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Key GOP Chairman Supports New Marijuana Research Bill

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New legislation being filed this week by a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats — including the chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee — would remove several key federal roadblocks to research on marijuana.

“Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018…the Attorney General shall register…at least 2 applicants to manufacture cannabis for legitimate research purposes,” reads the text of a bill obtained by Marijuana Moment that is slated to be introduced on Thursday with the support of Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

In subsequent years, the attorney general would be required to license at least three additional cannabis manufacturers annually.

For decades, all cannabis used for studies in the U.S. has been grown at a single farm at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have long argued that it is difficult to access cannabis from the facility, and that the product is often of low quality.

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a new policy intended to license more research cultivators, and he agency has reportedly since received at least 25 applications to participate in the new program. But it has not yet acted on any of them and, according to the Washington Post, that is because top Justice Department officials have stepped in to prevent DEA from approving any proposals.

The new legislation would force the attorney general’s hand.

A fact sheet circulated by the office of Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the lead sponsor of the bill, says that the existing cannabis research supply is “extremely subpar.”

“It is weak and often moldy, which can cause illness. In addition to being subpar, federally-grown cannabis is scarce; there is not enough product,” the document says.

The new bill would also create a “safe harbor” from federal law for universities and other research institutions that want to study marijuana. And it would clarify that doctors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are allowed to refer military veterans to studies on cannabis’s medical benefits.

Bloomberg first reported that Goodlatte was supporting the bill.

On Tuesday night, Gaetz and other lawmakers took to the House floor to voice support for marijuana law reform.

Bipartisan Marijuana Speechathon On House Floor

“Even though VA doctors/staff are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials with patients, many VA offices believe mentioning these trials is illegal,” Gaetz’s fact sheet says. “This legislation codifies that healthcare providers at the VA are authorized to provide information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials, and they are also allowed to fill out forms for veterans to participate in these trials.”

Besides Goodlatte, other initial cosponsors include Steve Cohen (D-TN), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-FL), Karen Handel (R-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Scott Taylor (R-VA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Dina Titus(D-NV), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

See below for the full section-by-section bill analysis circulated by Gaetz’s office:

Section 1: Title

Section 2: INCREASING THE NUMBER OF FEDERALLY-REGISTERED MANUFACTURERS OF CANNABIS FOR LEGITIMATE RESEARCH PURPOSES

PROBLEM: Currently, all federally-approved studies of medical cannabis get their product from one source, and it is extremely subpar. It is weak and often moldy, which can cause illness.

SOLUTION: this section requires there to be at least three federally-approved manufacturers of cannabis for legitimate research purposes.

The license to be a federally-approved manufacturer would be one year, with the (rare) exception of producers who wish to initiate a multi-year study or clinical trial.

Manufacturers would have to pass stringent background checks and meet a strict set of criteria, including growing at least ten different strains, and being able to test for at least 12 different cannabinoids. We must ensure that federally-approved growers are safe, will not run out of product, and are prepared to meet the needs of current and future researchers.

The strict standards set forth for medical cannabis manufacturers are not applied to other, non-research-based cannabis businesses. Keeping “research cannabis” separate means this legislation does not interfere with federal laws, state laws, or law enforcement. This bill makes no changes to the legal status of cannabis.

By ending the current monopoly on research-grade medical cannabis, and by improving choice among growers, research will be easier and better.

In addition to being subpar, federally-grown cannabis is scarce; there is not enough product. This section requires the Attorney General to annually assess whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis.

Even though the DOJ is required to process new applicants for growing cannabis, they have dragged their feet, and a huge backlog of applications has built up. This section requires DOJ/DEA to act on any application to manufacture cannabis within one calendar year.

Some institutions (like universities) want to research cannabis, but cannot do so because cannabis research threatens their federal funding. This section includes “safe harbor” for researchers and institutions studying cannabis, and for patients in federally-approved medical cannabis clinical trials.

Section 3: PROVISION BY DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS OF INFORMATION REGARDING VETERAN PARTICIPATION IN FEDERALLY-APPROVED CANNABIS CLINICAL TRIALS

PROBLEM: even though VA doctors/staff are not prohibited from sharing information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials with patients, many VA offices believe mentioning these trials is illegal.

SOLUTION: this section codifies that healthcare providers at the VA are authorized to provide information about federally-approved cannabis clinical trials, and they are also allowed to fill out forms for veterans to participate in these trials.

This section also clarifies that VA employees are allowed to receive information about cannabis clinical trials from researchers.

Finally, this section says that VA researchers (who are eligible to research Schedule 1 substances) may do research on cannabis.

This section provides clarity to VA employees, and allows VA researchers to study cannabis.

­­­

This bill is not a pathway to legalization, nor does it change the legal status of cannabis. It simply makes it easier to conduct federally-approved research. Many people say that we can’t change cannabis laws without doing more research. Fair enough. This legislation simply makes cannabis research safer, better, and more accessible.

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

Bernie Sanders Asks Campaign Rally Audience To Share Stories About Marijuana Arrests

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked an audience in South Carolina to share stories about marijuana possession convictions and then argued that those anecdotes help to demonstrate the case for national legalization.

During a campaign stop in the early primary state on Sunday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate asked people to raise their hands if they knew someone who’d been arrested for possessing cannabis. There was no shortage of hands raised.

“Holy God, whoa. That’s a lot of people,” Sanders said before asking for volunteers to go into detail.

“I got caught with about a joint and they took my license for a year and I lost my job,” an audience member said. “Ended up losing my house, and it went worse from there.”

“Wow, this is for smoking a joint?” Sanders asked.

“Yeah, I had a little—like a dime bag in my car,” the person said.

Another person in attendance who appeared in the campaign video Sanders released on Tuesday said that she visited a guilty plea court and witnessed “three different men get put in at least two years of prison just for anywhere from two grams to eight grams of marijuana found on them.”

“That’s why all over this country states are doing the right thing and either decriminalizing or legalizing the possession of marijuana,” Sanders said to applause.

Since becoming the first major party presidential candidate to call for cannabis legalization in 2015, Sanders has continued to place an emphasis on the need for marijuana reform, with a focus on the racial injustices of prohibition.

Last month, he released a criminal justice reform plan that included proposals to legalize cannabis federally and also provide for safe injection sites to curb opioid overdoses.

But while Sanders has been a leading voice in the drug policy reform movement, he’s said twice in recent weeks that he’s not ready to embrace decriminalizing possession of drugs beside marijuana.

Joe Biden Says Marijuana Should Remain Illegal As A Misdemeanor At Democratic Debate

Photo courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

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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New York Gov. Cuomo Hints Marijuana Smoking Ban Could Be Part Of Next Legalization Push

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) seemed to suggest that he might want a ban on smoking marijuana included in legalization legislation when lawmakers take up the issue again next year.

During an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, the governor was asked whether the spike in apparent vaping-related lung injuries and deaths, which experts attribute to altered nicotine and cannabis oils primarily purchased on the illicit market, has made him reconsider pursuing legalization in the state.

“No,” he said, adding that his administration is “not in favor of smoking marijuana” and that there are “ways to get THC without smoking marijuana.”

“People are vaping THC, yes that is true,” Cuomo said. “We think that from a public health point of view, that is not something that we recommend and we think it’s dangerous—smoking of any kind.”

“You can legalize marijuana and sell THC in compounds that do not require you to smoke the marijuana, and we do not support smoking of marijuana,” he said. “There are compounds that have the THC, which is a compound in marijuana, that you don’t smoke.”

It’s not entirely clear if Cuomo plans to ask for a smoking ban the next time a legalization bill emerges or if he was simply outlining an administrative position advising against smoking. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment by the time of publication.

But while there was no ban on marijuana smoking included in legalization legislation that he worked to pass earlier this year, it wouldn’t be entirely out of character given that he pushed for such a restriction as part of New York’s medical cannabis program in legislation enacted in 2014.

The logic behind that policy, according to Cuomo, was that it would prevent people from abusing the program. If he moved to incorporate a ban for adult-use legalization, however, it would presumably be a public health decision.

That could create problems when lawmakers return to the negotiating table. In California, flower and concentrates represent about 70 percent of the marijuana market, meaning any attempt to ban smokeable cannabis will likely be met with pushback from consumers, industry stakeholders and civil liberties-minded reform advocates.

Industry players seemed to have influence when Cuomo included a ban on home cultivation for personal use in his prior legalization proposal—something a major medical cannabis association recommended in a policy statement submitted to the governor.

For the time being, however, there don’t seem to be tangible plans to include a smoking ban in future cannabis legislation and it could be that the governor simply ends up pushing for public education campaigns discouraging the activity rather than keeping it illegal.

Cuomo has made clear that legalization would again be an administrative priority after negotiations failed to produce a passable bill last session.

In July, he signed legislation broadening New York’s decriminalization law and creating a pathway for expungements for individuals with prior cannabis convictions.

Former White House Drug Czar Offers Marijuana Legalization Advice To Mexico

Photo courtesy of MSNBC.

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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Mitch McConnell Tells FDA To Clear A Path For CBD Products Though Spending Bill Directive

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is moving to insert language into a congressional spending report that calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clear a path for the lawful marketing of hemp-derived CBD products.

FDA has said that allowing CBD to be sold as food items or dietary supplements would require it to develop alternative regulations that could take years to complete without congressional action. But McConnell, who was the chief proponent of a hemp legalization provision of the 2018 Farm Bill, isn’t interested in waiting around.

In draft language shared by the U.S. Hemp Roundtable on Tuesday, the senator is asking FDA to “issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD” within 120 days—a move that industry stakeholders say will clarify rules so that banks are more willing to service CBD companies.

The provision of the spending report was marked up in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on Tuesday. It will go before the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Prior to issuing its enforcement discretion policy under McConnell’s report language, FDA would have to submit a report to the committee within 90 days detailing its “progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products.”

Once those provisional enforcement guidelines are established, they would remain in place until FDA finalizes the regulatory process.

“FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs,” the report states.

Outside of McConnell’s proposal, the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations legislation already sets aside $2 million to support research and regulatory activities surrounding hemp-derived CBD products and $16.5 million for the broader hemp production program.

During the subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) praised the bill’s support for hemp legalization implementation.

“You might note that this year in Oregon, the hemp industry may well be a billion dollar crop, and that is an incredible addition to income for our agricultural community,” he said.

The legalization of hemp and its derivatives has been met with intense interest from manufacturers and lawmakers alike, but limitations on the marketability of CBD has been an ongoing source of frustration.

Last week, a bipartisan pair of lawmakers asked fellow House members to join them in signing a letter to the head of FDA that similarly asks for enforcement discretion guidelines allowing companies to sell CBD products.

The House, which approved its version of appropriations legislation for the upcoming fiscal year prior to the summer recess, included a separate amendment that would require FDA to establish rules providing for the lawful marketing of CBD in food and dietary supplements.

Meanwhile, USDA is expected to soon release its broader hemp regulations soon.

Read McConnell’s full CBD report language below:

“As previously mentioned, the Committee provides $2,000,000 for research, policy evaluation, market surveillance, issuance of an enforcement discretion policy, and appropriate regulatory activities with respect to products under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration which contain cannabidiol (CBD) and meet the definition of hemp, as set forth in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o). Within 90 days, FDA shall provide the Committee with a report regarding the Agency’s progress toward obtaining and analyzing data to help determine a policy of enforcement discretion, and the process in which CBD meeting the definition of hemp will be evaluated for use in products. Within 120 days, FDA shall issue a policy of enforcement discretion with regard to certain products containing CBD meeting the definition of hemp as defined by section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1964 (7 U.S.C. 1639). Such enforcement discretion shall be in effect until FDA establishes a process for stakeholders to notify FDA for use of CBD in products that include safety studies for intended use per product, and makes a determination about such product. FDA is encouraged to consider existing and ongoing medical research related to CBD that is being undertaken pursuant to an Investigation New Drug (IND) application in the development of a regulatory pathway for CBD in products under the jurisdiction of FDA and to ensure that any future regulatory activity does not discourage the development of new drugs.”

Bipartisan Lawmakers Circulate Letter Urging FDA To Back Off CBD Companies

This story was updated to include comment from Merkley.

Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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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