Cannabis is among the several topics that need addressing during Joe Biden’s tenure as President of the United States. Marijuana legalization for recreational and medicinal use has been a hot topic at the federal level for a long time but the recent wave of state-by-state legalizations and changing attitudes among political leaders in and out of D.C. have thrust cannabis into the limelight. Chuck Schumer’s ongoing efforts to pass a marijuana reform bill have yet to materialize fully, but there are some promising signs of what’s to come among federal health agencies.
This week, Joe Biden made his nomination for the Food and Drugs Administration commissioner: Dr. Robert Califf. The American cardiologist is a familiar face to Biden, who worked alongside Califf during his tenure as the head of the FDA during the Obama administration. The choice comes after heavy pressure from health officials who weren’t enthusiastic about Dr. Stephen Hahn’s lackluster stance against how the Trump administration handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Biden still needs to go through Congress to approve Califf, the cardiologist’s past seems like a promising sign towards federal legalization. Per Marijuana Moment, Califf’s history with cannabis has been well-documented over the years. During a research summit in 2016, Califf hinted towards the FDA further exploring the medicinal benefits of cannabis, which stemmed from his own experiences prescribing cannabis products to his patients as a cardiac doctor. He acknowledged that plenty of patients rely on cannabinoid therapy to manage their ailments.
At the same cannabis research summit, he added that while there’s no evidence that cannabis is an effective medication, more research and studies into the plant’s medicinal properties could change that. “What this means is that no one has demonstrated to [the] FDA that any such product is safe or effective for the treatment of any disease or condition,” Califf said at the 2016 summit. “To change that, we need studies conducted using marijuana to rigorously assess the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for medical use.”
Scientific research is a crucial component of cannabis legalization on a federal level. Cannabis remains categorized as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Biden has previously said that he would pursue expunging prior cannabis convictions and decriminalizing cannabis as a whole, which many have urged him to do. However, increased research is needed on the benefits of cannabis and its effects on the American public, he added.
“We know we need to facilitate the work of companies interested inappropriately bringing safe, effective, and quality products to market, including scientifically based research concerning these medicinal uses,” Califf added in 2016. Califf’s stance on cannabis is far more clear-cut than current acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock, who reportedly wouldn’t respond to the question of whether cannabis is more dangerous than tobacco.
Califf might not have been presented to Congress yet, but it seems that Biden’s already taking the cue when it comes to cannabis legalization. After nominating Califf to return to his position as the head of the FDA, Biden signed an infrastructure bill that includes provisions that promote cannabis research. Scientists and researchers will now have access to state-wide dispensary cannabis, rather than government-grown marijuana, to study the effects and benefits of the plant. Biden’s also encouraging states that have legalized cannabis to educate people on impaired driving as part of the legislation.
However, previous grievances were surrounding this aspect of the bill among advocates who felt that it would unfairly target cannabis users. Studies have shown, in states where cannabis is legal, there hasn’t been any increase in cannabis-related accidents or injuries since legalization. A new study in Canada – the second country in the world to federally legalize cannabis – revealed that there hasn’t been any increase in traffic accidents since establishing a legal marijuana market where purchasing disposable vapes and pre-rolled joints are as easy as buying a 6-pack of beer (well, okay, there are plenty of regulations but cannabis is commonplace in the Great White North).
Dr. Califf might very well be the right man to push cannabis legalization forward. While more and more states have legalized cannabis, Califf will have to focus on several marijuana-related issues, including the current legal status of Delta-8 THC, which has caused a stir across the country, and the marketing of CBD products for medicinal purposes.