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

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The U.S.’s top medical research official is acknowledging that studies indicate legalizing marijuana is associated with reduced opioid overdose deaths, but he says more data is needed to determine what’s causing the result.

“There seems to be a statistical relationship between the states that have legalized marijuana and a reduced incidence of opioid overdoses and deaths,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said on Thursday. “But one has to be careful there. That’s a correlation, and not necessarily a causation. I would not want to leap to that.”

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with legal marijuana access see roughly 25% fewer opioid overdose deaths than states where cannabis is prohibited. Other studies have found similar results.

Collins, who was responding to cannabis questions from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Help, Education, Labor and Pensions, added that his agency is funding more research into the potential of marijuana’s components and corresponding receptors in the brain to foster therapeutic outcomes.

“We are increasingly studying the cannabinoid receptor pathway in the brain as a potential way that we might come up with alternatives that would be effective for managing pain and depression and anxiety,” he said.

Cassidy also asked the federal health official about evidence that the human brain continues development until age 25 and what the implications of that should be for the legal age of use under cannabis laws.

“We’re getting into difficult public policy territory,” Collins responded. “I’ll simply say the concerns about marijuana exposure to the developing brain would have to be strongly considered in anything that made access to adolescents more readily available, because we do have that concern.”

Earlier this week, Collins told a separate Senate panel that marijuana’s Schedule I status impedes research on its medical effects.

Schedule I Blocks Marijuana Research, Top Federal Health Research Official Says

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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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