate.
During a post-debate interview on CNN, host Anderson Cooper played a clip of Gabbard saying she’s “deeply concerned about this record,” referring to Harris’s time as California’s attorney general.
“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said, drawing applause.
(PolitiFact said it couldn’t immediately verify the number of cannabis cases tried while Harris was attorney general but noted that she would not have been the one to personally prosecute those individuals, with lower-level state attorneys instead handling the cases.)
Rather than directly address the criticism, Harris said after the debate that she wasn’t surprised by the attack and that she doesn’t take her opponent’s opinion seriously for unrelated reasons.
“This is going to sound immodest, but I’m obviously a top tier candidate and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits tonight because there are a lot of people that are trying to make the stage for the next debate,” Harris said. “Especially when people are at zero or one percent or whatever she might be at. I did expect that I might take hits tonight.”
Then she said that Gabbard is an “apologist for [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches.”
“She who has embraced him, been an apologist for him in a way that she refuses to call him a war criminal. I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously,” the California senator said.
“And so I’m prepared to move on,” she said, without adding a single word of substantive response to the congresswoman’s criticism of her cannabis record.
Ian Sams, national press secretary for Harris’s campaign, previewed his boss’s take with a tweet during the debate, writing, simply, “Yo, you love Assad!”
Yo, you love Assad!#DemDebate
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) August 1, 2019
But while Gabbard’s views on Assad have been a source of controversy, the concerns she raised about Harris’s record aren’t unique to her. Drug reform advocates have similarly questioned Harris, who has only recently embraced comprehensive cannabis legalization after actively opposing efforts to legalize marijuana in her state.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), another Democratic candidate, has also raised a similar point about the lighthearted manner in which Harris discussed her past marijuana use.
“We have presidential candidates and congresspeople and senators that now talk about their marijuana use almost as if it’s funny,” Booker said in March shortly after Harris talked about smoking cannabis in college in an interview. “But meanwhile, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined.”
Several Republican party operatives rallied behind Gabbard’s criticism, signaling that they believe a longtime anti-marijuana record is a liability for Harris should she become her party’s nominee.
Kamala Harris put over 1,500 people in prison for marijuana-related offenses.
— Michael Ahrens (@michael_ahrens) August 1, 2019
-Fought to kill Proposition 19 in 2010, a measure that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use, though she now supports federal legislation that would do just that.
– As CA AG, she jailed thousands on marijuana charges and was against legalizing marijuana.
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) August 1, 2019
@KamalaHarris can't get her facts straight:
– She fought to keep inmates locked up in overcrowded prisons so they could be used for cheap labor
– She jailed 1000's on marijuana charges, but now wants to legalize marijuana
Kamala, can you make up your mind?#DemDebates #LeadRight
— Michigan GOP (@MIGOP) August 1, 2019
Kamala Harris sent 1,560 people to state prisons for marijuana-related offenses
— Elizabeth Harrington (@LizRNC) August 1, 2019
In her own post-debate interview, Gabbard said that Harris “never addressed the issues that I brought up.”
“These are examples that have been widely reported and documented,” the congresswoman said. “I think the people deserve answers. She said tonight, a few times, how proud she is of her record, yet there are too many people in California who have directly suffered, families who’ve been torn apart, people who have individually been harmed because of the decisions that she made as attorney general.”
“People like Kamala Harris need to be held accountable for their record—not for something she said or did 50 years ago, this is something that she did in her last job before she was elected as a U.S. senator,” she said.
Asked about Harris’s spin room response to the exchange and the senator’s criticism of Gabbard as it related to Assad, the congresswoman said “I think it’s unfortunate and a disservice to voters in this country that she resorts to cheap smears rather than actually addressing her record—the issues that I’ve raised and the fact that she said she’s proud of this record.”
“If that’s the case, then voters deserve to hear about why she’s so proud of the lives that she has negatively impacted, the families that she’s torn apart in California,” she said.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/CNN.
Feds Send Warning Letter To Another CBD Company Over Medical Claims
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent a warning letter to a Florida-based CBD company on Tuesday, alleging that the business made several unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic benefits of their products.
The federal agencies accused Rooted Apothecary of unlawfully asserting that their cannabidiol products could treat symptoms of conditions such as ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, ear aches, ADHD and autism. Those claims appeared on the company’s website and social media accounts, they said.
Certain products appeared to be marketed as dietary supplements, which FDA currently prohibits as it works to develop an alternative regulatory scheme for CBD.
“Cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds are subject to the same laws and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain any other substance,” Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a press release. “We are working to protect Americans from companies marketing products with unsubstantiated claims that they prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure a number of diseases or conditions.”
FDA and FTC have issued a joint warning letter to a company marketing unapproved cannabidiol products with unsubstantiated claims to treat teething and ear pain in infants, autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, among other conditions/diseases. https://t.co/tsn4SBiGzH pic.twitter.com/sG3wyURMDS
— Dr. Ned Sharpless (@FDACommissioner) October 22, 2019
We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements.
— Dr. Ned Sharpless (@FDACommissioner) October 22, 2019
“We’ve sent numerous warning letters that focus on matters of significant public health concern to CBD companies, and these actions should send a message to the broader market about complying with FDA requirements,” he said. “As we examine potential regulatory pathways for the lawful marketing of cannabis products, protecting and promoting public health through sound, science-based decision-making remains our top priority.”
FTC’s complaint with the company is that it violated a law that requires businesses that advertise medical claims about their products to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to back them up, which could include human clinical trials. Making or exaggerating such claims through “a product name, website name, metatags, or other means” without proper evidence is also prohibited.
FTC and @US_FDA warn Florida company marketing CBD products about claims related to treating autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other medical conditions: https://t.co/cAbxPPcxk8 pic.twitter.com/GdlttyBgxv
— FTC (@FTC) October 22, 2019
Rooted Apothecary must respond to the agencies within 15 working days to explain what steps it’s taking to resolve the issues. If the company fails to do so, it is subject to legal action, including the possible seizure of its products or an injunction. It may also have to compensate customers.
FDA emphasized that CBD products—other than the prescription medication Epidiolex, for the treatment of intractable epilepsy—are not currently allowed. But it also reiterated that the agency is in the process of developing rules that could allow for the lawful marketing of the compound.
In April, FDA sent warning letters to three other CBD companies that it said was making unauthorized claims about the medical benefits of their products. FTC also submitted warning letters to three separate CBD companies for allegedly advertising misleading statements about their products last month.
These letters are examples of the agency’s use of enforcement discretion. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who recently suggested that the federal government should be involved in regulating state marijuana programs, clarified in March that the agency is only going after companies that make especially misleading claims about their products.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who championed a provision of the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalizing hemp and its derivatives, has urged FDA to clear a path for the lawful marketing of CBD products by using enforcement discretion while it develops an interim final rule. A bipartisan group of lawmakers made a similar request in a letter sent to the agency last month.
“The FDA is working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace and protect public health by taking action as needed against companies,” FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy said.
FDA’s working quickly to further clarify our regulatory approach for products with cannabis/cannabis-derivatives like CBD while using all available resources to monitor the marketplace & protect public health by taking action as needed against companies. https://t.co/HB9IhG2qud
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) October 22, 2019
We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence. We plan to provide an update on our progress in this area in the near future.
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) October 22, 2019
“We recognize that there is significant public interest in cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds; however, we must work together to fill in the knowledge gaps about the science, safety and quality of many of these products,” she said. “We are committed to advancing our regulation of these products through an approach that, in line with our mission, prioritizes public health, fosters innovation and promotes consumer confidence.”
Photo courtesy of Kimzy Nanney.
GOP Senator Links Medical Marijuana Claims To Tobacco Industry Advertisements
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said on Tuesday that claims about the therapeutic potential of marijuana remind him of decades-old tobacco industry advertisements asserting that the product had medical benefits.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Cornyn discussed a hearing that the International Narcotics Control Caucus, which he co-chairs, will hold on Wednesday to explore the public health impacts of cannabis. He said it was especially important to hear from experts about the subject as more states legalize marijuana and members of Congress, as well as Democratic presidential candidates, push to end federal prohibition.
Senate Hearing To Focus On Marijuana And Health This Week – https://t.co/aPZczm3X75
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 21, 2019
The senator made clear he’s skeptical about marijuana’s health benefits.
“There’s no shortage of people who claim that marijuana has endless health benefits and can help patients struggling from everything from epilepsy to anxiety to cancer treatments,” he said. “This reminds me of some of the advertising we saw from the tobacco industry years ago where they actually claimed public health benefits from smoking tobacco, which we know as a matter of fact were false and that tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug, and is implicated with cancers of different kinds.”
“We’re hearing a lot of the same happy talk with regard to marijuana and none of the facts that we need to understand about the public health impact of marijuana use,” he said.
While Cornyn recognized there’s significant support for cannabis reform, he said that ” for the number of voices in support of legalization, there are even more unanswered questions about both the short- and long-term public health effects.”
He expressed concern about increased levels of THC concentration in cannabis products and stated that it’s “true that for some people that marijuana can indeed be addictive.”
“There’s simply a lack of scientific evidence to determine the link between marijuana and various health risks, and that’s something I would think Congress and the American people would want to know before we proceed further down this path,” Cornyn said. “We don’t know enough about how this could impair cognitive function or capacity or increase the risk of mental illness or perhaps serve as a gateway for other drugs that are even more damaging to the health of a young person.”
The senator made similar remarks during a conversation with a former White House drug czar in August. He said it was important to address the public health impacts of cannabis before moving forward with legislation that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
“With increasing use and a growing number of states giving the green light for marijuana use, we need better answers,” he said.
The surgeon general and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, along with several academics, are scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation Urges Congress To Pass Three Marijuana Research Bills
A leading advocacy group that’s dedicated to finding treatment options for Parkinson’s disease is backing three pieces of marijuana research legislation in Congress.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF)—named after the actor, who has Parkinson’s and established the nonprofit—said last week that lifting barriers to cannabis research, including rescheduling the plant under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is necessary to promote studies verifying marijuana’s potential therapeutic benefit for conditions such as Parkinson’s patients.
“The MJFF supports increased access to cannabis for medical research. Congress has begun to recognize this need, and there are several bills in the U.S. House and Senate designed to remove barriers that impede safe and legal access to cannabis by medical researchers,” the foundation said on its website. “The MJFF public policy team is tracking these bills and working to educate members of Congress and their staff on their importance to the Parkinson’s community.”
MJFF said it’s in favor of three marijuana bills, which would accomplish the following:
—Require the Justice Department to approve additional manufacturers for research-grade cannabis.
—Protect research institutions that conduct studies on marijuana.
—Authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to inform patients about opportunities to participate in federally authorized cannabis studies.
—Require VA to conduct studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana in the treatment of various conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
—Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA.
—Free up universities to conduct studies on cannabis by removing certain regulatory requirements.
In a letter to the Senate sponsor of that last piece of legislation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), in June, the foundation stated that marijuana’s current classification under federal law and the inadequate quality of cannabis grown at the only federally authorized manufacturing facility has meant that “researchers do not have the proper materials to conduct the necessary research.”
The foundation noted that it has submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration arguing in favor of rescheduling in 2018 and 2019. It also applauded the Drug Enforcement Administration for announcing that it would take steps to approve additional federal cannabis farms for research.
“Current policies hinder comprehensive medical research on cannabis, making it difficult to generate the evidence needed for clear recommendations,” Andrew Koemeter-Cox, MJFF’s associate director of research programs, said. “This is especially problematic when some products may be unsafe for human use and have the potential for adverse interactions with other medications.”
Ted Thompson, the nonprofit’s senior vice president of public policy, said that removing barriers to research “is one way in which Congress can help scientific researchers determine what the benefits of medical cannabis might be for Parkinson’s disease.”
“Our role on the public policy team is to work with Congress and the administration to ensure there is access and funding for research and care initiatives that can benefit people living with Parkinson’s and, right now, that includes access to medical cannabis for research,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.