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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.

Politics

Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment

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The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.

The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.

“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.

“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.

The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.

McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.

While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.

The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Mitch McConnell Touts Hemp As He Proposes Raising Tobacco Purchase Age Limit

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Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications

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A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.

The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.

The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.

There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.

Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.

But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.

“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.

The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.

DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in  2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.

Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.

“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.

“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”

“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.

Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.

Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.

The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.

Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below: 

Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd

Presidential Candidates Are Cosponsoring A New Marijuana Descheduling Bill

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections

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A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.

The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”

The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.

Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”

A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.

The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.

There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.

Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.

And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.

New Congressional Bill Aims To Resolve Marijuana Industry Border Issues

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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.
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