Congressional Legislation Introduced to Get the Federal Government Out of the Marijuana Enforcement BusinessFebruary 23, 2015
House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, removes cannabis from the United States Controlled Substances Act. It also removes enforcement power from the US Drug Enforcement Administration in matters concerning marijuana possession, production, and sales — thus permitting state governments to regulate these activities as they see fit.
Said the bill’s primary sponsor, Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado: “Over the past year, Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana like alcohol takes money away from criminals and cartels, grows our economy, and keeps marijuana out of the hands of children. While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration – or this one—could reverse course and turn them into criminals. It is time for us to replace the failed prohibition with a regulatory system that works and let states and municipalities decide for themselves if they want, or don’t want, to have legal marijuana within their borders.”
Separate legislation, House Resolution 1014: the Marijuana Tax Revenue Act, introduced by Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, seeks to impose a federal excise tax on the retail sale of marijuana for non-medical purposes as well as apply an occupational tax for state-licensed marijuana businesses. Such commercial taxes would only be applicable if and when Congress has moved to defederalize marijuana prohibition.
“It’s time for the federal government to chart a new path forward for marijuana.” said Rep. Blumenauer. “Together these bills create a federal framework to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, much like we treat alcohol and tobacco. The federal prohibition of marijuana has been a failure, wasting tax dollars and ruining countless lives. As more states move to legalize marijuana as Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska have done, it’s imperative the federal government become a full partner in building a workable and safe framework.”
Similar versions of these measures were introduced in the previous Congress but failed to gain federal hearings.
To contact your US House member and urge him/her to support House Resolution 1013, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act and/or other pending federal marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s Take Action page here.
At issue is whether a rational basis exists for the government’s contention that cannabis is properly designated as a schedule I substance — defined as possessing a “high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment,” and “a lack of accepted safety … under medical supervision.” A federal court has not heard evidence on the matter since the early 1970s.
Lawyers for the federal government argue that it is rational for the government to maintain the plant’s prohibitive status as long as there remains any dispute among experts in regard to its safety and efficacy. Defense counsel — attorneys Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke of the NORML Legal Committee — contend that the federal law prohibiting Justice Department officials from interfering with the facilitation of the regulated distribution of cannabis in over 20 US states can not be reconciled with the government’s continued insistence that the plant is deserving of its Schedule I status under federal law.
In October, defense counsel and experts presented evidence over a five-day period arguing that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization. “Numerous clinical trials have been conducted using whole plant marijuana and have concluded the evidence strongly suggests therapeutic value,” defense counsel affirmed in a written brief filed with the court last month. “Physicians in 23 states and the District of Columbia have been recommending whole plant cannabis for treatment of a myriad of medical conditions. The United States, through SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of HHS), holds a patent [on the therapeutic utility of the plant.]”
“… It is unimaginable to believe that if heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or even over-the-counter medications were being distributed in 23 states and the District of Columbia, Congress and the President would abdicate all regulatory authority to those jurisdictions, and then cut off all funds … to intervene in related distribution activities. … Even the most vivid imagination would be hard pressed to reconcile such action with a ‘rational belief’ that marijuana is one of the most dangerous drugs in the nation.”
In a brief filed with the court by the federal government, it contends: “Congress’ decision to treat marijuana as a controlled substance was and remains well within the broad range of permissible legislative choices. Defendants appear to argue that Congress was wrong or incorrectly weighed the evidence. Although they failed to prove even that much, it would be insufficient. Rational basis review does not permit the Court’s to ‘second guess’ Congress’ conclusions, but only to enjoin decisions that are totally irrational or without an ‘imaginable’ basis.”
They add: “Congress is not required to be ‘right,’ nor does it matter if the basis on which Congress made its decision turns out to be ‘wrong.’ All that is required is that Congress could rationally have believed that its action — banning the production and distribution of marijuana — would advance its indisputably legitimate interests in promoting public health and welfare. Because qualified experts disagree, it is not for the Courts to decide the issue and the statute must be upheld.”
The Judge is anticipated to rule on defense’s motion within 30 days.
Legal briefs in the case, United States v. Pickard, et. al., No. 2:11-CR-0449-KJM, are available online here.
Drivers who test positive for the presence of THC in blood are no more likely to be involved in motor vehicle crashes than are drug-free drivers, according to a federally sponsored case-control study involving some 9,000 participants. The study, published Friday by the United States National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA), is the first large-scale case-control study ever conducted in the United States to assess the crash risk associated with both drugs and alcohol use by drivers.
Authors reported that drivers who tested positive for any amount of THC possessed an unadjusted, elevated risk of accident of 25 percent (Odds Ratio=1.25) compared to controls (drivers who tested negative for any drug or alcohol). However, this elevated risk became insignificant (OR=1.05) after investigators adjusted for demographic variables, such as the drivers’ age and gender. After researchers controlled for both demographic variables and the presence of alcohol, THC-positive drivers’ elevated risk of accident was zero (OR=1).
By contrast, researchers reported that drivers who tested positive for low levels of alcohol possessed a statistically significant risk of accident, even after controlling for demographic variables (e.g., Drivers with a BAC of 0.03 possessed a 20 percent greater risk of motor vehicle accident [OR=1.20] compared to controls). Drivers with BAC levels of 0.05 possessed a greater than two-fold risk of accident (OR=2.07) while motorists with BAC levels of 0.08 possessed a nearly four-fold risk of accident (OR=3.93).
Researchers did not analyze drivers’ THC levels to similarly estimate whether higher or lower THC levels may impact crash risk in a dose-dependent manner, as has been previously reported in some separate analyses of fatal crash data.
Authors concluded, “This finding indicates that these other variables (age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol use) were highly correlated with drug use and account for much of the increased (crash) risk associated with the use of illegal drugs and THC.”
The study’s finding contradict allegations by NIDA and others that “marijuana use more than doubles a driver’s risk of being in an accident,” but are largely consistent with those of a 2013 literature review published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention which reported that cannabis-positive drivers did not possess a statistically significant risk of a either fatal accident or a motor vehicle accident causing injury.
See NORML’s white paper on cannabis and psychomotor performance here.
Newly appointed US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy believes that cannabis possesses therapeutic utility — an acknowledgment that contradicts the plant’s present placement as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.
Speaking to CBS News, Murthy said: “We have some preliminary data showing that for certain medical conditions and symptoms that marijuana can be helpful.” He added, “I think we have to use that data to drive policy making and I’m very interested to see where that data takes us.”
Dr. Murthy was confirmed as US Surgeon General late last year.
His statements appear to be inconsistent with the Schedule I classification of marijuana under federal law — a scheduling that defines the plant and its organic compounds as possessing “no currently accepted medical use …. in the United States” and lacking “accepted safety … under medical supervision.”
Next week in Sacramento, a federal judge will hear final arguments in a motion challenging the constitutionality of cannabis’ Schedule I classification. In October, defense counsel and experts presented evidence over a five day period arguing that the scientific literature is not supportive of the plant’s present categorization.
Briefs in this ongoing federal case are available online here.
[Update: Perhaps predictably, the Surgeon General has dialed back his initial comments to CBS News. Late last night, The Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement attributed to Murthy stating: “Marijuana policy — and all public health policies — should be driven by science. I believe that marijuana should be subjected to the same, rigorous clinical trials and scientific scrutiny that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applies to all new medications. The Federal Government has and continues to fund research on possible health benefits of marijuana and its components. While clinical trials for certain components of marijuana appear promising for some medical conditions, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the standards for safe and effective medicine for any condition to date.”
Interesting that Dr. Murthy cites the IOM which hasn’t formally commented on the issue of medical marijuana since releasing its report some 15 years ago, long before the results of FDA-approved clinical trials like this had been completed. Also notable that he leans on the FDA for guidance when the agency largely does not review the safety and efficacy of botanical products.]
An updated policy statement issued today by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls for the rescheduling of the cannabis plant under federal law to better facilitate clinical trial research and to promote the plant’s eventual pharmaceutical development.
The new position statement resolves: “The AAP strongly supports research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids and supports a review of policies promoting research on the medical use of these compounds. The AAP recommends changing marijuana from a Drug Enforcement Administration schedule I (controlled substance) to a Schedule II drug to facilitate this (clinical) research.”
By definition, schedule I controlled substances are defined as possessing no “accepted medical use.” Clinical protocols involving cannabis are strictly controlled and require authorization from various federal agencies, including DEA, FDA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – the latter of which is designated under federal law as the sole provider of cannabis and/or organic cannabinoids for research purposes.
“A Schedule 1 listing means there’s no medical use or helpful indications, but we know that’s not true because there has been limited evidence showing [marijuana] may be helpful for certain conditions in adults,” said Dr. Seth Ammerman, who co-authored the new policy statement.
The newly amended AAP resolution also acknowledges that certain types of cannabinoid-therapy may provide benefits to adolescents, particularly those patient populations with treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy and chronic seizures. It states, “The AAP recognizes that marijuana may currently be an option for cannabinoid administration for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”
Last year the Epilepsy Foundation of America issued a similar resolution, citing preclinical data and observational reports of the potential therapeutic benefit of the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) in pediatric patients and calling for “an end to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) restrictions that limit clinical trials and research into medical marijuana for epilepsy.”
Separate language in the AAP’s position statement also addresses the social use of the plant, affirming, “AAP strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana use for both minors and young adults and encourages pediatricians to advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana.” By contrast, the statement acknowledges the group’s continued opposition to the legalization of marijuana, a policy change that it alleges poses “potential harm to children.”
Text of the amended AAP position paper is online here. A summary of resolutions issued by other medical and health organizations in regard to patient access to therapeutic cannabis is available on the NORML website here.