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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 1, 2019

    The American Psychological Association (APA) is urging US Attorney General William Barr to review more than two-dozen pending applications for federal marijuana grow licenses. In a letter dated Wednesday, February 27, the association urged the Justice Department to “act immediately” on 26 applications pending before federal officials – applications which were initially submitted to the agency over two years ago.

    Currently, the sole federally licensed producer of cannabis for clinical research is the University of Mississippi. The University has held the exclusive license for more than four decades.

    In August 2016, the US Drug Enforcement Administration announced in the US Federal Register that the agency was “adopting a new policy that is designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States.” The agency said that the policy change was necessary because the existing system provided “no clear legal pathway for commercial enterprises to produce marijuana for product development.”

    Last year, however, former DEA director Robert Patterson testified to Congress that the agency believed that approving additional applicants would likely violate international anti-drug treaties. Patterson said that DEA could not move forward granting any new applications until the Justice Department clarified the issue.

    In its letter to the newly appointed Attorney General, APA CEO Arthur C. Evans urged the Department “to take immediate action on the existing pool of cannabis grower applications so that the United States scientific community can continue to expand the study of both the harmful and potential therapeutic effects of cannabis and its derivatives. … Without access to an expanded range of cannabis products engineered under FDA-approved Good Manufacturing Practices, scientific research cannot hope to keep pace with the ever expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplace.” The APA represents nearly 120,000 researchers and clinicians.

    Also on Wednesday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) asked US Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb whether he believed that it is possible for a US-based company to bring a marijuana plant-derived drug to market in light of the existing federal prohibitions on licensing. The Commissioner answered equivocally, stating “It depends.” He later acknowledged that these restrictions have led many “companies [to] go overseas to conduct research with foreign-grown product that is more easily sourced for the purposes of clinical trials.”

    The longstanding federal prohibition on privately licensed cannabis producers exists despite a 2007 ruling by the DEA’s own administrative law judge striking down the ban as not “in the public interest.” Although that ruling ordered DEA to lift the ban, the agency failed to do so.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 23, 2018

    Seizures of indoor and outdoor cannabis crops in the United States fell nearly 40 percent between the years 2016 and 2017, according to annual data compiled by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

    According to figures published in the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report, the agency and its law enforcement partners confiscated an estimated 3.38 million marijuana plants nationwide in 2017. This total represents a 37 percent decrease from the agency’s 2016 totals, when it eradicated some 5.34 million plants.

    As in past years, the majority of seizures nationwide (72 percent) took place in California, where law enforcement seized and estimated 2.45 million plants. That total was 35 percent lower than in 2016, when law enforcement confiscated an estimated 3.78 million plants. California voters in November 2016 legalized adult use marijuana possession, cultivation, and sales.

    Law enforcement seized 472,927 plants in Kentucky (down 15 percent from 2016), 74,599 plants in West Virginia (down 40 percent), 62,323 plants in Arkansas (up 93 percent), 60,658 plants in Indiana (up five percent), and 34,646 plants in Tennessee (down 73 percent).

    The agency and its partners reported making 4,502 arrests in conjunction with their cannabis eradication efforts – a 20 percent decline from 2016.

    The DEA also reported seizing some $20.5 million in assets during their confiscation efforts – a 60 percent reduction from the previous year.

    You can click here to send a message to your member of Congress to support pending legislation known as the Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act to reduce the DEA’s enforcement policies even faster. 

    Full data from the DEA’s 2017 report, as well as past years’ reports, are available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 15, 2018

    In testimony before Congress last week, by DEA acting administrator Robert Patterson opined that the medicalization of cannabis is exacerbating opioid abuse. But when prompted to provide evidence in support of the agency’s position, he acknowledged that he could not. Further, he denied being aware of any evidence — including recent, well-publicized studies by the US National Academy of Sciences and others — indicating that cannabis mitigates pain or that its legal access is associated with reduced levels of opioid-related mortality.

    I summarize this mind-boggling exchange in my recent Hill op-ed, which is excerpted below

    Specifically, when asked by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz if the DEA was aware of the landmark 2017 National Academy of Sciences study finding, “There is conclusive or substantial evidence that cannabis [is] effective for the treatment for chronic pain,” Patterson answered that he was not.

    He further acknowledged that he was unfamiliar with several state-specific, longitudinal studies, such as those from Minnesota and New Mexico, finding that chronic pain patients who register to partake in cannabis therapy dramatically decrease their use of opioids and other pain-relieving drugs. (Separate assessments of state-authorized medical cannabis patients in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and elsewhere affirm these conclusions).

    He further claimed ignorance with regard to the findings of a highly publicized study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finding that medical cannabis regulation is associated with year-over-year declines in overall opioid-related mortality, including heroin overdose deaths.

    Moreover, when pressed to provide evidence — any evidence — in support of the DEA’s questionable position, Patterson readily admitted that he knew of none. In fact, upon further questioning, he acknowledged that the DEA has, to date, never even so much as reviewed the issue. He further suggested that those patients seeking an alternative to opioid analgesics may wish to try “Tylenol.”

    The testimony concluded:

    Rep. Gaetz: “You’re the acting administrator of the DEA. You cannot cite a single study that indicates that medical marijuana creates a greater challenge with opioids, and you’re unaware of the studies, including studies from the National Academies of Sciences, that demonstrate that medical marijuana can be an acceptable alternative to opioids. Is that what I’m understanding?”

    Robert Patterson: “Yes.”

    To read the entire op-ed, please click the link here.

    To watch a video of this exchange, as archived by MarijuanaMoment.net, please click here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 27, 2018

    A bipartisan coalition of over two-dozen federal lawmakers, including House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), are backing newly introduced legislation — The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 — to facilitate federally-approved clinical trials involving cannabis.

    Passage of this act would end the University of Mississippi’s existing monopoly on the growth of cannabis for clinical research purposes by requiring the licensing of additional manufacturers.

    Currently, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse designates the University of Mississippi to be the sole provider of marijuana for FDA-approved research. However, many of those familiar with their product have criticized its quality, opining that it possesses subpar potency, is often poorly manicured, and that it does not accurately reflect the wide variety of cannabis products and strains available to consumers.

    Previous efforts to break this monopoly have so far been unsuccessful. In 2007, DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner determined that expanding the pool of federally licensed providers would be “in the public interest.” The agency ultimately rejected her decision. More recently, in 2016, the DEA changed its position and amended regulations in a manner to permit additional applicants to apply to federal licensure to grow marijuana. However, the Justice Department and the US Attorney General have thus far failed to take action on any pending applications.

    Under this measure, the Justice Department is mandated to act on any application it receives within one calendar year.

    Other provisions in the measure explicitly permits VA physicians to provide information to patients regarding their eligibility in clinical trials, and provides a “safe harbor” for universities, clinicians, and patients participating in federally-approved trials from federal interference.

    Please click here to urge your federal lawmakers to support The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 26, 2018

    Marijuana and the LawA federal district court judge in Manhattan today granted the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to challenge the constitutionality of cannabis’ prohibited status under federal law.

    [2/27/18 update: Plaintiffs have stated their intent to appeal the court’s ruling.]

    The 98-page complaint, filed in July 2017 by a legal team that includes New York attorney Michael Hiller, NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy and Empire State NORML Director David Holland, contended that the federal government “does not believe, and upon information and belief never has believed” that cannabis meets the requirements for a Schedule I designation under the Controlled Substances Act. It further argued that current administrative mechanisms in place to allow for the reconsideration of cannabis Schedule I classification are “illusory.” Lawyers for the Justice Department argued for a dismissal of the suit, arguing: “There is no fundamental right to use marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise.”

    Presiding Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein sided with the federal government, opining in a 20-page ruling: “No such fundamental right (to possess or use cannabis) exists. Every court to consider the specific, carefully framed right at issue here has held that there is no substantive due process right to use medical marijuana.” The judge further ruled that plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all of the potential administrative remedies available to them — such as filing an administrative petition to reschedule cannabis with the US Drug Enforcement Administration — and therefore, it was inappropriate for the court to intervene. “There can be no complaint of constitutional error when such a process is designed to provide a safety valve of this kind,” he opined. “Judicial economy is not served through a collateral proceeding of this kind that seeks to undercut the regulatory machinery on the Executive Branch and the process of judicial review in the Court of Appeals.”

    Judge Hellerstein also rejected plaintiffs’ claim that the federal law is unconstitutional because “it was passed with racial animus.” He held that plaintiffs lacked the standing to argue such a claim because they “have failed to demonstrate that a favorable decision is likely to redress plaintiffs’ alleged injuries,” such as a dismissal of their past criminal convictions.

    With regard to the question of whether the plaintiffs legitimately benefited from cannabis as a medicinal agent, the judge argued that the merits of this claim was beyond the scope of the court. “Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, which I must accept as true for the purpose of this motion, claims that the use of medical marijuana has, quite literally, saved their lives,” he wrote. “I highlight plaintiffs’ experience to emphasize that this decision should not be understood as a factual finding that marijuana lacks any medical use in the United States, for the authority to make that determination is vested in the administrative process.” He added, “Even if marijuana has current medical uses, I cannot say that Congress acted irrationally in placing marijuana in Schedule I.”

    Legal counsel for the plaintiffs have yet to publicly announce whether or not they intend to appeal Judge Hellerstein’s ruling.

    A judge for the Federal District Court in Sacramento considered similar arguments in a 2014 legal challenge, also spearheaded by members of the NORML Legal Committee, but ultimately rejected them — ruling that plaintiffs failed to show that Congress acted irrationally when classifying cannabis as a schedule I controlled substance. “At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional,” the judge determined. “But this is not the court and not the time.”

    Text of Judge Hellerstein’s decision in Washington et al. v. Sessions et al is online here.

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