I spoke with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley on Monday, November 2, 2015. I’ve tried contacting him many times before, but this is the first time we’ve actually spoken. The reason for that is because Senator Grassley has developed a new interest in cannabis. On June 24, 2015, in their positions as co-chairs of the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Senator Grassley and Senator Diane Feinstein held a hearing on cannabidiol, a component of marijuana that has a long history of reducing seizures. You can watch a video of the hearing and download the written statements of the witnesses here.
Because federal classification of controlled substances involves two federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Senator Grassley and Senator Feinstein wrote letters to the administrative agencies asking them to explain the situation. See Title 21, United States Code, Section 811. The letters are damning. This is something Senator Grassley is known for, investigating the federal government, so it is pleasing to see him investigating something that I consider important for public health.
Senator Grassley sent me copies of the following documents:
|October 20, 2014||Letter to DOJ and DHHS|
|December 16, 2014||DHHS Response|
|January 5, 2015||DOJ Response|
|May 13, 2015||Letter to DHHS|
|May 13, 2015||Letter to DOJ|
|June 23, 2015||DHHS Response|
|June 23, 2015||DOJ Response|
What these documents show is that the federal government has been blocking research for at least 15 years or longer. Senator Grassley told me there hasn’t been sufficient resarch to support reclassification of marijuana. Well, that’s obviously because the federal government has been blocking the research. Catch 22. It’s interesting to note the timing here, because the DHHS published a notice that it’s changing this policy in the Federal Register on June 23, 2015, the day before Senator Grassley’s hearing. The Brookings Institute recently released a report detailing how the federal government has been blocking research on marijuana, which you can download here. So, there’s real damage here.
As the Brookings Institute points out, this is just scratching the surface. Further impeding research, there is only one manufacturer of marijuana in the United States and only one supplier. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is the sole supplier and the University of Mississippi is the sole grower. Just the name of that agency tells you what you need to know. The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s mission is to understand the abuse of drugs, not legitimize their medical use. Catch 22.
Senator Grassley told me he objects to the patchwork of 40 state laws allowing some form of marijuana to be used for medical purposes. I responded by saying the federal government created that patchwork by its failure to act in good faith. The federal government has lost credibility on this issue, plain and simple.
Senator Grassley told me he objects to reclassifying marijuana without some medical evidence. Senator Grassley suggested that cannabidiol might be the evidence that leads to reclassification of the plant. I responded by saying that his idea makes perfect sense, but the damage has already been done.
Senator Grassley suggested that if cannabidiol is rescheduled to schedule 2 or lower then marijuana is the source of a federally accepted medicine. That might lead to reclassification of the plant. I responded by saying cannabidiol has absolutely zero abuse potential and it won’t be in schedule 2, or in any schedule. A substance with zero abuse potential does not belong in any of the schedules.
I also pointed out that we have had synthetic cannabinoids in schedule 2 and schedule 3 now for almost 30 years. Those synthetic cannabinoids would not exist if they hadn’t been first discovered naturally occurring in the marijuana plant. So, cannabidiol would not be the first cannabinoid to be rescheduled, but it would be the first one that isn’t being manufactured synthetically. There is a cannabidiol product called Epidiolex that is manufactured in England and appears to be nearing FDA approval for marketing in the United States. So, while I agreed that Epidiolex would make a good case for rescheduling the whole marijuana plant, it also shows we are lagging behind the rest of the world in doing research on cannabis. We haven’t been doing the research because we have been blocking it for decades.
I told Senator Grassley about my work with the Iowa Board of Pharmacy and he asked me to keep him updated. He said he would keep me updated on any progress he sees at the federal level. I sent his attorneys an update on my recent petition with the Iowa Board of Pharmacy a few days later and they responded immediately, so I get the sense that Senator Grassley is now a valuable partner as we move forward. He seems to be listening, and that’s a good thing. He really can’t defend the behavior of the federal government, and the more he looks at it, the more he’s going to come to the same realization the Iowa Senate came to by a vote of 44–0-6 on April 15, 2015, marijuana does not belong in schedule 1.