A key U.S. Senate committee says that marijuana’s current federal classification blocks scientific research on its effects—something that legalization advocates have long argued.
“The Committee is concerned that restrictions associated with Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act effectively limit the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule 1 drugs, especially marijuana or its component chemicals and certain synthetic drugs,” the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote in a new report under the headline, “Barriers to Research.”
“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research.”
Schedule I is the most restrictive category under federal law, and is supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. Researchers wishing to study substances classified there must overcome procedural hurdles that don’t exist for other drugs.
The Senate panel is directing the National Institute on Drug Abuse to “provide a short report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances.”
The directive is part of a report attached to a bill to fund the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services for Fiscal Year 2019, approved by the committee last week.
This isn’t the first time the panel highlighted the problems federal law poses for cannabis researchers. The senators included similar language in last year’s version of the annual report for the health agency funding bill.
Curiously, the language slamming Schedule I’s research roadblocks has been consistently requested by a group whose membership list contains some of the nation’s leading anti-legalization advocates.
But while the Senate committee has approved a number of marijuana reform amendments over time — including measures last month to protect state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference and to increase military veterans’ access to medical marijuana — it also recently blocked a proposal to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses from advancing.
And, it also included questionable comments about cannabis and driving, the involvement of Indian tribes in the marijuana industry and cultivation of cannabis on public lands in recent reports attached to other funding bills.
In the new report attached to the health agency bill, the committee also seemed to express concerns about the growing number of states that are legalizing marijuana and the increasing availability of higher potency cannabis products.
“The Committee is concerned with the rapidly changing landscape regarding the recreational use of marijuana–the effects that the drug can have on brain development; addiction; the long-term health effects in both youth and older individuals,” the senators wrote. “The Committee directs NIH to coordinate a multi-Institute approach to increase research related to the effect of increasing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol levels on the human body as well as the effect of various delta-tetrahydrocannabinol levels on cognitive abilities that are required to, for example, operate motor vehicles.”
And, they want federal researchers to resume tests on cannabis seized by law enforcement.
“Without dedicated funding for this activity, the number of analyzed seized samples has plummeted, meaning that available data is no longer current or robust,” the report says. “The Committee believes that such research, along with analysis of marijuana and marijuana-derived products sold commercially in dispensaries or online, is essential for informing substance misuse and addiction prevention efforts, public health policy, and law enforcement tactics across the Federal Government.”
“The Committee continues to direct NIDA to coordinate efforts with the DEA and other law enforcement agencies to monitor Schedule I marijuana and marijuana-derived products.”
But despite the seeming concern about the effect of state legalization, the panel’s criticism of Schedule I’s roadblocks to marijuana research provides more momentum to the effort to reclassify cannabis under federal law.
Border Patrol Reflects On Feds’ Friendlier Historical Approach To Marijuana
Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana nationwide has stoked concerns that its citizens traveling across the U.S. border will risk temporary detention or even permanent visitation bans if they fess up having ever consumed cannabis, or even working in the industry.
Enforcement officials have told reporters that there’s no travel policy change in light of Canada’s end of prohibition, emphasizing that it remains illegal to bring cannabis across the border under federal law. Violating the policy “could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a recent statement.
But let’s take you back to a simpler time, courtesy of CBP.
“Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?”
That’s the title of a 2015 blog post published by the federal agency—which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until now—recalls how cannabis was historically recognized as a legal import by the government.
“One hundred years ago, the federal government was not overly concerned with marijuana, the common name for the Cannabis sativa L. plant,” the feds’ post reads.
Through the mid-1930s, the plant flew under the government’s radar, despite the fact that “several state governments and other countries had banned the drug.”
“The U.S. government hesitated, in part because therapeutic uses of Cannabis were still being explored and American industry profited from commercial applications of hemp fiber, seeds and oil.”
That all changed in the decades to come—first with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed taxes and regulations on cannabis imports, cultivation, distribution and possession, and then with full prohibition under the Nixon administration.
Up until that point, the Customs Agency Service (later rebranded as CBP) didn’t put too much stock in pot. Just before the Marihuana Tax Act passed, the agency described its cannabis policy here:
“Marihuana may be cultivated or grown wild in almost any locality. Inasmuch as this drug is so readily obtained in the United States, it is not believed to be the subject of much organized smuggling from other countries.”
It seems like pretty basic supply and demand, but federal prohibition changed the equation. Suddenly, marijuana wasn’t “so readily obtained” in the country—and even simple possession carried serious criminal penalties—so the legal supply dried up. In the absence of legal access, criminal organizations swooped in to meet the demand for marijuana in the United States.
“Today, however, marijuana trafficking is a major concern of CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” CBP wrote. “Well over 3 million pounds of ‘pot’ were confiscated at our borders in 2011, making an impact on this multibillion-dollar illegal enterprise.”
The more you know!
Photo courtesy of Gerald Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Why Congressional Democrats Deleted Their Anti-Marijuana Tweet
A Democratic organization tasked with regaining the party’s control of the U.S. House of Representatives tweeted a bizarre anti-marijuana attack on a politically vulnerable Republican congressman this week, but the group meekly walked back the comments after being called out about it…by me and some of the lawmakers it represents.
It started with a tweet, posted on Monday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
“GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher…has a ‘cult-like fixation on marijuana,'” the supposedly progressive group tweeted, quoting an article from conservative magazine National Review bashing the California congressman.
“It’s why [Democratic opponent] @HarleyRouda needs your help flipping this seat Clinton won from #RedToBlue,” the party organ added.
I was immediately struck by the tweet when I saw it minutes after it was posted. The vast majority of Democratic voters support marijuana legalization, as do all of the party’s U.S. senators who are thought to be weighing 2020 presidential campaigns.
Whenever Rohrbacher’s amendment to protect state medical cannabis laws from federal interference has reached the House floor, the overwhelming majority of Democratic lawmakers have consistently voted for it.
“There are a lot of reasons why Democrats and progressives would wish for Rohrabacher to lose his reelection fight, aside from the fact that ‘flipping this seat from red to blue’ could make the difference in determining which party controls the House come January. But marijuana is not one of them,” I wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on Thursday.
“The Democratic committee could have highlighted Rohrabacher’s position that homeowners should have the right to refuse to sell property to gay people — something mentioned by National Review in the same sentence as that cannabis quip. Or his position on climate change. Or healthcare.
“Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has cosponsored many marijuana measures with Rohrabacher, told me in an emailed statement that the campaign committee’s tweet was ‘stupid,’ adding that he expressed those sentiments directly to the organization itself.”
Hours after the publication of my piece, DCCC has deleted the offending tweet, without comment.
In addition to Blumenauer’s public blasting of the organization’s tweet in my op-ed, at least one other Democratic congressman raised the issue during the party’s House Steering and Policy Committee on Thursday, a lawmaker who was in the room, but wished not to be named, told me.
“Pure bad karma and politics,” the legislator said, of the DCC tweet.
Indeed, beyond just Democrats, a growing majority of voters overall, as well independents and even Republicans specifically now support legalization.
California’s 2016 legal cannabis measure won by a significant margin in Rohrabacher’s district, so it’s somewhat of a mystery as to why Democrats thought attacking him over his leadership on the issue was a smart strategy to win back the seat.
Rohrabacher himself seemed to revel in the Democrats’ stepping in it and having to walk back their attack.
Rouda/Pelosi allies scramble 2 delete false attack on my record, as they struggle to sell their big gov/high tax agenda #ca48
— Dana Rohrabacher (@DanaRohrabacher) July 12, 2018
GOP pollster Frank Luntz chimed in, too.
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) July 12, 2018
American support for marijuana legalization:
• 57% of Republicans
• 77% of Democrats
• 62% of independentshttps://t.co/xfThxjhe11
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) July 12, 2018
One fun note that I didn’t have space to include in my LA Times op-ed is the fact that DCCC’s own chairman, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), himself voted three times on the House floor in favor of Rohrabacher’s medical cannabis amendment and even backed a broader measure from Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) that would have protected state recreational marijuana laws from federal interference.
Democrats should be campaigning on, instead of attacking, marijuana law reform.
Unless they want to remain the minority party.
Major Alcohol Association Endorses States’ Rights To Legalize Marijuana
For the first time ever, a major alcohol association has come out in support of ending federal marijuana prohibition so that states can legalize cannabis without interference.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) announced “an official policy position in favor of a state’s right to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use cannabis marketplace,” in a press release on Thursday.
Today, we became the first and only beverage alcohol association to announce our position in favor of a state's right to establish a legal, well-regulated, adult-use #cannabis marketplace. Read our full statement: https://t.co/0rHHN3aEzU
— WSWA (@WSWAMedia) July 13, 2018
The announcement represented a significant departure from the association’s past statements on marijuana reform. Just two years ago, WSWA said in a sponsored advertisement that it was “neutral on the issue of legalization,” going on to caution congressional officials about the “dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of marijuana,” including drug-impaired driving.
Now the alcohol trade group is singing a different tune.
“The legal cannabis market continues to expand in the United States, generating $7.2 billion in economic activity in 2016,” Thursday’s press release reads. “WSWA believes that, similar to alcohol, the federal government should give states the power to legalize cannabis, but should ensure they meet an appropriate regulatory threshold.”
“Eight decades ago, Americans acknowledged that the Prohibition of alcohol was a failed policy. The state-based system of regulation, adopted after Prohibition, created a U.S. beverage alcohol market that is the safest, most competitive and best regulated in the world.” — WSWA Acting Executive Vice President for External Affairs Dawson Hobbs
WSWA went on to outline 13 policies it recommended for states that legalize recreational marijuana.
- A minimum age of 21 for purchase, possession and use, along with penalties for providing cannabis to minors;
- Establishment of Driving Under the Influence impaired driving standards;
- Licensing of producers, processors, distributors and retailers; Policies to prevent vertical monopoly/integration;
- Hours and days of sale parity with beverage alcohol;
- Tax collection and enforcement; Measures to prevent diversion of cannabis to other states;
- Restrictions on sale/common carrier delivery;
- Labeling requirements that include potency and health requirements;
- Testing of formulas to ensure product purity and consistency;
- Advertising restrictions designed to discourage underage access and promote responsible consumption;
- Restrictions on health claims on packaging;
- Establishment of a designated agency overseeing cannabis industry regulation in each state;
- Penalties for licensee violations on par with the state’s alcohol regulations;
- and Regulations that ensure all products in market can be tracked/traced to source processor/producer.
So what changed from two years ago?
While the group’s sudden embrace of local cannabis legalization efforts might strike some as odd given the intrinsic, competitive dynamic that’s developed between alcohol and marijuana interests, one aspect of the press release reveals how the broader booze industry could stand to profit:
“Legalization should include regulations that set age restrictions on buyers, as well as license and regulate the supply chain of cannabis, including growers, distributors, retailers and testing laboratories.” [Emphasis added.]
In other words, marijuana legalization might take a bite out of alcohol sales—as recent studies have shown—but the cannabis industry has diverse roles for various players to fill. Ancillary operators such as distributors now working under the current three-tier model for alcohol could be used in states with legal, regulated marijuana markets.
Hobbs denied that the association was trying to help the alcohol industry cash in on legal cannabis during an interview with Fox Business on Thursday.
“No, what we’re talking about is just creating a pathway for states to have federal recognition of legalization by enacting appropriate regulation that creates a safe and reliable marketplace,” Hobbs argued. He also said that the association wouldn’t be lobbying Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take action on federal marijuana policy, but rather the group’s focus would be on Congress.
Marijuana Moment reached out to WSWA for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
What remains to be seen is whether other alcohol associations will follow suit. After all, a handful of alcohol interests, including the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association and the Boston Beer Company donated to campaigns opposing legalization efforts during the 2016 election.
With this latest development from a major alcohol association, it seems the industry is conceding: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Another encouraging signal of cannabis becoming ever more established and mainstream. https://t.co/uJtNBiTd9k
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) July 14, 2018