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Senators Press Sessions To Stop Blocking Marijuana Research

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A bipartisan duo of U.S. senators is demanding that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stop blocking efforts to increase research on marijuana’s medical benefits.

“The benefits of research are unquestionable,” Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote in a letter to Sessions on Thursday. “Ninety-two percent of veterans support federal research on marijuana, and the Department of Veterans‚Äô Affairs is aware that many veterans have been using marijuana to manage the pain of their wartime wounds. America‚Äôs heroes deserve scientifically-based assessments of the substance many of them are already self-administering.”

For decades, all cannabis used for research in the U.S. has been grown at a single farm at the University of Mississippi. Researchers have long argued that it is difficult to access cannabis from the facility, and that the product is often of low quality.

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a new policy intended to license more research cultivators, and he agency has reportedly since received at least 25 applications to participate in the new program. But it has not yet acted on any of them.

According to the Washington Post, that is because top Justice Department officials have stepped in to prevent DEA from approving any proposals.

Hatch questioned Sessions about the research blockade during a Senate hearing last year.

‚ÄúI think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply,‚ÄĚ Sessions replied at the time.

Sessions: Expanding Marijuana Cultivation For Research Is “Healthy”

But months later, the Justice Department still hasn’t approved any new cannabis suppliers.

Now, Hatch and Harris are increasing pressure on Sessions to end the delays.

“Nineteen months have elapsed since the DEA announced its request for expanded marijuana research,” they wrote.

They are demanding that the attorney general reply by May 15, and supply information on the status of the research application reviews. They also want a¬†commitment to resolve the issue by August 11, which the senators point out is “exactly two years since the DEA announced its policy change.”

Hatch, who vigorously opposed marijuana law reform for most of his Senate career, has over the course of the past year undergone a significant shift in his views on the issue.

The Marijuana Evolution Of Senator Orrin Hatch

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‚ÄĒincluding one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions‚ÄĒbut 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôre 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‚ÄĒand because companies generally market those products as being intended for the use of vaporizing herbs and concentrates generally‚ÄĒit 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‚Äôs 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‚ÄĒan issue that policymakers have indicated rescheduling could resolve‚ÄĒbut 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 √Āngel 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‚ÄĒit is definitely a positive step,” according to TV Aztecha.

The primary focus of the committees will be on legislation introduced by Interior Secretary Olga S√°nchez 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‚ÄĒincluding a panel led by a former White House drug czar‚ÄĒthat 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 S√°nchez 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. Jos√© Narro C√©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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