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VA Would Have To Study Medical Marijuana’s Benefits For Veterans Under New Bipartisan Bill In Congress

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A bipartisan bill to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct clinical trials into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans was reintroduced in the Senate on Thursday, with a House companion version set to be filed on Friday.

The VA Medical Cannabis Research Act—sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK)—has been slightly modified since an earlier version was introduced last Congress. The measure explicitly mandates that VA launch a series of clinical trials, rather than just one, and also sets out specific guidelines for researching the effects of several cannabis varieties with various THC and CBD concentrations.

Reps. Lou Correa (D-CA) and Peter Meijer (R-MI) will refile an identical House version on Friday, a staffer told Marijuana Moment.

The VA secretary “shall carry out a series of clinical trials on the effects of medical-grade cannabis on the health outcomes of covered veterans diagnosed with chronic pain and covered veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,” the text of the bill states. It lists both “required elements” of the trials and “optional elements.”

When it comes to the chronic pain trials, the agency would have to look at the impact of marijuana consumption on osteopathic pain, opioid use and dosage, benzodiazepine use and dosage, alcohol use, inflammation, sleep quality, agitation and quality of life.

For the PTSD-specific studies, VA would examine the extent to which cannabis affects basic symptoms of the condition, the use and dosage of benzodiazepines, alcohol use, mood, anxiety, social functioning, agitation, suicidal ideation and sleep quality.

Optionally, the clinical trials “may include an evaluation of the effects of the use of cannabis to treat chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder on” pulmonary function, cardiovascular events, various forms of cancer, intestinal inflammation, motor vehicle accidents, mania, psychosis, cannabinoid hypermesis syndrome, neuropathy or spasticity.

The bill further details specific methodological standards of the clinical trials that would be required. It would, for example, mandate that researchers use “not fewer than seven unique plant cultivars” with specific ratios of THC and CBD. That last version of the bill only required three different marijuana strains.

The trials will involve “whole plant raw material and extracts.” However, the measure no longer stipulates that “varying methods of cannabis delivery, including combustible and non-combustible inhalation and ingestion” would have to be used as would have been the case under the last version.

“VA needs to take its cues from the growing number of veterans who find critical relief through medicinal cannabis in treating the wounds of war,” Tester said in a press release. “Our bipartisan bill ensures VA takes proactive steps to explore medicinal cannabis as a safe and effective alternative to opioids for veterans suffering from injuries both seen and unseen. This is a necessary step in taking care of the folks who fought and sacrificed on our behalf, and I’m glad to join Senator Sullivan in this effort.”

Correa said the opioid crisis in the U.S. makes it “imperative to the health and safety of our veterans that we find alternative treatments for chronic pain and service-related injuries.”

“Throughout my district, I consistently meet veterans who depend on cannabis to manage their pain,” he said. “Numerous veterans attest to the treatment benefits of medical cannabis. It’s time the VA did a formal study and began recognizing that cannabis can play a role in our veterans’ healthcare.”

Last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act, as well as a separate proposal to allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to their patients in states where it’s legal, but they did not advance to the floor.

“This year it will pass the House,” Correa said. “The momentum, support, and dedication are there. We need to get this done for our veterans.”

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), said “it is vital for VA to investigate if, when, and for whom, various forms and doses of cannabis may be effective.”

“Rep. Correa’s bill will ensure VA employs the scientific rigor of a clinical trial framework as it continues to research cannabis use for veterans,” he said.

Meijer, for his part, said that “veterans across the country continue to suffer from chronic pain and PTSD as a result of their service, and too many are being lost to opioid overdose and suicide here at home.”

“We owe it to our nation’s veterans to pursue alternative treatment that could be safer and more effective,” he said. “There remains a need for increased research and trials on cannabis as an alternative treatment, and this bill will help ensure that the VA moves forward with these studies expeditiously.”

The Senate under GOP control did not move any standalone marijuana bills in the last session, but with Democrats now in charge of both chambers and the White House, there’s renewed optimism that modest reforms like this latest measure stand a solid chance of becoming law.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of congressional lawmakers reintroduced bills that would federally legalize medical cannabis for military veterans.

That bill is being sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), both co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, in the House, along with nine other original cosponsors. On the Senate side, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) is leading the proposal, and he’s joined by five other lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would temporarily allow veterans to legally possess and use cannabis under federal law, as recommended by doctors in accordance with state law. Physicians with VA would also be allowed for the first time to issue such recommendations. Further, it would require VA to study the therapeutic potential of marijuana for pain and reducing opioid misuse.

The House and Senate have both previously approved annual spending bills containing riders blocking VA from punishing doctors for writing medical marijuana recommendations, but no such legislation has yet been enacted into law.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) in January introduced a proposal aimed at ensuring that military veterans aren’t penalized for using medical cannabis in compliance with state law. It would also codify that VA doctors are allowed to discuss the risks and benefits of marijuana with their patients.

VA doctors are currently permitted to discuss cannabis with patients and document their usage in medical records, and those veteran patients are already shielded by agency policy from losing their benefits for marijuana use—but the bill would enshrine those policies into federal statute so they could not be administratively changed in the future.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders are working to end federal marijuana prohibition altogether.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are in the process of crafting a comprehensive legalization bill, and Schumer said it would be placed on the floor “soon.”

On the House side, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said recently that he plans to reintroduced his legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which cleared the chamber last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control.

Read the text of the newly reintroduced VA Medical Cannabis Research Act below: 

VA Medicinal Cannabis Resea… by Marijuana Moment

Texas House Votes To Decriminalize Marijuana And Expand Medical Cannabis System

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Virginia Has Sealed 64,000 Marijuana Distribution Charges Since Legalization Took Effect This Summer

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“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached.”

By Ned Oliver, Virginia Mercury

Virginia has sealed records documenting more than 64,000 misdemeanor marijuana distribution charges since the state legalized the drug in July.

The figure came out Thursday during a meeting of the legislature’s Cannabis Oversight Commission.

Officials said the records were scrubbed from the state’s criminal record database, which is used by employers like school boards, state agencies and local governments to screen employees.

The state had already sealed 333,000 records detailing charges of simple possession last year after the state reduced the offense to a civil infraction on par with a traffic offense, said Shawn G. Talmadge, the Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Lawmakers directed the state to expand that effort when they voted to broadly legalize recreational use of marijuana earlier this year.

The legislature also agreed to a broader expungement reform that will automatically seal other misdemeanor charges, including underage possession of alcohol, use of a fake ID, petit larceny, trespassing and disorderly conduct. Talmadge said those charges will remain in the system until the state finishes updating the software it uses to track criminal records.

“As of right now, the process is proceeding,” he said.

Members of the oversight commission also heard from two advocates who urged them to move fast to address people currently imprisoned for marijuana offenses—a category of people the legalization legislation passed this year did not address.

Chelsea Higgs Wise, the leader of the advocacy group Marijuana Justice, and Gracie Burger, with the Last Prisoner Project, said Department of Corrections data suggests there are currently 10 people being held solely on serious marijuana charges.

They said it remains unknown how many more are being held because of marijuana related probation violations.

“These aren’t just numbers and there are families attached,” Burger said.

This story was first published by Virginia Mercury,

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DEA Proposes Dramatic Increase In Marijuana And Psychedelic Production In 2022, Calling For 6,300 Percent More MDMA Alone

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proposing a dramatic increase in the legal production of marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.

In a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the agency said there’s been a “significant increase in the use of schedule I hallucinogenic controlled substances for research and clinical trial purposes,” and it wants authorized manufacturers to meet that growing demand.

DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.

It wants to double the amount of marijuana extracts, psilocybin and psilocyn, quadruple mescaline and quintuple DMT. What especially stands out in the notice is MDMA. The agency is proposing an enormous 6,300 percent boost in the production of that drug—from just 50 grams in 2021 to 3,200 grams in the coming year—as research into its therapeutic potential continues to expand.

LSD would see a 1,150 percent increase, up to 500 grams of the potent psychedelic.

Marijuana itself would get a 60 percent boost under DEA’s proposal, up to 3.2 million grams in 2022 from the 2 million grams last year.

Here’s a visualization of the proposed quota increase from 2021 to 2022 for marijuana and cannabis extracts:

For all other THC, psilocybin, psilocyn and MDMA:

And for other psychedelic substances like LSD, mescaline and DMT:

DEA said in the Federal Register notice that it has been receiving and approving additional applications to “grow, synthesize, extract, and manufacture dosage forms containing specific schedule I hallucinogenic substances for clinical trial purposes” to achieve these ambitious quotas.

“DEA supports regulated research with schedule I controlled substances, as evidenced by increases proposed for 2022 as compared with aggregate production quotas for these substances in 2021,” the agency said, adding that it working “diligently” to process and approve marijuana manufacturers applications in particular, as there’s currently only one farm at the University of Mississippi that’s permitted to cultivate the plant for research.

“Based on the increase in research and clinical trial applications, DEA has proposed increases in 3,4- Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA), 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), 5-Methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine, Dimethyltryptamine, Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Marihuana, Marihuana Extract, Mescaline, Psilocybin, Psilocyn, and All Other Tetrahydrocannabinols to support manufacturing activities related to the increased level of research and clinical trials with these schedule I controlled substances.”

Here are the exact numbers for the proposed 2021 and 2022 quotas:

Substance 2021
2022 proposed
Marijuana 2,000,000 3,200,000
Marijuana extract 500,000 1,000,000
All other tetrahydrocannabinol 1,000 2,000
Psilocybin 1,500 3,000
Psilocyn 1,000 2,000
MDMA 50 3,200
LSD 40 500
Mescaline 25 100
DMT 50 250
5-MeO-DMT 35 550
MDA 55 200

A 30-day public comment period will be open after the notice is formally published on Monday.

It’s difficult to overstate just how significant the proposed 2022 increases are, but it’s certainly true that scientific and public interest in marijuana and psychedelics has rapidly increased, with early clinical trials signaling that such substances show significant therapeutic potential.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s previous proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

Advocates and experts remain frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest federal drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

A federal appeals court in August dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

Singer Melissa Etheridge And Activist Van Jones Promote Psychedelics Reform As Movement Grows

Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case On Legalizing Safe Drug Consumption Sites, But Activists Are Undeterred

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The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

The justices announced on Tuesday that they decided against taking up the case raised by the nonprofit Safehouse, despite the pleas of attorneys general from 10 states and D.C. who recently filed amici briefs urging the court’s involvement.

Representatives from 14 cities and counties, as well as the mayor of Philadelphia, which is at the center of the current case, also filed briefs in support of the case in recent days.

Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration. It filed a petition with the nation’s highest court in August to hear the case.

But while the Supreme Court declined to take action—and the Biden administration passed up its voluntary opportunity to weigh in at this stage, which may well have influenced the justices’ decision—activists say the battle will continue at a lower federal court level, where the administration will have to file briefs revealing its position on the issue.

“We were disappointed that the government chose not to respond to our petition,” Safehouse Vice President Ronda Goldfein told Filter. “They said, ‘We’re going to waive our right to respond,’ [and] the Supreme Court declined to review our case. Ordinarily that sounds like the end of the road—but in our case we are still pursuing our claims in a different venue.”

That venue will be the the federal district court in Philadelphia, where activists plan to submit multiple arguments related to religious freedom and interstate commerce protections. The Biden administration will be compelled to file a response in that court by November 5.

“If they don’t respond, they lose,” Goldfein said.

A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—previously filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up Safehouse’s safe injection case.

Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.

If the Supreme Court were to have taken the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could have emboldened advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.

The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.

Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.

A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.

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