Several mainstream media outlets are reporting that the US Department of Health and Human Services has removed a requirement mandating that all investigative protocols seeking cannabis for clinical study must undergo a Public Health Service review. The review process, which was enacted in 1999 and applied only to clinical studies involving cannabis, was long criticized by advocates as unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming.
Commenting on the change, a Health and Human Services spokeswoman said, “The department expects the action announced today will help facilitate further research to advance our understanding about the health risks and any potential benefits of medications using marijuana or its components or derivatives.”
But as I point out in today’s news wire coverage here, such claims are likely overstated.
That is because unique hurdles to clinical cannabis research will continue to exist as long as the plant is a) classified as a schedule I controlled substance defined as possessing no medical use and b) the source material for clinical trials must be provided by the US government’s lone supplier, the University of Mississippi (which is overseen by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Further, despite this announced change, the DEA and NIDA (along with the FDA) still must oversee all clinical marijuana research. One of these agencies (the DEA) is in place to enforce the federal criminal prohibition of marijuana. The other agency (NIDA) exists largely as an outgrowth of marijuana’s schedule I status. It remains highly unlikely that the very agencies in place to oversee and preserve cannabis prohibition would ever permit the type of rational review that would ultimately lead policymakers and the public to question the status quo.
Finally, it bears repeating that ample scientific research already exists to contradict cannabis’ federal, schedule I status as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse. More clinical research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place.
Shona Banda suffers from Crohn’s disease, and has found, as have many Crohn’s sufferers, that medical marijuana provides her with effective relief and allows her to manage her illness and live a somewhat normal life. Specifically, Banda uses cannabis oil.
The problem is she lives in, Garden City, Kansas, a state that does not yet recognize the medical uses of marijuana. And when her 11-year old son spoke up in his drug education class to challenge some of the anti-marijuana allegations being taught to the children – and shared the fact that his mother uses cannabis to manage her Crohn’s disease – Banda’s son was removed from her custody by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Her home was subsequently raided, and Banda is now facing three drug felonies (possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000-feet of a school; endangering a child; and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance) for the cannabis oil found in her home, and she faces a possible jail term in excess of 30-years. Banda first used cannabis oil to manage her disease when she lived in Colorado for a period of time, before returning to her home in Kansas.
Banda is being represented by attorney Sarah Swain, who publicly has promised an aggressive defense that will challenge every facet of the prosecution’s case, including the questioning of the 11-year-old son without either of his parents present; the search warrant issued for their home based on that questioning; and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no medical usefulness.
This case is just the latest from states around the country that illustrate the incredibly harsh and unjustified consequences of marijuana prohibition, the unsustainable differences in the manner in which we treat our most vulnerable citizens from one state to another, and the absolute moral impairative that we stop treating seriously ill patients as criminals, regardless of where they may call home.
Surely this immediate situation could have been handled by reasonable people in a manner based on compassion and concern for the welfare of this serious ill mother, striving to find a way to lead a full life and raise her young son. The school could have exercised some discretion and common sense and accepted the comments made by her young son as reflecting the reality of his and his mother’s life, and this would not have become a matter of public concern. And the Garden City police should not have questioned the young child without his parent’s consent, and did not have to seek a questionable search warrant, based on the child’s statements, to invade Banda’s home and violate her privacy. And finally, the local prosecutor, Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, with even a wit of compassion and understanding, could have exercised her discretion and refused to file criminal charges, bringing this embarrassing episode to a close, and allowing this seriously ill woman a chance to live a normal life.
But at each level, the civic institutions in Kansas failed their responsibility to serve the best interests of the citizens of Kansas, ignoring the obviously compelling factual situation, and blindly pursuing the war on drugs, despite the horrendous repercussions of that choice.
Rather they have reminded us of the enduring harm caused by marijuana prohibition, and the damage it has done not just to the victims of this misguided war, but also to those in civic positions of trust who have lost their moral compass in their blind support for prohibition.
Shame on everyone who had anything to do with allowing this case to get to this point, and who failed to stand up and publicly question the appropriateness of this entire witch-hunt. These are people who are either incredibly ignorant of the important and sometimes life-altering benefits medical marijuana provides to tens of thousands of seriously ill patients across this country (37 states now permit at least limited medical use of marijuana), or they are truly mean-spirited people who simply do not care.
Regardless, it reminds me of how much work we still have ahead of us, and why I would never wish to live in rural Kansas.
The enactment of state laws legalizing the use and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes has not caused an increase in marijuana use by adolescents, according to the results of a federally funded study published this week in Lancet Psychiatry.
Investigators at Columbia University in New York and the University of Michigan assessed the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and rates of self-reported adolescent marijuana use over a 24-year period in a sampling of over one million adolescents in 48 states. Researchers reported no increase in teens’ overall use of the plant that could be attributable to changes in law, and acknowledged a “robust” decrease in use among 8th graders.
They concluded: “[T]he results of this study showed no evidence for an increase in adolescent marijuana use after the passage of state laws permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes. … [C]oncerns that increased marijuana use is an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded.”
The study’s results are consistent with the findings of previous assessments — such as those available here, here, here, here, and here. But this latest study is the most well designed and comprehensive assessment performed to date.
Full text of the study, “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” appears online here.
Members of the United States House of Representatives are anticipated to vote this week (perhaps as earl as Tuesday night) on a series of amendments to a Justice Department spending bill. These amendments seek to limit the federal government’s intrusion in states that have regulated various aspects of marijuana production and access.
Specifically, Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) are introducing an amendment intended to halt the federal prosecution of individuals involved in marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with the laws of their states. Last year, Congressional members approved an amendment to the DOJ funding bill that restricted the Department from interfering in activities specific to state medical marijuana programs. (That measure is also up for re-authorization; to learn more click here.) This year’s McClintock/Polis amendment is broader in its scope as it seeks to halt Justice Department interference among individuals and businesses engaged in state-compliant transactions particular to both the medical or recreational use of cannabis.
Please call your US Representative today via NORML’s Take Action Center here to support the McClintock/Polis amendment. Let them know that this amendment is supported by a majority of voters. According to a 2015 nationwide Pew Research poll, 59 percent of Americans agree that the government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that allow its use. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans endorse this position.
Twenty-three states now permit the medical use of cannabis, while four states now regulate the plant’s production and sale to all adults. Tell Congress that federal officials should not stand in the way of these state policies and to vote ‘yes’ on the McClintock/Polis amendment.
You can also e-mail your House member and tell them to vote ‘yes’ on the McClintock/Polis amendment by clicking here.
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart filed paperwork today announcing that the agency is seeking to increase its marijuana production quota for the year 2015 by nearly three-fold.
Federal regulations permit a farm at the University of Mississippi to cultivate set quantities of cannabis for use in federally approved clinical trials. Regulators at the DEA, the US Food and Drug Administration, PHS (Public Health Service), and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse must approve any clinical protocol seeking to study the plant’s effects in human subjects.
The agency says that the increased production is necessary because “research and product development involving cannabidiol is increasing beyond that previously anticipated.” The agency further acknowledges having received increased requests from NIDA “to provide for ongoing and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana.”