DEA: Marijuana Plant Seizures Spike, Arrests Fall in 2019
Washington, DC: Federal law enforcement agents and their partners made fewer marijuana-related arrests in 2019, but seized a far greater number of plants than they did the year before, according to annual data compiled by US Drug Enforcement Administration.
According to figures published in the DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report, the agency and its partners confiscated an estimated four million marijuana plants nationwide in 2019 – up from 2.8 million in 2018.
By contrast, the total number of marijuana-related arrests reported by the DEA fell to 4,718 in 2019 – a decrease of 16 percent from 2018's totals. It was the second-lowest number of arrests reported by the DEA in the past decade. In 2011, for instance, the DEA seized over 8.7 million marijuana plants and made over 8,500 annual arrests as part of its nationwide Eradication/Suppression activities.
Commenting on the longer-term trends, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: "Following the enactment of statewide adult-use cannabis legalization laws, both DEA-related marijuana arrests and seizures have fallen dramatically. That said, these totals affirm that targeting unregulated marijuana-related growing operations still remains a DEA priority, even at a time when most Americans have made it clear that they want cannabis policies to head in a very different direction."
Much of the spike in plant seizures in 2019 was attributable to an increase in activity in California. In 2019, law enforcement eradicated 1,344 outdoor grow sites statewide — up from 889 in 2018, and seized nearly 3.2 million plants, nearly twice the previous year's total.
In 2018, the same year that California began permitting licensed adult-use sales of cannabis, marijuana plant seizures fell nearly 30 percent from the prior year. In February 2019 however, the Governor announced the deployment of national guard troops to track down on illicit marijuana grow operations, an effort which may have played a role in the uptick in seizures in 2019.
According to the DEA, "The DCE/SP began funding eradication programs in Hawaii and California in 1979. The program rapidly expanded to include programs in 25 states by 1982. By 1985, all 50 states were participating in the DCE/SP. ... In 2020, the DEA continued its nation-wide cannabis eradication efforts, providing resources to support the 127 state and local law enforcement agencies that actively participate in the program."
The DEA's data for 2019 is online.
Study: Subjects Report that Cannabis Mitigates Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Baltimore, MD: Cannabis use is associated with subjective improvements in opioid withdrawal symptoms and opioid withdrawal severity, according to survey data published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
Investigators affiliated with the John Hopkins University School of Medicine assessed the impact of cannabis use on symptoms of opioid withdrawal in a cohort of 200 subjects. Participants in the survey acknowledged having recently used cannabis and also having experienced symptoms of opioid withdrawal over the previous 30 days.
Researchers reported that the majority of subjects reported "clinically meaningful" improvements from cannabis, particularly with respect to improved sleep and reduced anxiety.
They concluded: "Across all symptoms, more participants indicated that opioid withdrawal symptoms improved with cannabis relative to those who indicated that cannabis worsened a symptom. On average, withdrawal severity scores nearly doubled on days cannabis was not used. Commonly improved symptoms included anxiety, trouble sleeping, and bone/muscle aches."
"... These results show that cannabis may improve opioid withdrawal symptoms and that the size of the effect is clinically meaningful. ... Prospectively designed studies examining the impact of cannabis and cannabinoids on opioid withdrawal are warranted."
Full text of the study, "The impact of naturalistic cannabis use on self-reported opioid withdrawal," appears in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.
NORML Formally Responds to Proposed Changes to DEA's Marijuana Cultivation Rules
Washington, DC: NORML has formally submitted comments to the US Federal Register opposing the Drug Enforcement Administration's proposed rule changes governing the federal production and distribution of cannabis for clinical research purposes.
Under existing regulations, the agency only licenses one facility — the University of Mississippi — to cultivate cannabis for use in FDA-approved clinical trials. Researchers have consistently criticized the poor quality of these plants, which they say fail to accurately reflect the varieties of marijuana commercially available in the United States. As a result, the DEA has been encouraged for over a decade to expand the pool of federally licensed cannabis producers — a move that the agency has largely resisted.
In 2016, the agency appeared to reconsider its longstanding policy, and publicly stated for the first time that it would consider additional applicants. To date, however, the DEA has failed to either affirm or reject any of the more than 30 applications it has received. Under the proposed rules issued by the DEA on March 23, the agency continues to maintain sole discretion to decide which applicants, if any, will be permitted to grow cannabis for research purposes, and it provides no timeline under which the DEA must act on the numerous applications already before it.
In its response to the DEA's proposed changes, NORML writes: "While NORML has long supported facilitating and expanding domestic clinical research efforts, we do not believe that these proposed rules, if enacted, will achieve this outcome. Rather, we believe that the adoption of these rules may further stonewall efforts to advance our scientific understanding of cannabis by unduly expanding the DEA's authority and control over decisions that ought to be left up to health experts and scientists."
Specifically, the newly proposed rules expand the DEA's authority by declaring it to be the only entity legally permitted to purchase, warehouse, and dispense any cannabis grown under a federal license.
NORML's response concludes: "Rather than compelling scientists to access marijuana products of questionable quality manufactured by a limited number of federally licensed producers, NORML believes that federal regulators should allow investigators to access the cannabis that is currently being produced by the multitude of state-sanctioned growers and retailers throughout the country. ... Doing so would not only facilitate and expedite clinical cannabis research in the United States, but it would also bring about a long overdue end to decades of DEA stonewalling and interference with respect to the advancement of our scientific understanding of the cannabis plant."
Richmond, VA: Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam late last week approved multiple bills amending the state's marijuana laws.
Among them, Senate Bill 2/House Bill 972 reduces marijuana possession penalties from a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, to a civil violation punishable by a $25 fine – no arrest and no criminal record. The measure also seals the records of past marijuana offenders from certain public records requests.
"Virginians have long opposed the criminalization of personal marijuana possession, and Gov. Northam's signature turns that public opinion into public policy," said NORML Development Director Jenn Michelle Pedini, who also serves as the executive director of the state affiliate, Virginia NORML.
The reduced penalties take effect on July 1, 2020. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized the adult possession and use of marijuana.
In addition to marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Northam also approved Senate Bill 1015, which states that no person may be arrested, prosecuted, or denied any right or privilege for participating in the state's medical cannabis program. The program is expected to be operational and dispensing cannabis products to authorized patients by mid-year. Northam also approved Senate Bill 976 expanding and improving this program, and suggested technical amendments which must be approved by the legislature before taking effect on July 1.
In total, 16 marijuana-related bills succeeded in the 2020 Virginia General Assembly.
Review: Oral Use of CBD Reports Anxiolytic and Anti-Psychotic Activity, Few Adverse Effects
Copenhagen, Denmark: In adult subjects, the oral administration of purified CBD is associated with anxiolytic and anti-psychotic activity while possessing few adverse side-effects, according to a literature review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research.
A pair of researchers affiliated with the Nordic Cannabis Research Institute in Denmark reviewed 25 clinical trials assessing the safety and efficacy of CBD in various populations.
Authors reported: "There is some evidence ... that supports anxiolytic effect of acute administration of oral CBD. There is moderate-quality evidence that chronic and acute administration of CBD can improve psychotic symptoms in schizophrenia patients." They reported that there was insufficient evidence at this time in support of the use of CBD for Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or for curbing cravings in those with substance abuse disorders.
With regard to CBD's safety, they concluded: "[M]ost studies reported no adverse events with acute administration and mild to moderate adverse effects with chronic administration. In comparison to other drugs, a better side effect profile was presented."
In June 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, a prescription medicine containing a standardized formulation of plant-derived cannabidiol for the explicit treatment of two rare forms of severe epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Full text of the study, "Dosage, efficacy, and safety of cannabidiol administration in adults: A systematic review of human trials," appears in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research.
Maine: Launch of Marijuana Retailers Faces Further Delays
Augusta, ME: Adult-use marijuana retailers will not be operational by this spring, according to the latest guidance provided by state regulators.
State regulators granted conditional licenses in March to over 30 applicants seeking licensure to operate commercial, adult-use cannabis businesses. However, under the state's licensing regulations, facilities must be dually approved by both state and municipal officials before becoming operational. Representatives at the Maine Office of Marijuana Policy announced week that the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed the ability of municipal officials to review and finalize the approval process.
The agency said that they are "unable to provide any concrete timeline" as to when retail businesses will be operational. Officials added, "[W]e will continue to do everything within our power to ensure a timely launch of this new industry."
Maine voters initially approved the legalization of cannabis sales in November 2016 by passing a statewide initiative, but lawmakers – led by former Republican Gov. Paul LePage – repeatedly took steps to delay the law's implementation. Rules governing adult-use cannabis production and sales were not ultimately finalized until 2019.