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Veterans

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director March 12, 2020

    On March 12th, the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) passed two separate pieces of legislation pertaining to cannabis policy.

    “Our veterans put their lives on the line to defend our country, the absolute least we owe them is to ensure they are taken care of when they return to civilian life,” stated NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “It is imperative that we approve legislation such as the Veterans Equal Access Act so that the countless vets suffering from post-traumatic stress and other debilitating disorders have access to the safe and effective option of medical marijuana treatment.”

    The first bill, HR 712, known as the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2019, would direct the Veterans Administration to conduct research on marijuana in regards to a wide variety of ailments commonly associated with service-related issues. This bill was introduced by Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA) and a similar version of this bill also passed in HVAC but was not considered on the floor of the House.

    The second bill, HR 1647, known as the Veterans Equal Access Act of 2019, would allow V.A. doctors to fill out the state-legal medical marijuana recommendations. Presently, V.A. doctors are forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a recommendation, thus forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. Originally introduced years ago by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, this marks the first time that the bill has been considered by HVAC.

    After the passage, Rep. Blumenauer said, “Today was a monumental day for our veterans. We have been working for years to reform this counterproductive policy that forces veterans outside of the VA to receive legal medical cannabis treatment for chronic pain and PTSD. This is the culmination of the tremendous work of our movement, but we will not be finished until this becomes the law of the land . We must reform our federal cannabis policy.”

    Both bills were only assigned to the HVAC, so now it is up to the House Majority to schedule floor time for the whole chamber to cast their votes.

    In the United States, the veterans population consumes cannabis at rates far higher than the general population, with the majority reporting their use for medical purposes. According to polling conducted by the American Legion, 22% of veterans said they themselves “use cannabis to treat a mental or physical condition.”

    It is critical that the full House cast their votes on the Veterans Equal Access Act this year. You can send a message to your Representative in support of HR 1647 in less then 30 seconds by clicking here. 

    You can learn more about marijuana and veterans issues by reading the NORML factsheet. 

     

  • by Representative Earl Blumenauer March 11, 2020
    Earl Blumenauer is a member of Congress representing Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District

    As a founding Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I am pleased to report to you that my legislation to allow VA doctors to fill out state-legal medical marijuana recommendations is scheduled for a committee vote tomorrow.

    Currently, VA healthcare providers, however, are prohibited from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a state-legal medical cannabis recommendation, forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. Seeking care is hard enough, and we should not make it even harder for our veterans.

    I introduced the Veterans Equal Access Act, HR 1647 because it is my responsibility as a Member of Congress to ensure that all Americans have access to medical treatment as recommended by their physicians.

    Please take a moment and contact your member of Congress and tell them to join me in support of the Veterans Equal Access Act.

    The reefer madness days are done and it’s time for Congress and the VA to face the facts surrounding marijuana — most pointedly, its medicinal benefits for veterans. More and more veterans are reportedly using cannabis to help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, and several other ailments.

    This is reflected by a recent poll commissioned by the American Legion that showed more than 1 in 5 veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

    Today, you can make a difference and show your support for our nation’s veterans and the efficacy of medical cannabis. Please tell your members of Congress now to support the Veterans Equal Access Act – because our veterans need more from our government than words of support, we need action.

    Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) speaking a NORML Conference

    Courage,
    Earl

    Earl Blumenauer
    Member of Congress

  • by Josh Kasoff, Nevada NORML November 5, 2019

    To honor both those who have bravely served and those who still suffer due to federal cannabis laws, Nevada NORML will be hosting a unique event on Veteran’s Day. The virtual lobby day, a lobbying event done entirely through electronic means, will raise awareness of the many federal pieces of legislation that could benefit veterans such as Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz and California Congresswoman Barbara Lee-sponsored The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, which would allow veterans in states or Indian tribal lands with current medicinal laws to both possess medical cannabis and discuss medical cannabis options with a Veterans Affairs-affiliated doctor – without fear of repercussions.

    Another crucial benefit of The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act is that its passage will enact a series of studies conducted by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs two years after it’s passing, one on the “effects of medical marijuana on veterans in pain” and another pertaining to “the relationship between treatment programs involving medical marijuana that are approved by states, the access of veterans to such programs, and a reduction in opioid abuse among veterans.”

    Six months following the completion of these studies, the Secretary will compile the findings into a detailed report that will then be submitted to Congress, hopefully providing undeniable evidence to the prohibitionist members of the Legislative Branch who refuse to believe in medical freedom.

    With Nevada NORML’s Virtual Lobby Day, volunteers will be utilizing a variety of communication mediums, from letter writing campaigns to phone banking and social media, to contact their representatives to demonstrate support for these federal bills. Through registering to vote from The Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, volunteers will then be directed to a script containing valuable speaking points depending on which bill they’ll be calling the representative about along with their contact information.

    “We have set a goal of 1,000 calls to our representatives’ offices in DC on November 12th.” said Nevada NORML Director Madisen Saglibene. “We know that with our statewide efforts, we can show our leaders the constituent support that exists to urge their support for the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”

    To stand in solidarity through social media, shareable graphics will be produced by NORML with accompanying hashtags such as “#freedomisNORML” and #homemeansNevada.

    The time we’re living in is among the most crucial for cannabis reform, and continued demonstrations of support for reform and medical expansion for our nation’s heroes will hopefully lead to quicker results than waiting idly for change.

    Rep. Barbara Lee with Nevada NORML’s leadership

  • by Randy Robinson, MERRY JANE for NORML September 20, 2019

    We also spoke with her attorneys, who explained why they believed the DEA broke the law by holding up long-promised medical marijuana research licenses.

    Dr. Sue Sisley

    Dr. Sue Sisley

    I first met Dr. Sue Sisley in person when she spoke in Las Vegas a few years ago. Back then, Dr. Sisley just entered the national spotlight, known as the research doctor who’d been unfairly fired from the University of Arizona for simply trying to study medical marijuana. 

    But at the Vegas event, she brought good news: She announced that other universities would host her research, and she recently applied for a third-party cultivation license from the DEA, the only federal agency that can legally provide cannabis for clinical study in the US. 

    At the time, the DEA said it would begin accepting applications for third-party marijuana growers after scientists had, for decades, complained about the highly restricted, low-quality cannabis the feds provided for research purposes. Since marijuana is federally illegal, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the FDA, and the DEA have only allowed one man, Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly at the University of Mississippi, to grow cannabis for clinical studies. Essentially, the federal government has monopolized cannabis research, and ElSohly’s product, according to some scientists who’ve seen it, is unsuitable for clinical trials. 

    Dr. Sisley’s announcement in Vegas was a big deal, since it meant her research group could one day grow its own high-quality cannabis, the kind that medical marijuana get from dispensaries and home growers. And time was an issue, since her research projects involved suicidal combat veterans with PTSD and stage 4 cancer patients who didn’t have long to live.

    Later that night, everyone celebrated at a hotel bar. In hindsight, however, the celebration in Vegas was extremely premature.

    It’s been nearly three years since the DEA announced its revolutionary cultivator program. The only problem is, the program doesn’t actually exist. The agency still hasn’t doled out any third-party grower licenses, even though 33 legitimate research groups, of which Dr. Sue Sisley’s Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) is only one, have submitted applications. In fact, the DEA hasn’t processed the applications, though it gladly raked in about $100,000 total in fees for all 33 submissions. And again, the applications were submitted three years ago. For more information on this situation, see NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano’s op-ed here.

    Dr. Sisley isn’t just trying to study medical marijuana; she’s trying to get cannabis flowers approved by the FDA as tried-and-true medicine. “American research is so crucial because it’s the only way health insurance companies would be able to pay for cannabis the same way they pay for pharmaceuticals,” she told MERRY JANE over the phone. “It needs FDA approval.”

    Fed up with the feds’ stonewalling of potentially life-saving marijuana research, in July, Dr. Sisley and the Scottsdale Research Institute filed a lawsuit against the DEA with two Texas-based attorneys, Matt Zorn and Shane Pennington. Since Zorn and Pennington reside in a prohibition state, neither of them has clients in the cannabis industry, nor are they affiliated with any cannabis activist or legalization groups. Further, Zorn and Pennington took on Dr. Sisley’s case pro bono. Read NORML’s coverage of the litigation here.

    The court gave the DEA 30 days to respond to Dr. Sisley, SRI, and the other researchers who filed suit. But that window has passed, and the DEA still hasn’t explained why it didn’t process the cultivator applications for three years. Instead, the DEA said it would take public comments and establish new rules for handing out the licenses, even though dozens of researchers have already paid heavy application fees for their submissions. As Dr. Sisley and her attorneys play the bureaucratic waiting game, it looks as if the DEA is finding new ways to stall further while a court simultaneously has ordered it to explain why it’s stalling.

    What caused the DEA’s three-year hold up? How has the federal government traditionally stalled cannabis research? What can cultivation applicants such as Dr. Sisley do now? To find out more, MERRY JANE spoke with Dr. Sisley and her attorneys about why she and over 30 other research groups don’t want the federal government’s bunk buds.

    NIDA marijuana

    Photo courtesy MAPS

     MERRY JANE: Dr. Sisley, you’re one of the few people who’s actually seen the federal government’s cannabis products. Can you explain how it’s prepared for shipping at the University of Mississippi and how it comes packaged?

    Dr. Sue Sisley: Basically, it comes in these generic batches of either high-THC, high-CBD, or placebo cannabis. You have a very limited menu there, and they come in these ziplock bags. When you open it, it’s a greenish powder filled with extraneous plant material. So, there’s some flower; there’s some mixed stems and leaves, just ground-up fragments of the plant. It’s not just the tops of the plant — the flower — which is what we’d like to study.

    Did the DEA, FDA, or University of Mississippi provide any lab results for the cannabis powders, so you know what you’re actually giving to patients?

    Dr. Sisley: That’s one of the problems, and one of our legal arguments: There’s no transparency. Normally, when you do clinical trials — and for years I did trials for Big Pharma — you get a complete drug master file that would give you all the details about the drug: its properties, how it was manufactured, et cetera. There’s none of that available. 

    Even though the DEA takes millions of dollars of taxpayer money, they provide zero transparency. You’re not allowed access to the drug master file, which would be normal operation procedure in any other FDA trial. 

    The only other federal agency who has access to file is the FDA, and they refuse to share that with the public, which is already an abomination in my opinion. It should be challenged. 

    Many people have tried to FOIA that information, and they haven’t gotten it. Maybe you could try? [laughs]

    So, as a responsible scientist, I’m guessing you went ahead and tested the DEA’s ground-up weed powder yourself instead?

    Dr. Sisley: We did. We were the first scientists to do independent secondary testing [on the DEA’s cannabis]. We sent it out to other DEA-licensed labs and did three independent rounds of testing, just to confirm that it was even cannabis.

    The testing did confirm that the [batch sent by NIDA] has cannabinoids, some very minute quantities of terpenes in it, and that it was cannabis. It was just diluted with a lot of extraneous plant material. So, that’s one way that they can really sabotage your study outcomes because the study drug is issued to patients by weight. 

    How is issuing cannabis to patients by weight a way to sabotage a medical marijuana study?

    Dr. Sisley: In the last study we just completed, each patient got 1.8 grams [of cannabis] per day. So, if half of the weight of the study drug isn’t just the flower, then it’s all this other plant material — stems sticks, leaves — that’s weighing it down. And you can imagine how that would harm your efficacy data, because suddenly the patient may need to smoke two bowls just to get any therapeutic benefit, and by then they’ve developed so much bronchial irritation that they often can’t reach that therapeutic threshold.

    We noticed that a lot of patients, after just a few inhalations, the mucosal irritation was so harsh from smoking that [marijuana] – which is not normal, right? If people are just smoking the flowering tops of the plants, they can easily tolerate much more, but most people could only tolerate a few puffs [of the government’s cannabis], and they’d have to stop. That’s why I’m concerned that the efficacy data is not accurate. It’s not reflective of real-world cannabis.

    NIDA marijuana

    Photo courtesy MAPS

    Why is Dr. ElSohly grinding up the weed into an unrecognizable powder? Providing full, trimmed buds would help with the harsh smoke.

    Dr. Sisley: If you look at the quotes from Dr. ElSohly, he said that he’s not trying to make real-world cannabis. He’s trying to simply standardize this plant material for research, and that’s clear from what we’re getting. He may be achieving that, and he may be meeting whatever standards the FDA has set up, but if you look at FDA.gov, you’ll see how they define GMP, and it mentions things like “free from mold,” and, clearly, they’re already in violation of that. 

    You found mold in the DEA’s ‘research-grade cannabis’?!

    The secondary testing we did showed ostensibly high levels of mold in all the batches. With these excessive mold counts, you’d very likely have mycotoxins present. We believe mycotoxins are harmful to health — and we don’t have all the details yet — but scientists suspect that [mycotoxins are] carcinogenic. How do I knowingly hand out contaminated study drugs to cancer patients — to sick people? It’s totally unethical. It puts me in a terrible position.

    And the federal government has no qualms with American doctors dispensing moldy marijuna to patients? Cannabis dispensaries aren’t allowed to stock moldy cannabis, much less sell it.

    I shared with my attorneys this ridiculous document that the DEA forced me to sign. It said I can’t receive [the government-grown weed] to conduct research unless I sign a paper declaring that I accept all liability for any harmful outcome from the study.

    They won’t ship you the [plant material] without that — a contract that states that I’m finding the federal government harmless, that they’re not responsible for anything bad that comes from [their product].

    Then, when they ship [it], it comes with a disclaimer that says, “By the way, this plant material is contaminated with mold and should be irradiated prior to use.” It’s just an unbelievable process that they’ve been able to get away with for so many decades. That’s why it’s so imperative that the government license other growers immediately, so we can start to put flower through the FDA process.

    Now, here’s a question for the attorneys: According to your suit, the DEA’s inaction on these cultivator applications was unlawful and possibly unconstitutional. Can you explain your reasoning?

    Matt Zorn: It is not our position that we argued that it was unconstitutional. We do think that it’s unlawful, though.

    Shane Pennington: In 2016, the DEA said that it recognized, and held to be important, the due process interest of applicants who would respond to its cultivation licensing announcement by spending thousands of dollars and doing the work necessary to get an application in to the agency. Due process here is referring to the due process of law and amendments to the US constitution. Our point was that the agency’s delay had reached a point that it was unlawful under administrative law principles and the Administrative Procedure Act. That’s what made it unlawful. 

    Apart from that, we were emphasizing the government’s own statements, in its own public documents, recognizing that when it asked the public for applications, then charged them money to process those applications, there’s a due process interest in actually seeing that the law is followed and that the applications are processed. But to be clear, we weren’t bringing a constitutional challenge.

    What was the application fee?

    Dr. Sisley: I think we paid $3,100 to apply for the Schedule I license to grow. Back in 2016, when we submitted our application, they immediately processed my credit card, but they never processed the application, interestingly. Usually that goes hand-in-hand. 

    What was the DEA’s explanation for the hold-up? Or have they provided one yet?

    Pennington: No, they haven’t explained it. The court ordered them to respond to our petition. That was back in July. There’s an order from the court that says responds to the petition within 30 days. That put them on the clock, and of course we’re all waiting around for what the explanation is. As the lawyers representing [Scottsdale Research Institute], we were particularly eager to see that explanation because we knew that there couldn’t have been a reasonable explanation under the circumstances. 

    But then, the day before the response is due, all of this other stuff happened: The DEA said it “noticed” all these applications – read NORML’s coverage here – they launched all this new rule making, and President Trump donates $100,000 of his salary to facilitate an announcement from the US Surgeon General warning about marijuana and the need for research because of the risks to pregnant women and children.

    There’s just this huge media roll-out on the eve of this deadline to explain themselves. And of all of that talk, there wasn’t a single word explaining the delay. Nor was there an acknowledgement from the government that what it was doing was unreasonable, that it was legally obligated to process these applications quickly or within a particular time period. None of that. That kind of slipped past a lot of people. 

    A lot of doctors and medical organizations don’t view cannabis flower as a medicine because it can’t be accurately dosed when smoked or vaporized. What’s your response to those critics?

    Dr. Sisley: I’m a physician, so I understand. I trained in the same paradigm as them, that you don’t view anything as medicine unless it’s been through the FDA approval process. That’s where the dosing gets established. But with botanical medicine, we’re trying to persuade the FDA that it needs a different paradigm. We’ve actually managed to have some real breakthroughs with the FDA as evidenced by our last study, where the FDA allowed self-titration. [Editor’s note: Self-titration is when a patient administers their own dose based on what gives them a therapeutic effect at the time, rather than following a strictly set dosing regimen based on a mathematical formula.]

    I would argue that rapid self-titration is an appropriate method of dosing, and it’s the only right way of handling smoked or vaporized cannabis flower. You can’t force cannabis patients into dosing models. We showed that over and over again in our studies: The variations in dosing are so wide from one patient to the next that you can’t push people into it. 

    Patients have to start with the lowest amount, and if they don’t get an effect, they can repeat it until they reach their therapeutic range. That’s the most optimal way of dosing [with cannabis], and physicians need to learn to embrace that, or they need to learn to get out of the way. 

    Other countries, like Israel, are leading the way on groundbreaking medical marijuana research. Why is it important for America to join this research movement?

    Dr. Sisley: That research is important, and thankfully other countries have a more permissible environment where they have multiple growers. Our country is the only one holding out on this single-supplier model and claiming international treaty obligations, yet there are all these examples of other countries that have multiple growers. That’s why you’re seeing a renaissance of cannabis research in these other countries. 

    And sure, we can use their data — we often cite it — but the point is: In this country, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of the most important medical research in the world. So why are we relegating this [cannabis research] to other countries? We’re so far behind now that we may never be able to catch up. The more the DEA continues to delay this, the more our chances to be competitive in that arena is sabotaged.

    Why do we even need other data if other countries are doing this? We’re trying to do non-profit drug development research at SRI. We’re trying to put flower through the entire drug development process. We just finished this FDA Phase II trial, and typically we’d be moving into Phase III now, but we don’t have a federally legal drug supplier for Phase III that can be sold as a prescription medicine.

    American research is so crucial because it’s the only way health insurance companies would be able to pay for cannabis the same way they pay for pharmaceuticals: Our cannabis needs FDA approval. The FDA won’t consider clinical trials from other countries. 

    You can catch more of Randy Robinson’s writing at MERRY JANE’s website.

     

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 14, 2019

    Next week, the two key committees will hold hearings on various aspects of federal marijuana policy.

    The first will be held on Wednesday, June 19th, in the Small Business Committee, entitled Unlocked Potential? Small Businesses in the Cannabis Industry. 

    Currently, in the 10 states that have legalized adult use cannabis and the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana programs, entrepreneurs and small businesses are unable to access the valuable programs and support of the Small Business Administration. Ultimately, this prohibition on access to resources hampers the potential to create a robust and competitive marketplace for consumers.

    It is expected that members of the committee will soon introduce legislation to address this issue and this hearing will mark the first time that Congress has discussed the issue in a formal capacity.

     

    The second hearing is to be held on Thursday, June 20th, in the Veterans Affairs Committee to discuss various bills that are pending regarding medical cannabis programs and veterans access. For years, NORML has supported legislation introduced by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, entitled The Veterans Equal Access Act, which would allow veterans living in states that have a regulated medical marijuana program to discuss cannabis as part of their healthcare plan and allow VA doctors to fill out state-legal paperwork.

    Presently, V.A. doctors are forbidden from providing the paperwork necessary to complete a recommendation, thus forcing military veterans to seek the advice of a private, out-of-network physician. Passage of either of these bills would lift this prohibition.

    You can send a message to your lawmakers in support of the Veterans Equal Access Act by clicking here. 

    In the 114th Congress, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include similar language as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee elected to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote. Similar language was also included during the 115th Congress in the Senate yet stripped out by Republican leadership.

    Veterans are increasingly turning to medical cannabis as an effective alternative to opioids and other conventional medications. A retrospective review of patients’ symptoms published in 2014 in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs reported a greater than 75 percent reduction CAPS (Clinician Administered Post-traumatic Scale) symptom scores following cannabis therapy.

    A recently released poll conducted by The American Legion showed that nearly 1 in 4 veterans self-reported using marijuana to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

    You can see a full list of pending federal efforts and contact your lawmakers in support at https://norml.org/act.

     

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