ASA Activist Newsletter - March 2020

March 15, 2020 | William Dolphin

In the March 2020 Issue:

  • ASA 2020 Unity Conference Now Online
  • ASA Recognizes Advocates with Annual Awards
  • ASA Report Urges New Federal Medical Cannabis Agency
  • USDA Updates Hemp Testing Rules
  • CBD Labeling Guidance Published
  • Activist Profile: Anna Symonds
  • Action Alert: Lobby from Home!

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Unity 2020 Now Online and More Affordable

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, ASA has moved this year’s National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference from an in-person conference to an online conference that will take place on Friday, March 27 from noon to 6:00pm Eastern time. This change will help protect the safety and well-being of everyone involved.

Going to an online format for panel presentations also allows ASA to make participation in the conference much more affordable and accessible. That includes a special online registration discount for ASA members that provides access to all the panels for only $25, and an option to both become a member and register for Unity for just $50. Please note that the registration deadline for the Friday conference is Tuesday, March 24.

ASA’s online conference will include a full day of panel discussions so everyone can benefit from hearing from leading experts on medical cannabis.

Friday’s conference will begin at noon with a Welcome and Agenda Overview from ASA President Steph Sherer and Interim Director Debbie Churgai. Sponsor Highlights and Patient Stories will be presented in the 15 minutes between each panel.

1:00-2:00p. No Patient Left Behind: Transitioning State Programs and The Campaign for Patients. How do states transition from medical to recreational or CBD-only to medical and ensure that patients are still prioritized in terms of access and quality of product? Moderated by ASA’s Debbie Churgai, panelists are Ngiste Abebe of Columbia Care, Nichole Snow of Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, Christine Stenquist of TRUCE, and ASA’s Steph Sherer.

2:15-3:30p. Lessons to be Learned: International Landscape and How It Can Shape US Policy. What are the challenges and best practices that we can learn from these countries as the US legislative and regulatory scene continues to push forward both federally and locally? Moderated by Steph Sherer, panelists are Nic Easley of 3C Cannabis Consulting, Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis, and Hilary Black of Canopy Growth.

3:45-4:45p. Safety First: How Science & Research Can Impact Patient Safety
Developments in research and science continue to show new reasons why cannabis is a viable, safe product for a variety of ailments. Hear from leading experts about developments in research and science that have added to the argument for a cannabis-accessible country. Moderated by ASA’s Heather Despres, panelists are Josh Crossney of Cannabis Science Conference, Julie Armstrong of Aurelius Data, and Antonio Frazier of CannaSafe Analytics.

5:00-6:00p. Statement from ASA Interim Director Debbie Churgai, followed by closing remarks from ASA President Steph Sherer.

Register by Tuesday, March 24 to participate.

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ASA Recognizes Advocates with Annual Awards

Each year, ASA recognizes those who have made an extraordinary contribution to safe access. While the annual Awards Dinner has been postponed indefinitely, ASA will be delivering awards to a number of inspiring individuals and organizations:

Connor Sheffield, Courage Award. Connor, who was profiled in last month’s newsletter, is being recognized for stepping into public advocacy as a high school student.

Ellen Lennox Smith, Patient Advocate of the Year. Ellen, who was profiled in March 2018, is being recognized this year for her tireless work with the U.S. Pain Foundation and the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC)

Toi Hutchinson, Elected Official of the Year, is being recognized for her many years of unwavering dedication as an Illinois state senator to increasing access to cannabis for therapeutic use. 

Safe Access Tennessee, Chapter of the Year, has done an exemplary job lobbying for new legislation in their state, including helping advance the Clinical Cannabis Authorization and Research Act (SB 2334).

Goodness, Business Advocate of the Year. Goodness is conscious cannabis company that donates 20% of the profits from their hemp-CBD products to ASA's End Pain Not Lives campaign. 

Michael Krawitz, Veteran Advocate of the Year, is being recognized for his work to change VA policy as Executive Director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis; he has also helped lead efforts at the UN and was one of the plaintiffs in ASA v. DEA.

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ASA Report Urges New Federal Medical Cannabis Agency

A new report from Americans for Safe Access shows how to resolve the conflict between federal prohibition and state laws that regulate access to medical cannabis for over three million patients across the country. The report, Ending the Federal Conflict: Changing the Paradigm on Medical Cannabis, calls for either descheduling cannabis or rescheduling it to a new classification that would allow for cannabis to be used as a frontline medication. ASA is also urging the creation of a new federal agency, the Office of Medical Cannabis Control (OMCC) that would have centralized regulatory authority over medical cannabis research, production, and distribution.

The federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is considered to be a dangerous, highly addictive substance with no medical value. The only protection for state medical cannabis programs in federal law is a budget bill, subject to change each year, that prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money targeting medical cannabis patients or the programs in which they are enrolled. Plans for legalization at the federal level have been introduced for years with little impact. Of those, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, H.R.3884, is the first and only bill of this nature to clear a Congressional committee. It is time for a new approach to end the federal conflict on cannabis policy.

Currently, nearly a dozen different federal agencies play a role in the decision-making processes relating to the scheduling of cannabis. These agencies differ from one another in their aims, methods, and missions. This stymies progress on important research and federal recognition of cannabis as medicine. Since California created access to medical cannabis in 1996, 33 states have created robust medical cannabis programs and another 14 states allow legal access to limited forms of cannabis products.

ASA’s model legislation provides a new regulatory framework for cannabis and removes restrictions on research. The proposed OMCC would establish consistent national oversight of operating licenses, minimum standards for labeling and packaging, standards for cultivation, and standards for testing for pesticides, heavy metals, contaminants, adulterants, and other potential threats to health. States would have to meet the proposed new federal standards, and those with more stringent rules than the federal guidelines would be allowed to keep them in place.

The proposed legislation would also streamline research access for medical cannabis by centralizing study approval under the new OMCC. Currently, researchers must get the approval and cooperation of the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has created significant barriers and delays that have blocked many research studies.

Under ASA’s proposal, the new OMCC would establish at least one federally funded medical cannabis research and development center, establish a federal system of laboratory standards, and create a program for certifying research on medical cannabis.

“It is time to transfer regulatory authority for cannabis to a new agency that will prioritize research and development of new cannabis products for medical use and ensure nationwide access to cannabis-based medicines,” said ASA Interim Director Debbie Churgai. “Passing the MORE Act would do much to help medical cannabis patients, but America needs a consistent, predictable regulatory environment nationwide.” 

To learn more and view the full report and draft legislation, please visit safeaccessnow.org/omcc.

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USDA Updates Hemp Testing Rules

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would delay a registration requirement for laboratories being used to verify hemp crops as legal. Previously, the USDA had indicated all labs would have to be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) before certifying hemp crops as meeting the federal limits for THC content. 

Hemp and extracts from it were made legal federally with the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill). The 2018 Farm Bill established a legal limit of 0.3% THC by dry weight to qualify as hemp, and tasked the USDA with establishing rules and regulations for hemp cultivation.

The USDA released its Interim Final Rule on Hemp on October 31, 2019. Americans for Safe Access (along with almost 4,700 other organizations and individuals) submitted comments on the new rule before the public comment period closed on January 29, 2020.

The interim final rule requires hemp cultivators to have samples of their crops tested for THC potency no more than 15 days before harvest by a DEA-registered lab. ASA submitted comments to USDA on the rule, noting this is problematic because there are only 47 such laboratories across 25 states, and this could create a bottleneck for testing.

ASA recommends removing the DEA-registration requirement entirely instead of just delaying it. The requirement for labs will go into effect once the final rule is issued or on October 31, 2021, whichever is sooner. Until then, labs that are not yet registered with the DEA can conduct testing on hemp as long as they comply with the requirements set forth in the interim final rule.

As PFC director Heather Despres notes in her blog on this, a major hurdle to DEA licensure for cannabis testing labs is that cannabis remains federally illegal. As one lab discovered in 2010, the DEA inspects laboratory facilities prior to licensure and is required by federal law to seize all illegal substances. The laboratory was licensed by the state of Colorado but was in violation of federal law, so it was denied a DEA license. No cannabis labs have obtained DEA registration in the 10 years since. 

“We are pleased that the USDA has recognized the impracticality of immediately enforcing the DEA registration requirement for testing laboratories and that hemp cultivators will be able to have their samples tested at laboratories that have yet to register with the DEA,” says PFC’s Heather Despres. “But we remain concerned that traditional cannabis testing laboratories remain effectively barred from industry participation.”

Read more on ASA’s blog. To view the comments ASA submitted to USDA, click here. 

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CBD Labeling Guidance Published

ASA’s William Dolphin has coauthored a new article on labeling CBD products. The article, “Labeling of Cannabidiol Products: A Public Health Perspective,” coauthored with Drs. Jamie Corroon and Douglas MacKay, has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research

The article describes the regulatory conflict between FDA approval of a CBD drug and the widespread availability of unregulated hemp-derived CBD products, and proposes solutions based on labeling standards for other products.

Accurate and informative labeling of hemp and hemp-derived CBD products is an important public health issue. FDA-regulated product labels are considered an essential tool for protecting consumers and enabling informed decision-making. Untruthful or unsubstantiated health-related claims in marketing materials and on labels of CBD products are identified problems, as is missing or inaccurate labeling.

As manufacturers prepare for forthcoming FDA regulations for hemp-derived CBD products, understanding the basic framework for FDA labeling and marketing regulations for food, dietary supplements and drugs can help.

The article is available free to ASA members and newsletter subscribers until April 11.

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Activist Profile: Anna Symonds – Portland, Oregon

At an age when most competitive athletes have called it quits, Anna Symonds is still on the rugby pitch, 20 years after her first scrum. She credits cannabis for that.

Originally a soccer player, Anna switched to rugby in college and continues to play at the elite level in the USA Rugby Women's Premier League. As with most all aging athletes, Anna found her injuries started to accumulate over the years.
“Some things you never completely heal from,” she says. “Recovery takes longer.”

Rugby, like many contact sports, has a big drinking culture, with matches followed by socials with the opposing teams. The alcohol will temporarily numb the pain of playing hard and hitting the ground with no protective gear, but Anna discovered she felt even worse the next day, with alcohol intensifying the inflammation.

As a player on the west coast, Anna had teammates who always used cannabis. She substituted it for alcohol right after a game and experienced immediate pain relief and antiinflammation.

“I was like, Woah! This is medicine!” she remembers. “It was an ‘aha’ moment.”

Starting in 2013, Anna began using cannabis more systematically, honing her use to support her performance and wellness. At the same time, she was training a lot, having added Mixed Martial Arts to the rugby, and she found her drinking tapering off, so she made a decision to cut out the alcohol.

“Drinking wasn’t a problem, but I realized it wasn’t giving me anything beneficial, so I just let it go from my life,” she says. “By contrast, I was seeing the benefits I was getting from cannabis. I knew from my experience using it that cannabis isn’t dangerous, so I didn’t believe the drug war propaganda.”

That was when she began to identify as a medical cannabis user. That fall, she injured her back, herniating a disc with two bulging discs above, creating acute pain that continues today.

“I was prescribed painkillers and muscle relaxants,” Anna says. “But cannabis was by far the best for managing that pain and muscle spasm, and also to continue being an athlete.”

In 2014, Anna saw what cannabis can do for managing even more serious conditions, as she provided support for a good friend with aplastic anemia who needed a bone marrow transplant. As she sat at his side through months of chemotherapy, her friend, who is healthy and thriving now, shared his belief that “medibles” were what allowed him to survive the process.

“My belief in cannabis comes not just from my experience but what I saw at his side,” Anna says. “It was very powerful.”

Since Anna lived in Oregon, where medical use has been allowed since 1998, she had a friend who was an organic medical grower she could trust for access to cannabis. But in early 2016, as Oregon’s new adult-use regulations pushed medical cultivators into the new system, Anna decided she needed to get involved with the medical providers.

“I got my medical card then, which might seem counterintuitive, but I felt it was a political issue,” she says. “I needed to take a stand that I use this medically, that this is a medical issue.”
Anna had been using her English degree and masters in communications working in marketing and admin for an environmental engineering firm, but she started applying those skills to helping medical growers with their paperwork for the transition. In the process, she became concerned with how to make cannabis available for everyone in the face of new costs. Medical users are caught between paying a 17-20% tax in the adult-use market or paying a $200 registration fee for a medical card, on top of the cost of a doctor’s visit for a recommendation.

“I’ve talked with so many people who are not familiar with cannabis but are interested -- elderly women, cancer patients, and the like,” Anna says. “It’s infuriating and heartbreaking helping people with how to navigate dispensaries and how to use when they are on fixed incomes and shouldn’t pay the tax or the fees.”

This made it natural for Anna to begin work in the cannabis industry as an activist. In 2017, she began her current job as a cannabis science educator for Eastfork Cultivars. As cannabis education became her full-time focus, she became aware of more aspects of the issue both in legal states and the nation as a whole.

“I have a soft spot for the underdog,” Anna says. “I don’t like to see the powerful holding down people with less power, so I feel strongly that cannabis is a human rights issue, and there is so much work to do on social justice.”

Anna is also working to make cannabis more available as a treatment in sports. She is part of the organization Athletes for Care that has petitioned the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) to remove THC from its list of banned substances. The petition, which was signed by about 200 former and current pro athletes from variety of sports, argues that cannabis does not fit the three criteria for being banned, as it is not performance enhancing, it is not bad for the athlete’s health, and it does not violate the “spirit of sport.”

“WADA has been moving in right direction, but the problem is social and political stigma that is completely unscientific.” Anna says. “Science has been suppressed, and active disinformation from governments has spilled over into society so much that we still see it as a drug of abuse.”

Anna will be starting her 20th season in women’s rugby this year as openside flanker #7, a demanding position. She’s excited to get back on the pitch and eager for more opportunities to spread the message about how cannabis has helped her.

“How could I not use any chance that I have to share the truth and a message of freedom and rights around health and wellbeing?”

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Action Alert: Lobby from Home!

With ASA’s 2020 National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference going online, the annual lobby day is, too. This is your best chance to urge your elected officials to improve and expand safe access.

ASA will coordinate your efforts by email and on the phone so we can expand our impact even further. Just RSVP to receive notification on March 26 about how to work with us in contacting your elected officials.

RSVP today at safeaccessnow.org/lobby20.

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