In this week’s cannabis news round-up, senate democrats urge President Biden to rethink federal cannabis restrictions; clinical trial reveals reduced anxiety levels linked to cannabis; and a federal judge dismisses lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s cannabis advertising restrictions.
Senate Democrats Urge Biden to Rethink Cannabis Descheduling
Senate Democrats have increased the pressure on the Biden administration to relax federal cannabis restrictions. In a letter addressed to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this week, they urged reconsideration of cannabis descheduling, which has been classified at the federal level for over fifty years.
The letter, signed by a group of 12 senators led by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and John Fetterman (D-PA), with the endorsement of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), takes a more decisive stance.
“The case for removing marijuana from Schedule I is overwhelming,” the senators said. “The DEA should do so by removing cannabis from the CSA altogether, rather than simply placing it in a lower schedule.”
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formally recommended the reclassification of cannabis in August. The suggestion was to shift it from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The DEA initiated a thorough review process, which is still ongoing.
The DEA recently informed lawmakers that, despite the HHS’s historic recommendation in the summer, it retains the final authority to determine the scheduling, rescheduling or descheduling of drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, based on scientific and medical evaluations.
The White House had aspired to announce a decision regarding descheduling around the one-year mark after President Biden’s directive for the DEA to review the HHS’s recommendation, which was issued in October 2022. According to sources familiar with the situation, the administration had hoped to leverage this announcement as a campaign issue during the November elections.
In their letter on Tuesday, the senators called for the Biden administration to promptly reclassify cannabis from Schedule I and ultimately deschedule it.
“The Biden Administration has a window of opportunity to deschedule marijuana that has not existed in decades and should reach the right conclusion—consistent with the clear scientific and public health rationale for removing marijuana from Schedule I, and with the imperative to relieve the burden of current federal marijuana policy on ordinary people and small businesses,” they wrote.
Aside from Warren, Fetterman and Schumer, the letter bears the signatures of Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). Both Booker and Wyden have collaborated with Schumer on a comprehensive cannabis reform proposal, which aims to terminate federal prohibition and decriminalize cannabis. However, the legislation has yet to secure the necessary bipartisan support.
Clinical Trial Reveals Reduced Anxiety Levels Linked to Cannabis
The journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research has published clinical trial data suggesting that the use of state-legal cannabis products may lead to a decrease in anxiety levels.
Conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the study evaluated the effects of three different cannabis chemovars on anxiety symptoms. Over four weeks, participants were given the choice to consume cannabis flower with varying THC and CBD levels, including high-THC, high-CBD and equal THC/CBD ratios.
Results indicated that all three types of cannabis led to improvements in anxiety symptoms, with the most significant improvements reported by those who consumed CBD-rich cannabis.
The study’s authors summarized their findings, stating, “This quasi-randomized study demonstrated that individuals experiencing generalized anxiety symptoms who used cannabis three or four days per week reported decreased anxiety and improved symptoms during the study. The CBD-dominant strain showed the most substantial reduction in anxiety-related symptoms, both acutely and over the course of four weeks. These findings expand on the anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) properties of CBD in naturalistic and real-world settings, suggesting that these effects observed over a relatively short timeframe may translate into longer-term reductions in anxiety.”
In a similar study published in January, British scientists in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology Reports reported sustained improvements in patients with generalized anxiety disorder following the use of cannabis products.
Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Mississippi’s Cannabis Advertising Restrictions
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought forth by the owner of a medical cannabis dispensary, who had sued the state of Mississippi over what he perceives as stifling regulations, preventing cannabis business owners from advertising through most media channels.
In the ruling delivered on Monday, US District Judge Michael P. Mills concurred with Mississippi’s argument. The state contended that because cannabis possession remains illegal under federal law, it is not considered a “lawful activity.” Therefore, it does not enjoy the constitutional protections typically afforded to various forms of commercial speech.
The legal dispute stemmed from Mississippi’s legalization of medical marijuana for individuals with severe medical conditions in 2022, which led Clarence Cocroft II to establish Tru Source Medical Cannabis in Olive Branch, MS. However, Cocroft encountered difficulties in reaching potential customers because the state had imposed a blanket ban on medical marijuana businesses advertising through any media platform.
The state does permit dispensaries to display “appropriate signs” on their properties or showcase their products on their websites. Nevertheless, all other advertising restrictions, such as the prohibition on advertising or marketing “in any media,” are subject to the purview of the state Health Department. Cocroft’s legal team argues that the laws are unconstitutional.
Judge Mills emphasized that dismantling Mississippi’s restrictions on cannabis advertising would constitute a “drastic intrusion upon state sovereignty.”
“This is particularly true considering the fact that, by legalizing marijuana to any degree, the Mississippi Legislature has gone further than Congress itself has been willing to go,” Mills wrote. “In light of this fact, on what basis would a federal court tell the Mississippi Legislature that it was not entitled to dip its toe into the legalization of marijuana, but, instead, had to dive headfirst into it?”
In response to the ruling, Cocroft maintained that Mississippi’s regulations infringe upon the First Amendment rights of businesses. He has vowed to appeal the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
“I’m prepared to fight this fight for as long as it takes,” Cocroft said. “This case is bigger than me and my dispensary—it’s about defending the right of everyone to truthfully advertise their legal business in the cannabis industry.”
Cocroft, represented by the Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian law firm, initiated legal action against the Mississippi Department of Health, Department of Revenue and Alcoholic Beverage Control Bureau. He argued that the state’s regulations barred him from advertising in newspapers, magazines, on television, radio and even on billboards he already owned.
“When Mississippi legalized medical marijuana, it relinquished its power to censor speech by medical marijuana businesses,” said Ari Bargil, an attorney from the Institute for Justice on federal cannabis restrictions. “If a product is legal to sell, then it’s legal to talk about selling it.”
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