On September 13, the House Judiciary Committee took legislative action against Sessions’ obstruction of cannabis research. The committee approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act, a bill that would require Sessions to give licenses to at least two more cannabis manufacturers for the purpose of supplying cannabis for research. The bill has bipartisan support, though several Democrats have opposed it due to its exclusion of personnel with drug-related felony convictions from working at licensed cannabis manufacturers.
The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, but it is a promising first step toward dismantling the systemic anti-cannabis machine that has thus far made the re-scheduling of cannabis nearly impossible.
In 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it would expand the number of authorized entities registered with the Controlled Substances Act to produce cannabis for research purposes. At the time that the DEA made this announcement, only one entity had this authorization. Two years later, this still remains the case, and we can thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the absurd delay.
At least 26 applications remain to be approved by the AG, who has delayed reviewing them for reasons we can only speculate about. Sessions refuses to answer private letters asking for an explanation about these delays or to explain his inaction to Congress.
With Sessons, Another One Bites The Dust
Earlier in September, a bipartisan group of Congress members sent Sessions a letter requesting that the AG move forward with the DEA’s 2016 policy announcement. The letter begins with a strong request :
“In light of the fact that August 11, 2018 marked two years since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated that they would accept registrations for manufacturers of marijuana for research usage, we write to encourage you to finalize your review of the submitted applications.”
The letter goes on to make the moral argument for the Department of Justice’s approval of these applications, stating that creating an easier framework for the scientific research of cannabis “is good policy, it is simply the right thing to do, and it falls within our national controlled substances regulatory framework.”
The letter was signed by 14 members of Congress, six of whom are Republicans.
As he did with an earlier set of letters sent to him by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Kamala Harris (D-California) in April and then again in August, Sessions ignored the bipartisan letter.
Sessions’ disdain for cannabis isn’t a secret. He is known for saying his primary concern with Klu Klux Klan members is their use of pot, that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and that (despite several studies showing the opposite) the opioid crisis is a result of cannabis use.
The DEA, NIDA, and the FDA: An Anti-Cannabis Machine
In 2016, the DEA received and denied two proposals to reschedule cannabis. The primary reason the DEA cited for rejecting the proposals was the lack of scientific evidence proving cannabis’ medical efficacy. This decision was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The problem seems straightforward to solve, right? Conduct the appropriate research on cannabis to get FDA approval. Here’s why that isn’t such a simple approach to a systemic issue.
First, it is extremely difficult to legally research cannabis in the United States. There is only one person in the country authorized to produce cannabis for research—Mahmoud ElSohly, researcher at the University of Mississippi. Since 1968, the NIDA-run cannabis garden at the University of Mississippi has been the only authorized facility to produce cannabis. This means that even after crossing all the red tape to get permission from the DEA to research weed, obtaining samples for that research can take years.
Second, NIDA’s cannabis is wildly different from the cannabis that consumers are actually purchasing from legal markets. An October 2016 study found that NIDA’s weed has an average of 5.15% THC. It doesn’t take a very exhaustive search through Wikileaf’s strain database to figure out that most strains average at least three times that much THC. The result of this disparity is unreliable research neither the FDA or the DEA can accept as conclusive evidence about cannabis’ safety, medical use, or otherwise. It’s a pretty convenient debacle for the triumvirate with a clear bias against the cannabis industry.
Which leads us to problem number three: the FDA and NIDA are in the pockets of largely anti-cannabis Big Pharma, while the DEA has made cannabis prohibition the central tenant of its religion since its inception. Those might sound like unlikely claims until you take a look at the conflict of interest-ridden way that these organizations are run.
Follow The Money
NIDA is funded by Congress. Representatives of Congress are funded by donors, and some of the most generous of those donors are the pharmaceutical companies who aren’t interested in competing against cannabis, a medicine that patients can grow themselves and that has an extremely thin side-effect profile when compared to many of the pills patients are being prescribed. Big Pharma is also quite generous when it comes to donating to the FDA, an organization that, without payments from the pharmaceutical companies it is responsible for regulating, would not be able to do its job. The result is an ethically compromised system that prioritizes pharmaceutical companies over patient health.
That cannabis is an effective medicine is no longer up for debate. There is conclusive evidence that it can treat a range of conditions. We just need more research to determine how far that range extends, and in what ways. This is why Jeff Sessions’ obstruction of cannabis research is more than just an annoying sidestep—it’s a threat to public health.
The FDA’s recent approval of Epidiolex, an oral solution featuring cannabis-derived cannabidiol as the main ingredient, is hopefully indicative that the last pillars of prohibition are on the verge of collapse.
Of course, at the very moment that the FDA announced approval of Epidiolex, the first FDA approved cannabis-based medicine, the DEA was deeply engaged in the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee’s initiation of a campaign to destroy the cannabis industry’s legitimacy with incendiary anti-weed propaganda. You win some, you lose some.