ASA Activist Newsletter - March 2017

March 20, 2017 | William Dolphin

In the March 2017 issue:

  • ASA’s Annual Report on State Programs Finds Improvements
  • DEA Yields to Pressure, Removes Misinformation on Cannabis
  • House Cannabis Bills Introduced, Senators Pressure AG Sessions
  • LA Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Cannabis Regulation
  • ASA and PFC to Contribute to International Cannabis Standards
  • New Location for ASA National Unity Conference
  • ASA Activist Profile: Dana Ulrich, Pennsylvania
  • ACTION ALERT: Send ASA’s Access Report to Your State Officials

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ASA’s Annual Report on State Medical Cannabis Programs Finds Improvements

ASA’s scoring of state medical cannabis programs was released this month. The annual report shows that no state yet fully meets the needs of patients, but many have improved dramatically.Medical Marijuana Access in the United States

The report, Medical Marijuana Access in the United States: A Patient-Focused Analysis of the Patchwork of State Laws, assigns letter grades to all 44 state programs and the District of Columbia based on how well each meets the needs of patients. The programs are graded according to a matrix of multiple factors that assess patient's rights, legal constraints, and overall accessibility to medical cannabis, with separate scoring for each factor.

The report provides each state with recommendations on their medical cannabis programs as well as ways for states to compare themselves to other state programs and identify ways to improve.

As of 2017, no state cannabis laws are within the ‘A’ range. Over the past year, 23 States followed ASA’s recommendations for improvement. Last year, only 11 states obtained a B or above; however, in this new report, 19 states received a B or above. In the area of patient rights, only eight states obtained grades above 80% in 2016, in the 2017 report, 12 states were above 80%. In all, 16 states improved their programs, as measured by ASA’s patient-focused rubric.

“Medical cannabis laws are moving in a positive direction, but only a handful of the 44 medical cannabis states are truly meeting the needs of patients, and there are still six states where cannabis remains completely illegal for patients,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “Only a small number of programs currently include the protections and rights all patients should be afforded under the law.“

Last year, North Dakota, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas each passed new comprehensive medical cannabis laws; Montana and Michigan adopted statewide access licensing program to serve patients; and 16 states passed laws to improve existing programs. Several states added chronic pain and PTSD to their list of qualifying conditions and many states added licensing for laboratories.

Improvements in grades were due to several factors, depending on the state. Among the changes that resulted in better scores were new legal protections for patients, including parental rights, pediatric access and protection from civil discrimination, and implementation or expansion of dispensary systems. More states authorized independent laboratory testing of medical cannabis products, and more products became available at lower prices.

“Medical Cannabis Access in the US is a great tool for elected officials,” said Republican State Senator Michael Folmer of Pennsylvania, a state that passed a medical cannabis law in 2016. ”The model legislation and regulations take the guess work out of drafting laws that will help patients and the State grades give legislators and regulators a roadmap for improvement.”

Some states received worse grades than in previous years. Maryland and Washington each declined a full letter grade. Maryland, whose comprehensive medical cannabis program was on its way to being one of the best in the nation, has experienced a variety of delays that have left patients without access for several years. Washington State’s decision to merge their state-regulated medical cannabis dispensary system with adult-use access has limited access for patients to a wide range of medical products.

Americans for Safe Access is urging its members in every state to send a copy of the report to their elected state officials with a request for better access.

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DEA Yields to Pressure, Removes Misinformation on Cannabis

After months of public pressure, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) early last month removed factually inaccurate information about cannabis from its website. The change comes after Americans for Safe Access filed a legal request with the Department of Justice demanding that the DEA immediately remove it from their website and materials.

ASA’s petition, which has not received a formal response from the DEA, argues that the more than 25 false statements on the DEA’s website about cannabis constituted a violation of the Information Quality Act (aka Data Quality Act) which requires that administrative agencies not provide false information to the public and that they respond to requests for correction of information within 60 days.

One publication, “Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana,” contained 23 of the 25 factual inaccuracies in violation of the IQA. Such inaccuracies included claims that cannabis was a gateway drug, caused irreversible cognitive decline in adults, and contributed to psychosis and lung cancer. That publication has now been removed.

“The DEA’s removal of these popular myths about cannabis from their website could end the Washington gridlock,” said Steph Sherer, ASA Executive Director. “This victory for medical cannabis patients means the federal government now admits that cannabis is not a gateway drug and doesn’t cause long-term brain damage or psychosis.”

ASA’s victory was not total, however. The deadline to respond to ASA’s legal petition is well past, and the DEA is still spreading false information about cannabis.

“We are hopeful the DEA will also remove the remaining statements rather than continue to mislead the public in the face of the scientifically proven benefits of medical cannabis,” said Vickie Feeman of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, the law firm that worked pro bono on the petition with ASA.

Americans for Safe Access argues that correcting false information about cannabis is especially important now that the Department of Justice is led by newly-confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has been a staunch supporter of the DEA and cites their publications and opinions about marijuana to justify his opposition to medical cannabis policy reform.

"If the DEA does not take the necessary action to comply with the binding time lines in the IQA, petitioners can always seek an intervention by OMB as the Department of Justice so informed the court in W. Harkonen v. USDOJ or in the courts as demonstrated in Prime Time v. USDA" said Jim Tozzi, a member of ASA’s Patient Focused Certification Review Board who was instrumental in making the Information Quality Act law in 2001.

In the wake of the DEA’s removal of misinformation from its website, ASA sent a memo to Congress on Feb 23 asking elected officials to use the facts when making policy that affects medical cannabis. The memo acknowledges that Congress relies on the DEA to provide information about cannabis and alerts them to four important changes in the DEA’s positions on medical cannabis that could have an impact on legislation this session.

ASA also sent a letter to the DEA asking for correction of the remaining misinformation. That letters emphasizes the importance of providing accurate information to policy makers and law enforcement, noting that the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has repeatedly made statements referencing myths about cannabis that the DEA has now acknowledged have no basis in fact.  

More information:
FAQ on the Information Quality Act
Memo to Congress about DEA change
Letter to DEA about AG Sessions

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House Bills Introduced, Senators Pressure AG Sessions

In the US Congress last month, two new bills were introduced lthat would have a major impact on patients, and 11 Senators sent a letter to the new Attorney General urging respect for state laws.

Reps. Tom Garrett (R-VA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced H.R. 1227, the Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. If enacted, the bipartisan bill would leave regulation of cannabis to states and end federal penalties related to the plant.

The bipartisan Respect State Marijuana Laws Act was also reintroduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) with six Republican and Six Democrat cosponsors. If enacted it would provide immunity for individuals in compliance with state cannabis laws.

The bipartisan letter from 11 Senators to new Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it is “essential” that the Department of Justice provide “immediate assurance” that state programs will be respected. The senators represent Alaska. Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

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LA Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Regulation

Early this month, voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly approved an initiative to regulate cannabis distribution. More than 79% voted yes on Proposition M, giving the mayor and city council oversight of a comprehensive taxation and regulatory approach to commercial cannabis.

The vote resolves more than a decade of extended debate and false starts by city officials that created uncertainty, litigation and uneven enforcement. The new measure establishes taxes for all aspects of cannabis businesses, including transportation and distribution. The commercial taxes are projected to bring in many tens of millions of dollars for the nation’s second largest city next year.

How much in taxes is hard to predict. But by way of comparison, the state of Colorado, with a population of 5.4 million, logged over a billion dollars in legal cannabis sales last year and collected $150 million in taxes. The City of Los Angeles has a population of 3.5 million, and LA county has more than 9 million.

First in line for permits under Prop M will be the 135 medical cannabis dispensaries currently operating under the 2013 initiative Prop D. Those operators will have 60 days to apply once applications are available.  

The LA City Council expects to have regulations complete by Sept 30. Prop M goes into effect Jan 1.

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ASA and PFC to Contribute to International Standards

International standards for cannabis operations may soon be developed by a 119-year-old international organization with input from the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and the (PFC) program, a project of Americans for Safe Access.

A meeting to form the ASTM International Cannabis Committee took place early this month at ASTM’s headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, with PFC’s Chief Auditor, Jahan Marcu, PhD in attendance, along with more than 50 representatives from the scientific and standards community. ASA, PFC, and several other organizations were invited to participate.

The group unanimously agreed on a plan for dividing the work among subcommittees which will be responsible for standards and method development in such areas as personnel training, laboratory testing, cultivation, processing, transportation, terminology and security.

PFC and ASA are working with ASTM in developing these methods. PFC and AHPA are providing standards developed in 2010 that have already been adopted by 19 states and are now integral for medical cannabis programs in the United States. PFC currently provides personnel training, SOPs and third-party certification required to run these operations and has state contracts for the program’s services. ASTM standards will be integrated into PFC’s international certification program when the ASTM program is developed so PFC will provide even greater value to the cannabis industry.

The ASTM  board is expected to approve the committee this month, with a board of directors installed by late April. ASTM member training will be available online as a virtual classroom. ASTM membership applications are available now with ongoing approval. By the request of the industry, ASTM’s activities are focused on meeting the needs of the cannabis community addressing the full life cycle of cannabis, including both medical and consumable cannabis products. Potential areas for initial standards work include cultivation, sampling, testing, quality management systems, processing, handling, labeling, occupational health and safety and more.

The cannabis committee will be one of more than 140 standards-writing committees at ASTM, which sets best-practice standards for more than 12,000 products ranging from children’s toys to commercial spacecraft.

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New Location for ASA National Unity Conference

To accommodate demand, the site of next month’s fifth annual National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference has been moved to at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC.

Attendees for the conference, whose theme is “The Role of Medical Cannabis in Modern Medicine,” will gain insight from leading experts on a range of topics critical to patients and have the opportunity to network with other activists. Professional development and leadership trainings will be followed by a citizen lobbying day on Capitol Hill.  

The conference, which marks ASA’s 15th anniversary, will take place April 7-11. Register today at http://www.nationalmedicalcannabisunityconference.org.

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ASA Activist Profile: Dana Ulrich, Pennsylvania

It was four years ago this month that Dana Ulrich reached the end of the proverbial rope with her five-year-old daughter’s doctors. A rare genetic mutation meant Lorelei was experiencing 700-1,000 seizures every day, and all the pharmaceutical drugs they had tried were not controlling it. Dana’s little girl was heavily sedated and experiencing other debilitating side effects but still suffering seizures.Dana and Lorelei

In desperation, Dana did as many do and looked to the internet and other families for alternative treatments. She quickly found information on using cannabis to control seizures but could only think: “I’m not going to have my kid smoke pot -- she’s five!” Since they lived in Pennsylvania, there were also no legal protections in 2013.

Then Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s first CNN Special Report on cannabis aired, and Dana saw Charlotte Figi’s story of using CBD oil to treat Dravet Syndrome, another severe seizure disorder.

Dana contacted her state representatives the next day. She set up a facebook page, Legalize for Lorelei, to get their story out. She began to network with other families, and a parents group coalesced that would become Campaign for Compassion.

Dana also made the decision to try treating Lorelei with cannabis oil. The improvement was immediate. Not only did it reduce the number and severity of her seizures by 80-90 percent, it improved her quality of life and helped her achieve better focus.

Convinced of the efficacy of medical cannabis, Dana and others began working on legislation in Pennsylvania, quickly finding an ally in Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Folmer. The state had seen several medical cannabis bills proposed but go nowhere. Meetings with Sen. Folmer led them to write a new medical cannabis bill from scratch.

Three years later, on April 17, 2016, those efforts culminated in the signing of Act 16, which establishes a medical cannabis program in the state and safe harbor for patients such as Lorelei until the program is fully operational.

State lawmakers told Dana that the three-year turnaround was “lightning speed” for legislation, to which she could only reply, “Not when you’re talking about children’s health or cancer.” Nor is she enthusiastic about the bill as it was eventually passed.
“This is not the bill we really wanted,” she says. “The original language was lost in amendment when they gutted and replaced it.”

The state has now sent a “safe harbor” letter certifying Lorelei as a qualifying patient, so her family has some measure of legal protection for possessing and administering cannabis oil, though there is still no legal means of obtaining medical cannabis in Pennsylvania.

Now, Dana, along with many advocates in Pennsylvania, is focusing on making their state program better. They are asking the state to expand the qualifying condition list and add whole plant material to allowed forms of cannabis. Dana is also pressing for reciprocity with other states so Lorelei and other patients are not trapped in their state of residence. In Lorelei’s case, the specialists who treat her are in neighboring New Jersey, necessitating trips where carrying her medicine would violate the law.

Dana and other Pennsylvania advocates recognize how much time and work it can take to create, pass and implement legislation, but the progress made is already palpable.

“Medical cannabis is no longer controversial. It is not taboo in the way it was. People can tell their stories,” says Dana. “People are looking to our state program with great anticipation, but there is still work to do. Cannabis should be a first-line medicine, not a treatment of last resort.”

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ACTION ALERT: Send ASA’s Access Report to Your State Officials

ASA’s report, Medical Marijuana Access in the US, shows improvement this past year, but no state is yet fully meeting patient needs. Each of us needs to press our lawmakers, regulators, and officials for better access.  ASA’s report not only provides a valuable tool for evaluating your state’s program, but it helps your legislators and officials identify how to improve it or create a sound program from scratch. Keep the national momentum going.  Click here to send the report to your state legislators today!

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