It’s not every day that the federal government requests public input on international marijuana laws, but that’s exactly what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did last week. And the comments are pouring in.
So far, the agency says it has received more than 2,100 comments—a small fraction of which have been published. The comments range from personal anecdotes about how cannabis has helped patients to arguments about the economic benefits of legalization. Others put the issue more bluntly:
“Just legalize it already.” —Anonymous
The comment period is fairly open-ended, so there’s not necessarily a “right” way to express your views. What the agency requested is input on the “abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use” of cannabis and several other substances.
The comments will be considered as the United States responds to the United Nations World Health Organization. That response will help inform the international group on “whether to recommend that certain international restrictions be placed on these drugs” or whether that should be reclassified under international drug treaties.
For reference, here are a few other comments to FDA that stand out:
“I am a 25-year old male working in finance in NYC, please legalize marijuana — it is one of the few answers to budget deficits across the nation in the form of billions in tax revenue, and it is a scientifically “safer” drug than both alcohol and nicotine, the latter two of which are currently legal and causing billions of dollars in healthcare related costs.”
“The benefits of Cannabis Plant and Resin far outweigh its health risks. All forms of THC and CBD should be made completely legal for medicinal and recreational use immediately, and taxed accordingly.”
“I am writing to voice my support for full cannabis descheduling. It is clear that the current policy is a failure in controlling a substance that is dramatically less harmful than currently legal products. This injustice to the American people has gone on for far too long. “
“Marijuana has been legalized for medical use in 31 states. Additionally, it is legal for recreational use in 9 states with more voting on it this mid-term election. Canada is also legalizing marijuana federally on October 17th. The United States needs to get its head out of the sand and take a more progressive approach to marijuana use and research.”
“I am a combat veteran of the Iraq war, and I am ASHAMED of the way that the United States Government is treating veterans like myself who know firsthand the positive effect that cannabis can have for people suffering from PTSD. I know that it has helped me. Stop standing in the way of our potential happiness.”
The FDA isn’t just asking about marijuana—there are 16 substances included in this comment period—but it’s clear that cannabis is the primary subject of interest, at least in the submissions that have been published so far. The comments overwhelmingly support de-scheduling or legalizing cannabis, with rare exceptions.
For example, one anonymous commenter who claimed to be representing a “major corporate client” lamented reportedly declining property values in a Massachusetts jurisdiction where a marijuana dispensary operates. The losses, the commenter claimed, amounted to more than $29 million.
Another reform critic who identified himself as Eric R. Eliason from Utah said he “took two puffs of a joint” in college and suffered academically.
“I usually get As in math but the next semester I got Fs in all my classes (except an A in tennis where I cheated). Marijuana impairs judgment and stays in your system for a very long time. Drugs are bad for you. We need critical thinkers for our economy.”
Eric R. Eliason is also the name of a U.S. House candidate in Utah, running as a United Utah Party member. The candidate denied having written the comment in a tweet, noting that he knows several other individuals with the same name.
LOL. I’ve never had an F, never had a tennis class, and never had a toke. There were 5 Eric Eliason’s just at BYU when I was there; we are a plentiful group. Based on writing style, I would nix the professor and the gastro surgeon as well.
— Eric Eliason (@EliasonCongress) October 16, 2018
“LOL. I’ve never had an F, never had a tennis class, and never had a toke,” Eliason wrote on Twitter. “Based on writing style, I would nix the professor and the gastro surgeon as well.”
For those who are supportive of changing international treaties to free up countries to set their own marijuana policies—but perhaps aren’t sure how to articulate their views to the FDA—NORML launched an online tool on Tuesday that offers editable, pre-written letters that the organization will submit to the FDA.
FDA Seeks Public Comments Regarding International Classification Of Cannabis https://t.co/2NIXeVUots
— NORML (@NORML) October 16, 2018
“In April, in response to a similar FDA request, NORML collected and hand-delivered over 10,000 comments to the agency calling on it to recommend a lifting of international restrictions criminalizing the plant,” the organization wrote.
“It is imperative that rational, evidence-based policies are what our policy makers review, and the FDA public comment period provides a terrific opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.
“Here at NORML, we made it easy with a pre-written letter with recent studies, which commenters can easily edit as they see fit to include additional context. In April, during the first round of public comment, over 60 percent of all submissions came from NORML members and we hope to continue to dominate the discussion in October.”
For those who want to submit comments to the FDA through the official government channel, Marijuana Policy Project general counsel Kate Bell shared some advice with Marijuana Moment.
Whatever your individual stance is, and whatever method you choose to submit your comment, there’s one date to keep in mind: October 31 is the deadline to make your voice heard.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) said on Saturday that he’s not sure if marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to the use of other, more dangerous substances.
“The truth of the matter is, there’s not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” the 2020 presidential candidate claimed at a town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “It’s a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Vote To Federally Legalize Marijuana Planned In Congress
A key congressional committee plans to hold a historic vote on a bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana next week, two sources with knowledge of the soon-to-be-announced action said.
The legislation, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and set aside funding to begin repairing the damage of the war on drugs, which has been disproportionately waged against communities of color.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
Where Presidential Candidate Deval Patrick Stands On Marijuana
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announced on November 14, 2019, that he is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
The latecomer to the race does not have an especially reform-friendly record on drug policy issues compared to many of his rival contenders, and questions remain about where he stands on legalization for adult-use—or even medical use for that matter.
During his time as governor, he voiced opposition to a marijuana decriminalization proposal and raised concerns about a medical cannabis legalization measure. After voters approved that latter initiative, he said he wished the state didn’t have the program, and his administration faced criticism over its implementation.
That said, Patrick, who also served as the U.S. assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, does not appear to have expressed hostility to marijuana reform in recent years and during his time in office did take action in support of modest proposals such as resentencing for people with non-violent drug convictions. Here’s where the former governor stands on cannabis:
Legislation And Policy Actions
Patrick’s administration said that despite a marijuana decriminalization policy going into effect following the passage of a 2008 ballot initiative, law enforcement should be able to continue to search people suspected of possession. However, his office declined to approve a request from prosecutors to delay the implementation of the voter-approved policy change.
After the decriminalization proposal passed, Patrick directed the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to develop an implementation plan.
“Our office will continue to work collaboratively with EOPSS and the district attorneys and law enforcement agencies on implementation,” a spokesperson said. “It’s an ongoing process.”
The then-governor said he would work to toughen up enforcement of fines levied against people possessing marijuana.
“The bottom line is the governor believes that if people are fined they should pay the fines,” a spokesperson for his administration said.
Following the passage of a 2012 medical cannabis initiative in Massachusetts, Patrick said simply that the “voters have voted,” and pledged that he wouldn’t seek to repeal the law.
But there were some complications that arose during his administration’s medical marijuana licensing approval process.
In February 2014, Patrick contradicted the state health department, which had recently announced that 20 business licenses had been accepted.
“No licenses have been given. No provisional licenses have been given. What we have is a multi-step process of screening out applicants,” he said. “Don’t get ahead of where we are. There was a balance struck here about trying to let the public in through transparency to the process even though the process was unfinished.”
When reports emerged that certain medical cannabis applicants had apparently provided false or misleading information in their application forms, Patrick said “[n]o good dead goes unpunished.”
“Rather than wait till the end when all that vetting and screening had been done, we’re going to do that first cut from 100 [applicants] down to 20, and we’re going to tell everybody,”
The next month, he dismissed requests for a review of the licensing process by applicants who the health department had rejected.
“I don’t think we gain anything by starting over,” he said. “We are in the middle of a process. Nobody has a license, no one is going to get a license until we meet the standards of the application process.”
Patrick was also criticized for failing to follow up with patient advocates who urged him to effectively implement the program.
“It appears the governor wants to skip out of office without addressing medical marijuana because he doesn’t want to talk about it and he doesn’t want to deal with it,” Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance Executive Director Matthew Allen said in 2014.
Patrick’s successor, Gov. Charlie Baker (R), overhauled the his predecessor’s medical cannabis licensing process to create “a more streamlined, efficient, and transparent process that allows the Commonwealth to maintain the highest standards of both public safety and accessibility.”
Despite opposing marijuana decriminalization and expressing concerns about medical cannabis legalization, the governor did sign several drug policy reform bills during his time in office.
Patrick signed legislation in 2012 that reduced mandatory minimum sentences for people with non-violent drug convictions. He’d introduced a package of bills that included a call for the repeal of such mandatory minimums the previous year, earning praise from reform advocates.
“We need an effective and accountable re-entry program for those leaving the criminal justice system,” Patrick said in a statement. “Combining probation and parole, and requiring supervision after release, takes the best practices from other states to assure both public safety and cost savings.”
Another piece of legislation the then-governor proposed was to reduce the scope of “drug-free school zones,” where people charged with drug crimes would face mandatory minimum sentences. He recommended reducing the size of these zones from within 1,000 feet of a school to 100 feet.
Patrick signed off on a bill in 2014 to expand access to drug treatment.
“This bill creates some new rules and new tools for us to use together to turn to our brothers and sisters who are dealing with these illnesses and addiction and help them help themselves,” he said.
But in 2012, Patrick signed a bill prohibiting certain synthetic drugs called “bath salts.”
On The Campaign Trail
So far, Patrick has not made drug policy a center-stage issue in his campaign. However, his website says his agenda involves “making meaningful fixes to the big systems that consistently fail to meet modern needs.”
“This means a justice system that focuses less on warehousing people than on preparing them to re-enter responsible life,” the site says.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
In 2007, a spokesperson for Patrick’s office said the governor would veto a proposed marijuana possession decriminalization bill. Patrick told the Associated Press that he had other priorities when asked whether he would sign the legislation.
He was listed as a supporter for a campaign that opposed the 2008 decriminalization ballot measure that voters later approved.
Oddly, two years earlier, Patrick was asked about a decriminalization proposal during a debate and said that while he’s “very comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana,” he doesn’t “think it ought to be our priority.” He went on to say that he would veto a proposed decriminalization measure in the legislature.
Massachusetts voters also approved a 2012 medical cannabis initiative while Patrick was in office—in spite of the fact that he declined to endorse the measure.
Asked about the proposal during a radio interview with WBZ, the then-governor first cited an argument in support of legalization made by conservative author William F. Buckley Jr., who said regulating drug sales would remove a profit motive for illicit dealers. Yet he went on to say that “I’m not endorsing” the initiative.
“I’m not expressing a point of view and I’m not dodging, it’s just I’ve got so much else I’m working on,” he said.
The host asked if Patrick would implement the law if voters approved it and he said “that’s, I think, what we’re supposed to do.”
In September 2012, he said that he doesn’t “have a lot of enthusiasm for the medical marijuana” measure, which was set to go before voters two months later.
“I mean I have heard the views on both sides and I’m respectful of the views of both sides, and I don’t have a lot of energy around that,” he said. “I think California’s experience has been mixed, and I’m sympathetic to the folks who are in chronic pain and looking for some form of relief.”
“I really have to defer to the medical views about this and individuals will get a chance to vote on this,” Patrick said in April 2012. “I haven’t been paying much attention to it.”
While his administration struggled to implement the program after voters had approved it, Patrick said in August 2014 that “I wish frankly we didn’t have medical marijuana.”
Responding to q abt medical marijuana dispensaries in westrn Mass @massgovernor says "Look, I wish frankly we didn't have medical marijuana"
— Sharman Sacchetti (@SharmanTV) August 20, 2014
Patrick doesn’t appear to have publicly weighed in during the Massachusetts campaign about legalizing marijuana for adult-use, which voters approved in 2016 after he had left office.
In 2012, Patrick said during a State of the State Address that Massachusetts should reevaluate how it treats people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
“In these cases, we have to deal with the fact that simply warehousing non-violent offenders is a costly policy failure,” he said. “Our spending on prisons has grown 30 percent in the past decade, much of that because of longer sentences for first-time and nonviolent drug offenders. We have moved, at massive public expense, from treatment for drug offenders to indiscriminate prison sentences, and gained nothing in public safety.”
“We need more education and job training, and certainly more drug treatment, in prisons and we need mandatory supervision after release,” he said. “And we must make non-violent drug offenders eligible for parole sooner.”
He also said that the “biggest problem is that our approach to public safety has been to warehouse people,” and that the “answer is new policies, not bigger warehouses.”
“We’ve been warehousing people for whom what they really need is treatment and not just time,” he said during a town hall event in 2009.
Patrick voiced support in 2006 for a bill that would legalize the over-the-counter sale of needles in order to prevent the spread of disease.
“Deval Patrick supports this legislation because he believes it will reduce dangerous diseases in our state,” a campaign spokesperson said. “Studies in other states have shown that programs such as these decrease the rates of disease infection without increasing drug use.”
Patrick later criticized then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R) for vetoing the legislation, stating that the official “put misguided ideology before leadership in public health.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Patrick said in 2012 that he has never “experienced marijuana myself” but that during his school years there “was probably enough around me that there was a second-hand, a contact-high.”
Marijuana Under A Patrick Presidency
It is difficult to assess how Patrick would approach federal marijuana policy if elected president, but his vocal opposition to decriminalization in Massachusetts and his administration’s troubled implementation of medical cannabis legalization is likely to give advocates pause. While his current position on legalizing marijuana for adult-use is unclear, given that drug policy reform has become a mainstream issue that candidates are routinely pressed on, it is likely the former governor will be asked to weigh in on the campaign trail.
But for the time being, it appears that Patrick would not make marijuana reform a priority and, in fact, might prove more resistant to policy changes such as descheduling that the majority of candidates now embrace.