The largest organization representing psychology professionals in the United States is calling on the federal government to expand the legal supply of marijuana for use in scientific research.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr, the American Psychological Association (APA) is requesting that the Department of Justice immediately evaluate the more than two dozen applications for cannabis cultivation licenses that stalled under his predecessor Jeff Sessions.
“The scientific community is eager to advance cannabis research on both the harmful and therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives,” APA President Arthur Evans Jr. wrote on Wednesday. “Without access to an expanded range of cannabis products engineered under [Food and Drug Administration]-approved Good Manufacturing Practices, scientific research cannot hope to keep pace with the ever-expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplace.”
Cannabis and its constituent compounds are of significant interest to psychological scientists, both to those interested in use, abuse and dependence, as well as to those interested in using marijuana and its derivatives to treat health conditions.
But for the past half century, all marijuana for use in federally authorized research has been supplied by a single facility at the University of Mississippi. Scientists have complained that it is difficult to obtain product from the school, however, and that its quality is often less than ideal.
Evans called the current system “costly, cumbersome and limited by a sole source supply.”
“[W]e urge you to take immediate action on the existing pool of cannabis grower applications so that our nation’s scientific community can continue to expand the study of both the harmful and potential therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives.”
Addressing those concerns, the Drug Enforcement Administration established a formal application procedure in 2016 to license additional cultivators.
Since then, at least 26 applications have been received, but the Department of Justice has refused to process them, a situation that led frustrated lawmakers to send a series of bipartisan letters pressing Sessions to act. Senators from both sides of the aisle called on the then-attorney general to stop blocking efforts to increase research and, in committee hearings, Sessions said he was supportive of allowing more people to grow marijuana for research purposes.
But the applications never moved under his tenure.
The letter from APA, which has more than 118,000 members, asks Barr to “take immediate action to facilitate critically needed cannabis research by evaluating the more than two dozen cannabis grower applications that have languished for over two years at the Department of Justice.”
Barr said last month in written testimony to senators that he supports “the expansion of marijuana manufacturers for scientific research consistent with law” and pledged to “review the matter and take appropriate steps.”
In September, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation designed to force the Justice Department’s hand by requiring it to issue additional licenses. The bill died after it didn’t receive a floor vote, but its sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), refiled a new version in January following the start of the 116th Congress.
In a letter to U.S. AG William Barr, APA CEO @ArthurCEvans calls for immediate action to evaluate existing applications from cannabis growers so researchers can continue to expand the study of harmful & therapeutic effects of cannabis & its derivatives: https://t.co/M20btHwYgX pic.twitter.com/hI6u2HCU6E
— American Psychological Association (@APA) February 27, 2019
Evans, of APA, said that the current limited supply of marijuana available for research isn’t particularly useful in evaluating the effects of the the type of cannabis products that are now available to consumers under the laws of a growing number of states.
“While [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] provides a staple catalog of cannabis products and derivatives for research, it cannot keep pace (nor should it be expected to) with the range of products available to consumers in the 10 states that have approved recreational cannabis use or the 34 states distributing cannabis products through medical dispensaries,” he wrote in the new letter to Barr.
Evans cited a 2016 NIDA request for information that asked the scientific community about topics of interest for further cannabis research. The most consistent recommendation was to have marijuana strains and products available that reflect the diversity available at state dispensaries.
“That would include cannabis strains and hybrids with higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, more reflective of what is found in state programs (up to ~30 percent THC), as well as increasing the number and variety of cannabis chemotypes to include not only a range of THC concentrations, but also other cannabinoids: cannabidiol, cannabigerol, cannabinol, cannabichromere, tetrahydrocannabivarin, terpenes (e.g., linalool, terpinolene, nerolidiol, myrcene) and flavonoids with varying ratios of each to better isolate and characterize their constituent pharmacological effects,” Evans wrote
“There is also increasing demand to improve the quality of placebo cannabis because the current process for its manufacturing removes not only THC but many other compounds, including other cannabinoids as well as volatile compounds (terpenes) that contribute to the color and olfactory characteristics,” he added. “A more effective placebo would better mimic the taste, smell and look of active cannabis.”
Evans wrote to Barr that scientists also need access to an “expanded range of formulations for varying routes of administration to reflect what is available in state dispensaries, including for oral, sublingual, respiratory, rectal and dermal delivery of purified and whole plant extracts along with matching placebo formulations (e.g., edibles, hash oil, budder, wax and shatter).”
New Jersey Voters Will Decide On Marijuana Legalization Next Year, Senate Leaders Say
New Jersey lawmakers are giving up on plans to enact marijuana legalization through the legislature and are now seeking to put the question before voters on the 2020 ballot.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) announced on Monday that while they had “made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively,” the “votes just aren’t there.” As a result, they filed a proposal that would allow residents to vote on legalization as a constitutional amendment.
“We are moving forward with a plan to seek voter approval to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey,” the leaders said in a press release. “We introduced legislation today to authorize a public referendum for a proposal that will lead to the creation of a system that allows adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes in a responsible way.”
— Brian Thompson (@brian4NY) November 18, 2019
“This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax,” they said.
The plan, which NJ.com first reported, is to have the legislature to approve the referendum proposal and get the ballot measure set for a vote in the general election next November. Sweeney and Scutari said they are “confident it will be approved by the Senate, the Assembly and the voters.”
“We will now move forward with a plan that helps correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color,” they said. “We can make real progress towards social justice at the same time that cannabis is made safe and legal.”
After months of negotiation, it became apparent that that progress wasn’t going to happen legislatively in the short-term, with Sweeney indicating as early as May that legalization would likely have to be decided through a voter referendum.
Text of the resolution calling for a referendum doesn’t offer many details about what the proposed legal cannabis market would look like; rather it generally describes a system allowing adults 21 and older to use and purchase marijuana from authorized retail facilities. The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission would be responsible for regulating the program. And cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax, with no additional excise tax added.
As written, the draft ballot question is worded somewhat confusingly. Voters would be asked: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”
“Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis,” it continues. “The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Retail sales of cannabis products in this new market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, and no other form of tax.”
Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana celebrated news of the legislature abandoning plans to pursue legalization legislatively this session and said it would invest resources into a campaign to dissuade voters from supporting the proposed ballot initiative.
BREAKING: New Jersey State Senate abandons push to legalize marijuana during 'lame duck' session.
The marijuana industry outspent SAM 86-1 in this effort.
Our statement: pic.twitter.com/MPtI2fNIzx
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) November 18, 2019
While adult-use legalization hasn’t panned out as advocates hoped, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a bill significantly expanding the state’s medical cannabis program in July. Sweeney had pointed to that reform move as one reason legalization negotiations stalled.
It’s not clear how the ballot approach is going to impact discussions about regionally coordinating legalization plans in the Northeast, which has been ongoing since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) met to talk about the issue over the summer.
During a joint meeting of governors from around the region last month, Murphy said that “doing things in an intelligent, coordinated, harmonious way is good for the entirety of not just our states but our residents” and emphasized the need for social justice components in a legal cannabis market.
Read the text of the New Jersey marijuana legalization referendum resolution below:
Sanders Pledges Legal Marijuana ‘In Every State’ As Biden Faces ‘Gateway Drug’ Backlash
As former Vice President Joe Biden faces a backlash over his suggestion that marijuana could be a ‘gateway’ drug, rival presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), as well as entrepreneur Andrew Yang, are touting their own support for cannabis reform proposals
One day after Biden said he doesn’t support national cannabis legalization because there’s “not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Sanders offered a competing vision, emphasizing in a speech that he wants to “make marijuana legal in every state in the country,” rather than allow prohibition to continue in certain states.
The senator also discussed other elements of a cannabis reform plan he released last month, including his pledge to “expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana” and provide funding to promote participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“It sounds unfair that when we legalize marijuana, you end up having a handful of corporations controlling that industry,” Sanders said during the Sunday event in Las Vegas. “We have built into our criminal justice program an effort to provide many billions of dollars in help to people in the African-American community, Latino community, other communities, the people who have been hit the hardest by the war on drugs, to help them profit off a legal marijuana system.”
Watch Sanders’s marijuana comments, around 33:00 into the video below:
Sanders described his three-step plan to prevent large corporations from controlling the cannabis market during an interview on Showtime’s Desus & Mero last month.
Separately, he took to Twitter on Sunday to highlight new polling showing that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
The American people are united on issue after issue. We must legalize marijuana now—and expunge all past marijuana convictions as a matter of racial and economic justice. https://t.co/NQjp7WOko3
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 17, 2019
Meanwhile, Harris also appeared to take a direct hit at Biden over his “gateway drug” comment, stating that the debate on that matter is already settled.
Let's be clear: marijuana isn't a gateway drug and should be legalized. Glad to see my bill with Rep. Nadler take the next step in the House this week. https://t.co/d6BcMFlpYT
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 18, 2019
“Let’s be clear: marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized,” she tweeted, adding that she’s glad that a bill she and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) filed earlier this year to federally deschedule cannabis is scheduled for a vote in the House this week.
Harris herself has faced pushback from reform advocates and challengers who point out that the senator was involved in criminalizing cannabis consumers, and opposed legalization, during her time as a prosecutor.
Yang, for his part, presented a visual contrast to Biden on Monday, sharing photos of him smiling, surrounded by dozens of trimmed marijuana plants in an undisclosed facility.
He also wrote in a tweet that cannabis “should be legal nationwide” and linked to a campaign site page laying out his reform plan.
Marijuana should be legal nationwide. It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist. https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) November 18, 2019
“It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist,” Yang said.
Biden has drawn criticism from lawmakers outside of the presidential race as well, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calling him out on Monday.
Get with the program, @JoeBiden.
Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.
The war on drugs has ruined countless lives. It's past time we end this senseless prohibition.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) November 18, 2019
“Get with the program, @JoeBiden,” the congressman, who has spearheaded Capitol Hill efforts to end federal prohibition, said. “Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.”
“The war on drugs has ruined countless lives,” he said. “It’s past time we end this senseless prohibition.”
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Bernie Sanders.
AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.
The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”
Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized.
These are matters of public health.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 18, 2019
This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.
To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.
There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.
Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.
But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.