Marijuana, a Schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), is the most commonly detected illicit drug in employment drug testing. According to Quest Diagnostics, in 2018, approximately 3% of urine-based workplace drug screenings tested positive for marijuana. Notwithstanding marijuana’s illegality under federal law, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use. And it is big business. The Colorado Department of Revenue recently revealed that its tax, license and fee revenue from marijuana has reached $1.02 billion. Legal marijuana appears here to stay in the United States. (more…)
If the DEA Does Not Quickly Reexamine Marijuana’s Classification Under the Controlled Substance Act, the Second Circuit Might
“Plaintiffs claim that marijuana has extended their lives, cured seizures and made pain manageable. If true, these are no small things.” So wrote Judge Calabresi on behalf of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Second Circuit) in Washington, et al. v. Barr, et al.
In Washington, a coalition of plaintiffs launched a broad attack on marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The plaintiffs include the parents of infants Alexis Bortell and Jagger Cotte. According to the plaintiffs’ allegations, Alexis Bortell suffers from chronic, intractable seizures, and Jagger Cotte suffers from Leigh’s disease, a progressive neurometabolic disorder characterized by necrotizing (dead or dying tissue) lesions on the brain. After exhausting traditional treatment options, the children found relief with medical marijuana. (more…)
To follow up on our prediction last month that the Trump Administration may take a more aggressive stance toward the legalization of marijuana, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated during the February 23 daily briefing that he anticipates greater federal enforcement of marijuana laws. Spicer emphasized the distinction between medical marijuana (the legalization of which President Trump does not oppose) and recreational marijuana. In discussing the latter, Spicer invoked the country’s opioid addiction crisis, suggesting a link between recreational marijuana use and such other drugs.
Spicer hinted that the Justice Department’s enforcement of federal drug laws would extend to the nine jurisdictions that have legalized recreational marijuana, potentially putting at risk the schemes many of these states have created–or are in the process of creating–to regulate marijuana. As of today, the recreational use of marijuana is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. (Note: Congress has blocked the DC government from using funds to actually implement a system to regulate recreational marijuana, so although technically legal, there is currently no “market” for recreational marijuana in DC.)
If President Trump’s Justice Department does begin to pursue more active enforcement of marijuana laws in states that have legalized marijuana, it may meet pushback from Congress. Just last week, four congressmen announced the formation of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (the Caucus), a bipartisan organization seeking to change the federal government’s attitude toward legalized marijuana and, notably, to leave the legalization question to the states. In support of this mission, earlier this month Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a member of the Caucus, introduced a bill (HR 975) in the House that would prevent federal enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (the Act) in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Likely by design, the bill’s introduction occurred just a day before the confirmation of Jeff Sessions, a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, as Attorney General. The bill would add a new section to the Act expressly stating that the Act’s provisions concerning marijuana do not apply to persons acting in compliance with state law regarding the possession or sale of marijuana. The bill, titled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017,” has been referred to the House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce Committees.
Of course, whether the bill will gain enough support to pass in Congress and survive a potential Trump veto remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the timing of the bill’s introduction, the bipartisan support it has garnered to date (half of its current cosponsors are Republicans), and the announcement of the Caucus indicate a growing tension between Congress–including some members of President Trump’s own party–and the Administration with respect to the enforcement of federal marijuana laws.
DEA Declines to Change Stance on Marijuana but Opens Door to Federally Sanctioned Marijuana Research
On August 11, 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) formally declined to change its position on the medical or recreational use of marijuana, denying two petitions urging the federal government to change marijuana’s drug classification under the Controlled Substances Act. The petitions, filed in 2009 and 2011, urged the DEA to change marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug—a drug without any accepted medical uses—to a Schedule II drug—a drug with potential medical value but high potential for abuse—or to a drug “in any schedule other than [S]chedule I.” Despite a trend towards decriminalization and legalization on the state level, the DEA’s denial of these petitions indicates the Obama administration has not changed its stance on marijuana.
Twenty-five states currently allow some form of marijuana to be used for medical purposes. Four state—Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado—and the District of Columbia allow the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Nevertheless, the DEA, citing an evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), concluded that marijuana “has no accepted medical use in the United States, and lacks an acceptable level of safety for use even under medical supervision.” The Agency ultimately declined to remove marijuana from Schedule I because of its “high potential for abuse,” lack of “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and lack of “accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”
The DEA’s Thursday announcements were not uniformly anti-marijuana. Most notably, the Agency also published a policy statement designed to increase the number of entities registered to grow marijuana to supply researchers in the United States. Currently the only registered facility is at the University of Mississippi, which has been the single grower registered to supply medical marijuana research for nearly 50 years. In its policy statement, the DEA gave its full support to expanding research into the “potential medical utility of marijuana.” Based on its discussions with the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the DEA concluded that “the best way to satisfy the current researcher demand” of marijuana “is to increase the number of federally authorized marijuana growers.” This new policy will allow more people to register with the DEA as marijuana growers.
The DEA on Thursday also signed onto a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp published by the Department of Agriculture and the FDA. The Agricultural Act of 2014 legalized the growing and cultivating of industrial hemp for research purposes in states where such activities are legal under state law. Growing and cultivation is limited to institutions of higher education or state departments of agriculture for purposes of agricultural or other academic research. The three federal agencies published the Statement of Principles “to inform the public regarding how Federal law applies to activities involving industrial hemp” so that those hoping to participate in industrial hemp agricultural pilot programs can do so in accordance with federal law.