ASA Activist Newsletter - September 2018

September 12, 2018 | William Dolphin

In the September 2018 issue:

  • UN Takes First Look at Status of Cannabis Under International Law
  • Illinois Takes Direct Step to Fight Opioid Crisis with Medical Cannabis
  • First Southern California Laboratory Achieves National PFC Certification
  • Congressional Pressure Builds for More Cannabis Research
  • Upcoming Events - Abilities Expo Boston
  • ASA Partners with The Sacred Plant to Help Spread Education about the Opioid Crisis
  • Activist Profile: Tom Duncan, Iowa, in memoriam
  • ACTION ALERT: Urge Congress to Find the Facts on Medical Cannabis

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UN Takes First Look at Status of Cannabis Under International Law

United Nations logoThe international effort to change the classification of cannabis to allow medical use has taken a big step forward. In late July, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) sent a formal letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), informing him that the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) had determined that cannabidiol (CBD) does not need to be scheduled at all.

“The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions,” wrote WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He also notified the UN that the WHO experts found evidence that cannabis, THC, and extracts do not fit the current, highly restrictive classification, so they will undertake a “critical review” of those in November, the first every done by the WHO or the UN.

Patient advocates at the WHO meeting in Geneva, June 2018The WHO determination follows testimony and evidence presented by Americans for Safe Access and other members of the International Medical Cannabis Patients Coalition (IMCPC) in Geneva, Switzerland in June. ASA and IMCPC submitted four reports on cannabis and its components that convinced the ECDD that cannabis is “a relatively safe drug.”

In addition to the letter, Dr. Tedros sent a summary of findings that notes “There are no case reports of abuse or dependence relating to the use of pure CBD. No public health problems have been associated with CBD use,” and “CBD has been found to be generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”

The ECDD’s “Critical Review” of cannabis and its derivatives will include the chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, epidemiology, and therapeutic use. The results of the review will be sent to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which will adopt or reject them at its meeting in March 2019. Based on the ECDD’s initial findings, the experts are likely to recommend that the UN reschedule cannabis, THC, resin, extracts and tinctures.

Such a recommendation may be welcome. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was prime minister of Portugal when it decriminalized all drugs in 2001, a decision he lauded in an address to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs last year, saying, “I am particularly proud of the results of the reforms I introduced in Portugal.”

Patient advocacy groups at the June WHO meeting represented Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay, France, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United States.

“The current international policies on cannabis are based on a League of Nations report from 1935,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “They are having a detrimental impact on patients worldwide and do not reflect the reality of over 30 countries globally that have passed medical cannabis laws.”

If the UN ultimately decides to change marijuana’s status under international law, it would trigger a review on U.S. scheduling, according to provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.

More Information:
Letter from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to the UN.

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Illinois Takes Direct Step to Fight Opioid Crisis with Medical Cannabis

ASA Distributed Similar Model Legislation Last Month to State Representatives

Illinois took a bold step to fight the opioid crisis with medical cannabis last month. Governor Bruce Rauner (R) travelled to the Chicago Recovery Alliance, a nonprofit that works to prevent heroin overdoses, to sign a bill that will allow patients to trade in opioid prescriptions for medical cannabis.

SB 336, introduced by state Senator Don Harmon, says a doctor may authorize the use of medical cannabis immediately for any patient who qualifies for a prescription of OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin or other opioids.

“This bill is an example of what ASA has been urging policymakers to do to combat an epidemic that is claiming 115 lives a day,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “We urge other states to follow the lead of Illinois and get in step with our End Pain, Not Lives campaign by establishing cannabis as an option for pain management.”

End Pain, Not LivesIllinois’s new law also eliminates barriers to patients. Qualifying individuals can now obtain provisional registrations while their application is being processed so there is no waiting period for access to medical cannabis. Also ended are fingerprint and criminal background checks to enroll in the medical cannabis program.

“With enactment of SB 336, we are the first state to give medical prescribers a way to help adult patients manage their pain without compromising their safety or Illinois’ marijuana program standards,” said Governor Rauner. “Science wins again. [There is] substantial evidence that cannabis produces clinically significant reductions in pain symptoms. States with medical marijuana dispensaries have seen a 14.4% decrease in the use of prescription opioids. Other preliminary, epidemiological data suggest a correlation between widespread use of medical cannabis and lower opioid death rates.”

Over 6 million opioid prescriptions were filled in Illinois in 2017. In contrast, there are only approximately 40,000 patients currently enrolled in the Illinois Medical Cannabis Program. According to the state Department of Health, Illinois lost 1,946 individuals to opioid overdose in 2016.

As part of its ongoing “End Pain, Not Lives” campaign, Americans for Safe Access distributed similar model legislation to lawmakers from all fifty states at the annual National Conference of State Legislators’ Legislative Summit.

More Information: ASA’s End Pain, Not Lives campaign.

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First Southern California Laboratory Achieves National PFC Certification

ASA’s Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program last month certified Consumer Safety Analytics (AKA CannaSafe) Laboratory of Van Nuys, California for laboratory analysis of medical cannabis products. CannaSafe is the first laboratory to be awarded certification in southern California through the PFC program.

“CannaSafe has demonstrated through the PFC certification process a commitment to high standards of testing that will ensure cannabis safety and consumer confidence in California’s burgeoning cannabis market,” said PFC Director Heather Despres.  “CannaSafe sets a standard for other cannabis laboratories to meet.”

PFC is the only nonprofit, third-party certification program for the medical cannabis industry based on quality standards issued by the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP). The AHP and AHPA cannabis guidelines offer the most comprehensive regulatory and product safety guidance, as well as Best Business Practices for the production of cannabis and cannabis products. Components of these guidance documents have been included in several states’ regulations.

The Cannasafe main laboratory. Photo by Upstate Headshots“Going through the process of PFC certification has brought numerous benefits to our business and our clients as well as their patients and consumers,” said Antonio Frazier, Director of Operations at CannaSafe. “The PFC program has helped us attain the highest levels of standards and consistency in testing cannabis products, which offered additional measures and considerations. We will also be offering a discount on testing services to other cannabis businesses enrolled in the PFC program. Further, the program has also saved us potentially thousands of dollars by ensuring we were prepared for regulatory inspections and the staff is properly trained,” added Fraizer.

To achieve PFC certification, laboratories must pass two assessments each cycle. Assessment involves a facility inspection and review of method validation reports, employee training records, and other requirements applicable by law.

CannaSafe joins a growing list of PFC certified cannabis businesses since the program was officially launched in 2015, including Harvest of Tempe (AZ), Sonoma Lab Works (CA), Berkeley Patients Group (CA), Humboldt’s finest (CA), The Werc Shop (WA), Kannavis (MD) BASA Collective (CA) and many others.

In addition to its collaboration with AHPA and AHP, Americans for Safe Access has formed partnerships with other accreditation bodies and standards groups such as ASTM and the American Association of Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA). The PFC program will soon be offering a new accreditation program based on the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025.

More information: Patient Focused Certification.

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Congressional Pressure Builds for More Cannabis Research

One of the many barriers to medical research on cannabis may soon be gone, if members of Congress have their say. A bipartisan bill to create more access to research cannabis will receive a vote in a key House committee, and Senators are again urging the Department of Justice to stop stalling on the issue.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this month on the Medicinal Cannabis Research Act (H.R. 5634), its author, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL-1) told Forbes. The bill, which has 40 bipartisan cosponsors, would require the federal government to issue new cultivation licenses for research purposes.

Access to research materials -- actual cannabis – has been stymied by a lack of supply from the sole authorized source, the federal research farm operated by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). Two years since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agreed to issue more licenses to produce research cannabis, none have been issued.

The Department of Justice has effectively blocked the process by refusing to act on any applications sent over from the DEA.

Members of Congress have been applying pressure to the Trump Administration, targeting Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Robert Wilkie, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA). This month’s letter was the second Sessions has received from Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), asking why the Department of Justice is not moving forward with licensing research cultivation facilities. Their April letter never got a reply.

 “It is imperative that our nation’s brightest scientists have access to diverse types of federally-approved, research-grade marijuana to research both its adverse and therapeutic effects,” Harris and Hatch wrote in their most recent letter.

The letter to the head of the VA urges new clinical trials of cannabis for conditions affecting veterans.  The members of Congress point out that the VA has the authority to conduct studies on the health benefits and risks of cannabis. The letter was signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate veterans affairs committees -- Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Jon Tester (D-MT), and Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN-1) and Tim Walz (D-MN-1).

“Many of our nation’s veterans already use medicinal cannabis, and they deserve to have full knowledge of the potential benefits and side effects of this alternative therapy,” they wrote, noting that the American Legion’s survey of its membership found veterans “overwhelmingly support research into medicinal cannabis.”

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Upcoming Events

On September 21-23, ASA Associate Director Debbie Churgai will be in Boston at the Abilities Expo to present a workshop on "How Medical Cannabis Can Help People with Disabilities.” The presentation will explain how cannabis can be an option for treating a variety of conditions and how qualifying patients can access it where they live. The presentation will also cover how new patients can learn more about medical cannabis from ASA’s Cannabis Care Certification program. If you are in the Boston area, stop by to see us @AbilitiesExpo Boston. 

ASA has presented medical cannabis information to receptive audiences at other Abilities Expo events. The expos are about bringing necessary products and services together under one roof for the community of people with disabilities, their families, caregivers, seniors, and healthcare professionals. Upcoming expos are scheduled for Houston, Boston, San Mateo, Toronto and New York. If you are interested in volunteering at an Abilities Expo in your area, please contact info@safeaccessnow.org.

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Sign the Sacred Plant Petition

The Sacred Plant has partnered with ASA and the United Patients Group to create a petition to President Trump for safe access to medical cannabis for all patients in pain. We have been looking for ways to reduce the number of people who die each day from opioid overdose through our End Pain Not Lives campaign, and we know that this petition could be what sends the message to the President once and for all -- that those in pain need a safer, non-addictive tool for pain management. Signers of the petition will receive free downloadable versions of ASA's Chronic Pain Condition-Based Booklet, Medical Cannabis as a Tool to Combat Pain and The Opioid Crisis report, and our Medical Cannabis in America Briefing Book.

Please join us in the fight to give patients the right to choose their own medicine to combat pain by signing the petition today!

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Activist Profile: Tom Duncan, in memoriam

Tom Duncan lobbying at the U.S. CapitolTom Duncan, co-founder of Iowans for Safe Access and recipient of ASA’s Courage Award in 2017, passed away on August 15, 2018, after living with cancer for years. He was 60. A humble, tireless advocate for access to medical cannabis for all those in need, Tom attend many of ASA’s National Medical Cannabis Unity Conferences and lobbied Senator Chuck Grassley’s office relentlessly.

Tom’s last victory as an advocate, just days before his death, was to change the University Iowa Hospital and Clinic policy to allow patients to bring in cannabis oil and medicate in their room.

"I am very sad to hear about our movement's loss of Tom Duncan," said Steph Sherer, pictured with Tom at the Unity Conference. "He was inspiration to all of us at ASA and such a lovely person." 

A resident of Jefferson, Iowa, where he was buried late last month, Tom worked as a commodities broker for several years, as well as with his father on the family farm there.

After his father died in 2008, Tom took on caring for his elderly mother, Bonnie, and his brother Jay, who has Down Syndrome. Tom also worked for a time at Genesis, an organization that provides support for people with disabilities, and was active in Aktion Club, a service club for adults with disabilities.

"If you weren’t his friend, that was by your choice, as he met everyone where they were and respected everyone," says one of his hometown friends. 

His friends remember him for his love of ice cream and his way with children. Advocates will remember how Tom worked tirelessly for safe access to medical cannabis on both the state and national levels. He was a generous man who always demurred when complimented on his advocacy, giving credit to the many mothers in Iowa for the wins they achieved.

Patients everywhere have lost a champion of compassion. He will be sorely missed.

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ACTION ALERT: Urge Congress to Find the Facts on Medical Cannabis

BuzzFeed News reports the Trump Administration is secretly preparing a smear campaign about cannabis that includes soliciting negative stories and statements about it from federal agencies. Good policy requires honest conversations with lawmakers, and the public is entitled to unbiased studies and information about cannabis. 

The Marijuana Data Collection Act (H.R. 6495) can insure that impartial approach. The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate information gathering with the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor and the various states. It would also direct the National Academy of Sciences to publish a biannual study on the health, safety and economic effects of state cannabis programs.

You can help by urging your Congressional representative to become a cosponsor the Marijuana Data Collection Act today. Click here now to take action

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