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Veterans Groups Want Marijuana And Psychedelics Access Through VA, They Tell Congress

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Leaders of military veterans organizations sent a clear message to congressional lawmakers this week: federal marijuana and psychedelics laws are outdated and should be reformed to give service members alternative treatment options for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

During joint hearings before House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on Wednesday and Thursday, three veterans service organizations (VSOs) submitted written testimony backing a policy change to expand access to or increase research on medical cannabis, and one argued in favor of loosening restrictions to enable veterans to utilize psychedelics in their mental health treatment.

Cannabis’s medical potential and the way that federal policy impedes research was also raised during one of the hearings by a freshman Republican member of Congress.

“The epidemic of substance use disorder and other mental health crises among veterans demonstrates the need for innovative therapies that extend beyond traditional psychopharmacological interventions,” Minority Veterans of America (MVA) said in its written testimony. “As such, we believe it is necessary to include cannabis and psychedelics in the [Veterans Health Administration’s] psychopharmacological repertoire.”

“Research into cannabis demonstrates its effectiveness in treating PTSD and SUDs in veteran populations (although more research is needed), as well as reducing the use of opioids and opioid-related deaths,” the group continued. “Additionally, research into psychedelics has demonstrated its efficacy to treat both substance use disorders and for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

MVA said that while the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is allowing ketamine-based therapy for severe depression on a case-by-case basis, studies have demonstrated that other psychedelics have shown promise in the treatment of conditions that commonly afflict veterans and lawmakers should “consider allowing psychedelics and cannabis to be included in the psychopharmacological repertoire.”

“Additionally, we would urge the Committees to support and remove existing governmental impediments to cannabis and psychedelic research and therapies within the Department and throughout the United States generally,” the organization said.

Last year, a federal commission tasked with developing recommendations to improve mental health treatment for military veterans reached a similar conclusion about the potential usefulness of psychedelics and marijuana. The panel advised that Congress and the executive branch should promote research into the therapeutic potential of these substances.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), meanwhile, said in its written testimony that “medical cannabis has been growing in support among the veteran population for quite some time” and “can bring relief to millions, save taxpayers billions and create thousands of jobs for veterans nationwide.”

“For years, IAVA members have sounded off in support of researching and legalizing medical cannabis use for treating the wounds of war,” it said, citing member surveys on the issue. “Veterans consistently and passionately have communicated that cannabis offers effective help in tackling some of the most pressing injuries we face when returning from war.”

“Across party lines, medicinal cannabis has been rapidly increasing in support,” it continued. “Yet our national policies are outdated, research is lacking, and stigma persists.”

The group said that it will continue advocating for research into the medical potential of marijuana, but the plant’s classification as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act and “federal bureaucratic hurdles” continue to “stymie good research” while making the scientific process “stagnant, cumbersome, and convoluted.”

“While not impossible, federal research into cannabis faces many bureaucratic hurdles that hinder good research,” IAVA said. “We will never get a definitive answer on the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment option while federal regulations that actively undermine solid research studies remain in place. The system is antiquated and must be adjusted to match state laws and research needs.”

Meanwhile, Disabled American Veteran (DAV) said simply in its testimony that it supports “VA research into the efficacy of cannabis for treatment of service-connected veterans.”

These submissions come from two out of three VSO presentations that have been scheduled by the joint committees this month, with other veterans groups set to share their views with the panels on March 18.

At Thursday’s hearing, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) said she believes marijuana’s Schedule I status needs to be changed, and she asked the veterans group representatives to share their views on the issue.

David Zurfluh, the national president of of Paralyzed Veterans of America, replied that “we fully support medical marijuana research” and noted that cannabis is “heavily used for pain” by military veterans.

“It’s something we should look into more,” he said. “I think it could be beneficial in the long run.”

The Wounded Warrior Project’s Mike Linnington said that his group supports a bill that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved last year to require VA to conduct clinical trials on the medical potential of cannabis.

“We support H.R. 712, and certainly anything that helps veterans with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder [and] traumatic brain injury,” he said. “We need to make every available resource to them, consistent with federal laws of course.”

The House panel’s chairman, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), said it was helpful to know that Miller-Meeks, who just joined Congress this year, supports reclassifying cannabis and increasing research into its benefits, especially as a doctor and a member from the other party.

The issue has “been gathering up bipartisan support for this research for quite some time,” he said. “I’m hopeful we’re going to be able to move forward with something.”

After Takano’s panel voted last year to approved the research expansion bill and another piece of legislation to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states where it’s legal, the proposals died without a vote on the House floor.

In January, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) filed a new bill to codify that VA doctors can discuss the risks and therapeutic potential of cannabis with their patients and to shield veterans from losing their government benefits over marijuana use. It has not yet been scheduled for any hearings or votes.

The testimony from the veterans groups this week largely aligns with previous hearings before the joint House and Senate panels.

Going back to 2018, for example, leaders of veterans service groups called on Congress to require VA to do more to provide access to and conduct research on medical cannabis. But the psychedelics-focused testimony from MVA this year reflects a more recent public recognition that controlled substances beyond marijuana could prove beneficial to veterans and that policies around those drugs should be revisited.

Tennessee Senators Approve Medical Marijuana Bill In Committee

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Illinois Will ‘Blow Past’ $1 Billion In Legal Marijuana Sales In 2021, Chamber Of Commerce President Says

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“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” the Chamber leader said.

By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Illinois’s cannabis industry is growing up fast, with adult-use recreational cannabis sales expected to hit $1 billion by year-end.

In March alone, Illinoisans spent $110 million on recreational marijuana.

Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, said one factor contributing to Illinois’ explosive growth is that most neighboring states haven’t legalized marijuana yet.

“What we saw early on in states like Washington and Colorado is they did have demand come in from surrounding states, which frankly benefits our industry and benefits the taxes collected,” Maisch said.

Cannabis sales have already surpassed alcohol’s tax revenues for the state, and Maisch said he thinks $1 billion estimates are conservative.

“Are we going to get to a billion dollars? I think we’re going to blow past the billion dollars based on the experience in smaller states,” Maisch said.

There are only a couple of things that could stop Illinois’ explosive cannabis market growth, Maisch said. He said that policymakers could ruin things by pushing taxes too high as evidenced by the tobacco market.

“As taxes have gone up and up and up, they’ve pushed people all the way into the black market or they’ve created this grey market in which people are ostensibly paying some of the taxes, but they’re still getting sources of tobacco products that avoid much of the tax,” Maisch said.

The other thing that could head off continued growth is other states opening up recreational-use markets.

“So if you start to see surrounding states go to recreational, that’s definitely going to flatten the curve because we’re not going to be pulling in demand from other states,” Maisch said.

Maisch points out some concerns that accompany the explosion of Illinois’s recreational cannabis market including workforce preparedness.

“All of those individuals who are deciding to go ahead and consume this product are really taking themselves out of a lot of job opportunities that they would otherwise be qualified, so there’s a real upside and a downside,” Maisch said.

While it’s easy to track the revenues this industry brings into state coffers, he points out, it will be harder to track the lack of productivity and qualified individuals to operate heavy machinery and other jobs that require employees to pass a drug test.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

DEA Finally Ready To End Federal Marijuana Research Monopoly, Agency Notifies Grower Applicants

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DEA Finally Ready To End Federal Marijuana Research Monopoly, Agency Notifies Grower Applicants

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday notified several companies that it is moving toward approving their applications to become federally authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

This is a significant development—and one of the first cannabis-related moves to come out of the Biden administration. There is currently a monopoly on federal cannabis cultivation, with the University of Mississippi having operated the only approved facility for the past half-century.

It was almost five years ago that DEA under President Barack Obama first announced that it was accepting applications for additional manufacturers. No approvals were made during the Trump administration. And the delay in getting acceptances has led to frustration—and in some cases, lawsuits—among applicants.

But on Friday, organizations including the Biopharmaceutical Research Company (BRC), Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) and Groff NA Hemplex LLC were notified by the agency that their requests were conditionally accepted.

“DEA is nearing the end of its review of certain marijuana grower applications, thereby allowing it to soon register additional entities authorized to produce marijuana for research purposes,” DEA said. “Pending final approval, DEA has determined, based on currently available information, that a number of manufacturers’ applications to cultivate marijuana for research needs in the United States appears to be consistent with applicable legal standards and relevant laws. DEA has, therefore, provided a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to these manufacturers as the next step in the approval process.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the move, and it’s unclear just how many organizations have received a DEA communication so far.

Matt Zorn, who has represented SRI in a suit against DEA over the processing delays, told Marijuana Moment that the agency explained that it is “moving forward” with the facility’s application and that it appears to be “consistent with public interest” to give the institute the ability to grow marijuana for study purposes.

SRI’s Dr. Sue Sisley is in a process of completing a memorandum of agreement that DEA requested “so that it can be executed and official,” according to a press release.

BRC CEO George Hodgin said in another press release that after being finalized, “this federal license will forever change the trajectory of our business and the medicinal cannabis industry.”

“The DEA’s leadership will set off a nationwide wave of innovative cannabis-derived treatments, unlock valuable intellectual property and create high quality American jobs,” he said. “The BRC team is already familiar with DEA compliance procedures based on our extensive history of controlled substances activity, and our world class staff is ready to hit the ground running on this new business arm that the DEA has authorized.”

DEA said it has presented applicants that appear to meet legal requirements “with an MOA outlining the means by which the applicant and DEA will work together to facilitate the production, storage, packaging, and distribution of marijuana under the new regulations as well as other applicable legal standards and relevant laws.”

“To the extent these MOAs are finalized, DEA anticipates issuing DEA registrations to these manufacturers,” the agency said. “Each applicant will then be authorized to cultivate marijuana—up to its allotted quota—in support of the more than 575 DEA-licensed researchers across the nation.”

DEA said it “will continue to prioritize efforts to evaluate the remaining applications for registration and expects additional approvals in the future” and will publicly post information about approvals as they are finalized.

Following a 2019 suit against DEA by SRI, a court mandated that the agency take steps to process the cultivation license applications, and that legal challenge was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

That suit argued that the marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi is of poor quality, does not reflect the diversity of products available on the commercial market and is therefore inadequate for clinical studies.

That’s also a point that several policymakers have made, and it’s bolstered by research demonstrating that the federal government’s cannabis is genetically closer to hemp than marijuana that consumers can obtain in state-legal markets.

Last year, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary to move forward with licensing approvals due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

SRI filed another suit against DEA in March, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications. And that was born out when the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel document was released last year as part of a settlement in the case, revealing, among other things, that the agency feels that its current licensing structure for cannabis cultivation has been in violation of international treaties for decades.

Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved

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Mississippi Supreme Court Overturns Medical Marijuana Legalization Ballot That Voters Approved

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A voter-approved initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Mississippi has been overturned by the state Supreme Court.

On Friday, the court ruled in favor of a Mississippi mayor who filed a legal challenge against the 2020 measure, nullifying its certification by the Secretary of State. The lawsuit was unrelated to the merits of the reform proposal itself, but plaintiffs argued that the constitutional amendment violated procedural rules for placing measures on the ballot.

While the court acknowledged that a “strong, if not overwhelming, majority of voters of Mississippi approved Initiative 65” to legalize medical cannabis in the state, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler’s (R) petition was valid for statutory reasons.

Madison’s challenge cites a state law stipulating that “signatures of the qualified electors from any congressional district shall not exceed one-fifth (1/5) of the total number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition for placement upon the ballot.” But that policy went into effect when Mississippi had five congressional districts, and that’s since been reduced to four, making it mathematically impossible to adhere to.

The secretary of state and other officials pushed back against the lawsuit and argued that a plain reading of the state Constitution makes it clear that the intention of the district-based requirement was to ensure that signatures were collected in a geographically dispersed manner—and the result of the campaign met that standard.

But in the court’s 6-3 ruling released on Friday, the justices said that their hands were tied. The legislature or administration might be able to fix the procedural ballot issue, but it had to follow the letter of the law.

“We find ourselves presented with the question squarely before us and nowhere to turn but to its answer,” the decision states. “Remaining mindful of both the November 3, 2020 election results and the clear language in section 273 seeking to preserve the right of the people to enact changes to their Constitution, we nonetheless must hold that the text of section 273 fails to account for the possibility that has become reality in Mississippi.”

In sum, a Census-driven change in the number of congressional districts in Mississippi “did, indeed, break section 273 so that, absent amendment, it no longer functions,” meaning there’s no legal way to pass a constitutional ballot initiative in the state.

“Whether with intent, by oversight, or for some other reason, the drafters of section 273(3) wrote a ballot-initiative process that cannot work in a world where Mississippi has fewer than five representatives in Congress. To work in today’s reality, it will need amending—something that lies beyond the power of the Supreme Court.”

“We grant the petition, reverse the Secretary of State’s certification of Initiative 65, and hold that any subsequent proceedings on it are void,” the court ruled.

One justice who dissented said that the district-based requirement is arbitrary as it concerns Mississippi elections. While the federal government defines the state as having four congressional districts, the state Constitution “lays out the five districts,” and “there have been zero changes to the five districts” as far as the state’s laws are concerned.

In any case, this marks a major defeat for cannabis reform activists in the state who collected more than 214,000 signatures for their initiative. Sixty-eight percent of voters approved a general ballot question on whether to allow medical cannabis, and 74 percent signed off on advocates’ specific measure in a separate question.

“The Mississippi Supreme Court just overturned the will of the people of Mississippi,” Ken Newburger, executive director for the Mississippi Medical Marijuana Association, said in a press release. “Patients will now continue the suffering that so many Mississippians voted to end. The Court ignored existing case law and prior decisions. Their reasoning ignores the intent of the constitution and takes away people’s constitutional right.”

“It’s a sad day for Mississippi when the Supreme Court communicates to a vast majority of the voters that their vote doesn’t matter,” he said.

Under the voter-approved initiative, patients with debilitating medical issues would have been allowed to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal included 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would have been able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.

There was an attempt in the legislature to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the event that the court overruled the voter-approved initiative, but it failed to be enacted by the session’s end.

The Mississippi State Department of Health told WJTV that it will cease work on developing medical cannabis regulations in light of the court ruling.

“However, the agency has certainly learned a lot in the process of putting together a successful medical marijuana program, and we stand ready to help the legislature if it creates a statutory program,” Liz Sharlot, director of the Office of Communications for the department, said.

This is the latest state Supreme Court setback to affect cannabis reform efforts.

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court dealt a critical blow to marijuana activists working to legalize marijuana in the state—killing an initiative that hundreds of thousands of voters have already signed and forcing them to start all over again if they want to make the 2022 ballot.

While a Nebraska campaign collected enough signatures to qualify a reform initiative in 2020, the state Supreme Court shut it down following a legal challenge. It determined that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule, much to the disappointment of advocates.

In South Dakota, the fate of an adult-use legalization initiative that voters approved last November is also in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court, where a sheriff is challenging its constitutionality based on a single subject rule as well.

Opponents to a Montana marijuana legalization measure that was approved by voters have also filed lawsuits contesting the voter-approved initiative for procedural reasons, arguing that its allocation of revenue violates the state Constitution. While the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case last year, it did not rule on the merits and left the door open to pursuing the case in district and appeals court, which plaintiffs then pursued.

Read the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling on the medical cannabis initiative below: 

Mississippi Supreme Court m… by Marijuana Moment

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