ASA Activist Newsletter - 2014 Year in Review

January 06, 2015 | William Dolphin

ASA’s 2014 Year in Review

  • Federal Ceasefire in Medical Cannabis States
  • States Pass or Implement Cannabis Access Laws
  • ASA Report Reveals Limitations of Current State Laws
  • Landmark Cannabis Business Guidelines Released, Certification Program Launched
  • Federal Supply of Research Cannabis Increased
  • ASA Conference Brings Citizen Lobbyists to Capitol
  • Save $100 - Register for Unity 2015 today!

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Federal Ceasefire in Medical Cannabis States

Congress in 2014 called a ceasefire in the federal war on medical cannabis. In the first change in federal law affecting patients since 1970, when it classified cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medical use, Congress approved a budget amendment that prohibits Justice Department funds from being used to prevent states from implementing medical cannabis laws. The new restrictions on federal enforcement are part of the 2015 funding bill for the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) budgets and expire at the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2015. 

Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr or CJS amendment, it first passed the House in May 2014 by a bipartisan Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA)219-189 vote and was then passed by both houses of Congress as part of an omnibus spending bill on December 13, 2014. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on December 16, 2014.w affecting patients since 1970, when it classified cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medical use, Congress approved a budget amendment that prohibits Justice Department funds from being used to prevent states from implementing medical cannabis laws. The new restrictions on federal enforcement are part of the 2015 funding bill for the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) budgets and expire at the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2015.

“The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment will dramatically curtail DOJ enforcement,” said ASA Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski, who lobbied tireless on Capitol Hill on behalf of this historic measure. “The legislative intent is clear: this doesn’t just prevent direct interference with state implementation but should also end federal medical cannabis raids, arrests, criminal prosecutions, and civil asset forfeiture lawsuits, as well as providing current medical cannabis prisoners with a way to petition for their release.”

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was not brought up for a separate vote in the Senate, but it survived conference committee negotiations thanks to the efforts of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, and the patients and parent-activists from Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia who successfully lobbied Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the conference committee’s chief opponents to the amendment. 

Similar bipartisan amendments to limit federal enforcement in medical cannabis states have been offered seven times over the past 12 years without success. ASA has worked on several fronts to pressure Congress, including citizen lobbying as part of its annual National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference and Lobby Day in Washington, DC. Hundreds of visits from patients and advocates have helped demonstrate to Members of Congress that medical cannabis is an issue important to their constituents.

Following the House vote on the CJS Amendment, ASA ran 30-second TV advertisements  in Maryland, South Florida, and Washington State targeting Members of Congress who opposed medical cannabis reform. The ads are part of ASA’s "Vote Medical Marijuana" campaign, launched in 2014, which includes an interactive online tool (VoteMedicalMarijuana.org) that provides voting statistics and a report card for each Members of Congress. The campaign has also run educational print ads in USAToday and will have a national ad for the SuperBowl.

When the House vote took place in May, 49 Republicans joined 170 Democrats in favor of the amendment, one of the strongest bipartisan showings on a controversial piece of legislation in recent history. The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment was sponsored this year by six Republican and six Democrat House members: Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Paul Broun (R-GA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Steve Stockman (R-TX), Dina Titus (D-NV), Justin Amash (R-MI) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

More Information:
Huffington Post blog from ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer
Statement by Rep. Sam Farr
Press release from Dana Rohrabacher

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States Pass or Implement Cannabis Access Laws

2014 was a remarkable year for safe access. New medical access programs were set in motion by the legislatures in Maryland, Minnesota and New York, a host of conservative states enacted bills limited to cannabis extracts, and Alaska, Oregon and DC approved adult use.

On April 14, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed into law HB 881, which replaces a flawed program that only reduced criminal penalties for patients with a robust one that provides both legal protections and regulated distribution to qualifying patients.  In 2003, the legislature adopted the Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, which provided an affirmative defense but did not prevent patients from being arrested, prosecuted or having to pay a fine. Last year, the legislature passed HB 1101, which would allow "Academic Medical Centers" to distribute cannabis to patients, but eligible hospitals declined to participate. The new law gives regulatory control of dispensaries to a Medical Cannabis Commission that was established last year.

On May 29, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed SF 2470 into law, creating a medical cannabis program that will license two manufacturers of medical cannabis oil extracts and eight distribution centers across the state. The Minnesota law prohibits any use and possession of the dried, whole-plant flowers, including smoking, which is the method and form most widely used. Only concentrated oil extracts are permitted. Registered patients are protected from arrest, prosecution and civil discrimination. The state is to start supplying patients with medical cannabis oil by July 1, 2015.

On July 7, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a restrictive bill making it the latest state to allow legal access to medical cannabis. New York’s law will protect qualified patients from arrest, prosecution and discrimination, and allow as many as 20 licensed distribution facilities across the state. However, the law only allows for products that use an extracted form of medical cannabis, like oil and edibles, which are to be produced under a state-licensed manufacturing process.

Implementation Moving Forward

States that enacted medical cannabis laws recently -- MinnesotaNew Hampshire and Illinois -- are in the licensing phase for businesses that will serve patients, while several with delayed programs – MassachusettsNew JerseyMaryland and Rhode Island -- are also moving forward to serve patients. In Connecticut, officials have approved six dispensaries to serve the patients the state has been registering for the past two years while the distribution system was being established.

In the District of Columbia, outgoing Mayor Vincent Gray in August signed The Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014, which removes the restrictive list of qualifying conditions and increases the plant limit at licensed cultivation centers from 95 to 500 plants.  D.C. joins Massachusetts and California as the only jurisdictions that entrust physicians with evaluating which patients and conditions may respond to medical cannabis. The District Department of Health (DOH) has also streamlined the patient application process, made it less difficult for physicians to obtain recommendation forms, begun to hold semi-regular public meetings of the program's Advisory Committee, and improved the turnaround time for patients to obtain their registration identification cards.

Eleven States Enact CBD Extract Bills

Eleven states enacted laws in 2014 making allowance for limited medical use of cannabis extracts rich in CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid with many therapeutic benefits. Most of make no provision for producing or acquiring the medicines, and most restrict qualifying conditions to a short list. Nonetheless, that brings to 35 the number of states that have repudiated the federal government’s position that cannabis has no accepted medical use. The states also expand the political support of medical access, adding many “Red States” to the list of Congressional delegations with a stake in reforming outdated federal policy.  The 11 are: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Utah.

Adult Use Now the Law in Five States

In November, voters in AlaskaOregon and the District of Columbia approved ballot measures to allow legal access to cannabis for all adults over the age of 21. Each measure will create a different type of program, with Oregon establishing a broad regulated distribution system, Alaska allowing for cultivation and possession of small amounts of cannabis as well as limited sales, and the District of Columbia simply removing all criminal penalties for personal possession. The three join Colorado and Washington in allowing all adults to use cannabis if the choose.

More information:
Text of Maryland medical cannabis law
Text of Minnesota medical cannabis law
Text of New York medical cannabis law

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ASA Report Reveals Limitations of Current State Laws

ASA report: Medical Marijuana in the U.S.The day New York enacted its limited new law, Americans for Safe Access issued a report analyzing the effectiveness of all the state medical cannabis laws in the US. Nearly half of the U.S. population now lives in a state with a medical cannabis program.

ASA’s report, "Medical Marijuana Access in the U.S.," evaluates state laws from a patient's perspective, assigning grades to each state. ASA’s analysis finds that no state has yet established an ideal, comprehensive program, and restrictive medical cannabis laws fail to meet the needs of most patients. 

The state-by-state evaluation reveals that most provide patients with protection from both arrest and prosecution, incorporate a production and distribution program, and allow patients and their caregivers to cultivate a personal supply of medical cannabis. Recent state laws are more likely to recognize the importance of protecting patients from civil discrimination, and more product safety and industry standards have been established in the past few years.

Progress has not been steady. As some states have implemented production and distribution models, local governments have found ways to ban such activity, leaving tens of thousands of patients without access. After years of failed implementation, state laws such as those in Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey remain largely inoperable.
 
No state received a grade of "A”, but the four highest-ranking states are California, Maine, Rhode Island, and Washington. The full report and explanation of evaluation criteria can be downloaded atAmericansForSafeAccess.org/medical_marijuana_access_in_the_usa.
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Landmark Cannabis Business Guidelines Released, Certification Program Launched

American Herbal Products AssociationThe American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) released the last in a series of medical cannabis guidelines July 22, completing its seed-to-sale recommendations for industry and regulators. The non-profit AHPA, which has been for more than three decades the leading trade organization representing the multi-billion dollar herbal products industry, has identified best-practice standards for cannabis operations ranging from cultivation and distribution to manufacturing and laboratory analytics.

American Herbal PharmacopeiaThose standards are the basis of a new ASA program for the medical cannabis industry called Patient Focused Certification (PFC), which audits and certifies compliance for all types of medical cannabis entities nationwide. The PFC program also incorporates the expert standards set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties. 

"Medical cannabis is one of the safest medicines used today," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "But industry standards that ensure the quality and reliability of all cannabis products are critical to the confidence of both consumers and regulators."

PFC industry trainings and certifications are co-produced with the Cannabis Training Institute (CTI) to certify that cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and laboratory technicians adhere to AHPA and AHP standards. The PFC certification process is overseen by a review board of scientists, doctors, and industry and regulatory experts. They conduct both a scheduled and surprise facility audit, as well as a staff training audit, and establish procedures for validating complaints. Certified medical cannabis businesses and products can exhibit the PFC seal to help patients make educated purchasing decisions. Dozens of medical cannabis businesses have either achieved certification or begun the PFC process, including in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia.


More information:
AHPA Standards
AHP Cannabis monograph (Abridged version)
Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program

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Federal Supply of Research Cannabis Increased

The amount of cannabis available for federally approved research studies was increased 3,000 percent this spring, according to an April 29 announcement from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is increasing its annual cannabis production from 21 kg – the limit for the past four years -- to 650 kg in order to meet current and anticipated research needs. There is one federally licensed cannabis cultivation center in the U.S., a 4-acre facility at the University of Mississippi.

Few research studies of medical cannabis are approved in the U.S., and those that are approved have had difficulty obtaining research cannabis from NIDA, as federal law requires.

One such case is a federally approved study of how medical cannabis may help treat veterans with PTSD. The study’s sponsor took NIDA to court in 2007, asking a DEA judge to approve an additional cultivation license to increase availability. The court’s 87-page ruling noted research has been blocked “because NIDA has refused to provide them with marijuana.”   The PTSD study, to be conducted by Dr. Sue Sisley, has just received a grant of $2 million from the State of Colorado.

In 2007 when that ruling was issued, the NIDA cultivation quota was 4,500kg of cannabis, nearly 700% more than the newly approved amount. That 4,500 kg quota was the level for five years, from 2005 to 2009. The three years before that, 2002 to 2004, it was 840 kg, hundreds of pounds more than the new 2014 quota.

Of the 21 kg that NIDA has produced annually since 2010, more than half goes to the four patients still enrolled in the Investigational New Drug program. Between them, the four receive 11.6 kg of free cannabis cigarettes from NIDA, leaving little more than 9 kg for all U.S. research studies combined.

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ASA Conference Brings Citizen Lobbyists to Capitol

More than 200 physicians, researchers and medical cannabis patients gathered in Washington, D.C. at the beginning of April for ASA’s second annual National Unity Conference. Two days of panels featured medical and legal experts, policymakers, and a wide array of workshops focusing on scientific research, strategic planning, and skills building. On Monday, ASA hosted a Capitol Hill briefing for Congressional staffers, and more than 200 advocates lobbied their representatives in support of HR 689, the States' Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Acts. While that bill has not yet passed, the citizen lobbying contributed to building the broad bipartisan coalition that passed the CJS Amendment that defunds federal enforcement targeting medical cannabis patients and state programs. For 2015, the lobbying efforts will take on greater importance, with the CJS Amendment both providing a political opening and expiring September 30.

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Save $100—Register for Unity 2015 Today!

ASA has extended early registration pricing for ASA’s third-annual National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference March 27-31, in Washington, DC. Register before January 31 to save $100 on registration. The tentative agenda for the conference is up on the website, as well as scholarship applications. You can also save money by booking your room now at the Lowes Madison Hotel in the heart of DC. Be sure to tell them you’re with ASA’s National Unity Conference when you make your reservation. Find out more and register today at nationalmedicalcannabisunityconference.org.

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