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NORML Blog

  • by NORML April 8, 2020

    The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has formally submitted comments to the US Federal Register opposing the Drug Enforcement Administration’s proposed rule changes governing the federal production and distribution of cannabis for clinical research purposes.

    Under existing regulations, the agency only licenses one facility — the University of Mississippi — to cultivate cannabis for use in FDA-approved clinical trials. Researchers have consistently criticized the poor quality of these plants, which they say fail to accurately reflect the varieties of marijuana commercially available in the United States. As a result, the DEA has been encouraged for over a decade to expand the pool of federally licensed cannabis producers — a move that the agency has largely resisted.

    In 2016, the agency appeared to reconsider its longstanding policy, and publicly stated for the first time that it would consider additional applicants. To date, however, the DEA has failed to either affirm or reject any of the more than 30 applications it has received. Under the proposed rules issued by the DEA on March 23, the agency continues to maintain sole discretion to decide which applicants, if any, will be permitted to grow cannabis for research purposes, and it provides no timeline under which the DEA must act on the numerous applications already before it.

    In its response to the DEA’s proposed changes, NORML writes: “While NORML has long supported facilitating and expanding domestic clinical research efforts, we do not believe that these proposed rules, if enacted, will achieve this outcome. Rather, we believe that the adoption of these rules may further stonewall efforts to advance our scientific understanding of cannabis by unduly expanding the DEA’s authority and control over decisions that ought to be left up to health experts and scientists.”

    Specifically, the newly proposed rules expand the DEA’s authority by declaring it to be the only entity legally permitted to purchase, warehouse, and dispense any cannabis grown under a federal license.

    NORML’s response concludes: “Rather than compelling scientists to access marijuana products of questionable quality manufactured by a limited number of federally licensed producers, NORML believes that federal regulators should allow investigators to access the cannabis that is currently being produced by the multitude of state-sanctioned growers and retailers throughout the country. … Doing so would not only facilitate and expedite clinical cannabis research in the United States, but it would also bring about a long overdue end to decades of DEA stonewalling and interference with respect to the advancement of our scientific understanding of the cannabis plant.”

    An abbreviated version of NORML’s comments appears here.

    ON BACKGROUND: The DEA has consistently discouraged the scientific investigation of cannabis, particularly with respect to its therapeutic properties.

    * In 1988 the agency’s own administrative law judge concluded marijuana to be “one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man,” and demanded the DEA reclassify the plant so that doctors could prescribe it. The agency set aside the decision and refused to act upon the judge’s order.

    * In 2007, the agency lost yet another lawsuit. In this case, the judge ruled that there existed an “inadequate supply of marijuana available for research purposes,” and therefore determined that permitting the privately licensed production of cannabis for research purposes would be “in the public interest.” Once again, the agency set aside the decision and refused to abide by the judge’s ruling.

    * in 2016, the agency enacted a revised set of rules explicitly designed to expand the pool of applicants eligible to cultivate cannabis for use in FDA-approved clinical protocols. Following the issuance of these new rules, dozens of proprietors — including branches of the University of California and the University of Massachusetts — applied to the agency seeking licensure. But to date, the agency has neither accepted nor denied a single applicant.

  • by NORML April 7, 2020

    VaporizerIncidences of the vaping-related lung illness EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) are primarily concentrated to jurisdictions where adult-use cannabis consumption is prohibited, according to data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

    Commenting on the findings, NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said, “These findings come as little surprise. In jurisdictions where cannabis is legally regulated, consumers gravitate toward the above-ground retail marketplace where they can access lab-tested products manufactured by licensed businesses.” He added, “Just like alcohol prohibition gave rise to the illicit production of dangerous ‘bathtub gin,’ marijuana prohibition provides bad actors, not licensed businesses, the opportunity to fulfill consumers’ demand – sometimes with tragic results.”

    According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 3,000 people have sought hospitalization because of the illness, which peaked last September, and nearly 70 people died as a result of it. In November, the CDC publicly identified vitamin E acetate – a diluting agent sometimes present in counterfeit, unregulated vape pen products – as a primarily “culprit” in the outbreak.

    Writing on Monday in the journal JAMA Network Open, researchers affiliated with Indiana University reported that last year’s sudden outbreak of EVALI cases was not driven by either state-level differences or prevalence in e-cigarette use. Rather, they reported that cases “were concentrated in states where consumers do not have legal access to recreational marijuana dispensaries. … One possible inference from our results is that the presence of legal markets for marijuana has helped mitigate or may be protective against EVALI.”

    A previous analysis of EVALI prevalence in legal cannabis markets versus illegal markets by Leafly.com drew a similar conclusion.

    In a statement to the online news site MedPageToday.com, the study’s lead author said that the team’s findings are “consistent with the hypothesis that people have demand for marijuana products, and in states where they don’t have access to them in this regulatory fashion, they end up purchasing them elsewhere.”

    Full text of the study, “Association of state marijuana legalization policies for medical and recreational use with vaping-associated lung disease,” appears in JAMA Network Open. An accompanying editorial, “Marijuana legislation and electronic cigarette- or vaping-associated lung injury,” also appears online here.

  • by NORML April 6, 2020

    A team of researchers affiliated with the University of Miami School of Nursing is collecting epidemiological data to better evaluate how cannabis consumers, and patients in particular, are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Investigators are seeking respondents to participate in an anonymous electronic survey — which is available online here — to evaluate whether consumers have experienced changes in their frequency of cannabis use, dosing, access, or preferred methods of ingestion as a result of either COVID-19-related closures or emergency actions. Answers will be kept strictly confidential and the length of time necessary to complete the survey is approximately five to ten minutes.

    In recent weeks, health officials in some two-dozen states have enacted emergency rules to ensure that state-qualified patients have uninterrupted access to cannabis products.

    Medical cannabis patients are “a population that we cannot forget about in our joint effort to ‘flatten the curve,'” said Dr. Denise C. Vidot, who is leading the study. “If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that population-based data is vital to make informed decisions. So, we are combining our skills to do our part to provide that data. Our goal is to have cannabis users from every country complete this survey, so the data is more generalizable.” She has previously authored several peer-reviewed studies assessing the overall health and behaviors of self-identified cannabis consumers.

    NORML encourages consumers to take part in the online study by clicking here.

  • by Delaware NORML April 3, 2020

    Medical marijuana

    In case anyone has been living under a particularly heavy and sound-proof rock, medical cannabis is essential. While we commend our state officials for declaring that centers will remain open during the state of emergency, we need to ensure our patients have uninterrupted access to their life saving medicine. This is especially important during these uncertain times. Delaware NORML sparked up the community for a call to action, urging Governor Carney to offer delivery options to adequately serve medical cannabis patients in this time of crisis.

    We are thrilled to pass on this joint effort. Delaware officials, lawmakers and compassion center owners are working together to quickly roll out delivery options for cannabis patients.  We offer our highest appreciation to everyone who helped make this happen!

    With the recommended guidelines, many patients have been left without an option to obtain their medicine. Some patients may not drive and many do not have an authorized caregiver. Ordering online with pick up options isn’t enough when a vast majority of patients are now homebound with little resources to facilitate those services. Medical patients are the most at risk and we should be doing everything we can to ensure their safety. Hopefully these new updates to our medical cannabis program will be implemented quickly.

    Columbia Care will be the first center to offer this option, hopefully in the coming weeks. They are working quickly but must ensure they can safely implement delivery services. Please note this is a brand new service, being launched for this first time during an active crisis. Columbia Care will unfortunately be unable to service all patients, especially at first. Once the other two centers are also set up for delivery services, the process will improve.

    Please have patience with the centers’ staff during this process. We are all trying to do the best we can with what we have.  Please be mindful that for many patients this will literally be their only option. If you can facilitate the online ordering with pick up option safely, please continue to do so and save this service for those who need it most.

    Please visit the centers’ websites for updates and more information to be posted soon.

    DE Medical Cannabis Centers:

    Help us continue to cultivate our cannabis community and join us on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter (@denorml) to find out how you can help us spark up reform.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director April 2, 2020

    Eleven US Senators — Michael Bennett (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeffrey Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) — have sent a letter to leadership urging lawmakers to permit licensed cannabis operators to qualify for loans and other forms economic assistance available from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

    The Senators write:

    Over the last decade, there has been a clear shift in public opinion toward supporting the legalization of cannabis in the United States. Some states, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, have legalized both the recreational and medicinal use of cannabis. States collected an estimated $1.3 billion in tax revenue from legal cannabis sales in 2018. However, SBA’s current policy excludes small businesses with “direct” or “indirect” products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing. Consequently, small businesses in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with a rapidly-growing and legal industry.

    Just two weeks ago, a representative from the Administration acknowledged, “With the exception of businesses that produce or sell hemp and hemp-derived products (Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law 115-334), marijuana-related businesses are not eligible for SBA-funded services.”

    The Senators close their letter stating, “We strongly support ensuring that SBA loan programs are made available to all cannabis small businesses.”

    While the letter specifically calls for these changes to be made as part of the traditional appropriations process, which will not be concluded until September 2020 at earliest, one additional pathway would be to include legislative language in the next anticipated bill to address the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of crisis and unprecedented federal support for the economy, with hundreds of billions of dollars being issued through the SBA to support small businesses, time is of the essence. To that end, NORML has called for SBA access to be included in our recently issued policy memo.

    Supporters of these changes can contact their federal lawmakers with NORML’s Action Center here. 

    Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, NORML has been working with its Congressional allies to move forward several pieces of legislation, such as HR 3540: The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act, and HR 3884/S 2227: The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act – which would both “prohibit the Small Business Administration from declining to provide certain small business loans to an eligible entity solely because it is a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.”

    The state-licensed cannabis industry employs more than 240,000 American workers, over four times the number of American workers as does the coal industry. The majority of these businesses are small-to-medium in size.

    Additional information about HR 3540: The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act is available online here.

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