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New Mexico Marijuana Legalization Bill Heads To Governor’s Desk Following House And Senate Votes

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New Mexico lawmakers approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adults during a special legislative session on Wednesday, sending the years-in-the-making legislation to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who is expected to sign it into law. Lawmakers also passed separate legislation to expunge past convictions for low-level cannabis crimes.

Legal retail sales of cannabis are scheduled to begin by April 1, 2022.

“This is a significant victory for New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said after the vote. “Workers will benefit from the opportunity to build careers in this new economy. Entrepreneurs will benefit from the opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises. The state and local governments will benefit from the additional revenue. Consumers will benefit from the standardization and regulation that comes with a bona fide industry.”

“And those who have been harmed by this country’s failed war on drugs, disproportionately communities of color, will benefit from our state’s smart, fair and equitable new approach to past low-level convictions,” she said.

The legalization bill, HB 2, passed the full Senate on a 22–15 vote Wednesday night following hours of contentious discussion throughout the day. It then returned to the House, which had approved it 38–32 earlier in the day, for consideration of Senate changes. That vote passed by a voice vote.

The expungements bill, SB 2, passed both chambers in identical form earlier in the day.

Provisions in the two bills were originally part of a single piece of legislation, HB 12, that passed the House during the regular session but stalled on the Senate floor. Going into this week’s special session, backers spun off the criminal justice matters in an effort to win support from Republicans and moderate Democrats who complained the proposal as a whole was too broad.

Before the full Senate vote, the body’s Committee of the Whole, consisting of all the chamber’s members, narrowly approved HB 2, voting 23–19. Lawmakers also considered a competing legalization proposal, SB 3, from Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R), who began circulating draft legislation last week. The Republican lawmaker’s bill took a simpler approach to legalization than HB 2, with lower taxes and a more streamlined licensing system.

The Committee of the Whole voted 36–6 not to advance the measure. Pirtle repeatedly complained that he had been cut out of the negotiation process dominated by members of the opposite party.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called this week’s special session primarily to push legalization across the finish line.

Here are some of the main provisions in the new legalization bill, HB 2,  as amended:

— Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis, 16 grams of cannabis concentrates and 800 milligrams of infused edibles. All products would be tested by licensed laboratories for contamination and potency.

— Home cultivation of up to six mature cannabis plants would be allowed for personal use, provided the plants are out of public sight and secured from children. Households would be limited to 12 total plants. Marijuana grown at home could not be sold or bartered.

— Legal retail sales wouldn’t begin for another year or so, with a target date of April 1, 2022 or earlier. Final license rules would be due from the state by January 1, 2022, with licenses themselves issued no later than April 1.

— Advertising cannabis to people under 21 would be prohibited, with the use of cartoon characters or other imagery likely to appeal to children forbidden. Advertisements would also be barred from billboards or other public media within 300 feet of a school, daycare center or church. All products would need to carry a state-approved warning label.

— There is no limit on the number of business licensees that could be granted under the program, or the number of facilities a licensee could open, although regulators could stop issuing new licenses if an advisory committee determines that “market equilibrium is deficient.”

— Small cannabis microbusinesses, which could grow up to 200 plants, would be able to grow, process and sell cannabis products all under a single license. The bill’s backers have said the separate license type will allow wider access to the new industry for entrepreneurs without access to significant capital.

— Cannabis purchases will include a 12 percent excise tax on top of the state’s regular 8 percent sales tax. Beginning in 2025, the excise rate would climb by 1 percent each year until it reached 18 percent in 2030. Medical marijuana products, available only to patients and caretakers, would be exempt from the tax.

— In an effort to ensure medical patients can still access medicine after the adult-use market opens, the bill allows the state to force licensed cannabis producers to reserve up to 10 percent of their products for patients in the event of a shortage or grow more plants to be used in medical products.

— Local governments could not ban cannabis businesses entirely, as some other states have allowed. Municipalities could, however, use their local zoning authority to limit the number of retailers or their distance from schools, daycares or other cannabis businesses.

— Tribal governments could participate in the state’s legal cannabis industry under legal agreements contemplated under the bill.

— With certain social justice provisions expected to be repackaged into a separate bill, the legalization measure retains only some of HB 12’s original equity language, primarily focused on enacting procedures meant to encourage communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the new industry.

— The new industry would be overseen by a newly created Cannabis Control Division, part of the state Regulation and Licensing Department. Medical marijuana would also be regulated by that division, although the Department of Health would control the patient registry.

— By September of this year, the state would establish a cannabis regulatory advisory committee to advise the Cannabis Control Division. The committee would need to include various experts and stakeholders, such as the chief public defender, local law enforcement, a cannabis policy advocate, an organized labor representative, a medical cannabis patient, a tribal nation or pueblo, various scientists, an expert in cannabis regulation, an environmental expert, a water expert and a cannabis industry professional, among others.

— The bill as amended now includes language that would allow medical marijuana patients who are registered in other states to participates in in other states to access, a proposal that failed to pass during the regular session.

A separate spending bill introduced for the special session, HB 1, includes funding to establish and oversee the state’s legal cannabis industry. That measure has passed both chambers.

Another bill, HB 4, would have tightened laws on cannabis and driving by establishing a per se THC blood limit for DUIs, as some other states have put in place. But the House Rules and Order of Business Committee voted 8–7 that the legislation was “not germane” to the special session.

Lawmakers spent hours on the House floor Wednesday rehashing many of the same issues that have been discussed for years around legalization. Advocates stressed that the change would ensure product testing and safety, set limits to discourage youth use of cannabis and bring millions of dollars in tax revenue to the state government.

Opponents, meanwhile, warned that legalization could influence more youth to consume cannabis and lead to an uptick in impaired drivers on New Mexico’s roadways. The bill’s supporters countered that many of those risks would be better addressed through legalization than criminalization, because products would be tested, sales would be limited to adults only and law enforcement would be trained to better recognize impairment and impaired driving.

“Cannabis is already here,” one of the bill’s cosponsors, Rep. Javier MartĂ­nez (D) said. “If this bill becomes the law of the land…we can ensure that we develop the mechanisms that prevent [youth] access to cannabis.” He noted that he himself is a father of two kids, saying, “I don’t want my children to consume any type of substance that will be harmful for them.”

“I think we have a good bill and a good framework and the ability to closely regulate,” Rep. Deborah Armstrong (D) told the Senate Committee of the Whole, “and in that process, as we discover things or need to change things, we can we can do that.”

MartĂ­nez drew attention to an October poll indicating that a strong majority of New Mexico voters are ready for the policy change. Some Republicans, however, said the poll results didn’t represent their districts.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R) voiced worries that people who use cannabis would not be allowed to own a gun. In addition to cannabis still being illegal at the federal level, a state law currently bars people from “carrying a gun while under the influence of an intoxicant or narcotic.”

“You have to make a decision,” Lord said: “Am I going to smoke pot, or am I going to lose my Second Amendment rights?”

The House adopted a pair of amendments to HB 2 before ending debate earlier on Wednesday, one that would add a municipal police chief to the state’s cannabis advisory committee, and another that would require government reports to study the law’s impact.

Another floor amendment, brought by Rep. Bill Rehm (R), would have established a $100-per-ounce fine for possessing products not obtained in compliance with adult-use or medical marijuana laws, but the House tabled that proposal, effectively rejecting it.

Rehm attempted and failed to add the same amendment just hours earlier, at the late-night hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

Another amendment offered by Rehm was also tabled by the Democrat-controlled House. It would have made it a felony to intentionally distribute cannabis to minors.

During the Senate Committee of the Whole consideration, lawmakers approved an amendment that would prevent members of the House or Senate from obtaining a cannabis business license before July 2026.

Sen. Mark Moores (R) asked during the whether the bill’s supporters had financial interests in legalization. Both Martínez and Armstrong, the two House cosponsors who were present at the hearing, said they did not, nor did they have any plans to enter the cannabis industry in the future.

Duhigg, a legalization supporter on the Senate side who voted against the amendment, said she did not have any interest in the industry. She added, “I look forward to Sen. Moore also asking the same question of Sen. Pirtle when we are hearing Senate Bill 3.”

Pirtle said he was offended by Duhigg’s insinuation of wrongdoing. “I have consistently recused myself when there has been a direct conflict or chance of impropriety,” he replied. “I voted yes [on the amendment] because I have never supported a piece of legislation that would affect me financially in my career.”

The panel adopted the change over the objections of some members who said the rule sets a bad precedent given that New Mexico lawmakers are unpaid, volunteer legislators who generally hold other jobs.

The expungements bill, SB 2, saw several relatively minor amendments in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, most of which were technical changes to language that critics called unclear or unnecessary.

The measure would automatically erase past records of arrests or convictions for activity that would no longer be outlawed under legalization. People currently in custody for cannabis crimes would also be eligible for resentencing under the bill.

Among the more significant changes adopted in committee were a provision allowing people to petition for expungement anonymously, intended to avoid publicizing the charges being expunged. Another amendment adds human trafficking to a list of offenses that could allow state agencies to disqualify applicants for public employment or licensing.

Legislative leaders worked to hammer out a legalization deal throughout the state’s 60-day legislative session this year. Sponsors of at least five different original bills have tried to unify the conflicting proposals and incorporate feedback from colleagues. Going into the special session, HB 2’s sponsors have been working closely with the governor’s office to craft a final bill.

During the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Pirtle made a final plea to colleagues to consider his alternative legalization bill, which he said was similar to a 2019 proposal that passed the House but failed in the Senate, legislation he noted had bipartisan support.

“It was something that was put together with two goals in mind,” he told the committee of SB 3, “and those goals were to basically eliminate the illicit market along with protecting the public safety of the state to the best that we could.”

Pirtle said HB 2 concentrates too much power in the state Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD). His bill would have split oversight among three departments: RLD would oversee licensing, while production would be under the Department of Agriculture and “all things that would be consumed” would be regulated by the Environment Department, much like how the state regulates hemp. Licensing would also be simpler than HB 2, with lower costs and a scalable cultivation license that would be based on how many plants a business grows.

House Republicans have repeatedly blasted Democrats who wrote HB 12 for not being more transparent in the process, while others have criticized the special session as unnecessary.

“The past sixty days have been defined by the Governor and Democrats silencing the voice of the people, and the silence has become deafening following the crash and burn of their pot bill” during the regular session, House Republican Leader Jim Townsend said in a statement Monday. “If legalizing marijuana is truly about the people, you would think that New Mexicans from all walks of life would have the opportunity to contribute to the process, especially when it failed so miserable at the last minute due to too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Gov. Lujan Grisham, meanwhile, included cannabis legalization as part of her 2021 legislative agenda and has repeatedly talked about the need to legalize as a means to boost the economy, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. She said during a State of the State address in January that “a crisis like the one we’ve experienced last year can be viewed as a loss or as an invitation to rethink the status quo—to be ambitious and creative and bold.”

Additional pressure to end cannabis prohibition this year is coming from neighboring Arizona, where sales officially launched in January after voters approved a legalization ballot initiative last year. To New Mexico’s north is Colorado, one of the first states to legalize for adult use.

Cannabis is also expected to be legalized across the southern border in Mexico, with lawmakers facing a Supreme Court mandate to end prohibition by the end of April.

Before last year’s failed effort, New Mexico’s House in 2019 approved a legalization bill that included provisions to put marijuana sales mostly in state-run stores, but that measure died in the Senate. Later that year, Lujan Grisham created a working group to study cannabis legalization and issue recommendations.

In May of last year, the governor signaled she was considering actively campaigning against lawmakers who blocked her legalization bill in 2020. She also said that she’s open to letting voters decide on the policy change via a ballot referendum if lawmakers can’t send a legalization bill to her desk.

New York Governor Signs Marijuana Legalization Bill, Hours After Lawmakers Put It On His Desk

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Congress To Vote On Marijuana, Psychedelics And CBD Amendments This Week Following Committee Action

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A key House committee on Monday cleared a series of cannabis and psychedelics-related amendments for floor votes as part of large-scale spending legislation. That floor action could happen as soon as Tuesday.

However, the panel also blocked two measures on housing protections for cannabis consumers that legalization supporters hoped to see advance.

One of the most notable amendments the House Rules Committee allowed to move forward for possible attachment to appropriations legislation would remove a rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine.

The reform measure is being sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and it targets 1990s-era provision that’s long been part of spending legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The congresswoman attempted to eliminate the language via an amendment in 2019 only to have it defeated by Republicans as well as a majority of her party. But it’s far from the only measure being proposed this appropriations season when it comes to drug policy matters.

Some are being backed by reform advocates, while others have received sharp criticism.

One pro-reform amendment that’s advancing would encourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve rules allowing CBD as a dietary supplement and food ingredient.

On the other side, there is a proposal from Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) to the HHS appropriations bill to eliminate a rider that’s currently in the bill that “allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.”

The reason this measure has generated particular pushback is because research into cannabis is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue, and top federal drug officials have repeatedly urged Congress to support policies that make it easier to study the risks and benefits of the plant. What’s more, Lesko represents a state with adult-use legalization on the books.

Activists are disappointed that two marijuana reform measures from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) are being blocked from floor consideration. Her proposals—which were aimed at appropriations legislation for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—would have made it so marijuana possession or consumption could not be used as the sole basis for denying people access to public housing. One Norton amendment was narrowly focused on medical cannabis while a second measure would have covered all marijuana use that’s legal under state laws.

“It’s disappointing that those who rely on public support for housing will continue to be discriminated against for their state-legal choices,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.

Advocates were surprised that the Rules Committee, chaired by marijuana reform supporter Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), sought to prevent a floor vote on the Norton cannabis amendments.

A committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment that the proposals “had points of order against them and we never make amendments in order with points of order against them.”

Here are the descriptions of measures that the Rules Committee made in order for floor votes: 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): Allows United States researchers to study and examine the potential impacts of several schedule I drugs, such as MDMA, psilocybin, and or ibogaine, that have been shown to be effective in treating critical diseases.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR): Increases and decreases by $5 million, funding for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA, to highlight the need for the Agency to proceed with rulemaking on cannabidiol (or CBD) by no later than 180 days after enactment, out of concern that the FDA has not initiated rulemaking to establish a regulatory pathway for CBD as a dietary supplement and food ingredient.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ): Strikes language that allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA): Transfers $25 million from the Environmental Programs and Management enforcement activities account to the National Forest System account for enforcement and remediation of illegal marijuana trespass grow sites on federal lands and for the clean-up of toxic waste and chemicals at these sites.

Here are the amendments that were not ruled in order and are thus dead: 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): Prohibits HUD from enforcing the prohibition on the use or possession of marijuana in federally assisted housing in states where marijuana is legal.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC): Prohibits HUD from enforcing the prohibition on the use or possession of medical marijuana in federally assisted housing in states where medical marijuana is legal.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA): Prohibits funds from this section from being used to fund needle distribution programs for illegal drugs.

Rep. Ted Butt (R-NC): Prohibits federal funds from being used to purchase clean syringes for illegal drug use.

Rep. Ted Butt (R-NC): Prohibits federal funds from being used to purchase clean syringes for illegal drug use in DC.

Rep. French Hill (R-AR): Increases funding by $50 million for the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program. Offsets the increase with a decrease in funding of $50 million for the Electric Vehicles Fund.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Overall, these amendments were targeted for inclusion in an appropriations “minibus” bill for fiscal year 2022 to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

The spending package that is now heading to the House floor for votes on Tuesday also, under its language as originally introduced in appropriations subcommittees, would allow Washington, D.C. to use its local tax dollars to implement a system of lawful marijuana sales for adults.

That stands in contrast to a budget proposal from President Joe Biden, whose administration is seeking to keep language protecting medical cannabis states from federal intervention but has excluded the provision on giving D.C. autonomy to legalize marijuana commerce.

Another provision that was added as part of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill would protect banks that work with marijuana businesses. Further, the committee report attached to that legislation encourages federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using marijuana in compliance with state law.

Federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions, a report attached to separate spending legislation that’s part of the advancing minibus package says.

Report language also directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve communication on veteran eligibility for home loans and report back to Congress on its progress within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation. A separate provision urges VA to expand research on the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.

In the report for Agriculture Department funding, lawmakers took issue with the 2018 Farm Bill’s 0.3 percent THC cap for lawful hemp products and directed USDA to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and DEA on a study of whether that threshold is scientifically backed. That report also addressed numerous other issues related to the crop.

Other report language attached to this spending package highlights the difficulty of studying Schedule I drugs like marijuana, recognizes the medical potential of cannabinoids like CBD, encourages federal agencies not to restrict the plant kratom and acknowledges the lifesaving value of syringe access programs and safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.

The appropriations process this session has seen numerous drug policy reform provisions included in bill text and attached reports—also stopping immigrants from being deported for cannabis, for example, among other issues.

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers recently circulated a letter to build support for an amendment to a separate Department of Justice spending bill that would protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference—going beyond the existing measure that shields only medical cannabis states that’s currently enacted into law. There are now 15 cosponsors signed on to the broader proposal, which is expected to be considered by the Rules Committee and then potentially see floor action this week.

The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) spending report also notes that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has moved to approve additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes and says the committee supports ongoing research efforts on cannabis, particularly in the wake of an outbreak of lung injuries associated with unregulated vaping products.

A provision was also attached to the bill that would make states and localities ineligible for certain federal law enforcement grants if they maintain a policy allowing for no-knock warrants for drug-related cases. That policy garnered national attention following the police killing of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by law enforcement during a botched drug raid.

The Rules Committee is set to take up CJS and other appropriations legislation on Tuesday.

White House Declines To Blame Marijuana Sales For Violent Crime Spike Despite D.C. Police Chief’s Comments

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White House Declines To Blame Marijuana Sales For Violent Crime Spike Despite D.C. Police Chief’s Comments

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The White House on Monday declined the chance to blame illicit marijuana sales for a rise in violent crime in Washington, D.C.—despite the city’s police chief recently arguing that the issues are connected.

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee suggested on Friday that part of the reason for the uptick in violent crime is connected to the illegal cannabis market, which he says has been deprioritized amid the national reform movement.

“When you have something where people get high reward—they can make a lot of money by selling illegal marijuana—and the risk is low, the risk for accountability is very low, that creates a very, very, very, very, very bad situation,” Contee argued at a press conference near the site of a shooting this month.

Advocates assert that Congress bears some blame for consistently passing a spending bill rider that bars the District from regulating retail sales after voters approved a 2014 initiative to legalize personal possession and cultivation for adults, thus relegating cannabis commerce to the illegal market.

Late last month, a House committee approved a large-scale funding bill that would allow the District to legalize cannabis sales by deleting the rider. The legislation is expected to pass the full House this week.

In any case, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked directly on Monday by a Fox News reporter whether the Biden administration thinks “that it may be time to get tougher on marijuana” in light of the chief’s comments. And she notably did not jump at the chance to vilify cannabis despite President Joe Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization.

“We look to the crime that has been happening in D.C.—again one of the cities where we’ve seen rising violence over the past year and a half,” she said, pivoting quickly away from the cannabis query to discuss crime more generally. It’s “one we’re working in close partnership through both the [Justice Department] as well as our community violence intervention collaborative. We’re looking to address a range of causes, working in close partnership with the mayor and local police to bring crime down in our city.”

The fact that Psaki decided not to take aim at marijuana specifically, despite being prompted by comments made by one of the the top law enforcement official in the nation’s capital, is significant—if only because the administration to this point has been firmly footed in maintaining the status quo of prohibition.

Biden’s budget proposal specifically proposes continuing the longstanding Republican-led rider that has prevented the city from spending its own money to regulate adult-use cannabis commerce, for example.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in May blasted the president in an interview with Marijuana Moment for seeking to extend the provision blocking her city from making its own cannabis decisions, saying she is “going to be working very hard to make sure that that rider is not in the budget” that lawmakers ultimately send back to Biden’s desk.

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational cannabis sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.

From advocates’ perspective, allowing D.C. to do what a growing number of states have already done by regulating cannabis could help mitigate the risks associated with enabling an illicit market to continue. Giving adults the option to purchase marijuana from a licensed retailer would make it less likely that the city would see any violent criminal activity that can be tied to illegal cannabis sales, they say.

Psaki didn’t make that point, but she didn’t seize the opportunity to target cannabis as a contributing factor to D.C. violence either.

This adds to the White House narrative on marijuana that’s evolved throughout the Biden administration.

During his presidential campaign last year, Biden ran on a pledge to enact other modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis possession, expunging prior records and respecting the rights of states to set their own laws. Since taking office, however, his administration has not made progress on any of those promises and has instead fired its own White House staffers over marijuana and is seeking to extend the D.C. sales block.

Biden took some by surprise by suggesting that international sports rules on marijuana may need to be reevaluated after star U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended following a positive cannabis test. But that’s a far cry from endorsing comprehensive reform.

Psaki, for her part, initially declined to condemn Olympics officials’ sanction on Richardson when asked about the issue at an earlier briefing with reporters. But she later told CNN that the case highlights the need to “take another look” at the rules on cannabis.

In April, the press secretary said that Biden’s campaign pledge to release federal inmates with marijuana convictions will start with modestly rescheduling cannabis—a proposal that advocates say wouldn’t actually accomplish what she’s suggesting.

On broad legalization, Psaki said recently that the president remains opposed to the reform, despite Senate leadership introducing a bill this month to federally legalize marijuana.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), one of the three leaders on the measure, said recently that he and his Senate colleagues will be talking to the White House now that they’ve released draft reform legislation.

FDA Seeks Public Input On Possible Global Kratom Ban After Domestic Scheduling Effort Stalled

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FDA Seeks Public Input On Possible Global Kratom Ban After Domestic Scheduling Effort Stalled

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After failing to get kratom prohibited domestically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now seeking public comment to inform the U.S. position on how the substance should be scheduled under international statute.

In a notice published in the Federal Register last week, the agency is soliciting feedback on a number of substances. But advocates are especially concerned about where FDA and global drug officials come down on kratom, which has been touted as a natural painkiller that works as a safer alternative to prescription opioids.

The U.S. agency doesn’t quite see it that way, however.

“Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects,” FDA wrote in the notice. “Kratom is available in several different forms to include dried/crushed leaves, powder, capsules, tablets, liquids, and gum/ resin. Kratom is an increasingly popular drug of abuse and readily available on the recreational drug market in the United States.”

Responses to the notice will help inform the federal government’s stance on kratom scheduling in advance of an October meeting of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, where international officials will discuss whether to recommend the substance be globally scheduled.

“The FDA’s request for public comments on a matter of such importance involving the international scheduling of kratom is an extraordinary abuse of their authority,” Mac Haddow, senior fellow of public policy at the American Kratom Association (AKA), told Marijuana Moment.

He said the August 9 deadline for the responses allows “only three weeks for scientists, public policy makers and consumers to provide responses that are well researched and responsive to the complex requirements for data and information that will be considered by the WHO Expert Committee” and is therefore “unacceptable.”

As it stands, kratom is not scheduled under the federal Controlled Substances Act or under international drug treaties to which the U.S. is a party. But some advocates suspect that since FDA has been unable so far to impose a ban on kratom domestically, it may use the WHO convention as an opportunity to get prohibition enacted internationally, a move that the country would be compelled to comply with.

“If that happens, there are 37 countries that are part of that international treaty that will effectively ban kratom around the world,” Haddow said in a recent video update to supporters. “The FDA cannot get kratom scheduled here in the United States using the criteria that’s established by the Controlled Substances Act, so they’re circumventing that and going to the WHO.”

Haddow encouraged people to take advantage of the public comment period—but to remember that WHO is the target audience for those comment, not FDA.

“We want thousands of people to comment because every one of those comments will have to be packaged up and sent to the World Health Organization,” he said. “We don’t want people complaining about the FDA overreach because we can fight that battle on a separate battleground, but we want the WHO to know the powerful experiences that people have had” with kratom.

FDA, in its Federal Register notice, said the comments “will be considered in preparing a response from the United States to the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the abuse liability and diversion of these drugs.”

Haddow told Marijuana Moment that the federal agency “is prosecuting a war on kratom to criminalize more than 15 million Americans, and they ignore the public health impacts of kratom consumers being forced to opioids with a high potential for addiction and that can be deadly.”

“More overdose deaths will occur if kratom is banned, and that is exactly what the FDA is trying to do,” he said.

On the domestic level, the House Appropriations Committee recently approved a report to spending legislation that says federal health agencies have “contributed to the continued understanding of the health impacts of kratom, including its constituent compounds, mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine.”

“The Committee is aware of the potential promising results of kratom for acute and chronic pain patients who seek safer alternatives to sometimes dangerously addictive and potentially deadly prescription opioids and of research investigating the use of kratom’s constituent compounds for opioid use disorder,” it said.

It also directed the Health and Human Services secretary to continue to refrain from recommending that kratom be controlled in Schedule I.

Late last year, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) asked the public to help identify research that specifically looks at the risks and benefits of cannabinoids and kratom.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year separately received more than one thousand comments concerning kratom as part of another public solicitation.

FDA has on several occasions solicited public input to shape the government’s position on the international scheduling of marijuana and cannabinoids. The agency initially requested feedback on the proposal in March 2019 and then reopened that comment period five months later.

Last year, the United Nations approved a U.S.-backed WHO recommendation to remove marijuana from the most restrictive global scheduling category. However, the U.S. opposed several other cannabis reform proposals, including the one to clarify that CBD is not under international control.

D.C. Police Chief Says Illicit Marijuana Sales Tied To Violence As Congress Weighs Lifting Regulatory Blockade

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