Something we’ve heard: People assuming the call for public comments is about legalizing cannabis in the United States. It’s not.
Before you hammer out an email to the government, here are seven things to consider if you want your comment to be taken seriously.
If you don’t want to out yourself as a cannabis user or advocate to the general public you’ll definitely want to pay attention to No. 3.
Oct. 31, 2018
One of these methods will allow you to request that your personal information is redacted.
7 things to consider before submitting
1. The deadline is Oct. 31, 2018
Electronic comments will be cut off at 11:59 p.m. EST on Oct. 31, 2018, and snail-mailed comments must be postmarked Oct. 31, 2018. No exceptions.
Yes, it’s a short comment period — only 21 days, but that’s because things are moving fast on the international stage. That is especially true now that Canada’s legalization of recreational marijuana becomes effective Oct. 17, making it one of many countries — including the U.S. — that have legalized cannabis in some way.
Each state and country that has legalized cannabis is in violation of U.N. International Drug Control Conventions. However, the U.N., and especially the WHO, has been reviewing the legal and medical status of pot for a few years now.
According to the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, a non-profit based in the United Kingdom, in response to a 2016 WHO report on cannabis:
… cannabis and cannabis resin have never been evaluated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since it was mandated the review of psychoactive substances in 1948. The last evaluation for the international substance control conventions were therefore when the League of Nations evaluated them in 1924 and 1935.
The political breakdown, in favor of ending prohibition:
- Democrats: 69 percent
- Independents who lean Democrat: 75 percent
- Republicans: 45 percent (up from 39 percent in 2015)
- Independents who lean Republican: 59 percent
The updated survey results were released on Oct. 8, 2018.
2. Include the docket number
Whether you mail paper copies of your comments or you submit them online via the Federal Register (the blue “comment now” button at the top right of the page) you must include the docket number. Failure to do so could result in your comment being discarded.
The docket number is FDA-2018-N-3685.
3. These are public comments
The information you submit will be available for anyone to see, so if you have concerns about losing your job, being stigmatized as a parent or don’t want the whole world to know your personal contact information there are special instructions for you.
You need to mail two paper copies of your comments to this address:
Dockets Management Staff (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852.
Per the instructions in the Federal Register:
For written/paper comments submitted to the Dockets Management Staff, FDA will post your comment, as well as any attachments, except for information submitted, marked and identified, as confidential, if submitted as detailed in “Instructions.”
One copy will include the information you claim to be confidential with a heading or cover note that states “THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.” The Agency will review this copy, including the claimed confidential information, in its consideration of comments. The second copy, which will have the claimed confidential information redacted/blacked out, will be available for public viewing and posted on https://www.regulations.gov.
If you do not wish your name and contact information to be made publicly available, you can provide this information on the cover sheet and not in the body of your comments and you must identify this information as “confidential.”
4. This is about international cannabis policy
The Trump administration’s call for public comments is part the prep work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) preparation for our country’s response to a World Health Organization (WHO) call for information from United Nation member countries. (Uh, well … see the update under No. 7, and our bad for missing this tidbit before.)
It’s the WHO that’s deciding if it should recommend that the U.N. reschedule cannabis internationally. And it appears the organization is focused on medical cannabis, not recreational.
The 41st WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) is meeting Nov. 12 through Nov. 16, 2018, where it will review comments from our country and others in addition to other information about cannabis.
According to the international think tank For Alternative Approaches to Addiction:
The final step is expected for March 2019, when the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs will adopt or reject the recommendations of the WHO ECDD.
5. The discussion already seems slanted toward medical cannabis
Agence France-Presse reported on Oct. 10, 2018, that Ghebreyesus had this to say about international cannabis reform:
“Of course we believe that people who need it, especially for pain management, should have it. There should be access,” he said.
That access should be clearly regulated, he added, and throwing open the doors to full legalisation carries its own health risks.
“I think any addictive substance is not good for human health,” he said. “We wouldn’t encourage countries to follow those who are actually … legalising it.”
Keep in mind that Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Community Health and a Master’s of Science in Immunology of Infectious Diseases, is not a medical doctor; he’s an academic and a long-time politician.
He’s also the ultimate audience for your comments. Don’t expect him to be swayed by anything other than hard, cold science.
That means you want to back up any claim you make in your comments with solid research. You can include your research as attachments that will also become public record upon submission.
6. Does the WHO chief think cannabis is addictive? It’s hazy.
Re-read the last two sentences of Ghebreyesus’ quote from point No. 5.
Does Ghebreyesus think cannabis is addictive? It’s unclear from the video of his interview (see for yourself), especially since the WHO meeting in November isn’t only focused on cannabis; the organization is reviewing 15 other drugs at the same time.
I hear what he’s saying in the video, and I see the text on the screen. But I didn’t hear the question, and his statement is vague enough to cover all sorts of drugs.
This part of the conversation may be tough for our own government since the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, states that up to 30 percent of cannabis users may have some degree of “marijuana use disorder.”
There is speculation that NIH cannabis studies are intentionally slanted toward the negative to uphold the status quo: prohibition.
It’s of note that the WHO’s webpage on cannabis doesn’t mention the word addiction.
7. The Trump administration is filtering your comments and may ignore them completely
While the WHO’s review could be an important step toward cannabis reform internationally and in the United States, remember your comments are being filtered through the Trump administration, the one that hired the anti-cannabis Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the country’s top lawyer.
He’s the guy that reversed the Obama-era “Cole Memo” that instructed U.S. Attorneys to only prosecute cannabis cases under limited circumstances. Thanks to his retraction, he thoroughly confused everyone to the point that hemp farmers can’t even buy radio ads in Asheville (no kidding).
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged before a key Senate panel on Wednesday that “there may well be some benefits from medical marijuana” and that it is “perfectly appropriate to study” cannabis.
But Sessions was also quick to dismiss a mounting body of evidence that legal marijuana access is associated with reduced opioid issues.
It is unclear where the president stands on marijuana reform.
In August, Buzz Feed News reported Trump created a committee tasked with changing the narrative about cannabis.
The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.
Per Fox Business News on Oct. 11, 2018:
[Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.] says the president has spoken in support of legalizing medical marijuana on the federal level – and leaving the question of recreational marijuana use up to the states.
So keep in mind that your comments aren’t going directly to the WHO, they’re being compiled and distilled by the unpredictable Trump administration.
One would think a strong showing of comments in favor of ending prohibition would help Trump decide what to do about cannabis reform.
During our podcast interview with Amy King of FAAAT she pointed out that at the very, very bottom of the request for comments in the Federal Register the Trump administration admits that it’s not going to submit any response to the WHO.
Although FDA is, through this notice, requesting comments from interested persons, which will be considered by HHS when it prepares an evaluation of these drug substances, HHS will not now make any recommendations to WHO regarding whether any of these drugs should be subjected to international controls. Instead, HHS will defer such consideration until WHO has made official recommendations to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which are expected to be made in mid-2018. Any HHS position regarding international control of these drug substances will be preceded by another Federal Register notice soliciting public comments …
King says to submit your comments anyway. They become part of the public record and she and others can use them when making their own comments and presentations to international governing bodies and other regulatory agencies in the U.S.
We will link to her podcast interview here as soon as it is published.
At the time of this writing the Federal Register indicated 1,658 comments had been submitted comments thus far.
BY Rhiannon Fionn
Editor & Publisher
Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.
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