Kentucky legislative leaders said in a recent joint interview that they’re open to considering legalizing medical marijuana during the state’s 30-day lawmaking session that kicked off this week, but legislators from both parties pushed back against a plan by Gov. Andy Beshear (D) that would impose a tax on the drug.
“If you’re taking that approach, that it’s a money generator, then you’re not thinking about the medicinal or therapeutic value,” Senate President Robert Stivers II (R) said. Imposing a tax on marijuana genuinely intended for medical use, he added, would be “treating it differently than any other drug, which in and of itself is wrong.”
Stivers, a longtime skeptic of medical marijuana, said he’s recently been convinced of THC’s therapeutic benefits in certain treatments, although he stopped short of supporting legalization this session. “I’m not opposed to it,” he said, “but I really think the lead—and I hate doing this—needs to come from the federal government.”
“Let’s get the appropriate protocols and have the research and development like we’ve had this past year, with the vaccines for COVID-19,” Stivers added. “Just as we would with the Moderna, or anything else, let’s go through the study, let’s get blind samples, let’s make sure we’re doing it right.”
Stivers and other top lawmakers, including House Speaker Dave Osborn (R), Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) and House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins (D), were speaking during an interview with Kentucky PBS station KET that aired Monday.
The state’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana legalization bill last year, but Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stalled the bill in committee. The coronavirus pandemic broke out the same month, in March, and the Senate never returned to the measure.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) said in the KET interview this week that it’s “past time for medical marijuana in Kentucky,” and urged his colleagues to simply allow a legalization bill to come to a vote this session.
“I’d just like to see it brought for a vote,” he said. “If it passes on the floor of the Senate, great. If it doesn’t pass on the floor of the Senate, then that says something, too.”
Watch the lawmakers discuss medical cannabis, around 32:40 into the video below:
No Senate legalization bill has yet been introduced this session, but McGarvey said some in his party are considering it.
A poll from last February found that nine out of 10 Kentuckians supported legalizing medical marijuana and nearly six in 10 (59 percent) felt cannabis should be legal “under any circumstances.”
McGarvey agreed with his Republican counterparts that if marijuana is legalized, it should not be subject to tax. “I don’t think we should view medical marijuana itself as a revenue producer for the state,” he said. “There will be some revenue that comes from allowing medicinal marijuana to be grown and cultivated and then given out here, but we have a prohibition against taxing medicine in Kentucky, and that’s something I actually am in favor of.”
That stance clashes with Gov. Beshear’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana and tax the drug to bring in state revenue. “If it’s not revenue positive,” he said in an earlier KET interview recorded December 28, ahead of the legislative session, “you can’t support that administrative arm that’s required to make sure it’s done right.”
The tax would not necessarily be charged to patients at the point of sale, the governor said, but could instead be imposed on growers or retailers. Any tax would nevertheless likely increase costs for patients.
Beshear said the money is necessary to cover expenses such as inspections and regulatory enforcement. Last year’s bill, he said, suggested lawmakers didn’t understand the capabilities of the state’s regulatory agencies.
“We certainly hope, given that enforcing this law will fall upon the executive branch,” the governor said, “that they’ll talk with us about where to house it and how to do it effectively.”
Watch the governor discuss medical cannabis, around 36:25 into the video below:
Bipartisan lawmakers from the House, meanwhile, seemed to acknowledge in the KET interview that legalization’s primary political obstacle lies in the Senate.
“Our caucus has been behind this for many, many sessions,” said House Minority Floor Leader Jenkins, “and nothing has changed in that.”
House Speaker Osborne suggested that medical cannabis would likely advance through his chamber again and that “there’s some hope that the Senate will take it up.”
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“At the end of the day, I think that the overwhelming majority of the people in our caucus, in our body, our chamber, are tired of making criminals out of sick people,” he said. “You know, we freely prescribe narcotics and opioids to excess every single day with far greater consequences.”
Osborne also joined the chorus of lawmakers opposed to taxing the drug. “I disagree completely with the governor on taxation,” he said. “We do not tax tax medicine in this state. It’s inhumane to tax medicine. We we made that statement as tax policy years and years ago… To open that debate, we would have to open the debate about taxing pharmaceuticals completely.”
Like most U.S. states, Kentucky exempts prescribed but not over-the-counter medications. While marijuana would not be regulated as a prescription medicine, a medical marijuana law would likely require patients to obtain a physician’s recommendation much as they would a prescription.
On the federal level, drug reform observers have been watching Kentucky closely in part because of hopes among some reformers that any form of legalization there could encourage U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), who represents the state, to relax his stance on cannabis. McConnell has been a consistent obstacle to legalization in the Senate and was widely expected to be a deciding factor in whether the chamber hears marijuana legislation in 2021.
Wins this week for Democrats in Georgia’s runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats, however—which appeared likely as of Wednesday morning—would remove McConnell from his position as Senate majority leader, significantly blunting his influence on national cannabis policy and allowing Democrats to move more easily on cannabis reform.
“If Democrats win those two seats,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said last month, “I’m pretty confident that you will see—maybe not the major legislation that I seek—but you’re going to see a relaxing.”
Congressional Bill Filed To Protect Marijuana Consumers From Losing Public Housing
A congresswoman on Thursday reintroduced a bill that would allow people living in federally assisted housing to use marijuana in compliance with state law without fear of losing their homes.
As it stands, people living in public housing are prohibited from using controlled substances in those facilities regardless of state law, and landlords are able to evict such individuals. But the bill from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would change that.
It would provide protections for people living in public housing or Section 8 housing from being displaced simply for using cannabis in states that have legalized it for medical or recreational purposes.
“Individuals living in federally assisted housing should not be denied admission, or fear eviction, for using a legal product,” Norton said on Thursday. “Adult use and/or medical marijuana is currently legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and over 90 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana.”
The legislation would also require the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enact regulations that restrict smoking marijuana at these properties in the same way that tobacco is handled.
“HUD, like DOJ, should not be allowed to enforce federal marijuana laws where states have taken action to legalize marijuana,” the congresswoman said, referring to a congressionally approved rider that prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
Norton filed earlier versions of the Marijuana in Federally Assisted Housing Parity Act in 2018 and 2019, but they did not receive hearings or votes.
In 2018, a Trump administration official said that she was working to resolve conflicting federal and state marijuana laws as it applies to residency in federally-subsidized housing, but it’s not clear what came of that effort.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also raised the issue during a committee hearing in 2019, pressing former HUD Secretary Ben Carson on policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession.
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez and then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also filed legislation that year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also introduced an affordable housing bill last year that included a provision to prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Read the text of the marijuana housing legislation below:
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
FDA Clears Researchers To Study MDMA Use By Therapists Being Trained In Psychedelic Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already authorized clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of MDMA for patients with post-traumatic stress disorders—but now it’s given the green light to a psychedelics research institute to expand its studies by administering the substance to certain therapists.
Volunteer therapists who are being trained to treat people with PTSD will be able to participate in the Phase 1 trials to gain personal experience with the treatment option. This is a complementary research project that comes as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is in the process of conducting Phase 3 trials involving people with the disorder.
The development comes months after Canadian regulators announced that certain therapists would be allowed to take psilocybin in order to gain a better understanding of the psychedelic when treating patients.
MAPS sought permission to proceed with the therapist-specific trials in 2019, but FDA placed them on a 20-month hold because of concerns about the merits, risks and credentials of investigators. MAPS appealed that hold, providing evidence about the study’s scientific value and ability of its staff, and FDA cleared them on Tuesday.
— MAPS (@MAPS) May 13, 2021
The organization “chose to dispute” FDA’s hold not just because of the impact it had on the planned studies, “but in an attempt to resolve an ongoing issue with the FDA regarding investigator qualifications across studies,” it said in a press release on Wednesday.
“While the term ‘dispute’ may seem adversarial, this process can actually strengthen the relationship and trust between us and our review Division and ensures the Division has support on this project from the [FDA] Office of Neuroscience,” MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) CEO Amy Emerson said. “This decision demonstrates how our strategic, data-driven strategy in challenging the FDA rulings can be successful.”
Now MAPS is able to launch the Phase 1 clinical trials into MDMA-assisted therapy for therapists.
It will be designed to “measure development of self-compassion, professional quality of life, and professional burnout among clinicians delivering the treatment to patients,” the association said.
Getting personal experience with the substance “is widely considered to be an important element in preparation and training to deliver psychedelic-assisted therapies.”
This will “support the goals of the MDMA Therapy Training Program to provide comprehensive training to future providers,” and it “builds capacity to deliver quality, accessible care to patients, pending approval of MDMA-assisted therapy as a legal prescription treatment,” MAPS PBC Director and Head of Training and Supervision Shannon Carlin said.
FDA first granted MAPS’s request for an emergency use authorization for MDMA in PTSD in 2017. The organization expects to complete its Phase 3 trails in 2022.
The scientific expansion move also comes as the psychedelics decriminalization movement continues to build in the U.S.
Missouri Regulators Derail Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Disclosure Effort With Veto Threat
Missouri regulators say they feel requiring medical marijuana business license ownership disclosures under a House-approved amendment could be unconstitutional, and they may urge the governor to veto the legislation.
By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent
An effort by lawmakers to require disclosure of ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses was derailed on Thursday, when state regulators suggested a possible gubernatorial veto.
On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted to require the Department of Health and Senior Services provide legislative oversight committees with records regarding who owns the businesses licensed to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana.
The provision was added as an amendment to another bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations.
Its sponsor, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said DHSS’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program. He pointed to recent analysis by The Independent and The Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state that found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.
The state constitution prohibits the state from issuing more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.
On Thursday, a conference committee met to work out differences in the underlying bill between the House and Senate.
Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Battlefield and the bill’s sponsor, called the medical marijuana amendment an “awesome idea. I think it’s awesome.”
However, he said opposition from the department puts the entire bill in jeopardy.
“The department came to me,” he said, “and said they felt that this was unconstitutional.”
DHSS has justified withholding information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”
Alex Tuttle, a lobbyist for DHSS, said if the bill were to pass with the medical marijuana amendment still attached, the department may recommend Gov. Mike Parson veto it.
The threat of a veto proved persuasive, as several members of the conference committee expressed apprehension about the idea of the amendment sinking the entire bill.
Merideth said the department’s conclusion is incorrect. And besides, he said, the amendment is narrowly tailored so that the information wouldn’t be made public. It would only be turned over to legislative oversight committees.
Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, chairman of the special committee on government oversight, said the amendment is essential to ensure state regulators “are following the constitution, that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The medical marijuana program has faced intense scrutiny in the two years since it was created by voters.
A House committee spent months looking into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.
In November 2019, DHSS received a grand jury subpoena, which was issued by the United States District Court for the Western District. It demanded the agency turn over all records pertaining to four medical marijuana license applications.
The copy of the subpoena that was made public redacted the identity of the four applicants at the request of the FBI. Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation, later said during a deposition that the subpoena wasn’t directed at the department but rather was connected to an FBI investigation center in Independence.
More recently, Parson faced criticism for a fundraiser with medical marijuana business owners for his political action committee, Uniting Missouri.
The group reported raising $45,000 in large donations from the fundraiser. More than half of that money came from a PAC connected to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist with numerous medical marijuana clients who has been under FBI scrutiny for more than a year.