Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who is seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, filed three House bills concerning medical marijuana for military veterans on Friday. And, in an interview, Moulton said decriminalizing drugs more broadly can have positive effects.
The text of the new legislation has yet to be released, but the short titles are identical to versions of the bills the congressman introduced last year. Here’s what they’d accomplish, according to a press release from Moulton’s office:
“To provide for a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) policy on medicinal cannabis, and for other purposes.”
This piece of legislation would not only codify into law a current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administrative policy that protects veterans from losing their benefits for using cannabis but also require the VA to “prominently” post the policy at their facilities.
“As more veterans turn to medicinal cannabis to more effectively treat their various service- and non-service related injuries, the relationship with their healthcare providers is becoming ever more important,” an earlier summary stated. While the VA has a current policy protecting benefits for veterans who discuss their use of medical marijuana, “not all healthcare providers respond in a standard way and veterans still fear and experience repercussions of some kind.”
“To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to seek to enter into an agreement with a federally funded research and development center to conduct surveys to measure cannabis use by veterans, and for other purposes.”
Moulton filed this bill in order to get the VA to conduct a national survey on how veterans are using cannabis for therapeutic purposes. There are some recent polls showing that about one-in-five veterans use medical marijuana, but those have come from advocacy groups rather than the department itself. The survey would involve veterans and VA health care providers.
“With the growing use of medicinal cannabis among veterans, the VA needs a better understanding of what veterans are doing to self-medicate various conditions,” a previous summary explained.
“To require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide training in the use of medical cannabis for all Department of Veterans Affairs primary care providers, and for other purposes.”
This bill would establish partnerships between the VA and medical schools that offer courses on medical cannabis education for health care providers.
There are numerous colleges throughout the U.S. that are conducting research on cannabis, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently asked House leadership to include language shielding those institutions from losing federal funds for studying a controlled substance.
Despite the request, however, the recommended language was not ultimately included in the House education appropriations legislation.
“Veterans want an alternative to opioids, and Congress should support them,” Moulton said in a press release. “Let’s not kid ourselves: people are using marijuana – including our veterans. Rather than ignoring this reality, Congress should let doctors talk with their patients about it, and we should learn more about cannabis so it can be safely used and properly regulated. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully-researched and legal, but a few steps now will speed that along. Veterans deserve the best healthcare in the world. This is a step in that direction.”
Moulton and colleagues filed previous versions of the veterans cannabis bills during the last Congress, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
Cosponsoring each of Moulton’s new bills are Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Charlie Crist (D-FL).
“Medical cannabis has tremendous potential for veterans. It can reduce chronic pain, without the harmful side effects of opioids, and some early reports indicate that it may even have potential as a treatment for PTSD,” Gaetz said. “Unfortunately, many veterans fear discussing medical cannabis with their doctors, for fear that their benefits will be jeopardized. I am proud to cosponsor Congressman Moulton’s bills, which will protect veterans’ benefits, and will advance scientific knowledge about medical cannabis. This small step will make a big difference to veterans nationwide.”
The proposals are the latest in a series of legislation focused on medical cannabis and military veterans that have been gaining traction in Congress.
Last month, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on bills to let VA doctors recommend marijuana to their patients, expand marijuana research at the department and codify a policy protecting veterans from losing their benefits over cannabis use.
Two of those bills were set to get a full committee vote last week, but they were pulled from the agenda after the chairman decided to instead hold a yet-to-be-scheduled hearing focused specifically on the marijuana proposals.
It is not yet known if any of the new bills filed by Moulton will get hearings.
Beyond marijuana reform, Moulton said in an interview with the Boston Globe published on Monday that he supports allowing safe consumption sites for illegal drugs and expressed openness to broader decriminalization.
“There are places we have to strictly enforce drug laws and places we need to liberalize them, but there’s no question that the vast majority of cities and countries that have decriminalized drugs have seen an improvement in their addicted populations,” he said.
A group of prosecutors from major U.S. cities is currently touring Portugal to learn about the nation’s drug decriminalization policy.
Former FDA Chief Wants Federal Government To Regulate State Marijuana Markets
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Monday that the federal government should regulate state marijuana programs.
In his clearest comments on the issue to date, Gottlieb said in a CNBC appearance that the rise in vaping-related lung injuries underscores the need for a federal regulatory scheme that would empower agencies to impose industry standards on aspects of legal cannabis markets such as THC potency and allowable forms of consumption.
Previously, the official had been ambiguous about the extent to which the federal government should get involved, broadly arguing that vaping issues reflect a consequence of conflicting state and federal laws without specifically saying what his preferred policy fix would be. However, in an editorial for The Wall Street Journal published last week, he provided some clarification—hinting that federal drug scheduling laws should be reformed for cannabis—but still left room for interpretation.
But now, he is beginning to lay out specific details of a regulatory agenda.
Gottlieb said during the TV interview that enforcing prohibition is no longer “politically practicable” and that Congress should pass “a federal law that actually can be enforced and allow federal regulatory authorities to impose appropriate supervision.”
While he said he’s not in favor of adult-use legalization and would “like to see the recreational uses shut down entirely,” the reality is that many states have made that decision and so any federal regulatory scheme would have to include “some accommodation of that.”
“I think the time has come that we need to grapple with this at a federal level. We can’t ignore it any more.”
Asked whether states are capable of providing the types of regulations he’s calling for, Gottlieb said no because there’s a patchwork of policies across the country and states “don’t have the capacity to both police what’s being sold in their so-called legal dispensaries as well as shut down the black market.”
“I think you’re going to need federal authorities in there to do that,” he said.
Under the regulatory model Gottlieb is envisioning, FDA and other agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) “could regulate what’s being sold for the potency, for the manufacturing, for the ingredients, for the claims that are being made.”
“Even if we were to federalize it and allow some form of recreational use, we could limit what can be sold, the potency of what could be sold, the forms in which it can be sold,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think vaping THC products should be allowed.
Federal agencies could impose “tighter controls on the medical claims, holding them to a higher standard and allowing some form of recreational use, probably for products that are lower concentration, that are only delivered in forms that pose less harm than vaping e-liquids,” he said.
“There’s a way to have a compromise where you allow some form of recreational access in the states that want to allow it but something that looks far different than what you have today, something that’s far less permissive than the state laws,” he said. “That’s not a great outcome in my view from a public health standpoint, but what we have now is far worse where you have a federal government not enforcing the law at all—barely enforcing the law—because they know the existing law isn’t practical, and the states not imposing any supervision because they’re incapable of doing it or they don’t want to step in in a vigorous way.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/CNBC.
Scotland’s Ruling Party Unanimously Backs Drug Decriminalization Measure
Delegates of the Scottish National Party (SNP) unanimously approved a resolution calling for the decriminalization of drug possession and consumption on Sunday.
At a conference in Aberdeen, lawmakers representing Scotland’s largest party and the third largest in the UK Parliament argued that removing criminal penalties for drug offenses and treating addiction as a public health issue would combat an ongoing overdose crisis.
The proposed amendment to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act stipulates that the current law is “not fit for purpose in 21st Century Scotland” and would add a provision “to allow for decriminalization of possession and consumption of controlled drugs so that health services are not prevented from giving treatment to those that need it.”
— Alison Thewliss (@alisonthewliss) October 13, 2019
Members of Parliament Tommy Sheppard, Ronnie Cowan and Alison Thewliss of the SNP introduced the measure.
“Our law enforcement agencies are focused on the weak and vulnerable at the bottom of the pyramid, when they should be focused on the organized criminals at the top,” Sheppard said.
He added that if the UK government declines to pursue the reform move, it should “give Scotland the ability to do it instead, because we will take the steps necessary.”
As SNP back decriminalisation to address the drug-death crisis, we spoke to @TommySheppard MP on the need for urgent action to save lives. If Westminster won't act, Scotland must. #SNP19 #skotia pic.twitter.com/zoUWeVYkIZ
— Skotia (@TheSkotia) October 13, 2019
Cowan noted that many people suffering from addiction have experienced some form of trauma and are self-medicating.
“Decriminalization demystifies drugs and places them firmly in the health arena,” he said. “Drug policy is about a mindset. Decriminalization changes the mindset and by changing that you can treat people as human beings and we can start a recovery process.”
As Common Space reported, previous SNP conferences have also seen the passage of progressive drug reform amendments, including one that would establish safe consumption sites to prevent overdoses and help people transition into treatment. Advocates have expressed frustration that the UK Parliament has generally resisted such harm reduction policies.
The Labour Party announced last month that it would launch a Royal Commission dedicated to reviewing the country’s drug laws if elected to the majority.
“The UK government’s cavalier attitude towards Scotland’s drugs emergency is simply appalling,” Thewliss said. “People are dying on our streets and the risk to the general public from discarded needles and transmission of blood borne diseases is very real—yet the Tories at Westminster sit on their hands.”
Glasgow Councillor Mhairi Hunter said at the conference that “challenging the stigma around addiction means challenging the laws that criminalize addiction.”
Over in the U.S., lawmakers remain primarily focused on reforming federal marijuana laws, but talk of broader decriminalization is growing. A survey released earlier this month found that a majority of Americans (55 percent) support the policy change.
Dietary Supplement Industry Pushes Congress To Allow CBD Product Sales
Four trade associations representing the dietary supplement industry signed a letter urging federal lawmakers to take action to provide for the lawful marketing of CBD products while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) develops its regulations.
The American Herbal Products Association, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition and United Natural Products Alliance said Congress should “pass legislation to clarify that CBD derived from the hemp plant is a lawful dietary ingredient if the dietary supplement containing the CBD meets established product safety and quality criteria.”
To do that, the groups recommended granting a limited waiver that would exempt CBD products from a provision of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that would allow companies to sell CBD as dietary supplements as long as the products are derived from hemp and meet health and safety standards.
“Given the rapidly growing marketplace of products, it is crucial that Congress take quick action to clarify the legal status of hemp-derived CBD dietary supplements,” the letter states. “At the same time, it is equally essential for FDA to have the resources it needs to protect the public from unsafe CBD products.”
A united supplement industry is urging Congress to take swift action on CBD to assure consumer protection and a clear regulatory framework. See what CHPA, @AHPAssociation, @CRN_Supplements, and @unpafrank have to say, here: https://t.co/pUBGSpXFQf
— CHPA (@CHPA) October 10, 2019
“These actions are urgent given the strong consumer interest in CBD, the growth in products and sales, and the need for clarity among consumers, retailers, and manufacturers about the legal status of these products,” the groups said.
Congressional action is needed, they argued, because FDA officials have indicated that the rulemaking process for CBD could take up to five years. They also expressed appreciation for agriculture spending legislation approved by a the Senate committee that would allocate $2 million to FDA to support their efforts to develop cannabidiol regulations.
“We urge Congress to go even further to include substantial new resources to enable effective FDA oversight of this fast-growing category, including funding for efficient and timely review of new dietary ingredient notifications and enforcement of existing laws governing the safety, manufacturing, and labeling of dietary supplements containing CBD,” the letter continues. “We urge that you work with FDA to determine a level of funding adequate to assure effective regulation of the CBD marketplace that does not detract from other agency enforcement priorities.”
“This is the best, most efficient, and most timely way to both set a clear regulatory framework for the marketplace and better assure consumer protection. While we can appreciate the FDA’s deliberative interest in making sure that consumers have access to safe CBD products, we are concerned that continuing to leave the marketplace without clarity and adequate oversight for an extended period of years will both endanger consumers and the bright future of the hemp-derived products they seek. Since it appears FDA is unlikely to provide a timely and effective resolution to this challenge, Congress must act.”
The dietary supplement industry is far from alone in its call for an expedited process to allow CBD products to be marketed.
A bipartisan coalition of senators—and notably, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—have also urged FDA to clear a path to allow for the lawful marketing of CBD products while the agency continues to develop regulations.
Read the full CBD letter from the dietary supplement industry groups below:
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.