The U.S. government is barring federal dollars meant for opioid addiction treatment to be used on medical marijuana.
The move is aimed at states that allow marijuana for medical uses, particularly those letting patients with opioid addiction use pot as a treatment, said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, whose federal agency doles out money to states for treatment programs.
“There’s zero evidence for that,” McCance-Katz said. “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.”
It’s the latest example of the legal standoff between federal and state governments on marijuana. While cannabis is considered an illegal drug by federal officials, 33 states allow patients, with a doctor’s approval, to use it for medical purposes. About a dozen allow recreational use, too.
The new restriction applies to the federal government’s two main grant programs for opioid treatment and an older grant program that supports state efforts to treat alcoholism and drug addiction. The rule affects billions of dollars from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Last week, federal officials held a phone call with state officials to spell out the restriction: Grant money can’t be used to directly or indirectly buy marijuana or permit treatment with pot. The rule also applies to using marijuana to treat mental health disorders.
It does not apply to grants from other federal agencies for research on medical marijuana.
Addiction treatment programs must document their efforts to urge patients to stop if they are currently using marijuana for mental health disorders or addiction, or the programs risk losing federal money, McCance-Katz said.
Each state decides which ailments are on their medical marijuana lists. Many allow patients, with a doctor’s approval, to use it for chronic pain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis, where there is good scientific evidence. Other states have approved health conditions with less scientific backing, like post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety, swayed by firsthand experience from residents.
The evidence that marijuana helps some patients use fewer opioids comes from anecdotal reports or surveys of drug users, which is not the type of research that can prove cause and effect. Earlier this year, a study shot down the notion that medical marijuana laws can prevent opioid overdose deaths, challenging a favorite talking point of legal pot advocates.
Yet, the ongoing overdose crisis has caused New York, New Jersey and other states to turn to marijuana on the premise that pot “is far less risky than injecting heroin or fentanyl, so why not try it?” said Leo Beletsky, a public health policy expert at Northeastern University in Boston.
In 2018, Pennsylvania became the first state to add opioid use disorder to its medical marijuana list. Gov. Tom Wolf, in an announcement of the decision, also designated eight universities to conduct research on marijuana’s use for that and other medical conditions.
It is too early to tell if the new federal rule will affect care, said Rachel Kostelac, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “But we will continue to monitor to ensure individuals are receiving appropriate treatment to combat the opioid epidemic.”
New Mexico, which added opioid use disorder in June, determined that no federal money was going toward marijuana-related treatment, said David Morgan, spokesman for the state’s Department of Health.
On Friday the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put out its first public announcement concerning the April 2020 General Conference that will commemorate 200 years since Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
In the October 2019 conference President Russell M. Nelson asked members to prepare for the historic commemoration and to expect a conference in April that will provide something that has never been done before.
Members of the church ages 11 years and older, including Young Men, Young Women, Relief Society and Elder’s quorums are invited to participate in the evening session of the Saturday conference. The Saturday evening session is usually reserved as the Priesthood Session during April’s conference.
“Rather than having the Priesthood session or the General Women’s Session, the Saturday evening session will be held for all members of the Young Women and Relief Society, and all holders of the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood,” the First Presidency said in a letter. “We look forward to commemorating with members of the Church the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ at this historic conference and throughout the year 2020.”
Since April 2018, the Saturday evening session has alternated between the Priesthood Session in April for all holders of priesthood ages 12 and older and the Women’s Session in October for all women ages 8 and up. The other four sessions (Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon) are for all members of the church and those interested in the faith.
The Boy Scouts of America has mortgaged one of the most spectacular properties it owns, the vast Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, to help secure a line of credit as the financially strapped organization faces a growing wave of new sex-abuse lawsuits.
The BSA said Friday that it has no plans to sell the property, and that the land is being used as collateral to help meet financial needs that include rising insurance costs related to sex-abuse litigation.
However, the move dismayed a member of Philmont’s oversight committee, who says it violates agreements made when the land was donated in 1938. The BSA disputed his assertion.
Top BSA officials signed the document in March, but members of the Philmont Ranch Committee only recently learned of the development, according to committee member Mark Stinnett.
In a memo sent to his fellow members, Stinnett — a Colorado-based lawyer — decried the financial maneuver and the lack of consultation with the committee.
“I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am to be the one to break this news to you,” Stinnett wrote. “The first point of the Scout Law is ‘A Scout is trustworthy.’ I am distressed beyond words at learning that our leaders apparently have not been.”
“But I am even more distressed to learn that Waite Phillips’ magnificent gift has now been put at risk,” Stinnett added.
Phillips was a successful oilman who used some of his fortune to develop a huge ranch in northeastern New Mexico. In 1938, and again in 1941, he donated two large tracts of the ranch to the Boy Scouts.
Since the first Boy Scout camp opened there in 1939, more than 1 million Scouts and other adventurers have camped and hiked on the property, which now covers more than 140,000 acres. One of its many trails leads to the 12,441-foot summit of Baldy Mountain.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, the Boy Scouts said programming and operations at Philmont “continue uninterrupted, and we are committed to ensuring that the property will continue to serve and benefit the Scouting community for years to come. “
“In the face of rising insurance costs, it was necessary for the BSA to take some actions earlier this year to address our current financial situation,” the BSA said. “This included identifying certain properties, including Philmont Scout Ranch, that could be used as collateral .... in order to keep in place an existing line of credit for insurance.”
Disclosure of the mortgage comes at a challenging time for the BSA, which for years has been entangled in costly litigation with plaintiffs who said they were abused by scout leaders in their youth. Hundreds of new lawsuits loom after New York, New Jersey, Arizona and California enacted laws making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to seek damages.
The BSA, headquartered in Irving, Texas, says it’s exploring “all available options” to maintain its programs and has not ruled out the possibility of filing for bankruptcy.
Seeking to ease some of the financial pressure, the BSA announced in October that the annual membership fee for its 2.2 million youth members will rise from $33 to $60, while the fee for adult volunteers will rise from $33 to $36. The news dismayed numerous local Scout leaders, who had already started registering youths for the coming year.
According to Stinnett, the BSA used the ranch as collateral to secure $446 million of debt with J.P. Morgan Chase.
Stinnett wrote that ranch committee member Julie Puckett — a granddaughter of Waite Phillips — had urged BSA officials in recent weeks to recognize Philmont as a restricted asset based on the understandings of all parties when Phillips donated the land.
“BSA management has instead stated its position that Philmont and its endowment are free and clear of restrictions and are thus theirs to take or encumber as they wish,” Stinnett wrote, depicting that stance as a “betrayal” of agreements made with the Phillips family.
The Boy Scouts disputed Stinnett’s assertion, saying nothing in the agreements with the Phillips family prevented the ranch from being used as collateral.
Philmont has been one of scouting’s most popular destinations for decades. At many times of the year, Philmont can’t accommodate all those who want to trek there; it offers an online lottery, held about 18 months in advance, to give everyone an equal shot.
Most activities take place during the summer, but Philmont also has autumn and winter programs. In addition to backpacking treks, it offers horseback riding, burrow packing, gold panning, chuckwagon dinners, rock climbing, mountain biking and sport shooting.
It’s also home to the National Scouting Museum.
Last year, a wildfire ripped through the heart of the ranch. Campsites and several miles of trails were wiped out, leaving behind a scar that will take years and millions of dollars to restore.
At the 2019 Utah Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention, Utah County farmers and agricultural workers talked about issues their farms, businesses and communities face, including shrinking farmland caused by development and mental health issues in rural areas.
The convention, which was held at the Davis Conference Center in Layton and ran from Wednesday to Friday, featured breakout sessions on topics ranging from agritourism in the state to water policy to tips for how agriculturalists can engage with their legislators.
Richard Behling, a livestock farmer who serves as president of the Utah County Farm Bureau, said rapid expansion and development in Utah Valley poses a problem for farmers.
“We’re taking some of the most productive ground in the state of Utah (for farming) and planning houses,” Behling said. He added that he doesn’t have a problem with development and growth, “but we need to consider growing in before we always grow out.”
Another huge concern among farmers, and rural communities in general, is suicide and depression, according to Behling.
“Suicide is a major issue in agriculture right now,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re having a hard time paying the bills, you’ve got issues at home … and you can’t see a way out, you’ve got to have the tools to be able to figure out … how do I solve these problems without going to such extreme measures?”
Depression is particularly an issue for farmers because they prefer to not discuss their struggles, Behling said.
“Farmers don’t like to talk about their weaknesses very much,” the livestock farmer said. “We just work through our problems.”
It is also a concern in agriculture since many farms are passed down and farmers don’t want to let down their parents or grandparents, said Dave Robbins, a grower with Olson’s Greenhouse Gardens in Salem.
“Nobody wants to have a loss of life,” Robbins said. “Especially when they’re trying to provide for their family.”
Josh McMullin, a fourth generation fruit farmer at McMullin Orchards in Payson, said it is difficult to find temporary, seasonal laborers to help harvest the tart cherries, sweet cherries, apples, peaches and pears grown at the orchard between June and October.
“We simply can’t find the guys to do the work,” McMullin said, adding that the orchard relies heavily on the United States Department of Labor’s temporary non-immigrant worker H-2A program to find employees.
McMullin said competition caused by trade and over-saturation of the market have negatively impacted fruit farmers in Utah, which is the second biggest tart cherry producer in the country.
Other countries that grow tart cherries, such as Turkey, subsidize their farmers and pay shipping costs, which means cherries can be shipped from overseas for cheaper than they can be grown in the U.S., said McMullin.
“We don’t want subsidies,” McMullin said. “We just want a level playing field we can compete on.”
Positive developments in agriculture were discussed at the conference as well, such as the production of hemp that was legalized at the federal level this year.
David Politis, a marketing executive who works with the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, said the federal legalization of hemp production serves as a tremendous economic opportunity for Utah farmers.
Industrial hemp, a strain of cannabis that doesn’t contain psychoactive components, has a variety of agricultural uses, including to produce rope, insulation and non energy-intensive alternatives to concrete.
Hemp can also be used to produce cannabidiol (CBD), which has recently been shown to treat pain, anxiety and neurological disorders such as epilepsy.
Politis said hemp production is a “huge opportunity” for the state and county, calling the plant a potential “new cash crop.”
He added that Utah’s climate is ideally suited for growing hemp, which grows best in low humidity, high elevation environments.
Reflecting on development and growth in the valley, Robbins said it is important to remember the significance of agriculture in Utah County, which he described as being one of the most diverse counties in the state in terms of what can be grown.
“It needs to be respected and treated as the treasure that it is,” said Robbins.