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.
Earlier today, 18 members of Congress signed onto a letter that was delivered to President Barack Obama calling for him to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
“We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana. Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws,” the letter reads, “Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.”
The letter was signed by Representatives Blumenauer (OR), Cohen (TN), Farr (CA), Grijalva (AZ), Honda (CA), Huffman (CA), Lee (CA), Lofgren (CA), Lowenthal (CA), McGovern (MA), Moran (VA), O’Rourke (TX), Polis (CO), Quigley (IL), Rohrabacher (CA), Schakowsky (IL), Swalwell (CA), and Welch (VT).
“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana,” the letter continued, “A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code. We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II.”
You can read the full text of the letter here.
In a 28-page decision, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied petitioners request to overturn the July 2011 denial by the Drug Enforcement Administration to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana under federal law.
In October 2002, the Coalition to Reschedule Cannabis, a coalition of reform organizations including NORML, ASA, Patients Out of Time and High Times, among others, petitioned the DEA to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug. Following years of administrative delay, on July 8, 2011, the DEA denied the petition, finding that “[t]here is no currently accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States,” and that “[t]he limited existing clinical evidence is not adequate to warrant rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA.”
Petitioners then sought review in the federal Court of Appeals, alleging the decision by the DEA was arbitrary and capricious when it concluded that marijuana lacks a “currently accepted medical use” and has a “high potential for abuse.” They ask this court to remand the case to the DEA for reconsideration of its decision.
Written by Senior Circuit Judge Edwards, the decision ruled “On the record before us, we hold that the DEA’s denial of the rescheduling petition survives review under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard. The petition asks the DEA to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III, IV, or V drug, which, under the terms of the CSA, requires a ‘currently accepted medical use.’ The DEA’s regulations, which we approved in Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, 15 F.3d 1131 (D.C. Cir. 1994), define ‘currently accepted medical use’ to require, inter alia, ‘adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.’ Id. at1135. We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist.
“In its scientific and medical evaluation,” the court held, “DHHS concluded that marijuana lacks a currently accepted medical use in the United States. In reaching this conclusion, DHHS applied the DEA’s established five-prong test, which requires a known and reproducible drug chemistry, adequate safety studies, adequate and well-controlled studies demonstrating efficacy, acceptance of the drug by qualified experts, and widely available scientific evidence.”
“We will not disturb the decision of an agency that has ‘examine[d] the relevant data and articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made.’”
In this case, we need only look at one factor, the existence of “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy,” to resolve Petitioners’ claim.
At bottom, the parties’ dispute in this case turns on the agency’s interpretation of its own regulations. Petitioners construe “adequate and well-controlled studies” to mean peer-reviewed, published studies suggesting marijuana’s medical efficacy. The DEA, in contrast, interprets that factor to require something more scientifically rigorous.
In making this assessment, we must “remind ourselves that our role in the Congressional scheme is not to give an independent judgment of our own, but rather to determine whether the expert agency entrusted with regulatory responsibility has taken an irrational or arbitrary view of the evidence assembled before it.
The DEA’s construction of its regulation is eminently reasonable. Therefore, we are obliged to defer to the agency’s interpretation of “adequate and well-controlled studies.” Judged against the DEA’s standard, we find nothing in the record that could move us to conclude that the agency failed to prove by substantial evidence that such studies confirming marijuana’s medical efficacy do not exist.”
Petitioners are considering their legal options at this time.