Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 1.18.20

Marijuana and Opioids

Saturday, January 18, 2020 | Kevin Baird (202-225-3861)

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) governs much of federal drug policy. It was passed in 1970 by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Although the CSA has been amended, it nevertheless has failed to keep up with circumstances in the country.

This column will look at specific areas of concern related to the CSA, namely marijuana and opioids.

While I support the legitimate use of medicinal marijuana, I have never supported recreational marijuana.

But whether you support or oppose its various uses, cannabis policy nationwide is a mess. States have implemented a wide array of policies regarding medicinal and recreational use, but it is still illegal under federal law.

Perhaps most concerning, federal law actually impedes research into cannabis. We need research data to inform decisions as states and the Federal Government consider more permissive laws, but such information is tough to find because of federal policy.

The reason is that marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the CSA. Schedule I substances are defined as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Under the CSA, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tightly controls how research can be done on Schedule I substances. Further, the only supply licensed for research comes from the University of Mississippi, and that supply is of limited value when it differs from other strains under development or in use.

To correct this issue, I have introduced the Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marihuana Act (LUMMA), which would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug and prohibit federal interference with medicinal marijuana in states where it is legal.

Along with Republican colleagues on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I also requested a hearing on legislation to improve federally-sanctioned research.

The Subcommittee on Health held that hearing on January 15, and LUMMA was one of the bills up for discussion. Witnesses from the DEA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH), all of which have jurisdiction over cannabis policy, offered their testimony.

The witnesses offered a valuable perspective regarding the drawbacks of current federal law.

Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, presented testimony on the current science as well as its limitations. Both the risks and potential benefits of cannabis are not fully understood, but researchers cannot access products being marketed in states that have legalized it, nor can they conduct the clinical trials needed for medical purposes.  

Dr. Volkow raised significant concerns about the risks of recreational marijuana use, but she also noted that we just don’t have enough research to make definitive statements.

My own position is in favor of medicinal marijuana and opposed to recreational use, but for all uses, we need more data. This hearing was a step forward.

At that hearing, I noted one aspect of current federal law regarding cannabis that I find inexplicable. While cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, opioids and barbiturates are classified as Schedule II substances, which are considered less dangerous. While our country continues to grapple with the opioid crisis, which has its origins in over-prescription and accounted for 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, we cannot even conduct research into cannabis because it is deemed too dangerous.

The effects of opioids were fresh in my mind because of a hearing held the previous day in the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on state responses to the opioid crisis.

Significant federal action has taken place in recent years to stem the epidemic. The landmark SUPPORT Act, much of which resulted from work in the Energy and Commerce Committee, became law in October 2018. States, however, remain on the front lines of the crisis, and it was helpful to hear about the various approaches some of them have taken.

We continue to work on better treatment and prevention to make sure we do a better job in the future. Understanding how the crisis occurred in the first place remains important in this effort.

To that end, a group of Republican committee members, including myself, sent letters to the opioid manufacturers Insys Therapeutics, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma in search of more information. Breakdowns and bad actors in the drug supply chain contributed to the crisis, and we sent the letters to manufacturers to learn more about their role in these events.

I hope that the results of all of these efforts will result in more information to guide federal policy toward controlled substances, whether marijuana or opioids.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.

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