ASA Activist Newsletter - 2015 Year in Review

January 02, 2016 | William Dolphin

In this issue

  • Federal Legislation and Legal Action
  • New Medical Cannabis Jurisdictions
  • Changes to State Programs
  • Research Developments
  • International Developments
  • ACTION ALERT: Renew Today and Recruit a Friend

 

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FEDERAL LEGISLATION AND LEGAL ACTION

Congress Renews Amendment to Protect State Medical Cannabis Laws

The federal “cease fire” in the 20-year war on state medical marijuana programs was extend in December. That’s when Congress passed and President Obama signed the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which contains the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibiting the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering with state medical cannabis laws (Sec. 542, page 223).  Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment for the first time in December 2014 for fiscal year 2015. The updated version for 2016 names the additional states that have passed medical cannabis laws since then. It passed the House by an even wider margin than last year (242-186) and has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (21-9).Thanks to the dedication of House sponsors Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), Senate sponsor Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and the thousands of patient advocates who urged their representatives to support this measure, legal medical cannabis patients and their providers will enjoy these protections for another year

While the intent of Congress to stop all prosecutions of state-qualified medical cannabis patients and providers, the DOJ has taken a narrower interpretation. While the amendment was being debated in 2014, DOJ officials sent a memo to members of Congress saying its passage would prevent all marijuana prosecutions, as the measure's authors maintain, but the DOJ now claims it only prevents them from bringing direct legal challenges to state laws.

The legal effect of the amendment is still being decided by the courts. Federal judges have disagreed on its applicability to criminal cases. In the case of the Kettle Falls Five in Washington State, the court rejected a motion to dismiss based on the amendment. By contrast, a senior district judge in California, Charles Breyer, lifted a federal order that had shut a dispensary, ruling in October that a “plain reading of [the Amendment] forbids the Department of Justice (DOJ) from enforcing this injunction."

More Info:
U.S. vs. MAMM Injunction Ruling
ASA memorandum to DOJ on Application of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment
Senate Reaffirms Support to End of Federal Interference In Medical Marijuana Programs
House Reps Demand Investigation of DOJ for Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

Historic Bipartisan Medical Cannabis Bills in Congress

Congress took an historic step March 10 with comprehensive bipartisan medical cannabis legislation in both houses. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S. 683). A bipartisan companion bill (HR 1583) was introduced in the House on March 24 by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN-9) and Don Young (R-AK). The CARERS Act is now up to 15 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate and 29 in the House.

Senators Booker, Paul and Gillibrand at the press conference introducing the CARERS ActThe new legislation would allow states to set their own medical cannabis policies without violating federal law. The bill would also change federal law to allow banks to provide financial services to licensed medical cannabis businesses, allow Veteran Affairs physicians to recommend medical cannabis to their patients, and enable the cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD) to be imported to states that have legalized its use. In addition, the CARERS Act would reclassify marijuana from its current Schedule I status as a highly dangerous drug with no medical value to Schedule II, recognizing it as a medicine, as well as removing bureaucratic barriers to research and allowing for more production of research cannabis.

The CARERS Act is endorsed by several advocacy groups, including Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which helped the Senate authors develop the legislation.

More info:
Text of the Senate bill: www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/683
Text of the House bill: www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1538
Sen. Paul at the press conference introducing the bill: https://youtu.be/c_9wmpC6DYg

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Kettle Falls Five Defendants Sentenced to Prison

Federal prison sentences were handed down Oct. 2 for the three remaining defendants in the widely watched trial of the Kettle Falls Five in which all evidence of medical need and compliance with Washington state law was barred. The case received national attention as an example of federal interference with state-qualified medical cannabis patients, and lobbying by Larry Harvey, a defendant in the case who died in August from cancer, was instrumental in getting Congress to restrict Department of Justice enforcement in states with medical cannabis laws.

Larry Harvey’s widow, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, and her daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg were each sentenced to one year and a day. Rhonda’s son, Rolland Gregg, received a sentence of 33 months. All three were released pending appeal. In the week before trial started, prosecutors dismissed charges against Larry Harvey, 71, who had at the time been recently diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. Family friend Jason Zucker agreed to testify against the Harvey family in exchange for a recommended sentence of 16 months in prison. He had faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, if convicted.

They were each charged with multiple federal felonies that carried stiff mandatory minimum sentences after a 2012 raid on the family’s personal cannabis garden in rural Washington State, even though there was no evidence of distribution and the garden was clearly marked as medical. The defendants were barred from raising a medical necessity defense, despite being qualified patients in Washington State. The jury acquitted them of all the government’s primary charges but found them guilty of “manufacturing” fewer than 100 plants.

More info:
Dismissal of Larry Harvey's charges
Congressional measure restricting DOJ enforcement in medical marijuana states

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NEW MEDICAL CANNABIS JURISDICTIONS

Virginia

In February, Virginia passed a limited medical cannabis bill restricted to extracts rich in cannabidiol (CBD), the second most prevalent cannabinoid in the plant. The new law provides an affirmative defense only for patients with severe forms of epilepsy who use oils with CBD and THC-A, the non-psychoactive version of THC. The medicine remains illegal, but patients with written permission from their doctors can present that as a defense if charged. The law makes no provision for producing or distributing the cannabis extracts, and transport remains illegal.

Georgia 

With the passage of HB1 in Georgia in April, the state became the 36th with some form of medical cannabis protections. The act was approved by both the Georgia House and Senate at the end of March and was swiftly signed by Gov. Nathan Deal. While the new law does provide legal protections for possession and use for therapeutic purposes by patients, there is no legal means for patients to purchase or grow their own medicine, Georgia patients must travel out of state to acquire their medicine, limiting access to faraway places such as Colorado or Maine. Under HB1, patients are not allowed to inhale cannabis either through combustion or vaporization and may not possess or use cannabis with more than 5% THC.

Texas

Texas has approved the medical use of a cannabis extract for limited conditions. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill June 1 that will allow legal use of CBD medicines by those with severe forms of epilepsy that have not responded to other treatments. The bill directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to license at least three dispensaries in the state by September 2017. To qualify, patients must have tried at least two conventional treatments unsuccessfully and have recommendations from two doctors who are either neurologists or epilepsy specialists.

Louisiana

A limited medical cannabis bill was signed in June by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Under the bill (SB 143), qualified patients can register to obtain limited forms of cannabis medicines from one of 10 dispensaries that would be established in the state alongside existing pharmacies. Qualifying conditions are restricted to glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia and side effects of chemotherapy, but the state medical board is directed to recommend other qualifying conditions to be added in the next legislative session. The new law gives three state agencies responsibility for establishing regulations. The Louisiana Legislature legalized cannabis for medical use in 1978 and again in 1991 but created no mechanism for distribution. The new measure has a five-year “sunset provision” that means it will have to be reauthorized in 2020.

Puerto Rico

Officials in Puerto Rico are working on rules for a medical cannabis program in the U.S. territory. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla issued an executive order early in May that authorizes Health Department Secretary Ana Rius to allow the medical use of “some or all controlled substances or components of the cannabis plant” and to report within three months on a program to do so. The University of Puerto Rico is a likely participant in a medical cannabis program. The executive order comes after a series of public hearings on the island. Puerto Rico would become the second U.S. Territory that allows medical cannabis use. Guam established safe access by voter initiative in November 2014.

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CHANGES TO STATE PROGRAMS

Medical Cannabis Laws Modified in Washington State

In July, several medical cannabis bills were passed by the Washington State legislature or went into effect in an attempt to harmonize the state’s existing medical cannabis program with the new law that allows anyone who is at least 21 years of age to purchase and use cannabis. Of the bills, the most wide-reaching is SB 5052, which brings much of the state’s largely unregulated medical cannabis operations under the umbrella of the new adult-use regulations while allowing qualified patients to continue personal cultivation and possess larger quantities than non-medical consumers.  Households will now be limited to the cultivation of 15 plants. To qualify for the additional amounts and protections, qualifying patients must register in the state’s new voluntary database, which law enforcement will be able to access to confirm registrations. This bill also expanded the qualifying medical conditions but creates restrictions that will shut down many of the state’s existing medical cannabis businesses. The bill also specifies that qualifying patients between the ages of 18 and 21 will be able to purchase cannabis at retail locations with a medical endorsement.

Maryland Taps ASA to Train Cannabis Compliance Inspectors

Maryland officials tasked with watching over the state’s emerging medical cannabis program will be trained by the Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program, a project of Americans for Safe Access Foundation. The announcement of the decision by Maryland's Natalie M. laPrade  Medical Cannabis Commission came shortly after they finalized state regulations in late August. The PFC-trained auditors will ensure medical cannabis businesses operating in Maryland comply with those regulations.

Maryland has adopted seed-to-consumption quality control measures for medical cannabis products and laboratory testing, including the American Herbal Product Association’s (AHPA) Recommendations to Regulators and the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia’s (AHP) cannabis monograph. Elements of the AHP cannabis monograph and the AHPA cannabis guidelines have been included in regulations in 13 states.

The PFC program was developed following a long-term collaboration between ASA, AHPA and the AHP to address product safety and quality control standards for the medical cannabis industry. PFC has trained thousands of employees of the medical cannabis industry and is currently under contract with the District of Columbia to train all medical cannabis staff on regulatory compliance.

More Info:
Patient Focused Certification Website
AHPA Guidelines
APH Cannabis Monograph
Maryland Regulations

California Enacts Medical Cannabis Regulation Bill

Medical cannabis in California will become a commercial business like any other once the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act is fully implemented. Since 1996, distributors and cultivators have existed as not-for-profit collectives and cooperatives, but lack of clarity in how to operate legally has generated years of litigation. On October 9, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the trio of interconnected bills that will establish commercial regulation of medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and transportation, as well as a state-level licensing system.  After years of wrangling, the California legislature passed Assembly Bills 243 and 266 and Senate Bill 643 on September 11, with overwhelming support in both the Assembly and the Senate.

Assemblymember Bonta's press conference urgin signatures on the medical cannabis bills with Don Duncan at right

Americans for Safe Access lobbied to make the Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act as effective and inclusive as possible, successfully advocating to exempt patients’ personal cultivation rights from commercial regulatory rules and to move oversight from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, where it was to be housed, to a newly created Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs. ASA also successfully opposed a state-wide production tax on commercial cannabis cultivation.

More Info:
ASA Analysis- Why Regulations Are Good for Patients in California
Assembly Bill 243 Text
Assembly Bill 266 Text
Senate Bill 643 Text

California Bars Discrimination for Transplants

An ASA-sponsored bill to prevent medical cannabis patients from being denied life-saving organ transplants was enacted this summer. On June 22, the California Senate approved AB 258, the Medical Cannabis Organ Transplant Act, by a vote of 33 to 1 after 200 patients and advocates visited Senate offices in support of it as part of ASA’s California Citizen Lobby Day.  The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), passed the state Assembly on April 30 by a vote of 64 to 12. Medical cannabis patients in California have been routinely removed from the organ transplant waiting list if they test positive for cannabis use, even when that use was recommended by their doctor. Many transplant centers define all cannabis use as drug abuse, making qualified patients ineligible for transplants. Those policies have cost several Californians their lives. The first medical cannabis patient to make use of the protections of the law was added back to a transplant list in December.

More Info:
Background on AB 258
Action Alert urging Gov. Brown to sign AB 258

ASA Dispensary Report Details Benefits of Regulated Local Approach

ASA released a new white paper on medical cannabis dispensaries that details the benefits of local regulations for managing the impacts on patient access, teen use, crime rates and community concerns. The report “Where Will Patients Obtain Their Medicine?” covers the experiences of local officials and communities that have grappled with this contentious issue since dispensaries emerged in California in 1996. ASA’s report finds no basis for concerns that medical cannabis dispensaries will worsen crime rates or otherwise undermine the communities that host them. Empirical research conducted by law enforcement, academics and journalists shows that dispensaries bring economic development and are not associated with increased levels of crime or other social ills.  

More Info:
ASA Report: Where Will Patients Obtain Their Medicine?
ASA Report: Medical Marijuana Access in The U.S.
ASA Analysis: Maryland County to Choose Between Sensible Zoning and Anti-Patient Restrictions

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RESEARCH DEVELOPMENTS

White House Scraps Barrier to Cannabis Research

A bureaucratic barrier to medical cannabis research fell in June. The Obama Administration dropped a review requirement that researchers working with no other drug faced. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced that new cannabis research will no longer have to pass review by the Public Health Service (PHS) as well as the Food and Drug Administration. In May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) had sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services calling for an end to the additional PHS review requirement. For the past 16 years, research studies on cannabis have been the only ones for which the government has required the extra step.

More Info:
ASA Action Alert: Ask your Congressperson to Allow Medical Cannabis Research
Department of Health and Human Services  Guidance On Procedures For The  Provision of Marijuana Medical Research
The ONDCP statement on policy change

ASA Partners in Launch of International Research Center

ASA played a key role in creating a new research center in the Czech Republic, the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute (ICCI), which will apply a scientific approach to exploring the therapeutic uses of cannabis-based medicines. The new ceter was announced in December in a joint press conference with representatives from ASA, KOPAC and Dioscorides Global Holdings (DGH), and the Minister of Health for the Czech Republic, Svatopluk Němeček.  ICCI will identify, coordinate and support global research priorities for the advancement of cannabis and cannabinoid treatments through a multidisciplinary evidence based approach that incorporates innovative tools and approaches.

National Doctors Groups Call for Federal Changes to Allow Research

In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a professional organization representing more than 62,000 pediatricians in the US, endorsed the use of cannabis for some seriously ill children and called on the federal government to conduct more research and change the classification of the drug to recognize its medical uses. The group noted that “some children who may benefit from cannabinoids cannot wait for a meticulous and lengthy research process.” For that reason, “the Academy recognizes some exceptions should be made for compassionate use in children." The AAP also recommends that cannabis be changed from a Schedule 1 controlled substance -- defined as having "no currently accepted medical use in the United States" -- to Schedule II, where it would be classified with drugs such as oxycodone that may be used in treatment under a doctor’s supervision. That change, the AAP notes, would enable more research and development of pharmaceutical cannabinoids.

In September, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), one of the largest US medical organizations with more than 120,000 members, called for changing the federal classification of cannabis to a drug with medical uses. The Statement on Medical Cannabis adopted at the AAFP’s annual meeting says, “Drug Enforcement Administration scheduling of marijuana as a Schedule I drug prevents funding and legalization of research on the pharmacological properties of cannabinoids.”  The doctors group says “reclassifying marijuana … will facilitate further research on the potential medical uses of pharmaceutical cannabinoids.” Cannabis is currently classified as among the most highly dangerous drugs with no currently accepted medical uses.

Scientific Society Launches Cannabis Research and Testing Group

Cannabis research and testing standards are the focus of a new initiative by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific group. The ACS, which is 139 years old and has 150,000 members, voted last month to establish a Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision within the society’s Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS). Comprised of experts with over 100 years of collective experience in cannabis chemistry, research and industry regulation, the subdivision will provide a symposium for research and facilitate the development and use of best practices.  Since 2011, the number of cannabis testing laboratories has grown from two to more than two dozen, some of which provide product testing required by state law. 

“The American Chemical Society recognizes the need for scientific leadership on cannabis,” said Jahan Marcu, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) senior scientist and CANN subdivision vice chair. 

More Info:
CANN Subdivision Video Announcement
CANN Facebook Page
AHPA Guidelines
APH Cannabis Monograph

Think Tank Says Government Stifles Cannabis Research

A respected think tank issued a scathing report criticizing the U.S. federal government for actively undermining important research on the therapeutic potential of cannabis. The Brookings Institution report “Ending the U.S. government's war on medical marijuana research” explains the various barriers that have “paralyzed science” that could lead to a better understanding of the medical uses of cannabis. The authors, Brookings fellow John Hudak and senior research assistant Grace Wallack, note that “of all the controlled substances that the federal government regulates, cannabis is treated in a unique manner in ways that specifically impede research.”

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INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition Lobbies UN

Medical cannabis patients from 13 countries established the International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition (IMCPC) last month while at a conference in Prague. IMCPC member countries include Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States, represented by ASA’s executive director, Steph Sherer. The first action of the IMCPC was to ratify a declaration urging the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs to reclassify cannabis for medical use, convene a UN Special Convention on Cannabis, or simply exclude cannabis from the UN Single Convention on Narcotics. The IMCPC declaration was delivered to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna by Pavel Bem, the Czech representative for the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

More Info:
International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition
IMCPC Declaration

Italy’s Army Now Cultivating Medical Cannabis

The Italian army is currently growing medical cannabis in a military pharmaceutical facility in Florence, with plans to make100 kilos of medicine available to patients by the end of 2015. Medical cannabis has been legal in Italy since 2007, but the country currently imports from the Netherlands about 50 kilos of medical cannabis each year for distribution through Italian pharmacies. Italians with cancer, multiple sclerosis or chronic pain may obtain a prescription for cannabis from a physician.

Israel to Expand Program, Provide Cannabis in Pharmacies

Long a leader in cannabis research, Israel will soon make medical cannabis available through pharmacies in the country and expand the number of physicians who are authorized to prescribe it. The announcement was made in the Knesset by Israel’s deputy health minister, Yaakov Litzman, head of an ultra-orthodox party. The 22,000 Israelis who are authorized to use medical cannabis must acquire it directly from government-authorized farms. Allowing more physicians to prescribe the medicine is intended to eliminate the wait list that is currently a barrier to access. Israel has more medical users per capita than any other country.

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ACTION ALERT: Renew Today and Recruit a Friend

We achieved so much in 2015, our goal of safe and legal access to medical cannabis for everyone who needs it is close at hand. We know what we need to do, but we need the resources to do it.  You can help make 2016 the year in which the final barriers fall, and this safe, effective medicine becomes accessible to all Americans.

Renew your membership and recruit a friend to join today. ASA is the largest medical cannabis patient advocacy group because of the grassroots support of people like you. www.safeaccessnow.org/membership

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