It’s not often that marijuana legalization supporters and opponents agree on the negative implications of cannabis’s classification under federal law.
But a group involving some of the leading voices opposing legalization recently told Congress that marijuana’s current Schedule I status “effectively limit[s] the amount and type of research that can be conducted” on the drug.
That’s something activists working to end the criminalization of marijuana and otherwise change its legal status have been saying for decades.
Meanwhile, many of the same legalization opponents who make up the group behind the new congressional submission pointing out research roadblocks have repeatedly argued that federal law doesn’t stand in the way of cannabis studies.
Schedule I is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Researchers and advocates have often said that studies on substances classified there have to overcome approval hurdles that don’t exist for other substances.
“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research,” the group Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (FNIDA) wrote in its submission, which contains suggested language it wants the Senate Appropriations Committee to include in a report attached to legislation funding NIDA and other federal health agencies for Fiscal Year 2018.
FNIDA is a “coalition of over 150 scientific and professional societies, patient groups, and other organizations committed to preventing and treating substance use disorders as well as understanding their causes through the research agenda of NIDA,” its Senate document says.
The group’s Board of Scientific Advisors includes several prominent legalization opponents, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Kevin Sabet, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), former White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, former National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Robert DuPont and former Office of National Drug Control Policy Deputy Director Bertha Madras, according to the group’s letterhead. Representatives of the Partnership for a Drug-free America, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America and the American Society of Addiction Medicine sit on the organization’s executive committee.
It is unclear when exactly FNIDA submitted the proposal, but it was published as part of a document posted by the U.S Government Printing Office on Wednesday that compiled requests for Fiscal Year 2018 spending legislation.
“The Committee directs NIDA to provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances,” FNIDA wants the Senate panel to demand of the federal agency.
The same organization submitted a similar proposal for FY 2017, and the Appropriations Committee ended up adopting much of the language for its final report that year. The House Appropriations Committee also included criticism of Schedule I’s research roadblocks in its own 2017 report.
As reported by MassRoots when FNIDA’s 2017 submission was published, a number of the group’s members have dismissed the notion that cannabis’s Schedule I status is a barrier to studies:
Madras, for example, called the Drug Enforcement Administration’s denial of marijuana rescheduling petitions last August “a victory for science that, to me, is very comforting.”
Also last year, she wrote, “Is Schedule I drug a roadblock to marijuana research? Not really,” adding that moving cannabis to Schedule II would be “conceivably unethical.”
Sabet’s group called rescheduling a “red herring” in a 2015 report, saying that it would not “solve the problem of the need for more research, and instead would likely encourage illegal operators to continue to manufacture inferior products.”
In a Huffington Post piece, he wrote that discussion about reclassifying marijuana is “distracting and essentially meaningless” and doing so would “mainly serve as a symbolic victory for marijuana advocates.”
In a 2013 law review article, Sabet argued that “it is not necessary for marijuana to be rescheduled in order for legitimate research to proceed. Schedule I status does not prevent a product from being tested and researched for potential medical use.” (He did acknowledge that “additional Schedule I restrictions can delay a research program,” and in a 2015 Senate hearing, under intense questioning from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), was forced to admit that moving marijuana to Schedule II would make it “absolutely easier to research.”)
Kennedy and DuPont joined Sabet in signing a 2014 Smart Approaches to Marijuana letter asking the Obama administration not to reschedule marijuana, claiming that a change in status would be “scientifically dubious” and “is not necessary to facilitate research.”
As drug czar, McCaffrey argued that marijuana “can’t be moved to Schedule two.”
Even after the earlier submission was publicized, Sabet continued to publicly dismiss the notion that it is unduly difficult for scientists to study Schedule I drugs.
What was that about "not being able to research Schedule I drugs!" again? https://t.co/nD31ocJBu9
— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) August 27, 2017
Sabet and FNIDA did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
Santa Cruz Will Consider Decriminalizing Psychedelics This Week
Santa Cruz, California could be the latest in a wave of cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with a City Council hearing on the proposal scheduled for Tuesday.
The city vice mayor, Justin Cummings, recently introduced the resolution, which would make possession, use and cultivation of entheogenic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca the city’s lowest law enforcement priority.
“Plants and fungi with psychedelic properties have been used for thousands of years by indigenous communities for spiritual and medical practices and many are considered illegal in our country,” Cummings told Marijuana Moment in an email. “As we begin to better understand the health benefits of these plants and fungi, we need to not treat the people who use and research these plants and fungi as criminals, and lower barriers for research, clinical treatment, and personal.”
“Santa Cruz has a number of organizations that conduct research on use of psychedelics to improve mental health and we as a community want to support these efforts,” he added.
The full City Council will hear a presentation from the advocacy group Decriminalize Santa Cruz and discuss the resolution on Tuesday. After that point, the measure will be referred to the Public Safety Commission for further consideration.
Text of the resolution emphasizes the medical potential of psychedelics and the ritualistic consumption of the substances throughout history.
If approved, that would mean the City Council “supports the possession, use, and/or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi for personal adult use and clinical research and psychoactive practices, and declares that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult possession, use, or cultivation of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the federal schedule one list for personal use be among the lowest priorities for the city of Santa Cruz.”
The measure recommends that the use of psychedelics for medical or spiritual purposes “be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.”
Additionally, it calls on the city manager to order Santa Cruz’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing all entheogenic psychoactive plants, and plant and fungi-based compounds listed in the Federal Controlled Substances Act.”
Psychedelics reform is moving ahead in jurisdictions throughout the U.S., with Denver becoming the first city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms in May. Oakland’s City Council followed suit, unanimously approving a resolution that expanding the decriminalization to a wide range of entheogenic substances.
Advocates are also working to advance decriminalization in Portland, Chicago, Berkeley and Dallas.
Meanwhile, California activists are pushing two separate statewide psychedelics initiatives: one that would decriminalize psilocybin across the board and another more recently filed measure that calls for broad legalization and commercial sales. Oregon activists are collecting signatures for a 2020 proposal that would legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.
On the federal level, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing psychedelics and promoting research into the substances in a video statement delivered at a Drug Policy Alliance conference last week.
Read text of the Santa Cruz psychedelic resolution below:
Sanders, Warren And Buttigieg Include Medical Marijuana In Veterans Day Plans
To commemorate Veterans Day, a number of presidential candidates are releasing plans focused on helping those who served the country in the military—and at least three major contenders are including marijuana-specific planks in their proposals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, wants to ensure that doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “have the option of appropriately prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Barbara Lee Honors Veterans Day With Call To Action On Marijuana Reform
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) marked Veterans Day by promoting a bill she introduced that would effectively legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
In a press release and email blast for the national advocacy group NORML, the congresswoman discussed the need to expand access to cannabis for those who’ve served, stating that studies demonstrate the plant can treat symptoms of conditions that commonly afflict veterans such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lee said that as the daughter of a veteran, the issue is particularly important for her.
“Congress must do more to ensure every veteran has a roof over their head, to ensure our veterans come home to a job that pays them a living wage, and to ensure our veterans have access to the health care services they deserve,” she said in the press release. “That includes improving veterans’ access to medical marijuana.”
“That’s why I introduced H.R. 1151, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference,” she said. “The current federal prohibition on cannabis is harmful and counterproductive. Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care.”
The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act was introduced in February, and the House version currently has three cosponsors, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). The Senate companion version was filed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and has two cosponsors, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who signed on last week.
In her email for NORML on Monday, Lee said that cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but the policy also “falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.”
The congresswoman noted that medical cannabis is widely used by veterans, yet doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) aren’t allowed to fill out recommendations, even in states where it’s legal. That would change under her legislation, she said.
Politicians should never stand between our veterans and their health care. That's why I introduced the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act to empower veterans and their doctors to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana without political interference.
— Barbara Lee (@BLeeForCongress) November 11, 2019
“This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us,” she wrote, linking to a page where people can send a letter in support of her bill to their own representatives.
“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy,” she said. “We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.”
“I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician. Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”
VA under the Trump administration has resisted marijuana reform legislation, with officials from the department testifying in a committee hearing in April that it opposed several proposals, including one that would require VA to conduct research into the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose department also declined to take action on veterans cannabis issues, recently said that he’s in favor of increasing research into the plant’s therapeutic potential and blamed staff for misinforming him about what VA was capable of doing to that end while he was in office.
Lee, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, also discussed cannabis reform in a video statement that was broadcast at a Drug Policy Alliance conference in St. Louis on Saturday. She didn’t address veterans issues specifically but rather spoke about broader reform efforts to federally legalize marijuana.
“We all know that the federal prohibition on marijuana has led to the overcriminalization and mass incarceration, especially in black and brown communities,” she told activists in the taped message. “That is why we need to ensure that as the cannabis movement marches forward, it does so hand-in-hand with efforts to address these racial inequities head on.”
“I think we’re at a pivotal moment for the cannabis movement. There is so much excitement for the progress we’ve made and for where we are pushing to go,” the congresswoman said. “If we do this right—by ensuring that we address the legacy of the failed war on drugs and center our work in restorative justice—there is no stopping us.
“I wish you success for your conference and the work ahead,” she said. “Stay woke.”
Photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee.