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Lawmakers Ask Why Trump’s ‘Buy American’ Policy Doesn’t Apply To Marijuana

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A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives is seeking answers about why the federal government is seemingly favoring foreign marijuana suppliers while stalling the approval of additional domestic cannabis producers.

In a letter addressed to the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 15 members of Congress, led by Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA), expressed “deep concern” over the delay in reviewing and approving domestic cultivators of marijuana for research purposes.

Since 1968, there has been just one supplier of marijuana for research purposes in the United States—the University of Mississippi. In August 2016, the DEA announced a change in policy—”designed to foster research”—to allow more domestic entities to grow and distribute cannabis for research purposes.

Even Sessions, a longtime legalization opponent, has said that expanding the domestic supply of research marijuana would be beneficial. “I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply,” the attorney general testified in a hearing last year.

But despite Sessions’s statement, some lawmakers are accusing the Department of Justice (DOJ) of stalling the review of at least 26 applications submitted to the DEA by would-be domestic marijuana suppliers. “Unfortunately, in the two years since DEA’s new policy, no additional manufacturers have been approved,” the U.S. representatives wrote in the Friday letter.

Meanwhile, on September 18, the DEA granted approval of the importation of cannabis capsules from Tilray Inc., a Canadian company, to supply research conducted by the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego.

This illustrated the “need for additional domestic manufacturers of marijuana for research purposes,” the lawmakers wrote. “The one manufacturer in the U.S. does not offer capsules of cannabis compounds. If there were other domestic manufacturers, they might offer this option.”

Gaetz had previously expressed frustration in a tweet about the feds’ approval of cannabis imports while blocking expanded domestic cultivation, and last month the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill he authored that would force Sessions’s department to begin issuing new licenses.

In the new joint letter, the representatives point to the hypocrisy of Trump’s executive order to “Buy American and Hire American” while American marijuana suppliers awaiting approval continue to go ignored.

Members of Congress have pressed the DEA and the DOJ for answers since the agency began accepting cultivation license applications. They argue that limiting the domestic supply of marijuana for research purposes is detrimental to a greater understanding of marijuana’s effects on health and society.

“Research on marijuana is necessary to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers,” Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wrote in a separate letter to Sessions in April.

Senators Press Sessions To Stop Blocking Marijuana Research

In August, Marijuana Moment reported the DEA’s move to increase the quota of cannabis that can be grown in the U.S. for research purposes in 2019—hinting at progress in the process of approving more domestic marijuana suppliers.

But while progress on licensing seems stalled, the lawmakers behind the new letter to the DEA and DOJ are confident that it’s only a matter of time before there is a more diverse selection of marijuana for research purposes in the U.S.

“There is strong and bipartisan interest in Congress in increasing the number of manufacturers in the U.S. of cannabis for research,” they wrote. “While Congress will act if the Administration does not, the Administration could make this goal a reality much more quickly if it approved some of the pending applications.”

The representatives posed a series of pointed questions to Sessions and acting DEA head Uttam Dhillon about the Trump administration’s review of pending cultivation applications and the timetable for issuing licenses.

They are requesting a “prompt response.”

Congressman Wants Feds To ‘Buy American’ Marijuana Instead Of Importing From Canada

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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.

Victoria Kim is a New York-based contributor to Marijuana Moment. She has previously covered drug policy for The Fix, Alternet and Opposing Views. As an alumna of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, she has tracked developments on the issue for 10 years.

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UN Committee Unexpectedly Withholds Marijuana Scheduling Recommendations

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On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) was expected to make recommendations about the international legal status of marijuana, which reform advocates hoped would include a call to deschedule the plant and free up member countries to pursue legalization.

But in a surprise twist, a representative from the organization announced that WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, would be temporarily withholding the results of its cannabis assessment, even as it released recommendations on an opioid painkiller and synthetic cannabinoids. The marijuana recommendations are now expected to come out in January.

Earlier this year, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) released a pre-review of marijuana that included several positive, evidentiary findings. Cannabis has never caused a fatal overdose, the committee said, and research demonstrates that ingredients in the plant can effectively treat pain and improve sleep, for example.

The pre-review results prompted a more in-depth critical review, one of the final stages before the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) makes a determination about whether marijuana should remain in the most restrictive international drug classification. But on Friday, as observers anxiously awaited that determination, WHO pumped the brakes. The committee said it needed more time “for clearance reasons,” according to the International Drug Policy Consortium.

“This decision to withhold the results of the critical review of cannabis appears to be politically motivated,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has pushed for international reform, said in a press release.

“The WHO has been answering many questions about cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate. I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on cannabis, findings we expect to be positive based upon recent WHO statements and their other actions today.”

Those other actions include recommending that the opioid painkiller tramadol should not be scheduled under international treaties out of concern that such restrictions would limit access and hurt patients. In August, the committee made a similar recommendation about pure cannabidiol, or CBD, a component of marijuana.

While the critical review of marijuana itself has been postponed, the committee’s recommendations for its international scheduling are still expected to go up for a vote in the CND in March. If the committee does decide to recommend that cannabis be removed from international control, that would have wide-ranging implications for the reform efforts around the world.

In the U.S., the federal government has routinely cited obligations under international treaties to which it is a party as reasons to continue to ban marijuana and its derivatives. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration said in May that CBD doesn’t meet the criteria for federal scheduling at all, but that international treaties obliged it to recommend rescheduling to Schedule V.

“If treaty obligations do not require control of CBD, or if the international controls on CBD change in the future, this recommendation will need to be promptly revisited,” the agency said.

FDA Says Marijuana Ingredient CBD Doesn’t Meet Criteria For Federal Control

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Where Trump’s Pick For Attorney General Stands On Drug Policy

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President Donald Trump said on Friday that he plans to nominate William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.

Barr, who previously served in the position under President George H. W. Bush’s administration, seems less openly hostile to marijuana compared to other potential nominees whose names were floated—like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who pledged to crack down on state-legal cannabis activity during his failed 2016 presidential bid.

That said, he developed a reputation as anti-drug while overseeing harsh enforcement policies under Bush.

The prospective nominee seems to share a worldview with the late president under whom he served. Bush called for “more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors” to combat drug use and dramatically increased the federal drug control budget to accomplish that goal. In 1992, Barr sanctioned a report that made the “case for more incarceration” as a means to reduce violent crime.

Barr wrote a letter explaining why he was releasing the report, which has now resurfaced as observers attempt to gauge how he will approach drug policy in the 21st century.

“[T]here is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets,” he wrote. “Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them.”

“Revolving-door justice resulting from inadequate prison and jail space breeds disrespect for the law and places our citizens at risk, unnecessarily, of becoming victims of violent crime.”

He also wrote a letter to lawmakers in 2015 defending the criminal justice system—including mandatory minimum sentences—and encouraging Congress not to bring up a sentencing reform bill.

“It’s hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one,” Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump’s recent endorsement of sentencing reform.”

“The vast majority of Americans believe the war on drugs needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next Attorney General be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies. William Barr is a disastrous choice.”

Another window into Barr’s criminal justice perspective comes from 1989, when he wrote a Justice Department memo that authorized the FBI to apprehend suspected fugitives living in other countries and extradite them to the U.S. without first getting permission from the country. The intent of the memo seemed to be to enable the U.S. to more easily capture international drug traffickers.

In 2002, Barr compared drug trafficking to terrorism and described the drug war as the “biggest frustration” he faced under Bush. The administration “did a very good job putting in place the building blocks for intelligence building and international cooperation, but we never tightened the noose,” he said.

Interestingly, as The Washington Post reported, Barr would be heading up a department where his daughter, Mary Daly, also works. Daly is the director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, and she’s established herself as an advocate for tougher criminal enforcement aimed at driving out the opioid epidemic.

Today’s drug policy landscape is a lot different than it was in the early 1990s, though, and it’s yet to be seen how Barr, if confirmed by the Senate, will navigate conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. He’ll also be inheriting a Justice Department that no longer operates under an Obama-era policy of general non-intervention, after Sessions moved this year to rescind the so-called Cole memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement.

But for advocates, at least it’s not the guy who said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” anymore and it won’t be one who campaigned for president saying he’d enforce federal prohibition in legal states, either.

Surgeon General Says Marijuana’s Schedule I Status Hinders Research

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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Marijuana Bills Are Already Being Pre-Filed For 2019 Legislative Sessions

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If you thought 2018 was a big year for marijuana, gear up for 2019. Before the next legislative session has even started, lawmakers in at least four states have already pre-filed a wide range of cannabis reform bills.

In Missouri, where voters approved a medical marijuana initiative during last month’s midterm election, a state lawmaker has already drafted a piece of legislation that would legalize cannabis for adult-use—though it would not establish a retail sales system. Instead, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.

At least one marijuana decriminalization bill will be on the table in Virginia next year. The legislation would reduce the penalty for simple possession from a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum of a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail to a civil penalty punishable by a $50 fine for first-time offenders, $100 for second-time offenders and $250 for subsequent offenses.


Marijuana Moment is currently tracking more than 900 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Down in Texas, lawmakers in the state House and Senate have already pre-filed no fewer than 12 marijuana-related bills. The legislative proposals range from constitutional amendments to fully legalize and regulate cannabis to simple decriminalization policies to lessen penalties for low-level possession.

Finally, in Nevada, where cannabis is legal for adults, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of what are called “bill draft requests” that relate to marijuana. Proposals to revise cannabis tax policies, create a state bank that could potentially service the legal industry and regulate hemp cultivation—among several others—could be taken up by the state legislature next year.

While the pre-filing process has already started in most states, there’s still time and it’s possible that more cannabis legislation will be introduced for consideration in coming days and weeks prior to the formal start of 2019 legislative sessions.

Missouri Lawmaker Files Marijuana Legalization Bill After Voters Approve Medical Cannabis

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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