Where Biden’s FDA Pick Stands on Cannabis

President Joe Biden named Robert Califf as his pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. If confirmed, Califf will wield significant power over the future of cannabis and marijuana therapeutics, as well as foods and cosmetics containing cannabinoids.

Califf is a known quantity at the FDA. He briefly served as commissioner during the Obama administration. While his record on cannabis is sparse, there are some indications — both good and bad — about he views the plant.

The Good

At a research summit on cannabis five years ago, Califf acknowledged some medical benefits of cannabis and admitted he had prescribed the plant as a practicing physician.

“We understand that people have identified a number of possible uses of marijuana and marijuana-derived products. For example, AIDS wasting, epilepsy, neuropathic pain, treatment of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, cancer and chemotherapy-induced nausea,” Califf said. “And I had the chance to prescribe some of this in my cardiology practice in people with extreme heart failure who get a wasting cachectic syndrome.”

Califf said it was important to facilitate further study of marijuana therapeutics in order to get them approved.

“This is what we really want and we actively encourage it and want to work with people to make this happen,” he added.

The Bad

In 2019, Califf wrote an op-ed advocating for a ban on flavored vape products to reduce the risk of vaping lung injuries. We now know that a spate of vaping injuries that occurred during that time were tied to unregulated products. Califf’s op-ed has caused concerns from the vaping industry.

“In general his positions on vaping are informed by misunderstanding and ignorance, and a Califf-run FDA would be unlikely to authorize a useful variety of vaping products,” writes Jim McDonald at Vaping360.

Read more about Biden’s pick to head the FDA and some of the cannabis-related issues he would face at Marijuana Moment.