Rep. Lee: Fight to end restrictions on veterans’ access to medical marijuana

Generic 9 November 2019 | 0 Comments

Barbara Lee is a member of Congress representing California’s 13th District

As a supporter of NORML, I know that you’re aware of the damage that unjust marijuana prohibition continues to inflict across the country, especially on communities of color. What you may not know, is that one group that prohibition falls hard upon is our nation’s veterans.

Polling from the American Legion shows that nearly 1 in 4 veterans consume marijuana to alleviate symptoms of a medical or physical condition. Yet, even in the majority of states where medical cannabis is legal, VA physicians are prohibited by federal law from filling out a state-legal medical marijuana recommendation form.

As a member of Congress, I’m working to change that.

My bipartisan bill, the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act (HR1151), would end the current medical prohibition on VA doctors. Specifically, this bill would also create a federal safe harbor protection for veterans and their doctors in using or recommending medical marijuana where it is legal in that State or Indian Tribe. Similar language to protect VA doctors had been previously considered and approved in both chambers of Congress, but shamefully it was stripped out of the final package.

This year, we can and must succeed in passing this essential legislation and protecting the rights of veterans to access medical treatment and serving those who served us.

Will you send a message to your Member of Congress and tell them to join us as a cosponsor of HR 1151?

Research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs found a 75% reduction in Clinician-Administered Posttraumatic Scale scores following cannabis therapy. It is my determination that this legislation will allow those veterans who can benefit from the medicinal use of cannabis to have a safe and regulated way to access their treatment.

Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients, while continuing to rely on pharmaceuticals drugs like opioids as a treatment, is both a dangerous and illogical policy. We know medical marijuana can be an effective and safe treatment for veterans and it is time to stop making them seek private, out-of-network physicians to access it.

I sponsored the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act because I know it will create an immediate positive impact on the lives of our veterans. Once enacted, veterans will be able to access medical marijuana treatment without the added challenge of accessing a private, non-VA physician.

Together, we can gather enough support to pass this legislation, but it will only happen if enough Americans stand up and demand it. Please tell your member of Congress to support the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.

Thank you,
Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee
Member of Congress
California’s 13 District

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CDC Identifies Vitamin E Oil Additive as a “Very Strong Culprit of Concern” in Vaping-Related Lung Injuries

Generic 9 November 2019 | 0 Comments

VaporizerA representative at the US Centers for Disease Control for the first time today identified vitamin E acetate as a “very strong culprit of concern” in EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury). Their announcement comes after health officials found the oil in the lungs of 29 patients sickened following their use of portable e-liquid vaporizers.

Writing in the agency’s journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, investigators concluded, “Based on these data from 29 patients, it appears that vitamin E acetate is associated with EVALI.”

“These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury within the lungs,” added Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In early September, health officials in New York State publicly acknowledged finding high levels of Vitamin E oil in products suspected of being linked to the lung illness, which has been associated with over 2,000 cases nationwide and 39 fatalities.

The online publication Leafly.com has issued several extensive reports regarding the popularity of Vitamin E among illicit market vendors of e-liquid products. Their reporting indicates that beginning in late 2018, some vendors began to use the oil as an additive in an effort to thicken the consistency of their e-liquids and to mask dilution. Leafly’s latest reporting on the issue appears online here.

Other analyses have suggested that at least some lung-related injuries may be the result of the presence of a specific metal-binding agent in certain types of portable cartridges. Today’s CDC advisory does not rule out the possibility that other possible agents may also be playing a role in the illness, but affirms, “This is the first time that we have detected a potential chemical of concern in biologic samples from patients with these lung injuries.” The agency further adds, “The latest national and state findings suggest products containing THC, particularly from informal sources like friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers, are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”

Full text of the CDC’s November 8 advisory is online here. Full text of the MMWR report is online here.

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Report: Potency of CBD Products Sold Online Often Deviates From What Is Advertised

Generic 8 November 2019 | 0 Comments

CBD-infused products sold online frequently possess significantly lower percentages of CBD than advertised, according to a report published by the online watchdog group LegitScript.com.

Investigators lab-tested 30 CBD products obtained from leading online retailers. Twenty of the thirty products possessed significant deviations in CBD content as compared to what was advertised. Sixteen of the 20 products contained lower percentages of CBD than the amount stated on the product’s label — a finding that is consistent with prior analyses. Some of the products also tested positive for the presence of solvent residue and elevated levels of heavy metals – findings that are also consistent with those of other studies.

Authors also evaluated the marketing practices of 300 leading online CBD retailers. They reported that 92 percent of sellers marketed products in a manner that was non-compliant with current FDA guidelines –- such as by engaging in the sale of CBD-infused foods or by defining their products as ‘dietary supplements.’ Just over half (55 percent) of online retailers also made unsubstantiated health claims about their products. Most sellers also failed to provide information regarding the source of their CBD supply, and 63 percent did not post lab results specific to the purity of their products.

Full text of the LegitScript report, “Online CBD Sales: Why It’s Still Buyer Beware,” is available online here. Additional information is available in the NORML fact-sheet ‘FAQs About Cannabidiol.’

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Virginia: Majority Shift in Legislature Opens Door for Major Marijuana Law Reform

Generic 7 November 2019 | 0 Comments

Tuesday, November 5, control of Virginia’s legislature shifted to democrats, opening the door for decriminalization, expungement, and establishing a clear path to legalizing responsible adult-use in the Commonwealth.

Despite broad support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, decriminalization, expungement, and legalization bills have historically met a swift demise along party lines in the House and Senate Committees that hear criminal justice bills. With democrats now controlling these Committees, these bills will finally have the opportunity for honest debates and to advance for votes on the House and Senate floors.

Virginia’s medical cannabis program, which currently affords patients, caregivers, and processors only an affirmative defense, will also see potential for robust expansion to improve patient access.

“The majority shift will bring a sea change to marijuana policy in the Commonwealth,” said Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML. “Virginia spent over $100M in 2018 enforcing prohibition, which flies in the face of public opinion. Three quarters of Virginians favor fines not crimes for possession of marijuana, and six out of ten support legalizing adult-use. Finally, Virginia has a path to implement evidence-based policies that reflect the attitudes of its constituents.”

Local races also brought reform-minded Commonwealth’s Attorneys to multiple districts, many of whom have pledged not to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses.

 

Join Virginia NORML and help change marijuana laws!

Follow Virginia NORML on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For more information contact Jenn Michelle Pedini.

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California’s Rep. Barbara Lee on Why Legal Cannabis Must Require Social Equity Too

Generic 7 November 2019 | 0 Comments

Representative Barbara Lee

With the 2020 US Presidential race in full swing, we’re witnessing, for the first time, a moment when virtually every single Democratic candidate supports major cannabis law reforms at the federal level. But some Democrats have been fighting for for marijuana policy reform far longer than others. 

One of these politicians is Representative Barbara Lee; she currently represents California’s 13th District which includes Alameda, Berkeley, and Oakland. 

Lee got her start in grassroots activism and political campaigning back in the late ‘60s as a college student in Oakland. In 1972, she worked on the re-election campaign for the first African-American woman elected to Congress, Shirley Chisholm, who would later become the first African-American woman to not only appear in a presidential debate, but to run for president under a major political party, period. The following year, Lee worked on former Black Panther Party member Bobby Seale’s mayoral campaign in Oakland. You could say socially-conscious politics has been in Lee’s blood since the beginning.

Fast forward to 1998 — Rep. Lee won her first election in California’s 9th District during a special election, then went on to win nine more elections by overwhelming majorities. So, it’s clear that Rep. Lee is here to stay, and thank goodness, because the marijuana legalization movement needs minds like hers now more than ever.

Lee, unlike most of her congressional peers, has always opposed America’s War on Drugs as unjust, classist, and racist. Having lived in Los Angeles and Oakland, she’s seen the consequences of the drug war up close and personal, and dismantling prohibition one bill at a time has been one of her missions since she first took office. 

Now that cannabis legalization has the American public’s support, MERRY JANE and NORML reached out to Rep. Lee by email to find out more about her latest marijuana reform efforts, why Congress has been so painfully slow to act, and where she foresees the movement heading into the future.

MERRY JANE: You recently introduced three major cannabis reform bills this year: the REFER Act, the RESPECT Resolution, and the Marijuana Justice Act. All of these focused on social equity and social justice. Why not merge them into a single bill? 

Rep. Barbara Lee: Our challenge in Congress is to end prohibition in a way that makes sense, is lawful, and will help everybody — especially the communities affected most by the failed and racist War on Drugs. All of these bills are different, and it is important to have multiple legislative vehicles to continue to push our marijuana justice agenda.  

My bill, the Marijuana Justice Act (HR 1456), is an important bill that would deschedule marijuana at the federal level and repair some of the harm from the failed War on Drugs by expunging federal marijuana use and possession crimes; incentivizing states through federal funds to amend their cannabis laws; and creating a Community Reinvestment Fund to invest in the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs by funding job training and re-entry programs. 

My resolution — the RESPECT Resolution (HRES 163) — is important to ensure that the legal cannabis industry is equitable and fair. This resolution would encourage policy reforms to help communities of color benefit from and expand their foothold in the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, it is estimated that less than one-fifth of the cannabis industry is owned or operated by people of color. This must change. 

Finally, the REFER Act (HR 4479) would ensure that we block federal interference in state cannabis laws. Specifically, this bill would prevent federal agencies from using taxpayer funds to interfere in state and local cannabis laws. No federal agency should be used to intrude on states’ rights, and that is why this bill is important.    

You’re the co-chair of the US House’s Cannabis Caucus. Since you’ve been there, what is the number-one argument you hear from other members of Congress who oppose marijuana reforms or legalization? What do you think it will take to change their minds? 

First, I want to highlight how thankful I am to be the first African-American woman to be a co-chair of this bipartisan caucus. Having diverse perspectives from people who have been touched by the failed and racist War on Drugs in different capacities is crucial to enacting laws that will make a difference in our communities.  

At this point, our greatest challenge is education on what cannabis prohibition has done and how it has negatively affected the lives of hundreds and thousands of convicted people, their families, and their communities. There are people I work with on the Hill who once were staunch opponents of cannabis legalization, but as they learned more, they have evolved. The Judiciary Committee held a historic hearing this summer where the Maryland State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, testified that the disparate enforcement of marijuana laws not only intensifies the already existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but it also worsens distrust between communities and law enforcement. During our Democratic Caucus Issues Conference earlier this year, I organized a panel of experts on marijuana justice and legalization, and it was incredibly successful. It is this type of outreach to all members of Congress that we must continue. When facts and figures are known and understood, it is hard to dispute them, and it is even harder to stand firm in opposition. So, I believe that the more we educate, the sooner we can turn this issue and win.   

You’ve worked closely with NORML in the past. How has the organization contributed to your work in the California legislature? How has it contributed to reforms at the national level? 

NORML is and has been at the forefront of the cannabis movement. They have also been very vocal in moving public opinion on how to responsibly legalize cannabis, and they’re strong supporters of mine on the cannabis justice bills I have introduced. It has been a pleasure to partner with them on my cannabis justice bills, and I’m looking forward to getting to the finish line with their help and support.   

You endorsed Sen. Kamala Harris for US President earlier this year, and some people criticized the endorsement because of Harris’s past prosecution of marijuana offenders during her time as a state attorney. How do you respond to those critiques of your endorsement? 

I am a proud supporter of Kamala Harris, and I am also pleased that she introduced Chairman Nadler’s companion to the MORE Act in the Senate (S. 2227). This comprehensive legislation deschedules marijuana at the federal level and requires federal courts to expunge prior convictions or to allow for re-sentencing of federal marijuana use and possession crime, among many other things.  

Your district, which includes Oakland, is one of the first to seriously pursue social equity for cannabis licensing and clearing criminal records. Why do you believe Oakland has led the way on this issue, and what progress has the city made, so far, in regard to cannabis equity? 

As I always say, Congressional District 13 is the wokest district in the nation! I am incredibly proud of my district, California’s East Bay, for leading the way. By focusing on uplifting black and brown entrepreneurs who are opening legal cannabis businesses, cities like Oakland and Berkeley have led the way. I do think there’s always more that we can learn and improve to ensure those most impacted by the failed War on Drugs have the opportunity to benefit from the legal cannabis industry.  

In Oakland, back in 2017, the city opened a groundbreaking and historic cannabis equity program, but more work can be done to ensure that a greater number of women-of-color and people-of-color businesses can thrive and become more independent to gain the foothold they need in the industry.  

In your opinion, going forward, what will be the biggest hurdles facing criminal justice and drug law reforms? 

The biggest hurdle is the Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress who don’t want to see our criminal justice system change for people of color. We absolutely need to end the failed and racist War on Drugs, and we can start by passing my Marijuana Justice Act. Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color, fueling mass criminalization and a crisis of over-incarceration. The Marijuana Justice Act would reform our unjust marijuana laws, and provide restorative justice to communities of color torn apart by the failed War on Drugs and will ensure that profits from the legal cannabis industry are put back into the communities that have been hurt the most.   

The overwhelming majority of Americans support medical marijuana reform. Most Americans now support legalization, and even a slight majority of Republicans favor legalization, too. Why has Congress been so slow to enact reforms, despite the American public’s swelling support for legal marijuana? 

For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in the past. As the public’s views toward marijuana have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies are fair, equitable, and inclusive. As I’ve explained to my colleagues, decriminalization does not go far enough because people — mostly communities of color — will still be disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession. 

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, decriminalization would “do nothing to eliminate the lucrative underground market for marijuana, estimated to be worth $40 billion or more in the US.” Legalizing marijuana — or ending the federal prohibition on marijuana — is similar to the end of alcohol prohibition. State and local marijuana laws would not be affected.  

I am committed to moving forward and bringing my colleagues along with me. With my reform bills and the MORE Act, we have a real opportunity to move cannabis justice forward in a transformative way. And I believe we can, and we will. I don’t know where all the hesitation comes from at this point, but I do know that the facts, figures, and justice are on our side. I truly believe we will win this fight, and we will do it very soon. 

Follow Rep. Barbara Lee on Twitter and Facebook

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