My Conversation with Senator Grassley

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA)

U.S. Sen­a­tor Charles Grass­ley (R-IA)

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.

http://www.drugcaucus.senate.gov/
http://www.drugcaucus.senate.gov/content/drug-caucus-hearing-barriers-cannabidiol-research-0
http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title21/chapter13/subchapter1/partB&edition=prelim
http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2015/10/20-war-on-marijuana-research-hudak-wallack
https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/06/23/2015-15479/announcement-of-revision-to-the-department-of-health-and-human-services-guidance-on-procedures-for

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3 Responses to My Conversation with Senator Grassley

  1. Trish says:

    Thanks for this infor­ma­tion. I am curi­ous to know who exact­ly you mean when you say “the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment” has been block­ing research for the past 15 years? Do you mean fed­er­al reg­u­la­to­ry agen­cies, past pres­i­dents, con­gress, Democ­rats, Repub­li­cans, who exact­ly are we talk­ing about here? Thanks.

    • Carl Olsen says:

      Thank you for ask­ing. When mar­i­jua­na was ini­tial­ly placed in sched­ule 1 in 1970 there was a com­mis­sion appoint­ed to deter­mine if a mis­take had been made. That com­mis­sion report­ed in 1972 that it was a mis­take to put mar­i­jua­na in sched­ule 1. A peti­tion to remove mar­i­jua­na from sched­ule 1 was filed in 1972. In 1988, the chief admin­is­tra­tive law judge for the DEA report­ed that mar­i­jua­na should be removed from sched­ule 1 because it is not tox­ic and its one of the safest ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly active sub­stances known to man. In 1989, the DEA admin­is­tra­tor reject­ed his own chief admin­is­tra­tive law judge’s rul­ing. In 1994, a fed­er­al court of appeals affirmed the DEA admin­is­tra­tor and reject­ed the admin­is­tra­tive judge’s rul­ing. Thus, you had two major inci­dents of both Con­gress and the admin­is­tra­tive agen­cies fail­ing to fol­low their own rules. So, in 1996 states began legal­iza­tion mar­i­jua­na for med­ical use. In 1999, the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices added an extra lay­er of review for med­ical mar­i­jua­na research that they removed the day before Sen­a­tor Grassley’s hear­ing on June 24, 2015. So, that makes three times the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has bent over back­wards to make sure mar­i­jua­na does not get fair treat­ment.

  2. Fan­tas­ti­cal­ly well done ..

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