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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.

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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.)

Politics

Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue

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Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.

Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”

“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.

Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”

Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.

“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”

Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.

“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.

So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”

It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.

Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.

Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”

Hm…

GIF by #ActionAliens

Melissa Etheridge Talks Art, Culture and Marijuana Advocacy In The Legalization Era

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says

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Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.

The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.

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North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Winning In Latest Poll

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North Dakota voters appear poised to legalize marijuana via a ballot measure next month, according to a new poll.

Measure 3, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over in one of the country’s most conservative states—and with no possession limits—is ahead among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent in the survey released on Sunday.

North Dakota has brought marijuana policy reform supporters pleasant surprises before. Medical cannabis was approved there by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2016, for example, and will be available to patients sometime in 2019.

And despite little pro-legalization funding and relatively large spending in opposition to the ballot measure—a flip of the usual paradigm seen in most other states with cannabis initiatives—libertarian-leaning and younger voters on the prairie appear to be pushing Measure 3 towards a slim victory.

The results sharply contrast to those of another poll released earlier this month, which found the marijuana measure losing, 59 percent to 30 percent.

And although legalization support was significantly larger than opposition in the new survey, 13 percent of the 412 respondents say they are still undecided, leaving the issue very much in balance in the lead up to Election Day.

Nonetheless, legalization advocates are pleased with the new polling result.

“Despite a big-money funded misinformation campaign from the opposition, this poll reveals that most North Dakotans are ready to end the failed prohibition of marijuana in the state,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “By voting ‘Yes’ on Measure 3, North Dakotans could save the state millions of taxpayer dollars currently being spent on arresting otherwise law-abiding adults for possession of a plant that is objectively less harmful than legal alcohol and tobacco, allow law enforcement to allocate their limited resources to focus on violent crime, and defend individual freedom.”

But activists know that the opposition has more money, and aren’t taking anything for granted over the next few weeks.

“The message of ending marijuana arrests is resounding in North Dakota, and these results demonstrate that voters are hearing our call for action. This is a dogfight, and LegalizeND will continue to set the record straight when it comes to adult-use marijuana,” Cole Haymond, a campaign advisory for Legalize ND, said.

Consistent with other states where medical marijuana has become legal, the measure performed best with voters under 50 in the new poll. Fifty-seven percent of respondents were 50 or older, suggesting that if younger voters turn out on Election Day, the measure may stand an even better chance of success.

“Passage of Measure 3 is greatly dependent upon the voters under the age of 50 voting in at least their historical percentages,” reads a polling memo by The Kitchens Group, which conducted the survey. “If the electorate is skewed toward the older, more conservative voters, passage could be problematic.”

But Measure 3 is being sold to voters on a personal responsibility platform, with emphasis on harsher penalties for sales to minors—and on marijuana’s proven ability to alleviate opiate-related overdoses and deaths.

When these aspects of the ballot measure were mentioned to poll respondents, support increased by the end of the eight-question survey.

Both before and after the push-polling, the percentage of voters who said they would “definitely” vote no stayed at a consistent 29 percent, suggesting that North Dakota has only a hardcore minority of prohibition-minded voters, with many more undecideds and pro-legalization voters.

The ballot measure is very far-reaching compared to those proposed in other states. It would allow possession, cultivation and sales of marijuana, with no set limits, though lawmakers would almost certainly enact regulations in the event of the measure’s passage. It would also expunge prior cannabis convictions.

The poll was conducted between October 11 and 14, and has a margin of error or +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Voters in seven states will consider marijuana ballot measures on Election Day this year.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Measure 3 legalized only small amounts of marijuana. The text of Measure 3 legalizes marijuana for adults 21 and over with no possession limits. This article has been updated.

North Dakota’s Marijuana Legalization Supporters Outraised By Opponents, Filings Show

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