Washington DC -- Today, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) submitted comments to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) in response to the White House’s request for comments issued on July 7. The focus of the request for public input was on the impact of federal drug control policy on equity communities. ASA’s comment letter addressed the challenges faced by patients using medical cannabis ranging from access, patient rights and civil protections to affordability, safety and consistency of cannabis medicine. The letter also raises the need for ONDCP leadership in reorganizing the agendas of federal departments and agencies to facilitate a pathway to federally-sanctioned cannabis medicine, and reform federal drug policies that have disproportionately harmed equity communities.

“Americans for Safe Access appreciates the administration’s interest in hearing from expert organizations and the public on the impact of national cannabis policy on equity communities.

“From HUD, the VA and OPM to HHS, NIST and DOT - federal policies and programs currently punish patients for using medicine that is legal across 37 states. As the nation’s largest patient-centered medical cannabis organization, we hope that our suggestions are adopted swiftly and that patients’ rights and needs are central as the Office explores reforms more deeply,” said ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai.

Below is a brief summary of comments submitted by ASA.

  • On Reforming Federal Drug Policy on Cannabis Medicine

ONDCP should begin working internally with federal departments and agencies to lead a comprehensive review of federal cannabis policies as they exist currently, how those policies affect the health of equity communities, and how changes to the federal scheduling of cannabis under the CSA and corollary reassignments of departments and agencies would improve health outcomes for equity populations. From the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Housing and Urban development to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health & Human Services and the Department of Commerce, reforms must be made to facilitate a pathway to federally-sanctioned cannabis medicine and address federal policies that are disproportionately impacting the health equity communities.

  • On the Impact of Federal Drug Policy on Cannabis Patient Populations 

With millions facing the loss of housing security and economic instability stemming from the COVID pandemic, it is critical that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) work to remove discriminatory policies pertaining to cannabis and housing. Because federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance under the CSA, any of the 4.6 million Americans who rely on federal support for housing, and who are also medical cannabis patients, are at risk of eviction even if they live in one of the 37 states where medical cannabis is legal. As a result, many of our nation’s medical cannabis patients must choose daily between meeting their health and housing needs.

Veterans desperately need the leadership of ONDCP in working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as they face a confusing system of federal and state laws related to physician engagement and affordable access. Veterans who rely on the VA as their primary healthcare provider are unable to receive medical cannabis recommendations from their doctors, even if they live in a state with a medical cannabis program. And, veterans who use medical cannabis to treat their condition must also pay for this medication out-of-pocket with no financial support or subsidy from the VA.

  • On the Affordability of Cannabis Medicine

The federal CSA Schedule I classification of cannabis has discouraged individual insurance providers and the Department of Veterans Affairs from providing any subsidy to help cannabis patients cover the cost of their medicine. As state and local regulatory models impose high compliance, licensing and tax costs on cannabis businesses, many of these costs are passed onto consumers to include equity patients. Though states have developed programs to shield patients from state and local tax payments, the price of legal cannabis medicine is still too expensive for most equity patients. The availability of legal medical cannabis also continues to challenge equity communities, as most local governments in cannabis reform states have not licensed medical cannabis retailers, or have failed to license them in sufficient volume to meet the demand of patients. The high cost of legal cannabis, lack of private insurance subsidy and limited availability of legal medical retailers drives a large population of equity patients to purchase medicine from illegal market providers, where patient and product safety are not guaranteed.

  • On Inclusion of Stakeholders to Improve State and Local Cannabis Equity Programs

As the Office considers elements of federal cannabis reform, ASA encourages it to establish relationships with organizations like ASA, the American Medical Association Cannabis Task Force, the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, the Cannabis Nurses Network, Cannabis Nurses of Color, the Association for Cannabis Health Equity and Medicine. 

ASA also encourages ONDCP to partner with the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor, and national associations such as the Cannabis Regulators Association, National Governors Association, Council of State Governments, National Association of Counties, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, as well as policy experts in this arena. Together, this group of advisors can help ONDCP explore modifications to existing federal programs, as well as new partnerships in order to help state and local governments and equity cannabis business operators with training resources for business operation, state and local cannabis compliance, and capital support such as low or zero-interest loans to assist equity businesses with the high costs of doing business in the cannabis space.

See our full comments here.