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Trump Administration Seeks Public Comments On Marijuana Reclassification

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The federal government wants your input on whether marijuana should be reclassified under global drug treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

Specifically, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking for public comments about the “abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use” of cannabis and several other substances now under international review.

Under current U.S. federal law as well as global drug policy agreements, marijuana is classified in the most restrictive category of Schedule I. At home, that means it is considered illegal and not available for prescription, while research on its potential benefits is heavily restricted. Cannabis’s international status means that nations who are signatories of drug control treaties are not supposed to legalize it, though that hasn’t stopped Canada and Uruguay from doing so.

Public comments on marijuana’s effects and legal status “will be considered in preparing a response from the United States to the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the abuse liability and diversion of these drugs,” Leslie Kux, FDA’s associate commissioner for policy, wrote in a Federal Register filing published on Wednesday. “WHO will use this information to consider whether to recommend that certain international restrictions be placed on these drugs.”

WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) is meeting in Geneva next month to consider the classification of marijuana and other substances, and is now seeking to “gather information on the legitimate use, harmful use, status of national control and potential impact of international control,” the United Nations body said in a notice excerpted in the FDA filing.

Earlier this year, ECDD determined that cannabidiol (CBD), a component of marijuana shown to have medical benefits without intoxicating properties like other cannabinoids such as THC, should not be scheduled under international drug control conventions.

“CBD has been found to be generally well tolerated with a good safety profile,” the UN body found in its critical review. “There is no evidence that CBD as a substance is liable to similar abuse and similar ill-effects as substances…such as cannabis or THC, respectively. The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled.”

The body also agreed to undergo an in-depth critical review of the marijuana plant and its resins and extracts, as well as THC itself. That new review is what triggered the FDA’s request for public comment on Wednesday.

The Trump administration sought public comments from interested parties in advance of an earlier UN pre-review on marijuana as well.

“Any comments received will be considered by [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] when it prepares a scientific and medical evaluation for drug substances that is responsive to the WHO Questionnaire for these drug substances,” the new FDA notice says. “HHS will forward such evaluation of these drug substances to WHO, for WHO’s consideration in deciding whether to recommend international control/decontrol of any of these drug substances.”

Legalization advocates are hopeful that a hard look at the data on marijuana’s effects will inevitably lead to a pro-reform conclusion.

“A careful review of the relevant science does not now, nor has it ever, supported a hard-line approach to cannabis scheduling. Cannabis’s abuse potential relative to other substances, including legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and prescription medications, does not warrant its continued criminalization under either U.S. or international law,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, said in an email. “By any rational assessment, cannabis prohibition is a disproportionate public policy response to behavior that is, at worst, a public health concern. But it should not be a criminal justice matter and international laws should no longer classify it as such.”

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, agreed.

“The time has come for marijuana to be removed from the federal drug schedules. There is no longer any doubt that it has significant medical value, and the science is clear that it is less harmful than many legal medical products,” he said. “While marijuana is not harmless — few, if any, products are — it poses less harm than alcohol to consumers and to society. The U.S. led the world into the quagmire of cannabis prohibition, so it should lead the world out of it by descheduling cannabis and implementing a more evidence-based policy.”

That said, the feds aren’t planning to make any cannabis recommendations to the UN panel ahead of its review meetings next month.

“Instead, HHS will defer such consideration until WHO has made official recommendations to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which are expected to be made in mid-2018,” the Federal Register notice says. “Any HHS position regarding international control of these drug substances will be preceded by another Federal Register notice soliciting public comments.”

In addition to marijuana and its components, the WHO committee is also reviewing several synthetic cannabinoids, fentanyls and other substances.

FDA has hinted that international rescheduling of marijuana and its components could influence changes to its legal status here at home.

This month, FDA publicly released a letter it sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) earlier this year suggesting that CBD should be completely removed from federal control.

Cannabidiol has a “negligible potential for abuse” and has a “currently accepted medical use in treatment,” the agency found.

But, because of international drug treaty obligations, FDA conceded that the substance needs to be scheduled, concluding that it should be placed under the least-restrictive category of Schedule V.

“If treaty obligations do not require control of CBD, or if the international controls on CBD change in the future, this recommendation will need to be promptly revisited,” FDA wrote in its analysis to DEA.

That document, dated in May, preceded the WHO’s determination that CBD should not be globally scheduled, and was part of the federal government’s approval and rescheduling last month of CBD-based drug Epidiolex, which is used for severe epilepsy disorders. It is not clear why the U.S. government subsequently decided to place FDA-approved CBD medications in the federal Schedule V, with an appeal to global treaties that the UN now says shouldn’t schedule the substance.

For now, FDA is accepting public comments on marijuana and the other substances currently under UN review via the web until October 31. Interested parties can also submit written comments via mail.

Ultimately, WHO will make a scheduling recommendation for marijuana to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who oversaw the enactment of drug decriminalization as Portugal’s prime minister, a policy he has touted in his current capacity.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Congressman Says Marijuana Could Be Legal Sooner If Trump Stops Tweeting

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The plan to federally legalize marijuana is well underway, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a new interview. But it’d be moving a lot quicker if it weren’t for distractions emanating from the president’s Twitter account, he joked.

Blumenauer gave a status update on his plan to end federal cannabis prohibition during a Sunday KATU-TV interview in which he was asked whether he felt Congress was still on track to legalize marijuana by year’s end.

“We are in really great shape. We’ve had a number of votes in the House. The things I’ve put in the blueprint are moving forward,” the congressman said, adding that the Judiciary Committee held a major hearing on legalization legislation in July.

Blumenauer issued a memo to his party’s leadership last year—which he called a “blueprint”—in which he laid out a step-by-step plan by which House committees could advance incremental cannabis legislation while building up to the eventual federal legalization of marijuana by the end of 2019.

“We’ve got things keyed up. I think there’s a great chance of doing it this Congress—maybe even this fall—depending on how crazy things get,” he said in the TV interview.

“Every time I turn around, there’s some other national catastrophe or Trump is out there with Twitter storms,” he cautioned. “It’s not a manageable situation, but the issues dealing with cannabis are on the right track.”

“We can get it wrapped up this Congress, maybe even this year.”

Watch Blumenauer’s marijuana comments, starting at about 9:35 into the video below:

While the 116th Congress is by many measures the most cannabis friendly in history, advocates hoped that reform legislation would move more expeditiously, especially in the Democratic-controlled House.

For example, a bipartisan bill that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, but it didn’t get a full House floor vote before the August recess like advocates anticipated.

That said, companion legislation did get a somewhat unexpected hearing in the Senate Banking Committee even after the panel’s chair indicated it wouldn’t advance as long as cannabis remains federally illegal.

Blumenauer also said in the interview that voters are ahead of Congress on the issue, moving forward with state-level legalization efforts while legislative action on Capitol Hill crawls ahead. And beyond the U.S.’s border, the congressman mentioned that Mexico will be implementing legalization this fall.

Bernie Sanders Calls For Legalization Of Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites

Photo courtesy of KATU 2.

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Credit Unions Can Bank Hemp Businesses, Federal Agency Announces

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A federal financial agency released updated guidelines on banking in the hemp industry on Monday, following up on requests from multiple lawmakers to provide clarity on the issue.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) said in its interim guidance that providing banking services to hemp businesses is allowable since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. The notice also emphasized the economic potential of hemp and the role credit unions can play as the industry continues to develop.

“Lawful hemp businesses provide exciting new opportunities for rural communities,” NCUA Chairman Rodney Hood said in a press release. “I believe today’s interim guidance keeps with the mission of the nation’s cooperative credit system to serve people who have been overlooked and underserved.”

“Many credit unions have a long and successful history of providing services to the agriculture sector,” he said. “My expectation is that credit unions will thoughtfully consider whether they are able to safely and properly serve lawfully operating hemp-related businesses within their fields of membership.”


In a letter sent to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) last month, which the presidential candidate’s Senate office shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment, Hood noted that NCUA was “working on possible future guidance to financial institutions” but that such guidance would be subject to change depending on what regulations the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ultimately develops.

In the meantime, the new interim guidance notes that “growth in hemp-related commerce could provide new economic opportunities for some communities, and will create a need for such businesses to be able to access capital and financial services” while clarifying that credit unions “may provide the customary range of financial services for business accounts, including loans, to lawfully operating hemp related businesses within their fields of membership.”

While NCUA said that it is “generally a credit union’s business decision as to the types of permissible services and accounts to offer,” it highlighted the need to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements, in particular:

—Credit unions need to maintain appropriate due diligence procedures for hemp-related accounts and comply with BSA and AML requirements to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) for any activity that appears to involve potential money laundering or illegal or suspicious activity. It is the NCUA’s understanding that SARs are not required to be filed for the activity of hemp-related businesses operating lawfully, provided the activity is not unusual for that business. Credit unions need to remain alert to any indication an account owner is involved in illicit activity or engaging in activity that is unusual for the business.

—If a credit union serves hemp-related businesses lawfully operating under the 2014 Farm Bill pilot provisions, it is essential the credit union knows the state’s laws, regulations, and agreements under which each member that is a hemp-related business operates. For example, a credit union needs to know how to verify the member is part of the pilot program. Credit unions also need to know how to adapt their ongoing due diligence and reporting approaches to any risks specific to participants in the pilot program.

—When deciding whether to serve hemp-related businesses that may already be able to operate lawfully–those not dependent on the forthcoming USDA regulations and guidelines for hemp production–the credit union needs to first be familiar with any other federal and state laws and regulations that prohibit, restrict, or otherwise govern these businesses and their activity. For example, a credit union needs to know if the business and the product(s) is lawful under federal and state law, and any relevant restrictions or requirements under which the business must operate.

“Hemp provides new opportunities for communities with an economic base involving agriculture,” the notice states. “The NCUA encourages credit unions to thoughtfully consider whether they are able to safely and properly serve lawfully operating hemp-related businesses within their fields of membership.”

“Lending to a lawfully operating hemp-related business is permissible.”

After USDA releases its rules for the hemp industry, which are expected to come ahead of the 2020 planting season, NCUA said it “will issue additional guidance on this subject.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who like Bennet has also pressured federal regulators to clear up confusion around hemp banking, took credit for NCUA’s response and celebrated the new guidance.

“I’m delighted to hear the NCUA has answered my call on behalf of Kentuckians to ensure the legal hemp industry can access much-needed financial services,” McConnell said in a press release. “Although President Trump signed into law my initiative last year to remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances, many of my constituents have told me about their difficulty receiving loans and other services that are necessary to successfully run a hemp business.”

“Through this guidance by the NCUA, I look forward to more hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers starting or growing their operations with the help of Kentucky’s credit unions,” he said. “As Senate Majority Leader, I’ll continue advocating for Kentucky’s priorities throughout the federal government, and I’m proud of today’s positive news.”

Credit unions have generally been friendlier to the marijuana and hemp industries than have conventional banks, and NCUA has similarly taken a more proactive role in evolving to meet the demands of these burgeoning markets.

For example, the agency’s head clarified earlier this month that credit unions wouldn’t be punished simply for serving hemp businesses so long as they were following standard procedures. NCUA also released a draft rule in July that would allow people with past drug convictions to work at credit unions.

Cannabis banking issues have received significant congressional attention this session, with a bipartisan consensus emerging around creating a legislative fix so that hemp and marijuana businesses are able to access financial services.

The hemp industry in particular has enjoyed bipartisan support since the crop was legalized, but while marijuana remains a federally controlled substance, more lawmakers from across the aisle are expressing interest in affording cannabis businesses the same access in order to increase financial transparency and mitigate public safety risks associated with operating on a largely cash-only basis.

The House Financial Services Committee approved a bill in March that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators, and the Senate Banking Committee also held a hearing on the issue last month.

Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (I-ID), who suggested earlier this year that his panel wouldn’t convene to discuss the matter as long as cannabis is federally illegal, has since taken a stance that the issue needs to be resolved.

But while advocates hoped that legislation to address marijuana banking problems would be taken up by the full House ahead of the August recess, that window closed and attention is now turned to a potential hearing in the fall.

Five Federal Agencies Respond To Presidential Candidate’s Hemp Banking Letter

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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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Marijuana Taxes Differ In Legalized States, Complicating Projections

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The marijuana legalization movement is often described as a state-level experiment—and one aspect of its implementation that’s garnering more attention is how legalized jurisdictions approach cannabis taxes in different ways.

Pew Charitable Trusts has been monitoring taxation in the legal industry and released a report on Monday that explains the challenges of establishing effective tax schemes and accurately projecting revenues, especially considering that experts don’t have a sizable body of historical data on which to base predictions like they do for alcohol and tobacco.

That said, there are some lessons to be taken from recent years since early legalizers implemented their respective programs.

Because tax rates differ significantly for marijuana businesses and consumers depending on the state, revenue from cannabis sales has varied, leaving policymakers in a flux as they work to meet budget goals and predict future trends, Pew reported.

Revenue was 40 percent higher in the first six months of sales than Nevada anticipated, for example, while sales in California were 45 percent lower than initially projected.

Here’s a breakdown of marijuana tax revenue in five adult-use states: 

Via Pew.

Pew also observed that revenue growth is slowing in Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize for recreational use, as the market evolves.

Via Pew.

“Supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana expected a new revenue source for states, but market uncertainties continue to challenge revenue forecasters and policymakers,” Pew concluded. “The difficulty in forecasting revenue is compounded by the fact that states have only recently begun to understand the recreational marijuana market: the level of consumer demand for recreational marijuana products, the types of users and how much they might pay for the drug, and competition with the black market.”

“States have learned some lessons but continue to grapple with unknowns.”

In order to prevent budget shortfalls that could impact funding for certain programs, policymakers should take caution and bear in mind the differences “between marijuana revenue’s short-term growth and long-term sustainability.”

“While these new dollars can fill immediate budget needs, they may prove unreliable for ongoing spending demands,” Pew said. “Policymakers should look to other, more familiar sin taxes for lessons on how to manage marijuana tax revenue most effectively.”

Federal Health Agency Releases List Of Marijuana Research Priorities

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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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