FDA Needs to Move Forward on Marijuana Policy / Laws

Policy on marijuana, hemp, cannabidiol, and related substances in the United States has become a tangled thicket. Whatever your views on the use of these substances, there can be no doubt of the confusion caused by contradictory federal policies and differing state laws.

I have sought to bring some order to this situation through legislation I have introduced or cosponsored with members of both parties. My position has been consistent: for legalization of medical marijuana, against legalization of recreational marijuana, and in support of better rules to permit scientific research on cannabis.

In some areas, we have made progress. The House of Representatives in the coming days expects to take up the Medical Marijuana Research Act that I have co-sponsored and championed for years, and the version we will approve looks likely to pass the Senate and head to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Our bill, sponsored by Democrats and Republicans with differing views on the efficacy of medical marijuana, shows how commonsense reforms can be accomplished. I am optimistic that the results of the bill will be more scientific data on medical marijuana’s impact to guide future legislation and regulations.

Unfortunately, an unlikely bottleneck has come to threaten further progress: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As the country’s primary drug regulatory agency, the FDA should be seeking to bring clarity amid the chaos of current marijuana policy. Although it does not write laws, it has the scientific expertise to suggest a path forward and regulatory authority to help shape that path. However, those of us working on legislation have found the FDA unwilling to engage in a helpful way on these matters.

After the 2018 Farm Bill legalized cannabidiol (CBD), the FDA had the task of establishing regulations for CBD to be sold as a dietary supplement and food ingredient. Since passage of the Farm Bill, CBD sellers have proliferated, but the FDA has not regulated these products.

As a result, states have set their own standards for the use of CBD in food, beverages, and dietary supplements. Customers find different rules governing CBD depending on which state they are in and uncertainty about the safety and effectiveness of these products. Producers, too, are hampered by regulatory uncertainty and the web of differing state rules.

Recognizing the problems created by FDA inaction, Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and I introduced in September 2020 the Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act. Our bill would make hemp, CBD derived from hemp, and other hemp-derived products lawful for use unless otherwise directed by the FDA. That was two years after the Farm Bill.

When the new Congress convened in 2021, we again introduced our bill and subsequently sent a letter to the FDA asking for an update on its assessment of safety data for CBD. The agency did not respond.

In December 2021, I led on another bipartisan bill, this one the CBD Product Safety and Standardization Act introduced by Congresswoman Kathleen Rice (D-NY). This bill would direct the FDA to regulate CBD as the agency would for other food ingredients, setting requirements for quality and labeling, among other areas.

Agencies often provide technical assistance and feedback on bills that would affect them. In this case, the FDA has not done so. I am currently working on a follow-up letter to the agency with Congresswoman Rice restating this request for feedback and inquiring about other FDA regulation processes regarding CBD.

The FDA may not be responding to congressional requests for information, but based on public statements and testimony by its officials, the agency seems wary of acting without more scientific information. In many cases, this choice would be prudent. But CBD has been legal for four years, and products including it are easily found on the market. Inaction when CBD products of dubious safety and benefits flourish poses its own dangers.

In fact, I have been informed by those in the justice system of cases in the Ninth Congressional District of children purchasing over-the-counter CBD gummies with unsafe level of delta-8 THC and suffering harm as a result.

I call on the FDA to move forward with a science-based framework for regulating CBD. It would help bring clarity to an unsettled area of health policy. It would also be doing its job.

– Congressman Morgan Griffith

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