Blog Voices from the Frontlines
Update 11/8/2019: The CDC has confirmed that out of 29 samples of lung fluid from affected patients all samples tested positive for Vitamin E acetate. This has led the CDC to consider Vitamin E acetate to be a "chemical of concern."
Over the past two months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been working with state and local departments of health around the country to identify cases of what has come to be known as Vaping-Associated Pulmonary Illness (VAPI). As of 5:00 PM on September 25, the CDC had confirmed 805 cases of lung injury in 46 states and one U.S. territory. The CDC also confirmed a total of 12 deaths in 10 states.
While several states have issued recommendations to quit using vapes, other states have banned, or are currently looking into banning, vaporization products (for both nicotine and cannabis) altogether. Massachusetts has banned the sale of all vaporization products for four months, and New York and Michigan are banning sales of flavored vaping products. Other jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles, are considering bans as well.
“The potential benefits that patients stand to gain from passage of the SAFE Banking Act are significant. Americans for Safe Access is proud to have supported this historic bill since its introduction and reiterates its call for swift passage in the Senate. Broader, more robust cannabis reform is still urgently needed, but the Act’s passage through the House is an encouraging sign that we are on the right path.”-Sean Khalepari, ASA Regulatory Affairs Coordinator
This week cannabis legislation made history. The first ever federal cannabis reform legislation was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 321-103. This bill will still need to pass the Senate and be signed into law, but it serves as a marker of the progress cannabis legislation has made.
We are happy to share this brief guide to State Cannabis Laws with you. Created with the talented designers of Centennial Media this guide serves as a bite-sized version of the full analysis of state laws available on our website under: "Legal Information By State & Federal Law."
A lot has changed for ASA (and this country) in the 17 years that we’ve been working for safe access to medical cannabis. Something that hasn’t changed is that we are still focused on serving patients and we are still absolutely dependant on the hard work and financial support of our members and activists. With major changes coming to the medical cannabis landscape in the near future we want to take this opportunity to ask for your support to keep ASA fighting for patients.
Recent news articles have shed light on a new problem that is being attributed to vape pens. The CDC has stated that “all reported cases have e-cigarette product use or ‘vaping.’” but that some patients have also acknowledged use of cannabis products containing THC. At this time there is no specific product that has been implicated in these adverse events, but we at ASA wanted to reach out and remind consumers and patients to be aware of the products they are consuming.
Every year the ASA team and I spend a considerable amount of time formally comparing every medical cannabis program in the United States. In 2019 this meant assessing the medical cannabis programs of 47 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories. The nearly 200-page report we created provides a detailed analysis of the state of medical cannabis programs around the country. Access to medical cannabis has come a long way since California passed Proposition 215 in 1996. However this report shows us that while the national trend is towards better medical cannabis laws, many states still need significant improvements in their programs to ensure that all patients have access to the medicine they need.
In July 2017, four medical cannabis patients joined other advocates in filing a lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Second District of New York. The plaintiffs in the case (originally Washington v. Sessions, now Washington v. Barr) sought a declaration that the placement of cannabis in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act was unconstitutional because it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, protections guaranteed by the First Amendment, and the fundamental right to travel.
The judge expressed sympathy to the plaintiffs and pointedly noted that his dismissal of the case was not a ruling on the merits of their claims regarding the medical efficacy of cannabis, but he upheld the constitutionality of cannabis’ scheduling status and ruled that the plaintiffs were required to exhaust administrative options, including petitioning the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule cannabis, before filing suit. The plaintiffs appealed his decision.
Last week, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes. This move by Illinois is significant because it is the first state to legalize the adult use of cannabis through the legislature, rather than through a citizen initiative. By moving a legalization bill through its legislature, it is possible that Illinois will serve as a model for other states that are considering legalization, but may not wish to put the question before voters or may lack an initiative process. The bill takes effect January 1, 2020.
While the legalization bill in Illinois covers issues from criminal justice reform to the creation of new sets of licenses, it is also expansive (the final text of the bill runs more than 600 pages) and includes several new provisions for medical cannabis. Here a few things patients should know:
Americans for Safe Access Wants to Help You Navigate the Federal Regulatory Process
Earlier this spring, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a notice in the Federal Register that invited the public to submit scientific information and comments on cannabis and cannabis products. This is not the first time that the FDA has called for comments. In 2018, the FDA solicited public comments to help determine the United States’ position on the rescheduling of CBD and other cannabis compounds under international law. Fortunately, in recent years, there has been a shift in the FDA’s attitude about cannabis. Currently, their website acknowledges that states are developing their own programs and that there is medical value to, at a minimum, isolated components of the cannabis plant, marking a shift from previous years when the agency outright ignored the progress being made at the state level.
Regulatory comments are a good way for activists to make their voices heard. However, unlike typical grassroots campaign activities that rely on building coalitions and generating large scale support, regulatory comments do not benefit from a large number of people saying the same thing. In fact, the FDA itself specifies that the FDA comment process is not a popularity contest in which the agency will adopt the policy position promoted by the greatest number of commenters. What the FDA and other regulatory agencies look for during the commenting process are concise, well-thought-out responses that cite scientific research and make recommendations for sound public policy.
On May 15, 2019, the National Public Radio (NPR) program All Things Considered included a segment about high-potency cannabis. A corresponding article, "Highly Potent Weed Has Swept the Market, Raising Concerns About Health Risks," was posted to NPR's website. Unfortunately, NPR presented a one-sided view of the topic and made assertions that are not supported by the available evidence. We are reproducing below the letter that ASA's William Dolphin sent to NPR in response to this misleading segment.