Cannabis Advancements in Danger Under President-Elect Trump’s Attorney General Nominee Sessions; What You Can Do Today

Marijuana and criminallity

We’ve seen some incredible advancements in medical and adult-use cannabis in the United States this year. As we approach the end of 2016, we can proudly say that over half of U.S. states have now legalized cannabis in some form. This past year Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana approved legalizing medical cannabis and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts—joined Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and D.C. in legalizing adult-use cannabis.

According to Dale Sky Jones the overwhelming support shown by voters this year is a strong message that social justice matters in cannabis policy reform. “As cannabis is legalized across America, citizens are saying ‘no’ to unjust tactics to target growers, close dispensaries and incarcerate more people—largely minorities—consuming or possessing cannabis and saying ‘yes’ to regulated and taxed cannabis to be consumed by adults responsibly,” said Jones.

We also saw other advancements:  Congress approved veteran access to medical cannabis in states where the plant is legal, the DEA changed its policy to expand the number of DEA-registered cannabis manufacturers to foster more research, multiple studies were published regarding the science of cannabis, presidential candidates weren’t afraid to talk about cannabis on the campaign trail, and new research from Pew Research now shows that 57% of U.S. adults agree that cannabis should be made legal compared to only 32% a decade ago.

As much as we’ve seen and cheered for forward progress, advancement is still hard. Congress did indeed approve access of medical cannabis to veterans, but it is ultimately up to a vet’s VA doctor to recommend medical cannabis and not all states have approved PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common disorder suffered by many veterans) as a condition to be treated with medical cannabis. And, researchers now have access to better grades of cannabis and the DEA is working to recruit universities to open cannabis cultivation facilities (in addition to the University of Mississippi, which has been growing cannabis for the federal government for 46 years), however, the federal application process is lengthy and complicated.

As concerned as we all are about these cannabis setbacks, we have an immediate concern…one that will make all of our current cannabis concerns moot.

Many of us were still celebrating the November 8th ballot wins for cannabis, when just a mere 10 days later news broke that President-Elect Trump wants to appoint Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as the U.S. Attorney General.

Of course, he’s got to be confirmed by Congress yet, but having an “Attorney General Sessions” is a daunting thought. He has been a vocal opponent of legalizing cannabis and has been quoted as saying ‘good people don’t smoke marijuana’ and former colleagues have testified that Sessions thought the Ku Klux Klan was ‘okay until he learned that they smoked marijuana.’

As the Attorney General, Sessions would have the authority to block the implementation of the recent ballot initiatives, dismantle the legal cannabis industry in Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, and begin massive raids on existing medical and adult-use retail stores.

This is just a glimpse of what cannabis could mean under a President Trump administration.

What Can You Do?

Within days of Trump’s announcement DCMJ, the Washington D.C. advocacy group that was instrumental in legalizing cannabis in D.C., took a group of volunteers to Sessions office on Capitol Hill. While they didn’t talk with Senator Sessions directly and the staff members made it clear that they don’t make decisions for the Senator, the group showed up to show their concern. You may not be able to go to Washington, D.C. to protest the confirmation of Sessions, but there are options for you to consider.

Write Your State Senators: Write to your state representatives in the U.S. Senate. They are taxed with confirming all of the president elect’s nominees. The list of U.S. Senators and their contacts will change as of January 3, 2017, which is when the 115th Congress is sworn in. Nominees cannot be confirmed until the new president is sworn in on January 20, 2017. If you know your Senator was re-elected, start writing to him or her now!

Support NORML*: Another option, or an additional option, is to support the efforts of NORML to fight back, to send a message to President-Elect Trump and his Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions that the American people won’t stand for intervention into state cannabis programs and we want to  move towards de-scheduling at the federal level and legalization in all 50 states. Contribute Now!

You could also connect with your closest state NORML Chapter to learn about or become involved in preparing an official statement to your State Senators.

As Dale Sky Jones has been known to say, no one said advocating for cannabis would be easy. We must stay the course. Now more than ever.

*NORML’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.

It Is Time To Deschedule, Not Reschedule, Cannabis

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by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 6, 2016

A recent memorandum from the US Drug Enforcement Administration to several United States Senators indicates that the agency is prepared to respond in the coming months to a five-year-old petition seeking to amend the plant’s status as a schedule I prohibited substance.

Under the US 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. As summarized by the DEA, “Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Explicitly, 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 (schedule II through schedule V) and are legally regulated accordingly. (For example, schedule II substances like morphine or methadone are available by prescription.) Alcohol and tobacco, two substances that possess far greater dangers to health than does cannabis, are not subject to federal classification under the CSA.

Federal law grants power to the US Attorney General to reclassify a controlled substance if the available scientific evidence no longer supports that drug’s classification. In practice, however, this power has been delegated to the DEA, with input from both FDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Federal law also allows third parties to petition these agencies to consider reclassifying controlled substances.

The petition now before the DEA was filed in 2011 by then-governors Christine Gregoire of Washington and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Other recent rescheduling petitions, such as a 2002 petition filed by a coalition of marijuana law reform and health advocacy organizations, have been rejected outright by the agency. In 1990, the DEA set aside the decision of its own administrative law judge, who had responded in 1988 to a petition effort initiated by NORML, after he called for reclassifying the plant.

“Reclassifying the pot plant from I to II (or even to schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances such as methamphetamine (schedule II), anabolic steroids (schedule III), or alcohol (unscheduled), and fails to provide states with the ability to fully regulate it free from federal interference.” 

While it remains unknown at present time if the DEA will respond favorably to this current rescheduling effort, it has become apparent in recent years that reclassifying cannabis from schedule I to schedule II – the same category as cocaine – falls well short of the sort of federal reform necessary to reflect America’s emerging reefer reality. Specifically, reclassifying the pot plant from I to II (or even to schedule III) continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances such as methamphetamine (schedule II), anabolic steroids (schedule III), or alcohol (unscheduled), and fails to provide states with the ability to fully regulate it free from federal interference.

Further, the federal policies in place that make clinical trial work with cannabis more onerous than it is for other controlled substances — such as the requirement that all source material be purchased from NIDA’s University of Mississippi marijuana cultivation program — are regulatory requirements that are specific to cannabis, not to Schedule I drugs in general. Simply rescheduling cannabis from I to II does not necessarily change these regulations, at least in the short-term.

In addition, the sort of gold-standard, large-scale, long-term Phase III safety and efficacy trials that are typically necessary prior to bringing therapeutic drugs to market are prohibitively expensive. As a result, trials of this kind are typically are funded by private pharmaceutical companies aspiring to bring a new product to market. In some cases, the federal government may assist in sharing these costs, such as was the case with the research and development of the synthetic THC pill Marinol (dronabinol). However, political reality dictates that neither entity is likely to pony up the tens of millions of dollars necessary to conduct such trials assessing the efficacy of herbal cannabis any time soon, if ever, regardless of the plant’s federal scheduling.

This is not to say that rescheduling cannabis would not have any positive tangible effects. At a minimum, it would bring an end to the federal government’s longstanding intellectual dishonesty that marijuana ‘lacks accepted medical use.’ It would also likely permit banks and other financial institutions to work with state-compliant marijuana-related businesses, and permit employers in the cannabis industry to take tax deductions similar to those enjoyed by other businesses. Rescheduling would also likely bring some level of relief to federal employees subject to random workplace drug testing for off-the-job cannabis consumption.

But ultimately, such a change would do little to significantly loosen federal prohibition or to make herbal cannabis readily accessible for clinical study. These goals can arguably only be accomplished by federally descheduling cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, such as is proposed by US Senate Bill 2237, The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. Doing so will finally provide states the power to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal intrusion.

armentanoPaul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws, and a Senior Policy Advisor at Freedom Leaf, Inc. His writing and research have appeared in over 750 publications, scholarly and/or peer-reviewed journals, as well as in more than a dozen textbooks and anthologies. This is a repost of Paul Armentano’s April 6, 2016, NORML blog post.  See more at: http://blog.norml.org/2016/04/06/it-is-time-to-deschedule-not-reschedule-cannabis/#sthash.bkF9jLIi.dpuf