MMJ moratorium, outdated DEA views, and more 


click to enlarge City Councilor Don Knight spearheaded the anti-mmj ordinance. - KIRK WOUNDY
  • Kirk Woundy
  • City Councilor Don Knight spearheaded the anti-mmj ordinance.

Knight's gambit

Last week, Colorado Springs' long-debated medical marijuana moratorium ordinance passed 6 to 3, with City Councilors Jill Gaebler, Bill Murray and Helen Collins opposing. With bitter resignation, the local medical marijuana industry accepted the inevitability of a six-month freeze on land permits for any new MMJ businesses — growing to dispensing, and everything in between.

Though the industry's concerns resulted in the ordinance being amended to allow existing businesses to expand or appeal in case of hardship, it's still a mess.

Jason Warf, director of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, is worried that while the ordinance allows existing businesses to ask Council to approve land use permits — if an MMJ business' lease is about to end and the owners cannot renew or extend the lease or buy the property — the ordinance doesn't formalize a process for such an appeal.

"If we could have spelled it out, we would have set up a board of sorts to conduct the appeal process," he says, "[which] would include people from the industry."

Furthermore, he notes that the ordinance conflates recreational marijuana with Springs residents' medical needs. In the various "Whereas"es, for instance, the ordinance still talks about Amendment 64 and the city's ban on recreational marijuana, issues with no relevance to Amendment 20.

He says, "We have to get past these unjust fears that cannabis is some gateway drug or a hard narcotic, which it just isn't."

Joke's on you

During a press briefing earlier this month, acting DEA head Chuck Rosenberg displayed his antiquated view on medical marijuana.

"What really bothers me," he said, "is the notion that marijuana is also medicinal — because it's not. We can have an intellectually honest debate about whether we should legalize something that is bad and dangerous, but don't call it medicine — that is a joke."

With a 2014 CNN poll showing that around 88 percent of Americans support legal medical marijuana, it's no surprise that Rosenberg's comments have hit America's outrage button. Marijuana advocacy website marijuanamajority.com started a petition on change.org asking the Obama administration to fire Rosenberg. As of Tuesday morning, the petition had garnered 87,000 signatures out of the 100,000 required to mandate a White House response.

Last week, the DEA backpedaled, tying Rosenberg's response to the fact that the Food and Drug Administration hasn't approved any marijuana products for medical use. But Rosenberg's attitude ignores the most current medical literature. For instance, June saw the Journal of the American Medical Association publishing "Cannabinoids for Medical Use, A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis," which concluded that there is "moderate-quality evidence to support the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain and spasticity."

Unfortunately, marijuana's Schedule 1 classification makes it very hard to run clinical trials and establish high-quality evidence. And the catch-22 is that Rosenberg and the DEA are in charge of approving clinical trials for Schedule 1 drugs.

To read or sign the petition, go to chn.ge/1kol2Hu.

Veteran's Day gift

The U.S. Senate did something useful and long overdue last week. Into the 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, they tucked an amendment allowing Veterans Health Administration doctors to green-light medical marijuana use.

Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that the path to MMJ for vets is clear. U.S. News & World Report noted that the House of Representatives rejected the same idea by three votes back in April. And as we all learned from Schoolhouse Rock, if the House and Senate wind up passing different versions of the same bill, they have to negotiate a compromise bill before it goes to the White House.

Still, Michael Collins, Drug Policy Alliance deputy director of national affairs, told U.S. News that because April's margin of rejection was so narrow, and because both the House and Senate showed bipartisan support for the measure, odds are good that it will make it to President Obama's desk. That, of course, is assuming Congress manages to submit an overall spending plan to Obama before a looming Dec. 11 government shutdown.

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