CannaBeat is a curated biweekly selection of top news stories impacting business, research, and culture in the cannabis industry, crafted by Emerge Law Group.
Emerge’s Hot Take
A group of 12 state attorney generals (AGs) are encouraging the DEA to follow a recommendation by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that cannabis be rescheduled from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug. The group signed a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram early last week, and consisted of AGs from Colorado, Illinois, California, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The DEA has yet to finalize a decision on HHS’s Oct. 22 recommendation, and the question of rescheduling remains a key point of debate. This letter follows a Dec. 2022 letter to AG Merrick Garland signed by an opposing group of AGs arguing against rescheduling.
In last week’s letter, the proponent AGs enumerated the benefits to state-regulated cannabis industries that rescheduling could bring, including: the continued establishment of standards for legal cannabis products, enhanced deterrence of illicit and unregulated hemp products, greater research capabilities, and ordinary tax deductions for legitimate cannabis businesses. The group went on to state: “For these reasons, we encourage the DEA to implement a final rule scheduling cannabis to Schedule III based on the Federal Drug Administration’s scientific and medical conclusions. We see this as a public safety imperative and write in support of this policy change.” Those in favor of rescheduling argue that cannabis no longer fits under the Schedule I classification. For example, while Schedule I substances are described under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as having “no accepted medical use,” as of April 24, 2023, 38-states have medical cannabis laws. Additionally, proponents point to the state-tax benefits of a legal cannabis industry. Colorado, for example, is estimated to have collected $2.6 billion in cannabis taxes since retail cannabis legalization in Nov. 2012. Emerge Law Group’s Delia Rojas believes that “attention to this issue is critical for the hemp industry which has been working in a federal grey area that now arguably overlaps with various states’ regulatory structure of cannabis. Rescheduling cannabis would provide more concrete guidance for operators and consumers within both of these industries.”
Other Noteworthy News
Congressional Researchers Detail Limitations of Marijuana Rescheduling for State Markets and Criminal Justice Reform
MARIJUANA MOMENT – “As the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) weighs a marijuana rescheduling recommendation from health officials, congressional researchers are laying out the limitations of the policy change— emphasizing that state cannabis markets would continue to run afoul of federal law, and existing criminal penalties for certain marijuana-related activity would remain in force. In a report published on Tuesday, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) explained the ‘legal consequences’ of moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has advised DEA to do following its comprehensive scientific review. ‘Moving marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, without other legal changes, would not bring the state-legal medical or recreational marijuana industry into compliance with federal controlled substances law,’ CRS said. ‘With respect to medical marijuana, a key difference between placement in Schedule I and Schedule III is that substances in Schedule III have an accepted medical use and may lawfully be dispensed by prescription, while Substances in Schedule I cannot,’ it continued. However, in order for marijuana to be legally prescribed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would need to approve its use, and plant medicines do not typically go through that approval process. ‘Moreover, if one or more marijuana products obtained FDA approval, manufacturers and distributors would need to register with DEA and comply with regulatory requirements that apply to Schedule III substances in order to handle those products. Users of medical marijuana would need to obtain valid prescriptions for the substance from medical providers, subject to federal legal requirements that differ from existing state regulatory requirements for medical marijuana.’ Importantly, the report explains that only certain criminal penalties ‘depend on the schedule in which a substance is classified,’ while others are specific to marijuana and would not automatically change with a Schedule III reclassification.”
HHS Supports FDA’s Call: Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis for Medical Purpose
CANNABIS SCIENCE TECH – “The HHS finds conclusive evidence for medical cannabis use and agreed with the FDA’s recommendation to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule III drug. Recently, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the department agrees with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) conclusion which was that there is conclusive evidence highlighting medical benefits through the use of cannabis. On January 15, 2024, the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a 252 page unredacted review. In the review, the agency backs the FDA’s decision to reschedule cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug of the US Controlled Substances Act. This action would aid cannabis by loosening the federal government’s restrictions. In 2022, the Biden Administration asked for ‘the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.’ By proceeding through these agencies, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be the organization to have the final say on cannabis’s reclassification but representatives from the DEA and HHS will share their opinions before a formal decision is made and will need to review research that has been performed on the plant. [The] unredacted documents provide the Department of Health and Human Services’ stance. The agency states, ‘Pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), I, the Assistant Secretary for Health, am recommending that marijuana, referring to botanical cannabis, … be controlled in Schedule III of the CSA.’”
Multiple Bills Aimed at Legalizing Cannabis in Indiana Introduced
WTHR – “The legalization of marijuana could be a big topic ahead of this year’s legislative session. There are currently nine different bills that have been introduced that include marijuana or cannabis in their titles. Most are aimed at legalizing the plant in some capacity. In past years, lawmakers have said proximity to other states where cannabis is legal has pushed the issue in Indiana. They’ve cited tax revenue in states like Illinois and Michigan as incentives to pass similar legislation. Recently, marijuana has been recommended by scientists for reclassification as a schedule III drug at the federal level. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has previously said he will not legalize marijuana in the Hoosier state until it is federally legalized. ‘I mean, I took an oath,’ Holcomb told 13News in a 2021 interview. ‘So let’s just say I agreed with it, I (also) agreed to uphold the law – state and federal.’ With Gov. Holcomb in his lame duck year, changes could be on the horizon regarding cannabis legislation, especially if the [proposed] bills are able to gain traction.”
Munchies Mystery Solved: Cannabis Activates Brain’s Appetite Neurons
NEUROSCIENCE NEWS – “Researchers uncovered how cannabis triggers appetite in the brain. Using calcium imaging technology to observe brain cells in mice exposed to vaporized cannabis sativa, the team discovered that cannabis activates specific cells in the hypothalamus associated with the anticipation and consumption of food. This finding could lead to novel treatments for appetite disorders in cancer patients, anorexia, and potentially obesity. The study highlights the cannabinoid-1 receptor’s role in controlling Agouti Related Protein neurons, essential for appetite, and demonstrates that disabling these neurons negates cannabis’s appetite-stimulating effects. [Key facts include]:
- Cannabis exposure activates specific hypothalamus neurons related to appetite in mice.
- The cannabinoid-1 receptor controls key ‘feeding’ cells in the hypothalamus, influencing appetite.
- Disabling these key neurons prevents cannabis from stimulating appetite, offering potential therapeutic pathways.”
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