ASA Activist Newsletter - Apr 2016

April 22, 2016 | William Dolphin

In this issue:

  • Unity Conference Energizes Advocates
  • ASA Celebrates 14th Anniversary
  • UN Hears Calls for Reform from Patients
  • Senate Panel Approves Two Medical Cannabis Amendments
  • CARERS Act Gets More Co-Sponsors
  • Pennsylvania Enacts Medical Cannabis Law, Finally
  • Lawmakers in Three States Modify Programs
  • ANNIVERSARY ALERT: 50% Off Unity 2017 Registration

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ASA Unity Conference Energizes Advocates

Unity Conference 2016ASA’s National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference brought over 200 patients, doctors, researchers and advocates to Washington, DC in March. The fourth annual conference featured three days of talks, trainings and networking, followed by a lobby day that saw advocates hold more than 300 meetings on Capitol Hill with their elected representatives and staffs.

The conference began with a keynote address from a leading authority in the field of cannabis research, Dr. Lumír Ondřej Hanuš. Dr. Hanuš, the Czech chemist who with William Devane first identified a key element of the endogenous cannabinoid system. He received a lifetime achievement award ASA's annual Excellence Awards dinner (pictured below accepting the award from Dr. Ethan Russo and Steph Sherer).Dr. Hanus receiving his award from Dr Ethan Russo and Steph Sherer

Panels examined a host of issues affecting patients, including what happens when medical cannabis is rescheduled, how regulations are being implemented internationally, methods for creating cannabis extracts and their uses, and the latest developments in medical research and quality assurance standards. Tools for improving advocacy skills were the focus of several panels and workshops, and medical professionals earned CME credits in a course covering Cannabis Care Certification, the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoids in pain management.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA) at the press conferenceAmong the many highlights of the conference was the chance to peer-review a report on medical cannabis for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The report, Cannabis and Cannabis Resin: A Critical Review Preparation Document, cites more than 300 scientific studies about medical uses and outlines needed international reforms to support research and patient care. It was delivered to the CND on the third day of ASA’s conference.

The day after the conference, ASA held a press conference in front of the Capitol with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (pictured at left) and others to urge passage of the bi-partisan CARERS Act before advocates fanned out to lobby their Senators and Representatives.

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ASA Celebrates 14th Anniversary

Americans for Safe Access is marking its 14th anniversary with a push to change international drug policy at the United Nations and to pass comprehensive federal legislation in the US.

Founded as a response to the Bush administration’s raids on medical cannabis providers in California, ASA began as a coalition of drug policy and HIV/AIDS organizations with a campaign targeting Asa Hutchinson, then head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. National organizing soon led to coordinated protests in 55 cities demanding the DEA “Cease and Desist.”

The California Campaign for Safe Access was launched that year to implement the state’s voter initiative, “raid-preparedness” trainings for medical cannabis providers were held nationally, and the Patients Rights’ Project was created to educate and defend patients. ASA organizing and legal work helped protect patients in California from illegal confiscation of medicine, secured the right to have medicine returned, and established criminal protection for providers. ASA has now trained tens of thousands of Americans nationwide on their rights and how to handle law enforcement encounters.

Patient advocates preparing to lobby CongressBy 2006, ASA had over 20,000 members and a national office in Washington, D.C. to lobby on Capitol Hill and within the Administration. In 2010, ASA’s Executive Director traveled the country hosting strategy meetings with patients and other stakeholders to identify needs and craft proposals. The result was a citizen-advocate’s guide for developing policies and the online Advocates Training Center to build skills in media relations, community organizing, coalition building, and more.

In 2013, ASA launched the Peace For Patient Campaign and published “What’s the Cost,” a report on the fiscal impact of the federal war on medical cannabis. Each of the past two years, ASA has produced "Medical Marijuana Access in the US," a report analyzing each of the various state medical cannabis laws from a patient's perspective. Over the past 14 years, ASA has distributed more than one million pieces of educational literature about medical cannabis and helped bring thousands of citizens face-to-face with lawmakers at all levels of government to talk about medical cannabis.

ASA has also worked directly with state and federal lawmakers to adopt and improve medical cannabis legislation, resulting in new laws such as California’s measure to prevent medical cannabis patients from being denied organ transplants and the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment to the Justice Department budget to prevent federal interference with state programs.

The small ASA coalition that began in 2002 has now expanded to include powerful new allies such as the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. ASA collaborated with AHPA in the creation of their comprehensive Recommendations for Regulators, and with the American Herbal Pharmacopeia in producing their Cannabis monograph, the definitive expert description of the plant’s botany and medical uses.

Today, ASA is helping provide education for physicians in a partnership with the Answer Page, training regulators and certifying cannabis businesses through the Patient Focused Certification program, and working with an international coalition of patients to reform global policy through the United Nations. With the support of more than 50,000 members, ASA is making a difference for patients everywhere.

More Information:
Join ASA today

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UN Hears Calls for Reform from Patients

The United Nation’s General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drug policy ended yesterday, April 21, with representatives and world leaders making strong statements urging member countries to move beyond prohibition and into effective regulations for medical cannabis. The session opened with a discussion of the conflict between medical cannabis laws and the UN treaties prohibiting marijuana, with the UNGASS president noting “access to drugs for medical use is a human right to protect.”

Steph Sherer addressing a UN meetingAlong with other members of the International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition (IMCPC), ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer (pictured at right addressing a UN meeting) was in attendance and met with UN officials. The UN classification of cannabis is based on a report created by the League of Nations in 1935.

“The current international policies on cannabis are outdated and having a detrimental impact on patients worldwide,” said Sherer. “New policies should take into account new clinical research, product safety protocols for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution, and global patient needs.”  

Patient advocates preparing to lobby CongressMexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, in his address to UNGASS, emphasized the “importance of allowing cannabis for medical and scientific uses under the United Nations standards” [translated]. World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director General Dr. Margaret Chan also noted that “[m]any controlled substances play a critical role in medical care for the relief of pain.” A report for UNGASS from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and the leading British medical journal, The Lancet, also faulted the global war on drugs for creating many public health problems.

To help educate UN member states, ASA and IMCPC created a one-page document, Moving Global Cannabis Policy Forward, that ties cannabis into the UN’s stated priorities for drug policy, explaining why “cannabis must be rescheduled in order to meet the objective of ensuring the availability of and access to controlled substances exclusively for medical and scientific purposes.” ASA also distributed to UNGASS its groundbreaking report, Cannabis and Cannabis Resin: Critical Review Preparation Document. That 94-page document reflects the consensus of more than a dozen expert authors and was refined and peer-reviewed by more than 200 patients, doctors and advocates as part of ASA’s 2016 Unity Conference.

More Information:
UNGASS 2016
1 Page Document - Moving Global Cannabis Policy Forward
Cannabis and Cannabis Resin Critical Review Preparation Document
International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition (IMCPC)’s UNGASS 2016 Declaration
UNGASS Photos

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Senate Panel Approves Two Medical Cannabis Amendments

Appropriations Committee Votes to Shield State Programs, Allow Veterans Access

In a sign of growing support in Congress, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved two medical cannabis measures in recent weeks. Both actions were budget amendments that provide policy direction, one that broadens safe access for veterans and one that would continue the ban on federal interference with state programs.

The first to pass would allow Veterans Health Administration physicians to provide the documentation veterans need to participate in state medical cannabis programs. The right of doctors to recommend cannabis is protected by the First Amendment, but federal policy explicit forbids VA physicians from doing so. The bipartisan Veterans Equal Access Amendment (VEAA) to the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill blocks the VA from spending money on enforcing that policy. Reintroduced by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), it passed on a vote of 20-10 with Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) joining as new supporters.

This week, the committee also acted on a vote of 21-8 to extend the restrictions placed on the Department of Justice (DOJ) by an historic budget amendment last year. Again sponsored by Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the Senate amendment to the FY2017 Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies Appropriations Act (CJS) prohibits the DOJ from spending funds to interfere with state medical cannabis programs.

"Medical marijuana patients obeying state law should not have to worry about federal arrest or losing their state-regulated source of medicine,” said Sen. Mikulski. "This amendment is designed to make sure that federal government does not use its limited resources on prosecuting individuals who are obeying their state medical marijuana laws."

Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment after its House sponsors Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), the measure has been part of the previous two CJS budget bills. The House of Representatives has not had a budget vote this year, but since the amendment was in last year’s appropriations bill, the provision will likely remain in effect if this year’s budget is again set by a continuing resolution.

While the DOJ argued that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment only prevents it from directly challenging state medical cannabis programs, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled against the DOJ last October, ending a federal injunction that had prevented a California dispensary from distributing medical cannabis.  Last week the DOJ conceded and abandoned its appeal of his ruling, which has implications for other federal cases.

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CARERS Act Gets More Co-Sponsors

Another sign of growing support for safe access on Capitol Hill is the expanding list of cosponsors for the the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, with a former candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination throwing his support behind it in the Senate.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a retired Air Force veteran and member of Congress for 21 years, signed on to S. 683 as a co-sponsor on the anniversary of the bipartisan bill’s introduction by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Rand Paul (R-KY).  Four days after Sen Graham’s announcement, Sen. Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut also became a cosponsor

“As a respected senior member of the Senate, Graham’s support of the CARERS Act should help convince his fellow Republican, Chuck Grassley, to allow hearings and a vote in the Judiciary Committee,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “This

This comprehensive legislation to resolve the conflicts between state programs and federal law also picked up another three members of the House, with Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) all signing on. That brings the House version of the bill to 36 cosponsors, while the Senate version has 17 cosponsors.

Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Joe Pitts (R-PA) have refused to grant the bill a hearing.

More Information
CARERS Act fact sheet.
ASA analysis of the CARERS Act.

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Pennsylvania Enacts Medical Cannabis Law, Finally

On Sunday, April 17, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed SB 3 in a ceremony with patients and advocates, making Pennsylvania the 24th state with a robust medical cannabis program. His signature marked the end of a multi-year political struggle that saw bills pass the state Senate by overwhelming margins only to die in the House. This year, another strong Senate bill went to the House early in the session, only to languish before being returned in March transformed by amendments that sharply limited the program. Senate sponsors took the risk of re-amending the legislation to make it more workable and sent it back to the House, where the new version passed.

Among the House changes that survived is a requirement that doctors who wish to recommend cannabis will be required to register with the state in advance and complete a four-hour training. Patients with serious medical conditions may qualify to obtain up to a 30-day supply of limited types of cannabis products, such as oils, pills and topical lotions. The state will collect a 5% excise tax. The law will take effect next month, though state officials say it may be as much as two years before any medicine is distributed to patients. For now, the law includes a two-year ‘safe harbor’ provision that protects parents of minor children who can lawfully obtain medical cannabis for those children outside Pennsylvania.

More Information:
Text of SB3

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Lawmakers in Three States Modify Programs

Lawmakers and regulators in three states acted last month to expand or implement their state’s medical cannabis program.

In Virginia, SB701, a bill that will allow for the production and distribution of limited cannabis extracts, cleared both houses of the state legislature on unanimous votes and was signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe on March 29. The new law allows the Board of Pharmacy to issue production regulations this year, but the law does not go into effect unless it is reenacted by the Virginia legislature in 2017. Last year’s passage of SB1235 and HB1445 gave intractable epilepsy patients and their caregivers an affirmative defense for possession of cannabis extracts containing just cannabidiol (CBD) and THCa, a form of THC that is not psychoactive.  However, that law provided no legal way for anyone to produce the oils or for patients to obtain them.

In Connecticut, state officials expanded their medical cannabis program to protect more patients. Regulators added six conditions to the list for which doctors may recommend medical cannabis, including ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), ulcerative colitis, sickle cell disease, and three pain conditions.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 307 to allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis immediately. The bill expands the state’s ‘Right to Try Act’ that permits the use of non-FDA approved medicines by the dying. The bill also attempts to resolve implementation problems with the state’s limited 2014 medical cannabis law that has yet to make any medicine available to Floridians. In November, the state’s voters will again get a chance to pass their own constitutional amendment that would institute a robust medical cannabis program; a similar voter initiative fell just short in 2014 of the needed super-majority of 60 percent.

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Dr. Hanus receiving his award from Dr Ethan Russo and Steph ShererANNIVERSARY ALERT: 50% Off Unity 2017 Registration

In celebration of ASA's turning 14 years old this week, you can register for UNITY 2017 at a discount of 50% off! ASA's annual national conference and lobby day will be from April 7-11, 2017 at the Lowes Madison hotel in Washington, D.C.

This offer is only good until the end of April, so act today to get your spot at the table.

Make your plans now to join the world's leading experts and advocates for four informative and fun days of workshops, panels, and networking, followed by the Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, when you'll get your chance to tell your elected national representatives why they should support safe access for all Americans.

www.nationalmedicalcannabisunityconference.org/unity_2017_registration

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