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Thousands Respond To FDA’s Marijuana Rescheduling Comment Request

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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,” 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.

“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.

“1. Submit something. Don’t worry about whether others might submit similar comments or make them in a more compelling fashion. The sheer volume of comments makes a statement.
2. Explain your expertise. It’s okay if you’re not a policy expert or medical researcher. For example, if you are a medical cannabis patient or you have a marijuana-related conviction on your record, let them know how marijuana’s current classification has personally affected you.
3. Make sure you address the questions that are being asked. In this case, review the issues that the WHO is considering, which are listed in the FDA’s request for comment.”

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.

FDA Says Marijuana Ingredient CBD Doesn’t Meet Criteria For Federal Control

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Former Federal Prosecutor’s Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances In South Dakota

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A measure to legalize marijuana in South Dakota—introduced by a former federal prosecutor and backed by a leading national cannabis advocacy group—was recently cleared for signature gathering.

Brendan Johnson, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota and whose father represented the state in the U.S. Senate until 2015, filed the initiative in June. It received an official explanatory statement from the attorney general last month and its backers were given the green light to start collecting signatures last week.

“We are excited to move forward with these ballot initiative campaigns,” Johnson told Marijuana Moment. “South Dakota voters are ready to approve both medical marijuana and legalization at the ballot box next year.”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting the proposed constitutional amendment, as well as a separate statutory initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state that was approved for signature collection last month.

The former federal prosecutor’s measure, which is being steered by the committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be tasked with issuing licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.

Sales would be taxed at 15 percent under the initiative, and revenue would be used to fund the program’s implementation, with additional monies going toward public education and the state general fund.

Beside legalizing marijuana, the amendment would also instruct the legislature to enact legislation to legalize hemp and medical cannabis. If the separate statutory medical marijuana legalization initiative, being coordinated by the group New Approach South Dakota, qualifies and passes as well, that latter requirement wouldn’t be necessary.

“The Marijuana Policy Project strongly supports the South Dakota campaign,” MPP Deputy Director Matthew Schweich, who led the organization’s efforts in support of previous legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, told Marijuana Moment. “Across the country, and even in conservative states, voters are demanding marijuana policy reform. Our goal is simple: to effectuate the will of the people when elected officials choose to ignore it.”

Petitioners for the proposed constitutional amendment must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters to qualify for the 2020 ballot. For statutory initiatives, 16,961 signatures are required. MPP’s involvement will likely bolster the campaign’s prospects of meeting that goal.

It’s already clear that marijuana reform measures are going to face resistance from certain quarters, with Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoing a hemp legalization bill in March and the state’s Republican party urging residents not to sign ballot petitions.

“Our campaign, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, will be working from now until Election Day 2020 to earn the support of South Dakotans from every corner of the state,” Johnson said.

California Lawmakers Use Cryptocurrency To Buy Marijuana From Dispensary

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Cory Booker Pledges To Back Only Marijuana Bills With Justice Focus As Banking Vote Approaches

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With a vote on marijuana banking issues imminent in the House, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) emphasized on Friday that he will not support cannabis legislation that doesn’t include restorative justice components.

In a tweet that linked to an earlier Marijuana Moment article on his cannabis stance, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wrote that “any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.”

The statement comes at a critical moment in the marijuana reform movement. House leadership announced on Friday that the first full floor vote on a standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation—a bill to protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators—will be held next week. But that development has also created controversy, with several advocacy groups arguing that a vote should be postponed until more wide-ranging reform legislation is passed.

Although Booker didn’t directly reference the banking bill his his tweet, its timing seemed to suggest that he sides with those groups—which include the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance—and that he wouldn’t support the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act as written.

Booker’s Senate press secretary confirmed to Marijuana Moment in an email that his boss’s Twitter post was sent directly in reaction to the House banking news.

While some have made the case that the bill would help promote social equity by improving access to banking services for minority business owners, for example, others view the legislation as primarily benefiting large cannabis firms.

Throughout his campaign, the senator has emphasized the need for inclusive and comprehensive marijuana reform. He determined that a bill to protect state cannabis programs from federal intervention that he formerly cosponsored didn’t meet that standard and did not attach his name to the latest version.

“At this point it’s too obvious and urgent and unfair that we’re moving something on marijuana on the federal level and it doesn’t do something on restorative justice,” he told VICE in April. “I want that bill to have some acknowledgement of the savage injustices that the marijuana prohibition has done to communities.”

“I get very angry when people talk about legalizing marijuana and then give no light to how marijuana law enforcement was done in ways that fed upon poor communities—black and brown communities. This is a war on drugs that has not been a war on drugs—it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately poor people and disproportionately black and brown people.”

Booker also said that he wants to couple conversations about legalization with talk of expunging prior cannabis convictions “in the same breath.”

The senator’s potential future opposition to a House-passed cannabis banking bill could prove problematic as its supporters work to shepherd the legislation through a chamber where it already faces an uphill path under anti-marijuana Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and skepticism from other GOP lawmakers.

House Marijuana Banking Vote Officially Scheduled For Next Week, Leadership Announces

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House Marijuana Banking Vote Officially Scheduled For Next Week, Leadership Announces

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House leadership confirmed on Friday that a bipartisan marijuana banking bill will receive a floor vote next week despite objections from several leading advocacy groups who want broader justice-oriented cannabis reforms to advance before what they see as an industry-focused proposal.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which cleared the Financial Services Committee in March, will be voted on through a process known as suspension of the rules, requiring two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to support it for passage.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced the scheduling of the vote in remarks on the House floor on Friday morning.

“We will consider several bills under suspension of the rules, including H.R. 1595, the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, as amended.”

A staffer for his office told Marijuana Moment that they “expect it on the Floor on Wednesday.”

No amendments will be allowed on the floor, but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is moving to make a series of changes ahead of the vote in order to broader its GOP appeal. That includes adding language clarifying that banks that service hemp and CBD business as well as marijuana firms would be protected from being penalized by federal financial regulators.

The revised bill also stipulates that financial regulators can’t target certain industries like firearm dealers without a valid reason.

“After six years of working on this bill, the SAFE Banking Act will go a long way in providing certainty for financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses and getting cash off our streets to make our communities safer,” Ashley Verville, communications director for Perlmutter, told Marijuana Moment following Hoyer’s announcement.

“We are very pleased that the broad support for this much-needed reform has finally led to a vote,” Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “Small businesses cannot afford to delay access to financial services, and every day that traditional lending and banking is denied to the cannabis industry is another day that marginalized communities will continue to be left behind by the opportunities created in legal cannabis markets.”

“The time to act is now, and success next week will only improve our chances for more comprehensive reforms in the future,” he said.

Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, echoed that point.

“We applaud the House for taking up this vital piece of cannabis policy reform that will greatly increase public safety within the markets we operate, while helping to address some of the challenges that we face regarding equity,” he said.

While advocates initially expected a floor vote to be scheduled prior to the summer recess, that didn’t materialize. Hoyer announced last week that he intended to get a vote before the end of September.

The announcement sparked a debate within advocacy circles, however. Groups including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) wrote a letter urging leadership to delay the vote on banking—legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry—until comprehensive marijuana reform is passed first.

“This is disappointing news,” Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for DPA, told Marijuana Moment about Hoyer’s vote announcement. “We will continue to talk with leadership, members, and allies on next steps.”

While Democrats have largely embraced marijuana reform, including the banking bill, frustration over the order in which the House tackles cannabis legislation has led to some dissent within the party and its constituencies, potentially jeopardizing the chances that the SAFE Banking Act will garner the required 290 votes. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Thursday that she may vote against the bill if the chamber doesn’t first tackle social equity issues.

“She feels strongly that addressing racial justice should be the first priority,” a staffer for the congresswoman told Marijuana Moment.

Groups that backed delaying the vote have yet to decide on next steps since the scheduling announcement.

DPA Director of National Affairs Michael Collins told Marijuana Moment that “no decision has been made” in terms of whether the organization will urge lawmakers to vote against the bill on the floor without broader reform measures advancing first.

Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for HRW’s U.S. program, said “we actually haven’t gotten that far.”

“Pushing for delay still,” she said.

Late on Friday, Hoyer’s office formally listed the planned vote on the SAFE Banking Act on next week’s floor calendar.

Lawmakers such as House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Perlmutter told Marijuana Moment this week that while they share the groups’ desire for broader cannabis legislation, there’s been a lack of movement within the Judiciary Committee to advance a legalization bill from its chair, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and so lawmakers are in a bind.

“SAFE Banking is a narrowly focused bill that serves as the ice breaker for this Congress to take up additional marijuana legislation,” Verville, from Perlmutter’s office, said. “We appreciate the strong broad, bipartisan coalition of support behind this bill, and look forward to the vote next week.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Thursday that he agrees with the sentiment expressed in the advocacy letter, writing that “Congress should not enact banking reform alone and think the job is done.” He didn’t specify whether he also wanted a vote to be delayed, however.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) didn’t specifically mention the banking bill, but in a tweet published hours after the House vote was announced, he reiterated his stance that “any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.”

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, which supports moving forward with the banking bill while broader legislation is worked out, told Marijuana Moment that the House vote next week “is an important first step by Congress.”

“But much more action will still need to be taken in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana,” he added.

While some advocates have raised concerns about the timing of the banking vote, there’s been widespread support for the legislation among financial associations and state officials.

The American Bankers Association (ABA), Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and National Bankers Association (NBA) wrote a letter supporting the bill’s passage on Thursday.

They’re joined by 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states, all of which have backed the SAFE Banking Act this year.

If the banking bill clears the House next week, it’s prospects remain uncertain in the Republican-controlled Senate. Though certain key senators such as Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) have recently indicated that they’re inclined to pursue a legislative fix to the issue, GOP lawmakers have generally not had the same appetite for marijuana reform as their Democratic colleagues.

That said, the chairman revealed last week that he plans to hold a vote on cannabis banking legislation in his panel before the year’s end, and Perlmutter’s proposed amendments are likely to increase Senate leadership’s interest in taking up the SAFE Banking Act. Crapo is an especially strong proponent of preventing financial regulators from targeting certain industries such as gun sellers, which the bill will now address.

However, Crapo’s communications director told Marijuana Moment on Friday that there are “no plans to mark anything up/hold a vote at this time.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a fierce advocate for the hemp and CBD industries, and he may be persuaded to put the legislation to a vote since it includes explicit protections for those businesses even if he personally opposes broader marijuana reform.

This story has been updated to include comments from lawmakers and advocates. 

These New Marijuana Banking Bill Amendments Could Help Win GOP Support

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