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Scientists Push Attorney General To End Marijuana Research Logjam

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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.

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).”

GOP Congressman Refiles Marijuana Research Bill With Important Changes

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Politics

Oregon Psilocybin Initiative Gets Boost From New TV Ad But Draws Opposition From Unlikely Source

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An Oregon ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes is getting a boost from a nonprofit veterans group’s new TV ad. But meanwhile, the campaign is seeing pushback from an unexpected source.

On the one side, the Heroic Hearts Project—which helps connect veterans to entheogenic-based healing and provides complementary counseling—is airing an advertisement in the state that highlights the therapeutic potential of taking psilocybin in a clinical setting.

The 30-second spot doesn’t explicitly mention the reform measure that will appear on Oregon’s November ballot, but it could help inform how voters approach that question when they head to the polls nonetheless. According to the group, it will play on television frequently enough that the average viewer should see it about seven or eight times.

Here’s the script of the ad: 

“As a scientist, I’m impressed by the research. Major universities findings show psilocybin therapy can be effective for depression and anxiety.

It’s plant medicine [the Food and Drug Administration] calls breakthrough therapy, meaning it can be an improvement over available options.

The psilocybin therapy program: Research-based with patient safety top of mind, strictly regulated.

We’re in a mental health crisis. The science is real, the restrictions smart. Psilocybin therapy: Healing, providing hope.”

Heroic Hearts Project is largely focused on the plant ayahuasca. But the group says psilocybin is another treatment option that’s shown promise in mitigating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“In Oregon and across the country there has been a big decriminalization movement, there’s been a big push to do similar to what we’re doing but also allow for access within the U.S. because there’s a lot of people that understand the power and the efficacy of these treatments,” Jesse Gould, founder of the organization, told Marijuana Moment.

“Within Oregon, there is this historic opportunity where they’re trying to create licensed and regulated psilocybin and therapy—and there’s a lot of veterans in Oregon—so just having that availability of it in a place that they can rely on, that they know it’s safe, is a tremendous value to the veterans in Oregon,” he said. “I think it will also be a model for other states and other localities to adopt it.”

Again, the ad doesn’t explicitly promote the psilocybin legalization initiative that will appear on Oregon’s November ballot—but there has been a strong push from a wide range of experts and advocates to pass the historic measure. The Oregon Democratic Party also formally endorsed the psychedelic therapy proposal earlier this month.

“Oregonians are suffering from the most severe mental health crisis in the country,” Sam Chapman, campaign manager for the psilocybin measure, told Marijuana Moment. “We know that if we want to help terminally ill cancer patients, veterans, and so many others who are struggling to combat depression and anxiety due to COVID, we need a licensed and regulated system that people can trust.”

But while these developments could help bolster the campaign, there’s also been surprising dissent from certain psychedelics reform advocates who argue that the proposed legal therapeutic model for psilocybin would threaten equitable access to entheogens.

Decriminalize Nature (DN), the group advancing a localized psychedelics decriminalization movement across the country, is urging Oregonians to vote “no” on the initiative.

“M109 threatens equitable access by not ending the prohibition of personal use and establishing supremecy [sic],” DN said in a tweet.

The group’s Portland chapter, which said earlier this year that it would pursue psychedelics decriminalization through the City Council, announced last week that it’s now against the psilocybin measure and declining to endorse a separate proposal to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs and fund treatment services that will also appear on the state’s ballot.

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Decrim Nature Oregon Groups Encourage No on M109 Oregon Psilocybin Services Measure . . DN Nature lovers, When Oregon first created it’s statewide initiative, decriminalization language was included and all signatures were accounted for. After a sizeable donation, the #Oregon Psilocybin Service measure removed the decriminalization language thereby continuing the prohibition of psilocybin mushroom gathering, growing, or having an experience in the safety of one’s own home. Negotiations broke down with the key sponsor of this initiative last week to ensure the protection of equitable access to entheogenic plants for the most vulnerable. M109 threatens this due to sections that do nothing to end the prohibition of personal use and also establishes statewide supremacy. Therefore, Decrim Nature groups in Oregon are taking a No position on the Oregon Psilocybin Service measure. In solidarity with our local groups in Oregon, we share this with our DN network.

A post shared by Decriminalize Nature (@decriminalizenature) on

DN Portland said they are “advocating that all people who care about ensuring access to entheogenic medicines for all people regardless of financial status, those who care about protecting these medicines from the profit motives of capital, and those who wish to see big money removed from the equation of psychedelic medicines.”

David Bronner, CEO of the soap company Dr. Bronner’s, has helped finance a slew of marijuana and psychedelics reform campaigns for years, including the psilocybin legalization initiative. Private messages that DN decided to release show the executive expressing concern about certain internal politics within the movement, including disputes between DN and the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative about including peyote within the scope of decriminalization measures.

In a blog post, he wrote that Dr. Bronner’s “is fully committed to the Decriminalize Nature (DN) movement, but have recently lost faith in its national leadership.” Regardless, “we still fully support regional DN campaigns such as DC’s effort to decriminalize plant medicines.”

In turn, DN alleged that Bronner “is resorting to divide and conquer tactics to control the Decriminalize Nature movement. ”

Under the Oregon psilocybin ballot measure, adults would be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. Last month, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”

The campaign behind the separate drug decriminalization and treatment funding initiative recently released its first ad urging Oregonians to support it.

Montana Marijuana Legalization Initiative Endorsed By Environmental Conservation Groups

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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Colorado Governor Grants Thousands Of Marijuana Pardons With New Clemency Powers

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The governor of Colorado on Thursday signed an executive order granting nearly 3,000 pardons for people convicted of possession one ounce of less of marijuana.

Pursuant to a new law that he signed in June, Gov. Jared Polis (D) made the pardons on the first day the policy took effect. While the law gives him authority to grant clemency for cases of possession of up to two ounces, his office explained that he limited it to one ounce because that’s the legal possession limit under Colorado’s cannabis program.

“We are finally cleaning up some of the inequities of the past by pardoning 2,732 convictions for Coloradans who simply had an ounce of marijuana or less,” Polis said in a press release. “It’s ridiculous how being written up for smoking a joint in the 1970’s has followed some Coloradans throughout their lives and gotten in the way of their success.”

Convictions impacted by the governor’s action range from those that took place in 1978 though 2012.

“Too many Coloradans have been followed their entire lives by a conviction for something that is no longer a crime, and these convictions have impacted their job status, housing, and countless other areas of their lives,” he added. “Today we are taking this step toward creating a more just system and breaking down barriers to help transform people’s lives as well as coming to terms with one aspect of the past, failed policy of marijuana prohibition.”

The new law allows the governor to use his clemency power for cannabis offenses without consulting with prosecutors and judges involved in the cases, as is typically required under statute.

“For the individuals pardoned in this Executive Order, all rights of citizenship associated with the pardoned conviction are restored in full without condition,” the order states. “All civil disabilities and public sufferings associated with the pardoned conviction are removed.”

People who are eligible for the pardons don’t have to do anything to clear their own records; it’s automated, and individuals can check a website to see if they’ve been processed.

Those who have municipal marijuana convictions, or who were arrested or given a summons, don’t qualify for the pardon. The action only applies to state-level convictions.

A frequently asked questions document states that while Polis has declined for now to use the full extend of his pardon power by applying it to people with convictions of up one to two ounces, the “administration will continue to evaluate” cases that could receive clemency. A representative from the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a question from Marijuana Moment about whether plans are imminent to expand the pardon pool.

The governor’s action also calls on the state Department of Public Health to “develop a process to indicate on criminal background checks which individuals’ convictions have been pardoned pursuant to this Executive Order.”

Colorado isn’t alone in pursuing opportunities to enact marijuana-focused restorative justice policies.

In June, more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level marijuana possession in Nevada were automatically pardoned under a resolution from the governor.

The governors of Washington State and Illinois have both issued pardons for cannabis offenses since their states legalized the plant.

Polis told Westword that beyond the practical benefits of having these records cleared, the move is “also symbolically important, because it shows that as a state and nation, we’re coming to terms with the incorrect discriminatory laws of the past that penalized people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.”

Marijuana Arrests Decline Nationally For First Time In Four Years, FBI Data Shows

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

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.
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Marijuana Arrests Decline Nationally For First Time In Four Years, FBI Data Shows

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Marijuana arrests in the U.S. declined in 2019 for the first time in four years, a new federal report shows.

While many expected the state-level legalization movement to reduce cannabis arrests as more markets went online, that wasn’t the case in 2016, 2017 or 2018, which each saw slight upticks in marijuana busts year-over-year. But last year there was a notable dip, the data published this week shows.

There were a total of 545,601 marijuana arrests in 2019—representing 35 percent of all drug arrests—according to FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. That’s down from 663,367 the prior year and 659,700 in 2017.

Via FBI.

Put another way, police across the country made a cannabis bust every 58 seconds on average last year. Of those arrests, 500,394 (92 percent) were for possession alone.

“A decline in cannabis related arrests is better than seeing an increase for a fourth year in a row, but the amount of these arrests is still abhorrent,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “There is no reason to continue punishing adults for consuming a substance that is less harmful than alcohol. Arresting adult cannabis consumers has a dramatically disproportionate impact on communities of color, is a massive waste of law enforcement officials’ time and resources and does nothing to improve public health or safety.”

Overall, arrests for drug sales, manufacturing and possession amounted to 1,558,862 for the year—approximately 15 percent of all busts reported to FBI from local and state law enforcement agencies. That’s one new drug case every 20 seconds.

Before 2016, the country had seen a consistent decline in marijuana arrests for roughly a decade. It should be noted, however, that not all local police participate in the federal agency’s program, so these figures are not holistic.

Nonetheless, this data shows that American law enforcement carried out more arrests for marijuana alone than for murder, rape, robbery, burglary, fraud and embezzlement combined.

“At a time when a super-majority of Americans support marijuana legalization, law enforcement continues to harass otherwise law abiding citizens at an alarming rate,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “Now is the time for the public to collectively demand that enough is enough: end prohibition and expunge the criminal records to no longer hold people back from achieving their potential.”

While there’s no solitary factor that can explain the recent downward trend in cannabis cases, there are one-off trends that could inform the data. For example, marijuana possession arrests fell almost 30 percent in Texas from 2018 to 2019, and that seems to be connected to the legalization of hemp and resulting difficulties police have had in differentiating the still-illegal version of the cannabis crop from its newly legal non-intoxicating cousin.

At the federal level, prosecutions for marijuana trafficking declined in 2019, and drug possession cases overall saw an even more dramatic decline, according to a report published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in March.

Federal prosecutions of drug-related crimes increased in 2019, but cases involving marijuana dropped by more than a quarter, according to an end-of-year report released by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in December.

A study released by the Cato Institute in 2018 found that “state-level marijuana legalization has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.

Mixed Arizona Marijuana Polls Raise Questions About Legalization Ballot Measure’s Prospects

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.
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