Filed in the “This is why we can’t have nice things” category, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again using his power to make life as hard as possible for medicinal cannabis users. And this time, a century-old D.C. think tank is not letting it go.
On October 26, Sessions answered questions from a Senate Judiciary Committee on government-approved medicinal cannabis research. Specifically, Senator Orrin Hatch questioned Sessions on the hold-up around the approval of 26 applications from private groups to grow weed, for research and clinical trial usage. Sessions’ response? “I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but I don’t—I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers.” For some context, Washington state alone has more than one hundred known weed farms.
In August 2016, the DEA announced that it would mellow out a little bit and begin to take applications from groups who wanted to grow research-grade cannabis. Currently, there is one—yes, one—group in all of the USA that is federally permitted to grow cannabis and supply it for clinical research. That group is Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi, which has held this honor for almost 50 years. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “loud weed,” Mississippi is not the first place that comes to mind. And unfortunately, the few folks who have actually gotten access to the university’s buds have been sorely disappointed.
Sue Sisley is one of those people. A primary care physician in Arizona, Sisley applied to the federal government for a cannabis sample while working with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies on a project to explore the effects of cannabis on veterans suffering from PTSD. But what she received “didn’t resemble cannabis,” she told PBS earlier this year. “It didn’t smell like cannabis.” She said it looked more like green talcum powder. Further, when her team tested the samples, none of the cannabis was as strong as they requested, and much of it was contaminated with mold. “They weren’t able to produce what we were asking for.”
In response to Sessions’ regressive thinking, The Brookings Institute, an influential non-profit public policy organization founded in 1916 in Washington D.C, published a scathing essay burning Sessions down. The piece pointed out his “biases on the issue, a division of opinion between him and the president he serves, and a federal government effort to stand in the way of the free conduct of research.” Indeed, Sessions dragging his feet in approving those applications, which were all hand-picked by the DEA, is him allowing his personal biases to get in the way of him doing his job. Sessions has told anyone who will listen about his negative views on cannabis and people who use it. In case you forgot, he once said he thought the KKK were all right until “I found out they smoke weed.” The Institute points out that this is possibly the very worst time for delays in cannabis research as more and more groups are showing interest in it, national approval ratings for medicinal cannabis are at 80 percent, and we are beginning to see the effects on whole communities of making cannabis accessible to people struggling with opioid addiction. Plus, there’s the revitalizing effect the cannabis industry is having on local markets.
But if we’ve learned anything from this administration, it’s that if they have the chance to make something worse, they will try as hard as they can to fulfill that destiny.