The first set of regulations for Detroit’s already booming medical marijuana distribution industry were approved 6-1 by the city council. Dispensaries which already operate within the city will be forced to apply for a license or be shut down.
The new rules state that shops may only legally operate with an approved, city-issued license after they pass a background check, and against the wishes of some proprietors, drive-through service is now prohibited. Twenty-four hour service is also prohibited under the new ordinance, and a set inspection process is being developed. Until now, there was no tracking or operation control by the city, which led to reports of concern from Detroit residents.
Detroit Councilman James Tate commented on the city’s responsibility to respond to concerns about the growing number of unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries. Tate also states that licensing and rule adjustment will satisfy those concerned with dispensary control, and it will help patients to receive medication in a more regulated environment.
“Right now, there’s no ordinance to allow for these places to exist. That compassion is there … because it allows these facilities to exist,”
The council-approved regulations, which were proposed by Tate, also dictate new zoning guidelines. It specifies the distance in which medical marijuana shops can operate from organizations such as churches, schools, public parks and other dispensaries. Many Detroit residents are welcoming the new ordinances with open arms, hoping the new rules will shed light on the benefits of medical marijuana for patients of the city in need.
The White House has taken action to immediately remove a long-standing, bureaucratic hurdle required to research the medical benefits of marijuana.
The former process, established in May 1999, made it nearly impossible for researchers to gain access to the plant for scientific studies. It required that all privately funded marijuana studies in the United States submit a study proposal to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review board. Then the proposal also had to be reviewed by the Public Health Service (PHS) to determine the “scientific and ethical soundness” of the study. Next, a marijuana permit would have to be obtained from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). If all of those steps were approved, the cannabis to studied must come from only one source — the drug supply program from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Both review processes by the FDA and PHS shared similar goals. They aimed to guide research on drug development while assuring appropriate treatment of human subjects. Advocates of medical marijuana research often argued that the second review by PHS was unnecessary, and many requests have been made to eliminate the PHS review process.
No other Schedule I substances, including heroin and LSD, have been required to go through the extra step of being reviewed by the PHS. Since the 1961 international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (amended in 1972), marijuana has been listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The Schedule I classification is reserved for substances that are deemed as having no medicinal value and the highest potential for abuse. It is strange to label a plant that has been legalized for medicinal purposes in nearly half of the United States as having no medicinal value — especially when the federal government owns a patent on marijuana “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.”
Tom Angell, founder of Marijuana Majority, spoke on removing cannabis from the list of Schedule I substances:
“The next step should be moving marijuana out of Schedule I to a more appropriate category, which the administration can do without any further Congressional action. Given what the president and surgeon general have already said publicly about marijuana’s relative harms and medical uses, it’s completely inappropriate for it to remain in a schedule that’s supposed to be reserved for substances with a high potential for abuse and no therapeutic value.”
In a notice expected to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, June 23, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that the secondary PHS review “overlaps in several important ways” with alternative approval processes and “is no longer necessary to support the conduct of scientifically-sound studies into the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana.”
Following the elimination of the PHS review, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will now assist in facilitating marijuana-based research. It will still be required that a marijuana permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration be obtained, as well as getting medical marijuana from the Drug Supply Program run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). According to the notice, the removal of the PHS review phase should assist in streamlining the application and approval processes for cannabis research.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a leader in Congress for marijuana reform, shared his approval of the policy change in a recent press release:
“Today’s decision by HHS is a significant step toward improving an antiquated system that unfairly targets marijuana above and beyond other substances in research. I hope this action will facilitate easier access to marijuana for medical researchers. Considering the widespread use of medical marijuana, it is absolutely essential that we allow doctors and scientists to research the therapeutic benefits and risks of its use.”
Rep. Blumenauer also stated that that he is “working on legislation to address these issues, and looks forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to further increase research.”
Blumenauer was a part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including three other state Representatives, who sought out additional cosigners of a letter in May 2014 that urged the elimination of the PHS review process.
While this policy change will help promote further marijuana research, there are still more barriers for cannabis than any other drug. The NIDA monopoly on medical marijuana research in the United States does not apply to other drugs, which makes work with cocaine and heroin easier for researchers than cannabis.
Although the removal of the PHS review is a step in the right direction, Angell believes more can be done for medical marijuana research:
“The president has often said that drug policy should be dictated by unimpeded science instead of ideology, and it’s great to see the Obama administration finally starting to take some real action to back that up. But there’s more to be done. Hopefully today’s action is a sign of more to come.”
Hopefully this policy change will serve as the starting point for continued improvements in medical marijuana research, now that the extra barrier has been removed. We may be able to understand the true healing potential of cannabis in the near future.
Since the passing of Proposition 215 in 1996, medical marijuana has been legal in the California. Almost 20 years later, the state is creating an oversight agency to govern marijuana regulation.
The California Assembly approved Bill 266 on June 4 with a 50-5 vote.
The bill is authored by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland and would cooperate with other state departments to regulate and license medical marijuana dispensaries and monitor cultivation, manufacturing, and testing of the marijuana. Bonta believes the it is time for this nearly 20 years after the original legalization:
“Since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, we’ve had very little additional regulation to protect the health of patients, their safety, to protect the environment, to protect public safety, and it’s about time that we do that.”
The bill, which is a union of two bills originally brought to the Assembly this year for medical marijuana regulation, would allow local municipalities to handle land use, zoning issues and ban dispensaries if they feel the need.
Statewide regulations have garnered support from others around the state, including Eugene Davidovich, the leader of the medical marijuana advocacy group Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access. In reference to Bill 266, Davidovich reported:
“We need statewide regulations that would provide clarity for the community. Clarity is what patients have been asking for since 1996. We haven’t seen the final bill yet and the devil is always in the details.”
Alex Kreit is the current law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former member of the city’s San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force Committee. Kreit believes that standard regulation guidelines have been needed statewide in California for a long time:
“California was a leader in medical marijuana, and now we’ve really fallen behind because we don’t have statewide regulations. Cities really just aren’t equipped to do the kind of health and regulatory oversight for medicine.”
Bill 266 will be sent to the Senate for consideration.
On May 18th, Oregon legislators revealed a marijuana sales tax proposal that would replace the harvest tax previously approved by voters.
The proposed sales tax came as a part of a 104 page amendment centered around the implementation of the marijuana legalization initiative approved by voters in November 2014. The proposal didn’t include any specified percentage for taxing as staffers still work to create tax structure that will raise as much revenue as the proposed harvest tax.
The move towards a sales tax comes as legislators on the House-Senate marijuana committee believe it has multiple advantages over the tax proposals in the Measure 91 initiative for regulating recreational sales. Measure 91 proposed prices including a $35-an-ounce tax on marijuana flowers, as well as a $10-an-ounce tax on leaves.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski believes the sales tax would be beneficial to accommodate constant fluctuations in the price of marijuana. He said that marijuana flowers have dropped in price recently and that a set tax of $35-an-ounce could make legal marijuana uncompetitive with the black market prices.
The proposed sales tax would allow for recreational and medical marijuana sales to come from the same retailer by simply excluding medical marijuana patients from paying the tax at the time of purchase.
Sen. Prozanski said that he believed that the Oregon Health Authority, which currently is responsible for medical marijuana regulation, could oversee temporary sales to recreational consumers while a permanent retail system is put together.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has said that the state won’t be able to have licensed retailers selling recreational marijuana until the fall of 2016. This has legislators beginning to create their own proposals to speed up the start of taxed marijuana sales.
Sen. Ted Ferrioli has been pushing to begin temporary sales on July 1st in order to allow Oregonians to purchase marijuana the same day possession becomes legal. The proposal has attracted a lot of interest from other legislators, but it seems it will face to many obstacles to become a reality.
Sen. Prozanski is currently working on a proposal to temporarily begin recreational sales by medical marijuana dispensaries on October 1st.
This week Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced a bill that would help recovering vets access medical marijuana through the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The bill, called ‘The Veterans Equal Access Act,’ would allow VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to veterans with certain conditions.
Blumenaur expressed his concerns this week, saying, “We should be allowing these wounded warriors access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana, not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows.” Blumenaur stressed urgency in his statements, calling current drug policy antiquated.
The VA is the largest network of medical facilities in the country. Under federal control the VA is prohibited from prescribing medical marijuana to it’s patients, even to those who would qualify otherwise. With nearly half of states allowing some form of medical marijuana, this puts vets who depend solely on the VA for healthcare at a tremendous disadvantage.
The Veteran’s Administration has a dubious history of overprescribing and under-performing in the care of veterans. A recent study showed that almost 1 million veterans are receiving opiates for chronic pain and nearly half of those vets continue taking the medication beyond 90 days.
Additionally, The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the death rate from opiate overdoses among veterans is nearly double the national average. All the while, states with medical marijuana programs have shown a 25 percent decrease in the number of deaths caused by painkillers between 1999 and 2010.
If numbers could talk, these figures would say that we are doing a disservice to our veterans and aren’t using all of the tools available to help war-torn service-members. Blumenaur’s statement reflected this sentiment, saying, “In states where patients can legally access medical marijuana for painful conditions, often as a less-addictive alternative, the hands of VA physicians should not be tied.”
The efficacy of medical marijuana for many conditions has been substantiated by scientific evidence, and now, 23 states have recognized the plant’s potential. Though it hasn’t yet been tested on PTSD, a 2015 study will break ground on the use of cannabis to treat returning vets.
The neglect of veterans is one of the most shameful acts that our federal government can make. Blumenauer seems to agree, saying, “It pushes both doctors and their patients toward drugs that are potentially more harmful and more addictive. It’s insane, and it has to stop.”
Photo Credit: RCB