Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Legalize marijuana and reduce deaths from drug abuse"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary from The Hill authored by Ike Brannon. Here are excerpts:

It seems as if everyone has woken up to the problem of opioid abuse at once and wants to do something about it. In March, Politico assembled a working group to “confront the opioid epidemic.”  In May, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the creation of a statewide heroin task force that he charged with ending the heroin and opioid crisis in the state.  And in June, a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 93 percent increase in funding to combat opioid addiction nationwide.

The problem of opiate abuse is growing.  There were an estimated 16,000 deaths caused by prescription opioid overdoses in 2010, the last year for which we have reliable data, three timesas many who died in 1999.  More people die from drug overdose each year as are killed by firearms.

As deaths from opioid abuse grow, the proposals to address this crisis have remained the same: Doctors should be more judicious about prescribing painkillers, governments should invest more in treatment facilities, and the courts should mete out stricter punishments for those who illegally sell these drugs.  All of this, of course, is more or less what we’ve been doing the last five decades, with little success.

However, the data tell us that there is a possible deterrent to growing opioid addiction that has shown real promise: the wholesale legalization of marijuana.

Several states have made the drug legal in some form for over a decade — whether via medical marijuana or, more recently, the outright legalization of the drug — and the data generated from these state-level experiments suggests that the easier it is to acquire marijuana, the less opioid abuse there is.  For instance, in 2014, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that opioid overdose deaths decreased by nearly 25 percent in a state following the passage of medical marijuana laws.

A recently published study by the RAND Corporation also found a decrease in opioid addiction and overdoses in states with medical marijuana dispensaries.  And last month, investigators at the University of Michigan published a retrospective survey of 244 patients suffering from chronic pain who frequented medical marijuana dispensaries and discovered that they frequently substituted medical marijuana for opiates, with many of them judging medical marijuana as being more effective at treating chronic pain.  Medical marijuana use was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, as well as a reduction in the amount and severity of the side effects of medications and an improved quality of life....

It’s hard to dispute that legalizing marijuana would reduce opiate abuse and save lives.  There are other reasons to end its prohibition, but its role in solving what appears to be an otherwise intractable problem claiming thousands of lives a year seems like a compelling one. 

July 22, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"10 Smoke Signals Heralding The End Of Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition"

DownloadThe title of this post is the headline of this new Huffington Post commentary authored by Steph Sherer, who serves as the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. Here are excerpts from the start and end of this piece along with the author's accounting of the 10 "smoke signals" showing how the winds of change are blowing with respect to federal marijuana policies:

Putting this article together gave me an opportunity step back and observe the landscape that medical cannabis policy has created.  The work of medical cannabis advocates and brave legislators is truly saving lives. Positive outcomes from medical cannabis policies are driving more states to create and improve programs.  With more than 300 million Americans living in the 42 states, along with D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, where some kind of medical cannabis law has been passed, there is a strong platform for politicians to move forward on this issue.

After putting this list together, it is mind-blowing to me that Senator Grassley will not allow the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S. 683/H.R. 1538) a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially considering that 78% of people in his own state of Iowa support medical cannabis.  Maybe this is one of the reasons he is struggling with his campaign for re-election.  This important bill would remedy the state-federal conflict over medical marijuana law; allowing (not requiring) states that want to participate in medical cannabis programs to do so without breaking federal law.

Maybe Grassley just needs to see this list too…

1. CARERS has Growing Support from Mainstream Republicans, such as Senator Graham (R-NC) and Congressman Young (R-IA)...

2. National Patient Organizations Are Calling for Change in Federal Law...

3. States Keep Passing Medical Cannabis Laws...

4. States Continue to Improve Medical Cannabis Laws...

5. New CDC Guidelines Instruct Pain Doctors Not to Test for THC...

6. Largest Pharmaceutical Retailer Acknowledges Medical Benefits of Cannabis...

7. Politicians Breaking Political Boundaries for Medical Cannabis...

8. Studies Continue to Show Public Health Benefits in States with Medical Cannabis...

9. Both Presidential Candidates Support Medical Cannabis...

10. Opponents Know they are Losing this Fight

In June, a new bill, the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, was introduced.  Surprisingly, this bill was sponsored by several known medical cannabis opponents, including Representative Andy Harris (R-Md.), one of Congress’s most vocal opponent of legal marijuana.  Other sponsors included, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), and in the Senate; Brian Schatz, (D-HI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chris Coons, (D-DE), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).  While it should be commended that they are making a step towards removing federal barriers to medical cannabis research, this bill does nothing to protect state programs and patients.  It is their way of saying, we are losing this fight, so we must give something in return.

Ending the conflict between state and federal medical cannabis laws is the most important goal for keeping patients safe, and for that reason, it is important to remain focused on passing the CARERS Act, which would protect existing state programs and patients.  While more research is certainly desirable, patients cannot wait for the years or decades it may take for the results of this research to drive further Federal policy changes.

And there you have it!  10 reasons that clearly show the end of Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition is near, and that also show how out of touch Senator Grassley is on this issue.  ASA and many other advocates have worked hard to make the changes mentioned above possible.  If just a small portion of the 89% of Americans who support medical cannabis let their members of Congress know, then this may be the last year for federal prohibition of medical cannabis.

July 14, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

GOP delegates reject platform proposal to support states' medical marijuana reforms

This new Huffington Post piece, headlined "Medical Marijuana Fails To Make GOP Platform After Vigorous Debate," reports on the unsuccessful efforts by some Republican delegate to get the Grand Old Party to take a grand new approach to marijuana reform in the party platform. Here are some of the details:

Republican delegates meeting on Monday voted not to endorse medical cannabis in their party’s official platform. In the process, however, they managed to air some of the wildest unproven theories about marijuana. Maine legislator and delegate Eric Brakey introduced the measure before the full GOP Platform Committee, prompting a vigorous debate over whether to support states that allow nonsmokable cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Medical cannabis has greatly improved the lives of patients with debilitating conditions, noted delegates in favor of the measure. They also said children “are being saved” by hemp products because their conditions often can’t be controlled with any other substance.

But a number of delegates rose in opposition to the measure. A member from Utah claimed scientists have a “long way to go with research” on marijuana and argued that studies, which she did not provide, showed a link between it and mental health issues.

Another delegate absurdly claimed that people who commit mass murders are “young boys from divorced families, and they’re all smoking pot.” Yet another delegate claimed marijuana triggered schizophrenia, and is funded nationally by Democrat and New York financier George Soros. “Let’s think a little bit what happens with Percocet, with OxyContin,” claimed a third delegate, who drew a connection between the ongoing heroin epidemic and teenagers smoking marijuana.

Pro-medical cannabis delegates pushed back, complaining their fellow committee members misunderstood the scope of the proposal. “We’re not talking about Cheech and Chong being encouraged here,” Brakey said, referencing the comedy duo who support marijuana.

The attempt at clarification may have swayed some votes. Wyoming Sen. John Barasso, chair of the Platform Committee, couldn’t determine at the first attempt whether the measure passed by voice vote. The proposal was voted down on the second vote, however.

July 12, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 11, 2016

"What (and Whom) State Marijuana Reformers Forgot: Crimmigration Law and Noncitizens"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Carrie Lynn Rosenbaum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This paper asserts that state and local marijuana reforms that relax criminal penalties should, but will likely not, benefit Latino/a noncitizens.  Because of the intricate relationship between criminal and immigration enforcement, state and local police engagement in racial profiling will not only fail to be eliminated by state-level marijuana reforms but may be exacerbated.  As a result, in spite of marijuana law reforms intended to lessen overly punitive penalties stemming from minor marijuana conduct, noncitizen Latino/as will continue to be disproportionately criminally policed and deported.

Scholarly literature addressing the intersection of criminal and immigration law has considered ways in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.  However, the literature has yet to explore the way in which sub-federal drug law reforms, and specifically, recent marijuana law reforms, will fall short for noncitizen Latino/as because of the way in which racial profiling in criminal law enforcement infects the immigration removal process.

After decades of excessive, punitive, and ineffective policies, particularly in the area of drug law enforcement, states have initiated reforms, including marijuana decriminalization.  At the same time that decriminalization measures are being implemented, in the field of immigration law, resources for apprehension, detention and deportation have skyrocketed, with a focus on “criminal aliens.”  The criminal-immigration removal system has resulted in local and state law enforcement agents playing a critical, and problematic role in the detection, apprehension, and removal of “criminal aliens.”

The plight of noncitizens deported or found inadmissible based on marijuana-related conduct highlights a deeper, systemic problem.  Not only do extremely harsh immigration consequences serve as a double-penalty for potentially minor marijuana offenses, particularly in light of criminal law reforms, but enforcement of remaining marijuana laws will likely fall disproportionately on Latina/o noncitizens.  Over ninety percent of deportations arising out of criminal law enforcement are to Central American and Mexico, yet Mexican and Central American immigrants make up less than half of the United States immigrant population.

While decriminalization of marijuana may be more than a symbolic move away from the failed “tough on crime” policies of the past, it not only fails to take into consideration the impact of marijuana laws on noncitizens but also may exacerbate the racially biased aspects of drug law enforcement on noncitizens, particularly Latinos.  This Article discusses the ways in which criminal-immigration law enforcement has impacted noncitizens, primarily Latino/as, to demonstrate why sub-federal marijuana reforms will fail to alleviate racially disparate outcomes, perpetually leaving Latino/a noncitizens in the shadows.

July 11, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

In party platform, Democrats call for a "reasoned pathway to future legalization" of marijuana

As reported in this Washington Post piece, the Democratic National Committee had a close and notable vote over the terms of the party platform.  Here are the details:

The Democratic Party endorsed a "reasoned pathway to future legalization" of marijuana and called for the drug to be downgraded in the Controlled Substances Act, in a tense and unexpected victory for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Going into the platform committee meeting, Sanders's campaign had no new language about marijuana. The senator from Vermont had favored state-to-state legalization efforts, and the language approved by the drafting committee called for "policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty."

But on Saturday afternoon, the committee brought up an amendment that would have removed marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. David King, a lawyer and Sanders delegate from Tennessee, argued that marijuana was added to the act — giving the drug the same legal classification as heroin — during a "craze" to hurt "hippies and blacks." The amendment, however, was headed for defeat, with some committee members worrying that it went too far and undermined state-by-state efforts to study decriminalization.

Arguments stopped when committee members proposed swapping in the language of a rival amendment — one that merely downgraded marijuana from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act and included the undefined "pathway" to legal status.

When the vote was called, 81 of the 187 committee members backed the downgrade amendment — and just 80 opposed it. A roar of applause went up from the seats where people not on the committee were watching the votes. For the next 10 minutes, that victory was thrown into jeopardy. Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, the co-chair of the platform committee, entertained a complaint that at least one member might not have been able to vote, lacking the "clicker" that recorded electronic ballots.... Finally, former senator Mark Pryor (Ark.), a Clinton delegate, walked up to a microphone to announce that opponents of the amendment were unhappy that the compromise language had been replaced — but not unhappy enough to fight about it. "We withdraw the objection," he said.

There was more celebration in the back of the room. Later, after the unanimous adoption of a tough criminal justice reform plank, the grumbling that ended some sessions was replaced by Sanders voters saying: "Thank you! Thank you!"

The text of the marijuana amendment: "Because of conflicting laws concerning marijuana, both on the federal and state levels, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from its list as a Class 1 Federal Controlled Substance, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization."

July 10, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Arkansas voters now sure to consider (at least one) medical marijuana initiatives in November 2016

ArkThis AP article, headlined "It’s official: Arkansas will vote on medical marijuana in November," provides the interesting details on another state now sure to be considering marijuana reform through initiative this fall. Here are the dynamic details:

A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Arkansas qualified for the November ballot on Thursday, putting the issue before the state’s voters for the second time in four years. The secretary of state’s office said it had verified at least 77,516 of the more than 117,000 signatures submitted for the proposed initiated act by Arkansans for Compassionate Care were from registered voters.

Initiated acts need at least 67,887 signatures, while constitutional amendments need at least 84,859. Friday is the deadline for groups to turn in signatures for their ballot measures.

Arkansas voters narrowly rejected a similar medical marijuana proposal in 2012, and this fall could face two competing legalization measures. Melissa Fults, campaign director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, repeated her call for the sponsor of the competing proposal to abandon his efforts.

“It does complicate it tremendously if he does turn in because it’s going to greatly decrease our chances of either one passing,” Fults said. The measure from Fults’ group would allow patients with a range of medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation to buy marijuana from dispensaries. Unlike the competing proposal, it would allow patients to grow their own marijuana if they don’t live near a dispensary.

David Couch, the sponsor of the competing measure, said he planned to submit petitions for his proposed constitutional amendment Friday morning and said he didn’t believe having two marijuana proposals on the ballot would doom either. “If you support medical marijuana and you believe that sick people should have this medicine, you should say vote for both,” Couch said. “That’s what I’m going to say.”

The conservative Family Council Action Committee, which campaigned against the marijuana proposal in 2012, said it would review the petitions for a potential legal challenge and was also considering challenging the proposal’s language in court. “This same issue was defeated in the election of 2012, and I believe the people of Arkansas are wise enough to see through this sham and vote it down again,” Jerry Cox, the committee’s executive director, said in a statement.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said he opposed the measure and urged members of the medical community to share concerns they may have about the legalization efforts. “I believe that while we want to provide medicine to anyone who needs it, this opens a lot of doors that causes more problems than it solves,” Hutchinson told reporters.

July 7, 2016 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"Small businesses prepare for Ohio medical marijuana market months before regulations announced"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new local article which gets started this way:

The rules for Ohio's medical marijuana growers and dispensaries are months away from being written, but entrepreneurs are already eyeing the future market here.

Dozens of marijuana and cannabis-related business names have been registered with the state since the legislature passed Ohio's medical marijuana law in late May. Existing Ohio companies are considering how they can service the marijuana industry. Companies working in legal marijuana states are planning to expand.

The coming months will likely be filled with medical marijuana conferences, workshops and panels for would-be marijuana business owners. But much of the preparation will be speculative, as crucial details -- such as the number of business licenses available and the criteria used to award them -- are unknown.

Ohio's medical marijuana law goes into effect Sept. 8 and requires the system to be fully operational by September 2018. The commerce department has until May 6, 2017, to issue rules and regulations for cultivators, and the rest of the rules must be set by October 2017.

But that's not stopping aspiring "potpreneurs" from getting a head start.

July 6, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

New study suggests medical marijuana is already saving millions in Medicare costs

Medicare-and-uncle-samThis new Boston Globe article, headlined "Medical marijuana changing prescription practices, study finds," reports on fascinating new research seeming to document another financial benefit from marijuana reform. Here are the interesting details:

The arrival of medical marijuana in Massachusetts and other states is changing the way doctors prescribe conventional medications, a study published Wednesday reports.

The study, one of the first to investigate whether medical marijuana laws alter prescribing patterns, analyzed data from 17 states and Washington, D.C. It found that after medical marijuana laws were adopted, doctors wrote fewer prescriptions for Medicare patients diagnosed with anxiety, pain, nausea, depression, and other conditions thought to respond to marijuana treatment.

That translated to about $165 million less spent on prescription drugs in just one year in the Medicare program, which provides health insurance for older adults, according to the study published in the journal Health Affairs. Analysts said the findings are especially significant coming amid the nation’s opioid crisis and campaigns to reduce the prescribing of potentially addictive painkillers.

W. David Bradford, a health economist at the University of Georgia and the study’s senior researcher, said an ongoing review of the government’s Medicaid database, which includes a younger population more likely to use marijuana, suggests an even stronger correlation between prescribing trends and medical marijuana laws. Medicaid insures mostly younger patients who are poor and disabled. “This research says there is evidence that physicians are responding as if marijuana is medicine, and as if there is clinical benefit,” Bradford said.

The researchers analyzed millions of drugs prescribed by physicians from 2010 through 2013 in the Medicare Part D database. They focused their analysis on drugs that treat conditions for which marijuana might be an alternative treatment, including anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and a muscle control disorder known as spasticity. They found that for all conditions, except glaucoma and spasticity, fewer prescriptions were written when a medical marijuana law was in effect.

To confirm the link to marijuana laws, and not other factors, the researchers compared results from the states with medical marijuana to states that had not legalized it. They did not see a similar decline in prescribing in states without marijuana laws. As a further test, the researchers selected four drugs prescribed for conditions for which there are no studies suggesting benefit from marijuana treatment. Those drugs included blood-thinners, antibiotics, antivirals to treat the flu, and a drug used in dialysis. They found no decline in prescriptions for these drugs....

Avi Dor, a health economist and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute, called the study “impressive and timely,” given concerns about prescription opioid abuse. Opioids are often prescribed for many of the conditions the researchers studied. “We can’t be sure about the causality [in the study], but the evidence is strong in favor of the marijuana laws leading to the substitution away from certain drugs,” said Dor, who was not involved in the research. “We just don’t know if, over time, the effects they find will wash out or become amplified,” Dor said. “Physicians and their patients are only beginning to experiment with the new therapeutic alternative of medical marijuana.”

The Health Affairs study estimated that if medical marijuana had been available in all states in 2013, the Medicare prescription program would have saved about $468 million because of fewer prescriptions for just that year -- an amount equal to one-half of 1 percent of Medicare prescription spending that year. But the researchers acknowledged that savings for Medicare might translate into more costs for patients who pay for medical marijuana out of their own pockets, because insurance doesn’t cover the drug.

Dr. Kevin Hill, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School who studies marijuana, said the Medicare savings are important. But he noted physicians remain reluctant to recommend marijuana to their patients because they feel the evidence supporting its use is insufficient, or they are concerned about legal ramifications if they suggest a drug the federal government classifies as dangerous. “Medical marijuana may reduce prescription costs in some cases, but there is a risk that medical marijuana may be used for conditions that are not supported by evidence,” Hill said.

July 6, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Ohio’s New Medical Marijuana Industry Business, Politics, Law & You"

The title of this post is the name of this timely event scheduled for tomorrow afternoon on the campus of The Ohio State University.  I will be one of a number of speakers at an event being sponsored by the Ohio Cannabis Association. Here is the planned schedule for the event:

Wednesday, July 6th;  5:00pm – 8:00pm (Networking from 5-6. Program Begins Promptly at 6.)

The Ohio State University - Student Union - Great Hall Meeting Room 1739 N. High St, Columbus, OH 43210

Featuring leading experts on all aspects of the new industry…

State: State Sen. Kenny Yuko; State Rep. Kirk Schuring

National: John Hudak, Brookings Institute

Business: Andy Joseph, Apeks Supercritical; Jimmy Gould, Ohio House Medicinal Marijuana Task Force and GLA; Roberto Ryan, QC Infusion

Medical: Dr. Brian Santin, Ohio House Medicinal Marijuana Task Force; Janet Brenneman, Ohio Cannabis Nurses Association

Legal: Deb Tongren, Esq.; Douglas A. Berman, OSU Professor of Law

July 5, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

As a few NFL players continue to talk up medical marijuana, what are the marijuana reform views of all the new NBA multi-millionaires?

Untitled-1_2Long-time readers are familiar with a number of posts in this space discussing a number of current and former NFL players talking about medical marijuana as a alternative to traditional painkillers as a way to treat chronic pain (and perhaps brain injuries) from thier playing days.  Another recent article on this front comes from PBS in this article, headlined "For some NFL players, ban on medical marijuana is a real pain," has has this overview:

Percocet or pot?  An increasing number of Americans are choosing to use legalized cannabis instead of highly addictive opioids to control chronic pain but not in the NFL where a blanket ban is still in place.   A group of retired players are working toward changing that, knowing firsthand what it's like to live on pills.

It makes great sense that past and present NFL football players are at the forefront of some discussions about medical marijuana, and I continue to believe that these athletes could play a huge role in legitimating medical marijuana use in the years ahead.  But during a week in which sports talk-radio and the sports pages are filled with reports of dozens of NBA altheles signing new contracts paying them tens of millions of dollars(!), I am wondering whether stars from another prominent US professional sports league might eventually play some role in legitimating recreartional marijuana use.

Notably, one former NBA player has recently suggested that up to 80% of all NBA players use marijuana.  Even if this number is significantly inflated and, say, only 25% of NBA players use marijuana recreationally, this would still mean that there are likely at least a dozen marijuana users among the 50+ players who have recently signed free agent contracts that will be paying them well over ten million dollars per year for being elite athletes.

For a host of financial/personal reasons, current NBA players are wise not to say a word about marijuana use or the national marijuana reform movement.  With tens of millon dollars at stake in their new contracts (not to mention future endorsement or broadcasting interests), there is no reason an active players would or should, right now, feel comfortable talking about marijuana use among NBA players or even openly giving a donation to a marijuana research or reform organization.   But, given the reasonable assumption that the NBA now has now the greatest percentage of multi-millionaire employees who use marijuana and still perform terrifically at their job, I think marijuana reform organizations ought to be looking to that league for potential future reform advocates.

July 5, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Detailing the (disconcerting?) doctor dynamics in a state with (strict?) medical marijuana rules

This lengthy new Boston Globe article, headlined "Most Mass. doctors wary of approving marijuana use," reports on the distinctive and arguably disconcerting dynamics that have developed in the Bay State with respect to doctors making medical marijuana recommendations. Here are the highlights:

A small circle of physicians — 13, to be precise — has provided the vast preponderance of approvals needed by Massachusetts patients to gain access to medical marijuana, state records show, a pattern that underscores the continued growing pains of a new industry.  These doctors certified nearly three-quarters of the 31,818 patients who had received permission to use medical marijuana by early June.

The concentration of approvals in the hands of so few physicians is a story of both opportunity and fear.  For the baker’s dozen of doctors, medical marijuana certifications provide a robust stream of patients, who typically pay $200 out of pocket for an initial office visit.  But their grip on such a large share of patient certifications illustrates that many other physicians in the state are reluctant to sign off on patients using the drug, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society.

The hesitance reflects persistent concerns about the possible legal repercussions for their medical licenses if they prescribe a drug the federal government classifies as dangerous, with “no currently accepted medical use.”  It also underscores the lingering doubts about marijuana’s health risks and benefits, said Dr. James Gessner, president of the society.

These worries only intensified when state regulators in May and June yanked the licenses of two physicians accused of improperly certifying thousands of patients for marijuana use. Both suspended doctors worked in offices that specialize in issuing marijuana certificates. Some major teaching hospitals forbid their physicians from certifying patients for marijuana use, but in some cases, doctors have been circumventing restrictions by referring patients to clinics that specialize in granting certification....

State rules require physicians to complete one course about marijuana, including its side effects and signs of substance abuse, if they want to recommend the drug to patients.  Physicians then must register online with the state Health Department, which grants them permission to certify patients as eligible for medical marijuana use. Patients must also register with the online system to complete the certification process.

State regulations list nine diseases and conditions that can qualify a patient for marijuana use, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Crohn’s disease, but also gives physicians wide latitude to recommend use for any other “debilitating condition,” such as nausea and pain....

One physician who is receiving scores of referrals is Dr. Jill Griffin, who opened a medical marijuana practice in Northampton in 2013.  State records show Griffin, 56, has certified the most patients in Massachusetts — 3,284 by early June.  Griffin’s attorney, Michael Cutler, said many of the certifications Griffin has issued were for patients referred to her by other physicians. Griffin, who directed the emergency department at one Springfield hospital and worked in the emergency department of another facility, is well known in the region, Cutler said.

“Almost all of the doctors out here are part of group practices, and for a long time, all of the group practices prohibited their doctors from writing marijuana certifications,” Cutler said. “So, the only way a patient could be certified, for virtually all the doctors out here, was to refer patients out of their practice.”

But state records suggest sentiment among doctors may be slowly changing.  The number of physicians registered with the state to certify patients for medical marijuana use has nearly doubled in the past year, to 150 — although that still represents only a tiny fraction of the more than 30,000 doctors practicing in the state.

July 3, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

"Could Marijuana Help Treat Alzheimer's Disease?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this local article reporting on new research that could be a profound "game-changer" if confirmed by additional future findings.  Here are the basics and why:

Researchers said Thursday marijuana may help treat Alzheimer's disease after discovering a new connection with an active ingredient.  Researchers at the The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla said the connection has to do with THC, which is found in marijuana.

Five million Americans suffer with Alzheimer's disease, and it is a number that is expected to grow substantially as baby boomers move into what were supposed to be their golden years.

July 2, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"Why the Marijuana Business Is Appealing to Female Entrepreneurs"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic piece.  Here is how it gets started:

In this mountain town, which began allowing the recreational sale of marijuana in 2014, businesswomen and female entrepreneurs say they are launching marijuana-centric companies with the hope that they can avoid the glass ceiling some say prevented them from reaching board rooms and corner offices in other industries.

In the past several years, women have become a driving force in the growth of the cannabis industry here and across the United States. As one magazine cover proclaimed recently, “Legal marijuana could be the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men.”

Numbers would seem to bear those sentiments out. According to Marijuana Business Daily, women make up about 36 percent of executives in the legal-marijuana industry, compared to about 22 percent of senior managers in other industries. Women hold just 4.2 percent of the CEO positions at S&P 500 companies. At tech companies like Google and Twitter, disproportionately few executives and engineers are women.

“It’s a new chance for many women who have been in the corporate world who couldn’t get to the next level,” said Becca Foster, an independent consultant with Healthy Headie, an in-home cannabis shop co-founded by Holly Alberti-Evans that goes by the tagline “the Mary Kay of Mary J.” A young mother of four, Foster worked as a senior implementation manager at Bank of America before going the cannabis consulting route. “It stalled out,” she said of her finance care; there was no clear way to balance both family and work.

June 28, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Lots of notable marijuana politics and reform news from the states and Congress ... UPDATE: And from the DNC

Over at Marijuana.com, Tom Angell does a great job covering news on the marijuana reform law and politics front.  These posts from this past week highlight why serious marijuana reform students should be following his work:

UPDATE: Here is another new item of note from the same source, with its starting text:

Democrats Approve Marijuana Platform Plank

Members of a Democratic National Committee panel responsible for drafting the party’s 2016 platform have approved a plank calling for broad marijuana law reform.

It reads: “We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so.  We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.  And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates.”

 

June 24, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Some good hard questions in Ohio following passage of its medical marijuana reform

These two recent newspaper article raise two good and challenging questions concerning the policies and practicalities soon now to become reality when Ohio's medical marijuana reforms formally become law in the coming months:

June 23, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 gets support from most vocal opponents and supporters of reform

Capitolpot-largeAs reported in this WonkBlog posting via the Washington Post, two members of Congress known to marijuana reformers for different reasons are now teaming up to support new federal laws to advance marijuana research.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana’s biggest adversary on Capitol Hill is sponsoring a bill to research … marijuana," and here are excerpts:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) is Congress's most vocal opponent of legal marijuana, having single-handedly spearheaded a provision blocking legal pot shops in the District of Columbia in 2014. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), on the other hand, was recently named Congress's "top legal pot advocate" by Rolling Stone.

The two lawmakers couldn't be farther apart on marijuana policy, but they're teaming up this week to introduce a significant overhaul of federal marijuana policy that would make it much easier for scientists to conduct research into the medical uses of marijuana.

As Harris described it in an interview, the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016 would "cut through the red tape" that currently makes it exceedingly difficult for researchers to obtain and use marijuana in clinical trials. As federal law currently stands, only one facility in Mississippi is allowed to produce marijuana used for research. "Because of this monopoly, research-grade drugs that meet researchers’ specifications often take years to acquire, if they are produced at all," Brookings Institution researchers wrote last year.

Beyond those difficulties, researchers wanting to work with the drug need to have their work approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration and, in some cases, the National Institutes on Health. Those hurdles, and the amount of time it takes to jump over all of them, deter many researchers from doing work on marijuana. In one typical case, it took a team of scientists seven years to get full approval to conduct research into using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans.

But the bill sponsored by Harris, Blumenauer, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) would allow many more growers to produce marijuana for research. It would also remove levels of federal review for marijuana research projects and specify shorter windows for federal approval of the projects.

Crucially, it would also change the criteria by which the federal government allows marijuana research to proceed. "The federal government must grant an application for [approval] unless it's not in the public interest, rather than assuming it's not," Blumenauer said in an interview. "Reversing that presumption is huge."

Marijuana is currently listed under Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act, the most stringent category of regulation. This bill would not change the schedule status of marijuana, but it would essentially create a "carve-out" within Schedule 1 for marijuana research, according to Harris. "Marijuana's actually different from other things in Schedule 1, which are all discrete chemicals," he said in an interview. "The plant is a combination of hundreds of compounds, so it needs to be treated separately from the other drugs in Schedule 1."

In a separate action, the DEA is currently considering whether to keep marijuana in Schedule 1, move it to a lower schedule, or de-schedule it entirely. But Harris says that process doesn't affect his thinking on this bill. "I'm not going to wait for the DEA to figure out what's going on," he said.

John Hudak, who studies marijuana policy at the Brookings Institution, calls the bill "a really creative approach by Congressman Blumenauer and his colleagues to effectively reschedule marijuana without having to reschedule it." He added, "It forces the government to make it easier for qualified legitimate researchers to get access to product and conduct that research."

Marijuana advocates used to tussling with Harris over his opposition to legal weed may be surprised to see him coming out forcefully in support of improved research. But as a doctor himself, Harris says researchers tell him that they can't do their jobs on account of federal red tape. "It's a Catch-22 that the research is difficult because of the strict rules, and the rules are strict because of the lack of research," he said. His thinking on the drug hasn't changed, he says: "I think medical marijuana should be much more strictly controlled than it is now." But, he adds, "as a physician I would never want to deny a medicine to a patient that has been shown, with scientific rigor, to help them."

June 20, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Two great new Brookings papers on the varied forces really shaping marijuana reform

ImagesRegular readers perhaps growing bored of hearing me sing the praises of the work being done by the The Brookings Institution on the legal, political and social realities surrounding modern marijuana reform.   But two great new Brookings papers (along with this live event about the papers) ensures that I will be continuing to talk about the must-read materials the folks there are continuing to produce.   Here are links to the two papers and the summaries provided by Brookings:

Worry about bad marijuana — not Big Marijuana by John Hudak and Jonathan Rauch

Many critics and proponents of marijuana legalization alike have voiced concerns about the potential emergence of Big Marijuana, a corporate lobby akin to Big Tobacco that recklessly pursues profits and wields sufficient clout to shape regulation to its liking.

Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, medical and/or recreational marijuana is now legal in more than two dozen states. As the federal government has largely tolerated state legalization, corporate capital and muscle have begun moving in on these new state markets. Such commercialization raises a new set of concerns about how industry dynamics may impact consumer behavior and potentially incur social costs.

In their new paper, “Worry about bad marijuana—not Big Marijuana,” John Hudak and Jonathan Rauch argue against alarmism. In analyzing the likely implications of the corporatization of marijuana, they conclude the following:

The marijuana industry will remain a diverse one even as large corporations emerge. The Big Marijuana rubric is more misleading than helpful as a guide to policy because it oversimplifies and stereotypes what is in reality a continuum of business scales and structures.

The marijuana industry is very unlikely to transform into something that looks like Big Tobacco during its notorious heyday. It is more likely that a commercial and regulatory model would look like the one governing alcohol, which is regulated primarily at the state level, combines mandatory with voluntary measures to police industry conduct, does a credible job of preventing antisocial and abusive commercial behavior, and has proven stable over time and broadly acceptable to the public and the industry.

Intelligently regulated and managed, Big Marijuana can be part of the solution. Corporatization, though not without its hazards, has considerable upsides. It brings advantages in terms of public accountability and regulatory compliance, product safety and reliability, market stability, and business professionalism.

Policy should concern itself with harmful practices, not with industry structure, and it should begin with a presumption of neutrality on issues of corporate size and market structure. Attempts to block corporatization are likely to backfire or fail. For policymakers, the concern should be bad marijuana, not big marijuana.

Bootleggers, Baptists, bureaucrats, and bongs: How special interests will shape marijuana legalization by Jonathan Rauch and Philip Wallach

Where there are markets, regulations, and money, special interests and self-serving behavior will not be far away. So argue Philip Wallach and Jonathan Rauch in this new paper that examines how special interests are likely to shape marijuana legalization and regulation in the United States.

Why did legalization of marijuana break through in the face of what had long been overwhelming interest-group resistance? In a post-disruption world, how might key social and bureaucratic actors reorganize and reassert themselves? As legalization ushers in a “new normal” of marijuana-related regulation and lobbying, what kinds of pitfalls and opportunities lie ahead? In this paper, Wallach and Rauch address those questions through the prism of what political economists often call the theory of public choice—the study of how interest groups and bureaucratic incentives influence policy outcomes. Their conclusions include:

For many years, the marijuana-policy debate was dominated by an “iron triangle” of anti-legalization interests: moralists and public-health advocates who believe marijuana use is wrong or harmful; commercial and gray-market interests with stakes in drug treatment and medical marijuana; and law-enforcement and quasi-governmental entities whose budgets and missions are sustained by the war on drugs. Those interests’ combined firepower stunted change even as public support for marijuana prohibition softened.

To make possible the wholesale disruption that has happened with marijuana legalization, public opinion change was necessary, but it was not sufficient. Also required was the disruption of the iron triangle. That was accomplished in the late 2000s through a shrewdly crafted campaign of “asymmetric warfare” that aimed money and argumentation at the incumbent coalition’s weakest points. In particular, reformers shifted the public’s focus from harms of marijuana use to harms of marijuana criminalization.

The rise of commercial marijuana interests and a potentially controversial “marijuana lobby” may impede legalization’s momentum as its opponents change the subject once again, from harms of criminalization to harms of corporate predation.

The present disrupted regulatory environment is unlikely to last. Old prohibitionist interests are discombobulated and new commercial-marijuana interests are still getting organized, giving legalizing states a degree of regulatory freedom which is exceptional but probably not durable. Over time, multiple interests will coalesce and colonize the regulatory process.

Despite widely touted concern that one or more disproportionately powerful players will dominate the regulatory system, regulatory incoherence should be a greater concern than regulatory capture. As policymakers increasingly need to navigate complex and conflicting interest-group politics, the result is at least as likely to be overregulation and misregulation as it is to be systematic underregulation.

June 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Women in Maryland marijuana industry savoring absence of a glass ceiling in new industry

WG_New_Logo_rgbRegular readers know that one  aspect of the burgeoning marijuana industry that I find especially interesting is the role that women can and will play within a new modern industry that has little legitimate business history and thus has little history of traditional gender discrimination in its businesses.  Against this backdrop, this lengthy new article from the Baltimore Sun caught my attention this weekend.  The piece is headlined "Women see no ceiling in Maryland medical marijuana industry," and here are excerpts:

Maryland's long-promised medical marijuana industry doesn't exist yet, and that's precisely why more than 60 women, mostly dressed like a PTA crowd, banded together there — to rise to the top before anyone gets in their way. "How vital are women to the success of the cannabis business in Maryland? If you're asking, I probably don't want to talk to you," said Megan Rogers, a co-founder of the Baltimore chapter of Women Grow and an applicant to open a dispensary. "We're here to ensure that the cannabis industry has no glass ceiling."

As the state considers hundreds of pending medical marijuana licenses, the women gathered to network, celebrating the opportunity to create an industry from scratch. Dozens of the organization's members have applied to grow marijuana or open dispensaries or processing businesses. Others plan to sell specialized marijuana containers, offer legal services, do product testing or provide event planning for women who secure a coveted license.

There is more collaboration than competition, the women say. There's no snatching of ideas or secretive cloaking of business plans, no assumptions that they need to get in line behind men to get ahead. "We have an opportunity to take an industry, from the ground up, and insert women in the upper echelons," said Carissa Cartalemi, a co-founder of the group and a holistic therapist who applied for a dispensary license with Rogers. "I do think there's something very feminine to that spirit of collaboration."

Women's marijuana business groups have grown by leaps and bounds as 25 states across the country have legalized some form of medical marijuana, and four states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational cannabis.

Women Grow began in Denver two years ago and now includes more than 45 chapters in the United States and Canada. Its conference in February attracted 1,300 people and was headlined by singer and marijuana activist Melissa Etheridge.

Women are much less likely to become entrepreneurs than men. In Maryland, women are half as likely as men to own their own businesses, according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, which tracks business activity across the country. A survey released this month showed women hold 91 of the 630 board seats of Maryland companies that trade on one of the three stock exchanges — less than 14 percent of board seats and well under the national average. Other new industries — including the booming tech field — have largely been dominated by men, who worked disproportionately in the academic fields that fed those industries.

But women in Maryland and across the country see a different landscape in the emerging cannabis industry, which was born out of the advocacy community that persuaded legislatures to legalize it. "This is an industry that was led by a movement, by both women and men," said Giadha Aguirre DeCarcer, a former venture capitalist who launched a Washington-based cannabis market research company. DeCarcer is familiar with Women Grow but not active in the Baltimore chapter.

"There are no barriers to entry, but also no glass ceiling," said DeCarcer, CEO and founder of New Frontier Financials. "There hasn't been time for a good-ol'-boys club to develop. … The culture is very different because it stems from a movement."

Jessica White, 48, runs a holistic health center in White Marsh and applied for four dispensary licenses and a kosher processing license — she can hold only one, but was trying to increase her chances of being selected from among the 811 applications for just 94 licenses. "My market is 65-plus, chronic pain, not candidates for surgeries," White said. "We're talking little old church ladies."

White attends meetings of several other medical cannabis organizations, too, but said the vibe is different with the Women Grow crowd. "In a lot of the other groups I'm friendly with, it's a bunch of old white guys," White said. "A lot of the men in the industry keep things to themselves. Here, it's 'I'm Jessica. I want to open a dispensary. What about you?'"...

Elkridge-based Cannaline sponsored a season's worth of Women Grow events, which allows its saleswoman, Carrie Kirk, to hand out free samples of the company's marijuana packaging options as attendees clink glasses of house wine. Kirk worked for 17 years in pharmaceutical sales and management but now works up and down the East Coast selling Cannaline's marketing products, custom odor-proof bags and child-resistant packaging.

Even though more states east of the Mississippi are launching medical marijuana markets, she said, it's very tightly regulated and the industry here feels very different than that on the West Coast. "We have to do things more conservatively here," she said. A Women Grow event allows her to reach a lot of potential customers in an industry that lacks access to traditional advertising.

In a back corner of the Women Grow event, former regulatory lawyer Leah Heise was holding court at the center of a ring two people deep, enthusiastically connecting people. An illness that would have been more easily treated with medical marijuana than opioids took her out of the workforce for more than a decade, she said. Now that a surgery alleviated the underlying cause of her debilitating pain from chronic pancreatitis, she's rejoined the working world and fashioned a new career as a mentor and attorney for companies trying to navigate Maryland's newest industry.

She's president of Chesapeake Integrated Health Institute, and says Women Grow offers not only camaraderie but also a resource she can't find elsewhere. "This is the only place where someone can come to learn anything. Anything!" she said. She turned her attention to a woman who spent her career working at spas but was looking for a way into the medical marijuana industry. Heise enthusiastically took her card. "Someone like her would be incredible as a dispensary manager," she said. "It's a whole new era, and the industry will be huge."

Some prior related posts:

June 18, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Microsoft's engagement with marijuana industry hits the front page of the New York Times

Xmicrosoft_black_34.jpg.pagespeed.ic.7Q9sBQpEfjI am not sure when and how we will know for sure that the marijuana industry has gone entirely mainstream, but this new article appearing on the front-page of the New York Times seems like a tipping point moment. The lengthy article, as appearing on-line, is headlined "The First Big Company to Say It’s Serving the Legal Marijuana Trade? Microsoft." (Apparently in the printed paper the headline was "Microsoft Dips Toe Into Trade on Marijuana.") Here are excerpts from the lengthy piece:

As state after state has legalized marijuana in one way or another, big names in corporate America have stayed away entirely. Marijuana, after all, is still illegal, according to the federal government.

But Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale,” as the pot industry puts it.

The software — a new product in Microsoft’s cloud computing business — is meant to help states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana keep tabs on sales and commerce, ensuring that they remain in the daylight of legality.

But until now, even that boring part of the pot world was too controversial for mainstream companies. It is apparent now, though, that the legalization train is not slowing down: This fall, at least five states, including the biggest of them all — California — will vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

So far, only a handful of smaller banks are willing to offer accounts to companies that grow or sell marijuana, and Microsoft will not be touching that part of the business. But the company’s entry into the government compliance side of the business suggests the beginning of a legitimate infrastructure for an industry that has been growing fast and attracting lots of attention, both good and bad.

“We do think there will be significant growth,” said Kimberly Nelson, the executive director of state and local government solutions at Microsoft. “As the industry is regulated, there will be more transactions, and we believe there will be more sophisticated requirements and tools down the road.”

Microsoft’s baby step into the business came through an announcement on Thursday that it was teaming up with a Los Angeles start­up, Kind, that built the software the tech giant will begin marketing. Kind — one of many small companies trying to take the marijuana business mainstream — offers a range of products, including A.T.M.­style kiosks that facilitate marijuana sales, working through some of the state­-chartered banks that are comfortable with such customers.

Microsoft will not be getting anywhere near these kiosks or the actual plants. Rather, it will be working with Kind’s “government solutions” division, offering software only to state and local governments that are trying to build compliance systems.

But for the young and eager legalized weed industry, Microsoft’s willingness to attach its name to any part of the business is a big step forward. “Nobody has really come out of the closet, if you will,” said Matthew A. Karnes, the founder of Green Wave Advisors, which provides data and analysis of the marijuana business. “It’s very telling that a company of this caliber is taking the risk of coming out and engaging with a company that is focused on the cannabis business.”...

It’s hard to know if other corporate giants have provided their services in more quiet ways to cannabis purveyors. New York State, for instance, has said it is working with Oracle to track medicinal marijuana patients. But there appears to be little precedent for a big company advertising its work in the space. It is still possible — though considered unlikely — that the federal government could decide to crack down on the legalization movement in the states.

The partnership with Kind is yet another bold step for Microsoft as its looks to replace the revenue from its fading desktop software business. On Monday, it announced that it was buying LinkedIn. Microsoft has put a lot of emphasis on its cloud business, Azure. The Kind software will be one of eight pieces of preferred software that Microsoft will offer to users of Azure Government — and the only one related to marijuana.

The conflict between state and federal laws on marijuana has given a somewhat improvisational nature to the cannabis industry. Stores that sell pot have been particularly hobbled by the unwillingness of banks to deal with the money flowing through the industry. Many dispensaries have been forced to rely on cash for all transactions, or looked to start­ups like Kind, with its kiosks that take payments inside dispensaries.

Governments, too, have generally been relying on smaller start­ups to help develop technology that can track marijuana plants and sales. A Florida software company, BioTrackTHC, is helping Washington State, New Mexico and Illinois monitor the marijuana trade inside their states....

The opening up of the market in California is already leading to a scramble for the big money that is likely to follow, and Microsoft will now be well placed to get in on the action. Ms. Nelson of Microsoft said that initially her company would be marketing the Kind software at conferences for government employees, but it could eventually also be attending the cannabis events where Kind is already a regular presence. “This is an entirely new field for us,” she said. “We would have to figure out which conference might be the premier conference in this space. That’s not outside the realm of possibility.”

June 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Web/Tech, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New Drug Policy Alliance report highlights problems with access and data in New York medical marijuana program

DownloadEarlier this week the Drug Policy Alliance this notable new report detailing and lamenting that New York's medical marijuana program is too restrictive and that information about the program is not readily available.  This DPA press release reports on some of the report's findings, and here are excerpts from the press release:

The Drug Policy Alliance issued a report assessing the first four months on the state’s medical marijuana program.  The report is in response to demand for information in the face of the absence of all but the most limited public information from the New York State Department of Health.  The report, the first systematic assessment of the program so far and its impact on patient access, found patients and caregivers face significant barriers to accessing medical marijuana.

On January 7th 2016, New York became the 23rd state to rollout its medical marijuana program. The law, which was passed in June of 2014, took eighteen months to implement and has been criticized as being one of the most restrictive and burdensome programs in the country.  Since the program was launched, patients and advocates have been frustrated by numerous barriers to accessing the program, including difficulty finding participating physicians, trouble accessing dispensaries and medication, and affordability.

The Department of Health has released only limited data about how the program is performing, offering little more than updates on the number of patients and doctors who have completed registration applications. Working with Compassionate Care NY, the state’s largest grassroots organization of patients and caregivers, the Drug Policy Alliance surveyed 255 people who had sought to access the state’s medical marijuana program.

According to the report, one of most pressing problems is that patients are struggling to find health care providers who are participating in the program.  According to DOH, as of June 9th, only 593 physicians New York physicians registered to certify patients for medical marijuana – less than 1% of all physicians in New York. Because there is no publicly available list of participating physicians, patients are forced to cold-call doctors in hopes of finding one or go through social media or other potentially unreliable sources.

More than half of patients and caregivers surveyed in the DPA report had not yet found a doctor to certify them, and among those, 3 out of 5 have been trying for 3 to 4 months to locate a registered physician.

Geographic inaccessibility is another barrier compounding problems of patient access to medicine.  Under the law, only five producers are licensed to grow medical marijuana in New York, and each can only operate 4 dispensaries.  This means that for a state of almost 20 million people and 54,000 square miles, there are only 20 dispensaries allowed (of which only 17 dispensaries have opened, to date). Patients, many of whom are very sick and disabled, must travel hours in some cases to get to a dispensary.  According to findings from the survey, 27% of registered patients/caregivers travelled for 1 to 5 hours to access a dispensary, while nearly 2 out of 5 reported that the dispensary they visited did not carry the specific kind of medical marijuana that was recommended to them by their physician.

Another major finding of the report is the unaffordability of medicine.  For respondents who had obtained medicine, 70% indicated that their monthly cost would be $300 and above, and more than 3 in 4 patients and caregivers who purchased medicine from a dispensary, stated that they would not be able to afford the monthly cost of medicine.

DPA’s report calls on the New York State legislature to pass bills currently pending in Albany that would amend the Compassionate Care Act, New York’s medical marijuana law, and improve access to medicine for those in need....  “New Yorkers deserve more transparency and information about how the state’s medical marijuana program is performing,” said Julie Netherland, PhD, of the Drug Policy Alliance and Compassionate Care NY. “Our data confirms what we have heard from patients and caregivers for months – New York’s program is not easily accessible, and even for patients who manage access the program, most cannot afford the medication.  We urge the legislature to act quickly and pass these bills to improve the program so patients in need can get relief.”

June 16, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)