Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"Medical Pot Is Our Best Hope to Fight the Opioid Epidemic"

Images (3)The title of this post is the headline of this new Rolling Stone article. Here are excerpts (with some links from the original preserved):

The pain-relieving properties of cannabis are no longer hypothetical or anecdotal. At the beginning of the year, the National Academies of Science, Medicine and Engineering released a landmark report determining that there is conclusive evidence that cannabis is effective in treating chronic pain.  What's even more promising is that early research indicates that the plant not only could play a role in treating pain, but additionally could be effective in treating addiction itself – meaning marijuana could actually be used as a so-called "exit drug" to help wean people off of pills or heroin.

"We're not just saying opioids make you feel good and so does cannabis, and now you're addicted to cannabis. There are direct reasons why this could actually help people get off of opioids," says Jeff Chen, director of UCLA's new Cannabis Research Initiative.  "If there is a chronic pain component, the cannabis can address the chronic pain component. We also find opioid addicts have a lot of neurological inflammation, which we believe is driving the addictive cycle. We see in preliminary studies that cannabinoids can reduce neurological inflammation, so cannabis could be directly addressing the inflammation in the brain that's leading to opioid dependency."

The theory that cannabinoids could decrease cravings for opioids is further supported by a small 2015 study published in the journal Neurotherapeutics, which found that the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD was effective in reducing the desire for heroin among addicts, and remained effective for an entire week after being administered. Similar effects have long been observed in animal studies.

Cannabis, in fact, may be exactly the kind of opioid replacement that politicians and pharmaceutical executives claim to be searching for. "I will be pushing the concept of non-addictive painkillers very, very hard," President Trump said in October, when declaring opioid abuse a national public health emergency.  The CEO of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, recently referred to the possibility of a drug that helps with pain but isn't physically addictive as the "Holy Grail."...

But already, many Americans seem to be replacing their pills with pot. A survey of pain patients in Michigan, published in 2016 in the journal of the American Pain Society, found medical cannabis use was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use.  A 2016 study published in the health policy journal Health Affairs found that states with medical marijuana saw a drop in Medicare prescriptions and spending for conditions that are commonly treated with cannabis, including chronic pain, glaucoma, seizures and sleep disorders. And a 21-month study of 66 chronic pain patients using prescription opioids in New Mexico found that those enrolled in the state's medical cannabis program were 17 times more likely to quit opioids than those who were not.

At the same time, opioid-related deaths and overdose treatment admissions appear to be declining by nearly 25 percent in states where patients have access to legal marijuana. That number comes primarily from a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and has been supported by additional data from the American Journal of Public Health, the American Academy of Nursing, and the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

However, more research is sorely needed. Stanford professor and drug policy expert Keith Humphreys described the studies concerning cannabis legalization and the decrease in opioid-related deaths and hospital admissions as falling victim to a form of logical error known as ecological fallacy. "It's correlation, not causation," he told me, because you cannot use statistical information about entire populations to understand individual behavior.

And researchers are eager for more solid evidence.  The Cannabis Research Initiative at UCLA is working on establishing one of the first studies that will directly administer cannabis to patients addicted to opioids, potentially providing a much more comprehensive understanding of how this all works. Chen, the initiative director, says he has scientists, clinics and a study design all lined up, but funding has been a struggle. "You're forced to go an extra ten miles with zero gas in the tank when it comes to cannabis research," he says. Between the lack of support from the federal government and pharmaceutical companies, Chen says he is "pretty much dependent on philanthropy."

Some (of many) prior related posts:

December 9, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Looking into challenges facing communities of color in the marijuana industry

The final student presentation this year in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is looking at how communities of color are participating in the marijuana industry. Specifically, as the student has put it, the topic involves "an exploration of the hurdles communities of colors face when trying to break into the marijuana industry, and a discussion of the policy considerations we ought to engage when developing a framework for this new and emerging industry." Here are links for background reading on this topic:

Drug Policy Alliance, "Race and the Drug War"

"Rigged game: inequality on the rise in legal pot industry; How people of color are blocked from Washington’s legal pot marketplace"

"Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"

"Pioneering women in cannabis industry losing ground, author says"

"Battling the racial roadblocks to joining the legalized marijuana trade"

"In politically charged D.C., cannabis is a cottage industry"

December 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Taking a close look at "Big Pharma's Anti-Marijuana Campaign"

As mentioned in a prior post, my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is hitting its homestretch and the last group of students are delivering presentations on a marijuana-related topic of their choosing. One student for the next class will be looking at what she is calling "Big Pharma's Anti-Marijuana Campaign."  Here is how she has explained her plans, following by links to background information regarding the topic:

My presentation will reveal how Big Pharma contributes to the Opioid Epidemic, how marijuana can be used as a substitute for opioids, how the legalization of medical marijuana threatens the bottom lines of pharmaceutical giants, and how these corporations have subsequently opposed pro-pot legislation.

NIH data on "Overdose Death Rates"

"Can Medical Marijuana Help End the Opioid Epidemic?"

"Patients Are Ditching Opioid Pills for Weed: Can marijuana help solve the opioid epidemic?"

"Is Big Pharma Out to Stop — Or Take Over — Marijuana Legalization?"

"The Real Reason Pot Is Still Illegal: Opponents of marijuana-law reform insist that legalization is dangerous — but the biggest threat is to their own bottom line."

November 26, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Thankful for all the marijuana news via Marijuana Moment

In this post last month, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, transformed his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal."  That news portal, called Marijuana Moment and available here, is what I have decided to be thankful for in this space during this holiday season for giving thanks.   As is his norm, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting lately at the Moment, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting:

November 24, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"How a Steelers Great Lined Up Behind Medical Marijuana"

1015-nfl-weed-club-logo-steelers-tmz-getty-composite-4Especially as I am gearing up for my annual football orgy, which it seems others like to call Thanksgiving weekend, I thought it timely to blog this recent Politico article with the headline that serves as the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

During his Hall of Fame career for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jack Ham was renowned as one of the canniest, fastest linebackers ever to play, doling out his share of bruising punishment to opposing ball carriers. These days the man still celebrated as “The Hammer” has a very different relationship with pain: He’s committed to helping people treat it.

Ham is one of a number of Pennsylvania’s pro-athlete aristocracy, including Franco Harris, his former teammate on the Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s, who have quickly embraced medical marijuana as a cure for a scourge that has decimated economically depressed parts of the state: opioid addiction. It’s a cause that has special resonance for pro athletes like Ham because they know many players whose chronic injuries made them dependent on painkillers.

When voters in Pennsylvania approved medical marijuana in 2016, Ham was quick to see both the financial promise of bringing a new industry to moribund coal country but also the therapeutic benefits of letting people manage their pain with a substance that some doctors say is less toxic and less addictive than opiate-based painkillers like Oxycodone....

Ham says he does not use medical marijuana himself, but he is not the only former athlete to tout medical marijuana as a solution to addiction.  Former Steelers fullback Franco Harris also signed on to be a spokesman for a company that sought to grow medical marijuana in Braddock, an economically distressed former steel town near Pittsburgh.

“We have a unique opportunity to transform Braddock into a center for state-of-the-art urban agriculture and, at the same time, become a first mover in the United States in researching the efficacy of marijuana in replacing opioids for the long-term management of pain,” Harris said in a press release. Ultimately, that company did not get one of the 12 licenses awarded by the state in the first round. Medical marijuana, which is now legal in 29 states, has many constituencies—cancer patients who appreciate how it tamps down nausea from chemotherapy; libertarians who favor decriminalization of drugs generally, among them. But athletes are one of the more notable groups.   As Harris said in his press release: “The life of a professional football player is one intrinsically tied to long- term pain management.”

Many pro athletes discovered the analgesic benefits of marijuana during their playing careers, which meant that they were violating their league’s drug policies as well as state and federal law. But now, as the trend toward legalization has picked up pace, those same athletes, now retired and free of their contractual obligations are beginning to speak out together.  One of the lobbying groups is called Athletes for Care, an organization of former and current professional athletes who support medical marijuana.  Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive guard Todd Herremans and former Philadelphia Flyers hockey player Riley Cote.  Cote was connected to one of the 177 companies that applied for — but did not receive — a license to grow.

Some of many prior posts about medical marijuana and pro football:

November 22, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Still more talk, from notable conservative outlets, about possible benefits of marijuana reform amidst opioid crisis

Regular readers know that many proponents of marijuana reform have been eager in recent years to talk up the possible benefits of marijuana reform as one useful response to the on-going opioid crisis.   Indeed, since I have blogged many stories and commentaries on this front, it is not really big news to see more new advocacy along these lines.  But that said, this past week I have seen these two notable commentaries in this vein appearing in notable conservative or right-leaning outlets:

From the American Conservative here by Jeffrey Singer, "Can Marijuana Help Addicts Kick Opioids?: Research shows this once maligned 'gateway' drug could be an off-ramp."

From the Wall Street Journal here by Richard Boxer, "Can Marijuana Alleviate the Opioid Crisis?: The federal government should stop blocking research into the drug’s medical potential."

Some (of many) prior related posts:

November 19, 2017 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

AG Sessions indicates that Obama-era federal marijuana policies remain in effect

Just a short five years ago it would have been unusual for a member of Congress to ask the US Attorney General about federal marijuana policies.  But circa 2017 it now seems near impossible to have a congressional hearing involving the AG in which marijuana policy is not raised.  But, as detailed in this new Forbes piece by Tom Angell headlined "Sessions: Obama Marijuana Policy Remains In Effect," AG Sessions did not really have much new to say on this front during a hearing on Capitol Hill today:

Obama-era guidance that allows states to legalize marijuana without federal interference remains in effect, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday during a congressional hearing. He also conceded that cannabis is not as dangerous as heroin and that a current budget rider prevents the Department of Justice from prosecuting people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.

"Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes," Sessions said, referring to his predecessors as attorney general during the Obama administration.

Sessions made the comments in response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing.   Later, Sessions said, "I think that's correct," when Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) argued that cannabis isn't as dangerous as heroin.  Under current federal law, both are classified under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category that's supposed to be reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical value....

Also during Cohen's line of questioning, the attorney general said, "I believe we are bound by" a federal budget rider that bars the federal government from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws.  A federal court ruled last year, over Justice Department objections, that the rider specifically bars prosecution of patients and providers who are acting in accordance with those laws.  Earlier this year, Sessions, sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that they not continue the annual rider into the next fiscal year.

Sessions, a longtime vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, has previously said that the separate Obama policy on state marijuana laws remains in effect while the Department of Justice reviews potential changes, but has not before so clearly tied the Trump administration approach to that of his predecessors....

[I]n April, Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to review the Obama administration memo and make recommendations for possible changes. However, that panel did not provide Sessions with any ammunition to support a crackdown on states, according to the Associated Press, which reviewed excerpts of the task force’s report to the attorney general. Sessions did not refer to any ongoing consideration of enforcement policy changes during the House hearing.

During a Senate hearing last month, the attorney general said that allowing more researchers to legally grow more marijuana for scientific studies would be "healthy."  He has yet to respond to pending written questions stemming from that hearing about a federal budget rider that prevents the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.

November 14, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 13, 2017

A reasonable accounting of public health realities surrounding marijuana and alcohol

ALCOHOL-VS-MARIJUANA-INFO-CROPThis new Business Insider article, headlined "We took a scientific look at whether weed or alcohol is worse for you — and there appears to be a winner," provides a pretty reasonable review of basic public health research concerning marijuana and alcohol. Here is how the article starts, its main boldheadings, and it conclusion:

Which is worse for you: weed or whiskey? It's a tough call, but based on the science, there appears to be a clear winner.

Keep in mind that there are dozens of factors to account for, including how the substances affect your heart, brain, and behavior, and how likely you are to get hooked. Time is important, too — while some effects are noticeable immediately, others only begin to shape up after months or years of use.

The comparison is slightly unfair for another reason: While scientists have been researching the effects of alcohol for decades, the science of cannabis is a lot murkier due to its mostly illegal status.

30,722 Americans died from alcohol-induced causes in 2014. There have been 0 documented deaths from marijuana use alone. ...

Marijuana appears to be significantly less addictive than alcohol. ...

Marijuana may be harder on your heart; while moderate drinking could be beneficial....

Alcohol is strongly linked with several types of cancer; marijuana is not....

Both drugs may be linked with risks while driving, but alcohol is worse. ...

Several studies link alcohol with violence, particularly at home. That has not been found for cannabis. ...

Both drugs negatively impact your memory, but in different ways. These effects are the most common in heavy, frequent, or binge users. ...

Both drugs are linked with an increased risk of psychiatric disease. For weed users, psychosis and schizophrenia are the main concern; with booze, it's depression and anxiety....

Alcohol appears to be linked more closely with weight gain than marijuana, despite weed's tendency to trigger the munchies. ...

All things considered, alcohol's effects seem markedly more extreme — and risky — than marijuana's.

When it comes to their addiction profile and their risk of death or overdose combined with their ties to cancer, car crashes, violence, and obesity, the research suggests that marijuana may be less of a health risk than alcohol.

Still, because of marijuana's largely illegal status, long-term studies on all of its health effects have been limited — meaning that more research is desperately needed.

November 13, 2017 in Food and Drink, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Constitutional Clause Aggregation and the Marijuana Crimes"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Scott Howe now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

An important question for our time concerns whether the Constitution could establish a right to engage in certain marijuana-related activities.  Several states have now legalized cannabis, within strict limits, for recreational purposes, and that number will grow.   Yet, some states will not promptly legalize but, instead, continue to criminalize, or only “decriminalize” in minor ways, and the federal criminalization statutes also will likely survive for a time.   There currently is no recognized right under the Constitution to possess, use, cultivate or distribute cannabis for recreational purposes, even in small amounts, and traditional, single-clause arguments for such a right are weak.   Neither the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the Fourth Amendment, the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause can justify such a protection, and that would remain true even when most states have legalized.  But, could another theory justify this constitutional right?

A second important and topical legal question concerns when two or more rights-based clauses in the Constitution can combine to invalidate government action that none of the clauses could disallow on their own.  The Supreme Court generally has declined to recognize multiple-clause rights.  But, in the past, it occasionally seemed to endorse the approach. And, recently, in Obergefell v Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015), it gave new impetus to the idea by declaring the existence of a “synergy” between the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses that it asserted had helped explain its acknowledgment of certain rights previously and that purportedly helped lead, in the case at hand, to its acknowledgment of a right to same-sex marriage.  In consequence, enthusiasm has again intensified over the notion that rights-based clause aggregation can expand constitutional protections.  But, is clause aggregation only rhetoric offered to justify something the Court would have done anyway under a single clause or can it sometimes really matter?   And, if so, when?

This Article puts both problems in play by asking this question: After a super-majority of states legalize, could multiple clauses together reveal a constitutional right to engage in certain recreational, marijuana activities?  The Article answers with cautious affirmance: Clause aggregation could help justify such a constitutional right, in tightly limited circumstances.  But, the Article also notes that many of the contours remain undeveloped in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on rights-based clause aggregation, complicating any effort to predict whether and how the Justices would apply it in the future to recreational marijuana.

November 12, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lots of headlines (and prior posts) about veterans having access to medical marijuana ... but work remains in Trump era

Veterans-day-thank-you-quotesRegular readers know I have, since starting this blog more than four years ago, regularly blogged about a range of issues relating to veterans and their access to marijuana (a dozen of my more recent posts on this topic are linked below).  I feel a genuine and deep debt to anyone and everyone who serves this nation through the armed forces, and I feel  strongly that veterans should be able to have safe and legal access to any and every form of medicine that they and their doctors reasonably believe could help them with any ailments or conditions.

Notably, this White House release from a few days ago touts "President Donald J. Trump is Putting Our Veterans First," and it quotes Prez Trump sating that "we will not rest until all of America’s great veterans can receive the care they so richly deserve."  But current federal law essentially puts veterans last, not first, when it comes to access to medical marijuana because doctors with the Veterans Administration are legally barred from providing the recommendations that patients needs to obtain medical marijuana under state laws.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on this Veterans Day 2017, issues relating to veterans and their access to marijuana are getting ever more attention.  Here are a few recent press pieces that caught my eye on this topic, followed by a lot of prior posts:

Some recent prior related posts:

November 11, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Colorado girl suing U.S. attorney general to legalize medical marijuana nationwide"

Marijuana-alexis-bortellThe title of this post is the headline of this local report on a notable new lawsuit seeking to ensure legal access to medical marijuana. (This lawsuit, filed in federal district court in New York, was first discussed in this post in July 2017.) Here are excerpts from the press piece:

Alexis Bortell is hardly the first child whose family moved to Colorado for access to medical marijuana. But the 12-year-old is the first Colorado kid to sue U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions over the nation's official marijuana policy.

"As the seizures got worse, we had to move to Colorado to get cannabis because it's illegal in Texas," said Bortell, who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a young child.

The sixth-grader said traditional medicine wasn't helping her seizures and doctors in her home state were recommending invasive brain surgery. But a pediatrician did mention an out-of-state option: Medical marijuana.

Shortly after moving to Larkspur, Bortell's family began using a strain of cannabis oil called Haleigh's Hope. A drop of liquid THC in the morning and at night has kept her seizure-free for 2 1/2 years. "I'd say it`s a lot better than brain surgery," Bortell said.

But Bortell said the federal prohibition on marijuana prevents her from returning to Texas. "I would like to be able to visit my grandparents without risking being taken to a foster home," Bortell said on why she's joined a lawsuit that seeks to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level....

Alexis' dad Dean Bortell ... showed his backyard fields, where he grows five acres of marijuana plants used to derive the medicine that helps his daughter and patients he's never met. "When you look at it from a distance and you see it saving their lives, me as a father and an American, I go, what are we doing? How could you possibly look at someone who`s benefiting from this as a medicine and threaten to take it away?" Bortell said....

Alexis' New York attorney Michael Hiller argues it should be legal nationwide. "As it pertains to cannabis, the (Controlled Substances Act) is irrational and thus unconstitutional," said Heller, who added the U.S. government "made a representation that cannabis has medical application for the treatments of Parkinson`s Disease, HIV-induced dementia and Alzheimer's disease and yet at the same time the United States government maintains that there is absolutely no medical benefit for the use of cannabis. That is of course absurd."

Denver attorney Adam Foster represents marijuana businesses. He said he thought the lawsuit was clever but admitted its success might be a long shot. "Whenever you sue the government, the deck is really stacked against you," Foster said.

But he added the federal government might have a hard time arguing medical marijuana has no known medical benefits. "We now live in an era where 62 percent of Americans live in a state where the medical use of cannabis is legal at the state level," he said.

Alexis Bortell said she hopes her lawsuit will normalize medical marijuana but also legalize it. "We'll be able to be treated like what you call 'normal' families," she said.

Bortell is joined in the lawsuit by another child, a military veteran, a marijuana advocacy group and former Broncos player Marvin Washington, who played on the 1998 Super Bowl-winning team. The federal government has already lost its first motion to have the case dismissed.

Prior related post:

November 11, 2017 in Federal court rulings, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 6, 2017

SAM promotes new campaigns and efforts to push back on marijuana reform movements

Download (9)Today via email I receive three alerts from SAM Action, the political action off-shoot of the leading advocacy group opposing marijuana reform, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).  Each email announces a notable new campaign or effort concerning marijuana policy, and here are the headlines and essentials as described in each announcement (I would link to a press release, but I cannot find one on-line):

1.  "Dallas-Area Families and Leading National Marijuana Policy Group Team Up to Support Congressman Pete Sessions' Stance Against Predatory Marijuana Industry"

A coalition of Texas families and doctors, alongside leading national marijuana policy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action (SAM Action), came out in support of Congressman Pete Sessions' stance against drug legalization. SAM Action is the 501(c)(4) sister organization of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit co-founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, policy advisor to three U.S. administrations.

The campaign features a digital billboard that supports Congressman Sessions' fight to protect his constituents against the predatory tactics of the marijuana industry. The sign, located near his district office on U.S. Highway 75 and paid for by SAM Action, features a local Dallas-area mother expressing her thanks for Sessions' standing up to the marijuana industry.

2.  "New Group Formed, Marijuana Accountability Coalition, To Push Back on Recreational Marijuana Industry"

A new group, the Marijuana Accountability Coalition (MAC), formed today to push back against the marijuana industry in Colorado. MAC, which will be based in Denver but have satellites across the state, came together from discussions of recovery advocates, parents, doctors, and other concerned citizens who do not think Colorado is better off after five years of legalization, despite industry claims.

"While the marijuana moguls are celebrating their financial success at the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel, we're here standing with our friends and neighbors who have been hurt, whose families have been hurt by commercialized, legal pot," said Justin Luke Riley, MAC's founder. "Colorado continues the pay the price for marijuana's rapid spread into our communities, our schools and our families."

"For too long, pot lobbyists in Colorado have gotten away with too much," said Kevin A. Sabet, a former White House drug policy advisor and President of SAM Action. "We applaud the Marijuana Accountability Coalition for dedicating themselves to keeping the industry on their toes."

3. "Public safety advocates urge drugged driving protections as marijuana is permitted in states as drugged driving crashes spike"

With the recent legalization of marijuana, its impact on driving under the influence of marijuana and driving safety is a major concern of public health and safety advocates. Current laws governing driving under the influence of marijuana are either not based on science, absent altogether, or too difficult to enforce. Public safety advocates call for laws to keep us safer on our roads and bring marijuana drugged driving laws in line with alcohol driving laws.

Parents and loved ones who have lost family and friends to drivers impaired by marijuana (e.g. THC), public safety advocates, and other concerned citizens. SAM will be there to launch a national campaign: HIGH means DUI. The campaign's goals are to raise awareness about drugged driving and dangers of driving under the influence of THC and to advocate for sensible marijuana driving laws that promote road safety.

November 6, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

An extraordinary accounting of Ohio's recent marijuana reform history

I have said to my students at various times that a book or two or three or four could and should be written about the history of marijuana reform in the great state of Ohio.  This weekend I discovered that Angela Bacca, a freelance journalist, has provided nearly book-length treatment of some of the recent political stories of reform in the state via a four-part series of Huffington Post article.

The subtitle of each part of the series is "Inside Ohio’s Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout," and this reporting of recent Ohio history seems especially eager to play up the theme of greed.  But that reporting choice might well be justified, and the tales told in these articles involve more intricate and comprehensive reporting than I have seen anywhere else:

November 5, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

New American Legion survey documents strong support among veteran households for medical marijuana

ThThis new posting from The American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, reports on a notable new survey showing notable support for marijuana reform from a notable population.  The posting is headed "Survey shows veteran households support research of medical cannabis," and here is how is starts (with links from the original):

An independent public opinion research company conducted a nationwide survey about the opinions of veterans, their family members and caregivers on the issue of medical cannabis. See the survey results here.Learn more about The American Legion's push for research into medical cannabis here.

The results are significant and reinforce The American Legion’s continued efforts, under Resolution 11, to urge Congress to amend legislation to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it, at a minimum, as a drug with potential medical value.

According to the survey – which included more than 1,300 respondents and achieved a +/- 3.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level – 92 percent of veteran households support research into the efficacy of medical cannabis for mental and physical conditions.

Eighty-three percent of veteran households surveyed indicated that they believe the federal government should legalize medical cannabis nationwide, and 82 percent indicated that they would want to have medical cannabis as a federally-legal treatment option, the survey says.

In January 2017, the National Academy of medicine released a review of more than 10,000 scientific abstracts and found substantial evidence to support the idea that cannabis was effective in treating chronic pain, reducing spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis patients, and reducing symptoms of chemotherapy-induced nausea. The American Legion calls on the federal government to confirm or deny the validity of these studies.

In August during the Legion’s national convention in Reno, Nev., Resolution 28 was passed, which calls on the federal government to allow medical providers within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to discuss medical cannabis as a treatment option in states where medical marijuana is legal.

VA officials report that about 60 percent of veterans returning from combat deployments and 50 percent of older veterans suffer from chronic pain compared to 30 percent of Americans nationwide.

Many veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain – especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation – have told The American Legion that they have achieved improved health care outcomes by foregoing VA-prescribed opioids in favor of medical cannabis. While the stories of these wartime veterans are compelling, more research must be done in order to enable lawmakers to have a fact-based debate on future drug policy.

The survey also showed that 22 percent of veterans are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition.

The opioid crisis in America is having a disproportionate impact on our veterans, according to a 2011 study of the VA system, as they contend with the facts that poorly-treated chronic pain increases suicide risk, and veterans are twice as likely to succumb to accidental opioid overdoses. Traumatic brain injury and PTSD remain leading causes of death and disability within the veteran community, according to Lou Celli, director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division.

Here are some highlights from the survey:

  • 92 percent of all veterans support research into medical cannabis.

  • 83 percent of all veteran households support legalizing medical cannabis.

  • Support for medical cannabis research is consistent nationwide, across ages, gender, political affiliation and geography.

  • 60 percent of respondents do not live in states where medical cannabis is currently legal.

  • 79 percent of respondents aged 60+ supported federally legalized medical cannabis.

  • 22 percent of veterans stated they are currently using cannabis to treat a medical condition.

  • 40 percent of caregivers stated they know a veteran who is using medical cannabis to alleviate a medical condition.

November 2, 2017 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"FDA warns companies marketing unproven products, derived from marijuana, that claim to treat or cure cancer"

ThThe title of this post is the heading of this press release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  Here is how the release begins:

As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from health fraud, the agency today issued warning letters to four companies illegally selling products online that claim to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure cancer without evidence to support these outcomes.  Selling these unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, but also can put patients at risk as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. The deceptive marketing of unproven treatments may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.

The FDA has grown increasingly concerned at the proliferation of products claiming to treat or cure serious diseases like cancer. In this case, the illegally sold products allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the marijuana plant that is not FDA approved in any drug product for any indication.  CBD is marketed in a variety of product types, such as oil drops, capsules, syrups, teas, and topical lotions and creams. The companies receiving warning letters distributed the products with unsubstantiated claims regarding preventing, reversing or curing cancer; killing/inhibiting cancer cells or tumors; or other similar anti-cancer claims. Some of the products were also marketed as an alternative or additional treatment for Alzheimer’s and other serious diseases.

“Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors. We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “There are a growing number of effective therapies for many cancers. When people are allowed to illegally market agents that deliver no established benefit they may steer patients away from products that have proven, anti-tumor effects that could extend lives.”

The FDA issued warning letters to four companies – Greenroads Health, Natural Alchemist, That’s Natural! Marketing and Consulting, and Stanley Brothers Social Enterprises LLC – citing unsubstantiated claims related to more than 25 different products spanning multiple product webpages, online stores and social media websites. The companies used these online platforms to make unfounded claims about their products' ability to limit, treat or cure cancer and other serious diseases.

November 1, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

In letter to Prez Trump, Gov Christie throws cold water on idea of marijuana as part of solution to opioid crisis

Prez Trump's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued this big final report today, and marijuana only gets some minor mentions throughout the document.  The heart of the report's themes and recommendations are usefully summarized in this extended letter to Prez Trump penned by Commission Chair Chris Christie, and that letter include this notable final substantive  paragraph speaking directly to the notion that marijuana reform should be part of the response to the opioid crisis: 

The Commission acknowledges that there is an active movement to promote the use of marijuana as an alternative medication for chronic pain and as a treatment for opioid addiction. Recent research out of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse found that marijuana use led to a 2½ times greater chance that the marijuana user would become an opioid user and abuser. The Commission found this very disturbing. There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana. This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction. The Commission urges that the same mistake is not made with the uninformed rush to put another drug legally on the market in the midst of an overdose epidemic.

For the record, I agree with the notion that we do not want to make mistakes in marijuana law and policy as a result of an "uninformed rush" to do anything. But marijuana's continued status as a Schedule 1 drug play a huge role in keeping us "uninformed" about so many aspects of the drug's potential benefits and harms, and only by moving marijuana off that Schedule do we really have any real chance in the coming years to start to get more of the needed "sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana."

November 1, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"A Well-Kept Secret: How Vets And Their Doctors Are Getting Around The VA’s Medical Marijuana Policy"

Download (4) title of this post is the headline of this lengthy article from Task & Purpose, a website that seeks to "provide authentic and unfiltered perspectives on military and veterans issues in the post-9/11 era." I recommend the article in full, and here are some excerpts:

In states where medical marijuana is legal, the VA’s existing policy allows for veterans and their care providers to candidly discuss cannabis use as part of their overall treatment plan, and in some cases, even test positive on a urinalysis for the drug without consequence — many of the same official changes to VA policy that veteran service organizations have been aggressively advocating for in 2017.

Under VA policy, veterans who participate in state-approved marijuana programs won’t lose access to VA health care, however, due to the drug’s Schedule 1 classification, the VA doesn’t allow physicians to prescribe pot; fill out forms for veterans seeking to participate in state weed programs; or pay for the drug. Nor is its use permitted on VA grounds....

What leaves VA guidelines open to interpretation is what they don’t address. The VA doesn’t explicitly bar patients from discussing their medicinal weed use with their doctors. The policy even leaves room for physicians to alter a veteran’s treatment plan to account for their pot use, but stops short of stating exactly what that entails. When it comes to specifics on how this all plays out in a doctor’s office, the policy at large, and the VA in particular, are quite vague....

Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans — and those simply in favor of more research into its potential benefits — often point to its effectiveness in treating chronic pain, especially compared to highly addictive medications, like opioids. Its efficacy has been well-documented, with one observational study indicating a marked dip in opiate-related deaths in states where medicinal weed is legal, The Washington Post reported earlier this year. Still, when it comes to pot as a treatment option for veterans with PTSD and TBI, hard results are less readily available.

One of the consequences of the VA’s reliance on results from state-run studies and its lack of involvement in an ongoing federal study near a major VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is that much of the research needed to further this conversation at the federal level, in any direction, remains out of reach, and it could stay that way for quite some time.

Currently, the marijuana PTSD study, the only federally approved research into the effects of herb on PTSD, has stagnated, with just 26 veterans enrolled out of the required 76 needed to be viable as of Sept. 19, and the hang-up stems from the VA’s refusal to recommend veteran patients for the study, due to the drug’s classification as Schedule 1. The lack of VA involvement, coupled with the study’s strict requirements — roughly 99% of applicants fail to meet the standards — has limited its recruitment pool. The federal research was further stymied by substandard pot — it had a low concentration of THC, but high levels of mold and lead — provided to the researchers by the federal government’s official grow operation at the University of Mississippi.

October 29, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Brookings analysis laments how "AG Sessions blocks progress on medical cannabis research"

Download (3)John Hudak and Christine Stenglein have this extended new Brookings' FixGov posting that assails comments made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions about medicial marijuana research. Here is an excerpt of their discussion:

Last week, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions a question about cannabis. It wasn’t about legalization or enforcement.  It was about science. Sen. Hatch asked the Attorney General for a status update on applications to grow cannabis for federally-approved medical and scientific research.  The Attorney General offered a weak response that highlighted his own biases on the issue, a division of opinion between him and the president he serves, and a federal government effort to stand in the way of the free conduct of research....

There should be more research into cannabis’ medical efficacy, and the Attorney General of the United States needs to stop allowing his own ideological biases from preventing the free and open conduct of research.  Right now, there are 26 additional research facilities that have applied to grow research grade cannabis.  The Attorney General’s response to Sen. Hatch’s question about these applications was, “So I think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but I don’t—I’m sure we don’t need 26 new suppliers.”

Nonsense, Mr. Attorney General.

Simply because there are 26 applications does not mean the Justice Department has to approve 26 applications. DEA, the agency charged with initially evaluating these applications, surely evaluated each application for quality, safety, security, necessity, and capacity, among other criteria.  Experts have evaluated these applications, and the Attorney General should let those experts make the determinations.  DEA and NIDA are sufficiently equipped to evaluate the protocols of each applicant, as they have been administering and overseeing the current producer for decades. In fact, the career officials at those agencies are better positioned to make those decisions than an Alabama Senator who just got a political promotion.

The Attorney General suggested in his testimony that it is not the applications or even DEA that are holding up the process.  It is he who is delaying the ability of researchers to conduct high quality research with the best supply possible.  The Attorney General noted, “I have raised questions about how many” (new facilities there should be).  Instead of talking about his questions, the Attorney General should talk about the system he is putting in place....

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump expressed his support for medical cannabis, even arguing he knows people who have found relief from it.  As president, Mr. Trump has frequently spoken of his support for veterans and his willingness to do all he can to help them.  He has also spoken of the need to address the opioid epidemic head-on, appointing a commission to examine the issue and even announcing that he would declare the opioid epidemic an official public health emergency.  Expanding research would reflect the president’s policy views.  Instead, Mr. Sessions is standing between the White House and its stated policy goals.

Finally, the president and even the Attorney General lament that the Affordable Care Act allows the government to stand between patients and doctors.  By politicizing medical cannabis research and by blocking researchers from getting answers to medical questions, the Attorney General is not only complicit in allowing government to stand between doctors and patients, he is leading the charge.

It is time that the Attorney General listens to the experts around him who understand the needs of the medical research community.  It is time that the Attorney General gets out of the way of the free conduct of medical research.  It is time that the Attorney General stops coming between patients and answers to important medical questions. And if he won’t, the president should find someone who will.

October 25, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

"The bad science of medical cannabis"

C76_cover_3D_headerThe title of this post is the title of this lengthy cover story in the magazine Cosmos.  The article does an effective job reviewing the limited dependable scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine for various conditions and the limited ability scientists have to enhance the scientific evidence concerning the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine.  I recommend the article in full, and here is an excerpt:

In the past two decades the disparity between evidence and anecdotes has grown extreme. Despite a majority of states (beginning with California in 1996) having legalised cannabis to treat medical conditions, federal restrictions on research remained ironclad. So researchers have great difficulty studying whether such medical uses have any basis in science. “What we have is a perfect storm,” says Daniele Piomelli, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine.

Piomelli has been researching cannabis as best as he can. To comply with the mandates of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), his precious store of 50 milligrams of THC must be kept in a locked safe, in a locked cool room, in a locked lab. “Any person on the street can go to a dispensary and for $10 obtain cannabis,” he says. “But if we bring it into the university we risk being raided by the FBI and DEA. We live in a schizophrenic state.” Even when researchers have gained permission to do research, the cannabis can only be supplied by one authorised lab, at the University of Mississippi. The lab has been growing the same variety for decades, one that bears little resemblance to the chemovars now available through dispensaries.....

There is no simple way out of the cannabis mess. With much of the world clamouring to use cannabis as a cure for all manner of ailments, and an exploding cannabis industry that is happy to push that demand along, it is crucial to establish just how real its clinical benefits and harms are – especially for children.

The medical establishment ideally needs randomised clinical trials, such as those Israel is admirably pushing ahead with. “I would say the Israelis have taken the lead,” [oncologist Donald] Abrams says. But 30,000 users in Israel and millions in the US aren’t waiting for such results. Some, like Abigail Dar, are too desperate. Others are wedded to their own trial-and-error experiments with different chemovars.

Another complicating factor is that the diabolically complex chemistry of the cannabis plant is too overwhelming to sort out through individual RCTs. Researchers are still scratching at the surface of a potential treasure trove of medicines that appear to act synergistically. The list of conditions to try them against appears never-ending. The number of trials needed to test each combination against each condition seems mindboggling.

The database collated by [Israeli researcher Dedi] Meiri and his clinical collaborators is now being prepared for publication. It should help link the pot-pourri of chemicals inside cannabis to its clinical effects. It may be second-tier science, but it appears to be one of the best strategies for navigating a path out of the haze that still envelops medical cannabis.

October 25, 2017 in International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A few of the latest must-reads from Marijuana Moment

In this post a few weeks ago, I noted that Tom Angell, who had been providing a great marijuana newsletter titled Marijuana Moment since the start of this year, had transform his work from a daily e-mail into a "full-scale cannabis news portal."  That news portal, available here, is a must-read because of Tom's singular talent in tracking and reporting on various developments before other news organizations notice them.   In addition, Tom has been also doing some great original reporting, and these particular recent postings struck me as especially worth highlighting and praising:

October 24, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)