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Senate Committee Ignores Key Facts About Marijuana And Driving

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A Senate committee that has historically supported marijuana reform measures released a report last week that included a misleading claim about the impact of cannabis legalization on road safety.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s report on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill for Fiscal Year 2019 contained a section on “impaired driving,” which reads, in part:

“The Committee remains concerned about the increasing rates of impaired driving, particularly in States that adopt measures to decriminalize marijuana.”

“The Committee recognizes the importance of impaired driving countermeasures at the community level in protecting public safety, and encourages [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to expand its efforts with law enforcement to increase awareness and use of Drug Recognition Expert [DRE] and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement [ARIDE] training, particularly in States that have adopted recreational or medicinal marijuana laws,” the committee wrote.

While taking steps to reduce the rate of impaired driving seems like a no-brainer, the claim that states where marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized have seen increased incidents of driving under the influence ignores key facts, Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment.

“While some studies have identified a slight uptick in the prevalence of THC in the blood of motorists, there are several reasons for this change,” Armentano said. “Specifically, more adults are using cannabis now than in the recent past, THC possesses a prolonged detection period compared to many other controlled substances and, most importantly, law enforcement are engaging in greater efforts than ever before to assess drivers for drug use.”

“But, ultimately, this uptick in prevalence has not been associated with a corresponding increase in motor vehicle accidents.” 

That’s a key distinction. If you smoke a joint, THC or its inactive metabolite, carboxy THC, can show up in roadside drug tests for weeks after consumption. So the presence of those compounds in someone’s body does not necessarily indicate that they were high while behind the wheel.

There aren’t currently any reliable drug tests to detect active impairment—though researchers around the country are working to develop that technology. So law enforcement agencies often depend on officers trained as “drug recognition experts” to identify impaired driving.

That said, the Senate committee report overlooks a growing body of research that has failed to identify independent relationships between marijuana legalization and traffic accidents or fatalities.

For example, a paper published this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that “states that legalized marijuana have not experienced significantly different rates of marijuana- or alcohol-related traffic fatalities relative to [states that haven’t legalized].”

And a 2016 study that looked at rates of traffic fatalities from 1985 to 2014 actually found that “[medical marijuana law] states had lower traffic fatality rates” compared to states that haven’t legalized medical cannabis. The researchers said it was “possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior” in states with legal medical marijuana.

Anti-legalization proponents frequently flag concerns about the public health impact of cannabis reform measures, particularly when it comes to impaired driving. But the Senate Committee on Appropriations’s report on the issue stands out, as the committee has traditionally embraced marijuana reform efforts.

On Thursday, for example, the same committee upheld protections for states where marijuana is legal from federal interference.

The committee also voted in favor of an amendment last week that would allow Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans.

In a separate report attached to the bill to fund the Department of Interior, released on Thursday, the committee expressed some concern about illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, singling out states with legalization.

“The Committee is deeply concerned by reports of significant illegal marijuana grows on public lands, particularly those linked to transnational criminal organizations,” the panel wrote. “The Committee directs Forest Service Law Enforcement to prioritize working more closely with local law enforcement to identify, eradicate, and clean up illegal marijuana grows on public lands, particularly in those states that have legalized recreational marijuana.”

Senate Committee Keeps Medical Marijuana Protections In Place

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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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.

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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 SĂĄnchez 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 SĂĄnchez 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. JosĂ© Narro CĂ©spedes, 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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