ASA Activist Newsletter - November 2022
In this issue:
- Unity 2022 Now to Be Held Online
- Cannabis Wins in Midterm Election
- Congress Sends Cannabis Research Bill to Biden
- Activists Take the ASA Air-Shred Challenge
- ASA Launches Website Update
- Events: MJBizCon
- Activist Profile: Ron Millward, Pennsylvania
- Action Alert: Urge Congress to Pass Medical Cannabis Bills
Unity 2022 Now to Be Held Online
A message from ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai:
This was a hard decision, but ASA’s 2022 National Medical Cannabis Conference will now be held online, not in person.
Due to many circumstances beyond our control, we could not move forward with the conference and still protect our patient population. As a patient organization, our members’ health is our number one priority. The increasing trend in new cases of COVID within the DC area, showing several hundred new cases each week, also impacted our non-profit insurance coverage of this event.
We hope you will still join us online December 12-14 for all the topics we had planned for Unity as well as some of the exciting plans ASA has for 2023. You can check out the agenda here. Panels to be followed by live Q&A with presenters include:
- How Advocates Helped Change the Conversation of Medical Cannabis
- What’s Working for Patients
- Current Challenges faced by the Medical Cannabis Marketplace and Patients
- The World We Envision: Safe and Affordable Access for All
You'll also have a chance to hear a review of ASA's State of the States Report and a presentation on ASA's Contaminants Report.
If you booked a hotel room, please make sure to cancel it as soon as possible. If you were planning to stay at the Omni, you can cancel your hotel room with no fees as long as you do so by Thursday, December 8. The Omni phone number is: (202) 234-0700.
While we will be hosting the main conference online, we will also be holding an in-person lobby day and awards ceremony in the spring. Be sure to look out for more info on that in the new year.
We thank you so much for your patience and understanding as we navigate through these changes. Please understand we had to do what was best for patients. For immediate questions, please reach out to [email protected].
Cannabis Wins in Midterm Election
Voters approved cannabis ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri that will expand access in those states. Both have medical cannabis programs in place. The new laws allow all adults to possess and use cannabis, removing barriers for patients.
Missouri’s initiative also extends patient registrations from one year to three, allows physicians to recommend cannabis to more patients, and permits patients from out of state to access dispensaries. Missouri’s new law goes into effect December 9, 2022, while Maryland’s goes into effect in July 2023.
in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected similar adult-use ballot initiatives.
Many patients who might benefit from cannabis have conditions that are not on the state lists of qualifying conditions. Others are fearful of providing their names and health information to government authorities. Many patients also experiment with cannabis to see if it will help before committing to the expense and potential risks of enrolling in a state program.
While removing barriers to access for a wider array of patients can be beneficial, many state policymakers fail to consider the differences between medical and non-medical use when determining program rules.
“Passing cannabis reform laws is just the first step,” said Abbey Roudebush, ASA's Director of Government Affairs. “The rules get set in the implementation phase—that’s where patient voices can help educate policy makers on the unique needs of patients.”
With the addition of Maryland and Massachusetts, there are now 21 states that allow both adult and medicinal use of cannabis. Currently 29 states restrict access to patients with specific qualifying conditions.
In addition to the ballot measures, voters decided on candidates for the House and Senate and various state offices. Among the outspoken advocates for safe access who won election to the Senate are John Fetterman (D-PA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House saw the reelection of Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL) and David Joyce (R-OH).
For more on election results and what comes next in Missouri and Maryland, see ASA’s blog: www.safeaccessnow.org/midterms22_blog.
Congress Sends Cannabis Research Bill to Biden
The first cannabis reform bill to ever pass Congress is on President Biden’s desk. News sources have reported that he will sign it.
The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was approved by the Senate on November 16 through unanimous consent. The bill passed the House as H.R.8454 in July 2022 on a bipartisan vote of 325 in favor, with 95 Republicans opposing.
Under the bill, physicians who discuss medicinal cannabis use with their patients will be explicitly protected from legal jeopardy under the Controlled Substances Act. Currently, they are shielded by court rulings that constitutional free-speech protections cover physician-patient discussions about cannabis and written recommendations.
The new law will also direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to assess the health benefits of cannabis and identify ways to facilitate research on the cannabis that is currently commercially available in many states. To date, federal research has been restricted to cannabis cultivated under DEA license, which is often quite different from what patients obtain through regulated state programs.
The legislation should increase the supply of research cannabis by expanding the federal licenses for cannabis cultivation to include research institutions, medical schools, and qualified practitioners. In the future, drug manufacturers will be able to cultivate cannabis for research or import it. That should encourage the development of more cannabis-based medications. Currently, there are two standardized, dose-controlled commercial cannabis medications on the global market, one of which is FDA approved.
The federal process for approving cannabis research will also be streamlined and accelerated. When researchers apply, the Department of Justice must approve the application or request more information within 60 days. In the past, researchers have seen proposals languish for years.
“As cannabis advocates, we know what a big step this is in cannabis reform, but it is just the first step,” said ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai. “Cannabis patients are still being left behind by archaic federal cannabis laws that must be changed to address those harms. Use our template letter to send a letter to President Biden urging him to sign the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Act and to urge him to support full medical cannabis reforms at the federal level.”
The House version of the cannabis research bill, H.R. 8454, was sponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Andy Harris (R-MD). The Senate version, S.253, was sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
ASA Air-Shred Challenge Raises Funds and Awareness
ASA volunteer activist Piper Lindeen started the ASA Air-Shred Challenge on YouTube as a way to raise awareness of what Americans for Safe Access does on behalf of patients and raise funds to support that work.
Piper learned the potential of cannabis to treat difficult conditions when her young son’s severe epilepsy dramatically improved with cannabis. As she got more involved in activism and started a graduate degree in cannabis science, she started volunteering with ASA. She was surprised to discover that ASA is truly a grassroots organization that relies primarily on donations from individuals to support its work. She decided to create the challenge of donating $10 to ASA then challenging others to do the same, as she explains in her blog post about it on ASA’s website.
“The Air-Shred challenge highlights the challenge non-profit advocacy groups face in funding the work that produces legislative victories,” said ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai. “We’re so glad Piper had this idea and that it’s getting such great attention in the media.”
You can learn more about how you can participate in the ASA Challenge at www.safeaccessnow.org/ASAchallenge.
Founded in 2002, Americans for Safe Access is a 501(c)4 non-profit that advocates for legislative change, while Americans for Safe Access Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works to educate the public about medical cannabis. .
ASA Launches Updated Website
Last month ASA launched a big website overhaul to make it more user friendly and content rich. If you have not already, check it out at safeaccessnow.org.
New website highlights:
- Simplified navigation menu
- Content reorganized to make it easier to find what you are looking for
- Improved mobile-view styling
- ASA sponsors now featured on every page
“We would like to give a very big shout out and thank you to LESS+MORE and ITSulu for helping us with the design and implementation of the new website on a pro bono basis,” said ASA Executive Director Debbie Churgai. “As a non-profit, we often struggle to find the financial resources for anything, let alone administrative needs like website updates. Having businesses show their support for our mission by providing services pro bono allows us to put our finances towards more important things like advocacy and education.”
LESS+MORE is an independent, award-winning branding agency that works with organizations of all sizes and types, in branding, design, interactive, and advertising. They focus on one thing: delivering creative that works. Mike Savacool and Steve Secviar spent months working with ASA to create a beautiful design that highlights our mission of patient advocacy. Mike has been a friend and supporter of ASA for more than a decade, starting with creating the ASA logo. If you have design needs, you can reach them at [email protected] or 619-341-9239. Check out their website at lessandmore.com.
ITSulu is an IT firm headquartered in Florida. Their diverse global team of software engineers and functional experts hold experience of over 10 years in implementing and training open-source ERP Odoo, Amazon Web Services and Cisco across multiple industries. The wide range of services they offer include consultation, implementation, integration and customization. IT Sulu leadership has also been a friend and supporter of ASA for many years and has helped on projects in the past. You can contact them and find out more about them at: itsulu.com/.
“We appreciate people's patience as we work out any kinks you may encounter in the next few weeks as we continue to improve functionality,” said Churgai. "If you have professional services and want to contribute to ASA, we would graciously welcome the support! Media, graphic, printing or a variety of other needs are always appreciated. Reach out to me at [email protected] for more info.”
Events: MJBizCon Association Day in Las Vegas
Once again ASA was invited to participate in MJBizCon's Associations Day in Las Vegas, Nevada. This event brought together over 40 non-profits and associations driving the industry forward. Attendees were able to meet and network with top groups and learn more about how they can get involved with our important work.
“A big thank you to Piper Lindeen for volunteering her time to help out with the ASA booth as well as spreading the word about the ASA Challenge during MJBiz,” said ASA Executive Director Debbi Churgai. “Thank you as well to Nikki Lawley who continually works to spread ASA mission to all those who will listen!”
Associations involved with MJBizCon represent one of the following pillars: professional development and inclusion, sustainability and community development, and legal advocacy.
Activist Profile: Ron Millward, Maryland
Ron Millward joined the Air Force at age 17, while he was still in high school. He served eight years through multiple deployments. Today, his mission is to help other veterans find ways to achieve balance after their military service.
During Ron’s deployments to the Middle East with a transportation unit, he excelled as a soldier, but he left Iraq in 2010 with combat trauma. At that point, he did not have a PTSD diagnosis, and he turned to alcohol to cope, as many veterans do. When he turned to the Veterans Health Administration for help, the pharmaceuticals began to pile up – mood stabilizers, benzos, anti-depressants, more drugs to manage the side effects of the initial drugs – nine different prescriptions.
But Ron was struggling to make sense of what had happened to him, what was happening to his buddies after they returned home. He had already lost four of them to suicide. Ron spiraled downward.
“I lost touch with who I was,” Ron said. “I didn’t have a purpose.”
In a moment of despair, he washed down a bottle of pills with alcohol and waited to die. He woke up in a psych ward.
“That meant more meds, but I also got time to reflect,” Ron said. “That was the start of awareness of the military trauma.”
Ron decided to make some big changes. He adopted a plant-based diet and turned to fitness. He enrolled in bible college and became active in a local church community. But he was still struggling and decided he didn’t want to deploy anymore. He received an honorable discharge from the Air Force in 2014.
It was a friend in a music group at church who first suggested cannabis might be a substitute for all the pharmaceutical drugs Ron was taking. Turned out, the friend was right.
“For the first time in my life, I felt a disconnect from the chaos,” Ron said.
As a very conservative military man, he had bought into the cannabis stigma, so he had no prior experience or friends to guide him. It was a journey of discovery, trying to find the right dosages and products that worked for him.
“What path and what combination of things works? Nothing is simple, life is complicated,” Ron said. “Health and wellness are your biggest investment.”
Ron was able to phase out all the medications as diet, exercise, and cannabis began to make a difference. He was getting some talk therapy, but at that time in Washington, D.C., there was not much support.
“No one wanted to talk about it with vets. I was lost, with nowhere to ask questions.” Ron remembers. “That prompted me to create community. I thought there has got to be a way to facilitate the transition out of military life.”
Ron launched the Balanced Veterans Network (BVN) in 2018 in collaboration with other veterans. The leadership team is still small, with five stipend staff and 15 volunteers, but they are making a big impact. The organization is a registered nonprofit in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. At the National Cannabis Festival in Washington, D.C., BVN hosted a wellness room that saw 1,600 veterans and family members come through. But most of BVN’s outreach and education work happens online.
Through their website, veterans and their families can access a variety of alternative therapies, including yoga and meditation, and get information about cannabis, including how to use it effectively and cultivate. BVN helps veterans get state medical cannabis registration cards for free or reimburses veterans’ costs.
BVN has several active projects, including launching a new app on Apple and Android, and they are hoping to hold more in-person events.
“I want BVN to have some type of retreat where we can introduce veterans to a wellness toolbox that includes mental, physical and emotional aspects,” Ron said.
BVN is working to bridge the gap between VA care and wellness. One tool is the downloadable “Wellness Resource Guide for Veterans,” produced in partnership with the Cannabis Creative Movement, that provides information about non-traditional therapies and other wellness practices.
“There is no single blueprint, no one way,” Ron said. “We need to provide different options so folks can find what works for them.”
For more information on the Balanced Veterans Network, visit their website at www.balancedveterans.com.
Action Alert: Urge Congress to Pass Medical Cannabis Bills
Despite the medical cannabis programs in 38 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. The time to end the conflict of state and federal law is now.
Take a minute to urge your federal representatives to protect patients and pass meaningful medical cannabis legislation today. We’ve made it easy. Just go to safeaccessnow.org/passfedleg_action
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