Doctors testifying about the opioid epidemic on Capitol Hill on Tuesday made clear that marijuana has medical potential as an alternative pain treatment option and that federal prohibition is inhibiting cannabis research.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing to discuss how to manage the nation’s opioid crisis, and medical marijuana was a point of particular interest raised by several lawmakers.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the panel, asked Dr. Andrew Coop of the Maryland School of Pharmacy what he considered “the most promising, non-addictive painkiller treatments or medicines that are coming down the road.”
“The drugs that are coming—I mentioned cannabinoids,” Coop said. “I know that’s a controversial topic, but this is great—”
The senator cut in to ask why it was controversial and Coop said it was because cannabis remains federally illegal. He clarified for Alexander that he was referring to “medical marijuana” when he brought up cannabinoids.
“Medical marijuana, yes,” Coop said. “I think that has great potential.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) later said that while he didn’t have time during his allotted five minutes to ask about marijuana, he wanted Coop to “instruct us as to the path forward on cannabis research.”
The next senator to bring up cannabis was Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). She said her state’s medical marijuana program “has reduced the prescriptions for high-potency painkillers” and asked Coop whether cannabis could serve as “a non-addictive approach or alternative to chronic pain—just another tool in the toolbox.”
“I, first of all, think it has great potential to be another tool in the toolbox,” he said. However, “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a one-size-fits-all magic bullet because pain is different in different people.”
“In terms of how to move the research forward in medical marijuana, one of the issues has been because of the usual legal status in the United States, research has been limited,” he said. “There’s no consistency between the different types of marijuana, the studies done. We need good, consistent, well-designed clinical studies with good, consistent material so that we can fully assess the impact, and don’t get me wrong, also the potential drawbacks.”
David Mangone, director of government affairs for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said in a press release that it was “great to see witnesses and senators alike discuss the potential of medical cannabis as a tool in combating the opioid crisis,” but that “we need real action from from our lawmakers to change federal laws.”
Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) was the last to raise marijuana at the hearing. He emphasized that while lawmakers sometimes approach their questioning in hearings with an agenda in mind, “this is not one of those” situations. He wanted to hear from the three other witnesses who hadn’t testified on the topic.
Cindy Steinberg, national director of policy and advocate at the U.S. Pain Foundation, said “cannabis has helped a number of people living with pain” and that it’s “another option” in the toolbox for pain patients. She stressed that marijuana’s legal status make it hard to standardize cannabis treatment.
“Doctors need to be the one prescribing it, but they don’t know what they’re doing with it,” she said. “They’re not trained with it either. Without having a really good research base, we’re just flying blind.”
So what’s preventing that research, Jones asked?
“The fact that it’s not legal,” Steinberg said.
While Mayo Clinic physician Halena Gazelka said she wasn’t convinced that cannabis isn’t addictive, she agreed that “the impediment has been that it’s a Schedule I substance and it’s not permissibly prescribed by providers.”
“But I do think that there may be some significant areas where this may be very useful,” she said. “I have some palliative medicine patients using it for nausea, appetite, pain, and I think it can be helpful.”
Finally, Anuradha Rao-Patel, a physician representing the health insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, said “the limitations such as the fact that it is illegal in some states as well as on a federal level makes research [on marijuana] difficult.”
“From a physician’s standpoint, I think there is some potential to the utility of medical marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain,” she said. “I’ll say, putting on my other hat as an insurer, that we obviously only cover procedures and drugs that are [Food and Drug Administration]-approved, so we would obviously need some clinical evidence and support to be able to cover these kinds of medications.”
Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the “questions from senators proved there is a need for a hearing devoted exclusively to cannabis as an alternative to opioids.”
“Of course, such a hearing may expose a truth some of them don’t want to hear,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Marijuana Industry Groups Ask States For Coronavirus Relief Loans That Feds Won’t Provide
A coalition of marijuana industry associations sent a letter to governors and state treasurers on Wednesday, asking them to help secure financial relief that cannabis businesses are being denied by the federal government amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The letter emphasizes that marijuana companies are providing jobs and essential services during the pandemic, and some are producing needed medical supplies like hand sanitizer. Despite this, the cannabis industry is specifically ineligible for federal disaster loans and other relief programs due to their product’s ongoing status as an illegal controlled substance. The groups said the treasurers could provide assistance to that end.
“Like all essential businesses, cannabis businesses are facing significant uncertainty and costs to provide for our employees and to maintain the medical supply chain during this pandemic,” the groups said. “Yet, unlike every other essential business, there is an underlying federal-state tension which puts our businesses in a uniquely vulnerable and dire operational and financial position. This is particularly true of our small and minority-owned businesses.”
They made two requests to the state officials: 1) encourage congressional delegations to insert language into future COVID-19 legislation that would enable marijuana companies to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) relief loans and disaster assistance, and 2) consider creating state-level lending programs for the industry to help fill the gap in the meantime.
“Although cannabis businesses operate in strict compliance with state law and comply with a broad range of federal mandates, including paying federal corporate taxes at a much higher effective rate than other businesses due to a quirk in the tax code, their activity is still considered illegal under federal law,” the letter states. “This creates all kinds of hardship, including this current prohibition on SBA assistance.”
“While the underlying federal issues with banking, taxes, and capital access remain, our businesses need access to some additional liquidity to ensure reliability in the medical supply chain for patient access and employee retention in these uncertain times,” they said.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Marijuana Policy Project, Minority Cannabis Industry Association, Cannabis Trade Federation, National Cannabis Roundtable and Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce each signed the letter.
“The cannabis industry is under the same strains as many other industries in these difficult times, in addition to existing unduly burdensome regulatory and financial requirements,” Morgan Fox, NCIA media relations director, said on behalf of the groups in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Given the increasing recognition of cannabis businesses as necessary components of healthcare and economic stability, it is absolutely vital that they can access relief loans to continue to provide services effectively.”
SBA has made clear that its services are not available to marijuana businesses, or even those that indirectly work with the industry. While eleven senators recently requested that a key committee approve spending bill language allowing SBA program access to cannabis companies, the request was targeted at future spending legislation in the works, rather than bills concerning the coronavirus outbreak that will likely be enacted in short order.
In a separate letter to governors and regulators in states with medical cannabis programs, another set of industry and advocacy organizations stressed the need to maintain access to medical cannabis for patients. They thanked the states for deeming dispensaries to be essential services and said, additionally, they should allow home deliveries, curbside pickup and recommendations via telemedicine while removing or reducing caregiver application fees, among other steps.
“On behalf of medical cannabis businesses, patients, and our communities, we again express our gratitude for your leadership and work to ensure continued access to safe and effective medicine,” the groups, which includes all of those in the aforementioned letter as well as Americans for Safe Access and NORML. “We welcome the opportunity to help identify and implement safe means to ensure continued access to medicine.”
Read the letter concerning financial relief below:
Read the letter concerning medical cannabis access below:
Lawmakers Mourn Loss Of Charlotte Figi, Whose Story Inspired National CBD Movement And Helped Change Policies
Advocates and lawmakers are mourning the loss of a young icon in the medical marijuana reform movement. Charlotte Figi, who showed the world how CBD can treat severe epilepsy, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 13 due to complications from a likely coronavirus infection.
Across social media, people are sending their support to the Figi family and sharing anecdotes about how Charlotte’s battle against Dravet syndrome—and the success she demonstrated in treating it with the cannabis compound—changed hearts and minds. Her impact has been felt across state legislatures and in Congress, where her story was often told as a clear example of why laws prohibiting access to cannabidiol needed to change.
The domino effect Charlotte’s story helped set off—with states, particularly conservative ones, passing modest reform bills for CBD access—paved the path for a successful congressional rider that ended up protecting more far-reaching medical cannabis programs across the U.S., advocates say.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has become one of the leading GOP champions for broad marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, said he was personally influenced by Charlotte and, as a state lawmaker in 2014, her story motivated him to support legislation to reform Florida’s medical cannabis policies.
Charlotte lived a life of tremendous significance. Her story inspired me to completely change my views on medical cannabis and successfully pass legislation so that patients could get help in Florida.
I’m so sad she is gone, but the movement she has ignited will live forever. https://t.co/e0IO0BM6Bg
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) April 8, 2020
“Charlotte lived a life of tremendous significance. Her story inspired me to completely change my views on medical cannabis and successfully pass legislation so that patients could get help in Florida,” the congressman said. “I’m so sad she is gone, but the movement she has ignited will live forever.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), another top marijuana reform advocate who has raised the issue directly with President Trump on several occasions, wrote that Charlotte “made a positive and everlasting change in the world by the age of 13, and her inspirational courage will always be remembered.”
Charlotte changed the way the nation thinks about #CBD through her grace and advocacy. We should honor her by fixing our federal cannabis laws as soon as possible.
Rest in Peace, Charlotte.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) April 8, 2020
“Charlotte changed the way the nation thinks about CBD through her grace and advocacy,” he said. “We should honor her by fixing our federal cannabis laws as soon as possible.”
Florida state Rep. Rob Bradley (R) agreed with the sentiment, writing that “Charlotte Figi was a bright, beautiful light that changed how our state and country views cannabis. I am saddened to hear that this sweet soul has left us.”
Charlotte Figi was a bright, beautiful light that changed how our state and country views cannabis. I am saddened to hear that this sweet soul has left us. https://t.co/lg4tj2bcHn
— Rob Bradley (@Rob_Bradley) April 8, 2020
In Illinois, state Rep. Bob Morgan (D) said Charlotte, who is the namesake of one of the most well-known CBD brands, Charlotte’s Web, “singlehandedly transformed how the world viewed medical cannabis and children with epilepsy.”
Charlotte Figi singlehandedly transformed how the world viewed medical cannabis and children with epilepsy.
She suffered so much so that others would not have to. May her memory be a blessing. https://t.co/r4d0nHeR5C
— Bob Morgan (@RepBobMorgan) April 8, 2020
“She suffered so much so that others would not have to,” he said. “May her memory be a blessing.”
Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach (D) also said Charlotte “inspired me to get involved in the cannabis movement” and “showed the world that Cannabis is medicine and the trail she blazed has helped millions.”
This is incredibly sad. #CharlotteFigi journey inspired me to get involved in the #cannabis movement. She showed the world that Cannabis is medicine and the trail she blazed has helped millions. The world will miss you Charlotte. https://t.co/8uQ3Wehfjx
— Daylin Leach (@daylinleach) April 8, 2020
“The world lost a fighter,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who previously advocated for CBD reform as a state senator, said. “Charlotte Figi-who helped inspire passage of CBD Oil legislation for epilepsy treatment nationwide-passed away. I worked w/her mom/others in 14 in MO. My speech in the Senate was a tribute to her, June Jesse, my son & many others.”
The world lost a fighter. Charlotte Figi-who helped inspire passage of CBD Oil legislation for epilepsy treatment nationwide-passed away. I worked w/her mom/others in 14 in MO. My speech in the Senate was a tribute to her, June Jesse, my son & many others.https://t.co/LlMi8bOq0u
— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) April 8, 2020
Beyond championing a successful CBD bill in Florida, Charlotte’s family also captivated national audiences and became a household name in the reform movement. Her story was featured on a popular CNN documentary, “Weed,” hosted by Sanjay Gupta, that introduced people from diverging political ideologies to an issue that’s since become a focus of legislation across the country.
A bipartisan congressional bill named after her—the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act—was first introduced in 2015.
But while that standalone legislation didn’t advance, the growing number of state-level policy changes that were inspired by Charlotte and other young patients could help to explain why Congress, including members who oppose legalization, has consistently supported a budget rider that prohibits the Justice Department from interfering in state-legal medical cannabis programs. It was first approved in 2014—after repeatedly failing on the House floor—and has been renewed each year since.
With CBD-only states included on an enumerated list of those that would be protected from legal action, it became increasingly difficult for lawmakers to defend voting against a measure to prevent federal harassment of their own constituents. Support from more conservative-minded Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including those from states that had recently enacted or were debating their own CBD laws, allowed the amendment to narrowly advance for the first time when it had been handily defeated two years earlier.
Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and South Carolina stand out as examples of states where cannabis reform came online between those votes and where support for the measure also increased among their congressional delegations.
The measure as approved by Congress and first signed into law law President Obama, has given explicit protection from federal prosecution not just to people complying with limited CBD-focused state laws but also medical cannabis growers, processors and retailers in states with more robust policies such as California and Colorado (though it does not protect recreational marijuana businesses or consumers).
“Charlotte Figi personalized this issue in a way that few others have, and her story humanized the medical cannabis fight to such a degree that many politicians could no longer ignore it,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “There is little doubt that Charlotte’s story, arguably more than any other, paved the way for politicians in several southern and midwestern states to finally move forward to recognize the need for CBD, and in some cases, whole-plant cannabis access.”
Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said even opponents of cannabis legalization “can’t say ‘no’ to young mothers pushing sick kids in strollers,” referencing the many other patient advocates who helped usher the reform to victory.
“There’s no doubt it helped move the debate in our direction,” he said. “Truth is, I was once told that CBD hurt our effort [for broader reform]. I don’t think so.”
A person writing on behalf of the family on Tuesday said that “Charlotte is no longer suffering” and will be forever seizure-free.
Image element courtesy of Paige Figi.
FBI Policy On CBD Use By Agents Is ‘Under Review’
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is apparently looking into changing internal policy when it comes to the use of CBD products by its agents and other employees, the agency said on Tuesday.
While workers are prohibited from using marijuana—and applicants can be disqualified for consuming cannabis within the past three years—it seems FBI is open to loosening rules for the non-intoxicating cannabis compound, which has become more widely available since hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a massive market for its derivatives.
During a Q&A on Twitter, FBI’s Newark office was asked two marijuana-related questions. One person wanted to know why the agency says “you cannot use marijuana within 3 years of applying, even with a medical card/prescription.”
“The policy regarding CBD oil is currently under review,” FBI replied. “Check the other eligibility requirements.”
Q8: Why does the FBI state you cannot use marijuana within 3 years of applying, even with a medical card/prescription?
A8: The policy regarding CBD oil is currently under review. Check the other eligibility requirements.
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) April 7, 2020
The overall thread was about questions people had about the process of becoming a special agent, so it’s not clear if the CBD policy is being reevaluated for applicants only regarding past use, or if any change would cover active agents as well. Marijuana Moment reached out to FBI and its Newark division for clarification, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Another person asked whether the three-year cannabis abstinence requirement applies to positions other than special agents and FBI said: “Yes, that policy applies to all positions within the FBI.”
Q24: Is it 3 years of no marijuana use for other positions other than Special Agents too?
A24: Yes, that policy applies to all positions within the FBI.
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) April 7, 2020
The simple fact that FBI fielded multiple marijuana questions while promoting recruitment seems to speak to a point that the agency’s former director, James Comey, made in 2014. He suggested that he wanted to loosen the agency’s employment policies as it concerns marijuana, as potential skilled workers were being passed over due to the requirement.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
Last year, FBI said it wanted the public to send tips on illicit activity in state-legal marijuana markets, stating that restrictive licensing policies could open the door to corruption.
While FBI’s CBD policy is in review, other federal agencies—particularly for within the military—have strongly discouraged or outright banned its use.
The Department of Defense made clear that CBD is off limits for service members.
The Navy told its ranks that they’re barred from using CBD regardless of its legal status.
And the Coast Guard said last year that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries.
Meanwhile, NASA said that CBD products could contain unauthorized THC concentrations that could jeopardize jobs if employees fail a drug test.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators last year, expressing concern about excess THC in CBD products, which seems to have prompted the various departments to clarify their rules.
The Department of Transportation took a different approach in February, stating in a notice that it would not be testing drivers for CBD.
While much of the CBD found in markets across the U.S. is largely unregulated, as the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of developing rules for the compound, a CBD-based prescription medication for epilepsy was entirely removed from the Controlled Substances Act this week, which should lead to easier access for patients.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.