ASA Activist Newsletter - 2021 Year in Review

2021 Year in Review

  • Federal Cannabis Developments
  • States Pass New Medical and Adult-Use Laws
  • PFC Program Developments
  • ASA Expands Advocacy Campaigns, Member Benefits
  • Activist Profiles in 2021
  • Action Alert: Veterans Need Help Now


2021 Federal Cannabis Developments

Congress Considers Legislative Reforms

In 2021, as more states embraced expanded medical cannabis programs and adult-use access, Congress edged closer to enacting cannabis reform legislation. ASA has been lobbying members in support of bills that would end federal prohibition and ensure safe access and civil protections for patients everywhere in the US.

On April 19, the House passed the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act (HR 1996), which would allow financial institutions to do business with state-licensed cannabis operators. That bill is pending in the Senate.

Other bipartisan bills awaiting votes in the House or Senate include the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (HR 4325), which would deschedule cannabis and institute programs to support communities disproportionately harmed by the drug war. In September, the MORE Act was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on a vote of 26 to 15. A previous version of the MORE Act passed the House in December 2020, but the bill was blocked in the Senate.

Also pending are the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act (S 1183 / HR 2588) and the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2021 (HR 2916 / S 1467), as well as the Marijuana Data Collection Act (S 1456).

A more-limited bill that would also remove cannabis from federal scheduling and resolve banking problems for cannabis businesses, the Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act (HR 3105), was introduced in the House by Republicans David Joyce (R, OH) and Don Young (R, AK).CAOA Draft Summary

At the end of the year, language from some of the VA and banking reform bills was added as amendments to the must-pass defense appropriation bills in the House and Senate, but all were stripped from the final budget bill in the Senate. 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) insists that a comprehensive single bill is the best option. Over the summer, Schumer and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) released a 163-page “discussion draft” of just such a bill with a request for comments. ASA’s detailed summary of the proposed Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) is online at

ASA’s analysis concludes that the CAOA fails to meet patient needs in its proposed form. ASA suggested substantive changes in submitted comments. ASA recommends that federal regulators establish a federal cannabis office and include in the proposed Advisory Committee medical professionals who have experience treating patients with cannabis. ASA’s comments also highlight the need for physician education and civil protections for patients. 

ASA Advises White House on Equity

In addition to providing input on the proposed Senate reform bill, ASA responded to a White House request for comments on how federal drug control policy has disproportionately harmed some communities. ASA’s advice to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) explained why medical cannabis is a social equity issue and provided substantial recommendations on how to protect patients and ensure affordability of cannabis medicine, as well as ways to harmonize federal and state laws and improve state and local equity programs.

USDA Finalizes Hemp Rules

Federal hemp regulations were finalized in February 2021 and took effect on March 22. The regulations are the result of Congress legalizing hemp production in late 2018. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved hemp cultivation plans for various states and tribes under the licensing process established by the 2018 Farm Bill.

Still pending is a decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on how to regulate CBD, which can be extracted from hemp. The Farm Bill says low-THC hemp extracts are legal for production and interstate commerce.


States Pass New Medical and Adult-Use Laws

Alabama Enacts Medical Cannabis Program

In May, Alabama established a medical cannabis program when Governor Kay Ivey signed Senate Bill 46. Patients with medical conditions ranging from cancer and chronic pain to depression and panic disorder can qualify to possess up to a 70-day supply by registering with the program.  Recommending physicians must complete a 4-hour certifying course in medical cannabis. The state will license cultivators, manufacturers and retail dispensaries to provide safe access.

Four States Approve Adult Use

State lawmakers in Connecticut, New York, Virginia and New Mexico all legalized cannabis for adults age 21 and older. The new laws in New York, Virginia and New Mexico also have mechanisms for expunging certain cannabis-related convictions. 

The actions will expand medical access for patients whose conditions are not on the qualifying lists and remove barriers for those who are interested in trying it or have concerns about registering with the state.

In Connecticut, adults 21 or older are now allowed to cultivate, purchase and possess cannabis. The state will license businesses to produce and sell cannabis products beginning sometime after May 2022. Adults may carry up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, have up to 5 ounces in a secured location, and cultivate up to three mature and three immature cannabis plants.

In New Mexicothe new law allows anyone 21 or older to possess 2 ounces of cannabis and cultivate 6 plants. The law went into effect June 29, but adult-use sales will not begin until sometime in 2022. An estimated 150,000 people will have their New Mexico criminal records expunged automatically.

In New York, the new law also removed some restrictions in the state’s medical cannabis program. Patients now have access to cannabis flower, can keep double the amount of cannabis on hand, and can cultivate for personal use. Adult-use sales are expected to begin sometime in 2022.

In Virginia, possession and use of cannabis by adults became legal on July 1. Virginians will be able to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and cultivate four cannabis plants. Retail sales will not start until January 1, 2024.

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and two U.S. territories have made legal the nonmedical use of cannabis. Research indicates that as many as half of cannabis consumers in those states are using cannabis to manage medical conditions, though they are not enrolled in medical use programs.


PFC Program Developments

PFC Earns First Cannabis ISO Accreditation, Certifies 5 Labs

In April 2021, ASA's PFC Program achieved accreditation to the ISO/IEC 17065:2012 standard for certifying bodies (Certificate #5284.01), becoming the first and only compliance program to obtain international accreditation for cannabis. This accreditation certifies that the PFC program’s policies and procedures have been vetted and validated by auditors from an internationally recognized organization. 

The PFC program had five labs complete or renew their certification through PFC's agreement with A2LA. PFC is streamlining the process for new labs who need to get ISO 17025 and wish to add the PFC certification to their accreditation. 

ISO/IEC accreditationISO/IEC stands for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Together these form the standard setting body that has developed over 23,752 standards, including those for management systems, quality management, information security management, information technology, and occupational health and safety.

Third party certifications are common in many legal industries and markets, and governments often use them to ensure the safety of products and services. PFC standards incorporate all state, federal and international cannabis and product laws and regulations.

PFC Launches New and Updated Trainings

In February, PFC updated the Maryland State Compliance training course along with the Business Operations course. The Maryland State Training is available in the a la carte section of PFC’s training website.

In July, PFC expanded its state compliance training courses with a new one for Illinois. PFC was approved in September by the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) to be part of the state’s Responsible Vendor Program.

In October, the PFC program was approved by the New York Department of Health as part of the Cannabinoid Hemp GMP Certifier program. All hemp processors must obtain GMP certification prior to releasing products for sale and PFC has been approved to provide that certification.

PFC also updated all four National Cannabis Standards training classes (Cultivation, Manufacturing, Dispensary, and Laboratory) in 2021. These courses provide an overview of best practices for each operation type and complement the updates made to the three Core Cannabis Training classes in 2020.

PFC Releases Robbery Guide

PFC released a new guide in 2021 to help businesses mitigate the risks of robberies. PFC's Robbery Preparedness Guide was released in December due to a spike in robberies hitting cannabis businesses across the US. The guide aids businesses in developing plans to stay safe during robberies and adopt policies to help prevent robberies and burglaries.

PFC Creates Risk Committee, Adds to Review Board

PFC established a Risk Management Committee in 2021 whose purpose is to identify risks to the program's impartiality and confidentiality. As an independent program, PFC must identify factors that could affect the impartiality of assessments and implement policies and procedures to prevent those risk.

PFC also added new members to the PFC Review Board. New members are Holly Johnson, PhD, chief scientific officer for the American Herbal Products Association; Eric Strong, an expert in finance and research; Chris Day, founder of Project Evolve; Elan Sudberg, CEO of Alkemist Labs; and Deborah Miran, former commissioner of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. The PFC Review Board is tasked with approving or denying certifications and ensuring that the program is operating according to its policies and procedures. 

PFC Events

PFC participated in a number of events in 2021, including ASA’s Unity Conference, the Cannabis Science Conference, MJBizCon, and the ASTM D37 conference. PFC also provided free COVID safety training to National Expungement Week volunteers who help community members expunge criminal records for cannabis in states that have legalized it.  


ASA Expands Advocacy Campaigns, Member Benefits

ASA Holds 2021 Unity Conference Online

Unity 2021 Videos

ASA held its 9th annual National Medical Cannabis Unity conference online in April 2021, due to the pandemic. The theme was No Patient Left Behind.

Highlights of panels and presentations from the conference include removing barriers to housing, healthcare and employment; kids and cannabis; controlling cannabis cost; federal standards for testing; changing federal law; and addressing veterans’ issues.

All the information and videos are available online in ASA’s Unity 2021 Program Guide. See the Unity 2021 presentations free at

ASA Partners with CannaKeys on Research, Members Get Discount

Better patient research is the goal of a new partnership between ASA and CannaKeys. ASA and CannaKeys will be working together on educational activities to help accelerate the use and safe adoption of cannabinoid therapeutics.CannaKeys logo

CannaKeys platforms and services support education on the cannabinoid health sciences and the effective and consistent use of these therapies. The CannaKeys 360° platform provides easy access to over 3,500 cannabis related studies across 240+ medical conditions.

As part of the partnership, ASA members receive a 30% discount on the CannaKeys 360 platform.

ASA Providing Content to Cannabis Patient Care, Members Get Access

ASA is providing educational content and articles focused on patient and advocate experiences for Cannabis Patient Care™, a leading multimedia platform dedicated to advancing medical research, education, and treatment in the cannabis industry. Cannabis Patient Care™ will interview advocates at ASA chapters and highlight legalization efforts and ASA’s work to improve patient access.

As part of the new partnership, all ASA members get free access to Cannabis Patient Care™. ASA members will receive an email with links to the publication. ASA membership information is available at

ASA Hosts Webinar on Cannabis and Cancer

As part of patient education, ASA hosted a free webinar in collaboration with Holistic Caring on how cannabis can help people living with cancer.

The webinar with the founder of Holistic Caring, Elizabeth Mack, RN, and ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai covers how cannabis can be a tool to better manage conventional cancer treatment side effects. It also discusses the pre-clinical research on cannabinoids as anti-tumor agents and how cannabis can help patients find wholeness in body-mind-spirit.

The recorded webinar is available to view free online at

ASA Helps Healthcare Centers Comply with New Law

In December, ASA launched a campaign to ensure all healthcare facilities in California know terminal patients now have a right to use cannabis on site. The campaign supports implementation of “Ryan’s Law” (SB311), which went into effect January 1, 2022.Ryan Bartell

ASA sent its Ryan’s Law implementation guide to more than 2,000 California healthcare facilities. It includes a summary of the law, sample policies and documents, and standard operating procedures to aid in their compliance.

ASA has also created resources for physicians and their patients to help navigate the new law, including information on patient requirements, links to sample written recommendations, and CME courses on cannabis. For patients who encounter facilities refusing to comply, ASA has set up an online reporting system and a designated email account [email protected].

Ryan’s law was passed in honor of Ryan Bartell after lobbying by his father and other patient advocates. Bartell wanted to use cannabis to control his cancer pain, but his hospital refused to allow it. 

ASA Events

ASA staff participated in events nationwide in 2021, including MJBizCon, White Label Expo, Cannabis Science Conference, the National Cannabis Festival, and several webinars and podcasts. Many more are planned for 2022. 

On January 19, ASA's Director of Government Affairs Abbey Roudebush will be providing a Continuing Legal Education webinar for the International Cannabis Bar Association. Her presentation will focus on ASA's annual State of the States report that analyzes the implementation of medical cannabis laws in each US state and territory. Registration for the CLE webinar is free to ICBA members or $30 for the public. 


Activist Profiles in 2021

Each month, ASA highlights a medical cannabis activist or group to show the diversity of advocates and the roles they play in achieving safe access.

February: Pennsylvania State Rep Chris Rabb. Many elected officials have stepped forward to champion more sensible laws and policies that respect the experiences and needs of medical cannabis patients. Very few are willing to say that those laws and policies apply to them. Pennsylvania State Representative Christopher M. Rabb is one of the courageous few....

March: Katree Saunders, Las Vegas, Nevada. For anyone who believes that passing adult-use laws fixes problems for patients, that medical cannabis use doesn’t get anyone in trouble, or that being a patient can’t cause problems for people, Katree Saunders is here to tell you different....

April: Nikki Lawley, Buffalo, New YorkIt was just a routine vaccination. As a pediatric nurse, Nikki Lawley had done more than she could count, but the child turned combative and suddenly head-butted her, snapping her head back against the wall. She sustained a serious neck and brain injury. Headaches, memory loss, insomnia, mood disturbance, anxiety and depression took control of her life....

May: Philippe Lucas PhD, Victoria, Canada. When Philippe Lucas got a hepatitis C diagnosis as a college student in 1995 he could not have imagined it would put him on a path to becoming a groundbreaking patient advocate and being named ASA’s 2021 Cannabis Researcher of the Year....

June: Michelle Herman, Needham, Massachusetts. Already the mother of a young son, Michelle Herman was excited to discover she was pregnant with a girl. She’d had a girl’s name, “Zoey,” picked out since she was 13. She had no way to know that her daughter would inspire her to become a fierce advocate for medical cannabis....

July: Mike Graglia, Palo Alto, California. The seizures began when Tony was 3. After an initial diagnosis of epilepsy, Mike Graglia learned the next year that what his son has is a rare disease called Syngap that affects about 200 people in the U.S. Named for the SYNGAP1 gene, the disease affects brain development and produces epilepsy, autism, intellectual disability and a range of life-long developmental disabilities....

August: Deb McCauley, Sarasota, Florida. Deb McCauley had been a medical professional for more than two decades, and had juggled her own seizure medications for nearly as long, when a friend approached her in the summer of 2018 with an alternative she’d not considered....

September: Jamie Lowell, Detroit, Michigan. After more than a dozen years as a cannabis activist in Michigan, Jamie Lowell has seen the environment in his state evolve dramatically, but some things remain the same. Threats to safe access continue to emerge, and the diverse cannabis stakeholders and advocacy groups in the state still come together to combat them....

October: Michelle J. Wright, Maryland. Why would a senior healthcare executive, business consultant, and community leader seek a graduate pharmacy degree focused on cannabis? The love of a son with severe autism was the answer for Michelle Wright....

November: Robert Head, Dallas, Texas. Six years ago, Robert Head, a veteran of multiple tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army Infantry, was having a hard time with pain in his knees and feet. To manage it, he was taking painkillers, including 10-15 ibuprofen each day, and drinking a fifth of whiskey. But he knew it wasn’t sustainable....

December: Chris Conrad & Mikki Norris, SF Bay Area, California. The San Francisco Bay Area holds a place in history as the center of grassroots organizing that made medical cannabis legal. Among the committed activists who propelled that movement are Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, a couple who have each contributed their ideas and talents in a wide variety of ways, including working with Americans for Safe Access.


ACTION ALERT: Veterans Need Help Now

Cannabis can treat a number of conditions that disproportionately affect those who have served in the armed forces, yet the policy of the Veterans Administration prohibits VA doctors from recommending it. Several members of Congress have called on the VA to remove this barrier to safe access, but your voice is needed, too. 

Take a minute to urge VA Secretary Denis McDonough to change that policy now. Send a message today at


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