The federal government is apparently nervous that an upcoming vote to potentially loosen international restrictions on marijuana could bolster efforts to legalize the plant.
In what appears to be a government document that was obtained by Marijuana Moment, the U.S. discusses a series of cannabis policy recommendations that the United Nations’s (UN) World Health Organization (WHO) released last year. Those proposals include removing marijuana from a list of controlled substances under an international treaty and rescheduling various cannabinoids.
A vote on WHO’s reclassification recommendations was initially expected to be taken up last year by the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, where the body’s 53 member nations would decide whether to move forward with them. It was delayed to give members more time to consider the proposals, however, and the vote may now occur as early as next month.
While the document acknowledges that deleting cannabis from the Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention could be a “benefit to the advancement of collective knowledge of both the therapeutic utility as well as any associated harms” by promoting research, it expresses concern about unintended consequences such as giving people the impression that legalization will follow.
“It is possible that civil society, the media, and the general public will view deleting cannabis from Schedule IV as a first step toward widespread legalization of marijuana use, especially without proper messaging,” the document states.
(Schedule IV under the 1961 international treaty is the most strictly controlled category, whereas under U.S. federal law, cannabis falls under Schedule I, the country’s most restrictive category.)
The document goes on to say that the WHO’s proposed scheduling change might give people the impression that the Schedule IV classification poses “inherent barriers to research” and that the international framework is “incompatible with such scientific research.”
In other words, despite recognizing the potential benefits that WHO laid out in its rescheduling recommendation, the U.S. seems to remain concerned about the optics.
Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has spent years working to reform international drug treaties, told Marijuana Moment that the government’s argument about risks to public perception is frustrating given that nothing that WHO is recommending would allow member nations to legalize cannabis.
“These recommendations—even if we passed them all as they’re presented—would not take us any step closer to legalization. It is not a step toward legalization, it’s a step toward rectifying an issue in the treaty,” he said. “This is all about correcting the record, removing some of the misinformation that was in the record on cannabis.”
“From my perspective, working on the inside of this, what it would really do is just help patients and it would ease government workload,” he said. “Governments are going to have less documentation to fill out, less of a bureaucratic burden to deal with dealing with cannabis. It should allow for more research and it should allow for insurance coverage of medical cannabis products.”
Marijuana Moment wasn’t able to independently verify the authenticity of the document, which did not come directly from a government source, and it is unclear exactly when it was drafted. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The document outlines a series of “possible solutions” to the problem WHO identified with respect to marijuana’s status as a strictly controlled substance. The federal government is willing to concede that cannabis was placed in Schedule IV without adequate research, but it wants to remind the public that the drug would remain in Schedule I (the least restrictive class) of the international treaty, and that means there are “significant risks to health associated with cannabis use, especially high potency preparations.”
Instead of removing marijuana from Schedule IV to promote research, the document suggests that WHO could remind signatories on the treaty that “even Schedule IV listings do not prohibit scientific research” and invite them to “remove unnecessary barriers to research wherever possible, taking into consideration the need for controls to prevent diversion and other illicit activity.”
While it wasn’t explicitly acknowledged in the document, that latter message is relevant to the U.S. as well, given that the Justice Department has cited its treaty obligations when rejecting requests to reschedule marijuana or expand the number of authorized cannabis manufacturers for research purposes. (The Drug Enforcement Administration said in 2016 that it will accept additional marijuana cultivation facilities, but it has continued to cite international treaties as a complicating factor.)
The recommended solution for countries to remove their own barriers to research is “one part of that document that really burns my feathers,” Krawitz said.
“Telling other countries that the treaty doesn’t stand in the way of research—that you should be able to easily research cannabis given the treaty status—it’s a bald-faced lie,” he said. “I’ve been up against the DEA three times in federal court now, and each time, they bring up the treaty. Straight up, ‘this is why we have Schedule I in the United States is because of the treaty.’ They’ve made it damn clear that we will never reschedule cannabis.”
Beyond the arguments for and against rescheduling marijuana, the document also contains pros and cons related to a series of other recommended drug scheduling changes, which includes a proposal to remove non-intoxicating CBD from the list of controlled substances altogether.
The Trump administration has twice solicited public input on the international marijuana rescheduling proposal, and it’s received thousands of comments urging the U.S. to support the policy change. Advocates on the ground working in support of the reform include Veterans For Medical Cannabis Access, Americans for Safe Access and the StopTheDrugWar.org.
Read the apparent U.S. response to WHO’s cannabis rescheduling recommendations below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.