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Medical Marijuana

  • by Patrick Nightingale, Esq, Executive Director, Pittsburgh NORML April 17, 2018

    Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis law created an Advisory Board to make recommendations to the Department of Health. The Board is comprised of medical professionals, law enforcement representatives, patient advocates and appointees from the majority and minority parties. Pursuant to section 1201(f) the Board “shall have the power to prescribe, amend and repeal bylaws, rules and regulations governing the manner in which the business of the advisory board is conducted and the manner in which the duties granted to it are fulfilled. The advisory board may delegate supervision of the administration of advisory board activities to an administrative secretary and other employees of the department as the secretary shall appoint.”

    The Advisory Board submitted its first recommendations to the Department of Health. The recommendations included allowing “dry leaf or flower” to be cultivated and sold at Pennsylvania’s licensed dispensaries. The law previously defined “medical marijuana products” as processed oils (including concentrates), tinctures, pills, and topicals. While smoking cannabis is specifically prohibited by the law, a form that can be “vaporized or nebulized” is permitted, thus opening the door to flower. The Board also recommended adding four qualifying conditions – Neurodegenerative Diseases, Dyskinetic and Spastic Movement Disorders, Addiction substitute therapy – opioid reduction and Terminally ill. Further, it recommended cancer in remission as qualifying as well as simplifying the definition of “chronic or intractable” pain.

    The Department of Health had up to one year to act on the recommendations of the Board. In a move that excited patients and advocates, Dr. Rachel Levine on behalf of the Department acted quickly adopting all of the recommendations above. Her rapid reaction is significant for a number of reasons: 1. It demonstrates the importance of the support of the Executive Branch. During the efforts to pass medical cannabis reform activist and legislators ran in to a brick wall in former Governor Tom Corbett (R). The former Governor refused to meet with patients and dismissed medical cannabis as a “gateway drug.” When Governor Tom Wolf took office in 2015 he made it clear that he fully supported the program. 2. The Advisory Board does not exist in name only. It clearly took its responsibilities seriously and acted quickly to address some important patient concerns; 3. Adding dry leaf/flower as a “medical cannabis product” give patients greater ability to find products that effectively treat their condition. Equally important is affordability. Processed oil products have been expensive as PA waits for its licensed cultivation facilities to be come full operational. Providing access to the plant itself at a lower price point than processed products is critical for patients on fixed incomes as medical insurance does not cover medical cannabis products.

    As more cultivation facilities become licensed and operational patients will have increased abilities to find the strain or product that most effectively treats their condition. By adding cancer “in remission” and streamlining the definition of “chronic pain” more patients will have access to medical cannabis. The four added conditions bring the number of defined qualifying conditions up to 21 from 17. Adding “addiction substitute therapy” is especially critical as Pennsylvania, like the rest of the nation, struggles to cope with the opioid crisis and the consequences of over-prescribing addictive narcotics. Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program may have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, but patients can feel confident that the Advisory Board takes its role seriously and is committed to improving the program.

    Patrick Nightingale is the Executive Director of Pittsburgh NORML. You can follow their work on Facebook and Twitter. Visit their website at http://www.pittsburghnorml.org/ and make a contribution to support their work by clicking here. 

  • by Jeff Riedy, Executive Director, Lehigh Valley NORML April 10, 2018

    As a longtime Pennsylvanian, I have gotten used to the slow drudge of progress and the archaic mindset of our policymakers in this state. With that said, we did manage to pass a Medical Marijuana Law two years ago this month, though the law became a skeleton of its robust beginnings. Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act was enacted earlier this year, as the first facilities began growing, processing, and dispensing cannabis-derived products (oils, tinctures, topical, vapes, and pills). The program has seen many pitfalls in its infancy, including supply shortages, a lack of qualified doctors, and many other shortcomings yet to be addressed. But public response has been phenomenal, with nearly 30 thousand patients have registered in the program’s first few months.

    Recently the Department of Health (parent to our state’s Medical Marijuana Office), announced the second round of applications for permits for growers/processors and dispensaries. Our state also made a bold move and announced that it would be one of the first states to offer permits for clinical research of medical marijuana. As a crescendo to all of that, yesterday the PA-DOH MMJ Advisory Board convened two years after the program’s inception (as was written into the law) to make recommendations to the Department of Health, its committees, and the Governor. The formation of this committee was included in the law, to act as an independent voice to meet and make recommendations periodically, composed of doctors, law enforcement, government officials, and patients advocates.

    The Board’s recommendations included adding indications (to the 17 already in place), adjusting rules, and adding flower (to be vaped) as a form of medication. The addition of flower was our biggest ask of this committee. Yesterday’s proceedings were only a first step and are merely “recommendations”. The Secretary of Health has up to one year to act upon yesterday’s recommendations, and that will include the political bureaucracy of committees making recommendations as well as studying and implementing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate any of these changes in the law. This is FAR from being law, but Secretary of Health, Doctor Rachel Levine, has been a proponent of the program thus far, and we are hopeful for swift action in Harrisburg.

    What will this mean for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana patients? The added indications will create a more inclusive program. The inclusion of flower to the program will provide added relief to many patients, including those with PTSD. Optimistically, this NORML Executive Director sees this as an even greater victory as it puts into place all of the instruments necessary to handle the eventual statewide LEGAL sale of recreational marijuana. Like any new idea, PA’s program has its’ faults but is growing faster than anticipated. I believe that these ongoing Advisory Board reviews are our best hope for a more perfect program for everybody. As an advocacy group, Lehigh Valley NORML will continue to push our politicians for more reform, until we get it right. In the end, we fight for the people – and the people want this reform. The patients need these reforms. And we DEMAND them!

    Jeff Riedy is the Executive Director of Lehigh Valley NORML. Follow their work on Facebook and Twitter.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 2, 2018

    The enactment of marijuana legalization laws is associated with a significant reduction in the number of opioids prescribed and filled, according to a pair of studies published online today in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

    In the first study, investigators from the University of Kentucky and Emory University assessed the association between medical and adult-use marijuana laws with opioid prescribing rates and spending among Medicaid enrollees. They reported:

    “State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing. Moreover, the implementation of adult-use marijuana laws, which all occurred in states with existing medical marijuana laws, was associated with a 6.38 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing. … [T]he further reductions in opioid prescribing associated with the newly implemented adult-use marijuana laws suggest that there were individuals beyond the reach of medical marijuana laws who may also benefit from using marijuana in lieu of opioids. Our finding that the lower opioid prescribing rates associated with adult-use marijuana laws were pronounced in Schedule II opioids further suggest that reaching these individuals may have greater potential to reduce the adverse consequences, such as opioid use disorder and overdose.”

    The full text of the study, “Association of Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana Laws With Opioid Prescribing for Medicaid Enrollees,” is available here.

    In the second study, University of Georgia researchers evaluated the association between the enactment of medical cannabis access laws and opioid prescribing patterns under Medicare Part D. They reported:

    “This longitudinal analysis of Medicare Part D found that prescriptions filled for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. Prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 3.742 million daily doses per year when medical cannabis dispensaries opened. … Combined with previously published studies suggesting cannabis laws are associated with lower opioid mortality, these findings further strengthen arguments in favor of considering medical applications of cannabis as one tool in the policy arsenal that can be used to diminish the harm of prescription opioids.”

    The full text of the study, “Association Between US State Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Prescribing in the Medicare Part D Population,” is available here.

    Both findings are consistent with those of numerous prior studies finding that cannabis access is associated with reduced rates of opioid use and abuse, opioid-related hospitalizations, mortality, and overall prescription drug spending. A compilation of these studies is available in the NORML fact-sheet here.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director March 27, 2018

    In his ongoing effort to expand the Garden State’s medical marijuana program to be more patient-oriented, Governor Phil Murphy (D-NJ) has made dramatic changes to the state’s regulatory program.

    Changes include: reduced cost of the medical marijuana registry for patients by 50%; reduced cost for veterans, seniors, and those on disability by 90%; expanded the qualifying conditions list to include Tourette syndrome, chronic pain, and other conditions; and other much needed technical fixes.

    These changes have been long advocated for by advocates in New Jersey, including South Jersey NORML leader, Temple University Professor, and Philly.com contributor Chris Goldstein.

    Click here to tweet at Gov. Murphy and thank him for his efforts.

    New Jersey resident? Visit http://www.normlnj.org/ and get plugged into the Facebook organizing group by clicking here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 16, 2018

    Legalization in DCSenate lawmakers this week passed legislation, Senate Bill 1120, that seeks to preemptively quash many of the provisions of State Question 788 — an expansive voter initiative that provides physicians the discretion to recommend medical marijuana to those patients for whom they believe it will therapeutically benefit. Oklahomans will be voting on the measure, which NORML has endorsed, during a special election on June 26.

    But state politicians who oppose the plan do not want to wait until June for the results of a statewide vote. Instead, they are trying to kill the measure now.

    The language of Senate Bill 1120 guts State Question 788. It limits the pool of eligible patients only to those diagnosed with four distinct ailments. It arbitrarily caps the total number of licensed cannabis producers at no more than five providers. It limits the quantity of medical cannabis patients may possess, and also places undue limits on the formulations of marijuana products. It bars patients from smoking herbal cannabis and arbitrarily caps the potency of marijuana-infused products to no more than 10mgs of THC. Finally, it removes the right of patients and their caregivers to cultivate their own medicine.

    Although SB 1120 initially failed to gain the number of votes needed for Senate passage, lawmakers reconsidered the legislation on Thursday and passed it by a vote of 26 to 11. The bill now awaits action in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

    If you reside in Oklahoma, please take action here to urge your representatives to oppose this undemocratic piece of legislation. Oklahoma voters, not a handful of politicians, ought to be the ultimate arbiters of State Question 788.

    Unfortunately, as prohibitionist politicians become more desperate in their opposition to marijuana law reform, we are seeing more frequent attempts to undermine the voters’ will. In Maine, lawmakers have yet to fully implement key parts of a 2016 voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative, and are now pushing to either kill or amend many of its core provisions. In Massachusetts, lawmakers have also enacted numerous delays in the rollout of its 2016 voter-approved adult use law. In Tennessee, legislators last year passed legislation nullifying the enactment of citywide marijuana decriminalization ordinances in Nashville and Memphis, and prohibited municipalities from enacting similar marijuana reform measures in the future.

    That is why it is more important than ever that the electorate remain engaged and vigilant. Please utilize NORML’s Take Action Center to stay abreast of pending federal and state legislation, register to vote, access NORML’s 2018 Candidate Packet, and review NORML’s Congressional and Gubernatorial Scorecards to know who is standing with use — and who is acting against us.

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