The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appeared to signal his support for marijuana decriminalization on Friday.
Appearing on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb discussed the agency’s support for scientific research into cannabis, shared thoughts about recreational marijuana use and offered his perspective on the state of federal marijuana laws.
Gottlieb started the interview by explaining that the FDA has approved synthetic versions of cannabinoids and pharmaceutical-grade derivatives of marijuana—and arguing that those products are preferable to using botanical cannabis for medical purposes. He outlined his concerns about the impact of natural marijuana on the lungs and developing brain.
— CNBC (@CNBC) September 7, 2018
Pressed to weigh in on whether alcohol is more, less or similarly harmful to marijuana, Gottlieb demurred, saying he doesn’t think “it’s appropriate” to make comparisons between the two because the recreational “use patterns” are different.
But when the conversation turned to federal marijuana laws, Gottlieb drew a stark contrast between legalization and decriminalization.
“You shouldn’t be taxing cocaine and heroin and legalizing that because it’s already available obviously. So I don’t know—this argument is 50 years old at least,” CNBC “Squawk Box” co-anchor Joe Kernen said.
“Well, you know, there’s a difference between decriminalization and legalization,” Gottlieb responded. “There’s a very big difference.”
“We could decriminalize the use of certain substance and the possession of certain substances and not move toward legalization and promotion of use.”
Though not exactly a ringing endorsement of decriminalization, the statement represents a departure from the standard federal talking points on marijuana, which remains criminalized under federal law for any use despite the growing number of states that are moving to allow it for medical or recreational use.
The FDA is responsible for assessing the risks and benefits of drugs and has consistently declined to recommend federal rescheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.
Last year, Gottlieb said the agency would begin to proactively examine claims about marijuana’s therapeutic potential. And since then, it has approved the first cannabis-derived pharmaceutical, Epidiolex, for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy.
Separately, FDA sent warning letters to CBD manufacturers, instructing the companies not to make medical claims about their products without FDA approval.
— Scott Gottlieb, M.D. (@SGottliebFDA) November 1, 2017
“Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors,” Gottlieb said in a press release about the letters. “We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products.”
But in July, the FDA shot down a request from an anti-legalization group that wanted marijuana and its derivatives to be placed in a list of substances that aren’t “generally recognized as safe and effective.”
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
New York Lawmakers Might Actually Vote On Marijuana Legalization This Week
With just days left before the end of the legislative session, efforts to legalize marijuana in New York have been revived, with a possible vote this coming week.
Though momentum to pass a legalization measure seemed to largely die off after lawmakers in neighboring New Jersey announced they wouldn’t move forward with plans to end cannabis prohibition through the legislature, advocates are increasingly optimistic that a deal in the Empire State is imminent.
Democratic members in both the Senate and Assembly held conferences last week to discuss details of the legislation. Spectrum News reported that the meetings went well, with members indicating that there’s support for the measure.
That’s just one of several positive signs that a proposal many observers thought was dead for the year has new life.
On Saturday, staff for legislative leaders from both chambers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) are reportedly negotiating the text of final legalization legislation expected to be released on Sunday evening.
Source says three way talks on marijuana taking place today in Albany among staff of two legislative leaders and @NYGovCuomo
Final bill expected to be posted Sunday night
— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) June 15, 2019
On Wednesday, an earlier Senate version of the bill was assigned “same as” status in the Assembly version. That means the current proposals in each chamber lined up with identical language and is considered to be an indicator that the legislation could pass.
— Mike Baggerman (@MikeBaggerman) June 14, 2019
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said on Friday that his party has yet to determine whether they’ll bring the bill to the floor, but he added that “I think there is support in the conference.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters his conference hasn't made a decision yet on whether to put a bill legalizing marijuana on the floor for a vote.
"We haven't made a final decision yet, but I think there is support in the conference," he said.
— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellGAN) June 14, 2019
He also characterized the window of time until the end of the session on Wednesday as “an eternity.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says there is no final determination on a marijuana legalization bill, but notes there is “an eternity” between now and the end of session on Wednesday.
— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) June 14, 2019
Cuomo, who said late last month that passing legalization remains a top 10 priority, has said that lawmakers who fail to approve items on his agenda, including ending cannabis prohibition, “should all be primaried, because that is a failure of a basic progressive agenda.”
On the flip side, the chairman of New York’s Democratic Party said earlier this month that if the Senate approves the legalization bill, they run to risk of alienating voters in certain areas such as Long Island and upstate New York. But that argument neglects to account for recent polling that shows voters in those regions strongly support legalization.
Notably, the measure’s most vocal opponents with the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana have been sending email blasts in recent days urging their supports to call senators and voice opposition to the bill, giving the impression that the group is anticipating a vote.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D), sponsor of the legalization legislation, seemed to confirm that suspicion on Friday, stating that after “conversations with my co-sponsor and colleague in the Senate, I am even more confident of a path for victory.”
.@CPeoplesStokes on status of marijuana legislation: "After conversations with my co-sponsor and colleague in the Senate, I am even more confident of a path for victory."
— Yancey Roy (@YanceyRoy) June 14, 2019
But despite that confidence, the fate of legalization in New York remains murky. An analysis earlier this month found that legalization was two votes short of a needed majority in the Senate.
The session ends on Wednesday, and so far no vote has been scheduled in either chamber. Meanwhile, advocates are waiting with bated breath for further developments to come out of Albany.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Texas Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program
The governor of Texas signed a bill into law on Friday that significantly expands the state’s medical cannabis program.
The legislation, which was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers last month, adds multiple medical conditions to the list of disorders that qualify patients of low-THC marijuana. Currently only patients with intractable epilepsy qualify under the CBD-focused program.
New qualifying conditions include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, autism, spasticity and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill with little fanfare.
Reform advocates said the legislation is a big step in the right direction, even though it doesn’t go as far as they’d hoped. A 0.5 THC cap on marijuana products remained in the bill, for example, and a section that would have established a research program to study the therapeutic potential of cannabis was removed.
“Cannabis is effective medicine for many patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “HB 3703 represents a positive step toward a functional medical cannabis program, but sadly, it still leaves behind millions of Texas families that could benefit from legal access.”
Also this legislative session, the House of Representatives approved bills to more comprehensively expand the medical cannabis program and to decriminalize marijuana possession, but they died in the Senate.
Abbott signed a hemp legalization bill earlier this week.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
20 Bipartisan Governors Urge Congress To Pass Marijuana Banking Bill
Governors from 18 states and two U.S. territories are calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan marijuana banking bill.
In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Thursday, the governors said a legislative fix was needed to “remove the legal uncertainty for banks and credit unions, reducing their risk, enhancing public safety, and increasing financial transparency.”
They also applauded the House Financial Services Committee for approving the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in March and encouraged the full chamber to advance it. A House floor vote is expected in coming weeks after the Judiciary Committee discharged the legislation without a report earlier this month.
“State and federal governments have a shared interest in upholding the rule of law, protecting public safety, and transitioning markets out of the shadows and into our transparent and regulated banking system,” they wrote. “Without access to banking services, state-licensed cannabis businesses operate predominantly on a cash basis.”
“Despite legalization of cannabis at the state-level—in many cases to provide medical treatment—our financial institutions face enormous barriers, legal risks, and criminal and civil liability under the Controlled Substances Act that prevent them from providing banking services to state-licensed businesses. As a result, very few banks and credit unions will provide these services, leaving many businesses in this sector unbanked.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) led the letter. The bipartisan group of signatories also includes the governors of Colorado, Connecticut, Guam, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Proud to join nineteen governors in urging Congress to allow state-licensed cannabis businesses to access federally regulated banking services, allowing them to implement better practices that will enhance public safety and encourage transparency. pic.twitter.com/9nrysPDIS0
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) June 14, 2019
The coalition of governors is the latest group to join hands in support of the banking legislation.
Banking associations representing all 50 states, the National Association of Attorneys General and the National Association of State Treasurers have all urged Congress to approve the bill in recent weeks.
“Many of our states have implemented laws and regulations that ensure accountability of the cannabis industry,” the governors wrote in the new letter. “However, without banking services, cannabis businesses are less able to obey the law, pay taxes, and follow these important regulations. The public safety risks posed by these cash-only businesses can be mitigated through access to banking service providers.”
Banks would have some protections under a provision that was included in a large-scaled spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee this week. But the SAFE Act is more comprehensive, and a Congressional Budget Office score of that legislation showed that the federal government stands to save millions of dollars if it’s enacted.
Earlier this month a group of 12 governors sent a separate letter urging Congress to pass more comprehensive legislation to let states legalize marijuana without federal interference.
Read the marijuana banking letter from governors below:
Governors Back Cannabis Ban… by on Scribd