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.
Federal lawmakers pressured President Obama this week to take executive action to reform marijuana policy. Meanwhile, state legislative reforms are still moving forward throughout the country. Keep reading to get the latest news and to learn what you can do to take action.
Fourteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter this week to President Obama urging the administration to enact various marijuana law reforms.
The letter requests the administration to reschedule marijuana under federal law to Schedule III or a lower category, or to deschedule it altogether; to license additional growers of cannabis for research purposes; to extend protections for secondary and tertiary businesses that serve the medical marijuana industry, and to ensure that the Justice Department better respects Congressionally-enacted legislation preventing it from interfering with well-regulated state medical cannabis programs.
The letter comes after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced recently that it will soon issue a decision on pending petitions seeking to reclassify marijuana. However, lawmakers cautioned that reclassification is only one of many changes needed with regard to federal marijuana regulations. The letter reads, “We would like to caution against adopting the assumption that rescheduling alone is the panacea to the difficulties currently facing businesses, practitioners, and consumers. As such, we implore your Administration to investigate additional reforms that may be made administratively.”
California: The Public Policy Institute of California released new polling information Thursday showing “broad and increasing support for a legal, regulated system of adult-use marijuana in California.” The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), which is expected to appear on the November ballot, permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possession and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes.
Sixty-nine percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans support regulating the adult use of marijuana, according to the poll, In each demographic, support has increased in recent months. National NORML has endorsed the AUMA, along with California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Reps. Ted Lieu and Dana Rohrabacher, the California Council of Land Trusts, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the California Medical Association, and the California NAACP.
Ohio: Lawmakers in both chambers have approved legislation, House bill 523, to regulate the use of medical cannabis preparations by qualified patients. The bill authorizes the use of various forms of cannabis preparations for the physicians-authorized treatment of nearly two-dozen conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, and Crohn’s. It calls on the state to license the production, distribution, and testing of cannabis products. Home cultivation is not allowed. Products may be dispensed as oils, tinctures, edibles, patches, or as plant material. However, smoking herbal cannabis is not permitted under the measure. Vaporizing medical cannabis products is permitted. Similar restrictions exist in three other states: Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The measure now awaits action from Gov. John Kasich, who may be contacted here.
Proponents seeking to place a separate, broader medical marijuana measure on the 2016 ballot announced on May 28 that they were suspending their campaign, stating, “[A]ll in all, it is a moderately good piece of legislation passed by lawmakers who were pushed hard by the patient community. We plan on continuing forward as an advocacy effort to ensure that the State of Ohio lives up to the promises contained in HB 523, but also working to better the program utilizing our amendment as a roadmap for those improvements.”
Pennsylvania: Representative Ed Gainey has introduced legislation, House Bill 2076, to amend the state’s controlled substances act so that minor marijuana possession offenses are considered a non-criminal offense. The legislation would impose a fine and a summary conviction for an individual possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana or eight grams or less of hashish. Offenders would no longer face criminal arrest, incarceration, or a criminal record. The bill is now pending before the House Judiciary committee. #TakeAction
West Virginia: Legislation was recently introduced to decriminalize the possession and cultivation of limited quantities of marijuana in West Virginia.
House Bill 114 permits the personal use, growth and possession of up to two ounces of marijuana by persons over the age of twenty-one who have acquired a “tax stamp” from the state. It removes marijuana from the state list of schedule I drugs and decriminalizes first-time marijuana distribution offenses involving under 30 grams of marijuana. Adults will be allowed to transfer to another person twenty-one years of age or older, without remuneration, one ounce or less of marijuana.
Adults who choose to grow their own marijuana will be permitted to cultivate and harvest up to six pants. #TakeAction