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Top Federal Drug Agency Tells Congress About Marijuana Research Barriers Caused By Restrictive Scheduling

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) told Congress in a report obtained by Marijuana Moment that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like cannabis is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits. It also said that current restrictions that block scientists from studying the actual cannabinoid products that consumers can purchase at dispensaries is impeding research to an extent that constitutes a public health concern.

In a document that was submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as requested under previously enacted spending legislation, NIDA discussed “barriers to research with Schedule I substances” such as the “administratively complex” process scientists must follow in order to receive federal authorization from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to study the drugs.

“Researchers have reported that obtaining a new registration can take more than a year, that modifying a registration can also be time consuming, and that differing interpretations of the Schedule I registration requirements among local DEA field offices, research institutions, as well as distinct federal and state registration requirements, greatly complicate the process,” the federal agency told lawmakers. “These challenges can impede critical research on Schedule I substances and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing such work.”

It added that “an overarching concern expressed by researchers is a lack of transparency regarding registration requirements for Schedule I and Schedule II-V substances, and differing interpretations of those requirements by DEA field agents and research institutions.”

NIDA listed a series of issues that scientists have raised about Schedule I research barriers: 

-When a drug is classified in Schedule I, that can result in “unexpected delays in ongoing research.”

-Researchers who need to change course in a study of a Schedule I substance—including something seemingly minor like adjusting the quantity being used—must re-register with DEA, causing further delays.

-Previously, just one person in a team of investigators would need to be registered with DEA. That’s apparently changed over time, with researchers telling NIDA that all members of the team require separate registration.

-DEA in some cases has required researchers to obtain multiple registrations for every physical site at which they carry out studies into Schedule I drugs, even if all the research is contained to a single campus.

-Complications surrounding access to different formulations and dosages of Schedule I drugs have also proved challenging, such and have caused confusion about whether a separate and more expensive manufacturing registration is needed for researchers whose studies require, for example, dissolving marijuana extracts in ethanol or oil before they can be used.

A separate section of the report focuses specifically on “challenges associated with conducting marijuana research, which go beyond those related to the registration process” and thus deserve “separate mention in light of the increasing availability and potency of marijuana and the proliferation of new marijuana products.”

It notes that researchers are currently limited to a supply of cannabis that’s grown exclusively at the University of Mississippi, which is currently the only federally authorized marijuana manufacturer. Lawmakers and scientists have long argued that the cannabis grown at the facility is inconsistent with products available in state-legal markets, raising questions about the validity of research that depends on the government’s marijuana.

DEA said this year that it is taking steps toward approving additional applications to become federally authorized marijuana producers for research purposes. At the same time, it is proposing significant increases in the production of research-grade Schedule I drugs like marijuana, psilocybin and MDMA for 2022.

But NIDA pointed out that even while approving new manufacturers would “increase the diversity of products and formulations available to researchers,” it still wouldn’t shed light on the kinds of products that consumers are purchasing from legal markets in a growing number of states.

“Researchers supported by NIDA and other federal agencies are unable to use federal funds to purchase marijuana available through state marijuana dispensaries,” the agency said.

“Moreover, some universities have expressed reticence about allowing investigators to purchase dispensary products with non-federal funds or do research with these products on university grounds for fear of violating federal law,” it said. “These products may differ from the actual products being sold to consumers. The inability of researchers to access marketed products may pose barriers to studying the health effects of products that individuals are using in real-world settings.”

NIDA Director Nora Volkow made similar remarks in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment, saying that she thinks “it would be theoretically ideal to understand the actual products that people are consuming, as opposed to trying to understand it with a different compound—a different plant that will vary in terms of the contents of ingredients.”

Several measures to address the issue are being considered in Congress.

Last week, a bipartisan group of House members filed one such bill which, in addition to generally streamlining the research registration process, would allow scientists to study dispensary cannabis. Late last year, the House approved an identical version of the marijuana science legislation. Days later, the Senate passed a similar bill but nothing ended up getting to the president’s desk by the end of the last Congress. Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of senators refiled their marijuana research measure for the current 117th Congress.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also advancing a separate strategy to open up dispensary cannabis to researchers. Large-scale infrastructure legislation that has passed both chambers in differing forms and which is pending final action contains provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual marijuana that consumers are purchasing from state-legal businesses instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

The existence of the newly revealed NIDA overview of Schedule I research barriers was made public in a Senate Appropriations Committee report attached to a spending package that was released last week. The panel expressed concerns about “restrictions associated with Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act which effectively limits the amount and type of research that can be conducted on certain Schedule I drugs, especially opioids, marijuana or its component chemicals and new synthetic drugs and analogs.”

“At a time when we need as much information as possible about these drugs and antidotes for their harmful effects, the Committee believes we should be lowering regulatory and other barriers to conducting this research,” it said.

However, the committee said it “appreciates NIDA’s completion of a report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances including the challenges researchers face as a result of limited access to sources of marijuana including dispensary products.”

Read NIDA’s report on Schedule I research barriers below: 

Click to access fr01-nida-schedule-i-research-barriers-rtc_final-to-fc-wf-388997-_-signed.pdf

USPS Releases Final Rule Banning Mailing Of Hemp, CBD And Marijuana Vapes

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

Politics

Bipartisan Lawmakers Push VA To Allow Medical Marijuana Access For Veterans ‘As Soon As Possible’

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must urgently institute a policy change to ensure that military veterans can access cannabis for therapeutic use, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers said in a new letter.

Writing to VA Secretary Denis McDonough on Wednesday, the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus urged the official to consider “a change in policy to allow access to medical cannabis fro VA patients” and to “act swiftly and implement this change as soon as possible.”

The lawmakers pointed to surveys showing high rates of opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among the veteran community.

“Research has shown that cannabis can be safe and effective in targeted pain-management. Additionally, cannabis has proven benefits in managing PTSD and other health issues, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and seizure disorders,” the letter states. “Despite its efficacy, antiquated bureaucratic red-tape continues to deny veterans these life-altering treatments.”

“Congress and several administrations have enacted various well-intentioned intervention attempts, however, over twenty veterans continue to die by suicide each day—it is past time we stop barring access from these innovative therapies. We therefore respectfully urge you to ensure no veteran can be denied medically prescribed cannabis treatments.”

The letter comes weeks after McDonough participated in a Veterans Day Q&A where he said that VA officials are “looking at” the possibility of an internal policy change and have discussed it with the White House and Department of Justice. The secretary also talked about being personally moved by stories from veterans who’ve found relief using medical marijuana.

“We’re trying to explore what more we can do,” he said at the time. “And I’ve talked to our friends in the rest of the federal government, including the Department of Justice, on what we can do on this, and with the White House.”

The Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs—Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), David Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Don Young (R-AK)—want McDonough to speed up the policy change process.

“America’s veterans have risked life and limb to preserve our freedoms, so we must not allow the unnecessary politicization of medical cannabis to hinder their lifesaving therapies,” they wrote. “We stand ready to work with you and your administration in advancing these necessary treatments.”

While congressional lawmakers are working to advance legislation to end marijuana prohibition, McDonough’s department has resisted even modest proposals meant to promote veteran access and clinical research into the medical value of cannabis.

One such research bill was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month, despite testimony from the department opposing the reform. VA’s David Carroll told lawmakers that the legislation was overly prescriptive and argued that the department is already conducting robust research into marijuana.

Some had held out hope that VA would back the reform this session after the sponsor, Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA), said that he’d had a conversation with McDonough about the issue of marijuana and veterans.

On the Senate side, a coalition of lawmakers recently filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans who comply with a state program where they live. VA doctors would also be explicitly allowed to issue marijuana recommendations.

Read the letter to the VA secretary on marijuana access below: 

Click to access caucus-letter-to-va-secretary-december-2021.pdf

Biden Treasury Secretary Says ‘Of Course’ Marijuana Banking Would Make IRS’s Job Easier

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Biden Treasury Secretary Says ‘Of Course’ Marijuana Banking Would Make IRS’s Job Easier

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The secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department said on Wednesday that freeing up banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses would “of course” make the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) job of collecting taxes easier.

At a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) referenced recent comments from an IRS official about the “special type of collection challenge the IRS undertakes regarding tax collection from cannabis-related businesses forced to operate in cash only.”

“Do you agree if these business were simply allowed to access the banking system and didn’t have to transact business only in cash it would make the IRS job easier?” Perlmutter asked Secretary Janet Yellen.

“Yes, of course it would,” she replied matter-of-factly.

The congressman also talked about his bill—the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—which has passed the House in some form five times now and would resolve the issue by protecting financial institutions that service state-legal cannabis businesses.

Numerous financial, labor and insurance associations, as well as key lawmakers, are pushing the Senate to attach the measure to must-pass defense spending legislation, as the House already has. Bipartisan members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as senators representing Colorado, made the same request in recent letters.

While Yellen’s response was quick, it’s yet another example of a federal official recognizing the untenability of the status quo.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary under the Trump administration, repeatedly addressed the issue, saying the current policy conflict creates “significant problems” for IRS and financial regulators. It “creates significant risk in the communities for collecting this amount of cash. It’s problematic,” he said last year.

IRS, for its part, said in September that it expects the cannabis market to continue to grow, and it offered some tips to businesses on staying compliant with taxes while the plant remains federally prohibited.

With respect to the SAFE Banking Act, a bipartisan coalition of two dozen governors recently implored congressional leaders to finally enact marijuana banking reform through the large-scale defense legislation.

A group of small marijuana business owners also recently made the case that the incremental banking policy change could actually help support social equity efforts.

Rodney Hood, a board member of the National Credit Union Administration, wrote in a recent Marijuana Moment op-ed that legalization is an inevitability—and it makes the most sense for government agencies to get ahead of the policy change to resolve banking complications now.

Federal data shows that many financial institutions remain hesitant to take on cannabis companies as clients, however, which is likely due to the fact that the plant is a strictly controlled substance under federal law.

Texas Activists Turn In Signatures To Put Marijuana Decriminalization On Austin’s 2022 Ballot

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Texas Activists Turn In Signatures To Put Marijuana Decriminalization On Austin’s 2022 Ballot

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Texas activists on Wednesday turned in signatures to place a marijuana decriminalization initiative on Austin’s 2022 ballot.

Ground Game Texas, a progressive organization that was established earlier this year, submitted more than 30,000 signatures to qualify the local measure to go before voters in the May 7 election next year.

While Austin, as well as other Texas cities like Dallas, have already independently enacted law enforcement policy changes aimed at reducing arrests for cannabis-related offenses by issuing citations and summons, the Austin Freedom Act of 2021 would take the reform a step further.

The initiative seeks to end arrests and citations for misdemeanor marijuana possession within Texas’s capital city. Also, it says police cannot issue citations for residue or paraphernalia in lieu of a possession charge.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of on-the-ground organizers from Ground Game Texas and partner organizations, Austin residents will soon have the ability to make lasting change to our antiquated and racist criminal justice laws,” Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas, said in a press release. “With successful campaigns like these, Ground Game Texas will continue to empower and excite communities around progressive change—and deliver for the marginalized communities that too often get left behind.”

The measure would further prohibit the use of city funds to request or test cannabis to determine whether it meets the state’s definition of a lawful product. Hemp is legal in the state, creating complications for law enforcement, as they are now tasked with determining if seized cannabis products are in compliance with state statute.

Under the initiative, the execution of no-knock warrants would also be prohibited in the city—a policy that generated significant national attention last year after it led to Kentucky officers entering Breonna Taylor’s apartment and fatally shooting her in a botched drug raid.

Activists were joined by Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Vanessa Fuentes for Wednesday’s signature turn in.

Game Ground Texas previously attempted to place the measure on this year’s ballot, but they did not meet the signature turn-in deadline and shifted their attention to 2022.

While the measure is now set to appear on the May ballot, it’s also possible that the Austin City Council could independently move to adopt the ordinance prior to the election.

“Austinites continue to work towards reducing the decades of negative impacts prohibition has caused by any means available,” Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Marijuana Moment.  “During the interim, local actions like this create pressure for more action during the next legislative session. With a majority of Texans supporting the creation of a regulated cannabis market, it is important to continue pushing this conversation forward.”

Elsewhere in the state, activists in San Marcos launched a campaign in September to put marijuana decriminalization on the November ballot next year.

Ground Game Texas told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that it is also planning to place a cannabis decriminalization measure before voters in Killeen next fall.

There is no statewide, citizen-led initiative process that would enable advocates to put an issue like decriminalization or legalization on the Texas ballot. But at the local level, there are limited cases where activists can leverage home rule laws that allow for policy changes.

A recent poll found that a strong majority of Texans—including most Republicans—support even broader reform to legalize marijuana for adult use.

The survey from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University found that 67 percent of Texas residents back the broad reform. Fifty-one percent of participants who identified as Republican said they back legalization.

In Texas, drug policy reform did advance in the legislature in the latest session, but not necessarily at the pace that advocates had hoped to see.

A bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and another to require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans were enacted.

Advocates remain disappointed, however, that lawmakers were unable to pass more expansive cannabis bills—including a decriminalization proposal that cleared the House but saw no action in the Senate.

The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018.

Another Texas poll that was released over the summer found that 60 percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use.”

Jamaican Government Launches ‘Good Ganja Sense’ Campaign To Debunk Marijuana Myths

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