Blog Voices from the Frontlines
On Sunday afternoon, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed SB 3, making Pennsylvania the 24th medical cannabis state in the country. And with 17 other states offering legal protections for low-THC medical cannabis, there are now 300 million Americans living where their state law is at odds with federal law. The addition of PA as a medical cannabis state will no doubt help the federal picture, but for Pennsylvanian patients who need access to this medicine, the focus now shifts to implementation of the program.
ASA has observed that it typically takes a state anywhere between 18 and 36 months to get their medical cannabis program up and running once their law goes into effect. The challenge for advocates and state officials will be to make sure the program is implemented as swiftly as possible, but without cutting corners or rushing overly-cautious regulations that may harm patient access.
There are essentially three phases that a new medical cannabis state goes through when implementing a new program, (1) drafting regulations; (2) licensing cultivators, processors, labs, and dispensaries; (3) and registering patients and caregivers. To accomplish the first stage, ASA recommends that Pennsylvania looks to the American Herbal Products Association's guidelines for cannabis regulators. States such as Maryland, Nevada, and many others have used these guidelines to draft excellent regulations that ensure product safety. ASA plans to be actively involved with the process to help generate the most patient-focused set of regulations possible.
On Wednesday, the East Bay Express reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has dropped its appeal against Lynette Shaw in the federal civil action against her which forced the closure of her dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM). In dropping it's appeal, the DOJ accepts the October 2015 ruling by Judge Charles Breyer that Congress had forbidden the DOJ with interfering MAMM and Shaw unless it could show a violation of state law. Shaw has said that she intends to reopen her dispensary, restoring the access to patients that was cut of by federal interference.
By dropping the appeal, the DOJ has essentially conceded that there was no violation of state law, but also that it recognizes that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment (aka the Mikulski Amendment) has practical value. When the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment was first signed into law in 2014, it was widely misconstrued by people on both sides of the federal issue. Some were saying the amendment was the end of federal marijuana prohibition, while many in the movement bizarrely sided with the DOJ interpretation that it was symbolic but meaningless.
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Senate approved the final version of SB 3, nearly a year after the Senate passed its original version of the bill. The bill introduced by Senators Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) and Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia) is widely expected to be signed by Governor Tom Wolf, which will make Pennsylvania the 24th state in the country to adopt a comprehensive medical cannabis program.
The bill underwent a tortured ordeal to get to a floor vote on the House side, particularly from Health Committee Chair Matt Baker (R-Tioga County) who attempted to the kill the bill until a rarely utilized procedural move stripped the bill from his committee. Recently, the bill had several amendment votes prior to making to the floor, which are well covered by the Daily Chronic. The most notable of these was the successful removal of a 10% THC cap, which would have severely limited treatment options for patients in need of THC-rich products, such as pain and cancer patients.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on the Veterans Equal Access Amendment as part of the full committee markup of the MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill. The amendment will be reintroduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) and would allow VHA physicians to make written recommendations to veteran patients in states with medical cannabis programs. Current VHA policy forbids their physicians from recommending or even discussing the benefits of medical cannabis.
The policy is set by VHA Directive 2011-004. This directive was set to expire on January 31, 2016; however, the policy remains in effect. This means that Congress must take action to fix the problem. The Veterans Equal Access Amendment would help lift this “gag order” that is currently being imposed on VHA physicians. Like the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment that protect state medical cannabis programs, this amendment would have to be renewed on an annual basis.
Last year, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to include the amendment with solid bipartisan support, as 4 Republicans joined 14 Democrats. We need to make sure that everyone who voted for the amendment last year votes does so again, as well as work to pick up additional votes in favor of the amendment. A stronger showing of bipartisan support for the amendment will help increase the chances of pass of the CARERS Act, which would permanently resolved the issue preventing veterans from having equal access to state medical cannabis programs.
If you live in a state with a member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, please take action to email your senator to vote yes on the Daines-Merkley Veterans Equal Access Amendment. You can find out if you live in a state with a senator on the committee on the alert page.
When the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) convenes in New York next Tuesday, delegates will be discussing global drug policy – including what to do about medical cannabis. This is a historic meeting, and the ramifications for national and international medical cannabis policy could be huge.
ASA would like to provide every delegate from the 180 nations represented with a groundbreaking report we prepared this year for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The 91-page report, which was peer-reviewed at our annual conference in March, answers important scientific questions about medical cannabis, and outlines a pathway towards international reform.
Pictured: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer and an international delegation from France, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Jamaica delivering the report to the UNCND in March.
Maryland Legislature Votes to Allow More Health Care Providers to Recommend Cannabis Therapy - Americans for Safe Access
One the final day of session in 2016 for the Maryland General Assembly, the Senate approved HB 104 by a vote of 36-10. The bill expands the number of licensed health care providers who may recommend cannabis therapy to their patients under the Maryland Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission program. The bill would still been to be signed by Governor Larry Hogan (R), and while he has generally supported medical cannabis legislation in the past, he has not weighed in yet on this bill.
Under the original version of the law, only those with licenses in good standing from the Maryland State Board of Physicians were eligible. Introduced by the only physician in the Maryland General Assembly, Dan Morhaim (D - Stevenson), the bill changes the term to from "certifying physician” to "certifying provider," and extends eligibility to licensed dentists, podiatrists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwifes who are in good standing with their respective state licensing agency. Like physicians, each provider would have to submit a treatment plan proposal to the Commission that must be approved before they can make written certifications under the program.
Register now for ASA’s California Citizen Lobby Day on Monday, May 23, 2016. This is the largest medical cannabis lobby day in Sacramento, and your chance to shape the future of medical cannabis in the state. Be a part of it!
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Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who chairs both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Drug Caucus, is holding a hearing on Tuesday, April 5th to discuss the harms of “recreational marijuana.” By holding this hearing, Senator Grassley is yet again delaying action on the CARERS Act while taking an opportunity to undermine the perception of THC’s medical value.
This morning, Senate Drug Caucus Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are holding a hearing entitled, “Is the Department of Justice Adequately Protecting the Public from the Impact of State Recreational Marijuana Legalization?” While the subject of the hearing may be a reasonable area for the Drug Caucus to examine, the hearing will mark the second time that Grassley and Feinstein have held a hearing on cannabis without looking into the medical benefits of the entire plant. Making matters worse, there is not any witnesses scheduled to testify today who can speak to the medical benefits, as the witness roster bears a heavy anti-cannabis bias. This demonstrates that protecting safe and legal access to cannabis therapy is a low priority of the two senators. Senator Grassley could address this issue directly by bringing the CARERS Act to a hearing and vote
Patient advocates need to make that medical cannabis - including THC - becomes a priority to these two senators and their their colleagues. You can help reshape the conversation by tweeting at Senators Grassley and Feinstein during and after today's hearing by engaging them on Twitter using the hashtag #TimeForCARERS. Below are some suggested tweets to use.
The California Campaign for Safe Access (CCSA) is Americans for Safe Access’ oldest and largest state campaign. This California Weekly Roundup is your way to stay on top of medical cannabis news, events, action alerts, court support, and more.
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