President Biden may still oppose full federal cannabis legalization, but his new nominee for US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner is an active proponent of medical marijuana.
More than a full year after he was elected to office, the president has finally gotten around to nominating someone to head the FDA, which has been without a permanent leader since Trump was booted out of the White House. But unlike the federal officials who served in the former administration, new nominee Robert Califf has a broad understanding of the medicinal use of cannabis.
Califf is well qualified for the job, having served as FDA commissioner for a year under the Obama administration. And during his stint as FDA head in 2016, he went on record to discuss the therapeutic use of cannabis at a federally-hosted research summit. At the summit, Califf acknowledged several medicinal uses of cannabis, detailed the FDA's process for evaluating marijuana medicines, and even admitted to prescribing medical marijuana to his own patients.
“We understand that people have identified a number of possible uses of marijuana and marijuana-derived products,” Califf said at the conference, according to Marijuana Moment. “For example, AIDS wasting, epilepsy, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, cancer and chemotherapy-induced nausea. And I had the chance to prescribe some of this in my cardiology practice in people with extreme heart failure who get a wasting cachectic syndrome.”
Califf explained that the FDA was holding back on approving more cannabis-derived medicines due to a lack of conclusive research. “It’s because we haven’t gotten them into the pathway,” he said. “What this means is that no one has demonstrated to FDA that any such product is safe or effective for the treatment of any disease or condition. To change that we need studies conducted using marijuana to rigorously assess the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for medical use.”
Fortunately, cannabis research has advanced extensively since 2016. Excessive federal restrictions have stymied many researchers' attempts to thoroughly investigate the medicinal use of cannabis, but even so, hundreds of new research studies have identified new therapeutic uses for cannabinoid medicines. Federally-sanctioned cannabis research is likely to expand widely in 2022 as well, thanks to a new law allowing researchers to study weed from legal dispensaries. And the DEA has even announced plans to greatly expand its quotas for legal research-grade weed and psychedelics next year.
If his nomination is approved, Califf might just push the FDA to finally advance its long-delayed plans to establish regulations for cannabis medicines and products. Although the federal government legalized hemp and hemp-derived cannabinoids at the start of 2019, the FDA has yet to develop regulations covering the sale and use of foods, drinks, or health supplements containing CBD or other legal cannabinoids. The agency has announced plans to use Reddit and other novel sources to study potential public health issues concerning new cannabinoids, but as usual, the feds are moving at a glacial pace.
At the 2016 summit, Califf said that the FDA actively encourages researchers to submit applications for cannabis medicines along with scientific evidence of their effectiveness. “To do this, we know we need to facilitate the work of companies interested in appropriately bringing safe, effective and quality products to market, including scientifically based research concerning these medicinal uses,” he said, according to Marijuana Moment.