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Lawmakers Press Trump Health Official On Marijuana As Opioid Alternative

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A bipartisan group of members of Congress is pushing the Trump administration to consider medical marijuana as a safer alternative to opioids.

“As you know, our country is grappling with an opioid epidemic that is now taking 91 lives every single day,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Acting Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Eric D. Hargan. “Recent studies published by qualified academic researchers suggest that marijuana may prove to be a useful alternative treatment for chronic pain instead of harmful, addictive prescription opioids, and that marijuana may reduce the overall number of opioid overdose deaths.”

After citing a number of studies demonstrating cannabis’s efficacy and that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid issues, the House members lay out a series of questions they want answered:

The evidence that marijuana may have a positive therapeutic warrants additional attention from the federal government. We request that you provide answers to the following questions:

1. Please describe in detail what the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is doing to fill the gap in our knowledge about the use, uptake, and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal.

a. Please describe in detail any federal efforts to conduct research the impact of state medical and recreational marijuana laws on opioid overdose deaths.

b. Please also describe in detail efforts by other federal agencies under the jurisdiction of HHS.

2. Please describe in detail what HHS and other federal agencies are doing to work with states that have implemented medical marijuana laws to collect data on the impact of these laws on opioid overdose deaths.

3. Is HHS committed to implementing evidence-based policies regarding the use of medical marijuana as an alternative pain treatment in an effort to promote public health?

4. Is HHS committed to making any research on the therapeutic benefits of marijuana available to states including as a more benign alternative to opioids for pain management, so that they can implement evidence-based policies to address the opioid epidemic?

5. Please describe in detail any ongoing efforts to share this research on marijuana’s potential as an alternative pain treatment to addictive and dangerous prescription medications with other federal agencies, including but not limited to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Justice.

“We should not ignore any information that suggests there may be a tool available to fight the opioid epidemic that we are not using to the fullest extent,” the legislators conclude in the letter, which is dated Tuesday. “While it is clear that more research is necessary, it is equally clear that medical marijuana is an alternative pain treatment that merits the attention of the federal government.”

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) posted a series of tweets about the issue on Thursday evening.

The letter comes amid increasingly prominent discussion about marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid overdoses. The federal government’s top health research official was asked about the topic in two separate Senate hearings this week.

Legal Marijuana Tied To Opioid Death Reductions, Federal Health Official Says

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent questions about marijuana and opioids to Alex Azar, President Trump’s nominee for HHS secretary.

See the full text of the House lawmakers’ new letter below:

Members of Congress: Marijuana Is An Opioid Alternative by tomangell on Scribd

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Politics

GOP Congressman: Legal Marijuana Has “Possibility To Create Jobs”

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Legalizing marijuana might be a way to help lift rural areas of Virginia out of poverty, a Republican who represents part of the state in Congress says.

“The lands out in Southwest are conducive to be able to grow that for medicinal purposes, or whatever it is, for other research purposes, and even recreational use for some areas, if Virginia chooses to legalize it in that way,” Congressman Scott Taylor said on Wednesday. “And if Virginia goes that way I think there is the possibility to create jobs down in the Southwest.”

Taylor, who was answering a caller’s question during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, added that he supports letting states set their own cannabis laws without federal interference.

“I think we should decriminalize it and leave it up to the states,” he said. “I do believe it’s a state decision, not a federal decision.”

Taylor, a freshman member of Congress, is a cosponsor of a pending House bill to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

“When I was in the state House we voted to legalize industrial hemp, which is also another product that would grow well in Southwest just as tobacco did,” Taylor added. “So I think there’s product there.”

Advocates believe that Virginia has a good chance of decriminalizing cannabis in 2018. Incoming Gov. Ralph Northam, A Democrat, spoke often about cannabis on the campaign trail, consistently describing criminalization’s impact in stark racial justice terms.

New Virginia Governor Pledges Marijuana Decriminalization

Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment has announced he will file a decriminalization bill when the new legislative session begins in January.

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Vermont Will Legalize Marijuana Within Weeks, Officials Indicate

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Vermont appears poised to become the next state to legalize marijuana. And, according to top elected officials, it is likely to do so within a matter of weeks.

Last week, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, said she expects “it likely will pass in early January.” Days earlier, Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he is “comfortable” signing a cannabis legalization bill into law in early 2018. And on Thursday, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, a member of the Progressive Party, said he and his colleagues “look forward to working with the governor to make sure that that bill gets to the finish line.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of M a n u e l.

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Politics

Here’s What Jeff Sessions Discussed In Secret With Anti-Marijuana Activists

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Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a behind-closed-doors meeting about marijuana with anti-legalization activists.

Now, thanks to the fact that Sessions inadvertently showed an agenda for the meeting to a TV camera that was in the room to capture introductions — along with some high-tech sleuthing — we know what the prohibitionists discussed in secret after reporters were kicked out.

A Twitter user with the handle @MentalMocean was able to enhance a screen capture of the document that Marijuana Moment posted.

Enhanced photo.

The document appears to read:

Agenda

Bertha Madras: Marijuana is not a substitute for opiates as a pain medication.

Dr. Hoover Adger: The harm from today’s marijuana.

Dr. Bob DuPont: The effect of marijuana on drugged driving.

David Evans: The role that the Food and Drug Administration can and should [obscured]

[obscured] The organizations you can speak for and what you and they are [obscured] people from recreational marijuana use.

[obscured] law enforcement thinks of the commercialization of [obscured] law enforcement would support an enforcement initiative.

[obscured] course of marijuana commercialization in the states if the [obscured] not intervene.

The enhanced photo makes clear that the anti-legalization activists made a concerted pitch during meeting to convince Sessions to launch a federal crackdown on states that have ended cannabis prohibition.

In attendance, according to video of the opening introductions captured by a pool photographer and posted by C-SPAN, were:

  • Edwin Meese III, U.S. attorney general under the Reagan administration
  • Kevin Sabet, president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana
  • Bertha Madras, a former Office of National Drug Control Policy staffer and a member of President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis
  • Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • David Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition
  • Dr. Hoover Adger, Johns Hopkins Hospital

“I think it’s a big issue for America, for the country, and I’m of the general view that this is not a healthy substance,” Sessions said at the beginning of the gathering. “I think that’s pretty clear. And then have the policy response that we and the federal government needs to be prepared to take and do so appropriately and with good sense.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to hear your analysis on marijuana and some of the related issues,” Sessions told the group. “I do believe, and I’m afraid, that the public is not properly educated on some of the issues related to marijuana. And that would be a matter that we could, all of us together, maybe be helpful in working on and that would allow better policy to actually be enacted.”

The group’s roundtable discussion itself, which took place after initial introductions, was closed to the press.

The gathering comes as the Justice Department’s overall position on marijuana policy remains uncertain. Sessions has in recent weeks sent mixed signals about his plans for federal marijuana enforcement under the Trump administration.

Last month, he testified before Congress that an Obama-era Justice Department memo that generally allows states to implement their own marijuana laws without interference remains in effect. But he separately told reporters at a briefing that his department is actively conducting talks about potential changes to the policy.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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