ASA Activist Newsletter - June 2016
In This Issue:
- Ohio Set to Become the 26th Medical Cannabis State
- New Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Program Announced
- House Votes to Lift Gag on VA Doctors
- California Citizen Lobby Day Yields Results
- Activist Profile: Erin Miller, Iowa
- ACTION ALERT: Keep the Pressure on CARERS
Ohio Set to Become the 26th Medical Cannabis State
On May 25, the Ohio Legislature sent a medical cannabis bill that would create a system of retail distribution in the state to Governor John Kasich (R), who has said he will sign it. HB 523, which passed the state Senate by a vote of 18-15 and the House by a 67-28 vote, will make Ohio the 26th state with a medical cannabis access program and the 42nd state with either a medical cannabis or a more limited cannabidiol (CBD) law. Once Ohio’s law is enacted, 300 million Americans will be living where cannabis or its derivatives can be legally used in medical treatment.
Under Ohio’s new law, qualifying patients will be able to purchase medical cannabis from dispensaries which will be licensed and regulated by the Ohio Department of Commerce. The law lists 22 qualifying conditions, including chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and new conditions can be added by the state medical board.
“The passing of HB 523 is something to celebrate, as so many patients will now have safe access to medical cannabis,” said Janet Breneman, a candidate for the state House who is also a nurse. “It was a very long road to get us here, and I am proud to have played a role in this history-making event. I want to thank Americans for Safe Access for their support and resources to help get this done."
ASA unsuccessfully sought amendments to HB 523, including the removal of language that could make it easier for employers to fire employees who are qualified patients and prevents patients from claiming wrongful termination.
“Overall, we are happy that Ohio has passed legislation that will create a system for safe and legal access to medical cannabis, but we have serious concerns about the employment provisions,” said Michael Liszewski, ASA Government Affairs Director. “Patients should not have to choose between the medicine and their job, but unfortunately, HB 523 will create these types of scenarios. We look forward to working with the legislature to amend the provision so patients won’t have to make this choice.”
Less than 72 hours after lawmakers passed the bill, a group collecting signatures to put a medical cannabis initiative on the ballot announced it was suspending the campaign, though the measure was broader than the law passed, including allowing personal cultivation and more ways of using medical cannabis.
Ohio HB 523
2016 Report on Medical Marijuana Access in the U.S.
New Cannabis Laboratory Accreditation Program Announced
A new cannabis-specific laboratory accreditation program will assure patients and regulators that testing facilities are meeting established standards for accurately assessing cannabis products. The collaborative program between Americans for Safe Access and the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) is based on the international standard for testing and calibration laboratories, known as ISO/IEC 17025, and ASA’s Patient Focused Certification (PFC) requirements. The new program will be recognized by the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation, which for 40 years has promoted universal standards for test and calibration results.
“A2LA is pleased to partner with ASA to offer a cannabis testing laboratory accreditation program to ISO/IEC 17025 that also includes the additional laboratory requirements from ASA’s Patient Focused Certification Program,” said Roger M. Brauninger, Biosafety Program Manager for A2LA. “We believe that, by meeting these combined criteria, laboratories will be able to provide confidence to patients as well as regulators that their test results on these products are consistent, accurate, reliable and legally defensible.”
The new ASA/A2LA program will confirm that participating laboratory operations are compliant with state and local regulations and the guidelines issued by the American Herbal Products Association, as well as the scientific standards required by regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“We are very excited to see the PFC program join the ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation efforts to help fully establish a robust and reliable cannabis testing foundation,” said Jeffrey Raber, CEO of The Werc Shop, a PFC-certified cannabis testing laboratory. “It is a great testament to ASA’s commitment to quality in their PFC program that they are partnering with a world-renowned accrediting body to set a new standard for cannabis testing labs.”
The first training course for the new laboratory accreditation program will be held at A2LA headquarters in Maryland July 11-15. During the course, participants will receive training on ISO/IEC 17025 compliance and PFC’s national standards for cannabis and cannabis products.
“This joint accreditation program builds on the solid foundation of the PFC certification standards and will provide assurance that all regulatory requirements are being met by the laboratory, and that third-party inspectors, auditors and assessors are receiving proper training,” said Kristin Nevedal, ASA’s PFC Program Director.
House Votes to Lift Gag on VA Doctors
On May 19, the House of Representatives approved a budget amendment that clears the way for Veterans Health Administration physicians to provide veterans with the recommendations they need to participate in state medical cannabis programs. Current federal policy prohibits VA doctors from providing such documentation or even discussing medical cannabis with their patients, though physicians are protected by the First Amendment.
The bipartisan Veterans Equal Access Amendment (VEAA) to the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilConVA) Appropriations bill passed by a vote of 233-189, with 57 Republicans and 176 Democrats supporting it. A similar bill lost last year by just three votes.
The just-passed VEAA would forbid the VA from using any funds to punish physicians who write recommendations or discuss benefits of medical cannabis therapy with their patients. A 2011 VHA directive allows veterans who are medical cannabis patients to continue to receive medical care through their VA doctors and hospitals but imposes a gag order on physicians.
“I can tell you for certain, with every ounce of my integrity, that without the benefits of medical cannabis, I would not be standing here before you all today,“ said former US Army Captain Eric Gudz (pictured at right), who lobbied members of the House as part of ASA’s effort to pass the amendment.
Many veterans use medical cannabis to treat a host of ailments associated with military service, including chronic pain, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, phantom limb syndrome, cancer, and depression.
If signed by the President, the VEAA will have to be renewed next year. The CARERS Act, currently awaiting a hearing in both houses, would make this provision permanent.
“We are pleased that both the House and Senate have made it clear that the Veterans Administration should not punish doctors for recommending medical cannabis to their veteran patients,” said Michael Liszewski, ASA Government Affairs Director. “We anticipate this amendment will reach the President, and once signed, it will give VA physicians another tool in their toolbox to treat the healthcare needs of America’s veterans.”
The amendment was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and cosponsored by Reps. Farr (D-CA), Gallego (D-AZ), Heck (R-NV), Lee (D-CA), Polis (D-CO), Reed (R-NY), Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Titus (D-CA).
California Citizen Lobby Day Yields Results
Citizen lobbying made a difference in Sacramento again this year. Four days after ASA’s fifth annual California Citizen Lobby Day brought more than 150 patients and caregivers to the state capitol, the Appropriations Committees in the Assembly and Senate decided important bills related to medical cannabis licensing, taxation, and patients’ rights.
The Assembly committee moved forward AB 1575, a clean-up bill for the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), and AB 2516, a “cottage cultivator” license bill that would allow smaller-scale cultivators to operate under the MMRSA. Both bills have now passed the Assembly and been sent to the Senate.
The Assembly committee killed AB 2740, a bill ASA opposed that would have made it a crime for legal medical cannabis patients to drive with even a tiny amount of THC in their blood.
Despite ASA opposition, both committees advanced taxation bills that may place an unreasonable burden on patients. The Assembly will consider AB 2243, which would tax licensed medical cannabis distributors at $9.25 per ounce of dried cannabis flowers, $2.75 per ounce of cannabis leaves, and $1.75 per plant cutting. The Senate will consider SB 987, which would impose an additional 15% excise tax on medical cannabis statewide. ASA opposes both bills.
In more than 200 face-to-face meetings, the citizen lobbyists also spoke with lawmakers about ASA’s proposed bill for 2017 to end pervasive discrimination against patients in employment, housing, parental rights, and access to health care.
Before those meetings, participants received a special briefing from Lori Ajax, the director of the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, and the bureau’s Senior Policy Advisor, An-Chi Tsou.
The fiscal committees’ actions were part of suspense hearings held twice during each annual legislative session to decide whether or not bills that have a financial impact of $150,000 or more will proceed to a vote on the floor. Bills held in committee are dead for the year.
Activist Profile: Erin Miller, Iowa
Erin Miller never imagined herself an activist, working the halls of the Iowa state capitol and lobbying her influential United States senator, Chuck Grassley (pictured at right with the Miller family). But parenthood put her in the position of advocating for her young son’s healthcare, and cannabis oil has been dramatically proven to be the best medicine for Abram’s complicated condition.
When he reaches his fourth birthday in July, Abram will have been seizure-free for just over a year. In the 11 months since his parents decided to follow a neurologist’s advice to try cannabis oil extracts, Abram’s pharmaceutical medications have been drastically reduced, as have their debilitating side effects. A year ago, those side effects had gotten so severe that he could no longer walk or talk. Now, the highly addictive Klonopin has been tapered down by three-quarters, and if he remains seizure-free the next six months, it will be eliminated completely.
Grappling with the constraints of Iowa’s medical cannabis law transformed Abram’s mother, Erin, into an activist. At the time the neurologist recommended they try treating Abram with cannabis, their state’s law had only recently gone into effect. That 2014 law only provides an affirmative defense for the possession and use of CBD extracts, and only for patients with intractable epilepsy and their caregivers. Abram’s initial diagnoses did not meet the state’s requirements to qualify his parents for legal protections, so Erin reached out to her elected representatives and other state lawmakers for help. In lieu of help, she got advice: leave the state.
Many American families in their position have become medical cannabis refugees, but Abram’s family went the route of civil disobedience, consciously breaking the law to provide for his welfare. Now, Abram’s mother and father are both legal caregivers in Iowa, as is the grandmother with whom they all live. But those legal protections did not come easily. The seven-month process entailed consultations with three different specialists at three different hospitals, as well as direct lobbying of state officials to recognize his condition as qualifying under the law.
As arduous as that process was, it pales in comparison to the challenges the family has met since bringing Abram home from the hospital after an unexpected stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. Developmental issues were immediately apparent, sending Abram to a series of specialists who provided a succession of diagnoses.
Not long after birth doctors determined he has a chromosome disorder so rare only 35 cases have been reported in the last 30 years. Then a pineal cyst was discovered in the center of his brain. A traumatic seizure that took them to the emergency room led to an epilepsy diagnosis at age two. Abram’s seizures worsened in January 2015, and by April he was no longer able to speak or walk. The family sought treatment at a specialty epilepsy unit in Minnesota, where he was prescribed yet another anti-epilepsy drug, Kleptra, that made his symptoms even worse.
At the Mayo Clinic, tests revealed he also has cortical dysplasia, a condition in which parts of the brain do not migrate to their normal position as it develops, creating misfires in the brain’s signaling that impede learning. Then, finally, just this past Christmas, Abram was conclusively diagnosed with UBE2A X-Linked Mental Retardation, a genetic disorder even more rare than his chromosome problem. Only eight cases of this genetic mutation exist in the medical literature, so it is not a condition any state lists as qualifying for medical cannabis.
“I just hope Abram’s story can make a difference for other patients and parents,” Erin says. To make sure it does, Erin blogs about Abram, publishes OpEds about medical cannabis, fields questions from other parents who see her in the media, and lobbies state lawmakers for a better medical cannabis program. Erin has even managed to get Abram and another a child with a seizure disorder in to see Sen. Chuck Grassley, the powerful chair of the U.S Senate’s Judiciary Committee where the bipartisan Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act (CARERS) of 2015 has been stuck since it was introduced, waiting for a hearing. When confronted with the before-and-after photos of Abram at the meeting, Sen. Grassley conceded that “you really can see the difference” cannabis makes.
With continuing pressure on Sen. Grassley from activists such as Erin, Congress may yet get a chance to vote on the CARERS Act and make a difference for patients in the 42 states that allow for varying types of medical cannabis use.
ACTION ALERT: Keep the Pressure on CARERS
Keep the pressure on Sen. Chuck Grassley to give the bipartisan CARERS Act a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. As chair of the committee, he has blocked consideration of The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act, the most comprehensive medical cannabis legislation ever introduced, despite the bill’s long list of distinguished Senate co-sponsors.
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