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  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 25, 2014

    In a memo obtained by NORML, released in late May, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified their drug policy in light of the growing number of states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.

    In response to inquiries regarding the department’s policy for employees in states that approved recreational or medical use of marijuana, the USDA strongly reaffirmed that their drug testing policies concerning marijuana are still very much in effect, regardless of state law changes.

    The memo states that, “use of Marijuana for ‘recreational’ purposes is not authorized under Federal law nor the Department’s Drug Free Workplace Program policies.” It then elaborates that, “accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect.”

    This policy is largely still being enforced due to marijuana’s current status as a Schedule I drug at the federal level. The USDA described their current ongoing policy by stating that “USDA agencies test for the following class of drugs and their metabolites: (a) Marijuana, Opiate (Codeine/Morphine, Morphine, 6-Acetylmorphine) and PCP; and (b) Cocaine, Amphetamines (AMP/MAMP, Methamphetamine, MDMA). These drugs are listed in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)…as Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, respectively. Schedule I drugs are substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are considered the most dangerous of all the drug schedules and invite potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

    Citing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Medical Review Officer Manual for Federal Agency Workplace Testing Programs, the USDA also made clear this policy applies equally whether marijuana is being used for recreational use or medical purposes:

    “State initiatives and laws, which make available to an individual a variety of illicit drugs by a physician’s prescription or recommendation, do not make the use of these illicit drugs permissible under the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program. These State initiatives and laws are inconsistent with Federal law and put the safety, health, and security of Federal works and the American public at risk. The use of any substance included in Schedule I of the CSA, whether for non-medical or ostensible medical purposes, is considered a violation of Federal law and the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program.”

    “The USDA’s stance on testing employees for marijuana use, regardless of the laws of the state in which they live, is unfortunate,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Patients will be denied effective medicine and individuals will be denied civil liberties being given to their fellow state citizens. This situation highlights the fact that the existing, inherent conflict between state laws seeking to legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational or medical purposes and federal policy, which classifies the substance as illicit, are ultimately untenable. To resolve this conflict there must be a change in marijuana’s federal classification. Without such a change, we will consistently have a lack of clarity and ongoing conflict between public sentiment, state law, and federal policy.”

    You can read the full USDA memo here.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director June 19, 2014

    New York State lawmakers announced today that they have come to agreement to approve a limited pilot program for medical marijuana in the Empire State.

    An agreement was reached to amend the bill to include provisions demanded by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, including provisions that prohibit the smoking of marijuana. Instead, the amended measure is expected to only allow for non-smoked preparations of cannabis (such as oils). The compromised measure also reduces from the original bill of the number of qualifying conditions, as well as the total number of state-licensed producers and dispensers that will be allowed. (A final draft of the compromised language has not yet been made public.)

    The pilot program will be overseen by the State Health Department and would last for seven years, with the option to reauthorize the program after that period has expired. After final approval, the State Health Department will have up to 18 months to establish regulations and authorize entities permitted to dispense it. The governor, upon recommendation by the state police superintendent or the state health commissioner, would have the authority to suspend the program.

    NORML will keep you updated as this situation evolves.

  • by Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel June 17, 2014

    Most of us were caught off-guard by the rush of states this year that approved the limited use of CBD-only marijuana extracts because these traditionally conservative states had heretofore rejected the medical use of marijuana. So it seems worth a moment to consider how this occurred, and what it means on a grander scale.

    But first, a little recent history.

    Throughout this year’s state legislative season, a total of 10 states enacted laws seeking to provide limited access to medical marijuana products that contain high levels of CBD and virtually no THC for qualified, typically pediatric patients suffering from severe and disabling seizures: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

    On one level, this unexpected embrace of the medicinal qualities of marijuana by states that previously rejected the concept must be seen as a favorable development. These serendipitous adoptions reflect a degree of compassion not obvious in the previous legislative debates in those states.

    But it is far from certain that these laws will actually help the young patients they are intended to help.

    First, such products are primarily only available in a handful of states like California and Colorado and none of these new state laws create a viable in-state supply source for such products. Further, even if a patient from out-of-state could find these products in California or Colorado, it would be a violation of federal law (and also likely state law) to take the medicine back to their home state.

    And while some of these laws attempt to establish CBD research projects at their major universities or research hospitals, recent experience demonstrates that few universities or research hospitals are willing to enter this confusing field while marijuana remains a federal crime, and those that may be willing to take the bait will face a steep and long learning curve before the first patient will have high-CBD extracts available.

    This legislative rush to CBD-only extracts also suggests (1) the degree to which elected officials are influenced by popular media, (2) their willingness to pick and choose the science they like (while ignoring the science they do not), and (3) the strong puritanical impulse that remains a factor with many elected officials.

    And it all relates to the “Gupta Effect”. When CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s report highlighting how high-CBD marijuana products control debilitating seizures among children suffering from Dravet’s syndrome (the most severe form of childhood epilepsy) went public, few Americans had even heard of cannabidiol. Most people were familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that principally accounts for the “high” that marijuana smokers enjoy, but had zero idea that CBD even existed.

    Dr. Gupta, who had previously uncritically accepted the federal government’s consistent claim that marijuana had no legitimate medical use, when confronted with actual children whose lives had been transformed following their use of high-CBD marijuana extracts, understandably felt misled by the government’s anti-marijuana propaganda, and went public with two special programs introducing the importance of high-CBD extracts in reducing or eliminating seizures in these children.

    In the second program Dr. Gupta made it clear that while CBD appeared to be the primary therapeutic ingredient for this class of patients, he also made the point that some level of THC was also required, because of what he termed the “entourage effect.” Without the THC, the CBD would either be less effective, or in some instances ineffective.

    It’s embarrassing that so many of our elected officials would get their scientific understanding of the medical properties of marijuana from a popular television doctor, instead of conducting their own research into the available science, before moving legislation forward. But better they be motivated by a celebrity doctor than continue to ignore the benefits of medical marijuana altogether.

    Of which there are a myriad.

    The marijuana plant is one of the most studied biologically active substances of modern times. A search on PubMed, the repository for all peer-reviewed scientific papers, using the term “marijuana” yields nearly 20,000 scientific papers referencing the plant and/or its constituents, nearly half of which have been published just within the past decade. In addition, more than 100 controlled trials, involving thousands of subjects, have evaluated the safety and efficacy of cannabis and/or individual cannabinoids.

    Most recently, a review of FDA-approved marijuana plant trials conducted by various California universities concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification (for cannabis) is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.” The best summary of this research can be found in the publication Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids, available on the NORML website. So the basic research is available for all who care to learn.

    But few elected officials appear to be aware of this considerable body of science. Rather, the common refrain is to claim they cannot support the medical use of marijuana because the only evidence is “anecdotal”. These officials prefer to remain ignorant because it reinforces their preconceived notion that medical marijuana is a hoax perpetuated by those who simply wish to get “high”.

    So what this latest rush to approve CBD-only marijuana products demonstrates, more than anything else, is the degree to which our public policy can frequently be influenced by a strong strain of puritanism that remains alive among our elected officials. If it feels good, it must be bad!

    These many state legislators were willing to show some compassion by allowing the medical use of marijuana by these poor children suffering from multiple, disabling seizures, so long as the marijuana did not make them feel “high” (i.e., feel better!). These legislators are against pleasure, and if the use medical marijuana includes the feeling of pleasure, then it cannot be approved.

    Excuse me, but is that not the purpose of using medicine when one is ill – to feel better?

    Admittedly, for some of these puritans, the association of the word “high” with the use of marijuana may lie at the heart of the problem for them. Marijuana has long been demonized by conservatives, law enforcement, and many in the medical community, and that has spilled-over to the marijuana “high”.

    If they understood that the marijuana “high” makes the user feel better, and that seriously ill patients almost always want (and need) to feel better, perhaps they could overcome their fear of medical marijuana. But for now at least, it is clear that in their view the marijuana “high”, like marijuana itself, is something to be avoided by responsible Americans, even if that precludes the use of medical marijuana by seriously ill patients.

    It is time we moved beyond the notion that pleasure is bad, and stopped treating the marijuana “high” as something to be avoided, when it makes patient feel better. For them, feeling better and feeling high is often the same.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director May 30, 2014

    After a long debate that had the US House of Representatives in session until after midnight, the lower chamber of Congress cast a historic 219 to 189 vote to restrict the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from using taxpayer funds to interfere in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs in the 20+ states that have enacted them.

    This measure was co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Reps. Rohrabacher (R-Calf.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). You can read the full text of the amendment here.

    170 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, 172 Republicans and 17 Democrats voted against it. You can view the full vote breakdown here.

    “It would be hard to overstate the importance of tonight’s vote,” said NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “Approval of this amendment is a resounding victory for basic compassion and common sense.”

    Added NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano, “This vote marks one of the first times since the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that a majority of the members of a chamber Congress have acted in a manner that significantly alters federal marijuana policy.”

    “The conflicting nature of state and federal marijuana laws has created an untenable situation,” co-sponsor Rep. Blumenauer said just before the House debate. “It’s time we take the federal government out of the equation so medical marijuana business owners operating under state law aren’t living in constant fear of having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night.”

    The House also approved amendments that prohibit the DOJ and DEA from using funds to interfere with state sanctioned industrial hemp cultivation.

    In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. Since then, five states — Hawaii, Indiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted legislation authorizing state-sponsored hemp cultivation. (Similar legislation is pending in Illinois and South Carolina.) In total, more than a dozen states have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop

    These amendments were made to the 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill, which now must be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama.

    NORML will keep you updated on this evolving situation.

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director May 16, 2014

    In the coming days, members of the House of Representatives are expected to debate and vote on budget appropriation legislation for the Department of Justice. Representatives Rohrabacher and Farr will be introducing an amendment to this measure to prevent any of the department’s funding from being used to interfere with medical marijuana programs in states that have approved them.

    Twenty-one states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — as well as the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting medical marijuana patients from state prosecution. Yet in all of these states, patients and providers still face the risk of federal sanction — even when their actions are fully compliant with state law.

    It is time that we allowed our unique federalist system to work the way it was intended. Patients, providers, and their state representatives should have the authority to enact laws permitting the medical use of cannabis — free from federal interference.

    Please write your members of Congress today and tell them to stop using taxpayer dollars to target and prosecute state-authorized medical marijuana patients and providers. For your convenience, a prewritten letter will be e-mailed to your member of Congress.

    CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION!

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