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Senators Focus On Marijuana’s Role In Combating Opioid Crisis At Hearing

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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.

Attorney General Blames Marijuana Research Expansion Delay On International Treaty

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization

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Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.

In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.

“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.

NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.

Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.

Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.

Killer Mike Credits Bernie Sanders For Inspiring Marijuana Legalization Movement

Photo courtesy of ABC News.

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Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit

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The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.

This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.

The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.

“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”

“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”

Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit  below: 

Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.

The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.

Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.

“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.

“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”

“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”

Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”

Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.

“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”

While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.

“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”

A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.

This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.

“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”

Vermont Should Legalize Marijuana Sales, Top Health Department Official Says

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

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Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot

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Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.

Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.

The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.

Via MedCannabis.

Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.

Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.

GOP Senator Shares Photo Of His Dad Harvesting Hemp Decades Ago

Photo courtesy of Bhumjaithai Party.

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