In a just published “exit interview” with Rolling Stone Magazine, President Barack Obama opined that marijuana use should be treated as a public-health issue, not a criminal matter, and called the current patchwork of state and federal laws regarding the drug “untenable.”
“Look, I’ve been very clear about my belief that we should try to discourage substance abuse,” Obama said. “And I am not somebody who believes that legalization is a panacea. But I do believe that treating this as a public-health issue, the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol, is the much smarter way to deal with it.”
He added, “It is untenable over the long term for the Justice Department or the DEA to be enforcing a patchwork of laws, where something that’s legal in one state could get you a 20-year prison sentence in another. So this is a debate that is now ripe, much in the same way that we ended up making progress on same-sex marriage.”
Although the administration, largely in its second term, has permitted states to experiment with marijuana legalization policies without federal interference, it has not pushed strongly for any permanent changes in federal law, such as amending cannabis’ schedule I classification or permitting banks to work closely with state-licensed marijuana businesses. As a result, some marijuana law reform advocates believe that President Obama has not done enough to move the issue forward during his tenure. Responding to this criticism, Obama said: “Look, I am now very much in lame-duck status. And I will have the opportunity as a private citizen to describe where I think we need to go.”
Why Obama believes that he will have greater opportunities to address cannabis policy as a private citizen than he did as President of the United States leaves us scratching our heads, but we certainly hope that he follows through on his pledge to focus on drug policy reform in the next phase of his political career.
You can read President Obama’s exit interview with Rolling Stone in it’s entirety here.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration has rejected a pair of administrative petitions that sought to initiate rulemaking proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.
Although the DEA’s ruling continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin, the agency also announced in a separate decision that it is adopting policy changes designed to expand the production of research-grade cannabis for FDA-approved clinical studies.
Presently, any clinical trial involving cannabis must access source material cultivated at the University of Mississippi — a prohibition that is not in place for other controlled substances. Today, the agency announced for the first time that it will be seeking applications from multiple parties, including potentially from private entities, to produce marijuana for FDA-approved research protocols as well as for “commercial product development.” This change was initially recommended by the DEA’s own administrative law judge in 2007, but her decision was ultimately rejected by the agency in 2011.
Below is a statement from NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano regarding the DEA’s decisions:
For far too long, federal regulations have made clinical investigations involving cannabis needlessly onerous and have placed unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on marijuana that do not exist for other controlled substances, including some other schedule I controlled substances.
While this announcement is a significant step toward better facilitating and expanding clinical investigations into cannabis’ therapeutic efficacy, ample scientific evidence already exists to remove cannabis from its schedule I classification and to acknowledge its relative safety compared to other scheduled substances, like opioids, and unscheduled substances, such as alcohol. Ultimately, the federal government ought to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act altogether in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal intrusion.
Since the DEA has failed to take such action, then it is incumbent that members of Congress act swiftly to amend cannabis’ criminal status in a way that comports with both public and scientific opinion. Failure to do so continues the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ position; it willfully ignores the well-established therapeutic properties associated with the plant and it ignores the laws in 26 states recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic efficacy.
Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the cannabis plant and its organic cannabinoids are classified as Schedule I prohibited substances — the most restrictive category available under the law. By definition, substances in this category must meet three specific inclusion criteria:
The substance must possess “a high potential for abuse”; it must have “no currently accepted medical use” in the United States; and, the substance must lack “accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.”
Substances that do not meet these criteria must, by law, be categorized in less restrictive federal schedules (Schedules II through V) and are legally regulated accordingly. Alcohol and tobacco, two substances widely acknowledged to possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not classified under the Controlled Substances Act.
A recent review of FDA-approved clinical studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of herbal cannabis concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.”
Added Armentano: “The DEA’s decision is strictly a political one. There is nothing scientific about willful ignorance.”
The DEA has previously rejected several other rescheduling petitions, including a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, and a 1972 petition filed by NORML. The petitions that triggered this latest DEA action were filed in 2009 by a nurse practitioner and in 2011 by then-Govs. Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
According to the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report, agents eradicated 4.25 million marijuana plants nationwide in 2015. That total is slightly less than the total reported by the agency for the year 2014 (4.3 million) and continues to the ongoing decline in eradication totals since 2010, when the agency reported eliminating some 10.3 million plants.
As in past years, DEA eradication efforts largely focused on California. Of the total number of plants seized nationwide by the DEA in 2015, 62 percent were in California.
Only about 7 percent of all plants seized by the DEA were from indoor grows.
The DEA reported making some 6,300 arrests in conjunction with their cannabis eradication efforts — a total that mirrors 2014 figures. By contrast, the agency reported making nearly 10,000 marijuana arrests in 2010 and 8,500 arrests in 2011.
Tables from the 2015 report are online here.
The DEA announced that they will amend their quotas for 2017 regarding the cultivation of research-grade marijuana and hemp legalization bills in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have been signed into law! We also have updates from Illinois, Florida, and Ohio. Keep reading to learn the latest in marijuana law reform news from around the country and to find out how you can #TakeAction!
In a notice published in the Federal Register, Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg proposed amending the amount of marijuana that may be produced under federal license in 2017 to approximately 1,041 pounds. The agency alleges that this quantity will be sufficient to provide for the “estimated medical, scientific, research and industrial needs of the United States.”
The US Drug Enforcement Administration is also preparing to respond to an administrative petition calling for the reclassification of marijuana as a schedule I prohibited substance. Their determination was originally expected in the first half of 2016 but it has yet to be released.
Florida: Next Tuesday, the state’s first state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary will open to the public. Trulieve, a licensed cannabis cultivator and distributor, will provide a high CBD, low THC strain of the plant to patients that are registered with the state. However, as of today not a single eligible patient is registered with the state to legally access the product. This is because Florida’s law, initially passed in 2014, is among the strictest in the country. Under the law, patients diagnosed with cancer, seizures, or intractable muscle spasms are eligible for CBD-dominant cannabis, while those diagnosed with a terminal illness are eligible for THC-dominant cannabis. To date, however, only 15 physicians in the state are participating in the program.
Illinois: Two months ago lawmakers voted in favor of Senate Bill 2228, legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But Governor Bruce Rauner has yet to sign the measure into law. The bill makes the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100-$200 — no arrest and no criminal record. Currently, those caught possessing that amount could face up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $1,500. The bill also amends the state’s zero tolerance per se traffic safety law.
#TakeAction and contact Governor Rauner to urge him to sign this legislation into law.
Ohio: Governor John Kasich has signed legislation so that certain drug offenses are no longer punishable by a mandatory loss of one’s driver’s license. Under previous law, any drug conviction carried a mandatory driver’s license suspension of at least six months, even in cases where the possession offense did not take place in a vehicle. Senate Bill 204 makes such suspensions discretionary rather than mandatory. The law will take effect September 13th, 2016.
Pennsylvania: On Wednesday, July 20th, Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation, House Bill 967, to establish “a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.” The new law took immediate effect. Twenty-eight states have now enacted similar legislation.
Rhode Island: Governor Gina Raimondo has signed legislation, H8232, to establish rules for the commercial, licensed cultivation of hemp in the state. The legislation creates the “Hemp Growth Act” to treat hemp as an agricultural product that may be legally produced, possessed, distributed and commercially traded. The Department of Business Regulation will be responsible for establishing rules and regulations for the licensing and regulation of hemp growers and processors.
Federal lawmakers requested action this week on restoring medical marijuana access to veterans, while proponents in Arizona came one step closer to qualifying to the November ballot. Keep reading to get the latest news and to find out how you can #TakeAction.
A bipartisan group of 11 lawmakers wrote a letter this week to Congressional leadership urging them to reconsider the Veterans Equal Access Amendment. Majorities in both the US House and Senate voted in May to include the provision as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee decided last week to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote. The latest version of the Appropriations bill now awaits action by the Senate.
A separate coalition of US Senators and representatives also drafted a letter this week to DEA officials calling on the agency to move swiftly to reclassify marijuana under federal law, and to allow private producers to cultivate cannabis for clinical research purposes. “We request that you take immediate action to remove ‘cannabis’ and ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’ from Schedule I. We also ask that you issue a public statement informing the research community that the DEA, in compliance with international obligations, will accept new applications to bulk manufacture cannabis for medical and scientific purposes, to be approved on merit-based criteria,” lawmakers requested. In April, DEA officials pledged to issue guidance on the scheduling of cannabis within the first half of this year, a promise they recent walked back.
Arizona: The campaign to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Arizona yesterday turned in more than 200,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The campaign needs at least 150,000 of those signatures to be certified in order to qualify for this November’s ballot. Under the proposed initiative, those age 21 and older are permitted to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. The measure would also establish a licensing system for the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis.
Louisiana: Last week the city of New Orleans began implementing the new ordinance lowering the penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The ordinance was originally approved by City Council back in March in hopes of diverting police resources from minor crimes and keeping low-level offenders out of jail. The ordinance reclassifies minor marijuana possession offenses as non-criminal violations punishable by a fine-only: $40 for a first offense, $60 for a second, $80 for a third, and $100 for a fourth and beyond. Under state law, second and/or third convictions are punishable by between 6 months and 2 years in prison.
In statewide news, decision-makers at Louisiana State University and Southern University have agreed to apply for cultivation permits to supply medical cannabis. Under state law, qualified patients are permitted marijuana-infused products under a doctor’s recommendation. The state’s nascent medical cannabis program is anticipated to be up and running by 2018.
Pennsylvania: Members of the Harrisburg City Council are considering a measure to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana within the city limits. In recent days, members of the City Council amended the language to reduce the fines for possession, increase the fines for smoking marijuana in public and expand the effort to include possession of marijuana paraphernalia. The members are scheduled to vote on the measure on July 5th. If you live in Harrisburg you can find the contact information for City Council here.
Washington D.C.: The D.C. Health Department issued a report this week recommending the District legalize the retail sale of marijuana. Specifically, they recommend D.C. to “impose state taxes on production, distribution, and sales along with a licensed market participation, age restriction, and prohibitions on advertising and marketing to minors,” and ““use current regulatory models for tobacco and alcohol to base legislation to enact effective marijuana controls.”
Residents of Washington D.C. voted in 2014 to legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana. However Congressional leaders have prohibited the district from implementing a recreational market through annual budget riders. With this new report from the district’s health department and willingness from the Mayor and City Council to create a regulated market, it’s questionable how long Congress will continue to block the will of the people.