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.
Why are we importing #cannabis from Canada for research while the @DEAHQ isn’t acting on more than two dozen U.S. cannabis manufacturer applications? @RepMattGaetz and I are leading a bipartisan effort to find out. #BuyAmerican pic.twitter.com/lvR2LYyigY
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) October 1, 2018
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.
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.”
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week
Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.
Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.
The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”
In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.
To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.
The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.
“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”
Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”
“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.