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Reconsider Firing Workers For Marijuana, Congress Tells Federal Agencies – Marijuana Moment

A key House committee has released a series reports for spending bills that include a wide range of marijuana-related provisions.

In directing federal agencies to reconsider firing federal workers for state-legal consumption, promote research into cannabis and fund CBD regulations, the reports make clear that marijuana has become a mainstream issue that congressional leadership is becoming more comfortable addressing in high-profile legislative documents.

The House Appropriations Committee directives are attached to spending bills that also contain legislative reform provisions, including previously reported proposals to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference and shield banks from being punished for working with cannabis businesses.

Here’s a look at the new report language that’s attached to appropriations legislation:

Marijuana use by federal employees

The Financial Services and General Government spending bill report directs the Office of Personnel Management to “review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in States” where cannabis is legal.

“Hiring Guidelines.—The Committee encourages OPM to review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in States where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the State. These policies should reflect changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on Federal employment.”

Marijuana research

The report attached to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill features a number of marijuana research provisions, including calling on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop “a multipronged strategy wherein basic and clinical scientists and public health specialists work together to address the opportunities and challenges of cannabis in a comprehensive manner.”

“Cannabis Research.—NIH currently supports a diverse portfolio of research on cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, yet this research support typically relies on narrowly tailored program announcements and grants rather than a multipronged strategy wherein basic and clinical scientists and public health specialists work together to address the opportunities and challenges of cannabis in a comprehensive manner. The Committee encourages NIDA to continue supporting a full range of research on the health effects of marijuana and its components, including research to understand how marijuana policies affect public health, to help inform marijuana policymaking in States.”

Members also made a recommendation to provide protections for universities that conduct research into cannabis, noting the significant public interest in such studies.

“Protecting Scientific Research on Marihuana.—Through scientific research, institutions of higher education advance our understanding and knowledge of various aspects of our world. Moreover, when in the public interest, such institutions should be able to conduct such research without fear of reprisal or loss of Federal funding. This includes research on cannabis, a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. As more States and localities move to legalize cannabis, many institutions of higher education are expanding the knowledge-base on this controlled substance. As a result, the Committee notes that such research is in the public interest, and the recommendation includes new bill language prohibiting the Department from penalizing institutions of higher education that conduct scientific research on marihuana.”

The committee directed that $1 million should be appropriated for research into natural alternatives to opioids such as kratom and CBD, noting that the “wide availability and increased use of these substances” makes it “imperative to know more about potential risks or benefits, and whether or not they can have a role in finding new and effective non-opioid methods to treat pain.”

“Kratom.—The Committee notes that little research has been done to date on natural products that are used by many to treat pain in place of opioids. These natural plants and substances include kratom and cannabidiol (CBD). Given the wide availability and increased use of these substances, it is imperative to know more about potential risks or benefits, and whether or not they can have a role in finding new and effective non-opioid methods to treat pain. The Committee recommends $1,000,000 for this research, an increase of $500,000 above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level, and encourages AHRQ to make center-based grants to address research which will lead to clinical trials in geographic regions which are among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis.”

In a section concerning opioid overdose prevention, legislators wrote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should continue its work while also investigating misuse of other substances, including stimulants and cannabis.

“Opioid Abuse and Overdose Prevention.—The Committee commends CDC for its leadership on combating opioid drug overdoses. The Committee encourages the Director to continue to implement these activities based on population-adjusted burden of disease criteria, including mortality data (age adjusted rate), as significant criteria when distributing funds for overdose prevention activities. The Committee recognizes that the substance misuse epidemic is shifting, with an increase in overdoses resulting from stimulants and other substances. The Committee urges for CDC to monitor, prevent, and reduce harms associated with drug use, misuse, and overdose, including opioids, stimulants, cannabis, and other emerging risks. The Committee appreciates efforts by CDC to ensure that funding for opioid abuse and overdose prevention reaches local communities to advance local understanding of the opioid overdose epidemic and to scale-up prevention and response activities as intended by Congress.”

Military veterans and cannabis issues

Like last year, the panel noted in a report attached to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies spending bill that veterans have been denied home loan benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) due to their work in the state-legal marijuana market. However, the department told Congress last month that it does not have a policy on the books stipulating that such employment renders veterans ineligible on its own; rather, it blamed conflicting state and federal laws for creating risk that makes it less likely for those in the industry to be eligible under the rules of private lenders.

The committee said it now wants VA to “improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter.”

“Home Loan Income Verification.—The Committee is aware of the Department’s denial of home loan guarantees to Veterans solely on the basis of the Veteran’s documented income being derived from state-legalized cannabis activities, and has previously expressed concern that confusion on this issue hinders Veterans’ ability to fully understand and consider how employment decisions could affect future eligibility for earned benefits. The Committee understands that as directed by House Report 116–63, VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a Veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits. The Committee directs the VA to improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter.”

The spending bill report also requests an update on a congressionally mandated marijuana research project.

“Cannabis Research.—The Committee requests an update on the status of the study on cannabis research, as described in House Report 116–63.”

Hemp research and regulations

In the report attached to the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies spending bill, the committee said it’s aware of difficulties hemp farmers face in ensuring their crops do not contain excess concentrations of THC and recognizes “that these challenges are exacerbated by lack of information, best practices, and tools to control the hemp content of THC.” To that end, it directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issues report to Congress with data on crops having to be destroyed due to excess potency.

“Hemp.—The Committee is aware of the difficulty farmers face in trying to control the legal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of their hemp. The Committee recognizes that these challenges are exacerbated by lack of information, best practices, and tools to control the hemp content of THC. The Committee directs USDA to report to Congress on the number of acres of hemp, by state that have been required to be destroyed because the crop exceeds the limit 0.3 percent THC content; the number of producers, by state, who are found to have a negligent violation of the 0.3 percent limit; and the total number, by state, of producers whose hemp has been tested for THC.”

Another provision of the report states that USDA should conduct “genomics and bioinformatics” studies into hemp in order to identify “the genetic control of key production and product quality traits” of the crop. 

“Hemp Whole-Genome Bioinformatics.—The Committee encourages ARS to conduct genomics and bioinformatics research in collaboration with capable institutions to elucidate the genetic control of key production and product quality traits of the hemp plant. In addition, the Committee also encourages ARS to partner with institutions already engaged in such research to conduct hemp genetic improvement research and breeding with new breeding and editing techniques.”

Due to the increasing demand for hemp products, members called for $1.5 million in additional funding “to maintain the hemp germplasm repository.” They’re also seeking to appropriate about $41 million for a variety of initiatives including one concerning cannabis and cannabinoids.

“Industrial Hemp Germplasm.—The Committee recognizes the increasing demand for industrial hemp for a variety of uses and its growing importance as a crop for U.S. farmers. The Committee provides an additional $1,500,000 above the fiscal year 2020 level to maintain the hemp germplasm repository.”

“The Committee recommendation includes a net increase of $40,828,000, including increases for the following programs or initiatives: Strengthening Response Capabilities for Foodborne Outbreaks; Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives; Artificial Intelligence and Other Emerging Technologies; Transform Medical Device Safety, Cybersecurity, Review, and Innovation; Compounding; and Modernizing Influenza Vaccines.”

Further, the report stipulates that USDA should adhere to the intent of Congress and make sure that hemp businesses are eligible for all competitive grant programs that are available to farmers and producers of other crops.

“Industrial Hemp.—The intent of Congress in Public Law 115–334 was for industrial hemp to be eligible for all USDA programs, including Rural Development. Industrial hemp can significantly benefit struggling rural economies. The Committee encourages Rural Development to ensure that industrial hemp is eligible for all competitive grant programs.”

And finally, the panel said that another $5 million should be made available to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for CBD enforcement and to develop regulations to permit the substance’s lawful marketing in the food supply or as a dietary supplement.

“Cannabidiol Enforcement.—The Committee provides an increase of $5,000,000 for enforcing the law to protect patients and the public while also providing a potential regulatory pathway for cannabis and cannabis derived products. The Committee maintains its concern about the proliferation of foods and dietary supplements marketed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), including products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived ingredients. Non-FFDCA-compliant products continue to pose potential health and safety risks to consumers through unsubstantiated and misleading claims such as treating a wide-range of life-threatening diseases and conditions. The Committee expects the FDA to continue to prioritize consumer-safety through application of the law.”

Curbing illegal marijuana grows on public land

Lawmakers again emphasized in the report for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill that they’re aware of illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands in California and said that these “activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife.”

“MARIJUANA ON PUBLIC LANDS – The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California. These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites. The Committee directs the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to continue to cooperate with state, local and tribal governments on survey, reclamation, and prevention efforts to the maximum extent possible.”

Addressing marijuana-impaired driving

The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies report alleges that instances of impaired driving have “spiked” in states that have legalized marijuana and says it wants the Justice Department to “assist states in identifying detection technologies that show promise in identifying drivers impaired by marijuana.”

“Marijuana-Impaired Drivers.—With the proliferation of state laws legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, the incidence rate of impaired driving has spiked. The Committee encourages the Department to assist states in identifying detection technologies that show promise in identifying drivers impaired by marijuana.”

In the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies bill report, the committee also addresses impaired driving issues, saying it remains “concerned with the growing problem of people driving under the influence of one or multiple substances, including marijuana and opioids” and urges federal coordination to develop technologies that can detect active impairment from cannabis. The panel recognizes that doing so will likely not be achievable in the short-term, and so it mandates continued support for drug recognition expert training in the interim.

“Drug-impaired driving.—The Committee remains concerned with the growing problem of people driving under the influence of one or multiple substances, including marijuana and opioids. The Committee supports the goal of developing a reliable standard for all types of impaired driving and urges NHTSA to coordinate research efforts with states and other partners. At the same time, the Committee recognizes that developing a standard measurement of marijuana impairment, similar to blood alcohol concentration (BAC), remains unlikely in the near term. The Committee directs NHTSA to continue to robustly support Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training and to prioritize the study and development of a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) to detect marijuana impairment.

“The Committee directs NHTSA to work with the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Commerce to ensure that state highway safety offices and state law enforcement have the most up-to-date information from the Federal government on detecting impaired driving including an inventory of available technologies to detect recent drug use such as oral fluid technologies. In order to increase the safety of the transportation network by reducing drug-impaired driving, the Committee directs NHTSA to work with states to determine their toxicology testing and funding needs and to provide states with flexibility in how they use impaired driving countermeasures grants, including, but not limited to, assistance with state toxicology labs.”

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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