Marijuana in the House
Jul 17, 2019

LEAD STORY

U.S. lawmakers weighed reforming marijuana laws in an “historic” hearing last week.  The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security sought input on how to reform federal marijuana laws.  However, lawmakers did not appear to have a clear consensus on the best approach.

 

ON THE TABLE

Although there is bipartisan support for reforming marijuana laws, lawmakers are at odds on how to go about it.  Some of the options: whether to give states the right to legalize on their own, remove marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act, legalize it, or include promoting social and racial equity in marijuana laws.  The STATES Act is among the most popular federal marijuana reform bills.  It would amend the CSA and exempt state-approved marijuana activity from federal enforcement, but does not address any racial or social concerns.

 

AGAINST ALL ODDS

In a surprise move, the Republican-controlled Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs will hold a formal hearing next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.  Current federal laws prevent banks from servicing state-licensed marijuana growers and retailers forcing those business to operate on a cash-only basis.  The SAFE Banking Act, a bipartisan bill that would shield stakeholders in the cannabis industry from being punished by federal banking regulators, was recently endorsed by 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, and a majority of state attorneys general.  All groups called on Congress to act on it.

 

EYE IN THE SKY

In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) denied rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug citing the lack of research on the medicinal benefit of marijuana.  Noting the lack of research still, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a federal bill to bolster marijuana and CBD research at the end of June.  The lead Senate sponsors noted that research is necessary to determine the potential medical and health benefits of these drugs.  It’s becoming a matter of how, not whether, Congress should reform marijuana laws.

 

Historic Opioid Trial

OKLAHOMA

The Oklahoma trial alleging that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) fueled the opioid epidemic and seeking over $17 billion in damages wrapped up this week.  This is the first civil trial that could hold a pharmaceutical company responsible for one of the worst opioid epidemics in American history.  Most states and more than 1,600 local and tribal governments are suing drug makers who manufactured opioids and drug distributors as they try to recoup the billions of dollars spent to address the human costs of opioid addiction.

 

PUBLIC NUISANCE

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s lawyers based its case on the claim of public nuisance, which refers to actions that harm members of the public, including injury to public health.  They argued that J&J contributed to the oversupply of opioids in the state, leading to an epidemic of addiction and deaths.  J&J argued that every step of its drug manufacturing and supply process is strictly regulated and the drugs are prescribed by highly trained physicians. Originally, two other drug manufacturers were scheduled to be on trial with J&J, but Oklahoma agreed to settle with Purdue Pharma for $270 million and Teva Pharmaceuticals for $85 million.  The judge expects to rule in about a month.

 

Making Our Way Around the Country

CONNECTICUT

The Chairman of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC), Stephen Morelli, published a memo this week regarding the use of utilization review.  Morelli reiterated the use of utilization review (UR) within the confines of an approved medical care plan is permitted by the WCC.  However, outside the confines of a medical care plan, the UR outcome is not binding and the commissioner makes the final determination as to the reasonableness and necessity of medical treatment.  Morelli stated that all payers must advise all parties if the UR is not binding.  In cases where there is no medical care plan in place, any unnecessary UR and holding claimants to arbitrary time frames and appeals processes that delayed treatment may subject the payer to fines and sanctions for undue delays.

 

MEDICARE SECONDARY PAYER

In case you missed it, lawmakers in the U.S. Senate introduced the Provide Accurate Information Directly (PAID) Act at the end of June.  Lead Co-Sponsors Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) aim to improve the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (MSP) by requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to return beneficiary enrollment information in Part C Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to Non-Group Health Plan (NGHP) Responsible Reporting Entities (RREs). Currently, when an NGHP RRE queries an injured party's Medicare status, CMS solely returns enrollment information regarding Medicare Parts A and B.  The measure would help the claims industry obtain timely and relevant information about claim payments and help resolve claims faster.  There is a companion bill (H.R. 1375) that was introduced in February.  We are pleased to be a part of this effort to help Medicare beneficiaries, businesses, and the claims industry.

 

IN MEMORIAM

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died this week at the age of 99.  After serving 34 years, Stevens retired from the bench in 2010 and became the third-longest serving justice in the Supreme Court’s history.  During his time, Stevens authored some 400 majority opinions for the court on almost every issue imaginable.  His most notable dissenting opinion was Bush v. Gore, which effectively ended the presidential race in favor of George W. Bush.  Speaking at Washington University School of Law in 2016, Stevens was asked about his legacy.  His reply: “I did the best I could.” 

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