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  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director November 20, 2017

    Pain reliefChronic pain patients enrolled in a statewide medical cannabis access program are significantly more likely to either reduce or cease their use of opioids as compared to non-enrolled patients suffering from similar pain conditions, according to data published online in the journal PLOS One.

    A team of investigators at the University of New Mexico assessed opioid prescription use patterns over a 21-month period in 37 pain patients enrolled in the state’s medicinal cannabis program versus 29 non-enrolled patients.

    Compared to non-users, medical cannabis enrollees “were more likely either to reduce daily opioid prescription dosages between the beginning and end of the sample period (83.8 percent versus 44.8 percent) or to cease filling opioid prescriptions altogether (40.5 percent versus 3.4 percent).” Enrollees were also more likely to report an improved quality of life.

    Authors concluded, “The clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrants further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain.”

    Prior studies similarly report that patients enrolled in cannabis access programs are more likely to reduce their use of opioids and other prescription drugs.

    Full text of the study, “Association between medical cannabis and prescription opioid use in chronic pain patients: A preliminary cohort study,” appears online here. NORML’s marijuana and opioids fact-sheet is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 3, 2017

    Medical marijuanaAdults often substitute cannabis for the use of prescription medications, according to data published in the Journal of Pain Research.

    Investigators from the Bastyr University Research Institute assessed the frequency of drug substitution among a self-selected national sample of 2,774 self-identified marijuana consumers.

    Just under half of respondents (46 percent) reported using cannabis in place of prescription medications. Respondents were most likely to use cannabis in lieu of narcotics/opioids (36 percent), anxiolytics/benzodiazepenes (14 percent), and antidepressants (13 percent).

    Women were more likely than men to report drug substitution, as were older respondents. Those who identified as medical cannabis patients were more than four times as likely as non-medical users to report drug substitution.

    “These data contribute to a growing body of literature suggesting cannabis, legal or otherwise, is being used as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly prescription pain relievers,” authors concluded.

    The study’s conclusions are similar to those of several others, such as these here, here, here, and here, finding reduced prescription drug use and spending by those with access to cannabis.

    Full text of the study, “Cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs — a cross sectional study,” appears in the Journal of Pain Research here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director September 29, 2015

    Patients who possess legal access to cannabis frequently substitute it in place of alcohol and prescription drugs, according to survey data published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.

    Investigators from the University of Victoria in British Columbia assessed the influence of medical marijuana access on other drug-taking behaviors in a cohort of 473 Canadian adults licensed to engage in cannabis therapy.

    “Substituting cannabis for one or more of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription drugs was reported by 87 percent of respondents, with 80.3 percent reporting substitution for prescription drugs, 51.7 percent for alcohol, and 32.6 percent for illicit substances,” they reported.

    Rates of substitution were highest among respondents between the ages of 18 and 40. Patients using cannabis for pain were most likely to use pot as a substitute for prescription drugs.

    Authors concluded, “The finding that cannabis was substituted for alcohol and illicit substances suggests that the medical use of cannabis may play a harm reduction role in the context of use of these substances, and could have implications for substance use treatment approaches requiring abstinence from cannabis in the process of reducing the use of other substances.”

    Evaluations of patients enrolled in state-specific medical marijuana programs, including those in Arizona, California, and Rhode Island, yield similar results — finding that patients are particularly likely substitute cannabis for opioids. According to a recently published National Bureau of Economic Research report, states that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths as compared to states that do not.

    An abstract of the study, “Substituting cannabis for prescription drugs, alcohol and other substances among medical cannabis patients: The impact of contextual factors,” appears online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director June 30, 2015

    Louisiana: Marijuana Sentencing Reform Measure Signed Into LawRepublican Gov. Bobby Jindal signed legislation late yesterday significantly reducing criminal penalties for marijuana possession offenses.

    House Bill 149, which took effect upon signing, amends the state’s toughest-in-the-nation repeat offender laws for marijuana possession offenses.

    Under the previous law, second-time possession offenders faced up to five years of hard labor in prison. Third-time offenders faced up to 20 years hard labor in prison.

    Under the revised law, two-time marijuana possession offenders face a maximum sentence of six-months in prison. Three-time offenders face a maximum sentence of two-years in prison. Those convicted of marijuana possession for a fourth time face up to eight years in prison.

    First-time offenders found in the possession of 14 grams of cannabis or less now face a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail (reduced from six-months). House Bill 149 allows offenders to apply to have their record expunged if they aren’t convicted of a marijuana violation within two years of the first offense.

    According to an analysis by the ACLU, Louisiana ranks #14 in the nation in per-capita marijuana possession arrests.

    Gov. Jindal also signed separate legislation, SB 143, amending the state’s dormant Therapeutic Research Act. Specifically, the measure asks the state to adopt rules and regulations “relating to the dispensing of prescribed marijuana for therapeutic use” for patients with glaucoma, spastic quadriplegia, or who are undergoing cancer chemotherapy. However, because this language directly conflicts with federal regulations prohibiting doctors from ‘prescribing’ schedule I controlled substances, it remains to be seen whether any licensed Louisiana physicians will agree to participate in the state’s proposed program.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 27, 2010

    [Editor’s note: This post is excerpted from this week’s forthcoming NORML weekly media advisory. To have NORML’s media advisories delivered straight to your in-box, sign up for NORML’s free e-zine here.]

    An employer may terminate an employee for his or her off-the-job marijuana use, even if the employee is authorized under state law to use cannabis medicinally, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled last week.

    In a 5 to 2 decision, the Court determined that an employee who uses marijuana in accordance with state law is nonetheless “engaged in the illegal use of drugs” and may be fired for his or her off-the-job conduct.  Because marijuana remains classified as an illicit Schedule I drug under federal law and may not be legally ‘prescribed’ by a physician, the Court opined that employers should not be mandated to accommodate workers who engage in its use.

    “[T]he Controlled Substances Act must authorize a licensed health care professional to prescribe or administer the controlled substance,” the majority determined.  “As noted, under the Controlled Substances Act, physicians may not prescribe Schedule I controlled substances for medical purposes.  … Because employee did not take marijuana under supervision of a licensed health care professional and because the authorization to use marijuana found in ORS 475.306(1) is unenforceable, it follows that employee was currently engaged in the illegal use of drugs and, as the commissioner found, employer discharged employee for that reason.”

    Commenting on the Court’s decision, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “This ruling isn’t about workplace safety; it’s about the Court upholding discrimination – plain and simple. It is absurd for the majority of the Court to argue that medical marijuana patients are allowed certain protections under state law while simultaneously arguing that these same patients lack the legal right to earn a living.”

    Despite the Court’s ruling, the majority stated that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not preempt provisions of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act that exempt patients’ possession, manufacture, or distribution of medical marijuana from state criminal liability.

    Writing for the dissent, Justice Martha L. Walters opined: “I do not understand why, in our system of dual sovereigns, Oregon must fly only in federal formation and not, as Oregon’s motto provides, ‘with her own wings.’  Therefore, I cannot join in a decision by which we, as state court judges, enjoin the policies of our own state and preclude our legislature from making its own independent decisions about what conduct to criminalize.”

    The Court’s decision overturned a previous decision from the Bureau of Labor and Industries ordering the employer to pay damages, and a Court of Appeals decision affirming that judgment.

    In 2006, the Oregon Supreme Court similarly ruled (Washburn v. Columbia Forest Products, Inc.) that employers may fire workers for failing a company mandated drug test for marijuana, even if their use is authorized by state law.

    In 2008, the California Supreme Court issued a similar decision (Ross v. Ragingwire Telecom), finding:  “California’s voters merely exempted medical users and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under two specifically designated state statutes. Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and obligations of employers and employees.”

    Full text of the Oregon Supreme Court decision (Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. v. Bureau of Labor and Industries) is available online at: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/S056265.htm.