Committee Also Slams Schedule I And Suggests Cannabis Can Reduce Opioid Addiction.
A powerful Senate panel is urging federal agencies to make a number of surprising marijuana moves, including launching an effort to test products sold at dispensaries in states where cannabis has been legalized.
Concerned about a lack of data on the potency and purity of cannabis available to consumers, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee is directing federal agencies to formulate a “National Testing Program for Schedule I Marijuana-Derived Products.”
The senators, in a report issued on Thursday, are instructing scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to study marijuana samples in an effort to “provide robust reliable data that can inform policy.”
Until 2014, NIDA funded a program for testing samples of illicit marijuana seized by law enforcement, but has never before officially analyzed cannabis products that are legally available to consumers under a growing number of state laws.
“The Committee believes that such research [on law-enforcement-seized cannabis], along with analysis of marijuana and marijuana-derived products sold commercially in dispensaries or online, is essential for informing substance abuse prevention efforts, public health policy, and law enforcement tactics across the Federal Government.”
It is unknown how such a program would be carried out, for example whether it would involve sending teams of NIDA researchers to dispensaries to purchase marijuana for research, or if it would instead or in addition rely on DEA enforcement actions against the facilities and subsequent testing of seized products.
Separately in the report attached to legislation funding federal health programs, the Appropriations Committee also expressed alarm about “barriers to research” that are created by cannabis’s current status under federal law, and is directing NIDA to compile a report about the matter.
“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 report says. “At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs, we need to review lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research. The Committee directs NIDA to provide an update…on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule 1 substances.”
Schedule I — the most restrictive category — is supposed to be reserved for drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. Researchers have long complained that the classification creates additional hurdles that don’t exist for studies on other substances.
The Senate request is very similar to language that the House Appropriations Committee included in its report on federal health and research spending legislation in July.
In a third marijuana-related move, the senators cited the growing body of research suggesting that cannabis could be a partial solution to opioid overdose and addiction problems.
“Over the past two decades, the dramatic increase in abuse of prescription opioids, non-synthetic opioids, and illicit synthetic opioids has grown to epidemic proportions,” the committee report says. “Scientific rationale and laboratory studies suggest a decrease in addictive potential when botanical derivatives, including cannabidiol extracts, are used with an opioid in treating patients. The Committee supports study of this integrative approach to treatment and urges [federal agencies] to support and facilitate trials aimed at reducing addiction under appropriate [Investigational New Drug] applications.” [Bolded emphasis added.]
The acknowledgment of cannabis components’ potential to reduce opioid problems comes as a Trump administration commission on the issue is completely ignoring thousands of submitted public comments about research indicating that legal marijuana access is associated with lowered addiction and overdose rates.
In addition to including the three notable marijuana mentions in its new report, the Senate Appropriations Committee has recently adopted a number of cannabis-related amendments on bipartisan votes.
In July, the panel approved measures to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference, allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, remove uncertainty about industrial hemp and protect cannabis growers’ water rights.
A NIDA spokeswoman was unable to immediately confirm when the agency plans to submit the requested report on Schedule I’s research roadblocks.
ACTION OPPORTUNITY: It takes just a minute to urge the Trump administration opioid commission to consider marijuana’s role in addressing and preventing addiction and overdose.
GOP & Dems Team Up To Shield State Marijuana Laws From Jeff Sessions
The Justice Department should be blocked from enforcing federal marijuana prohibition in states that have enacted legalization, a bipartisan group of 59 lawmakers wrote in a new letter.
“We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), wrote to top decisionmakers on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. “The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment. Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”
The legislators want congressional leaders to insert a new provision into a funding bill covering the Justice Department’s 2019 budget that would prevent federal prosecutors, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies from spending money to go after people who are in compliance with state marijuana laws.
The language the lawmakers want included in the funding bill reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent any of the several states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions.”
Separately on Friday, a group of 62 House Republican and Democrats sent a letter requesting the extension of existing, more limited appropriations protections that shield state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department intervention.
The medical marijuana provision has been part of federal since 2014, and has been extended with bipartisan House and Senate votes several times.
The broader protections to shield all state marijuana laws, including those that allow recreational use, from federal interference came just nine flipped votes short of passage in 2015. The number of states with legalization has more than doubled since then, and lawmakers from places with new laws would be more likely to support it if another vote were held, but House leaders have since blocked floor consideration of cannabis-related measures.
“As I have promised my fellow Coloradans, I will continue to advocate for this simple amendment to be added to the federal budget – shielding Colorado from the Trump administration’s attacks on states that have legalized marijuana,” Polis said in a press release about the new letter. “It would be a temporary, but urgent and necessary fix, as I continue to push for passage of my Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would finally lift the federal prohibition on marijuana.”
In the letter, the lawmakers argue that letting states enact their own cannabis laws is in keeping with constitutional principles laid out by the Founders of the nation.
“Experiences of states that have legalized marijuana, as compared to the experiences of states that have not, constitute the very ‘laboratories’ of social and economic experiments that were described by Chief Justice Louis Brandeis when he wrote about the beauty of the Tenth Amendment,” they said. “Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including marijuana.”
Stop Jeff Sessions From Busting Medical Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Demand
A bipartisan group of 62 members of Congress is asking House leaders to protect state medical marijuana policies and the patients and businesses that rely on them from federal enforcement agents and prosecutors.
“We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), wrote in a letter sent to the top Republican and Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. “We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Medical Marijuana Ban A “Disgrace,” Congresswoman Tells Trump Veterans Chief
A congresswoman took a top Trump administration official to task over a policy that blocks military veterans from getting medical marijuana recommendations through the doctors that know them best, calling the federal government’s stance “a shame and disgrace.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs currently prohibits its physicians from filling out medical cannabis recommendations for veterans, even in states where it is legal.
“Coming from California, of course, you know we have a variety of dispensaries which make marijuana available to patients and veterans who use it for PTSD and chronic pain, and it works,” Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) told VA Sec. David Shulkin on Thursday.
“So what’s the problem?” she asked. “What’s the federal statute that blocks the VA from doing this, and not letting physicians simply recommend cannabis to veterans who need it? And it’s proven that it works.”
In a series of public remarks over the course of the past year, Shulkin has repeatedly claimed that overarching federal law blocks VA from recommending or even participating in research on medical marijuana.
But advocates have pointed out that there is no federal statute blocking the VA from changing its own internal policies on medical cannabis recommendations.
During the exchange, Shulkin seemed to be unaware of the distinction between prescribing medical marijuana, which no doctor can do due to its Schedule I status, and simply recommending it, which is how patients get access in the 29 states that allow its legal use.
“Filling out a questionnaire, isn’t that the step towards prescribing?” the secretary asked during the exchange with Lee, which took place at a hearing of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. “My understanding is federal law would not allow the physician to write the prescription, so I have to understand what the questionnaire would be in order to make a recommendation but not write a prescription.”
“Could we show you that questionnaire, Mr. Secretary?” Lee asked. “Because veterans need this, it works, and it’s a shame and disgrace that the VA is preventing this type of treatment that works.”
“Absolutely,” Shulkin replied. “I’d be glad to review that.”
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can view video of the exchange below:
Shulkin has the unilateral authority to rescind the internal ban and clear the way for VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states where it is legal, but he has repeatedly claimed that federal law — without citing a particular statute — blocks him from doing so.
In recent weeks, a number of prominent veterans advocacy organizations like the American Legion and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have stepped up the push for access to medical cannabis.
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