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ASA Activist Newsletter - August 2014
IN THIS ISSUE
- As New York Enacts Bill, ASA Issues Analysis of State Laws
- National Medical Cannabis Manufacturing Guidelines Issued
- Landmark House Vote on Medical Cannabis Banking
- House CBD-Only Bill Introduced
- Chapter Profile: Michigan ASA
- ACTION ALERT: VoteMedicalMarijuana.org
As New York Enacts Bill, ASA Issues Analysis of State Laws
On July 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill making New York the 23rd state to allow legal access to medical cannabis. The final version of the law reflects compromises demanded by the Gov. Cuomo that impose substantial restrictions on access, aligning the state with others that hamper patient care such as Illinois and Minnesota. The day of the signing, Americans for Safe Access issued a report analyzing the effectiveness of all the state medical cannabis laws in the US.
New York’s law will protect qualified patients from arrest, prosecution and discrimination, and allow as many as 20 licensed distribution facilities across the state. However, the law only allows for products that use an extracted form of medical cannabis, like oil and edibles, which are to be produced under a state-licensed manufacturing process. The law imposes a 7-percent tax, prohibits access to whole-plant cannabis, and expires in seven years. The state Department of Health has 18 months to establish regulations for the program.
“The vast differences in how states are regulating medical cannabis are creating a patchwork of access for patients,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “Policymakers should craft laws in terms of what best allows doctors and patients to effectively treat serious medical conditions.”
ASA’s new report, "Medical Marijuana Access in the U.S.," evaluates state laws from a patient's perspective, assigning grades to each state. ASA’s analysis finds that no state has yet established an ideal, comprehensive program, and restrictive medical cannabis laws fail to meet the needs of most patients. Forty-seven percent of the U.S. population now lives in a state with a medical cannabis law.
The state-by-state evaluation reveals that most provide patients with protection from both arrest and prosecution, incorporate a production and distribution program, and allow patients and their caregivers to cultivate a personal supply of medical cannabis. Recent state laws are more likely to recognize the importance of protecting patients from civil discrimination, and more product safety and industry standards have been established in the past few years.
Progress has not been steady. As some states have implemented production and distribution models, local governments have found ways to ban such activity, leaving tens of thousands of patients without access. After years of failed implementation, state laws such as those in Connecticut, Delaware, and New Jersey remain inoperable for all practical purposes.
With the recent media attention on Cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment for intractable seizure disorders and other conditions, the states of Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin have each passed highly restrictive CBD-only laws. The functionality of these laws remains in question, as most fail to establish a legal means for producing, manufacturing, and distributing the cannabis oil extract to the handful of patients who would qualify, and all other components of the cannabis plant remain illegal.
ASA’s state report uses a point system to evaluate each state medical cannabis law on its effectiveness in four categories: 1) patients' rights and protection from discrimination, 2) access to medicine, 3) ease of navigation, and 4) functionality. The report provides state legislators and regulators a way to compare approaches and identify what is important from the standpoint of patients. No state received a grade of "A" for their law, but the four highest-ranking states are California, Maine, Rhode Island, and Washington. \
The full report and explanation of evaluation criteria can be downloaded at AmericansForSafeAccess.org/medical_marijuana_access_in_the_usa.
Text of New York medical cannabis law
National Trade Group Releases Cannabis Manufacturing Guidelines
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) released medical cannabis manufacturing guidelines July 22, completing its seed-to-sale recommendations for industry and regulators. The non-profit AHPA, which has been for more than three decades the leading trade organization representing the multi-billion dollar herbal products industry, has identified best-practice standards for cannabis operations ranging from cultivation and distribution to manufacturing and laboratory analytics.
Those standards are the basis of a new ASA program for the medical cannabis industry called Patient Focused Certification (PFC), which audits and certifies compliance for all types of medical cannabis businesses and organizations nationwide. The PFC program also incorporates the expert standards set by American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) for the plant's identity, purity, quality and botanical properties.
"Medical cannabis is one of the safest medicines used today," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "But industry standards that ensure the quality and reliability of all cannabis products are critical to the confidence of both consumers and regulators."
The first product recall of a medical cannabis product was announced by the Denver Department of Environmental Health on July 17. Although there have been no reports of problems with the line of edible products recalled from the dozens of Colorado dispensaries, Denver authorities determined that they were manufactured in part with "equipment not intended for food manufacturing" that could lead to "possible contamination from unsanitary equipment."
Denver has local protocols for medical cannabis recalls and product safety. States that require testing medical cannabis products include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. Some of those states also require training of industry staff.
PFC industry trainings and certifications are co-produced with the Cannabis Training Institute (CTI) to certify that cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and laboratory technicians adhere to AHPA and AHP standards. The PFC certification process is overseen by a review board of scientists, doctors, and industry and regulatory experts. They conduct both a scheduled and surprise facility audit, as well as a staff training audit, and establish procedures for validating complaints. Certified medical cannabis businesses and products can exhibit the PFC seal on their marketing, promotions and packaging to help patients make educated purchasing decisions. Fifteen medical cannabis businesses across the country have either achieved certification or begun the PFC process, including in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
ASA has been offering trainings to the medical cannabis industry for over a decade and holds a permit from the District of Columbia for the staff trainings mandated for all licensed medical cannabis businesses.
AHP Cannabis monograph (Abridged version)
Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program
Landmark House Vote on Medical Cannabis Banking
Medical cannabis patients won another victory in Congress that could remove barriers to banking for state-licensed businesses. On July 16, the U.S. House voted 231-192 to prevent Department of Treasury funds from "being used to prohibit or penalize a financial institution from providing services to a cannabis-related business that engages in activities permissible under state or local laws." The amendment to the financial services budget bill won an unprecedented number of votes for a medical cannabis issue.
Many medical cannabis businesses have been prevented from using banking and financial services because of threats from federal officials who classify financial transactions related to medical cannabis as illegal money laundering. Most major banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup, continue to refuse services to medical cannabis businesses, despite a memo issued by Treasury earlier this year indicating they can provide them. This refusal has forced thousands of medical cannabis producers, manufacturers, and distributors to work on a cash-only basis, increasing risks to the businesses and the patients they serve and complicating regulatory oversight.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a Treasury agency, has for years selectively audited medical cannabis businesses under Section 280e, a little-known provision of the tax code meant for cartels and large criminal enterprises. The provision prevents “criminal enterprises” from deducting business expenses when filing income taxes, requiring them to pay taxes on gross revenue rather than net income.
Despite the DOJ guidance, licensed dispensaries in California and Colorado are still being targeted by the IRS as a tactic for closing them down. The banking amendment -- introduced by Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), and Barbara Lee (D-CA) – aims to curb these audits and give the banking industry the go-ahead to service medical cannabis businesses.
The House rejected, 186-236, an opposing amendment to the budget bill that would have prohibited Treasury from implementing Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance that permits banks to service medical cannabis businesses.
"We’re seeing a sea-change in Congressional support for state and local medical marijuana programs," said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director with ASA, which has been lobbying lawmakers on these issues. "The House has again told the Obama Administration to stop meddling with state medical marijuana laws."
The two latest votes in support of regulated medical cannabis businesses come two months after the House approved a budget amendment to restrict DOJ enforcement in medical cannabis states. That unprecedented 219-189 vote on amending the Commerce, Science & Justice (CJS) budget bill was surpassed by 12 votes last month. A companion CJS Senate amendment has been filed by Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ); a vote on it is expected later this summer.
Text of the Banking Amendment
Treasury Department memo on banking and cannabis businesses
Federal CBD-Only Bill Introduced
A House bill introduced July 29 would create an exception to federal prohibition for “therapeutic hemp” cannabis plants and derivatives with an extremely low THC content, potentially allowing the production of cannabidiol (CBD) medicines.
HR 5226, introduced by Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) with cosponsors Paul Broun (R-GA), Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) would allow cannabis plants with a THC content of less than 0.3% to be grown everywhere in the United States.
The bill mirrors in some respects restrictive laws passed recently in states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee that would allow CBD-only extracts for a limited group of qualifying patients. HR 5226 defines "therapeutic hemp" as cannabis with “not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis," and exempts it from the Controlled Substances Act. If enacted, possession, distribution and use of these low-THC cannabis plants would no longer be subject to federal prosecution. Six of the CBD-only laws passed this year allow between 0.5% and 3% THC (AL, FL, IA, MS, SC, and TN). Most CBD-derivative medicines are defined by the ration of CBD to THC. Producers of the Charlotte’s Web strain made famous by Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary aim for a 30:1 CBD to THC ratio. The THC cap in the House bill would make achieving that or similar ratios difficult.
HR 5526 would also specifically exempt CBD from federal scheduling, under which it is currently classified as Schedule I, along with cannabis and its other cannabinoids.
The bill wisely also exempts therapeutic hemp from the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.), as would the more comprehensive medial cannabis bill, HR 689, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce or Judiciary committees. To date, no federal medical cannabis legislation has obtained a Congressional hearing. HR 5226 would not end the federal crackdown against patients and providers in existing medical cannabis states, now would it facilitate additional research.
Michigan ASA Chapter Profile
The focus of the Michigan ASA Chapter is to guide the conversation in both media and the legislature toward securing patient rights, and support the state's informal league of organizations while chapter membership is building. To accomplish this, Michigan ASA has networked with various established advocacy groups.
One of the chapter's first actions was a rally outside the federal courthouse in Detroit to protest the federal prison sentences for the Duval family and members of the Lansing 7, an action that garnered national media attention. Michigan ASA has also submitted position papers to both house of Michigan's legislature supporting or opposing various patient-related bills, most notably those that would restore legal access to edible and concentrated forms of cannabis medicines and create access centers across the state. In conjunction with other state-based organizations, Michigan ASA generated 10,000 self-addressed postcards to give citizens an easy way to contact their state Senators. The chapter has also promoted a Unity Letter sent to the Senate in support of legislation.
Michigan ASA’s public profile includes frequent media quotes where members are identified by their ASA affiliation and appearances on television and radio shows, as well as testimony to the House, Senate, and officials who oversee the medical marijuana act (LARA) program. Michigan ASA has had booths at most of the major marijuana and rights-based conventions and expos across the state, and speakers have been introduced as ASA representatives at the Hash Bash, Monroe Street Fair and the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup.
Michigan ASA's core group consists of a who's who of Michigan cannabis activists and advocates. The current Chair for the chapter is Jamie Lowell, co-founder and managing partner at the 3rd Coast Compassion Center, the state's first and longest-running medical marijuana safe access center. Public Relations Director Rick Thompson is a journalist and advocate with a national profile. Other board members include Chuck Ream, recipient of a lifetime achievement award from High Times. One of the state's foremost cannabis defense attorneys, Michael Komorn, is the legal counsel for the chapter. Greg Pawlowski is an advocate with a media resource center in Detroit, and Mark Passerini of the Om of Medicine is a member of the ArcView Group, the Ann Arbor Medical Cannabis Guild and the National Cannabis Industry Association. Founding member and longtime ASA supporter Brandy Zink had to step down from the post of Chairperson for professional reasons, one year ago, and remains active in the chapter.
SAVE THE DATE: March 27-31, 2015
ASA has announced the dates for the 2015 National Unity Conference in Washington, DC. Join patients, doctors, activists and other stake- holders from March 27-31, 2015 at the Loews Madison Hotel for informative panels, trainings and much more. See more information at: nationalmedicalcannabisunityconference.org.
ACTION ALERT: Get Informed at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org
Every vote is medical marijuana vote. Laws are being shaped around the country everyday. Find out where elected officials stand online at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org.
View grades for state medical marijuana programs; call or email your representative; request ASA’s Voter Guide; sign up for Action Alerts; view and promote our TV ads; register to vote.
Go to VoteMedicalMarijuana.org, get informed and take action today!
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