Congress must reject Blumenauer-McClintock amendment on cannabis

When the House of Representatives vote on the upcoming Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill, there is a sneaky provision hidden in the amendment tree that would effectively bar the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from taking action against bad actors in states that have passed “legal” recreational marijuana laws.

The Blumenauer-McClintock amendment, a congressional rider, is similar to the Rohrabacher amendment that was passed into law last year. It protects the marijuana industry from FDA enforcement and prevents meaningful action by the government.

The FDA relies on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to take enforcement action when a company refuses to comply with warnings from the FDA. Should this amendment pass into law, the FDA would be hamstrung as they would not be able to use the DOJ to bring about enforcement action against those who are actively taking advantage of the cover given by this amendment.

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No one wants to arrest and risk permanently ruining the life of someone found to be in the possession of marijuana, but let’s be honest about the reality of today’s marijuana: the 5 percent low potency marijuana of Woodstock is not what the industry is pushing out in “legal” states. Today’s marijuana comes in the form of kid-friendly gummies, candies, sodas and ice creams all infused with up to 99 percent THC. These companies are seeking sky-high profits by marketing these products to hook the next generation of lifelong customers.

Studies have shown a clear link between higher prevalence of marijuana use among youth and density of registered marijuana growers and adult users. Youth are more likely to try new methods of marijuana use, such as edibles or vaping. Even more concerning, new studies are finding that the daily use of highly potent pot is linked with a five-fold increase in the risk of serious mental health disorders such as psychosis.

Pot shops, that this amendment would protect, are also linked to higher levels of property crime in nearby areas. These shops also tend to locate in disadvantaged minority neighborhoods where the residents are less able to fight back against predatory marketing practices.

What’s further, the legalization of marijuana has been a boon for criminal gangs and cartels. These groups are using the legal status of marijuana as a shield and setting up shop in housing developments and on federal lands. The result? In 2017 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 14,692 pounds of marijuana en route to 24 states. This is more than double the 7,116 pounds confiscated in 2016. And just weeks ago, the largest drug bust in Colorado history occurred, with more than 80,000 plants seized as part of a large federal sting.

Finally, our nation is in the midst of a five-alarm fire of addiction. Opioid deaths continue to rise, and studies have shown that marijuana users are 2.6 times more likely than non-users to go on to abuse opioids. Additionally, a study just last week found that marijuana legalization has not led to a reduction in opioid deaths, as pot lobbyists have breathlessly promised. In fact, these deaths have increased in legal states, showing that legalization is not a fix for the opioid crisis.

It is time our policy makers listened to the science and put public health and safety above the profits of addiction industries. The playbook of Big Tobacco is being replicated by Big Marijuana. Don’t be duped, Congress. Reject addiction-for-profit and reject the Blumenauer-McClintock amendment.

Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., is a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama administration and currently serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.