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Federal Grant Funding Restrictions Through SAMHSA Updated in Favor of Medical Cannabis

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Federal grant restrictions revolving around cannabis-related grant funding through the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration (SAMHSA) was announced earlier this week.

News broke when the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (PDDAP) made note of a change in text for organizations that are eligible to receive federal SAMHSA grants on August 2. 

“SAMHSA grant funds may not be used to purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana. See, e.g., 45 C.F.R. 75.300(a) (requiring HHS to ensure that Federal funding is expended in full accordance with U.S. statutory and public policy requirements); 21 U.S.C. 812(c)(10) and 841 (prohibiting the possession, manufacture, sale, purchase or distribution of marijuana),” reads the new wording

The former text was much longer and spoke about the prohibition of funds that were used “…to purchase, prescribe, or provide marijuana or treatment using marijuana.” The original clause regarding medical cannabis limitations was added in 2020 and automatically carried on to the 2021 version.

Officials from the PDDAP released a memo on June 2, 2021, warning that SAMHSA’s policy could put health funding at risk. The memo also included a SAMHSA FAQ page with five questions and answers, dated January 1, 2020, that clarified its stance on medical cannabis. The final question/answer revolved around if a patient was adamant in continuing to use medical cannabis, which was paired with a restricting answer: 

“No. The organization cannot serve a patient who is on medical marijuana for a mental or substance use disorder and wishes to remain on such treatment,” it reads. “SAMHSA promotes the use of evidence-based practices, and there is no evidence for such a treatment; in fact, there is increasing evidence that marijuana can further exacerbate mental health symptoms. 

“Further, SAMHSA believes the use of marijuana for these conditions in a treatment program designed to treat these conditions can compromise the therapeutic environment for those patients receiving services who wish to remain abstinent, use evidence-based treatment approaches and achieve recovery.”

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Federal Grant Funding Info Updated

PDDAP released a more recent memo on August 2, stating that the new update took effect on August 1. Alongside the new text as it’s written, the memo also addresses the removal of prohibition text. “The updated term no longer includes the second piece of prohibition: ‘Grant funds also cannot be provided to any individual who or organization that provides or permits marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders.’”

SAMHSA has had a negative history with medical cannabis in the past. In September 2020, the agency revived the idea of testing hair for job applicants and employees. The proposal stated that “hair testing potentially offers several benefits when compared to urine,” including “a longer window of drug detection,” even though it also added that the process can be unreliable. 

“…Scientific evidence [suggests] that melanin pigments may influence the amount of drug incorporated into hair,” and also found that “codeine concentrations in black hair were seven-fold higher than those in brown hair and 14-15-fold higher than those in blond hair,” the proposal stated. 

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In 2019, SAMHSA stated that it would not grant money to support opioid addition if cannabis consumption was involved. In an interview, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, whose agency passed out grant money for state programs at the time, expressed her opinion about medical cannabis. 

“We felt that it was time to make it clear we did not want individuals receiving funds for treatment services to be exposed to marijuana and somehow given the impression that it’s a treatment,” she told the Associated Press, stating that there is “zero evidence” that medical cannabis was a viable medical treatment.

This exciting update could mean good news for funding and the cannabis industry.



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