ASA Activist Newsletter - Dec 2016
December 16, 2016 | William Dolphin
In this Issue:
- ASA Petition Demands DEA Correct Misinformation About Cannabis
- Roadmap for Resolving Medical Marijuana Policy Conflicts Released
- Voters Approve Medical Cannabis Measures in Four States
- Congress Extends State Medical Cannabis Protections through April
- New Medical Cannabis Educational Resource Launches Online
- ASA National Unity Conference Registration Opens
- ACTION ALERT: Join the IQA Petition Campaign
ASA Petition Demands DEA Correct Misinformation About Cannabis
ASA took legal action this month to compel the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to immediately correct misinformation about cannabis. The petition filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) cites 25 violations by the DEA of the Information Quality Act, the federal law that requires administrative agencies to ensure the “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information” they distribute.
Among those 25 violations are inaccurate statements about cannabis on the DEA website, as well as ongoing claims that misrepresent the efficacy of medical cannabis and its risks. Some of the claims challenged by ASA’s petition have been refuted by the DEA itself in its recent “Denial of Petition to Initiate Proceedings to Reschedule Marijuana,” issued August 12, 2016.
“For years, the DEA has published scientifically inaccurate information about the health effects of medical cannabis, directly influencing the action—and inaction—of Congress,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “Our request is simple: The DEA must change its public information to better comport with its own expressed views, so that Congress has access to the appropriate tools to make informed decisions about public health. Alternatively, ASA requests that the DEA simply remove the inaccurate statements or the documents in their entirety."
The petition, ASA’s second such challenge to government claims about cannabis, was prepared with unpaid assistance from the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
“We have taken this action to stop the DEA’s relentless campaign of misinformation about the health risks of medical cannabis in its tracks,” said Vickie Feeman, an attorney with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “We are proud to represent Americans for Safe Access pro bono in this matter to protect the rights of patients throughout the country who could be harmed – and have already been harmed – by the DEA’s refusal to not only acknowledge the scientifically proven benefits of medical cannabis, but also its deliberate attempt to inflate and publicly misrepresent the facts about the potential harms of cannabis use.”
ASA argues that the DEA’s presentation of scientifically unfounded information diminishes the utility of accurate information and can jeopardize public health. The inaccurate information makes it difficult for public officials and medical providers to make informed decisions regarding the viability of medical cannabis treatment options.
The ASA IQA petition
Information on the IQA
Denial of Petition to Initiate Proceedings to Reschedule Marijuana
DEA’s The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse
DEA’s Drugs of Abuse
DOJ Information Quality Guidelines
Roadmap for Resolving Medical Marijuana Policy Conflicts Released
ASA Report Offers Solutions for State and Federal Policy Makers
The 20-year conflict over medical cannabis programs can be resolved if federal policy makers follow the roadmap released by Americans for Safe Access this month. ASA’s briefing book, “Medical Cannabis in America,” outlines actions that would protect the more than 2 million medical cannabis patients in the U.S., including allowing local manufacturers, growers, and distributors to operate in accordance with state laws. The report includes steps for President Obama to take during the lame duck Congressional session, as well as suggestions for the incoming Congress and President-elect Trump.
“Medical cannabis has bipartisan support, but for millions of patients to continue obtaining the medicine they need, Congress and the Obama Administration must take action.,” said Steph Sherer, ASA executive director. “With a few simple steps, President Obama can ensure a smoother transition for medical cannabis policy under the new administration.”
ASA’s medical cannabis briefing book provides modern scientific evidence on medical cannabis, what the federal and state conflict means for patients who rely on this medicine, and what Congress can do to end this conflict. The report outlines how federal agencies can help states increase the quality and safety of medical cannabis programs, details a role for federal oversight after the passage of comprehensive legislation, and identifies several steps the President Obama can take now.
Among those steps are these four important opportunities: President Obama can direct the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to update their website and publications to reflect current science. He can order federal agencies to take the recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reevaluate the regulations that are identified barriers to cannabis research and rescheduling. He can work with the United Nations on the outdated classification of cannabis in the UN Single Convention of Drugs. And he can use his clemency power to release from federal prison the remaining medical cannabis POWs.
“Medical Cannabis in America: The Medical Cannabis Briefing Book” documents how over 2 million Americans currently rely on state-run, physician-supervised cannabis programs to treat such serious conditions as cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, seizure disorders, post-traumatic stress, and chronic pain.
The report also dispels myths about cannabis such as the “gateway theory,” shows benefits of medical cannabis access such as the remarkable drop in opiate overdose deaths in states with robust programs, and documents the enormous cost of federal interference in state programs, totaling an estimated $592 million to date.
“The CARERS Act has the potential to greatly improve public health by harmonizing state and federal medical cannabis laws, but we need our elected officials to act swiftly,” said Mike Liszewski, ASA Director of Government Affairs. “The next Congress must pass the CARERS Act or its successor bill to protect the millions of patients who depend on state medical cannabis programs.”
Voters Approve Medical Cannabis Measures in Four States
On election day, voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota all approved state medical cannabis initiatives. The measures in Florida and Montana expanded limited programs devised by their state legislatures, while Arkansas and North Dakota will be starting fresh. That brings the total of states that allow legal access to some type of medical cannabis product to 44, with 29 now qualifying as comprehensive patient programs.
In Arkansas, Issue 6 prevailed with more than 53% voting in favor. The state Department of Health has 120 days from the election to establish rules for creating a registry for patients qualifying under 17 medical conditions and licensing for cultivators and distributors. A bill has been introduced to delay to July 1, 2017 the deadline for licensing distributors and cultivators. Caregivers will be permitted but not personal cultivation.
More information: Text of Issue 6.
In North Dakota, Measure 5, known as the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, passed in a landslide with more than 63% support and a 27 point advantage over those opposed. Patients may qualify under a broad set of a dozen medical conditions and may petition the state Department of Health to add to the list. Once licensed, patients and caregivers may obtain up to three ounces of cannabis at a time and may cultivate at home if they live more than 40 miles from a licensed dispensary. The new law went into effect December 8.
More Information: Text of Measure 5.
In Florida, Amendment 2 won with an overwhelming 73% voting in favor, well more than the 60% required for a constitutional amendment in the state. The initiative creates a robust medical cannabis program that supplants the far more limited one established by the state legislature in 2014 which only allowed non-smoked forms of low-THC medicines.
More Information: Text of Amendment 2.
In Montana, almost 58% of voters approved a new medical cannabis initiative, replacing the stripped-down version of a program that was left by legislative changes to the 2004 ballot measure. On December 7, a judge ruled that the new initiative’s repeal of the three-patient limit on caregivers goes into effect immediately. The new law also removes review requirements for physicians who recommend cannabis to more than 25 patients in a year. Other provisions will go into effect on June 30, 2017.
More Information: Test of Montana I-182.
“With more than 29 states in support of laws that legalize cannabis for medical use, it’s up to the Federal Government to follow the lead of States and end the prohibition on medical cannabis by ensuring that all Americans who need this drug have reliable access,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer.
Congress Extends State Medical Cannabis Protections through April
Limits on the Department of Justice that protect state-legal medical cannabis patients and providers have been extended by Congress through April.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment language from last year's Department of Justice's spending package was included in H.R. 2028, a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through April 28, 2017. The Senate and House approved the bill in the first week of December.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment creates important federal protection for individuals abiding by state medical cannabis laws. The amendment has figured in several federal cases, most prominently in U.S. vs. McIntosh, which held that medical cannabis prosecutions cannot proceed unless the federal government can prove there was a violation of state law, so long as the amendment remains in effect.
The amendment has been staunchly defended by its sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA) and Sam Farr (D, CA), pictured here with ASA's Steph Sherer and ASA patient-lobbyist of the year, the late Larry Harvey.
The combination of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment along with the 2013 Cole Memo urging U.S. Attorneys to de-prioritize prosecuting those obeying state cannabis laws have been successful in substantially reducing the number of raids and prosecutions targeting patients, dispensaries and cultivators.
The new Attorney General could reverse the Cole Memo guidance at any point, but the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is binding law, at least through April. The amendment must be reauthorized every year with the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.
Congress will likely debate and vote on the next appropriations bill in late April. ASA members and other patient advocates will lobby Congressional offices directly as part of ASA's 2017 Unity Conference Lobby Day on April 11.
New Medical Cannabis Educational Resource Launches Online
Doctors and patients now have access to a new, comprehensive educational resource. On December 15, Americans for Safe Access and TheAnswerPage, an international resource for providing accredited continuing medical education since 1998, launched the Cannabis Care Certification (CCC) program. The online resource offers specialized courses for individual patients and healthcare professionals.
The CCC Patient & Caregiver Education Program offers guidance for patients, family members, caregivers, and anyone interested in medical cannabis. The program features two hours of video education on topics such as dosage, titration and labeling and includes a legal overview and list of requirements for participating in a state Medical Cannabis Program. Those who complete the program receive a Cannabis Care Patient and Caregiver Certification.
The CCC Medical Professional Education Program features a comprehensive introduction to medical cannabis, from the endocannabinoid system to the therapeutic use of cannabis in multiple disease states. The program is designed to educate those new to medical cannabis therapy, as well as for those with years of experience in this area of clinical practice. Healthcare professionals who complete the Medical Professional Program will be awarded a “Cannabis Care Certification,” CME credits, patient education subscription, and an option to be listed on the referral section of the CCC website.
“Whether or not doctors or other healthcare professionals have any intention of recommending medical cannabis for patient care, they all need to be well educated in this clinical area because their patients will be seeking their expert advice and guidance for this medication,” said TheAnswerPage co-founder Stephen B. Corn, MD, a specialist with over 30 years of experience in anesthesiology, perioperative, and pain medicine. “Some patients may already be utilizing medical cannabis, so doctors and other healthcare providers will need to be aware of the physiological effects of cannabis as well as potential drug interactions and side effects. Expertise in medical cannabis will be necessary for most doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.”
Cannabis Care Certification also offers a Companies and Organizations Program which can be customized for industry partners looking to enhance patient and medical professional education. Courses and lectures can also be created to address the needs of any institution, company, or organization. The program also features online tools that reference state-specific medical cannabis laws, rules and regulations.
“We could have not found a better partner than TheAnswerPage to create a program to provide unbiased accredited educational content so that healthcare providers can best address their patients’ questions and needs related to medical cannabis,” said Steph Sherer, ASA executive director. “Cannabis Care Certification is the only resource of its kind that educates patients and their healthcare providers to optimize the safety and quality of medical cannabis therapy.”
ASA National Unity Conference Registration Opens
Registration is now open for ASA’s 5th annual National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC at the Loews Madison Hotel from April 7-11, 2017. A national lobby day on Capitol Hill follows the conference, giving attendees a chance to directly lobby their federal representatives.
Unity 2017 offers an opportunity to gather with other patients, providers, activists, medical and legal professionals from around the country to exchange ideas, learn best practices, and discover how to navigate medical cannabis in a new political landscape.
This conference will also provide professional development and leadership training to patients and concerned citizens in all areas of advocacy including federal, state and local government relations, public affairs, community relations, public policy, legislation, Congressional relations, community activism, political engagement and campaigns. Attendees will hear from successful lobbyists and communicators, elected officials, professional staff, industry experts, and public policy specialists on a wide variety of how-to topics relevant to legislative and regulatory advocacy.
ACTION ALERT: Join the IQA Petition Campaign
ASA filed on behalf of our members a new petition under the Information Quality Act (IQA) that could force the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to correct its unscientific information about medical cannabis. If successful, it will be a watershed moment in the effort to end the conflict between federal and state law.
Department of Justice guidelines require a response within 60 days of filing. That means the Obama Administration can still act on our members’ IQA petition and grant the request.
If you want to be a part of history, join ASA now and be a part of this amazing moment. If you are already a member, you can help by making a generous one-time donation or affordable monthly contribution.
Do not miss out on this opportunity. Please contribute today to support this effort.
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