Patient Advocates Call on Congress to Act to Preserve Medical Cannabis to Fight Opiate Crisis

Americans for Safe Access Launches Campaign and Declares November 1: National Cannabis as an Option for Pain Day

WASHINGTON, DC — On November 1, Americans for Safe Access, the US Pain Foundation, and approximately 150 advocates will hold a press conference and rally in Washington to encourage Congress and the Administration to consider medical cannabis as an option for pain in order to help mitigate the current opioid overdose crisis that has hit epidemic proportions in our nation. Sister rallies are planned across the country. See AFI list below.

WHERE: Upper Senate Park, Washington, DC

WHEN:   Wednesday, November 1st 10:00 am


  • US Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oregon
  • Steph Sherer - Americans for Safe Access, District of Columbia
  • Amy Mellen - Pain Patient, Maryland
  • Michael Krawitz - Veteran Advocate, Virginia
  •  Amy Catteron - Cancer Patient, North Carolina

Advocates will deliver a letter addressed to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations urging them to include the Medical Cannabis CJS  amendment amendment in the FY18 appropriations package. The letter is signed by the following organizations: National Multiple Sclerosis Society, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, US Pain Foundation, Epilepsy Foundation, Tourette Association of America, National Women’s Health Network, Realm of Caring, and Americans for Safe Access.

“The opioid crisis is a national emergency, killing 147 people a day. We must do more to help the families and communities torn apart by addiction,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03). “At the very least, the federal government should stay out of the way as states allow access to safer alternatives to opioids like medical cannabis.”

“We are gathering to ask that Congress maintain the Medical Cannabis CJS  amendment which protects patients in medical cannabis states from federal interference, allowing states to  progress beyond the nearly 25% decrease they have already seen in opioid overdose deaths,” stated Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. “One in three Americans suffer from chronic pain and one in ten have experienced severe pain every day for three months or more. Policy makers need to include a health care approach to the opioid crisis not just a law enforcement response. Medical cannabis programs are saving lives.”

Despite the fact that the amendment has passed twice in House floor votes, and has been part of the appropriations package since 2015, the Committee on Rules voted to not allow a floor vote. The amendment prevents the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state medical cannabis programs. The Senate version of the amendment (introduced by Senator Leahy) was passed in July in the Senate FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

The rally comes on the heels of the President’s formal announcement last week declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency.  On August 10th, 2017, referring to the opioid crisis, President Trump said: "I'm saying officially right now, it is an emergency. It is a National emergency." However, never formalized his declaration and last week’s declaration of a public health emergency fell short. While this is a positive step forward, the declaration does not include the necessary provisions for new funds which states need to combat the crisis.

Thirty states, including those most negatively impacted by the opioid crisis such as West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Ohio, and Washington DC, have medical cannabis programs. Many of these states allow medical cannabis to be used to treat chronic pain. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that in states with medical cannabis programs, there has been a 25% reduction in opioid related deaths. This study also showed a 13% decrease in hospitalizations from opioid related causes. In a survey of nearly 3,000 pain patients, 93% preferred medical cannabis over opioid therapies for pain management. In addition to the data, there are thousands of personal stories of patients who have been able to reduce the number of opioids they take or come off opioid therapies altogether by using cannabis.

Advocates hope that both the Administration and Congress will take measures to ensure medical cannabis states have the protections and federal support they need to utilize medical cannabis as a treatment for pain and, in turn, decrease opioid addiction and overdose in their states.

Steph Sherer

Steph Sherer is founder and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.Steph_Shererrevised120.jpg

Her direct experience with the medical benefits of cannabis and her political organizing background led Steph to form ASA in 2002 with the purpose of building a strong grassroots movement to protect patients and their rights. As a powerful advocate, a skilled spokesperson, and an energetic initiator of campaigns, Steph has trained over 100,000 individuals across the country on civic engagement.

Steph has become the foremost international leader and expert on medical cannabis patient advocacy and, alongside American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), has created the first industry standards in the areas of Distribution, Cultivation, Analytics, and Manufacturing, Packaging and Labeling.  Contact: Beth Collins | [email protected]  | 202-857-4272

Amy Mellen

Amy Mellen knew something about pain from the hormonal migraines she began experiencing in 1998. But a major car accident in 2006 ushered her into the world of severe chronic pain. After her vehicle flipped several times, she awoke in the hospital with an IV drip delivering the first of the opiate painkillers that would come to define her life for the next eight years. Those IV narcotics were her introduction to real intoxication, since she’d never used drugs or been drunk. She left the hospital with a supply of pills that would be refilled through nine surgical procedures on the hand and arm she nearly lost in the accident. The next 17 years would bring the total to 20 surgeries, but the turning point was another traffic incident.

Prescribed gabapentin for her pain, Amy blacked out while driving. Prior to that, she’d never had a speeding ticket, but she lost her driver's’ license as a result of that incident and realized she had to find an alternative and get off the pain meds.

In October of 2014, Amy tried smoking cannabis. After four months, she tried topical cannabis medicines. Two months of that and she began ingesting cannabis oil extracts. The oil made the difference. Soon, she was cutting back on the Baclofen, OxyContin, Effexor and Klonopin she had relied on since 2006, though she would go through detox 27 times before pulling free.

“It literally changed my life,” Amy says. It not only helped control her pain, but within two months of starting it, she was shocked to discover the cannabis oil treatment had reversed her Type 2 diabetes, further evidence of the role cannabinoids have in regulating insulin.

Within a year, Amy had also lost over 100 pounds. Now, three years after starting cannabis therapy, she’s dropped over 200 from the 400 pounds she’d reached at her heaviest. That transformation has come with a sense of obligation to share her experience with others.

“I knew people need to hear my story,” she says. That meant building a social media network beginning with a simple meme with bullet points of what cannabis had done for her. Amy’s facebook group Squash the Stigma now has over 2,000 members who use it to sort through information about cannabis and ask questions where they won’t be judged.

“If you don’t have experience with cannabis, you can be so overwhelmed, there’s so much information,” Amy says. “It’s hard for us new people – you don’t know who to ask, and it can be hard to know who to believe.”

Originally a registered patient in Oregon, before her husband’s work took them to Maryland, she testified at the Oregon Health Association and before the state legislature. Once in Maryland, Amy became the second qualifying patient registered in the state and has been working to push forward implementation in the state, which has been painfully slow. Maryland approved medical cannabis four years ago but still does not have a functioning system to provide patients with medicine.  Contact: Amy Mellen |  [email protected] | 971-678-5494

Michael Krawitz

A disabled United States Air Force Veteran [Sergeant, 1981 - 1986],  Michael Krawitz was injured in Guam in an accident that was deemed "in the line of duty” although not combat related. In 2010 his long fight inside the United States Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] for adequate access to pain management paid off with his negotiating the first ever medical cannabis policy within the VA.speaker-michael-krawitz-large.jpg

Driven by advances in cannabis based medicine and inspired by a report from the International Narcotics Control Board of 1995, Availability of Opiates for Medical Needs, Michael engaged the USA and international drug control systems. However, finding there was little NGO participation, Michael has focused much of his work on increasing NGO involvement in the UN drug control system. To this end, his work has made an important contribution to the Beyond 2008 consultative process as well as the New York NGO Committee on Drugs.

Mr Krawitz currently sits on the Executive Council of the New York NGO Committee on Drugs, is a Board Member of the International Alliance for Cannabis as Medicine, and serves as Director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access.

Contact: Michael Krawitz | [email protected]  | 540-420-9847

Amy Catterton

1028171549a_Film3.jpgAmy Catterton is a 31 year old mom of five. She had worked in management since she was in her early 20s and while pregnant. In 2015 she was diagnosed as having stage three invasive breast cancer. Unfortunately, it has metastasized into inoperable stage four bone cancer. She was in a great deal pain and the side-effects of the opioids were unbearable, so she decided to try medical cannabis.  

She says, “Medical cannabis has been such a blessing from God sent to me and my family. My children are able to sit and do homework with me, and my husband can enjoy some of my cooking again because of medical cannabis.” For her, medical cannabis has been a “game changer.”

Contact: Greg & Amy Catterton | [email protected]  | 828-292-4624

Ethan Russo (not in attendance)

Ethan Russo, MD, is a board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and Medical Director of Phytecs. Previously, from 2003-2014, he served as Senior Medical Advisor and study physician to GW Pharmaceuticals for three Phase III clinical trials of Sativex® for alleviation of cancer pain unresponsive to optimized opioid treatment and initial studies of Epidiolex® for intractable epilepsy.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Psychology) and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, before residencies in Pediatrics in Phoenix, Arizona and in Child and Adult Neurology at the University of Washington in Seattle. He was a clinical neurologist in Missoula, Montana for 20 years in a practice with a strong chronic pain component. In 1995, he pursued a 3-month sabbatical doing ethnobotanical research with the Machiguenga people in Parque Nacional del Manu, Peru. He joined GW as a full-time consultant in 2003.

He has held faculty appointments in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Montana, in Medicine at the University of Washington, and as visiting professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He is currently Past-President of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, and is former Chairman of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines. He serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the American Botanical Council. He is author of Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs, co-editor of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutic Potential, and author of The Last Sorcerer: Echoes of the Rainforest. He was founding editor of Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics, selections of which were published as books: Cannabis Therapeutics in HIV/AIDS, Women and Cannabis: Medicine, Science and Sociology, Cannabis: From Pariah to Prescription, and Handbook of Cannabis Therapeutics: From Bench to Bedside. He has also published numerous book chapters, and over thirty articles in neurology, pain management, cannabis, and ethnobotany. His research interests have included correlations of historical uses of cannabis to modern pharmacological mechanisms, phytopharmaceutical treatment of migraine and chronic pain, and phytocannabinoid/terpenoid, /serotonergic and /vanilloid interactions.

Amanda Reiman, PhD MSW (not in attendance)

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After receiving her PhD from UC Berkeley Social Welfare, Dr. Reiman completed pre and post doctoral fellowships with the Alcohol Research Group. Following that, she was the Director of Research and Patient Services at Berkeley Patients Group, one of the oldest dispensaries in the country, and the Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, a national non-profit that was engaged in the drafting and campaigns of legalization initiatives across the country and abroad. She also taught courses on substance abuse treatment and drug policy at UC Berkeley for 10 years.

Dr. Reiman was the inaugural Chairwoman of the Medical Cannabis Commission for the city of Berkeley and was also on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission for the city of Oakland. Currently, Reiman is the Head of Community Relations for Flow Kana, a branded cannabis distribution company that works with small farmers in the Emerald Triangle and the Secretary of the International Cannabis Farmer’s Association, a nonprofit that advocates for research and policies that favor sun grown cannabis cultivation through traditional farming methods.

Reiman’s previous research has focused on the role of medical cannabis dispensaries in providing health services, the integration of cannabis businesses into communities, and the use of cannabis as a substitute for alcohol and other drugs.