The Justice Department will continue to be prohibited from interfering in state medical marijuana laws under the federal spending bill passed Thursday in the Senate. The bill has already passed the House, and President Trump has said he will sign it.
The legislation includes a provision that is intended to prevent the department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from using funds to arrest or prosecute patients, caregivers, and businesses that are acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
The provision stems from an amendment originally sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and former Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), which was first approved by the House in May 2014. It was approved again by a larger margin in June 2015, then included in the continuing appropriations packages that have funded the federal government since October 2016.
Unfortunately, the spending package approved Thursday also includes a provision that prevents the District of Columbia from regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for adult use. It was originally introduced by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland) and approved in 2015, after District voters approved a ballot initiative to make possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults 21 years of age and older.
MPP's Robert Capecchi released the following statement:
“Congress appears to be growing increasingly comfortable with states adopting their own marijuana policies,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Unfortunately, spending prohibitions like these expire at the end of the fiscal year, so there is still a need for a long-term solution.
“The time is right for Congress to adopt permanent legislation that protects individuals from federal enforcement if they are in compliance with state laws,” Capecchi said. “It is difficult to understand what they’re waiting for. The vast majority of U.S. voters oppose the federal government interfering in state marijuana laws, and there is now near-universal support for legalizing medical marijuana.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has decided that marijuana will remain classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The decision to keep marijuana in the category reserved for drugs with no accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse was, according to the DEA, based on consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services. According to DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg, “If the scientific understanding about marijuana changes — and it could change — then the decision could change…. But we will remain tethered to science, as we must, and as the statute demands. It certainly would be odd to rely on science when it suits us and ignore it otherwise."
The fact that the DEA has maintained its position that marijuana has no accepted medical value may come as a surprise to many, especially given the thousands, if not millions, of seriously ill patients who currently use marijuana to treat a number of symptoms and conditions.
In a more positive development, it was also announced that the federal government will be removing major obstacles to marijuana research. The only source of federally approved research-grade marijuana has been the University of Mississippi, and it has been so difficult for researchers to obtain that it has effectively created a research monopoly held by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Now, universities may apply for federal approval to grown their own supply of marijuana, creating fewer roadblocks for researchers in the future.
On Thursday, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) announced in a press release that they had received approval to study the effects of marijuana on treating PTSD in veterans.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has formally approved the first-ever randomized controlled trial of whole plant medical marijuana (cannabis) as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in U.S. veterans. The DEA’s approval marks the first time a clinical trial intended to develop smoked botanical marijuana into a legal prescription drug has received full approval from U.S. regulatory agencies, including the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled study will test the safety and efficacy of botanical marijuana in 76 U.S. military veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD. The study is funded by a $2.156 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to the California-based non-profit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is sponsoring the research.
The trial will gather safety and efficacy data on four potencies of smoked marijuana with varying ratios of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). By exploring the effectiveness of a variety of marijuana strains, the study seeks to generate naturalistic data comparable to how many veterans in medical marijuana states currently use marijuana. Results will provide vital information on marijuana dosing, composition, side effects, and areas of benefit to clinicians and legislators considering marijuana as a treatment for PTSD.
Congratulations and thanks go to Dr. Sue Sisley, who has long been the foremost champion of studying the effects of marijuana on PTSD, and the rest of the staff at MAPS for working so diligently in this area.
Early this week, the Brookings Institution released a report titled 'Ending the U.S. government's war on medical marijuana research', which analyzes the ways in which the federal government hinders effective research, and how these policies could be changed.
The federal government is stifling medical research in a rapidly transforming area of public policy that has consequences for public health and public safety. As medical marijuana becomes increasingly accessible in state-regulated, legal markets, and as others self-medicate in jurisdictions that do not allow the medical use of cannabis, it is increasingly important that the scientific community conduct research on this substance. However, statutory, regulatory, bureaucratic, and cultural barriers have paralyzed science and threatened the integrity of research freedom in this area. It is time for the federal government to recognize the serious public policy risks born from limited medical, public health, and pharmaceutical research into cannabis and its use.
You can read the full report here.
Michele Leonhart is expected to resign from her position as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to a report from CBS News.
The Marijuana Policy Project called for Leonhart’s resignation last year in a Change.org petition which now has more than 46,000 signatures.
During her tenure as DEA administrator, Leonhart:
-refused to answer a congressman’s question about whether marijuana poses less potential harm to the consumer than crack, heroin, or methamphetamine and criticized President Obama for acknowledging the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer;
-obstructed research into the medical benefits of marijuana by overruling the DEA’s own administrative law judge, who ruled that it would be in the public interest to end the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for approved research;
-oversaw raids of medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally under state laws;
-reportedly called it the worst day of her 33 years in law enforcement when an American flag made of hemp was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building; and
-criticized the White House for playing in a softball game against a team of individuals from drug policy reform organizations.
The bill includes an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice — which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration — from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. A similar amendment has been offered seven times in Congress, failing in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2012. The House finally approved it in May when it was offered by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.
According to a Denver Post story, Colorado is scheduled to begin administering significant funding for the largest ever state-supported medical marijuana research grant program starting in early 2015. It is anticipated that Colorado’s health department will release the program’s official request for applications sometime this week. The state expects to deliver $9 million geared towards research on the medical effects of marijuana. There is, however, skepticism over who will be able to accept funding for the research program due to marijuana’s federally illegal status.
At a recent meeting, several members of the health department questioned whether or not university-based researchers would be able to participate in the research program without first receiving approval from the federal government. Some members fear that the university review boards may disapprove of projects that are seen as being too controversial or as threats to the university’s federal funding, regardless of state-funded approval for the research.
As stated by the health department’s executive director, Dr. Larry Wolk, “It’s going to be a challenge for the applicant.” Although, Dr. Paula Riggs, a council member who is an addiction medicine specialist at the University of Colorado, said researchers can reduce that concern by getting approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration, but such approval typically takes a long time. “You can do it,” she said, “but you have to jump through hoops.”
[MPP emphasis added]
With the Governor of Colorado signing a law allowing the state to fund up to $10 million for research into the medical benefits of marijuana, the state has demonstrated its ability to jump through the federal government’s “hoops.” What remains now is the issue of eliminating the obstacles brought upon by the federal government in giving researchers the opportunity to investigate the benefits medical marijuana.
In a profile published this week by The New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama acknowledged the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol for the consumer. Yet federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, a category the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) considers "the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules." It’s time for that to change.
The Controlled Substances Act gives the executive branch, led by President Obama, the legal authority to remove marijuana from the DEA's schedule of drugs. That authority should be exercised immediately.
Please sign our Change.org petition calling on President Obama to remove marijuana from the DEA's schedule of drugs. Then share it widely with your friends and relatives, and encourage them to sign and share it, too.
The president clearly recognizes that marijuana is safer than alcohol — which is not a scheduled drug — so he should do everything he can to ensure our federal laws reflect that fact. Actions speak louder than words, and it’s time for the president to take action.
Sign our petition now and tell President Obama to remove marijuana from the DEA's schedule of drugs. Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and it is time for our government to start treating it that way.
The last two weeks have been full of announcements from the federal government about marijuana policy. None of them has been positive, and none of them should be surprising.
First, the Department of Justice stated that it retained the ability to prosecute anyone who cultivates, processes, or distributes medical marijuana, regardless of state law. As noted earlier on this blog, this is not really a change in policy, but it is certainly disappointing to see the Department of Justice is unwilling to publicly recognize the legitimacy of state medical marijuana laws and would rather have patients purchasing their medicine from dangerous, illicit dealers.
Then, in a move that shouldn’t have surprised anyone, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency tasked with determining the legal status of drugs according to the Controlled Substances Act, decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance. This classification means that the DEA will continue to assert that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should continue to be a high enforcement priority. Never mind the growing mountain of peer-reviewed studies that show the medical efficacy and relative safety of marijuana. The DEA will only pay attention to government studies, which are not approved unless the goal is to find negative effects, not medical benefits. We should not expect them to reschedule marijuana in the foreseeable future, especially since marijuana enforcement is an easy source of cash and prestige. Americans for Safe Access is currently appealing the decision in federal court, however, and hopefully they will gain some traction on this point and force the DEA to recognize the evidence in support of medical marijuana.
All this was followed by the release of the National Drug Control Strategy, which basically states that the Obama administration will continue to use scarce resources to combat the use of marijuana through criminal justice means, as well as a slightly increased program of harm reduction (which the President has said was going to be his primary focus). The strategy admits that marijuana use is at its highest in the last eight years, yet wants to continue the same strategy it has been utilizing during that same period!
The new strategy also mentions medical marijuana and, while admitting that there may be some medical uses for individual components of marijuana, continues to say that it should pass through the FDA approval process. This would be nice, if we could get all the federal agencies whose stamps of approval are needed to actually allow such research. So far the efforts of those trying to go through the official research and approval process have been blocked. In addition, the new strategy claims that medical marijuana “sends the wrong message to children” and increases the likelihood of adolescents using marijuana. This point ignores the fact that in most medical marijuana states, teen use has actually decreased since passing medical marijuana laws. Data supporting this can be found in the Marijuana Policy Project’s Teen Use Report.
So what does all this mean?
It means that all we can expect from the federal government is support of the status quo. We might get some minor concessions here and there, and the fact that the Ogden Memo has been (mostly) followed by the DOJ should not be overlooked. However, we should not look to the federal government to change policy in any drastic way simply of its own free will. They must be legally compelled to do so.
This is why we don’t need statements of policy, nice as they may be. We need different laws. We need something much more binding than policy statements, which can be distorted and rescinded at any moment without legal backing. It is imperative that we convince our legislators to support bills that will weaken the federal government’s control over marijuana policy and enforcement.
Please contact your representative in Congress, and tell them to support H.R. 2306. This bill would remove the federal government’s ability to interfere with state marijuana laws and policies. Legal change is what we really need if we want to see positive change in federal behavior.