The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tapped Norman Birenbaum to be its first senior policy advisor on cannabis regulatory matters. 

The move means a variety of things for cannabis going forward. Whether it’s just pointing to the day as another where it became that much more wildly evident how normalized cannabis is becoming, or as clear evidence of the feds attempting to get their ducks in a row for what is to come. 

Birenbaum spent the last few years helping New York transition to the era of legal cannabis. He also made a wildly graceful exit presuming a future crackdown on the large amount of sellers currently operating in the gray market, be it from pop-up tables in central park or modified school buses. While in jest, the light-handed enforcement situation is exactly what regulators should be doing while they figure it out. This would bode well for a federal transition to legalization under the guidance of someone like Birenbaum. 

Birenbaum has actively taken a role in pushing wider regulatory progress since taking on the New York gig, where he helped then-governor Andrew Cuomo usher in the eras of legal cannabis in what was once where the enforcement of cannabis laws was most oppressive. Much of the time over the years that enforcement was targeted at black and brown youth as the research showed time and time again. 

Before the move to New York, Birenbaum helped rework Rhode Island’s medical cannabis program. Birenbaum’s work now transcends the state level. He was the inaugural president of The Cannabis Regulators Association. 

“The Cannabis Regulators Association will provide a much-needed forum for regulators to engage with each other, to identify and develop best practices, create model policies that safeguard public health and safety, and promote regulatory certainty for industry participants,” Birenbaum said at the time of the CRA’s launch. 

Coming from that kind of collaborative headspace as a regulator is going to be key. Half the problems in the game started with someone that was sure they were right and the rest of us are likely still paying for it. 

NORML Political Director Morgan Fox couldn’t speak to Birenbaum’s work in NY, but he was certainly happy to see the FDA making policy moves. 

“Given the agency’s relatively ineffective approach to this issue over the years, it is good to see them being more proactive and bringing on people with actual cannabis experience,” Fox told L.A. Weekly. “The FDA’s work related to cannabis is likely going to increase and become more complicated in the not-too-distant future, and it should be preparing for this now by continuing to bring on additional staff with a wide array of expertise in the space.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) also was happy to see someone with a bit more cannabis experience getting in the mix at the FDA.

Aaron Smith, NCIA’s founder, told L.A. Weekly, “We’re hopeful that Mr. Birenbaum’s background in cannabis regulations will bring to the FDA the experience and understanding of the nuances they will need to effectively regulate the vastly diverse array of cannabinoid products, including CBD products an increasing number of Americans are relying on for pain relief and other benefits.”

The US Cannabis Council (USCC) also is backing the move. It’s one of the newer faces in cannabis policy given NORML and MPP’s decades-long histories of pushing reform in the nation’s capital. But MPP (Marijuana Policy Project) did join over 60 other organizations in the group. Some of them have been around longer than others, but the collective lobbying power is undeniable. 

“We’re pleased that the Biden administration has signaled its growing interest in good-faith engagement on cannabis issues by creating a new adviser position within the FDA dedicated to cannabis research and regulation,” Khadijah Tribble, USCC CEO. “Mr. Birenbaum’s vast experience managing multiple states’ medical cannabis efforts will surely inform how he approaches the challenges and opportunities ahead for our growing industry. The USCC is ready and eager to work with Mr. Birenbaum on all aspects of cannabis reform.”


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