ASA Activist Newsletter - Jan 2020 - Year in Review


International and Federal Developments

  • WHO Recommended Rescheduling, ASA Urges Global Action
  • Historic Cannabis Reform Passed House Committee
  • First Federal Cannabis Bill Passed House
  • Vaping-Related Illness Identified, ASA issued Recommendations
  • ASA Testified at FDA Hearing on CBD
  • Patient’s Guide to CBD Released

State Lobbying and Law Changes

  • ASA Issued State of the States Report, Educated State Lawmakers
  • California Lobbying Helped Improve State's Laws
  • Georgia Approved In-State Production of Low-THC Cannabis Oil
  • Colorado Allowed Cannabis as Substitute for Opioids
  • New Mexico and DC Approved Pediatric Use in Schools
  • ASA Released Medical Cannabis Patient’s Guide for U.S. Travel 

Advocacy, Research and Education

  • End Pain, Not Lives Campaign Focused on Opioid Overdoses
  • 2019 Unity Conference Brought Advocates to DC
  • ASA Coordinated with Research Institute, ASA Co-founder Named President
  • ASA Formed Patient Research Partnership
  • ASA's Certification and Training Programs Expanded in 2019

Upcoming and Action

  • Jan. 22-24: ASA Discount at CannaWest, ASA Keynote 
  • Action Alert: Tell Congress to Pass the MORE Act

International and Federal Developments

WHO Recommended Rescheduling, ASA Urges Global Action

In an historic move last January, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended to the United Nations (UN) that cannabis be classified as a medicine. Based on the findings of its Expert Committee on Narcotic Drugs, the WHO said cannabis and cannabis resin can be removed from Schedule IV of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty that has stymied efforts to make cannabis available to patients. The WHO recommendations were scheduled to go before the 53-member UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) last March, but the vote was postponed indefinitely. ASA staff attended the CND meeting in Vienna, Austria in December, held an evening reception for CND member states and NGO reps, and created an open letter to CND representatives urging rescheduling. As part of the International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition (IMCPC), ASA also organized a training in Vienna for advocates from several different countries on how to support rescheduling initiatives. The pending WHO recommendations on rescheduling reflect years of work by advocates. In March 2016, a group of world-renowned cannabis experts convened by ASA submitted to the WHO a comprehensive document describing the medical usefulness of cannabis, consistent with WHO guidelines. 

Historic Cannabis Reform Passed House Committee

For the first time, a measure to remove federal restrictions on access to cannabis passed out of a House committee. In November, H.R. 3884, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) got a bipartisan vote of 24-10 in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill must pass a vote by the full House of Representatives to move to the Senate. The MORE act would deschedule cannabis, allow expungement of certain cannabis offenses, and impose a 5 percent tax that would be reinvested in communities adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.

First Federal Cannabis Bill Passed House

The first federal bill to reform cannabis laws was approved by the House. HR 1595, the Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, would allow cannabis businesses access to banks and other financial services. ASA supported the bill’s passage with written testimony and a letter to the House of Representatives. The SAFE Act could reduce costs for operating a medical cannabis business, which may result in lower prices for patients and increased access. The vote of 321-103 showed strong bipartisan support. The bill is pending before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Vaping-Related Illness Identified, ASA issued Patient-Focused Recommendations

U.S. health officials in November identified Vitamin E acetate as a probable culprit in the vaping-related lung injuries that have affected more than 2,000 people in the U.S. and resulted in more than 50 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that researchers found the chemical in the lung fluids in 29 people spread across 10 states. No other toxins were detected. Vitamin E acetate has been identified as an ingredient used to cut oils in some THC vape cartridges produced in the underground market. While vitamin E acetate is considered safe to consume in food products, it is not considered safe to inhale.CDC logo

In September, ASA had urged federal agencies to take immediate action to address the vaping illness crisis. ASA provided recommendations to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services for sensible regulation of vaporization products and cartridges. ASA also asked the FDA to, at minimum, issue guidance for consumers to only buy vaporization products in legal, licensed stores and not on the illicit market.

Federal and state health officials are now telling cannabis processors to not add vitamin E acetate to vaping products. The CDC and ASA both recommend ceasing use of cannabis-containing cartridges, particularly those obtained from the illicit market, until there is clarity as to what is causing these illnesses and deaths. ASA recommends using only cannabis products that have undergone testing at an independent, third-party laboratory that has verified composition and potency and screened for adulterants, contaminants, heavy metals, residual solvents, chemical residues, and other health concerns, such as mold and bacteria.

Since 2014, ASA has urged cannabis businesses to adopt third-party certification such as Patient Focused Certification (PFC). PFC requires companies to adhere to safety, quality, manufacturing, testing, packaging, and labeling standards, which are independently audited. To ensure consumer safety and product quality, ASA recommends that patients and consumers ask about third-party certification at their local dispensaries. ASA’s recommendations can be found at:

ASA Testified at FDA Hearing on CBD

Passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp and hemp extracts from the Controlled Substances Act, creating the potential for a legal interstate market in hemp-derived CBD products. As a result, in May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing on cannabis and cannabis-derived products such as CBD. The FDA asked questions about manufacturing and product safety, industry standards, and labeling, which ASA's Director of Patient Focused Certification (PFC), Heather Despres answered. Despres told FDA officials about safe production and how standardization of the industry across all states will improve patient access and provide consistent products to patients across the country. ASA's testimony can be seen on ASA’s YouTube channel

Patient’s Guide to CBD Released

In conjunction with the FDA hearing on cannabis, ASA released the Patient’s Guide to CBD. The publication covers a wide range of topics, including available forms for use, what to look for on package labels, how to read a certificate of analysis, how CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, the current state of research, the compound’s legal status, and how to talk to doctors about CBD.

Interest in CBD has been increasing with accumulating medical research on its benefits, the FDA approval of a CBD medicine for the treatment of seizures in children, and the national legalization of hemp, a potential source of CBD.

“ASA created the guide to be an educational reference so that patients, healthcare providers, consumers, policy makers, and regulators could have an accurate and scientific source to turn to in order to make informed decisions regarding CBD,” said Debbie Churgai, ASA Interim Director.

More Information: The Patient's Guide to CBD is available for download here.  


State Lobbying and Law Changes

ASA Issued State of the States Report, Educated Lawmakers at National Meeting

ASA staff tabling at NCSL

ASA released its annual report on state medical cannabis laws at the Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The 2019 State of the States Report: An Analysis of Medical Cannabis Access in the United States grades each state, the District of Columbia and four territories on patient access.

The report finds that access has improved significantly over the years, but state programs are still struggling to serve all patients. In addition to evaluating state medical cannabis program, the report includes responses from a survey of over 500 patients. This survey reveals that cost of medicine remains the single greatest challenge for patients. 

ASA distributed printed versions of the report among the thousands of state legislators and staff attending the NCSL Summit in August. Among the hundreds of key state lawmakers ASA spoke with were bill sponsors for medical cannabis legislation in Tennessee (Dr. Bryan Terry), Alabama (Rep. Mike Ball) and North Dakota (Rep. Linda Duba), and the sponsor of cannabis as alternative to opioid bill in Colorado (Rep. Jonathan Singer).

Between the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, there were over 2,000 state bills introduced that dealt with creating or amending existing cannabis programs in a variety of ways. The 2019 States Report can be downloaded for free at:  

California Lobbying Helped Improve State's Laws

May kicked off with the third-annual California state lobby day in Sacramento, sponsored by ASA and California NORML. State officials addressed the group about developing rules and legislation before attendees went to the capitol for pre-arranged meetings with lawmakers and their staffers about several pending bills, including ones to lower taxes, allow medical access in schools and healthcare facilities, and license on-site consumption. 

In September, ASA launched a campaign asking California ASA members to urge Governor Newsom to sign SB 34, a bill to allow businesses to donate free cannabis to patients in need. The lobbying effort helped get the bill signed into law, providing much needed help to the state's neediest patients. 

Georgia Approved In-State Production of Low-THC Cannabis Oil

Georgia enacted a law that would allow for the in-state cultivation and production of medical cannabis. Access will be limited to low-THC products, but HB 324 creates a Medical Cannabis Commission to determine licensing of businesses. The governor signed the law, but after six months had not appointed anyone to the commission. Currently, there is no legal means to obtain any medical cannabis product.

“After five years of hard work and many disappointing sessions, we were finally able to pass an in-state cultivation and distribution bill” said Sebastien Cotte, ASA Member and Co-Founder of Georgia's Hope (pictured at right). “It took a lot of work by so many people, but we are very excited to finally have created a pathway for Georgia patients to obtain their medical cannabis oil here at home and stop having to break federal laws by bringing medicine across state lines.”

The bill also creates testing standards and a distribution and production network. Georgia’s registered patients will be able to purchase up to 20 fluid ounces of low-THC oil. The bill also provides for university research and calls for equity in licensing.

Colorado Allowed Cannabis as Substitute for Opioids

Colorado joined Illinois and New York in allowing cannabis to be recommended by authorized healthcare providers for any condition for which an opioid would be appropriate. Colorado's SB-013 allows Colorado physicians to authorize individuals to use medical cannabis instead of opioids, including for acute pain. The bill also removes specific specialist physician requirements for patients who are minors and allows them to consume non-smokable forms of cannabis on school grounds. The law went into effect August 2, 2019. ASA provided testimony in support of this bill last January, and the provision is part of the recommendations ASA distributed to state lawmakers at the NCSL Summit.

New Mexico and DC Approved Pediatric Use in Schools

In April, New Mexico passed SB 204, which allows for the administration of medical cannabis in schools. This law would not have been possible without ASA’s hardworking New Mexico chapter advocates. The District of Columbia recently followed suit with a similar rule change.

ASA advocates continue to work on legislation to allow children in need to have access in schools in other states, including California and Pennsylvania.

ASA Released Medical Cannabis Patient’s Guide for U.S. Travel 

ASA Travel GuideAt summer's end, ASA released The Medical Cannabis Patient’s Guide for U.S. Travel to help patients understand the laws on access to cannabis when they venture out of state. The guide also contains helpful tips for patients to bear in mind while traveling. Laws vary dramatically between the 47 states and four territories that currently have some form of medical cannabis law. Some offer reciprocity to registered patients from other jurisdictions or permit the use of cannabis for all adults. ASA’s new guide helps patients who are unsure about their rights or how to access medical cannabis where they visit.

The new Medical Cannabis Patient’s Guide to Travel in the U.S. is currently only available as an online resource, but ASA is raising funds to turn it into a printed booklet that can be more widely distributed to patients. Any dispensaries or other organizations interested in ordering copies of the travel guide should contact [email protected].


Advocacy, Research and Education

End Pain, Not Lives Campaign Focused on Opioid Overdoses

In partnership with the U.S. Pain Foundation, ASA’s End Pain, Not Lives (EPNL) campaign has worked to remove barriers to safe access for people with pain, chronic pain, and opioid use disorder. The campaign has been educating medical professionals, legislators, service providers, and patients about medical cannabis as a safer alternative for pain management. 

In 2019, ASA distributed model language surrounding ways to combat the opioid epidemic to state officials all over the country. New Jersey joined New York, Pennsylvania and other states in recognizing opioid addiction as a qualifying condition. Illinois also now allows patients to substitute medical cannabis for an opioid prescription. The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program is unique in giving pain patients the option of medical cannabis without requiring a specific recommendation for it. Illinois also now allows patients to substitute medical cannabis for an opioid prescription before developing a dependence. The Opioid Alternative Pilot Program is unique in giving pain patients the option of medical cannabis without requiring a specific recommendation for it.

Last January, ASA held an event to raise awareness of the life-saving role that medical cannabis can play in fighting the opioid epidemic. The fundraiser and awareness event in Washington, D.C. featured bands and speakers, including ASA’s Steph Sherer and Debbie Churgai, and Ellen Lennox Smith from the U.S. Pain Foundation, who was the featured activist in the March 2018 newsletterTo learn more about the campaign, see

2019 Unity Conference Brought Advocates to DC

ASA's 7th Annual National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference and Lobby Day brought together over 300 physicians, scientists, patients, advocates and industry professionals to learn, network and make their voices heard on Capitol Hill. During the Lobby Day, over 150 meetings were set up on Capitol Hill with conference participants and their state representatives. Advocates lobbied for ASA’s new federal legislation, the “Medical Cannabis Control Act of 2019” (MCCA), which would create a federal agency to provide oversight of medical cannabis. The text of the legislation is available in  Medical Cannabis in America: The Medical Cannabis Briefing Book, 116th CongressOver the last seven years, ASA has arranged over 1000 face-to-face meetings between advocates and their Congressional representatives. 

At the start of the conference, ASA held two free workshops, a veterans’ roundtable discussion and a Cannabis 101 course. Conference panels addressed barriers to patients, global CBD developments including hemp, and advocacy in the courts. ASA’s annual awards banquet recognized the accomplishments of advocates. Patrick Seifert was named Veteran Advocate of the Year. CannaSafe was Business Advocate of the Year. Patient Advocate of the Year was Todd Larkin. The Courage Award went to longtime activist Diana Dodson. ASA Chapter of the Year was Safe Access Colorado. Researcher of the Year went to Jeffrey Raber, PhD. The Medical Professional of the Year was Cathleen Graham. Journalist of the Year was Tom Angell. Elected Official of the Year was Maryland Delegate Cheryl Glenn. Check out a short video about the conference at

New Board of Directors Announced

At the 2019 Unity conference, ASA announced a new Board of Directors comprised of physicians, patients, researchers, industry professionals and a U.S. Air Force veteran. The nine-member board includes founding members Steph Sherer, who serves as Board President, and Don Duncan. The others are Ben Bronfman, a founder of Global Thermostat, BIM, and Dioscorides Global Holdings; Nic Easley, the CEO and founder of 3C Cannabis Consulting; Jayan Fazal-Karim, Director of Alternative Investments at FK Group; Pavel Kubů, MD, one of the founders of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute and the International Medical Cannabis Patient Coalition; Olga Obie, MD, a Texas physician; Carla Rossotti Vázquez, MD, a physician in Puerto Rico; and Nick Ventura, a co-founder of Venley.

ASA Coordinated with International Research Institute, ASA Co-founder Named President

In January, ASA staff travelled to Prague, Czech Republic to join experts from around the world for the Annual Global Network Meeting of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute (ICCI). During the meeting ICCI staff and strategic partners, such as ASA, were presented with an overview of current projects and new initiatives for 2019. ASA's Patient Focused Certification (PFC) and Cannabis Care Certification (CCC) projects were among the topics discussed.

ICCI announced in March that ASA co-founder Steph Sherer will serve as the institute's president. Sherer will continue to provide vision and fundraising leadership as president of the ASA Board. ICCI was co-founded by Sherer in 2015 as a joint project of patient organizations, scientific societies, and American investment company Dioscorides Global Holdings. Since then, ICCI has become a recognized Center of Excellence that works internationally with governments, universities, and research institutes as well as companies in cannabis, hemp, bio-tech, and agricultural sectors to strengthen the medical cannabis industry. 

ASA Formed Patient Research Partnership

At the end of the year, ASA launched a new medical cannabis patient research program in partnership with Aurelius Data. The survey-based research into the experiences of patients and caregivers will help educate policymakers on appropriate policy changes. Anyone who completes the survey (most finish in about 5 minutes) by January 31, 2020, will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 gift card or a free VIP registration for ASA’s 2020 National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, DC March 25-28.

Participants’ survey information will be anonymous and will only be shared for the purpose of helping to collect data that can prove helpful for medical cannabis research. No one’s name will be used in association with any data collected. All survey data will be stored securely and confidentially in compliance with HIPAA privacy guidelines. To participate in the anonymous medical cannabis patient research survey, go to  

ASA's Certification and Training Programs Expanded in 2019

In January, ASA’s Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program, expanded certification services to include hemp and CBD businesses. During the year, ASA’s PFC program updated Core Cannabis Training staff courses, added new state regulation courses, including California, Michigan, and New Jersey, and updated the Maryland, Pennsylvania and DC courses. PFC and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) renewed their partnership to conduct dual ISO/IEC 17025/PFC accreditation. ISO 17025 is a requirement for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories and is the main ISO standard used by testing and calibration laboratories. In most countries, ISO/IEC 17025 is the standard for which labs must hold accreditation in order to be deemed technically competent. In July, Stillwater Laboratory became the first company accredited as meeting both ISO and PFC standards. In early 2019, PFC started the process for ISO 17065 accreditation through A2LA, which will be completed in 2020. This accreditation is a requirement for bodies certifying products, processes and services.

ASA hosted two live PFC trainings this year in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In December, ASA hosted an educational event at MJBizCon in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event, "Ensuring Product Safety, Compliance and Social Responsibility in the Cannabis Industry" featured speakers Chris Day (MJBizDaily), Nic Easley (3C Cannabis Consulting), Antonio Frazier (CannaSafe Analytics), Steph Sherer (ICCI), and Heather Despres (PFC). 

In July, ASA’s Cannabis Care Certification (CCC) program updated their Continuing Medical Professional (CME) courses for medical professionals approved under the latest rules for dealing with controversial subjects in CME programs. The new CME course provides physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, nurses, and psychologists with accredited educational content focused on medical cannabis and the endocannabinoid system. The content provides Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and American Psychological Association (APA) credits. 



ASA Discount at CannaWest Summit, Keynote on Patients’ Rights

Patient needs will be the focus of the keynote address by ASA's William Dolphin at the seventh CannaWest Compliance Summit on Friday, January 24. The talk on “Medical vs. Recreational—Patients’ Rights and Other Considerations” opens day two, which will be devoted to medical issues, research and development, and Hemp and CBD.

Other speakers include Holly Johnson, PhD, chief science officer for American Herbal Products Association; Mara Gordon, founder of Aunt Zelda’s; Brad Rowe, policy director at the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative; as well as state officials from Oregon and California; city oversight officers from Detroit, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco; and operation officers from leading cannabis companies. Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association will deliver the keynote on day one of the summit.

The CannaWest summit will be held January 22-24, 2020 at the LA Grand Hotel Downtown, in Los Angeles, California. ASA is a supporting organization of the event, so ASA newsletter subscribers can use code 200219 and save 10% on registration.

Early Bird Registration for Unity Conference Ends Jan. 10

This is the last week for early-bird registration for the 2020 National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference: “Campaigning for Cannabis: Making Policies Work for Patients.” Unity is the largest conference for patients, caregivers, providers, students, advocates, and medical and legal professionals that promote safe and legal access to cannabis for medical use and research. It is the leading place to learn best practices, exchange ideas, and learn how to navigate medical cannabis in an ever-evolving political landscape. Register by Jan. 10 to get the lowest possible price and join us at the Omni Shoreham in Washington, D.C. March 25-28. 



Action Alert: Tell Congress to Pass the MORE Act

ASA is calling on Congress to start the New Year with action on comprehensive cannabis legislation. The MORE Act passed the House Judiciary committee, which if enacted would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and benefit the medical cannabis community in several ways.

Take action today to tell your Representative to support the MORE Act. We’ve made it easy with an online tool at


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