In the wake of the election many patients have questions about the priorities of the incoming Congress. 4.4 million cannabis patients across the country are stuck under conflicting federal and state cannabis policy, with veterans comprising the largest contingent of them. Despite their numbers and influence, many veterans face considerable obstacles to legally accessing medical cannabis directly resulting from the patchwork of federal and state cannabis laws that patients have to navigate.
What bills did the 116th congress propose to advance veterans cannabis access, and what legislation might we see again when the 117th congress convenes in January? All actions on cannabis by Congress for veterans have taken a bipartisan approach, attracting significantly more Republican support than cannabis-related legislation where veterans are not involved by name. There were about half a dozen bills floated seeking to address some aspects of veterans' access. One of these bills made it out of congressional committee, a first for veteran cannabis access at the federal level.
While many 2020 general election results remain a mystery until all votes are counted, voters were clear in expressing their support for all five statewide cannabis ballot initiatives offered this cycle. This continues a trend from 2016, when eight out of nine statewide cannabis ballot initiatives were successful. Voter support for cannabis policy reforms remains strong, with a November 2019 Pew Research Poll finding that a full two-thirds of Americans support making cannabis legal, with 78% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents agreeing that cannabis should be legal, and 55% of Republicans in favor of legalizing cannabis access. Last night's results have brought the number of states allowing possession, use, and sale of medical cannabis to 35, and adult-use states to 14 + the District of Columbia.
With the November general election approaching and Congress looking to wrap up legislative work for the year in December, it is a good time to assess the status of cannabis reform. The 2019-2020 congressional session has certainly provided some hope for the future of federal cannabis reform, with the 2019 House passage of the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595) and a 2020 vote still likely on the MORE Act (HR 3884) in the post-election lame duck session. We also saw successful efforts to maintain and expand protection of state cannabis models through amendments to annual appropriations bills.
A national perspective on safe access for students
At ASA, our goal is to ensure that every state has sensible cannabis policies that create safe and legal access for all patients. This means we believe that patients who medicate with cannabis should receive treatment equal to that of patients who medicate with any other drug.
One of the major factors that has spurred the development of state medical cannabis programs has been first-hand experiences with patients whose lives have changed dramatically thanks to cannabis. Many of which have been pediatric patients. Facing things like cancer or seizures, these children have experienced vast improvements in their quality of life thanks to medical cannabis. While state medical cannabis programs recognize the importance of access for children, many states still do not include provisions for minors to access their medication at the place they spend the most time outside the home; their school.
The United States Department of Agriculture closed its comment period after requesting information on the establishment of a domestic hemp program. ASA/PFC submitted comments for the 12 questions being asked, which included additional requirements for measurement uncertainty and requiring the use of sound scientific methodology when quantitatively determining THC content.
This is the second set of comments submitted to USDA by ASA/PFC and we look forward to results of this comment period in order to continue to improve the PFC program so that certification clients know they are getting the most up to date assessment.
Review the comments we submitted to the USDA.
Take a look at all the comments submitted to the USDA.
Every year, Americans for Safe Access spends months comparing every medical cannabis program in the United States with the purpose of analyzing what each program is doing well, where it is failing, and how the state program can improve to best serve the needs of patients. In 2020, this meant assessing the medical cannabis programs of 47 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories. The nearly 200-page report 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 medical cannabis programs grow throughout the country, states are still failing to provide programs that fulfill the needs of all patients.
An interview with Debbie Churgai by Abby Stoddard, PharmD, MBA on behalf of The Client Centered Network.
Oregon is one of the few but growing number of states that have both a medical cannabis program and an adult use (recreational) program, and users of cannabis medicine can be found in either group. Enrolling in Oregon's medical marijuana program (OMMP) requires an application, physician and patient documentation, and a fee, but does have benefits. Patients in the OMMP program do not have to pay sales tax, are eligible to receive free product, and many dispensaries give OMMP members preference on things like delivery, parking, and in-store service. If you are considering applying to the OMMP program please check out our resource page, especially our cost calculator, to see if it might be a good fit for your situation.
Whether you enroll in the OMMP or not, I always encourage those using cannabis medicine to keep their health care providers in the loop - whether that's your naturopath, your therapist, your chiropractor or your primary care physician. Just like prescription medication, diet and exercise, cannabis can impact other therapies and treatments you may be using, so it's important to make sure whoever you're working with has the full picture and can monitor your progress or make adjustments if needed.
Of course having the conversation about cannabis can be complicated, intimidating and nerve racking. Medical cannabis has been legal in Oregon since 1998, but there can still be stigma, misinformation, and entrenched opinions on its use in the mainstream medical community. That is slowly but surely changing for the better, but in the mean time I wanted to speak to someone who knows the ins and outs of this dilemma and who can offer even more resources to empower users of cannabis medicine. I sat down (virtually of course) with Debbie Churgai, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access to get some tips and talking points to help patients start this conversation. A big thank you to Debbie for her time and to ASA for all that they do. Read on for more on the free resources ASA provides to empower you to direct your cannabis care with your provider team.
Adapted from The Medicalization of Marijuana: Legitimacy, Stigma, and the Patient Experience (Routledge, 2019) by Michelle Newhart and William Dolphin
As with all things involving social controversy, dispute over what to properly call the plant known by the botanical name Cannabis Sativa L. comes with the territory. As a forbidden intoxicant, it attracts more slang and code names than most—from “muggles” and “weed” in the 1920’s, “reefer” and “pot” in the 30’s, and “grass” in the 40’s to today’s “dank” and “chronic.” Putting aside colloquialisms, the three terms commonly used in the U.S. are marijuana, cannabis, and hemp. For at least the last half-century, marijuana has been the most prevalent term, but cannabis is gaining currency. Patients often use both marijuana and cannabis to refer to the plant, with many calling it marijuana, the name used in many state laws and regulations, as well as federal law, but that is changing rapidly. That change is reflected in the Google search results produced for the terms. In January 2018, “medical marijuana” appeared roughly 1,750,000 times to a mere 567,000 hits for “medical cannabis.” As of June 2020, “medical marijuana” appears roughly 143,000,000 times and “medical cannabis” 174,000,000 times. That’s a remarkable increase in both the use of the term, as well as the amount of online material about medical use.
On March 23, the Drug Enforcement Administraction (DEA) published a proposed rulemaking—“Controls to Enhance the Cultivation of Marihuana for Research in the United States”—in the Federal Register (85 FR 16292), involving who can grow cannabis in bulk for research purposes. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) submitted comments which suggested several amendments to the provisions of these regulations governing the bulk marijuana manufacturers program. In the comments, we suggest to federal legislators and the DEA that a new agency be established that has no history in prosecution of the activities of which the DEA seeks to become the sole enforcer. This new agency, the Office of Medical Cannabis Control (OMCC), would be tasked with overseeing not only the requirements of the research program, but would also enable cultivators that are already licensed in medical cannabis states to provide high quality medical cannabis to researchers, thereby increasing the diversity of products that can be used in research studies and clinical trials.
While most cannabis and hemp businesses understand that they must follow a set of guidelines and implement certain quality control factors into their daily operations, many do not understand the depth of compliance and documentation needed to meet all state and federal requirements. Countless operators complain about the cost of compliance, without factoring in the costs of non-compliance. As enforcement activities increase across states and as the federal government establishes guidelines for hemp and CBD production, it is more important than ever that businesses take the necessary steps to reach and maintain compliance.