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Sen. Tim Kaine Wants More Marijuana Research

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In the span of less than a week, U.S. Tim Kaine of Virginia has signed on to two separate bills to expand marijuana research.

The 2016 Democratic vice-presidential nominee isn’t exactly a champion of cannabis law reform, but he does support broadening scientific inquiry into the drug’s potential medical uses, according to his recent actions in the Senate.

On Monday, Kaine cosponsored a bill sponsored by GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah that would ease researchers’ access to marijuana for studies on its medical benefits and require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to develop recommendations for good manufacturing practices for growing and producing cannabis for research.

And last Wednesday, Kaine signed on to legislation authored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to allow the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for epilepsy, remove barriers to research on its benefits and require federal officials to make a scheduling determination on the marijuana component within a year.

Kaine did not cosponsor versions of the CBD bill or broader research legislation last Congress.

“Senator Kaine is open to commonsense changes to marijuana laws and recently co-sponsored bills to expand research looking into the medical benefits of marijuana, including a focus on whether it’s a safe alternative to opioids,” a Kaine spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email.

He has not signed onto more comprehensive bills pending in the current Congress to increase CBD access, respect state medical cannabis and recreational legalization laws, allow marijuana businesses to access banks or instill tax fairness for cannabis providers.

Last year, one day before the election, Kaine incorrectly claimed in a radio interview that President Obama’s administration had rescheduled marijuana.

“President Obama has recently rescheduled marijuana to a different classification of drugs. Because before, the classification of marijuana was such that you couldn’t even do research into its effects,” he said. “And I think there’s some research that needs to be done, for example about marijuana and pain management. It may be that marijuana, for some kinds of pain management, would be much less harmful than opioid prescription medicines, for example.”

The Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that marijuana’s classification there creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.

Heroin and LSD are also in Schedule I alongside cannabis, yet cocaine and methamphetamine are classified in the less restrictive Schedule II category.

President Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actually rejected rescheduling petitions about three months before Kaine’s statement.

Scheduling aside, the senator supports states’ rights to enact their own marijuana laws without federal interference, a position shared by his 2016 running mate, Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary and I both believe that states can be labs for that and that they should do what they think is right,” he said in the radio interview before Election Day. “Also, we really believe in sentencing reform at the federal level so that folks who’ve been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses should not be in prison to the degree they are in this country. For purposes of the state laws, whether it’s medical or recreational, we feel like we should leave that up to the states.”

Similarly, during a Senate hearing last year, he said, “I actually kind of like this notion of the states as labs and they can experiment [with legalizing marijuana] and we can see what happens.”

Previously, Kaine said he personally opposes legalizing or decriminalizing cannabis.

“I’ve never been a legalization fan. I just haven’t been,” he said in a 2014 radio interview. “Just for a whole series of both health- and sort of crime-related reasons, I think that would not be a good idea.”

But he did say that some sentences for cannabis are too harsh.

“I have generally been for reexamination of sentences because I think often, for sentences for marijuana and marijuana usage, I think some sentences are too strict,” he said. “These are often, if they’re nonviolent crimes, I think it could be handled in a different way on a sentencing standpoint. But in terms of the decriminalization of marijuana, I’ve never been a proponent.”

Speaking to a group of Virginia high school students last year, he said he “support[s] drastic changes in sentencing laws” but “wouldn’t vote for a law at the federal or state level that would decriminalize marijuana.”

Legalization advocacy organization NORML gives Kaine a C+ in its Congressional report card.

Photo courtesy of Tim Pierce.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.

Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

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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Former FDA Head Floats Federal Marijuana Regulation ‘Compromise’ To Address Vaping Issue

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Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb seems to propose changing the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law as a “compromise” to provide limited regulations and promote research.

In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Gottlieb said the recent spike in vaping-related lung injuries involving contaminated THC cartridges demonstrates the need for federal regulations.

While he expressed frustration over the “federal government’s decade-long refusal to challenge state laws legalizing pot,” he also recognized that enforcing prohibition in legal states isn’t politically practical and floated a “feasible compromise” that would “require Congress to take marijuana out of the existing paradigm for drug scheduling, especially if Congress wants to allow carefully regulated access for uses that fall outside FDA-approved drug indications.”

That language leaves room for interpretation, but he goes on to say that the “ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use” and that “regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”

Gottlieb stopped short of explicitly backing descheduling, which would represent a formal end to federal prohibition. Still, his recommendation that the government control aspects of legal marijuana markets like THC potency is a more concrete position than he’s taken in recent weeks, where he’s repeatedly bemoaned the lack of regulations and the gap between state and federal cannabis laws as contributing to vaping issues without endorsing a specific policy to correct it.

It’s clear in the editorial that the former commissioner feels Congress has missed its opportunity to prevent the proliferation of state-legal cannabis programs. And he criticized the Obama administration for issuing guidance that offered states some assurances that the Justice Department wouldn’t interfere in their markets, as well as congressional riders barring the department from using its funds to enforce prohibition against medical cannabis patients and providers following state laws.

“The result is an impasse,” he wrote. “Federal agencies exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of inadequate state agencies. The weak state bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices such as vaping concentrates, while allowing an illegal market in cannabis to flourish.”

One area where FDA might be able to exercise its regulatory authority in this grey space would involve oversight of vaping hardware. Because the agency is able to regulate the “components and parts” of vapes for tobacco use—and because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally—it could be argued that FDA has jurisdiction over regulating the devices. However, that would still prove challenging “without clear laws and firm political support,” Gottlieb said.

“THC is currently illegal under federal law,” he said. “Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety.”

Again, it’s not exactly clear what kind of federal regulation Gottlieb is proposing to Congress. He spends part of his op-ed noting the difficulties scientists face in obtaining high quality cannabis for research purposes—an issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve—but he also said the government should ensure that any reform move is “backed up with oversight and vigorous enforcement to keep a black market from continuing to flourish and causing these lung injuries.”

That’s led some to assume he’s talking about descheduling and providing for broad regulations, as regulating the market is largely viewed as a primary means of disrupting the illicit market and enforcing safety standards for marijuana products. But the continued ambiguity of his position raises questions about whether he’s actually proposing Congress should go that far.

“The protracted hand-wringing over federal cannabis policy must stop,” he said. “The tragic spate of fatalities related to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White House to stop blowing smoke and clear the air.”

Leading Civil Rights Group Calls On Lawmakers To Support Comprehensive Marijuana Legalization Bill

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Mexican Senate Committees Will Introduce Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week

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Mexican Senate committees will introduce an updated proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use within days.

During a meeting on Thursday, members of the Health, Justice, Public Security and Legislative Studies Committees announced that they would remain in permanent session as they go through various legalization bills that lawmakers have already filed and present a comprehensive new piece of legislation on Thursday.

Sen. Miguel Ángel Navarro Quintero of the ruling MORENA party, who is a cosponsor of one existing reform bill, said the development “is a positive step to regulate—it is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.

The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero last year, senators said. However, there are about a dozen other legalization bills on the table, including one to have the federal government control the marijuana market, and they said provisions of each proposal would be taken into consideration.

The panels will also look at public input and expert testimony—including a panel led by a former White House drug czar—that were gathered as part of a weeks-long series of cannabis events that the Senate organized.

“It is a backbone that we are taking into account,” Sen. Julio Menchaca of the MORENA party said of Sánchez Cordero’s bill, which the cabinet member filed while previously serving as a senator, adding that “each of the initiatives that different senators have presented are also very important.”

Quintero said “if we are committing an open parliament, all opinions must be taken into account, because if not, we would be simulating a process.”

If the committees are successful in advancing the legislation, that would put the chamber one key step closer to meeting a deadline imposed by the Supreme Court last year. After ruling that the country’s ban on possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults is unconstitutional, it gave lawmakers until the end of October to change federal drug policy.

The leader of the MORENA party in the Senate, Sen. Ricardo Monreal, said earlier this month that the chamber was on track to vote on a legalization bill ahead of that deadline.

Separately, the chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, Sen. José Narro Céspedes, said on Thursday that legalization will be an economic boon for farmers and must be implemented in a way that disrupts the illicit market.

Mexican Cabinet Member Accepts Lawmaker’s Marijuana Gift During Legislative Meeting

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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