The Trump administration is asking the public to submit comments to help inform the U.S.’s position on the potential global reclassification of marijuana.
Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) formally recommended that cannabis and its derivatives be rescheduled under international drug treaties.
Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants “interested persons to submit comments on the notifications from the United Nations concerning these drug substances,” Lowell J. Schiller, FDA’s acting associate commissioner for policy, wrote in a notice published in the Federal Register on Friday.
“The comments received in response to this notice will be considered in preparing the United States’ position on these proposals for a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna, Austria,” the filing says.
That means people who submit input could play a role in shaping how the U.S.’s United Nations representative votes when the decision comes up in the key international narcotics body.
The vote could take place as soon as this month.
In long-anticipated recommendations, WHO called last month for whole-plant cannabis, as well as marijuana resin, to be taken out of Schedule IV, the most restrictive category of a 1961 drug treaty. It also called for THC and related compounds to completely removed from a separate 1971 drug treaty and instead put into the 1961 convention.
“The evidence presented to the Committee did not indicate that cannabis plant and cannabis resin were particularly liable to produce ill-effects similar to the effects of the other substances in Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,” WHO determined. “In addition, preparations of cannabis have shown therapeutic potential for treatment of pain and other medical conditions such as epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.”
While the scheduling moves would amount to a recognition that global authorities have for decades been wrong about marijuana’s harms and medical potential, the substances would still remain restricted in different categories of the conventions, meaning that nations couldn’t legalize cannabis while still maintaining compliance with international treaties (although the current even more restrictive status quo hasn’t stopped Canada and Uruguay from doing so anyway).
WHO also wants to clarify that cannabidiol (CBD) a non-intoxicating marijuana component increasingly used for medical benefits, does not fall under international restrictions at all.
“Cannabidiol is found in cannabis and cannabis resin but does not have psychoactive properties and has no potential for abuse and no potential to produce dependence,” WHO’s report found. “It does not have significant ill-effects. Cannabidiol has been shown to be effective in the management of certain treatment-resistant, childhood-onset epilepsy disorders.”
Although advocates hoped that the marijuana recommendations would be addressed at this month’s CND event, many expect that the UN commission may not consider them until a subsequent meeting because the body publicly released the cannabis proposals later than initially expected.
“At this time, it is uncertain whether the above notification from WHO of recommendations for proposed scheduling action on cannabis and cannabis related substances will be acted upon by 62nd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (from 14 to 22 March 2019),” the new FDA notice says. “The Bureau of the 62nd Commission is currently considering whether to postpone voting on the cannabis-related recommendations until the reconvened meeting in December, or the 63rd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 2020.”
But the U.S. is preparing for a vote within the next few weeks just in case.
Public comments on marijuana’s classification must be received by March 14, though if the UN body ends up delaying its consideration of the WHO recommendations, the Federal Register filing says that “the comment period will be reopened.”
The notice details how public comments will play a role in the process:
“FDA, in cooperation with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, will consider the comments on behalf of [the Department of Health and Human Services] in evaluating the WHO scheduling recommendations,” it says. “Then, under section 201(d)(2)(B) of the [Controlled Substances Act], HHS will recommend to the Secretary of State what position the United States should take when voting on the recommendations for control of substances.”
The new request for comments is at least the third time that the Trump administration has asked the public to weigh in on marijuana’s international scheduling status, but it is the first since WHO formally recommended reclassification.
DC Activists Have A New Plan To Get Psychedelics Decriminalization On The Ballot Despite Coronavirus
Activists in Washington, D.C. are considering a new strategy to get a measure to decriminalize psychedelics on the November ballot, with the coronavirus outbreak having forced them to suspend in-person signature gathering.
While Decriminalize Nature D.C. hoped that officials would pass emergency legislation allowing the digital collection of signatures, they aren’t actively considering that option. And the District Council’s chairman said he would not simply place the initiative on the ballot for voters to decide regardless of the signature count.
That’s left the group in a challenging position. But they’re not out of ideas yet.
Now the campaign is exploring the possibility of conducting “micro-scale petition signature collection” to make the ballot. The plan would involve having petitions mailed to supporters, who would circulate it and collect signatures from “registered DC voters in their immediate vicinity, such as family, roommates, friends and close-by neighbors” and then return the signed petitions to the campaign headquarters.
We've received excellent feedback from our NEW Supporter Survey! This is your chance to give input as we adapt to opportunities and challenges presented by COVID-19. Please complete and share the survey here: https://t.co/B0LYBI4eXX #DecrimNature #Initiative81 #RestoringOurRoots
— DecrimNatureDC (@DecrimNatureDC) March 30, 2020
They’ve launched an online survey to determine the feasibility of the option. It asks prospective volunteers to estimate how many signatures they could theoretically collect under that limited scope and provide their mailing information should the campaign decide to move forward with the plan.
This is one of the last remaining options for the 2020 effort, which is working to make a wide range of psychedelics among the district’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said during a press conference on Friday that he “would not say that we’re looking for legislative action to put [the initiative] on the ballot” outside of the conventional process.
Board of Elections Chairman Michael Bennett also took a question about the prospect of allow electronic signature collection. He said his panel is not considering the possibility “at this point.”
Watch the comments below, starting around 22:15:
Decriminalize Nature D.C. is one of numerous groups working to change local and state drug policy laws. And it’s not alone in its struggle amid the current pandemic.
A California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.
Arizona activists shared some more positive news last week, however, announcing that they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot—though they have not yet been submitted to or verified by the state.
Marijuana Legalization Left Out Of New York Budget, According To Draft Summary Document
The New York legislature seems poised to eliminate a proposal to legalize marijuana through the budget this year, according to an unverified document outlining the policies included in the spending legislation currently under final negotiations ahead of a vote this week.
The draft budget report, which was shared with Marijuana Moment, includes a line stating that the “Adopted Budget omits the Executive proposal to legalize adult use cannabis.”
It also “eliminates $34.31 million in funding for the Office for Cannabis Management,” a government body that would have been responsible for regulating the marijuana market.
The apparent exclusion of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) legalization proposal, while disappointing to reform advocates, is not entirely surprising in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. While the governor repeatedly stressed that the policy change should be enacted through the budget, he and top lawmakers have tried to temper expectations in recent weeks as legislative priorities have shifted during the pandemic.
But to some, the draft adopted budget report isn’t necessarily a death knell for the reform move, and they hope lawmakers can still accomplish legalization this year through separate legislation.
“We are disappointed adult use is not in the budget since it would have been a huge economic benefit to New York farmers and small businesses,” Allan Gandelman, president of the NY Cannabis Growers & Processors Association, told Marijuana Moment. “We hope to continue working with the governor and the legislature to get this done as soon as possible.”
The legislature must still vote on the final budget, but there’s little time left to hash out a deal on comprehensive reform ahead of a Wednesday deadline. Sen. Liz Krueger (D) filed a revised standalone legalization bill earlier this month, language of which could have theoretically been inserted into the budget, but it’s not clear that option remains on the table.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Senate and Assembly leadership for comment about the draft budget summary, but representatives were not immediately available. The document, which according to its metadata was last modified on Sunday afternoon, contains highlighted sections for issues that are “still open” for negotiation, but that is not the case for the cannabis items.
This is the second year in a row that Cuomo has pitched legalization as part of his spending plan. Last year, months of negotiation between his office and lawmakers failed to produce a passable bill—with disagreements centering on issues such as how tax revenue would be allocated—and so the effort carried over to this year.
The governor seemed confident that 2020 would be the year for legal cannabis in New York, and he included the proposal in his State of the State address in January. As recently as last week, he indicated the effort was still alive, though he also recognized that it may prove too complicated an issue to ultimately deliver through the budget this round.
“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed because it’s not just about passing a budget and the numbers,” he said. “There are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January, and we’re going to pursue all of them.”
“The only caveat was if you have a really complex issue that normally would require weeks of nuanced, detailed negotiation to do it right, that we won’t do. Because I don’t want to pass any bills that are not really intelligent that I then have to come back and deal with again next year,” he continued. “If it’s a highly complex issue, I get it and then let’s put it off because we don’t want to do something sloppy.”
Another part of the governor’s legalization plan originally involved visiting legal cannabis states to learn from their experiences and take lessons back home. However, Cuomo said that trip was also impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, drug policy reform efforts across the country are struggling amid the pandemic.
Activists in California recently released a video asking California officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot. An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Senate Housing Bill Would Prevent Evictions For State-Legal Marijuana Extraction
A new congressional bill designed to promote affordable housing in the U.S. includes a provision that would prevent landlords from evicting people over manufacturing marijuana extracts if they have a license to do so.
Under the legislation, filed earlier this month by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), there’s a list of “just causes for eviction” such as failure to pay rent or causing significant damage to a property.
The “manufacture of a cannabinoid extract” is another cause for eviction, “unless the tenant holds a license to manufacture the cannabinoid extract under Federal, State, or Tribal law.”
Curiously, however, the bill lacks any additional protections for other state-legal cannabis activities, including simple possession. It’s possible that a drafting error is to blame, but Merkley’s office did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment.
Just above the manufacturing provision is another that states that “the unlawful manufacture, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance” is ground for eviction, though it contains no caveat exempting state-legal activity as cause for eviction.
Despite the growing number of states moving to allow cannabis for medical or recreational use, it remains “unlawful” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
While advocates would likely applaud the inclusion of state-legal protection language, it’s also the case that eviction proceedings are handled at the state level, and so some courts would presumably defer to state law when it comes to cannabis-related eviction cases.
Also, when it comes to the manufacturing provision, states generally do not provide licenses that would specifically allow individuals to produce marijuana extracts in their residences, so it’s unclear how impactful that policy would be in practice if enacted into law.
Of course, the cannabis provision is just one notable part of a comprehensive housing bill, which aims to “address the shortcomings of our current housing policies and funding levels by holistically addressing disparities and systematic obstacles and ensuring an equitable outcome for the most vulnerable Americans.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) rolled out a different kind of housing reform bill last year that would protect people with low-level drug convictions from being denied access to or being evicted from public housing.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.