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Senate Leader Unveils Long-Awaited Marijuana Descheduling Plan

Washington, DC: United States Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) unveiled draft legislation repealing the federal prohibition of marijuana at a press conference on Wednesday.

The draft legislation, titled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, makes numerous changes to federal marijuana laws while providing deference to states' cannabis policies.

Upon introducing the legislation, Sen. Schumer said: "This is monumental because at long last we are taking steps in the Senate to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs. ... I will use my clout as Majority Leader to make this [legislation] a priority in the Senate. ... It makes eminent sense to legalize marijuana."

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said: "The days of federal prohibition are numbered. These actions by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Booker and Wyden reflect the fact that the supermajority of Americans is demanding that Congress take action to end the cruel and senseless policy of federal prohibition. It is time for legislators to comport federal law with the laws of the growing number of states that have legalized the plant, and it is time for lawmakers to facilitate a federal structure that allows for cannabis commerce so that responsible consumers can obtain high-quality, low-cost cannabis grown right here in America without fear of arrest and incarceration."

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal added: "Our main priority is to ensure that Americans who choose to responsibly consume cannabis are no longer discriminated against under the law. "With one in eight Americans choosing to consume on a semi-regular basis, including nearly one in four veterans, we must end the practice of arresting over 500,000 Americans every year and denying countless others employment, housing, and other civic rights if we are truly to be the โ€˜Land of the Free'. The federal government can take great strides toward rectifying this situation by advancing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act through the legislative process."

Specifically, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act directs the US Attorney General to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act -- thereby allowing states to either maintain or establish their own cannabis regulatory policies free from undue federal interference. Under this scheme, state governments - if they choose to do so - can continue to impose criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses. However, states would not be permitted to prohibit the interstate commerce of legal cannabis products transported through their borders.

The proposal also mandates for the expungement of the records of anyone convicted of a federal, non-violent marijuana offense. The expungements must take place within one year of the law's enactment.

The Act also forbids federal officials from taking discriminatory actions against those who legally use cannabis. It prohibits "individuals from being denied any federal public benefit ... on the basis of [the] use or possession of cannabis." It also, for the first time, permits physicians associated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to make recommendations to their patients to access medical cannabis.

The proposal transfers primary agency jurisdiction over cannabis regulation from the US Drug Enforcement Administration to the Food and Drug Administration and to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in manner similar to the ways in which these agencies already oversee alcohol and tobacco products. A federal excise tax of 10 percent would be imposed within the first year of the law's enactment. Medical cannabis access programs, which are operational in the majority of US states, would not be disrupted under this federal plan.

Pending language in the US House of Representatives, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2021, similarly removes (deschedules) cannabis from the CSA and facilitates the expungement of past federal marijuana-related crimes. House lawmakers passed a previous version of the MORE Act in December by a vote of 228 to 164, marking the first time that a chamber of Congress ever advanced legislation to end the federal prohibition of cannabis. Senate lawmakers, however, failed to take up the bill.

Senators are seeking feedback on the draft legislation through September 1. Public comments may be provided to Cannabis_Reform@finance.senate.gov. In an interview with the publication Politico in April, Sen. Schumer pledged that he would hold a floor vote on the bill "sooner or later" this term. The Senate has never held a floor vote on legislation pertaining to descheduling cannabis.

Study: Youth Cannabis Exposure Not Associated with Residual Cognitive Deficits

Berlin, Germany: Adolescents with moderate exposure to cannabis show no decline in neurocognitive skills compared to controls, according to longitudinal data published in the journal Cognitive Development.

An international team of investigators from Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and the United States examined the relationship between adolescent marijuana use at age 14 and cognitive performance at age 19. Researchers reported that those subjects with light-to-moderate cannabis use after age 15 demonstrated little difference in neurocognitive performance compared to non-users.

Authors determined: "Our data suggests that decision-making is not impaired when cannabis is used in moderation, and onset of use occurs after the age of 15. ... [A]fter controlling for confounders, we found no evidence of effects of cannabis on the remaining neurocognitive variables such as attention, working memory, short-term memory and risk-taking."

They concluded, "In summary, we find no evidence to support the presumption that cannabis consumption leads to a decline in neurocognitive ability."

Full text of the study, "Residual effects of cannabis use on neuropsychological functioning," appears in Cognitive Decline. Additional information is available from NORML's fact sheet, "Marijuana Exposure and Cognitive Performance."

Study: Adolescent Cannabis Use Not Independently Predictive of Depression, Suicidal Ideation

Quebec, Canada: Cannabis use by adolescents is not independently predictive of either depression or suicidal ideation, according to longitudinal data published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

A team of Canadian investigators examined the relationship between cannabis use at age 15 and the likelihood of depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation at age 20 in a cohort of over 1,600 adolescents.

Researchers reported that cannabis use was not independently associated with a greater risk of suicidal thoughts at young adulthood after investigators controlled for subjects' use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances. In addition, researchers reported that adolescents who suffered from depression were more likely to use cannabis later in life, not vice-versa.

Authors concluded: "This population-based study is the first, to our knowledge, to examine the temporal relation between cannabis use, depression and suicidal ideation simultaneously over five years during adolescence. Depression (but not suicidal ideation) predicted weekly cannabis use throughout adolescence. Weekly cannabis use predicted suicidal ideation (but not depression), but this association was no longer significant after taking into account other substance use including alcohol, tobacco and other drugs consumption. ... These findings highlight the importance of targeting depressive symptoms during this sensitive developmental period in an attempt to offset the potential increased use of cannabis over time."

In June, NIH researchers published data in the Journal of the American Medical Association highlighting an association between frequent cannabis use and elevated levels of suicidal ideation in young adults. However, authors of the study neither controlled for the use of other drugs, nor did they assess whether the relationship was bidirectional.

Full text of the study, "Cannabis use, depression and suicidal ideation in adolescence: Direction of associations in a population-based cohort," appears in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Trends in Alcohol Purchases Mixed Following States' Enactment of Marijuana Legalization

Minneapolis, MN: Trends in alcohol sales are inconsistent following the enactment of statewide marijuana legalization laws, according to data published in the Journal of Cannabis Research.

A pair of researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota assessed trends in households' alcohol purchases in marijuana legalization states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) compared to control states.

In two states - Colorado and Oregon - alcohol purchased decreased compared to control states. In Washington, sales of spirits increased compared to control states.

"Results suggest that alcohol and cannabis are not clearly substitutes nor complements to one-another," authors concluded. They added: "Alcohol may substitute or complement cannabis depending on subgroup characteristics, including any history of substance abuse or age. ... As cannabis becomes legalized and more widely available across the USA, there is a greater need to understand any unintentional consequences these policy changes may have for alcohol-related harms and public health problems more broadly."

Numerous studies have sought to resolve whether cannabis and alcohol are more likely to act as substitutes or as complements. A 2020 review of the relevant literature identified 30 studies finding that cannabis acted as a substitute for alcohol and 17 studies finding that the two substances act as complements. Authors of the study concluded, "We identified stronger support for substitution than complementarity, though evidence indicates different effects in different populations and to some extent across different study designs."

Most recently, data published in January in the journal Addiction reported that heavy drinkers significantly reduced their alcohol intake on days when they used cannabis.

Full text of the study, "Recreational cannabis legalization and alcohol purchasing: A difference-in-difference analysis," appears in the Journal of Cannabis Research.

Clinical Trial: Cannabis Extracts Effective for Refractory Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea

Sydney, Australia: The adjunctive use of cannabis extracts significantly reduces symptoms in patients with treatment-resistant chemotherapy-induced nausea, according to clinical trial data published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

Australian researchers compared cannabis extracts (oral capsules containing 2.5mg of THC and 2.5mg of CBD) versus placebo in a cohort of 72 patients with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV).

Researchers reported that the adjunctive use of cannabis extracts was associated with reductions in patients' nausea and vomiting, and also with improvements in subjects' overall quality of life. Although the majority of patients did report side-effects, these effects were largely limited to non-serious events such as sedation and dizziness.

They concluded: "The oral THC:CBD cannabis extract was active and tolerable in preventing CINV, when combined with guideline-consistent antiemetic prophylaxis for a study population with refractory CINV. ... Further research is necessary to determine the significance and durability of improvements observed in specific AQOL-8D [quality of life] dimensions."

Cannabis extracts containing equal ratios of THC and CBD are already available in many countries by prescription under the brand name Sativex. The substance is not legally available in the United States. By contrast, oral synthetic THC, marketed under the brand name Marinol, is FDA-approved in the US for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy.

Full text of the study, "Oral THC;CBD cannabis extract for refractory chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: A randomized, placebo-controlled, phase II crossover trial," appears in Annals of Oncology.

Survey: Medical Cannabis Frequently Used as a Substitute for Prescription Medicines

Aarhus, Denmark: Europeans who consume cannabis for medical purposes frequently report using it to replace prescription medications, according to survey data published in The Harm Reduction Journal.

A team of Dutch researchers surveyed over 2,800 medical cannabis consumers. Over half of respondents (56 percent) reported using cannabis "for the purpose of replacing a prescribed drug."

Those who reported engaging in drug substitution were most likely to do so for pain medications, specifically opioids, as well as for anti-depressants, and arthritis medications.

Forty-six percent of respondents said that their use of medical cannabis led them to "substantially decrease" their use of prescription medications, while 38 percent reported ceasing their use of at least one prescription medicine. Sixty-six percent of respondents perceived cannabis to be "much more effective" than prescription drugs and 86 percent said that it possessed a more favorable side-effect profile.

Numerous studies of North American patients have reported similar findings.

Authors concluded: "Findings from our sample show that most substitution users find CaM [cannabis as medicine] more effective in managing their condition(s) compared to prescription drugs, and that an overwhelming majority found CaM to have a better side effect profile compared to the prescription drugs that they had been prescribed for their condition(s). ... Findings from our study add to the growing body of research indicating that from a user perspective, CaM has a substantial substitution effect for a variety of prescription drugs, most notably opioids."

Full text of the study, "Exploring the use of cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs in a convenience sample," appears in the Harm Reduction Journal.

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