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Researchers Slam Drug War At Federally Hosted Psychedelics Event

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A federal health agency kicked off a speaker series on Thursday that’s dedicated to recapping science on the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms. And the experts who spoke at the first event said in response to Marijuana Moment’s questions that federal drug laws are out of step with voters and undermine the research objectives of the scientific community.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI), under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is hosting the events, says that while federal law classifies the psychedelic as a Schedule I substance with no currently accepted medical value, clinical trials “are researching psilocybin to treat cancer related depression, for example, and moreover for its potential medicinal application in treating a range of severe psychiatric disorders.”

To that end, the agency is organizing a first-of-its-kind Psilocybin Research Speaker Series that’s taking place over the next several weeks.

Thursday’s initial event featured professors from UCLA and Johns Hopkins University, who led presentations on the use of psilocybin in end-of-life care and the “neuropsychopharmacology and implications for therapeutics” of the entheogen.

Dr. Charles Grob of UCLA talked about the need for increased diversity among participants in psychedelics studies and also noted the “thorny issue” of funding.

“I’ll say that the National Institutes of Health really have not funded this area,” he said. “As far as I’m aware, since the late 60s, they funded mechanistic questions but not actual treatment—whether psychedelics may have some role as a treatment model that I think that needs to be relooked at.”

He also said in response to a question from Marijuana Moment that he views the scientific and decriminalization policy movements around psychedelics as a “parallel process.” He added that “the decriminalization phenomena is actually quite fascinating and, honestly, it took me by surprise.”

Decriminalization measures “seem to be passing by large majority, so it seems like the public, to a significant degree, is done with the drug war—and I certainly would applaud that,” he said. However, he noted the importance of “public education programs” about the safe use of psychedelics in jurisdictions that opt to enact decriminalization or loosen criminal penalties.

Asked by Marijuana Moment about whether the scheduling status of psilocybin under federal law inhibits research into the compound’s risk and benefits, Dr. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University said that the “Schedule I status is anathema to research because it makes research much more difficult—and that’s both clinical research and even preclinical research.”

“Even a preclinical neurological researcher, if they want to work with a Schedule I compound, they still have to jump through all the hurdles and create a [Drug Enforcement Administration] license and track their substance in a way that’s really quite discouraging of research,” he said. “I wish there were an easier workaround for Schedule I compounds and research generally, but as the laws are currently written, there isn’t a workaround.”

The next event in the federally hosted series on the psychedelic, scheduled for May 27, will give a scientific perspective on advancing public health initiatives through “dynamic regulatory frameworks. Another panel is titled “Transcendent, Spiritual, and Humane: Psychedelic Medicine Ends the Epoch of Psychiatric Reductionism and Rouses the Dawn of a New Mental Health Universe.”

Microdosing psilocybin will be a focus of the June 7 event, as well as the use of the psychedelic in treating depression. A representative from the National Institute on Drug Abuse will discuss the “synthesis, characterization, and preclinical pharmacology of psilocybin analogs and related tryptamines.”

Finally, on June 10, participants will learn about psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy for advanced cancer-related psychiatric and existential distress, led by an NYU professor.

As a reminder: all these presentations on psychedelics research are being organized and promoted by a federal agency. Despite strict restrictions on psilocybin at the federal level, the speakers series is highlighting science that runs counter that notion that the entheogen has no medical utility—undermining its ongoing Schedule I status.

NCI said the series has two purposes: 

  • Education: provide time-sensitive and evidence-based scientific information, utilizing expert speakers from academia, government, and the community.
  • Research: assess the current state of the science, identify research gaps and opportunities, regarding future research needs for investigation among diverse research communities.

But while it may seem counterintuitive that the federal government is sanctioning this research series, it’s not without precedent.

NCI hosted a symposium this month on research into marijuana as a therapeutic in the treatment of cancer and other related issues in December 2020, for example.

The Food and Drug Administration also held a public conference that year that looked at the use and effects of CBD differ based on sex and gender.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in 2018 sponsored a working that touched on various aspects of marijuana research, particularly under the current federal framework of prohibition.

But the psilocybin-focused event series from a federal agency serves as a unique reminder that psychedelics are gaining attention amid a national movement to end criminalization over the substances that show significant therapeutic potential.

In California, for example, two Senate committees have recently approved a bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics and create a working group to study broader reform.

The Northampton, Massachusetts City Council passed a resolution earlier this month to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca. It’s the third city in the state to advance the policy change, following Somerville and Cambridge.

These are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread rapidly since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.

Besides the cities in Massachusetts, four others—Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor and Washington, D.C.—have also decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.

In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and more broadly decriminalize possession of all drugs.

In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”

Florida Supreme Court Kills 2022 Marijuana Legalization Initiative That Hundreds Of Thousands Had Signed

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill

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The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.

His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.

“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.

“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”

It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.

The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.

Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures

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Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.

This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.

The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.

CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.

Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.

A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).

A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.

There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.

After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.

Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.

Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.

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A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”

While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.

The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.

Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.

The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.

That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.

“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.

Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.

“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”

The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.

She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”

However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.

While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.

She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.

Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.

USDA Teams Up With Cornell University For Hemp Education Webinar Series

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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