A Summary of our Comments and Recommendations of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act

This post was originally published on SafeAccessNow.com

Last week ASA submitted our comment letter to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY), and Senators Booker (D-NJ) and Wyden (D-OR) on their draft cannabis reform legislation known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA). Released on July 14, the proposed bill would address a wide range of issues ranging from the conflict of laws between the federal and state governments on cannabis to research and restorative justice.

The bill represents an ambitious step forward in federal cannabis policy reform, offering the most comprehensive approach yet contemplated by federal lawmakers, however misses the mark completely on patient needs. Not surprisingly, our comments were focused on conveying patient priorities, specifically:

The need for federal regulators to work with key leaders in cannabis medicine, patients and caregivers to establish a pathway to authorize cannabis medicine at the federal level.

ASA recommends the organization of a temporary or permanent office to lead all federal department and agency reforms related to cannabis following either a rescheduling or descheduling of cannabis. The purpose of the office would be to lead federal reforms and reconcile competing department and agency agendas.

Such an office should include the leadership of key federal departments and agencies who currently maintain jurisdiction over cannabis, and be overseen by a new appointment unaffiliated with any federal department or agency. The head of this office would maintain a deep working knowledge of federal regulatory roles related to cannabis and the suite of U.S. state and foreign nation cannabis reforms implemented, and be dedicated to facilitating an expedited pathway for federally-sanctioned cannabis medicine that produces uniform, consistent, safe and affordable medicine for patients.

ASA also encourages the inclusion of key members of the medical community on the legislation’s proposed Advisory Committee. Specifically ASA urges the inclusion of patients, caregivers, and senior physician, health and research professionals from key fields such as neurology, psychology, pediatrics, palliative medicine, addiction and emergency medicine, who also possess experience in treating patients with cannabis. Together this group would provide recommendations to Congress and the administration on reorganization of federal department and agency jurisdictions and responsibilities to facilitate federally-sanctioned cannabis research, and address associated cannabis patient discrimination issues.

The need for federal leadership beyond rescheduling or descheduling cannabis to authorize federally-sanctioned cannabis medicine.

Beyond simply rescheduling or descheduling cannabis, what will be most critical to the successful establishment of federal oversight will be the reassignment of federal department and agency roles based on the value of cannabis as a medicine. ASA recommends federal departments and agencies to lead a comprehensive review of federal cannabis policies as they exist currently, how those policies affect the health of patients relying on cannabis to treat their health, and how changes to scheduling and agency reassignments would improve health outcomes for all patients.

From the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Health & Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Commerce (DOC), reforms must be made to facilitate a pathway to federally-sanctioned cannabis medicine and address federal policies that are harming cannabis patients.

The need for development of a physician education curriculum to teach today’s doctors and the doctors of tomorrow about applications of cannabis medicine.

Currently the American Medical Association is not collaborating with medical schools and physicians across the country on these subjects, despite the fact that physicians are working with patients across 37 states to apply cannabis medicine to their health conditions.

In the absence of AMA leadership, ASA urges federal lawmakers and regulators to collaborate with medical schools, some of which come from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to establish a medical cannabis educational curriculum that covers the endocannabinoid system, and the composition and applications of cannabis medicine.

The need to comprehensively address all federal policies imposing discrimination on cannabis patients.

Beyond the medical cannabis patient priorities covered in our comments, ASA also requests clarification regarding non-discrimination of federal programs related to cannabis possession and use. Specifically, ASA would like this section to address HUD’s practice of denying housing assistance to or forcing the removal of patients who use cannabis to treat their health. ASA would also like to see this legislation require HHS and the VA to collaborate with the ASA-recommended Advisory Committee to develop a cannabis physician education curriculum for VA and civilian physicians. 

HUD’s policies provide an excellent case study of the impact of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the CSA. HUDs mission to extend housing support to equity communities is compromised by this scheduling. And with millions facing the loss of housing security and economic instability stemming from the COVID pandemic, it is critical that HUD work to remove discriminatory policies pertaining to cannabis and housing.

According to U.S. census data, there are nearly 4.6 million Americans who rely on federal support for housing. However, because federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance under the CSA, any of the 4.6 million Americans who rely on federal support for housing, and who are also medical cannabis patients, are at risk of eviction even if they live in one of the 37 states where medical cannabis is legal. As a result, many of our nation’s medical cannabis patients must choose daily between meeting their health and housing needs.

The need for federal leadership to establish uniform regulations governing laboratory testing of cannabis products to ensure patient safety and consistency of medicine.

Most state cannabis programs have product specifications that products must meet prior to being permitted to be sold including specifications for potency, adulteration, and contamination along with labeling and disclosure requirements. Currently, each state maintains different testing requirements, leaving cannabis patients across 37 states without uniform medicine held to consistent standards. ASA urges Senators Schumer, Wyden, and Booker to work with cannabis regulator groups, practicing cannabis researchers, cannabis testing laboratory operators and scientists to identify appropriate testing and product specification requirements, like the ones in our PFC program

We look forward to working with Senators, Schumer, Wyden and Booker to ensure that this important bill does not leave medical cannabis patients behind even as it implements crucial cannabis reforms. We thank them for their efforts and believe, with our assistance, this bill can serve medical cannabis patients in addition to cannabis consumers and victims of the War on Drugs.

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