For seven years now, the Justice Department has been kept from interfering with state marijuana laws, including distribution, possession, or cultivation. That's all about to change. President Donald Trump's new budget plan for 2021 proposes terminating protections for state medical marijuana programs. Because federal law still views marijuana as an illicit and harmful substance, protections for state laws where voters have approved medical and/or recreational cannabis are key. Without those protections, marijuana patients' and users' rights get a little fuzzy. In 2018, the list of riders was more assuring. The omnibus summary even went so far as to promise, “This bill again contains language preventing the Justice Department from interfering with states that have medical marijuana laws, ensuring that the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana in those states is both legal and regulated. Patients and doctors in states that have approved medical marijuana need to know that they are safe from arrest and prosecution by the federal government.” The same passage was included in the House Appropriations Committee's summary of the Fiscal Year 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill. Without that guarantee, marijuana users, cultivators, distributors and so on can't know how the Department of Justice will choose to treat them.
How ending protections could affect medical marijuana employees
Language like the passage Trump struck out of U.S. law is crucial. It doesn't just ensure safe day-to-day marijuana use for the average person, but also affects employment. For instance, the National Defense Authorization Act passed in 2019 makes it so that if a veteran is seeking a loan for a home through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he/she could be denied due to employment in the cannabis industry.
A cannabis protection bill almost passed congress in 2019
In 2019, the House of Representatives approved an amendment that proved even more expansive than the rider that's been included in previous budgets but struck out of Trump's proposals. In that law, the Justice Department kept its hands off all marijuana programs, not just cannabis deemed medically necessary; the amendment also served as a blanket over not only states, but also U.S. territories. But the Senate did not follow suit, and the amendment ultimately died, crushing marijuana rights just a little bit further.
Not the first time the Trump administration has gone after cannabis protections
This trend moving against legal freedoms regarding marijuana and the differences in access and regulation depending approved by voters by location has continued throughout the Trump Administration, which has been trying to scrap protections in each budget since 2017. Striking back, in 2018, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill said in part, “This bill again contains language preventing the Justice Department from interfering with states that have medical marijuana laws, ensuring that the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana in those states is both legal and regulated. Patients and doctors in states that have approved medical marijuana need to know that they are safe from arrest and prosecution by the federal government.” At that time, Trump all but outright said he planned to fully ignore that bill. In a statement by the President regarding the budget and spending, published on December 20th, 2019, the Trump administration said, “Division B, section 531 of the Act provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds made available under this Act to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. My Administration will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”
The FDA requests more cannabis research funding
The Food and Drug Administration has taken over some of the duties of not only cannabis regulation but also research, stemming outside of marijuana and into the realms of CBD and hemp. Those latter two products were legalized under the Farm Bill in 2018, though states continue to have their own regulations. In the 2021 budget, the agency requested an extra $4 million for research and monitoring of cannabis and cannabis derivatives. It's worth noting, $4 million is not even large enough to compare to a droplet in the full U.S. budget. The FDA says that since the Farm Bill went into effect, the number of illegal cannabis-derived products on the market has skyrocketed. In its funding request, the FDA argued, “New funding will enable FDA to better regulate the usage of cannabis-derived substances, such as cannabidiol (CBD), in FDA-regulated products such as dietary supplements and when used as unapproved food additives. The initiative will support regulatory activities, including developing policies and continue to perform its existing regulatory responsibilities including review of product applications, inspections, enforcement, and targeted research. FDA must support oversight of increasing numbers of marketed FDA-regulated products containing cannabis-derived substances that may put the public at risk.” The Office of National Drug Control Policy may lose about 100 times as much money for cannabis funding as the FDA is given for marijuana regulation as a whole.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy could be cut 90%
If Trump's 2021 budget proposal passes as-is, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will go from a $425 million department to being given just $29 million in 2021 – a 90% cut. Trump is asking to transfer most of that money to the Drug Enforcement Administration to “improve coordination of drug enforcement efforts” between federal, state, and local agencies. Another portion of that funding is going to the Department of Health and Human Services, to fund grants for anti-drug groups in local jurisdictions. Within DHS lies the Office of the Surgeon General, which still has some harsh words to say regarding marijuana use.
“Marijuana has changed over time. The marijuana available today is much stronger than previous versions. The THC concentration in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased three-fold between 1995 and 2014 (4% and 12% respectively). Marijuana available in dispensaries in some states has average concentrations of THC between 17.7% and 23.2%. Concentrated products, commonly known as dabs or waxes, are far more widely available to recreational users today and may contain between 23.7% and 75.9% THC. The risks of physical dependence, addiction, and other negative consequences increase with exposure to high concentrations of THC and the younger the age of initiation. Higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis.”