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.
Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment
One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.
Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.
“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”
“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”
“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”
“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) July 16, 2018
Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.
At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.
“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.
But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.
“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”
The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.
See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:
— AM to DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) July 16, 2018
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.
County Officials From Across The U.S. Push Feds To Reform Marijuana Laws
An organization representing the 3,069 county governments across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
“The federal government should largely be responsible for regulating and enforcing against illegal drug trafficking, while respecting states’ right to decriminalize cannabis under state law,” reads a new platform plank adopted on Monday by the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“NACo urges Congress to enact legislation that promotes the principles of federalism and local control of cannabis businesses with regard to medical and adult-use of cannabis under state law,” a related provision says. “Congress should allow and encourage state and local governments to enact and implement cannabis laws, regulations, and policies that appropriately control production, processing, sales, distribution and use, as well as promote public and consumer safety, should they choose to decriminalize and regulate cannabis under state law.”
The group is also calling on the federal government to make moves to expand banking access for marijuana businesses and broaden research on cannabis’s medical effects.
The county officials’ new stance is similar to resolutions adopted last month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“The United States Conference of Mayors urges the White House, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to immediately remove cannabis from the schedule of the CSA to enable U.S. federal banking regulators to permanently authorize financial institutions to provide services to commercial cannabis businesses, and increase the safety of the public,” one of the mayoral group’s positions says.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new NACo marijuana positions below:
Border Patrol Reflects On Feds’ Friendlier Historical Approach To Marijuana
Canada’s decision to legalize marijuana nationwide has stoked concerns that its citizens traveling across the U.S. border will risk temporary detention or even permanent visitation bans if they fess up having ever consumed cannabis, or even working in the industry.
Enforcement officials have told reporters that there’s no travel policy change in light of Canada’s end of prohibition, emphasizing that it remains illegal to bring cannabis across the border under federal law. Violating the policy “could potentially result in seizure, fines, and apprehension,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a recent statement.
But let’s take you back to a simpler time, courtesy of CBP.
“Did You Know… Marijuana Was Once a Legal Cross-Border Import?”
That’s the title of a 2015 blog post published by the federal agency—which seems to have gone mostly unnoticed until now—recalls how cannabis was historically recognized as a legal import by the government.
“One hundred years ago, the federal government was not overly concerned with marijuana, the common name for the Cannabis sativa L. plant,” the feds’ post reads.
Through the mid-1930s, the plant flew under the government’s radar, despite the fact that “several state governments and other countries had banned the drug.”
“The U.S. government hesitated, in part because therapeutic uses of Cannabis were still being explored and American industry profited from commercial applications of hemp fiber, seeds and oil.”
That all changed in the decades to come—first with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed taxes and regulations on cannabis imports, cultivation, distribution and possession, and then with full prohibition under the Nixon administration.
Up until that point, the Customs Agency Service (later rebranded as CBP) didn’t put too much stock in pot. Just before the Marihuana Tax Act passed, the agency described its cannabis policy here:
“Marihuana may be cultivated or grown wild in almost any locality. Inasmuch as this drug is so readily obtained in the United States, it is not believed to be the subject of much organized smuggling from other countries.”
It seems like pretty basic supply and demand, but federal prohibition changed the equation. Suddenly, marijuana wasn’t “so readily obtained” in the country—and even simple possession carried serious criminal penalties—so the legal supply dried up. In the absence of legal access, criminal organizations swooped in to meet the demand for marijuana in the United States.
“Today, however, marijuana trafficking is a major concern of CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration,” CBP wrote. “Well over 3 million pounds of ‘pot’ were confiscated at our borders in 2011, making an impact on this multibillion-dollar illegal enterprise.”
The more you know!
Photo courtesy of Gerald Nino, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.