A major military veterans group is urging a federal court to take up a case challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) restrictive classification of marijuana.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), an advocate for expanding cannabis research, said in an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week that the current scheduling status of marijuana under federal law is inhibiting studies that could demonstrate the plant’s therapeutic potential in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This comes one week after a coalition of scientists and veterans—including Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute and the Battlefield Foundation—submitted a plaintiffs’ brief to the court, outlining the history of cannabis criminalization and arguing that DEA’s justification for keeping marijuana in Schedule I is unconstitutional. They want the court to force DEA to reconsider its decision to reject a 2020 petition calling for rescheduling.
“Medical marijuana holds promise for treatment-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but randomized controlled studies with real-world medical marijuana are necessary to determine the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana as a PTSD treatment,” the veterans group said in their new filing. “A significant percentage of combat veterans develop PTSD, and suicide is more frequent among veterans suffering PTSD. Consequently, the prevention or delay of clinical research into medical marijuana as a safe and effective treatment has a direct impact on IAVA’s constituency.”
1/5: In our most recent annual survey, 83% of #IAVA members surveyed support the use of medical cannabis. Policies are outdated, research is lacking, and stigma persists. #CannabisForVets #PTSD pic.twitter.com/SUx9p7oMU4
— IAVA (@iava) October 8, 2020
IAVA said that the Schedule I status of cannabis “prevents the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] and private practitioners from studying the efficacy, benefits and risks of medical marijuana and thus harms veterans’ health and welfare.” Further, it “keeps life-saving treatment away from veterans suffering with PTSD who reside in states where medical marijuana is not available or where medical marijuana is available, but cannot be afforded.”
3/5: Veterans suffering from PTSD, their loved ones, and America as a whole can only benefit from knowing more about the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana as a treatment for #PTSD. #CannabisForVets #IAVA pic.twitter.com/0RgmMe05qm
— IAVA (@iava) October 8, 2020
Travis Horr, director of government affairs for IAVA, told Marijuana Moment that the group’s members “have made it clear that they support research done on the use of cannabis as a treatment option.”
“It is for these reasons that IAVA believes it is crucial to remove cannabis as a schedule I drug, to allow this research to be done and potentially provide much-needed relief for veterans,” he said.
In its filing with the federal court, group cited a survey it conducted that shows 20 percent of veteran respondents reported using cannabis or cannabinoids for therapeutic purposes, and they reason that’s partly because nearly half of veterans say that federally approved medications available to them are ineffective.
“Veterans suffering from PTSD, their loved ones, and America as a whole can only benefit from knowing more about the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD. If the treatment is safe and effective, more veterans will find relief from a debilitating disorder. If the treatment is not safe or effective, then veterans will stop self-medicating with and doctors will stop prescribing medical marijuana for PTSD, and scientists can turn their focus to other potential treatments or cures.”
IAVA also referenced a report released earlier this year by a federal commission that was responsible for issuing recommendations to improve mental health treatment for veterans. That report similarly observed that cannabis, as well as certain psychedelics, could hold significant therapeutic potential—but the plant’s legal status “precludes VA from conducting research on their efficacy.”
“The United States of America is morally compelled to address injuries—both physical and psychological—veterans suffer as a result of their military service,” the IAVA brief states. “There is overwhelming evidence that PTSD is a severe injury suffered by a significant percentage of veterans and that veterans with PTSD are more likely to take their own lives than veterans with no such psychological injury.”
“Our country should be doing everything it can as quickly as it can to find treatments for PTSD and help prevent veteran suicide, including properly interpreting the Controlled Substance Act so as to not impose unwarranted barriers to research,” it continues. “Both the executive and legislative branches of government have made the prevention of veteran suicide and related medical research national priorities, and yet the DEA continues to insist on a Catch 22 that effectively prevents approved clinical research study of medical marijuana as a PTSD treatment.”
The group also said DEA restrictions on cannabis means that researchers have been unable to access marijuana that reflects what’s available in state commercial markets. That’s also an issue that would be addressed legislatively under a bill that cleared a House committee last month.
5/5: We need YOUR help in getting this critical legislation passed into law. Stand with IAVA and tell Congress to cosponsor the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act (S. 179 / H.R. 712): https://t.co/fpsSsXtvcu #CannabisForVets #PTSD #IAVA pic.twitter.com/fHJGuTLux7
— IAVA (@iava) October 8, 2020
“Without such clinical studies, veterans who live in states where medical marijuana is not available as a treatment for PTSD cannot obtain the treatment, and veterans who can obtain the treatment in states where it is legal do so at their own personal expense, without coordination with their VA medical teams, and without any scientific evidence to establish the promise of the efficacy and safety of the treatment,” IAVA said.
This isn’t the first time that this group of scientists and veterans has taken the feds to court over their marijuana decisions.
The plaintiffs were also successful in forcing DEA to issue an update on the status of applications to become federally authorized cannabis manufacturers for research purposes and then got the Justice Department to hand over a “secret” memo that DEA allegedly used to justify a delay in deciding on those proposals.
Meanwhile, DEA could also become involved in a separate U.S. Supreme Court case challenging its marijuana scheduling actions.
In a petition filed in July and formally docketed for a private conference at the high court on Friday, a group of patients and advocates asked the justices to take up their case challenging the constitutionality of federal cannabis prohibition. This comes after a series of rulings in lower courts since the original lawsuit was filed in 2017.
Seven members of Congress and a slew of marijuana reform groups submitted legal documents last month urging the court to take up the case.
Separately, a federal court recently ruled that California regulators must comply with a DEA subpoena demanding information about marijuana businesses that they are investigating.
Read IAVA’s amicus brief on the marijuana scheduling case below:
Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill
The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.
While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.
News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”
LIGHT IT UP?: Will we see @GovNedLamont partake in newly legal marijuana?
Check out his answer: pic.twitter.com/XVP3d5fDNi
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 18, 2021
The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.
“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.
Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.
It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.
Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.
And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.
Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.
Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says
Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.
“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.
According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”
Photos from today’s emergency rally at the Capitol 📸
Thank you to House Majority Leader @_RyanWinkler, Sen. @ScottDibble, Rep. @jeremymunson, and Sen. @jimabeler for speaking and advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis in Minnesota. #mnisready for change! pic.twitter.com/c5T1ffqSuy
— Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (@mnisready) June 16, 2021
Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.
At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.
“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”
The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:
-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.
-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.
”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”
Rally for Our Special Session Agenda:
1. Decrim law reform: reduce penalties for concentrates & ensure a petty is not a crime in fed court.
2. Medical reform: Require Minn to petition for a fed exemption fr Schedule 1 for Minn's Med Cannabis patients.https://t.co/9S8Vwz4yoB
— Minnesota NORML (@MNNORML) June 15, 2021
Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.
Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.
He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”
The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.
Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’
The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.
The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.
“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”
Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”
The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.
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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.
These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.
Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.
For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.
Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.
Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.
Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.
Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.