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).”
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.