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.
Mormon Church Faces Potential Lawsuit Over Medical Marijuana Opposition
One week after Utah voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative, a lawyer representing patients and advocates has formally notified the Mormon church to preserve records ahead of a potential lawsuit concerning its alleged attempts to undermine the measure.
It’s no secret that the church opposed the medical cannabis initiative, which ultimately passed by roughly 52-46 percent, with some ballots still left to be counted. Though the organization said it supports medical cannabis reform, it vehemently resisted Proposition 2 and implored church members to vote against it.
Advocates and opponents reached a tentative compromise last month ahead of Election Day to have the Utah state legislature pass legislation during a special session ensuring access to medical marijuana. But not all legalization proponents felt encouraged by the deal, and the new legal notice to the church signals continued battles over exactly how the state’s patients will access legal cannabis.
Several Utah lawmakers, the Utah Patients Coalition and the Utah Medical Association were also named in the notice and asked to maintain records.
The church has “a long history of dominating and interfering with the government of the State of Utah, often dictating to state and municipal legislators what legislative measures or policies they are to support or oppose,” attorney Rocky Anderson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City, wrote in the notice, which was shared with Marijuana Moment.
“That dominance and interference is prohibited by the Utah Constitution.”
Whether or not there will be a lawsuit remains unclear, as Anderson wrote that it was up to the claimants who reached out to him to determine if that was the best course of action. Advocacy groups TRUCE and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, along with several patients, are listed as claimants in the document.
Brian Stoll, a reform advocate who has served as a spokesperson for TRUCE and is also a member of the church, told Marijuana Moment that he does expect a lawsuit to go forward.
“Speaking as myself, not TRUCE, I do believe that they have every intention of going forward with the lawsuit if only to get lawmakers under oath discussing the domination of the political process in Utah of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on record,” he said. “There have been many stories over the years about their undue influence, including some accounts published by lawmakers detailing how intimately involved they are in legislation regarding certain topics.”
“As you know, I’m an active member of The Church, and that will remain true. However, after having worked with the Utah legislature for the better part of three years where I saw this happen, and seeing all their work to thwart Prop 2 including having the ability to call a special session, I feel that it’s unethical and not right for them to have such an influence.”
If there is a lawsuit, the church is being implored to preserve a wide range of records, both physical and electronic. Anderson alleges that the church forced the special session “to radically undermine and alter the new law,” which he claims amounts to a constitutional violation.
“Vastly altering the law mandated by the people is contrary not only to the popular will, but contrary to the intention expressed in the Utah Constitution that the people can, through an initiative, directly exercise their constitutionally guaranteed legislative power,” he wrote.
In a statement provided to Marijuana Moment, a spokesperson for the Mormon church said “we have worked, from the outset, with medical professionals, law enforcement, educators and many other groups and prominent community leaders to seek the best for the people of Utah, to provide relief from human pain and suffering, especially where children are concerned.”
“Broad community engagement was the reason a workable, beneficial and safer medical cannabis program was put together at the direction of state leadership. We stand behind and look forward to the safe, responsible and compassionate solution that will be considered by the state legislature,” the spokesperson said.
Read the full notice below.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from reform advocate and Mormon church member Brian Stoll, as well as a statement from the church.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Colorado Governor Touts Marijuana Legalization’s Benefits
After the 2012 election, which saw Colorado become the first state to legalize marijuana, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he probably would have reversed the vote if he had a magic wand.
But with the perspective of a few years post-legalization, today he says he’d put that wand “back in the drawer.”
“I’m not quite there to say this is a great success, but the old system was awful,” Hickenlooper said at a forum hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday.
What’s more, “the things that we most feared—a spike in teenage consumption, a spike in overall consumption, people driving while high—we haven’t seen them,” he said.
“We had a little increase in teenage consumption, but then it went down. We do think that some of the teenage consumers are using it a little more frequently than they were five years ago before legalization. We have in many ways seen no demographic where there’s an increase in consumption, with one exception: senior citizens. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.”
Hickenlooper, who’s been floated as a potential 2020 presidential candidate, described the challenges his administration faced when Colorado voters approved an adult-use legalization measure. Elected officials and advisors were opposed to it, he said, and plus, “it’s no fun to be in conflict with federal law.”
But he pushed forward with implementation, recruiting the “smartest people” he could find to figure out the best approach to regulation and taxation. And Illinois, which recently elected pro-legalization J.B. Pritzker for governor, will likely be better off if they pursue reform because they can learn from the successes and failures of Colorado’s system, Hickenlooper said.
“Ultimately, I haven’t come to a final conclusion yet, but I think it’s looking like this is going to be—for all of the flaws and challenges we have—a better system than what we had. You guys are going to benefit, I think, having let us make a bunch of the mistakes and deal with it, I think you’re going to be able to have a much better system if indeed that is the direction that the state wants to go.”
Asked what advice he’d give to Pritzker if Illinois does elect to fully legalize cannabis, Hickenlooper offered three tips: 1) don’t overtax marijuana, or else the illicit marketplace will persist, 2) get data from law enforcement on the presence of cannabis metabolites in the blood after highway fatalities to establish “good baselines” for comparison and 3) set limits on THC concentrations in edibles.
“What they’re selling now, they tell me it’s 10-to-12 times more intense than what allegedly I smoked in high school,” Hickenlooper said, pausing before conceding, “I smoked pot in high school and I inhaled, but it was a fraction of the intensity of what these kids are getting now.”
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Economic Club of Chicago.
The DEA Just Got Scolded Over Its Marijuana Eradication Program
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) got a slap on the wrist from a federal watchdog agency over its management of a multi-million dollar marijuana eradication program.
In a report released on Wednesday, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the DEA had failed to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners that received funds through the federal program. And that lapse could prevent the agency from being able to accurately assess “program performance.”
What’s more, the DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals,” according to the report.
In other words, the agency expends about $17 million in funds to partners across the U.S. each year to help them get rid of illegal cannabis grows. That includes fully legal states like California, where enforcement efforts are generally limited to public lands—namely national forests. But due to inadequate record keeping, the DEA doesn’t really know if that money is serving its purpose.
To fix the problems, the GAO issued four recommendations:
1. The DEA Administrator should develop and implement a plan with specific actions and time frames to ensure that regional contractors are implementing DEA’s requirement for collecting documentation supporting participating agencies’ Domestic Cannabis Eradication And Suppression Program (DCE/SP) program expenditures in the intended manner.
2. The DEA Administrator should clarify DCE/SP guidance on the eradication and suppression activities that participating agencies are required to report, and communicate it to participating agencies and DEA officials responsible for implementing DCE/SP.
3. The DEA Administrator should clearly document all DCE/SP program goals.
4. The DEA Administrator should develop DCE/SP performance measures with baselines, targets, and linkage to program goals.
The DEA was able to review a draft of the GAO report ahead of its release and, in an October 17 letter, a Justice Department official said the agency concurred with all four of the recommendations and would take steps to address them.
You can listen to a podcast about the GAO report here:
Just because it’s the DEA’s program doesn’t mean it’s the only agency dropping the ball on marijuana eradication efforts. In April, a report from the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that agents weren’t adequately cleaning up public lands after cannabis busts, which can pose threats to humans, animals and the environment.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.