Surge of Advocacy Groups Weigh In on Federal Cannabis Reform Bill

Yesterday was the deadline for the comment period on the draft version of the federal cannabis reform bill, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), and cannabis advocacy groups did not disappoint—with an avalanche of commentary rolling in before the time was up.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) signed on as lead sponsors for a sweeping bill to end the prohibition of cannabis at the federal level.

The draft version of the measure was released in July, which led to an open public comment period giving people time to weigh in on what will be the revised measure.

Several well-known cannabis advocacy organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MMP) released their comments.

The Marijuana Justice Coalition opted to send a joint letter on the legalization proposal. The Marijuana Justice Coalition is made up of members including the ACLU, Center for American Progress, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, MoveOn, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

In a 30-page comment document, NORML called for strengthening civic protections to provide justice to those previously wronged by federal marijuana criminalization and revising outdated employment policies. The organization also called for ensuring that small and local businesses can compete both with larger corporations and the illicit market by reducing regulatory and tax burdens. NORML also asked to narrow the scope of the proposed excise tax to exempt medical cannabis consumer markets and balance the roles of the FDA, TTB, ATF and antitrust regulators.

“We appreciate the leadership by Senators Schumer, Booker, and Wyden in their efforts to end America’s failed, unjust, and racially biased experiment with cannabis prohibition. The CAOA draft represents a thoughtful path forward toward ending federal marijuana criminalization. We are confident that similar language, once finalized and formally introduced in the US Senate, will possess bipartisan appeal — as we know that voters of all political parties strongly support repealing the federal government’s failed marijuana policies,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. 

The summary of NORML’s discussion draft can be read here.

MPP also stressed the importance of easing restrictions on medical cannabis patients. MPP outlined two major areas of concern: the possible upending of state licensing and regulatory systems, which does nothing but drive sales underground, and the impact on medical cannabis access, including for those under the age of 21.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Sens. Booker, Schumer, and Wyden to end an eight-decades long policy failure and appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback as the sponsoring offices refine the bill,” said Karen O’Keefe, state policies director at MPP. Federal prohibition urgently needs to end. It has wasted billions of dollars while upending tens of thousands of lives—disproportionately those of Black and Brown Americans—over a plant that is safer than alcohol.

The NCIA stated that the CAOA presents a “thoughtful foundation for comprehensive cannabis policy reform that clearly illustrates the authors’ engagement with stakeholders during the drafting process.” Read the NCIA’s full draft of recommendations here.

“Ending nearly a century of disastrous prohibition policies is a monumental effort and one which should not be taken lightly,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of NCIA. “We appreciate Senate leadership for taking a big step toward that goal which a significant majority of Americans support. There is a lot of work left to be done and it is vital to include those most impacted by both prohibition and the proposed legislation in this process.”

The wave of commentary represents the importance of the bill and how the industry hinges upon those fine details.

The post Surge of Advocacy Groups Weigh In on Federal Cannabis Reform Bill appeared first on High Times.

Thursday March 11, 2021 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Thursday, March 11, 2021 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Mexico’s Chamber Of Deputies Approves Revised Marijuana Legalization Bill (Marijuana Moment)

// Noem’s medical marijuana plan scuttled by Senate (Sioux City Journal)

// Mississippi House Kills Alternate Medical Marijuana Proposal But Senate Makes Late Attempt To Revive It (Marijuana Moment)

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// Garland’s confirmation as AG could change Feds’ marijuana views (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Aurora Cannabis Still Wants More Money Files To Offer $1 Billion In Securities (Green Market Report)

// Acreage Holdings Reports $286 Million Net Loss in 2020 (Green Market Report)

// The Green Organic Dutchman Reports $183 Million Net Loss For 2020 (Green Market Report)

// Detroit overwhelmed by applicants for recreational marijuana shop licenses (Detroit News)

// As Green Thumb opens its first California cannabis store CEO says ‘This is a long-term game’ (CNBC)

// Tennessee Republican wants to permanently block recreational marijuana through state constitution (Tennessean)

Check out our other projects:Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement. • Marijuana Media Connect— A service that connects industry insiders in the legal marijuana industry with journalists, bloggers, and writers in need of expert sources for their stories.

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Episode 346 – Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!

Andrew Livingston and first-time guest Ngiste Abebe join host Heather Sullivan to talk about the growth in legal marijuana jobs and the pressing need to address social equity disparities within the entrepreneurial community. Produced by Shea Gunther.

News & Links:
New York Governor Reveals Amendments To Marijuana Legalization Plan Weeks Before Budget Deadline | Marijuana Moment

New Jersey Lawmakers Send Marijuana Compromise Bill To Governor’s Desk, Setting Stage For Legal Sales | Marijuana Moment

Oregon marijuana firms enjoy booming market fueled by pandemic, consumers shunning illicit suppliers | Marijuana Business Daily

Photo: Beverly Yuen Thompson/Flickr

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Tuesday, November 24, 2020 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// House Leaders Propose Changes To Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Up For Floor Vote This Week (Marijuana Moment)

// Spark up! It’s legal to smoke weed in Arizona starting today (Leafly)

// Canadian cannabis firm Organigram reports CA$136M loss for year (Marijuana Business Daily)

These headlines are brought to you by Curaleaf, one of the leading vertically-integrated cannabis operators in the U.S. With legal medical and adult use marijuana dispensaries, cultivation sites, and processing facilities all over the United States, Curaleaf has served more than 350,000 medical cannabis patients and looks forward to helping many more long into the future. Swing over to to learn more about this very cool company!

// Aurora Cannabis shuts CA$250 million greenhouse ‘indefinitely’ (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Oregon County Prosecutor Stops Drug Possession Cases Early Following Decriminalization Vote (Marijuana Moment)

// Arizona County Prosecutors Join In Dropping Pot Charges (KNAU National Public Radio (AP))

// New Jersey law enforcement officials advised to suspend low-level marijuana possession cases (Philly Voice)

// Maine’s adult use marijuana sector posts healthy sales in first month (Center Square)

// Marijuana firm Vireo files prospectus to issue up to $200 million in securities (Marijuana Business Daily)

Check out our other projects:Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement. • Marijuana Media Connect— A service that connects industry insiders in the legal marijuana industry with journalists, bloggers, and writers in need of expert sources for their stories.

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5 Facts Veterans Need to Know About the VA and Cannabis

Jeff Staker faced chronic pain after his service in the Persian Gulf in the 1990s.

His doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) relied on opioids to manage that pain. In a recent interview with Weedmaps News, Staker, an Indiana native, said he needed to continually increase his doses to get the same results.

Staker then heard of the potential benefits of cannabis for pain management, but his federal job would be put at risk over marijuana use, even for a medical reason. He was ready to try a different approach and retired from his federal job in 2018, after almost 34 years of service, and started using cannabis to manage his chronic pain.

“It was like getting my life back,” he said. Now 54, Staker said cannabis did not eliminate his pain but allowed him to control it.

Staker has become an advocate for legalization and founded Hoosier Veterans of Medical Cannabis. He’s joined a growing number of veterans and organizations advocating for cannabis’ promise in both pain management and in easing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, two conditions a far larger percentage of veterans face than do other Americans. A National Institute of Health study found 65.6% of veterans report having pain. According to the VA, between 11% and 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans deal with PTSD every year, and 15% of Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD. 

But because cannabis is still a Schedule I drug, a classification reserved for the most dangerous substances said to have no useful clinical application, research into its effectiveness is still lacking. This makes it difficult for medical professionals to recommend cannabis for PTSD or anxiety

“Cannabis prohibition kills veterans,” said Eric Goepel, one of the founders of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition. “That may sound like a harsh way to put it, but it’s the way things are.” 

Goepel believes that the VA relies on far more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and antidepressants, to address veterans’ health issues when cannabis could be a useful medicinal tool for veterans. But Goepel argues that the VA and the federal government have an institutional opposition to cannabis.

(Jessica Radanavong/Unsplash)
Veterans have become vocal advocates for the research into cannabis’ potential to help with pain management and PTSD, two conditions that affect a large number of veterans.

Lindsay Rodman, the executive vice president for communications and legal strategy at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said an overwhelming 83% of IAVA’s members support cannabis being legal for medicinal use.

For now, she said, IAVA is pushing for more testing on the effects and effectiveness of marijuana as medicine.

“Once it’s shown to have real benefits, it would be very hard not to give it to veterans,” she said. Rodman spent eight years on active duty in the Marine Corps and remains in the reserves, which means she has never tried marijuana herself. But in speaking to other veterans and from what she’s seen, she believes it has real potential to help veterans. Regardless of the need for more studies, thousands of veterans and others are already using cannabis. They should have the facts.

As far as the VA is concerned, marijuana remains illegal by federal law, which binds its policy.

“Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and until federal law changes, VA is not able to prescribe it,” said Randall Noller, a VA spokesman. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs website, “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is required to follow all federal laws including those regarding marijuana. As long as the Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana as Schedule I, VA health care providers may not recommend it or assist veterans to obtain it.”

An American Legion survey found overwhelming support for medical cannabis among veteran households, with 92% of responders supporting medical cannabis research, while the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization supports further research as well. The VA says it may research marijuana’s benefits and risks. The IAVA is pushing legislation that would mandate that research take place.

But according to Noller, any research involving a Schedule I substance must also involve several other federal entities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the DEA. 

Right now, limited research means there is little hard data on the benefits and potential harms of cannabis, while continued prohibition in many states and at the federal level may mean consequences for users, including veterans, that have nothing to do with its health effects.

For veterans who decide the benefits are worth the risks, there are a few things to keep in mind: 

Veterans Cannot be Denied VA Benefits for Cannabis Use

“Veteran participation in state marijuana programs does not affect eligibility for VA care and services,” reads the department website. The VA encourages veterans to disclose marijuana use to their providers. The staff will note a patient’s self-disclosed marijuana use, the VA states.

“VA providers can and do discuss marijuana use with veterans as part of comprehensive care planning, and adjust treatment plans as necessary,” reads the VA’s statement.

Sources interviewed for this story said the reaction from doctors and other medical staff can vary greatly. In states where adult use is legal, most doctors are knowledgeable about cannabis and its effects. It should be noted that sources also said some areas where medical cannabis remains illegal, some veterans have reported a hostile reaction from doctors.

Cannabis Use Could Affect Veterans’ VA Treatment Plan

While benefits cannot be denied, treatment plans may, under VA rules. VA staff are not allowed to recommend cannabis for any reason but can consider its reported use as part of a treatment plan. 

In some instances, that has led doctors to taper patients off other scheduled substances, including painkillers, or even cut off the supply. Some doctors have a positive response and are interested in understanding their patients’ cannabis use. That’s the best-case scenario, according to Goepel, but the treatment plan is entirely the discretion of the doctor. 

Whether in a state with laws that allow for the medical use of cannabis, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates by federal law, under which marijuana is a Schedule I drug. This means VA physicians are prohibited from recommending cannabis for medicinal use.

Changes are not supposed to be punitive, Goepel stated. But in some instances, he said, staff that is particularly hostile to its use see it as a sign of addictive behavior and restrict access to other drugs.

“We do not want to recommend that veterans are not honest with their health care providers. Unfortunately, there are going to be situations where we would advise veterans to use their best judgment,” Rodman said. Rodman suggests veterans who have a concern about their provider ask for someone different, someone they feel they can trust.

“You need to have a good relationship with your provider,” she said. “I have found that most people that are in the VA system get great care and don’t have complaints.”  

Veterans Cannot Possess Cannabis on VA property. Even in the Legal States.

Regardless of whether veterans are in a state with laws that make cannabis use legal, they cannot bring it to any VA property. According to the VA website, the “use or possession of marijuana is prohibited at all VA medical centers, locations, and grounds. When you are on VA grounds it is federal law that is in force, not the laws of the state.” This makes it difficult for veterans who decide to use cannabis medicinally to discuss with VA physicians without putting themselves at risk of being punished by federal law. 

“If you’re on federal property with marijuana, you’re in violation of the law,” Goepel said. That’s true in adult-use states like Colorado and California. “It’s obviously a huge pitfall for some veterans.” 

The VA will not Recommend Cannabis. Or Help Pay for it.

In states where marijuana is legal for medical use, the high cost can become a big obstacle. In New Jersey, for instance, access to the medical marijuana program requires a recommendation from a doctor, and cannabis itself is relatively expensive.

For veterans who rely on VA doctors and prescription coverage, those costs may be out of reach, even if there is evidence that cannabis may be more helpful than the medicines currently covered.

“VA clinicians may not complete paperwork/forms required for veteran patients to participate in state-approved marijuana programs,” reads the VA website. “VA pharmacies may not fill prescriptions for medical marijuana. VA will not pay for medical marijuana prescriptions from any source.”

Goepel’s group is supporting the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, a bill that allows veterans to legally use and possess medical marijuana and discuss its use for medical treatment with a VA physician

There may be Other Consequences

Sources interviewed for this story mentioned that a disproportionate number of veterans hold jobs that involve regular drug screening, with the federal government or with law enforcement. The VA states that its employees are subject to regular drug testing under their terms of employment.

Even those following all of the rules of their state’s medical cannabis program can be fired or disciplined. There are other risks, Goepel said. A job in the cannabis industry, even at state-licensed operations, can disqualify veterans for VA home loans, and firearms permits.

Feature image by Hannah Skelly/Unsplash

The post 5 Facts Veterans Need to Know About the VA and Cannabis appeared first on Weedmaps News.

House Approves Bill to Allow Cannabis Industry to Access Banks

The House of Representatives passed a standalone marijuana reform bill for the first time in history on Sept. 25, 2019.

The chamber advanced the legislation — which would protect banks that service the cannabis industry from being penalized by federal regulators in a vote of 321-103.

For six years, lawmakers have been pushing for the modest reform, which is seen as necessary to increase financial transparency and mitigate risks associated with operating on a largely cash-only basis — something many marijuana businesses must do because banks currently fear federal reprisal for taking them on as clients.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado. It cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March 2019 and was officially scheduled for a floor vote in late September. The vote was held through a process known as suspension of the rules, meaning it required two-thirds of the chamber — 290 members if all were present — to approve it for passage.

While the House has approved historic cannabis amendments in the past, including one this summer that would protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention, those have had to be renewed annually. This is the first time a stand-alone reform bill was approved in the chamber, and the policy will be permanently codified into law if the Senate follows suit and President Donald Trump signs it.

“If someone wants to oppose the legalization of marijuana, that’s their prerogative, but American voters have spoken and continue to speak and the fact is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Prohibition is over,” Perlmutter said in a floor debate prior to the vote. “Our bill is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safe and only congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses, employees and financial institutions across the country.”

Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Washington made an impassioned case for the bill, sharing an anecdote about a security guard who worked for a cannabis shop who was killed on the job, and emphasizing that the legislation would mitigate the risks of violent crime at these businesses.

“You can be agnostic on the underlying policy of whether or not cannabis should be legal for either adult recreational use or to treat seizures, but you cannot be agnostic on the need to improve safety in this area,” he said.

“This bill is not only timely, but extremely necessary,” Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California said. “Right now the cannabis industry needs access to safe and effective banking immediately.”

Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, raised concerns about the legislation and suggested that the bill would provide drug cartels with access to financial services. He was one of just three lawmakers who rose in opposition to the bill, with the remaining time allocated for opposition having been yielded to GOP supporters of the legislation.

The proposal hasn’t been without controversy, even among pro-reform advocates. After Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland announced his intent to put the bill on the floor by the end of the month, several leading advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Drug Policy Alliance, and Center for American Progress wrote a letter asking leadership to delay the vote until comprehensive legalization legislation passed.

The groups have expressed concerns to the Democratic Financial Services Committee Chair, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, that approving the banking bill first could jeopardize the chances of achieving more wide-ranging reform that addressed social equity issues such as legislation introduced by the Democratic Judiciary Committee Chair, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York. They said they were caught off guard when Hoyer announced the vote.

But as the vote approached, advocates and lawmakers wasted no time emphasizing the need to go further than the banking bill.

“I have long fought for criminal justice reform and deeply understand the need to fully address the historical racial and social inequities related to the criminalization of marijuana,” Waters said in a press release on Sept. 24. “I support legislation that deschedules marijuana federally, requires courts to expunge convictions for marijuana-related offenses, and provides assistance such as job training and reentry services for those who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.”

She reiterated that point during debate on the floor, stating that the banking legislation “is but one important piece of what should be a comprehensive series of cannabis reform bills.”

Nadler also released a statement stating that while he would vote yes on the SAFE Banking Act, he is “committed to marking up [his legalization bill] and look[s] forward to working with reform advocates and my colleagues in this important effort going forward.”

Hoyer also weighed in on the need for broader reform in a statement on Wednesday.

“I am proud to bring this legislation to the Floor, but I believe it does not go far enough,” he said. 

“This must be a first step toward the decriminalization and de-scheduling of marijuana, which has led to the prosecution and incarceration of far too many of our fellow Americans for possession.”

Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee applauded the Judiciary Committee for announcing that it will hold a markup of comprehensive cannabis legalization following this vote.

Justin Strekal, Political Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), noted that much remains to be done in Congress.

“Today’s vote is a significant first step, but it must not be the last. Much more action will still need to be taken by lawmakers,” Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “In the Senate, we demand that lawmakers in the Senate Banking Committee hold true to their commitment to move expeditiously in support of similar federal reforms. And in the House, we anticipate additional efforts to move forward and pass comprehensive reform legislation like The MORE Act — which is sponsored by the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee — in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana.”

Steve Hawkins, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the “cannabis industry can no longer proceed without the same access to financial services that other legal companies are granted.”

“This decision is an indication that Congress is more willing than ever to support and take action on sensible cannabis policies,” Hawkins said. “The passage of the SAFE Banking Act improves the likelihood that other cannabis legislation will advance at the federal level. It is important to recognize that the SAFE Banking Act, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president, would strengthen efforts to increase the diversity of the cannabis industry.”

An advocate for the cannabis industry expressed his optimism for the banking reform bill to have benefits federally as well as locally.

“We applaud the House for approving this bipartisan solution to the cannabis banking problem, and we hope the Senate will move quickly to do the same,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, said. “This vital legislation will have an immediate and positive impact, not only on the state-legal cannabis industry, but also on the many communities across the nation that have opted to embrace the regulation of cannabis.”

“Allowing lawful cannabis companies to access commercial banking services and end their reliance on cash will greatly improve public safety, increase transparency, and promote regulatory compliance,” he said.

Ahead of the vote, Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado said that “only Congress can provide the certainty financial institutions need to start banking cannabis-related legitimate businesses” and he’s “proud to support the SAFE Banking Act today to support hard-working Coloradans and their families.”

Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, said in a floor speech Sept. 25 that current law is “endangering communities as well as inhibiting small businesses from growing.”

“This industry is bringing revenue to our state, creating small businesses and helping those suffer with physical illness to relieve their ailments,” she said. “The SAFE Banking Act supports this growing Oklahoma industry, our banks and works to keep Oklahomans that work in and around this industry safe.”

“Access to safe banking is a big deal for the businesses and employees in New Mexico who work in the cannabis industry. It’s why I’m a co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act and will be voting for it today,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico.

Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota said that conflict “between state and federal law means legal, legitimate marijuana businesses are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, creating serious risks for employees, business owners, and communities. The SAFE Banking Act will fix this problem and I’m proud to support it.”

Many have viewed the banking proposal as the first step on the pathway to ending federal cannabis prohibition, and it’s consistent with an agenda outlined by Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon in 2018 through which he suggested that committees advance incremental marijuana reforms under their respective jurisdictions, leading up to the eventual passage of a full legalization bill.

“We’re in this fix today because Congress has refused to provide the partnership and the leadership that the states demand,” Blumenauer said on the floor. ”The states aren’t waiting for us.”

“This is an important foundation, but it’s not the last step,” he said. We have important legislation that’s keyed up and ready to go. This approval today will provide momentum that we need for further reform that we all want and will make America safer and stronger.”

That said, while the vote signals that the House has a clear appetite for reform, it remains to be seen if the Republican-controlled Senate will approve the banking bill. Apparently anticipating that conservative lawmakers might not support the legislation as it passed out of committee, Perlmutter moved to add amendments in late September 2019 that were designed to broaden its GOP appeal.

Those provisions include clarifying that hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) businesses would also be protected and stipulating that federal regulators couldn’t target certain industries such as firearms dealers as a higher risk of fraud without valid reasoning.

That’s likely to endear Republican Senate Banking Committee Chair Mike Crapo of Idaho to the SAFE Banking Act. His panel held a hearing on the issue in July 2019, and the senator said he wants to have a vote on cannabis financial services legislation by the end of 2019, but also suggested at the time that it might not be a copy of Perlmutter’s bill.

The hemp-focused provisions are also intended to appeal to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who championed hemp’s federal legalization through the 2018 Farm Bill but has said he doesn’t support its “illicit cousin” marijuana.

The legislation might also face pushback from some Senate Democrats who share concerns expressed by advocacy groups that it’s important to move on comprehensive reform before tackling banking. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, along with independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, each recently indicated that their votes could possibly be contingent on advancing a justice-focused legalization bill.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York suggested in late September that she also might withhold her vote for the same reasons, but she ultimately supported its passage.

Tough work still lies ahead for lawmakers and advocates if they hope to enact the banking bill into law this Congress but, for the moment, there’s an air of celebration as the House made history by voting to pass a standalone cannabis reform bill for the first time.

“Having worked alongside congressional leaders to resolve the cannabis industry’s banking access issues for over six years, it’s incredibly gratifying to see this strong bipartisan showing of support in today’s House vote,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said. “Now, it’s time for the Senate to take swift action to approve the SAFE Banking Act so that this commonsense legislation can make its way to the President’s desk.”

“This bipartisan legislation is vital to protecting public safety, fostering transparency, and leveling the playing field for small businesses in the growing number of states with successful cannabis programs,” he said.

Feature Image: By a 321-103 vote, the House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act on Sept. 25, 2019. While the law had support in the Democratic Party-led House, the legislation moves to the Republican-led Senate. (Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here

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Federal Agencies Support Researchers Testing Marijuana from Dispensaries

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that researchers should be able to obtain marijuana from state-legal shops, instead of having to rely exclusively on cannabis from the federal government to study the plant.

In a letter the federal agencies sent to Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii in late August 2019, the NIH and FDA discussed how federal prohibition inhibits marijuana research in a variety of ways, and that includes limiting the diversity and quality of research-grade cannabis.

Studies have shown that marijuana cultivated at the nation’s only cannabis farm licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) more closely resembles hemp than commercially available marijuana, which the agencies said creates “a significant gap in our understanding of these products.”

Marijuana cultivated at the nation’s only cannabis farm licensed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse more closely resembles hemp than commercially available marijuana.
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The letter, first reported by Politico, came in response to an inquiry Schatz sent in March 2019, requesting information about their clinical research agendas, the “impacts of regulatory barriers for cannabis research,” and any recommendations they had to improve the “quality and validity of cannabis research.”

The senator, who also elicited a separate reply from the NIH and FDA on the status of research into psychedelics earlier in 2019, expressed particular interest in studies looking at the pain-relieving potential of cannabis and its use as an alternative to prescription opioids.

After discussing work that’s already been done on marijuana research and their support for the development of cannabis drug development, Acting FDA Commissioner Norman Sharpless and NIH Director Francis Collins wrote that they agreed with the senator that more clinical studies should be done. Ongoing research they pointed to includes investigations into “how local policies around both cannabis and opioids contribute to the use of both retail marijuana and prescription opioids within a particular jurisdiction” and studies looking at cannabis as a possible off-ramp from “controlled substances like opioids.”

Federal restrictions on cannabis have inhibited research into the medicinal benefits and risks of the plant, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) noted in a letter to Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. One barrier is requiring researchers to use the University of Mississippi’s federally authorized marijuana, which has a lower THC potency than flower or concentrates consumers are realistically buying from dispensaries. (Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

They also recognized that federal prohibition has inhibited such research efforts.

“A larger body of rigorous research, including on cannabis and cannabinoid products that are already in use or that could be developed into FDA-approved medications, is key to furthering our understanding of their potential medical benefits and risks,” the NIH and FDA said, adding that there are “a variety of barriers to conducting research on cannabis and cannabinoids.”

“First, through a contract with the University of Mississippi, which is the only entity registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to cultivate marijuana for research purposes, NIDA is the only source of marijuana permitted for use in research, thereby limiting the diversity of products and formulations available to researchers and slowing the development of cannabis-based medications,” they said.

Due to the limitations associated with cultivating all research-grade cannabis at a single facility, the NIH and FDA said they “support licensing additional entities to supply cannabis, including extracts and derivatives, to legitimate researchers and drug product developers in the United States.”

Sharpless and Collins said, “another barrier to advancing cannabis research is that, under federal law, researchers are unable to purchase strains of marijuana or products containing marijuana from state dispensaries (even with non-federal funds), resulting in a significant gap in our understanding of these products and their impact on health.”

The “NIH and FDA support enabling researchers holding Schedule I licenses for marijuana to obtain products from state-authorized dispensaries,” the health officials wrote. “Such products could be used for basic or clinical research, provided such materials to be used in clinical studies also comply with FDA chemistry, manufacturing, and control requirements for materials to be used in research conducted under an investigational new drug application.”

They added that licensing “additional entities to supply marijuana may improve the diversity of research products that more closely reflect what is currently consumed.”

The DEA announced that it would be accepting applications for additional cannabis manufacturers three years ago but has yet to act. In July 2019, in response to a lawsuit filed by one of the applicants, the agency said it would be taking steps to accept those applications, though it declined to offer a timeline.

Whether it is through new authorized facilities or access to commercial cannabis shops, researchers and policymakers alike have made clear that there’s a need for a greater diversity of marijuana products so that research on the plant’s benefits and risks reflects the realities of what consumers and patients are using.

Yet as recently as July 2019, the head of the nation’s only federal marijuana farm raised eyebrows after stating in a podcast interview that cannabis containing just 8% THC — a much lower concentration than what is typically available in dispensaries — is too high and that he doesn’t understand why “people want to smoke or use 20% or 15 or 18 or any of those high amounts.”

The NIH and FDA said that the “continued placement of marijuana in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act creates significant administrative and cost challenges that slow this research and may deter scientists from pursuing cannabis research altogether” and that they “recommend streamlining the process for conducting research with cannabis and other Schedule 1 substances.”

Feature image: The heads of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), noting that research is being conducted into marijuana as an opioid alternative, said scientific studies on cannabis should be able to access supplies found in legal dispensaries rather than the low-THC variety grown for the government by the University of Mississippi. (Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps)

This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here

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