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Where Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh Stands On Marijuana And Drug Policy

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President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, will shape the country’s legal system for decades to come if he is confirmed by the Senate. But how would the federal judge rule in cases dealing with marijuana legalization and drug policy reform?

When it comes to cannabis and the right of states to set their own laws, it’s really anybody’s guess at this point. Kavanaugh doesn’t appear to have weighed in on the issue specifically, but it’s possible he’ll be asked about his views during confirmation hearings by pro-legalization Judiciary Committee members like Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) or Kamala Harris (D-CA).

That said, a brief overview of the nominee’s judicial record reveals someone who routinely defers to the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has for decades refused to change marijuana’s restrictive status under federal law. For example, Kavanaugh sided with the majority in a 2007 case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which determined that terminally ill patients don’t have a constitutional right to access drugs that haven’t received FDA approval.

That could set up an interesting debate if there are any legal challenges to a new “right to try” law that Trump signed in May. The policy allows seriously ill patients to access unapproved drugs— and based on the criteria, cannabis may qualify.

Kavanaugh also upheld the authority of the FDA in a 2013 case, STAT News reported. He argued that the federal agency’s procedure for approving or denying expedited approval of medical devices should be respected.

“A court is ill-equipped to second-guess that kind of agency scientific judgment.”

A 2012 case concerning drug testing—for which Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion—is also revealing. The federal judge argued that mandating drug testing of government employees at specialized residential schools for at-risk youth doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment.

“A residential school program for at-risk youth who have a history of drug problems can turn south quickly if the schools do not maintain some level of discipline,” he wrote. “To maintain discipline, the schools must ensure that the employees who work there do not themselves become part of the problem. That is especially true when, as here, the employees are one of the few possible conduits for drugs to enter the schools.”

Kavanaugh said that because the drug testing program is “narrowly targeted” and the government “has a strong and indeed compelling interest in maintaining a drug-free workforce,” the mandate doesn’t amount to a violation of the constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Though these cases don’t provide an especially comprehensive window into the SCOTUS nominee’s views on marijuana specifically, they do appear to reflect a pattern: Kavanaugh puts his faith in the FDA, which has denied that marijuana has any proven medical benefits, and his interpretation of the limitations of the Fourth Amendment seems to stand in contrast to drug policy reform advocates.

Analysis: GOP Congress Has Blocked Dozens Of Marijuana Amendments

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Feds Award $3 Million In Grants To Study Marijuana Ingredients As Alternatives To Opioids

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The federal government has awarded $3 million in grants for research into the therapeutic benefits of ingredients in marijuana other than THC, emphasizing their potential as alternatives to prescription opioids.

In a notice published on Thursday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explained why the studies were necessary and listed grant recipients and the subjects they will investigate. That includes research into the use of CBD for arthritis pain, which will be led by New York University School of Medicine.

“The treatment of chronic pain has relied heavily on opioids, despite their potential for addiction and overdose and the fact that they often don’t work well when used on a long-term basis,” Helene Langevin, director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), said in a press release. “There’s an urgent need for more effective and safer options.”

A total of nine grants were issued, with NIH stating that the funds will help identify alternative treatment options for pain and provide information about the impact of consuming cannabis compounds such as CBD and other lesser-known cannabinoids as well as terpenes found in the plant.

“The cannabis plant contains more than 110 cannabinoids and 120 terpenes, but the only compound that’s been studied extensively is THC,” the press release said.

But while THC is known to treat certain forms of pain, NIH is concerned that its intoxicating effects limit its medical applicability.

“THC may help relieve pain, but its value as an analgesic is limited by its psychoactive effects and abuse potential,” David Shurtleff, deputy director of NCCIH, said. “These new projects will investigate substances from cannabis that don’t have THC’s disadvantages, looking at their basic biological activity and their potential mechanisms of action as pain relievers.”

NIH first announced that it would be issuing grants for studies into minor cannabinoids and terpenes last year.

Federal health agencies aren’t the only institutions interested in learning about marijuana compounds other than THC. On Wednesday, a Senate committee issued a spending report that called for research into CBD and CBG while also criticizing the federal drug scheduling system for inhibiting such research.

Read descriptions of the federal cannabinoid and terpene research grant awards below:

Mechanism and Optimization of CBD-Mediated Analgesic Effects; Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston,; Zhigang He, Ph.D., B.M., and Juan Hong Wang, Ph.D. This project will investigate how the pain-relieving effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and other minor cannabinoids may be modulated by the activity of potassium-chloride cotransporter 2 (KCC2), a chloride extruder expressed in most neurons. (Grant 1R01AT010779)

Neuroimmune Mechanisms of Minor Cannabinoids in Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain; University of California, San Francisco; Judith Hellman, M.D., and Mark A. Schumacher, M.D., Ph.D. This project will explore the effects of minor cannabinoids on inflammatory and neuropathic pain in vitro and in vivo, focusing on the interactions of the cannabinoids with the peripheral receptor called TRPV1 and a cannabinoid receptor, CB1R. (Grant 1R01AT010757)

Minor Cannabinoids and Terpenes: Preclinical Evaluation as Analgesics; Research Triangle Institute, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; Jenny L. Wiley, Ph.D. This project will evaluate purified biosynthesized minor cannabinoids and selected terpenes alone and in planned combinations to determine their potential efficacy as pain relievers against acute thermal, inflammatory, neuropathic, and visceral pain. (Grant 1R01AT010773)

Identifying the Mechanisms of Action for CBD on Chronic Arthritis Pain; New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Yu-Shin Ding, Ph.D. This project will use neuroimaging studies and behavioral assessments to investigate the mechanisms of action of CBD in the modulation of chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis in a mouse model. (Grant 1R21AT010771)

Synthetic Biology for the Chemogenetic Manipulation of Pain Pathways; University of Texas, Austin; Andrew Ellington, Ph.D. This project will use a novel method to evolve individual variants of cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2) that interact with high affinity with minor cannabinoids and evaluate the new variants in a mouse model of pain. (Grant 1R21AT010777)

Exploring the Mechanisms Underlying the Analgesic Effect of Cannabidiol Using Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy; University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Deborah A. Yurgelun-Todd, Ph.D. This project will use proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to evaluate changes in brain chemistry in critical pain-processing regions after short-term administration of a cannabis extract enriched in CBD. (Grant 1R21AT010736)

Mechanistic Studies of Analgesic Effects of Terpene Enriched Extracts from Hops; Emory University, Atlanta; Cassandra L. Quave, Ph.D. This project will take a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the analgesic effects of terpenes from Humulus lupulus (hops), a plant that is closely related to cannabis and has a very similar terpene profile. (Grant 1R21AT010774)

Systematic Investigation of Rare Cannabinoids With Pain Receptors; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; David Sarlah, Ph.D. This project involves synthesizing several classes of rare phytocannabinoids, systematically evaluating their anti-inflammatory potential, and examining the effects of the compounds with the strongest anti-inflammatory potential on the major receptors involved in pain sensation. (Grant 1R21AT010761)

Analgesic efficacy of single and combined minor cannabinoids and terpenes; Temple University, Philadelphia; Sara J. Ward, Ph.D. This project will use rodent models of pain to evaluate the effects of four biologically active components of cannabis that may act synergistically to protect against pain development and to assess the interactions of these four substances with morphine. (Grant 1R01AT010778)

Senate Report Slams Drug Scheduling System For Blocking Marijuana Research

 

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Politics

Beto O’Rourke Proposes Drug War Reparations Funded By Marijuana Taxes

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Marijuana would not only be legalized under a plan proposed on Thursday by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, but cannabis tax revenue would be used to directly repay formerly incarcerated people through a new “Drug War Justice Grant” program.

Unlike other contenders who have come around to supporting marijuana legalization in just the past couple of years, the former Texas congressman has long called for ending prohibition—and his new plan in many respects goes further than those rolled out by other campaigns.

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.)

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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Politics

Support Grows For Marijuana Legalization Bill In Colombia

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Colombia’s legislature will soon take up a bill to legalize and regulate the production and consumption of marijuana for adults.

The legislation, which is being filed by Sen. Gustavo Bolivar of the opposition Colombia Humana party, seeks to end prohibition as a means of curtailing crime and supporting a public health-focused approach to drug policy.

Bolivar, an author who has written several books centered on drug trafficking, has characterized the bill as being about “regularization, not legalization,” but it would provide for legal sales to adults with restrictions similar to those imposed for tobacco and alcohol. There would be penalties for selling to underage individuals and smoking wouldn’t be permitted in public spaces.

The senator pointed to Uruguay, Canada and states in the U.S. as regulatory models for legalization.

“It has been proven that crime levels are lowered and public health is improved,” he said, according to Colombia Reports.

Sen. Alberto Castilla Salazar of the leftist Polo Democrático party said that his coalition supports the reform measure.

“Colombia must overcome prohibitionism and break the ties of illegal groups with the control of cannabis, so that it is the State that regulates, defines the forms and understands consumption as a public health problem,” he said on Tuesday.

Sen. Julián Gallo Cubillos of the FARC party said his coalition supports the legislation and that it represents “a new way to fight the scourge of drug trafficking.”

The proposal has also garnered the support of former President Juan Manuel Santos, who has been an outspoken advocate for ending the war on drugs. His Liberal party could make or break the legislation depending on where members fall.

While left and center-left lawmakers seem largely united around legalizing marijuana, the issue will likely face resistance from President Ivan Duque, who last year signed a decree banning low-level possession of cannabis and cocaine despite court rulings that such activity is permissible.

As Colombia Reports noted, however, Duque’s far-right Democratic Center party is in the minority.

“We’ll have to see how many senators are left to former president Juan Manuel Santos and see how public opinion receives the idea that marijuana can be consumed in public spaces,” Sen. Paloma Valencia, a member of the president’s party, said.

If the country does opt to pursue a regulated cannabis program, it will join Mexico, where lawmakers are readying legislation to legalize marijuana for adult use following a Supreme Court ruling establishing that a ban on possession and cultivation for personal use is unconstitutional.

Former White House Drug Czar Offers Marijuana Legalization Advice To Mexico

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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