ASA Activist Newsletter - July 2016

July 02, 2016 | William Dolphin

In the July 2016 Issue

  • ASA Analysis Shows Cannabis is Misclassified as Schedule I
  • Veterans Equal Access Amendment Blocked Despite House & Senate Approval
  • Advocates and Senators Hold Briefing Urging Congressional Action
  • New Research Act Would Remove Barriers but Not Protect Patients
  • Iowans Launch Campaign Urging Sen. Grassley to Allow Medical Cannabis Vote
  • Americans for Safe Access Welcomes New Puerto Rico Chapter
  • Cannabis Professional Certification Workshops July 11-15
  • Patient Profile: Christine Stenquist, Ogden, Utah
  • ACTION ALERT: Sign the Petition to Sen. Grassley

 

ASA Analysis Shows Cannabis is Misclassified as Schedule I

Peer-Reviewed Report Finds Cannabis to be Uniquely Safe Therapeutic Option

On the last day of June, ASA released the results of an independent scientific analysis showing cannabis has been misclassified under federal law as a highly dangerous drug with a high potential for abuse and no medical use. The report concludes that cannabis is a uniquely safe therapeutic substance.

Written and reviewed by internationally recognized experts, ASA’s 8-Factor Analysis is based on more than 550 published peer-reviewed scientific articles on cannabis’s medical uses, abuse and dependence. ASA’s detailed report uses the criteria specified in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA) for determining the proper classification of medications and other drugs from Schedule I to Schedule V.

“Our analysis represents the current state of knowledge regarding cannabis, its use, abuse, toxicology, and a review of the standards being implemented to ensure public safety,” stated Dr. Jahan Marcu, Chief Scientist for ASA. “Our review arrives at the same conclusion as DEA Judge Francis Young did in 1988, that this plant in its natural form is ‘one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man’.” 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which received a copy of the report, is expected to issue a decision this summer regarding whether to change the classification of cannabis from Schedule I.

Schedule I drugs such as heroin and LSD cannot be prescribed under any circumstance. Drugs that can be prescribed range from Schedule II, which includes cocaine and methamphetamine, to Schedule V, which includes drugs such as prescription cough syrup. Over the counter drugs such as aspirin are not considered controlled substances.  Schedule I status has proven to be a barrier to the clinical research on cannabis that physicians, patients and policymakers have sought. 

“The DEA’s decision will have substantial implications for the two million Americans who currently treat their medical conditions using medical cannabis products under state laws,” said Mike Liszewski, ASA Government Affairs Director. “We’ve applied the legal and scientific standards to cannabis to assist the DEA and other interested government officials in understanding how preposterous the current classification is.”

ASA’s report was sent to all members of Congress and the heads of the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the DEA.

Several previous petitions to reschedule cannabis have been rejected by the DEA, sometimes after more than a decade of delay. In 1988 the DEA used a procedural technicality to ignore their own chief administrative law judge’s ruling that it would be “arbitrary and capricious” to not allow cannabis in medical treatment. 

Patient groups and health organizations such as the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics are not the only ones calling on the DEA to reschedule cannabis. Just a week ago, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and seven other U.S. Senators sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General and the DEA asking when a decision on rescheduling of cannabis will be issued. The letter notes that this is a time-sensitive matter that requires immediate action, both because the current classification of cannabis is a barrier to clinical research and because the disconnect between state and federal law creates a host of problems for regulating related businesses in the 42 states have adopted medical cannabis laws.

More Information:
ASA's 8-Factor Analysis
Executive Summary of 8-Factor Analysis
June 23 Senator Warren letter
CARERS Act Fact Sheet
American Academy of Pediatrics Statement on Rescheduling
American College of Physicians position paper

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Veterans Equal Access Amendment Blocked Despite House & Senate Approval

Political maneuvering cost veterans safe access this month. Even though both the House and Senate had voted to include it, an amendment that would have freed Veterans Health Administration physicians to discuss medical cannabis with their patients and provide the documentation they need to participate in state programs was stripped from the final version of the bill.

Because the House and Senate versions of the budget bill to which the Veterans Equal Access Amendment was attached differed, they went to a House Conference committee to resolve differences. Both versions contained the amendment, but when the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, emerged from committee, the Veterans Equal Access Amendment was gone.

“This is as unprecedented an action as it is outrageous,” said ASA Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski. “Conference committees are tasked with ironing out conflicts between versions of bills, not rewriting portions that have been approved by both the House and Senate.”

The Veterans Equal Access Amendment passed the Senate Appropriations Committee 20-9 and was approved by the House of Representatives with a vote of 233-189.

"I am disappointed by a closed-door committee blocking one of the most sensible, bipartisan pieces of legislation in recent years for our veterans,” said Eric Gudz, Captain, former active duty and now IRR, 101st Airborne Division U.S. Army (pictured at right).  Gudz traveled from Davis, California in April to lobby several House offices with ASA as part of the effort to pass the amendment.

The amendment would have prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from using any funds in its budget to punish physicians who discuss the benefits of or recommend medical cannabis in accordance with state law. Currently, VA policy prohibits their doctors from recommending medical cannabis under state law, and veterans who rely on the VA for their health care are denied access to state-regulated medical cannabis programs.

“Blocking this amendment is an assault on democracy and those Americans who risked their lives and health to defend it,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “It’s shocking that House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers would allow a veterans’ health care provision to be stripped from the bill behind closed doors. We urge Congress and President Obama to reject this bill until it includes the Veterans Equal Access Amendment Congress has already approved.”

More Information:
Text of Conference Report
Text of Daines-Merkley Amendment
Text of the House Veteran’s Equal Access Amendment
ASA blog on House on passage of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment

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Advocates and Senators Hold Briefing Urging Congressional Action

On June 21, Americans for Safe Access presented a Senate briefing with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY) on the bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act she introduced in 2015. The briefing featured CARERS Act co-sponsor Sen. Cory Booker (D, NJ), as well as policy experts and medical cannabis stakeholders who would be protected by the bill, including patients. All urged Congress to take swift action to protect existing medical cannabis programs and the patients that rely upon them by passing the CARERS Act, a bill that is currently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee awaiting a hearing.

“Even though some form of medical marijuana is already legal in 42 states, federal law still makes it a crime to use this form of medicine, even in states where it is legal,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This is clearly a case of antiquated ideology getting in the way of scientific progress. I will continue to urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to support the CARERS Act, so we can help our families have access to the medicine they need without fear of arrest.”

Among the speakers was Christine Stenquist, a stay-at-home mother from Ogden, Utah, who has been living with the effects of a brain tumor for 20 years and has lobbied for comprehensive medical cannabis legislation in Utah over the past two years. Utah has an extremely limited law that provides a legal defense exclusively for epilepsy patients in possession of low-THC cannabis extracts. Such CBD-only products do not offer medical relief from Christine’s condition, even if it qualified under the law, which it does not. 

[Pictured: standing from Left to Right : Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn (Owner, Takoma Wellness), Mike Liszewski (ASA), Christine Stenquist (Utah patient), Beth Collins (ASA), Grace Wallack (Brookings Institute), Steph Sherer (ASA). Seated Left to Right: Utah State Senator Mark Madsen, Beatriz Duque Long (Epilepsy Foundation)]

“The recent discussion about lifting the federal barriers to medical cannabis research is an encouraging signal, but we must remember that there are millions of patients in the U.S. who need medical cannabis today,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA. “Patients should not suffer while waiting for the fruit of this research, which may take years or even decades to accomplish.”

Additional speakers who addressed issues the CARERS Act would resolve included Utah State Senator Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) and Washington, D.C. dispensary operator Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn. Madsen shared a personal story about the dangers of prescription opioids and how current federal law is keeping states like his from doing more to protect patients. Kahn spoke on how the current federal banking policy for medical cannabis businesses is harming patients by driving up the cost of their medicine and forcing them to make their purchases in cash.

“I am more convinced than ever that the CARERS Act is a necessary complement to efforts like ours in Utah to bring relief to the sick and suffering among us,” said Madsen.  “It goes a long way to removing obstacles, both rhetorical and real, upon which opponents to these compassionate policies rely.” 

Other speakers included Grace Wallack, Senior Research Assistant at the Center for Effective Public Management at The Brookings Institution, who explained why rescheduling cannabis to Schedule II would not threaten current programs. The Senior Director of Government Relations for the Epilepsy Foundation, Beatriz Duque Long, discussed the importance of the CARERS Act to the epilepsy population.

Following the Senate briefing, Sen. Madsen and Ms. Stenquist, along with ASA staff, held meetings to urge support for the CARERS Act with the majority of the Utah Congressional delegation including Representatives Stewart, Love, and Bishop and Senators Hatch and Lee. They also met with Senator Rand Paul, who along with Senators Booker and Gillibrand, introduced the bill.

More Information:
CARERS Act
Fact Sheet
Press Kit
Petition

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New Research Act Would Remove Barriers but Not Protect Patients

A bipartisan medical cannabis research bill, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, was introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last month. If enacted, the bill would require the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to supply all approved researchers with cannabis seedlings and seeds so they can produce their own research material. NIDA would have 180 days to create a policy for production of research cannabis. They would be required to take action on any requests for research materials within 30 days.

Access to research cannabis, which is only available from NIDA’s single cultivation facility at the University of Mississippi, has been limited by delays in NIDA and other bureaucratic approvals. In 2007, as the result of a suit brought by Prof. Lyle Craker of University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the DEA was ordered to provide more cultivation licenses by Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner, who ruled that increased availability of research cannabis is in the public interest. The DEA has ignored her order.

The introducing sponsors of the bill in the House are Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), Andy Harris (R-MD), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA). In the Senate they are Brian Schatz, (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chris Coons, (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

More Information:
Text of the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016

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Iowans Launch Campaign Urging Sen. Grassley to Allow Medical Cannabis Vote

On June 16, patients, caregivers and advocates kicked off a signature drive for a petition asking Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to give the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S.683) a vote in the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

Rep. John ForbesAt a press conference announcing the action, Iowa state Rep. John Forbes, who hosted the event and is pictured at right, said, "Iowans and people around the nation are urging Senator Grassley to allow a vote to come before the Judiciary Committee to give them and their loved ones access to cannabis medication that could have a positive impact on their quality of life."

The bipartisan CARERS Act, introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), is the most comprehensive piece of medical cannabis legislation ever introduced in Congress. The bill has been stalled in the Committee since its introduction in 2015 because Sen. Grassley, the committee chairman, refuses to bring the bill up for a vote. The CARERS Act now has 20 Senate cosponsors, including Judiciary Committee members Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Al Franken (D-MN), who recently signed on.

Senator Grassley has always prided himself on representing the voice of his constituents,” said Beth Collins, ASA’s Senior Director of Government Relations and External Affairs at the event. “We are reminding him today that the overwhelming majority of Iowans and the nation support legal medical cannabis.”

Immediately following the press conference, supporters began a door-to-door campaign to gather signatures for the petition.  A group of Grassley’s constituents plans to hand-deliver the petition later this summer.  Recent polls show 78% of Iowans support legal access to medical cannabis, as do 9 out of 10 voters nationwide, including 82% of Republicans.   

“It’s time for Senator Grassley to put his political agenda aside and carry out the will of the people,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of ASA.  “This is the only way to respect the 42 states that have laws recognizing medical use and the nearly 90% of voters who support it.” 

The CARERS Act would allow state medical cannabis programs to operate without federal interference, move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II, remove cannabidiol (CBD) from the schedule, create access to banking services for state-licensed cannabis businesses, eliminate barriers to clinical research studies, and allow Veterans Health Administration physicians to write recommendations for veterans in states that have a medical cannabis program.

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Americans for Safe Access Welcomes New Puerto Rico Chapter

Last month, Americans for Safe Access officially welcomed Puerto Rico for Safe Access as the first Chapter in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The government of Puerto Rico last December enacted Article 155 to allow the use, possession, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and research of cannabis for medical purposes.  Patients will be able to access medical cannabis with a recommendation from a certified physician who has completed the training required by the Department of Health. Qualifying conditions include cancer, epilepsy, ALS, migraines, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, HIV and fibromyalgia. Pediatric patients will be eligible with the recommendations from two certified Physicians.

Under Article 155 smoking is prohibited but use of inhaler devices such as vaporizers are permitted, as are oils, topical ointments and patches, edibles and pills and other delivery methods.

Recent statistics show that there are currently over 200,000 patients in Puerto Rico who would potentially benefit from the use of medical cannabis. Over 100 licensed physicians have completed the required continuing education and been certified by the Puerto Rico Department of Health to issue medical cannabis recommendations.

An interdisciplinary medical cannabis conference, Puerto Rico MedCann.biz, was held in June to discuss all aspects of the medical cannabis industry. The conference provided information for those looking to enter the industry and those who wish to learn about the medical properties and benefits of cannabis treatment. 

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Cannabis Professional Certification Workshops July 11-15

Cannabis industry professionals can receive new specialized training in July and earn a professional credential. Patient Focused Certification (PFC) and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) will be hosting a PFC Verified Professional (PFCVP) training July 11-15 at A2LA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland.  

The PFCVP standards represent the consensus of the world’s leading experts on cannabis, hemp and botanical product regulations. The strict criteria established by the PFC program ensure individuals can use PFCVP to prove they have mastered core industry standards, state laws and regulations, and product safety protocols.  Individuals who successfully complete the PFCVP will also have completed the 100 Level of the PFC Auditors Training Program.

For more information, see http://www.safeaccessnow.org/pfcvp

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Patient Profile: Christine Stenquist, Ogden, Utah

The diagnosis that explained Christine Stenquist’s acute pain and problems with balance and hearing came in November, 1996: a brain tumor. The acoustic neuroma was attached to the main nerve leading from her left inner ear to her brain. Surgery to remove the tumor had to be halted with only 40 percent of it removed because she started to hemorrhage. When she came out of a coma three days later, she was a shell of her former self.

Christine Stenquist talking with otehr advocates at the Utah state capitolShe would learn to walk and talk again, but the hearing in her left ear would never return and simple tasks such as swallowing remain a challenge. Pain was the real problem, however -- intense, unrelenting pain. As she grappled with her condition, medical disability appeared to be her fate.

“I truly thought my life was over,” she says. “But it wasn’t. It was just waiting until I could discover what would give me my life back.”

That would take a while. Over the next 16 years that suffering continued as her doctors tried treatment after treatment: opiate narcotics, muscle relaxants, anti-spasmodics, trigger point injections, botox injections, and nerve ablations. Her conditions were also becoming more complex, with additional diagnoses of occipital neuralgia, fibromyalgia, cluster headaches, complex migraines, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and, as is common for chronic pain sufferers, depression.

Christine would be prescribed more than 45 different pharmaceutical medications and try alternatives such as physical therapy and homeopathic remedies but still found herself bedridden and vomiting. Desperate, she began researching medical cannabis online. When she approached her doctor about it in 2012, Utah still had no medical cannabis law of any kind, so he prescribed dronabinol, pure synthetic THC taken in pill form. The psychoactive side effects were so severe, she only lasted two weeks before quitting. Desperate but conflicted about breaking the law to use whole-plant cannabis, she called her father, a retired law enforcement officer with 27-years in narcotics, for advice. He told her to just try it.

She did and found not just relief but a cause. In 2013 Christine began attending organizing meetings of patients working to get a medical cannabis bill passed. It was at one of those meetings that she met Angela Bacca, a young activist living with Crohn’s disease who helped teach her how political lobbying works. As Christine spent time at the state capitol the next year working to broaden what would become the first CBD-only law in the nation, she met other lobbyists for grassroots issues and learned more about how to connect with lawmakers.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom used to working with kids, so I approach self-advocating with an attitude of ‘let’s learn together’ how to be more effective politically.”

Early in 2015, Christine found an ally in Utah state Senator Mark Madsen, whose own experience with a near-fatal accidental overdose of a narcotic painkiller had convinced him to champion new medical cannabis legislation. Madsen introduced S.B. 259 that year, which would have allowed whole plant medicines, participation by more patients, and legal production and distribution within Utah, but the bill was derailed by special interest politics, losing by a single vote. A watered-down version of the bill made it through the state senate in February this year and was then further diluted in the House before being returned to a Senate committee, where it was defeated in March. Last month, Christine and Sen. Madsen travelled together to Washington, D.C. to participate in ASA’s Senate briefing on the bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015 (CARERS), which would allow state medical cannabis programs to operate without federal interference.

Christine continues to work for a better law in Utah through the group she founded, Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE). She and Sen. Madsen hope to put before Utah voters a medical cannabis initiative that would enact the type of robust program that meets patient needs.

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ACTION ALERT: Sign the Petition to Sen. Grassley

Right now the CARERS Act, the most important legislation addressing medical cannabis in Congress, is being blocked by Senator Chuck Grassley. Sen. Grassley needs to hear from medical cannabis patients and caregivers who can tell him how important it is that we pass the CARERS Act. Please sign the petition today at http://www.safeaccessnow.org/grassley_petition.

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