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.
People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week
Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.
Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.
The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”
In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.
To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.
The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.
“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”
Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”
“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.