The Non-ordinary State of Debate

non ordinary debate

The non-ordinary appears to be becoming the ordinary state of discourse in politics this week – in the space of two days Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) copped to the fact that psychedelics “might be clinically beneficial” and the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level was reintroduced to the House. 

Psychedelics and weed were topics of conversation in the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing when Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) asked Francis Collins, of the NIH for a status update on how the agency was …ahem…navigating the issue. 

“The senator said there’s been “potentially promising peer-reviewed clinical research” into the substances and referenced a letter NIH sent him in 2019 that recognized the medical value of certain psychedelics. He asked for a status update on how the agency is navigating the issue.”

“There has been a resurgence of interest in psychedelic drugs, which for a while were sort of considered not an area that researchers legitimately ought to go after,” Collins replied. “And I think as we’ve learned more about how the brain works, we’ve begun to realize that these are potential tools for research purposes and might be clinically beneficial.”

The two year old letter Senator Schatz references can be found in this link https://www.marijuanamoment.net/federal-health-agencies-acknowledge-therapeutic-potential-of-psychedelics/ and clearly touts the therapeutic benefits yet the agencies were steadfast in keeping these substances relegated to illiberal status:

“While the agencies said they do not have plans to recommend reclassifying any psychedelics that are currently placed in the restrictive category of Schedule I, they acknowledged throughout their response that psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, ketamine and ibogaine hold therapeutic promise and can help uncover “mechanisms of illness and possible interventions, ultimately leading to novel treatments with fewer side effects and lower abuse potential.”

“Ketamine is already an FDA-approved drug for treatment-resistant depression and is accordingly classified under Schedule III.”

Old habits die hard. Now two years later when asked by Senator Schultz where the thinking might be on moving things along the response is they are ready for a workshop. 

“Asked about next steps for NIH when it comes to psychedelics, Collins said he’s been communicating with other federal agencies such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “about whether it’s a good moment to consider having perhaps a workshop to say, ‘OK, what have we learned so far and what more might we want to do as far as designing the next generation of clinical trials to see where these provide benefit—going beyond depression to such things as PTSD?”

“I think over the course of the next year we’re going to want to have a hard look at this,” he said.”

“Federal agencies are already in the process of exploring psychedelics, with the The National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of NIH, holding a speakers series that kicked off last month that involved a discussion on the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.”

When Senator Schultz asked Collins separately about cannabis and if the NIH has made any progress on removing barriers to studying the plant – an issue he inquired about in the 2019 letter – Collins’ answer was simply, “we’re making some progress”.  

“We’re making some progress,” Collins said. But because of the Schedule I status of cannabis, researchers have to overcome significant hurdles to access it. On top of that, there’s currently only one federally authorized source of marijuana for study purposes at the University of Mississippi.”

“The director said researchers have “had all kinds of limitations” and there’s “limited opportunity for access.” He noted that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has recently moved to expand the number of marijuana manufacturers, but he said what the government “really needs” to do is “moderate the Schedule I limitation.”

“He said he’s spoken with NIDA Director Nora Volkow about the issue and feels there should be a modified Schedule I category called Schedule I-R, “which would be basically a different pathway if you’re going to use this material for research.”

“Collins, who has discussed federal barriers to cannabis science at several past congressional hearings, also committed to work with Schatz’s office on legislation to further remove marijuana research barriers.”

Progress is the word of the week as we turn our attention to the House and Senate. If not for the scheduling and the entire legalization issue at least as far as cannabis is concerned the roadblocks to research might not be an issue. 

The MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, was reintroduced and filed in the House by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) with “a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year”.

“The bill—which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), allow people with cannabis convictions to have their records expunged and create a federal tax on marijuana with the revenue going to support community reinvestment and other programs—comes as Senate leadership is preparing to introduce a separate reform proposal with similar objectives.”

Under the Trump administration the More Act passed the House but stalled in the GOP controlled Senate. The Democrats are in charge even if with a small margin. Also, since the last introduction of the More Act more states got on the legal weed bandwagon. 

“Since I introduced the MORE Act last Congress, numerous states across the nation, including my home state of New York, have moved to legalize marijuana. Our federal laws must keep up with this pace,” Nadler said. “I’m proud to reintroduce the MORE Act to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, remove the needless burden of marijuana convictions on so many Americans, and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”

That was then, this is now. A few months or a year can make a difference. 

“Last year, we saw more progress toward cannabis legalization than ever before. This has been driven by unprecedented reforms at the state level,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said. “Now, Congress must deal with the problems created by the failed federal policy of prohibition. With a strong base of support in the House and in the Senate, the table is set. It’s past time that we stop federal interference with cannabis banking and research, as well as the terrible pattern of selective enforcement that has devastated communities of color. The MORE Act will help address all of these problems and more.”

The language and revisions in the More Act include the following:

“As Marijuana Moment exclusively reported last week, the new version of the MORE Act does not include language that was added just before last year’s House floor vote that would have prevented people with previous cannabis convictions from obtaining federal permits to operate marijuana businesses.”

“And whereas the the prior version of the MORE Act contained language to help economically disadvantaged people enter the legal marijuana market, that language was revised to extend Small Business Administration (SBA) aid—such as loans, financial literacy programs and job training—to help people who have been harmed by the war on drugs pursue business opportunities in any industry, not just cannabis.”

“Many of the other key provisions of the bill remain the same as in the version that cleared the House last year, including language to create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.”

There are still some provisions that need ironing out. But all in all advocates are heartened by the More Act and the new revisions. 

“Advocates are encouraged by the new revisions to the bill, but there are still additional components they hope to see changed as it goes through the legislative process. For example, they also took issue with provisions added to the MORE Act prior to last year’s vote that would have stipulated that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.”

On the Senate side Chuck Schumer has been busy working on legislation from that end. He is on a mission – he reiterated as much on the sacred holiday of 420 this past April.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/marijuana-weed-420-schumer_n_607ee546e4b063a636fc835b

“Schumer acknowledged “what you might call a very unofficial American holiday, 4/20,” before making the case for U.S. law that would decriminalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level.”  

When will this legislation happen?

“Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been working on the bill in recent months, and Wyden said recently that it will be introduced “very soon.”” 

Leaps and bounds may be too much to ask for but inch by inch navigation as long as it’s forward will still get us there with weed and psychedelics. Of course the sooner the better.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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