Not Just Another Conference

Grassroots action can yield surprising results. Just one week after medical cannabis patients and advocates were on Capitol Hill talking to lawmakers, two congressmen sent the Department of Justice a letter telling them to cease prosecuting medical marijuana cases.

That letter from Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) is another example of why we had honored them as 2015 recipients of Americans for Safe Access Excellence Awards on the last night of our third annual National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference.

Every year at our annual conference, ASA honors individuals and organizations who have made extraordinary contributions to advancing the cause of medical cannabis. As cosponsors of the budget amendment that forbids the DOJ from spending tax dollars interfering with state medical cannabis laws, they deserved our recognition as Elected Officials of the Year, along with Senator Barbara Mikulski, who shepherded the historic amendment through the conference committee.

The letter follows a statement from the DOJ that they intend to continue prosecuting people, despite the amendment. Rep Rohrabacher didn’t mince words responding, telling the New York Times, “If federal prosecutors are engaged in legal action against those involved with medical marijuana in a state that has made it legal, then they are the ones who are the lawbreakers.”

That was not the only gratifying thing to come out of ASA’s three-day conference with the theme “Wellness is Winning!”  The 300 patients and advocates from 40 states and several foreign countries took part in the most substantive, comprehensive, and diverse medical cannabis conference held to date. Dr. Ethan Russo gave an insightful keynote address on scientific controversies in the field, and the crowd gave an enthusiastic reception to Alice O’Leary-Randall , the widow of medical cannabis patient and pioneer Robert Randall.  

Dozens of panelists, speakers, and trainers shared information on new federal legislation, product safety, emerging science, efforts to fight stigma and discrimination, and more. Among them was Martin A. Lee,  author and director of Project CBD, who led a presentation on what he termed “prohibition’s last gasp” -- the slew of legislation that only allows for extracts low in THC and rich in cannabidiol.  Researcher Dr. Sue Sisley recounted the years of barriers she has faced trying to launch a study of cannabis as treatment for PTSD among veterans.

The challenges parents face in treating their children with cannabis was also a hot topic, as Patrick and Beth Collins shared their experiences with their daughter, Jennifer, who has a form of epilepsy that is unresponsive to other medicines. As many challenges as they face, parent advocates are seeing amazing success across the nation, with 13 states recently passing legislation aimed at helping pediatric seizure patients such as Jennifer.

This year’s conference also offered a comprehensive lineup of educational opportunities. Physicians and other professionals got Continuing Medical Education credit for learning about the emerging science and clinical applications for cannabis. Advocates and industry workers participated in new enrichment courses from ASA’s industry-defining Patient Focused Certification program and the Core Cannabis Curriculum from Cannabis Training Institute.

The day after the conference, we headed to Capitol Hill for more than 100 meetings with lawmakers and their staff as part of the annual ASA Lobby Day. Many Congressional staffers also attended ASA’s briefing in the US Senate. ASA Government Affairs Director Mike Liszewski moderated a panel of doctors, researchers, veterans, and lawmakers who spoke on medical cannabis legislation and fielded insightful questions from staff in attendance, including some from the offices of senior members and some long-term opponents.

I am confident that this year’s conference and lobby day will pay political dividends for patients and other medical cannabis stakeholders. Visits from hundreds of patients as part of last year’s lobby day preceded the historic vote in Congress to limit DOJ interference in medical cannabis states. We are helping lawmakers understand what new polling shows: support for medical cannabis far exceeds support for any presidential candidate in key swing states.

Medical cannabis is now part of the medical, scientific, and political mainstream. Wellness is winning!