Marijuana Legalization Activist Could Lead Trump’s FDA

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Marijuana law reform advocates finally got some potentially good news out of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team this week following a series of ardent legalization opponents being named to Cabinet-level positions.

Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday that Jim O’Neill, a marijuana legalization proponent, is being considered to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Trump administration.

If O’Neill is formally appointed and then confirmed by the U.S. Senate as commissioner of food and drugs, it could bode extremely well for future efforts to reform federal marijuana laws.

The FDA is responsible for conducting the scientific analyses of cannabis’s harms and medical benefits that rescheduling rulings are based on. Before the most recent denial of a rescheduling petition by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in August, FDA concluded that marijuana has a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.”

But there is in fact a lot of scientific research showing marijuana to be medically beneficial and relatively safe. Presumably, under O’Neill’s leadership, FDA would more seriously consider and weigh that literature before making future reclassification recommendations.

O’Neill, a close associate of tech financier and Trump transition team member Peter Thiel, has been active in the movement to reform marijuana laws. For example, he was a founding member of the board of directors of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, a California-based legalization advocacy organization.

(Full disclosure: The author of this article served alongside O’Neill on the CCPR board.)

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana policies. But he has already named several ardent cannabis law reform opponents to his Cabinet.

For example, he selected U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who recently said “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” to be attorney general. He picked Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, who has regularly voted against medical cannabis amendments, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. And this week Trump signaled that Gen. John Kelly, another critic of legalization, would lead the Department of Homeland Security. He also tapped Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who led a federal lawsuit against neighboring Colorado’s marijuana law, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

With O’Neill at FDA, however, marijuana law reformers would have a key ally in position to help shape the Trump administration’s position on cannabis policy.

O’Neill, who is not a medical professional, previously served in the Department of Health and Human Services under the George W. Bush administration. According to Bloomberg, he is a proponent of a concept called “progressive approval” for drugs, through which substances could be available on the market as soon as they are deemed safe for use even if there isn’t clear data showing them to be effective in treating any particular condition.

“We should reform FDA so there is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety — and let people start using them, at their own risk, but not much risk of safety,” he said in a 2014 speech. “Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”

Medical cannabis advocates are hopeful that O’Neill would apply his consumer freedom philosophy to natural, plant-based medicines in addition to synthetic pharmaceuticals. Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access told Marijuana.com that FDA’s current approval process for botanicals is “unworkable” and that as a result, very few have been approved.

“O’Neill’s appointment could lead to an overhaul of rules pertaining to botanical medicine, which could create a much friendlier environment for research and approval of cannabis and other botanicals,” he said.

But alluding to possible conflicts that could arise if marijuana’s status under the Controlled Substances Act is changed and it becomes legally available with doctors’ prescriptions, Liszewski said it would remain a key question as to whether existing state-legal cannabis businesses would be protected from harassment by the Justice Department.

“It’s important that whatever positive reforms are made at FDA under the Trump administration should not justify a crackdown on state medical cannabis programs by other parts of the federal government,” he said.

At this point, however, O’Neill’s name is only being informally floated in the press, and the Trump transition team has not officially signaled intent to place him in the FDA post. If he is formally nominated early next year, he would sit for a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions before facing a vote by the full body.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

12 Comments

  1. Catherine Rusk on

    O’Neill would be the ONLY person in the new government with a logical mind. the other appointees are close minded.
    marijuana is STILL a schedule 1 drug!!!!!! the research is extensive!! no medicinal application!! another antiquated, broken part of our system.
    i personally need to research this man first. if he a good choice i’ll be contacting as many government officials as possible…when marijuana is legal i think that the herbals will be taken more seriously. Kratom is a herb and not a narcotic. our Kratom fight will be easy and a heck of alot cheaper. rant over…

    • Act Local . . . Think Global . . . and act now, when we the people must take the lead!

      This is a time when and where the American people lead the “leaders” and all the folks we just elected to public office — from the local city council to the office of the Presidency of the United States — all must listen and perform their specific duties to represent the people’s wishes. It is our responsibility to be very clear and specific as to what our wishes and expectations are of our elected public officials, and if necessary, our demands made as American citizens and voters.

      The American people decisively declared in this election that we will not tolerate politicians who listen to just a small group of mega-wealthy friends or political and corporate cronies, all of whom have their own idea as to the direction our country should go; an’ damn the best interests of the people!

      The issue of cannabis is one of national as well as local importance, very visibly in public view, that has a dramatic and long lasting impact upon all of us, our families, our communities. It also has extremely high and increasingly visible voter support among the general public in most states.

      As a Medical Marijuana Amendment II Volunteer Coordinator, from 2012 through 2016, gathering signed petitions and conducting informational seminars with the general public, labor unions, AARP Chapters and other social groups, I did my best to secure the passage of Medical Marijuana Amendment II into Florida law.

      I helped as well this last year as a community organizer and a Regional Volunteer Coordinator for the FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM, working in conjunction to pass the “follow-up” constitutional amendment ballot initiative for legal cannabis, the RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS.

      The RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS is short, simple, clear and concise: Adults in Florida over the age of twenty-one have the right to possess, use and grow their own cannabis for personal medicinal use, or to use to relax and enjoy, on private property, and within your own home.

      Voters approving Medical Marijuana in Florida in 2016 took a step forward.
      Veterans using the VA Hospital system in Florida will no longer be denied their medications, since Florida Voters approved by 71% to make cannabis legal for medicinal use. Millions more wait for us to take the next step.

      Floridians For Freedom are taking that step, collecting thousands of signed petitions from Florida Voters so we can vote for legal cannabis in 2018.

      Although it will not help millions of people who remain ineligible for legal use of cannabis or those eligible patients unable to afford the high costs, our Medical Marijuana Amendment II will help many thousands of those most in need to stay alive; curing cancer, easing their pain and suffering for the next two years, until we vote to approve the RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS in 2018. Then, all patients and adults can make personal use of cannabis, to relax, to enjoy, or for medicinal use.

      Unless the federal government changes course and intervenes or nullifies all 34 state laws approving legal cannabis, as well as our 2016 Medical Marijuana Florida State Constitutional Amendment II, we expect within our next election in 2018 to pass our Right Of Adults To Cannabis by more than a 65% margin.

      It is possible our newly elected federal government will renew and invigorate the immoral prohibition of cannabis, thereby continuing to make criminals out of U.S. citizens and patients for using cannabis, but the government would now be going directly against the majority will of the people within the United States, many of whom vote.

      At such a time and circumstance, the American people may well find it’s collective voice and vote to override any attempt to roll back state laws permitting cannabis use that have already been set in place or recently voted upon.

      Along with booting out the “establishment wings” of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in these elections, the American people may yet take control of their own country now “owned” by elements of the billionaire and millionaire corrupt class of folks whose international financial ties link most industries and corporations infamously together.

      FLORIDIANS FOR FREEDOM is a non partisan citizen’s movement which arose in Florida following more than 20 years of begging our elected politicians of both major political parties when in power, the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party, to pass medical marijuana law.

      Just as other citizen movements have sprung up all around the country and exist in nearly every other state which has passed or intends to vote to approve either fully legal cannabis or medical marijuana laws, we feel we need to act now, not wait years longer, to end the prohibition of cannabis.

      Sign a RIGHT OF ADULTS TO CANNABIS petition is the next step one citizen can take, collecting as many as you can from other Florida Voters over the coming year, to put this new law on the ballot to Vote on in 2018.

      Join us! Call or contact us at floridiansforfreedom.com and Floridians For Freedom Alachua and Marion County Chapters on Facebook.

      Christopher M. Kennard North Central Florida FFF Volunteer Coordinator
      (352) 375-0375 peacecmk@gmail.com

      • “The American people decisively declared in this election that we will not tolerate politicians who listen to just a small group of mega-wealthy friends or political and corporate cronies, all of whom have their own idea as to the direction our country should go; an’ damn the best interests of the people!”

        Agreed. Yet the Cabinet pics thus far are ultra-wealthy political and corporate cronies on steroids. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, one of the most reactionary and outspoken dinosaurs of prohibition, would be far more powerful both Constitutionally and politically than any head of FDA.

        At this point, O’Neill’s name is being floated – he is not the nominee as of now, which says the transition team knows his Senate confirmation will be rocky. They’re waiting to see the reaction. In addition to saying medication doesn’t need to actually work to be FDA approved, he has an eccentric, to say the least, background. Also, he would be the first FDA head in 50 years that is not a Doctor or medical researcher. His degree is in the Humanities. Not only will he be a target of Senate Democrats, which is to be expected, his cannabis advocacy will be questioned by socially conservative Republicans who are against legalization.

        Rachel Maddow is a partisan to be sure, but there are some good points made here: http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow/watch/will-trump-put-eccentricity-over-expertise-in-choice-for-fda-827684931504

  2. Trump is actually turning out to be a decent, sensible president. Jobs saved, new jobs introduced, Defcon nuclear threat at lowest levels, DOW at highest levels, dollar at an all-time high. And all this before he is even technically president. Huh.

    This man has already achieved more than any President-elect in history.

    • Jobs saved? More Carrier jobs went Mexico than were saved. What new jobs do you speak off? Haven’t heard of any. The nuclear threat, Dow or dollar didn’t suddenly change in one month……….If you recall, almost ALL the world’s stock markets took a hit from the election. They all – yes even the DOW – opened down the day after the election (with the one notable exception being Russia!)

  3. Gordon Rowland on

    Cannabis has never caused a single confirmed fatality, and recent research indicates it is less likely to cause addiction than alcohol, tobacco and many pharmaceuticals, with minimal if any, adverse long-term side effects. Cannabis is also analgesic, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-psychotic, anti-spasmodic, anxiolytic and neuro-protective.

    In recent years, the discovery of the endocannabinoid system has revealed the intimate association between cannabis and human health, opening up new avenues of research for the prevention and treatment of many conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, many cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, stroke and many others.

    A particularly important property of cannabis is apoptosis – the selective targeting of cancerous cells to self-destruct, while leaving normal cells unaffected. This represents a challenge to the lucrative chemotherapy/radiation model, with its numerous adverse side effects.

    The endocannabinoid system is a central regulatory system that affects a wide range of biological processes including homeostasis (stability of physiological processes), vital to healthy functioning. The system involves a group of compounds, collectively known as cannabinoids, produced within the human body (and in other mammals), with a significantly higher concentration in breast milk. A 2004 study, published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, describes how the endocannabinoids in maternal milk appear to activate the sucking reflex of breast-feeding infants.

    Since tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] was first isolated in 1964, over 80 cannabinoids, including cannabidiol [CBD], have been identified. When ingested or vaporised, THC, CBD and other cannabinoids augment or replace the body’s own endocannabinoids, damaged or depleted through exposure to environmental pollutants, synthetic food additives and other stressors.

    These compounds work synergistically to produce the ‘entourage effect.’ (Ref, British Journal of Pharmacology http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/)

    Cannabis is thus a truly restorative, ‘re-creational’ herb, a food akin to vitamins and essential minerals, in contrast to alcohol, pharmaceutical medicines and tobacco.

    The real reason cannabis is prohibited, is because it provides an organic, sustainable, non-toxic alternative to powerful vested interests, including alcohol, tobacco and, in particular, the pharmaceutical industry, that Prof. Peter Gotzsche exposes in his 2013 book ‘Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare.’

    Here in Australia, the federal government, via the Therapeutic Goods Administration, accepts the aggregated information submitted by pharmaceutical companies seeking approval, without first analysing the raw data. The TGA then allows them to market their often inadequately assessed products in Australia: Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Roche, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Eli Lilly and Abbott Laboratories – Gotzsche’s ten companies in his ‘Hall of Shame for Big Pharma’, have all been found guilty and fined for criminal offences. Bayer, Novo Nordisk, Purdue and several others also have criminal records. Eli Lilly pleaded guilty in 2009 to criminal charges of illegal off-label marketing of olanzapine [Zyprexa], the lethal antipsychotic drug implicated in severe adverse side effects and many homicides and suicides.

    The world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, another repeat offender, was fined US$2.3 billion in 2009 for ‘intent to defraud or mislead’, and has been charged with further offences since then. Yet the TGA still allows these companies to push their drugs in Australia, yielding to pharmaceutical industry pressure, and following the equally compromised and ineffectual US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    As Prof. Gotzsche’s book reveals, pharmaceutical companies’ sales teams (‘educators’) befriend and bribe influential individuals and organisations, including regulatory agencies, while pharmaceutical company research departments often manipulate trial protocols and falsify research findings. We leave you to make your own inferences, and take appropriate action.

    Meanwhile, many otherwise law-abiding citizens are treated as criminals for choosing cannabis, as safer and more effective in controlling and sometimes curing their conditions, in preference to the synthesized products made by these criminal corporations. Likewise, many recreational users prefer cannabis as safer and more agreeable than alcohol or tobacco.

    • It’s worth noting that Gotzsche has not just written extensively against Big Pharma but has also been a very prolific opponent of mammography. Besides “The Mammogram Myth” by Rolf Hefti, Gotzsche’s “Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies and Controversy” are the only two really extensive independent works on the deep fraud of mammography.

      As such Gotzsche really exposes the business of conventional allopathic medicine and the medical establishment as highly corrupt.

  4. Charles Sanders on

    This is the most positive article on Cannabis that I have ever read and I research Cannabis alot. We need more information like this…people are going to jail for an erb that will help their health issues it’s very confusing. Nobody has died from Cannabis use can’t say the same about liquor, tobacco and pharmaceuticals. I am a proud Vietnam Veteran not a criminal!

  5. O’Neill sounds like a great choice to head the FDA! I certainly hope Trump appoints him! I am going to tweet @ Trump re: my support of O’Neill for this position. As a medical social worker, I have spoken with many patients who have wonderful stories of how much they benefitted from herbal supplements and botanicals. It would be such a service to patients, and the American people as a whole, to have someone progressively-minded in a powerful position in the FDA. There is a whole world of phytobeneficials out there, so much potential for enhanced well-being and quality of life!

  6. With all this hysteria, it’s good to consider the worst case scenario. – All Sessions could do is, at most, close down stores and large commercial grows. – The feds cannot force state and local police to go against state law and arrest consumers.

    In the eight legal states (and to varying degree in the 28 medical marijuana states) it will always be legal to possess, consume, grow and give away small amounts of marijuana. – This is the form of legalization achieved in Washington, D.C.

    So, at worst, we would all be on the D.C. model for a few years. – Then, with the sky falling nowhere, restrictions on sales would gradually fade.

  7. Donald Trump is a lifelong Democrat … he ran as a Republican because Hillary had already been coronated as the Democratic candidate … Trump is basically a conservative Democrat wearing the clothes of a liberal Republican … he will bring the GOP closer to the middle of the road on things such as abortion rights and personal liberties and he WILL make America great again … I believe that the only folks who will really have to step-up their game under a President Trump are the environmentalists (of which I’m one), but that movement has actually become a bit static over the past couple of decades and will absolutely answer the bell to protect the environment …

  8. If Drumpf sees a way to make money off of it, he’ll legalize it. If he can’t monetize it, TOO BAD for everyone needing it and should have it, myself included!

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