Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"U.S. Resident Population in States that Permit Medical or Recreational Marijuana Use"

Via email, I received news of this new accounting (with some typos) of reform states and their populations recently produced by folks at Carnevale Associates LLC.  In addition, the same folks previously produced a three-page Policy Brief headlined "Policy Debate Must Adjust to Changes in State Law and Public Opinion"  which I promoted in this prior post titled "Highlighting the 'knowledge gap' as marijuana reform moves forward at a speedy pace"

Though I will not crunch the numbers here, the accounting of states and populations reveals that before last week, there were roughly 20 million Americans living in states which had passed full marijuana legalization by initiative.  Now, thanks to big states like California and Massachusetts and with a little help from Nevada and Maine, the number of Americans living in states that have passed full marijuana legalization has tripled to over 65 million.

November 15, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Boost Scotts Miracle-Gro Stock To All-Time High"

Scotts-miracle-gro-logo2-610x333The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Forbes article which highlights why at least one notable business is already reaping some significant benefits from all the success of marijuana reform initiatives this election cycle.  Here are excerpts:

Traditionally a wholesome company known for helping suburban households keep their lawns green, Scotts Miracle-Gro has recently tapped into the pot market by selling equipment for hydroponics, a method of growing that allows people to produce cannabis, or any other plant, indoors. “It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden,” Scotts Miracle-Gro CEO Jim Hagedorn told FORBES in a July feature story.

Scotts Miracle-Gro shares have jumped 34% in the last six months. “The bulk of that is basically marijuana driven,” said Joe Altobello, an analyst who covers the stock at Raymond James. “If you’re looking to play that angle, this is probably your best bet.”

No one has made more money off of the wager so far than Hagedorn and his family, who own 27% of Scotts Miracle-Gro. Since July, they have added an estimated $370 million to their family fortune, bringing their current net worth to roughly $1.8 billion. A company spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. Investors are impressed. “What he’s doing is he’s diversifying the portfolio,” said Jason Gere, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets. “They’re capitalizing on trends, and it’s very entrepreneurial.”

Scotts announced its first major move into the industry in March 2015, when it purchased two sister companies named General Hydroponics and Vermicrop for $135 million. By July 2016, those businesses had already grown by more than 20%, roughly four times the rate of the rest of the company. “The sizzle in the stock, the growth potential that people are looking at is from the cannabis industry,” said Ivan Feinseth, an analyst at Tigress Financial Partners. “It’s going to be a major growth engine.”

November 9, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Medical marijuana legal in Ohio, but patients still can’t get it"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article from my own Columbus Dispatch.  Here are excerpts:

Can you legally buy medical marijuana in Ohio?  If so, can you get it from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, family member or friend, drug dealer or grow it yourself?

You would think the answers to these questions would be simple and straightforward under the letter of the law.  Not so much.

Technically, medical marijuana has been legal in Ohio since a new law, House Bill 523, took effect Sept. 8.  But as of yet — and probably not until 2018 — patients in Ohio cannot legally buy marijuana for medical purposes.

Before that happens, the complicated, time-consuming job of drafting rules, policies, certifications, licenses and many other things must be completed.  Rules don’t have to be in place, by law, until next year.  Only after rules go through two state oversight agencies can cultivators begin growing marijuana crops, with processing, lab testing and sales through licensed dispensaries to follow.  Advocates have pressed the board to allow physicians to utilize an “affirmative defense” clause in the statue, essentially offering legal protection against prosecution if physicians recommend medical marijuana for a patient prior to it being available here.

Robert Giacalone, a medical board member, said the agency “is in no way prohibiting the recommendation of medical marijuana now that HB523 is effective.”  But he added there is “ conflicting language” in the law because of a provision prohibiting physicians from recommending marijuana until Ohio rules are written and the product is grown and sold in the state.  “If any physician wishes to recommend medical marijuana before the rules are in place, we strongly recommend that they contact a private attorney,” Giaclone said at a board meeting last Wednesday.

Rob Ryan, head of Ohio Patient Network, an advocacy group, said, “There is no doubt in my mind that people with qualifying conditions should be able to get medical marijuana in Ohio.”  Ryan said he knows some physicians are recommending marijuana but, like patients, they are being very cautious.  Asked where patients can get marijuana if they have a physician’s recommendation, Ryan said, “it might be growing in your backyard or basement, from a family member or friend, or a dealer as a last resort. I’d be very careful going out of state.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which advises the medical board, concludes it would be “very difficult” to legally obtain marijuana in Ohio at this time. “Everybody knows there’s significant lead time built into this statute,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. “We don’t have the specific rules in place at the medical board or the pharmacy board.”...

The delays and moratoriums are seen as chipping away at the law by Savannah Smith of the Ohio Rights Group, an advocacy organization. “It’s extremely frustrating,” Smith said. “The sick, dying and disabled of Ohio are our most vulnerable. They are medical refugees. “We had hoped this law would provide some real relief for the population that we’ve been fighting for for years.”

October 26, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Appreciating the northeastern midwest's magical medical marijuana research opportunities

Corporate_mapAs marijuana reform advocates (and perhaps regular readers) know, 2016 has been something of a banner year for medical marijuana reform in key part of the northern midwest.  Specifically,

--- in April, Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor signed into law the Keystone State's new medical marijuana law (basics here);

--- in June, Ohio's Republican Governor signed into law the Buckeye State's new medical marijuana law (basics here); and

--- in September, as reported here, Michigan's Republican Governor signed into law new medical marijuana regulations.

As a number of folks know, these three states are always interesting to watch and study politically and practically on an array of issues for an array of reasons.  Pennsylvania is at once an urban east-coast state around Philadelphia, an urban midwest state around Pittsburgh, and a rural state in between.  Ohio is the ultimate bellwether state with urban, suburban and rural, northern and southern regions and populations that closely mirror many national realities.  And Michigan likewise has a diverse array of distinctive regions (and, in this context, has a considerable history of a legal but largely unregulated medical marijuana industry).

I could go on and on about why each of these states with their own distinctive (and still developing) medical marijuana laws justify close study individually.  But my point in this post is to highlight the unique and uniquiely important research opportunity presented by the fact that all three of these (connected) states have new and detailed medical marijuana regulations coming on line at roughly the same time.  In particular, I am hopeful that some of the independent research entities following marijuana reform developments closely (e.g., the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation) will give particular attention in the months and years ahead to these particular democratic laboratories.

September 22, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Medical Marijuana Laws and Tobacco Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper authored by Anna Choi, Dhaval Dave and Joseph Sabia now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This study comprehensively examines whether medical marijuana laws (MMLs) have affected the trajectory of a decades-long decline in adult tobacco use in the United States.  Using data from three large national datasets — the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), the Current Population Survey Tobacco Use Supplements (CPS-TUS), and the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) — we estimate the relationship between MMLs and cigarette consumption.

Our results show that the enactment of MMLs between 1990 and 2012 are associated with a 0.3 to 0.7 percentage-point reduction in tobacco consumption among US adults, though this estimate is somewhat sensitive to controls for state-specific linear time trends.  These findings suggest that tobacco and marijuana are substitutes for many users.  However, this average response masks heterogeneity in the effects of MMLs among early versus late-adopting states and across the age distribution.

September 20, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Yet another study suggests link between medical marijuana availability and decreased opioid use

CoverThis new FoxNews Health report, headlined "Medical marijuana programs may help cut opioid use," reports on the latest evidence suggesting the availability of medical marijuana helps reduce opioid use.  Here are the details:

Making medical marijuana legal may lead to a reduction of opioid use in adults under the age of 40, a new study suggests. The researchers found that the rates of opioid use decreased in adults ages 21 to 40 in states that had legalized medical marijuana and where residents with prescriptions could obtain cannabis from dispensaries or grow their own, compared to states that had legalized medical marijuana but did not yet have an operational program for people to obtain it.

However, the finding didn't apply to adults over 40. For this group, opioid use did not decrease in those states with operational medical marijuana programs, according to the findings, which were published online today (Sept. 15) in the American Journal of Public Health. [Full study available at this link]

These findings seem to support the idea that marijuana may offer a substitute for opioids in people ages 21 to 40 who have severe or chronic pain, said lead author June H. Kim, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. There is other evidence that medical marijuana may act as a substitute for opioids in states that have passed this legislation: A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 suggested that the legalization of medical marijuana in U.S. states appears to be linked with lower death rates from opioid overdoses within that state....

In the study, the researchers looked at data from toxicological tests for alcohol and other drugs that were found in the systems of drivers killed in car crashes. Some states collect this information on a yearly basis for the majority of drivers who die in crashes on public roads, according to the study. Toxicological testing from deceased drivers who crashed in states that did or did not have medical marijuana laws seemed like an interesting data source, and it is an objective way to evaluate prior opioid use, for both medical or recreational purposes, Kim said....

The study found that drivers ages 21 to 40 who died in car crashes after a medical marijuana law was implemented had half the odds of testing positive for opioids, compared to similarly aged drivers who crashed in states before such a law was implemented, Kim said. [7 Ways Marijuana May Affect the Brain] "That's a pretty moderate-to-large reduction," Kim told Live Science.

The practical implication of these results is that fewer individuals may be using opioids in states with operational medical marijuana laws, Kim said. This study's findings are consistent with what is currently known about medical marijuana and how patients have used it, Kim said. Most prior surveys of medical marijuana patients show that they tend to be younger than 45, and most laws set patient age restrictions at 21 and older, he said.

Some states that have legalized medical marijuana are starting to see increases in use by adults over the age of 45, who are seeking out marijuana as a treatment alternative to opioids. It's possible that future studies may find reductions in the prevalence of opioid use in older age groups, Kim suggested. One limitation of the study is that the findings may not be generalizable to all U.S. states, the researchers said. In addition, the results establish an association, rather than a cause-and-effect relationship, between the implementation of medical marijuana laws in states and prior opioid use by individuals, the researchers said.

September 16, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 5, 2016

"Study: Can marijuana improve PTSD symptoms for veterans?"

Main-logoThe title of this post is the headline of this interesting lengthy new Stars & Stripes article. Here is how it gets started:

Roberto Pickering’s story is all too familiar. The infantry Marine says he fought during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, lost some “good buddies” and returned to civilian life a “basket case” from battling a new enemy: post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pickering says he was pumped full of medications — from Valium to Zoloft, OxyContin, Seroquel, Lithium, Ambien and more — by Department of Veterans Affairs doctors. He tried to go back to school but had trouble adjusting.

He recoiled further after one friend took his own life and another died of a heroin overdose after becoming dependent on opioids through his medical care. Pickering moved into his parents’ California basement and found solace in the bottle while his life spiraled out of control.

Unlike thousands of post-9/11 veterans who have committed suicide, Pickering then found another way to cope: He began experimenting with marijuana about 10 years ago. “This war doesn’t end when you come back,” he said. Cannabis “really improved my quality of life … I found what works for me.”

Using marijuana regularly, he said, his angry outbursts diminished and he was able to get a good night’s sleep. He said he was able to kick his drinking habit and, best of all, he didn’t have to take the litany of pills he calls toxic. Pickering said he usually smokes a bit at night and calls himself a responsible family man, far from the stereotype of a coach-potato stoner.

He doesn’t know why marijuana changed his life, and researchers can only guess, because the plant has never been studied as a treatment for veterans’ PTSD. Despite state ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana for medical and nonmedical use in recent years, earlier this month it again received the highest drug classification by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

A recently approved $2.15 million study — paid for by the state of Colorado and conducted by researchers from the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins University and the Scottsdale Research Institute — could change all of that....

The study, which is about to begin accepting participants, is a two-phase random, placebo-controlled, multisite study that will assess the safety and efficacy of four types of smoked marijuana to manage chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD symptoms, said Rebecca Matthews, a MAPS clinical trial leader working with the team. In the first phase, 76 participants will smoke randomly assigned types of marijuana, including a placebo strain, from a pipe for three weeks. They will keep a diary to describe their experiences. They will then abstain from smoking for two weeks.

The second phase is a repeat of the first. Afterward, participants will follow up with the researchers for six months. The team will track measurements of PTSD and PTSD symptoms and safety data throughout.

The aim is to provide information on “marijuana dosing, composition, side effects and specific areas of benefit to clinicians and legislators considering marijuana as an acceptable treatment for PTSD,” Matthews said.

Researchers plan to start recruiting veterans in September, adding two participants per month, per site. The study should run about two years. “By working with chronic treatment-resistant veterans, we address a national emergency and limit variability at the potential expense of generalizability,” Matthews said. “Further research will be needed to determine if these results will apply to other groups of PTSD sufferers.”

The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Sue Sisley of the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, said the hypothesis for the study is that cannabis may improve PTSD symptoms in a dose-dependent manner. “I have no preconceived notions about the outcome of the study,” she said. “I’m not pro-cannabis; I am strictly pro-science. I’m actually not a fan of cannabis, and I’ve never tried it personally. I care deeply about our military veterans, and I am determined to find new treatments for PTSD — besides the only two [Food and Drug Administration] approved medicines on the market, Zoloft and Paxil, which are both highly disappointing.”

The study could discount or verify an argument by VA doctors and opponents of pot for PTSD treatment, who claim cannabis masks symptoms and doesn’t treat them like exposure therapy is thought to, Sisley said. “Nobody is arguing [cannabis] is a cure [for PTSD],” she added. “ ... What we are hoping is that cannabis is alleviating the suffering of PTSD patients and not just masking it. This is a distinction that can only be evaluated through a randomized controlled trial.”

September 5, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New York Department of Health releases two-year report on "Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act"

ThI was pleased to find this big new data-rich report from the New York Department of Health titled simply "Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act: Two-Year Report."  For those really interested in really understanding how really serious medical marijuana programs are operating (as I am), this kind of official report is terrifically interesting and valuable.  Here is the 13-page report's introduction and some of its closing recommendations:

On July 7th, 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law the Compassionate Care Act to establish a comprehensive Medical Marijuana Program (“program”). Just eighteen months after the Compassionate Care Act was signed into law, the first New Yorkers obtained medical marijuana. The program launched on time and statewide, providing access to a new treatment option for patients in a manner that protects public health and safety. Within the first six months of operation, over 5,000 patients were certified with the program. The program also registered more than 600 physicians across the State. In just six months, New York’s program has more physicians registered than other states whose programs have been in existence for significantly longer than New York’s. The program continues to oversee the manufacture and sale of medical marijuana to ensure that it is dispensed and administered in a manner that protects public health and safety.

Pursuant to Public Health Law (PHL) § 3367(3), this report provides an overview of Medical Marijuana Program activities since the signing of the Compassionate Care Act, as well as recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature. The data for this report was obtained on June 15, 2016, from the New York State Department of Health’s (NYSDOH) Medical Marijuana Data Management System (MMDMS) and the Prescription Monitoring Program Registry (PMPR)....

1.  NYSDOH recommends authorizing Nurse Practitioners (NPs) to certify New Yorkers for medical marijuana, consistent with their current authority to prescribe controlled substances (including opioids) for patients diagnosed with qualifying conditions covered in the Compassionate Care Act. Allowing NPs to issue certifications for medical marijuana would allow them to properly treat patients suffering from severe, debilitating or life threatening conditions, particularly in many rural counties where there are fewer physicians available to treat such ailments....

4.  NYSDOH recommends evaluating allowing distribution of Medical Marijuana to certified patients through home delivery services provided by registered organizations, and review of policies and procedures from other jurisdictions to help craft guidelines to provide for a safe and effective home delivery program.....

5.  NYSDOH recommends working with the registered organizations to make more brands of medical marijuana products available to patients....

7.  NYSDOH recommends a review of evidence be conducted for the medical use of marijuana in patients suffering from chronic intractable pain....

9.  To meet additional patient demand and increase access to medical marijuana throughout New York State, NYSDOH recommends registering five additional organizations over the next two years, using a phased-in approach to permit their smooth integration into the industry.

August 24, 2016 in Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Timely new report on benefits of marijuana reform from West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

This local article, headlined "Could legalizing marijuana be West Virginia's pot of gold?," reports on this interesting new policy brief released by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests. The article summarizes the themes of the report, which is titled "Modernizing West Virginia's Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization." This summary comes directly from the first two pages of the full 27-page report:

Over the last two decades, states across the country have modernized their marijuana laws to reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy. As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow.

While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

As West Virginia continues to be plagued by large budget deficits (a projected $300 million for FY 2018), an undiversified economy with a fading coal industry, and poor health outcomes, modernizing the state’s marijuana laws could be a step in addressing these problems and could help save the state money in the long run.

This report provides an overview of the states that have modernized their marijuana laws in recent years– including decriminalization, medical marijuana, and recreational use – and the implications for West Virginia if it decided to pursue a similar path. It provides an overview of federal and state marijuana laws (Section 1), an estimation of the potential tax revenue from legalizing recreational marijuana in West Virginia (Section 2), an evaluation of some potential benefits from modernizing West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 3), and recommendations on reforming West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 4).

KEY FINDINGS

  • If marijuana was legalized and taxed in West Virginia at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually upon full implementation. If 10 percent of marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase marijuana, the state could collect an estimated $194 million.

  • In 2010, it is estimated that West Virginia spent more than $17 million enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in West Virginia could reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests, especially among African Americans, which in turn, could reduce criminal-justice-related costs.

  • The marijuana industry has the potential to add jobs both directly and indirectly. As of September 2015, Colorado had 25,311 people licensed to work in its marijuana industry and over 1,000 retail marijuana businesses. If marijuana were legal in West Virginia it could also have the effect of increasing tourism to the state, particularly in regions with outdoor recreational activities.

  • Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

August 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Highlighting myriad challenges for doctors in a world of widespread state medical marijuana reforms

Dt_160517_medical_marijuana_cannabis_800x600This recent USA Today piece, headlined "As states OK medical marijuana laws, doctors struggle with knowledge gap," puts a needed spotlight on what I think may be the most under-examined aspect of modern state medical marijuana reforms. Here are excerpts:

Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for almost 20 years.  But Farmington physician Jean Antonucci says she continues to feel unprepared when counseling sick patients about whether the drug could benefit them.  Will it help my glaucoma?  Or my chronic pain?  My chemotherapy’s making me nauseous, and nothing’s helped.  Is cannabis the solution? Patients hope Antonucci, 62, can answer those questions.  But she said she is still “completely in the dark.”

Antonucci doesn’t know whether marijuana is the right way to treat an ailment, what amount is an appropriate dose or whether a patient should smoke it, eat it, rub it through an oil or vaporize it.  Like most doctors, she was never trained to have these discussions. And, because the topic still is not usually covered in medical school, seasoned doctors, as well as younger ones, often consider themselves ill-equipped.  Even though she tries to keep up with the scientific literature, Antonucci said, “it’s very difficult to support patients but not know what you’re saying.”

As the number of states allowing medical marijuana grows – the total has reached 25 plus the District of Columbia – some are working to address this knowledge gap with physician training programs.  States are beginning to require doctors to take continuing medical education courses that detail how marijuana interacts with the nervous system and other medications, as well as its side effects.

Though laws vary, they have common themes. They usually set up a process by which states establish marijuana dispensaries, where patients with qualifying medical conditions can obtain the drug.  The conditions are specified on a state-approved list. And the role of doctors is often to certify that patients have one of those ailments. But many say that, without knowing cannabis’ health effects, even writing a certification makes them uncomfortable.  “We just don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s a concern,” said Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a practicing doctor in Pennsylvania.

This medical uncertainty is complicated by confusion over how to navigate often contradictory laws.  While states generally involve physicians in the process by which patients obtain marijuana, national drug policies have traditionally had a chilling effect on these conversations.  The Federation of State Medical Boards has tried to add clarity. In an Aug. 9 JAMA editorial, leaders noted that federal law technically prohibits prescribing marijuana and tasks states that allow it for medical use to “implement strong and effective ... enforcement systems to address any threat those laws could pose to public safety, public health and other interests.”  If state regulation is deemed insufficient, the federal government can step in.

That's why many doctors say they feel caught in the middle, not completely sure of where the line is now drawn between legal medical practice and what could get them in trouble. In New York, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2014, the state health department rolled out a certification program last October. (The state’s medical marijuana program itself launched in January 2016.)  The course, which lasts about four hours and costs $249, is part of a larger physician registration process. So far, the state estimates 656 physicians have completed the required steps.  Other states have contacted New York’s Department of Health to learn how the training works.

Pennsylvania and Ohio are also developing similar programs.  Meanwhile in Massachusetts, doctors who wish to participate in the state medical marijuana program are required to take courses approved by the American Medical Association. Maryland doesn’t require training but encourages it through its Medical Cannabis Commission website, a policy also followed in some other states.

Physicians appear to welcome such direction.  A 2013 study in Colorado, for instance, found more than 80% of family doctors thought physicians needed medical training before recommending marijuana.  But some advocates worry that doctors may find these requirements onerous and opt out, which would in turn thwart patients’ access to the now-legal therapy, said Ellen Smith, a board member of the U.S. Pain Foundation, which favors expanded access to medical cannabis.

Education is essential, given the complexity of how marijuana interacts with the body and how little physicians know, said Stephen Corn, an associate professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Harvard Medical School.  Corn also co-founded The Answer Page, a medical information website that supports the New York program and is also bidding to supply information for the Pennsylvania program, Corn said....

From a medical standpoint, the lack of information is troubling, Filer said. “Typically, when we’re going to prescribe something, you’ve got data that shows safety and efficacy,” she said.  With marijuana, the body of research doesn’t match what many doctors are used to for prescription drugs.

Still, Corn said, doctors appear pleased with the state training sessions. More than 80% of New York doctors who have taken his course said they changed their practice in response to what they learned.  But even now, whenever Corn speaks with doctors about medical marijuana, people ask him how they can learn more about the drug’s medical properties and about legal risks.  Those two concerns, he said, likely reduce the number of doctors comfortable with and willing to discuss marijuana’s place in medicine, even if it’s allowed in their states.

August 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"7 Scientific Effects of Marijuana That Experts Want to Study"

The title of this is the headline of this new Time article that serves as a somewhat fitting follow-up to the (big?) news the DEA delivered this week about marijuana scheduling and research.   Here are excerpts:

On Thursday the U.S. government announced that marijuana would continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.  However, the feds are allowing more research on marijuana’s medicinal uses by making it easier for researchers to grow it.

Many researchers, both those who view marijuana as beneficial and those who are skeptical, argue that the government’s stance still hinders research.  “I understand the cautious nature of the government, whose role is basically to protect its citizens, but it is disappointing that marijuana continues to be included on the DEA’s list of the most dangerous drugs,” says Dr. Yasmin Hurd of Mount Sinai, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain.

Though more than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about it.  “It’s actually quite amazing how little we really know about something that has been used for thousands of years,” says Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt University who studies cannabis.  “We desperately need well-controlled unbiased large scale research studies into the efficacy of cannabis for treating disease states, which we have very little of right now.  Without these studies we are basically flying blind with regard to medical marijuana in my opinion.”

Scientists argue that studying marijuana is safe, and researching it shouldn’t be such a difficult process.  “A question that is not on the lips of researchers is whether or not the consumption of cannabis-based medicines is safe,” says Gregory Gerdeman, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College.  “In the biomedical research community, it is universally understood that cannabis is a very safe, well-tolerated medicine.”

Here’s what researchers tell TIME they want to know about marijuana.

Is marijuana an effective cancer therapy?...

What does it do to the brain?...

What dosage or strains have the best use in medicine?...

Can marijuana help brain and cognitive problems?...

What about anxiety?...

Can pot help end the opioid epidemic?...

Are there long term consequences of using pot?

August 12, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DEA announces new policy "designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States"

As the DEA exaplins in this press release (which also notes its decision to deny petitions seeking rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA (discussed here)), the agency has "announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers."  The formal announcement of the new policy can be found in this Federal Register document, and here is more about the policy change from the DEA press release:

This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA.  Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.

This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components.  Notably, DEA has approved every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious. 

Encouragingly, John Hudak at Brookings, who understand the ins and outs of federal marijuana laws and regulations better than anyone, has this new commentary explainaing why he thinks this DEA marijuana research decision "is more important than rescheduling." Here is how he starts his must-read commentary:

Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition.  After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.

This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status.  Under current policy — and now continuing policy — marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse.  Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment.  Today, it is opting not to do so.

However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance.  Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse).  The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.

Despite reformers’ discontent, this decision may be more meaningful than the ultimate goal of rescheduling for both policy and political reasons.

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Gallup reports that self-reports of marijuana use is up in United States ... though I wonder if numbers partially reflect more honest self-reporting

As reported in this new Gallup posting, "[t]hirteen percent of U.S. adults tell Gallup they currently smoke marijuana, nearly double the percentage who reported smoking marijuana only three years ago."  Here is more on what Gallup has found and has to say about its most recent findings:

Although use of the drug is still prohibited by federal law, the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana use has grown from two in 2013, Colorado and Washington, to four today -- with the addition of Alaska and Oregon -- plus the District of Columbia.  Five states will vote on whether to legalize marijuana this November. Half of U.S. states (including the four above) have some variation of a medicinal marijuana law on the books, and four more will be voting this fall on whether to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.  Both major-party presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have voiced support for medicinal marijuana but say they defer to the states in terms of policymaking on both recreational and medicinal marijuana use.

States' willingness to legalize marijuana could be a reason for the uptick in the percentage of Americans who say they smoke marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal in their particular state.  Gallup finds residents in the West -- home of all four states that have legalized recreational marijuana use -- are significantly more likely to say they smoke marijuana than those in other parts of the country....

To compare marijuana use among various subgroups, Gallup aggregated data from 2013, 2015 and 2016.  The results show that age and religiosity are key determinants of marijuana use. Almost one in five adults (19%) under the age of 30 report currently using it -- at least double the rate seen among each older age group. Only 2% of weekly churchgoers and 7% of less frequent attenders say they use marijuana, but this rises to 14% of those who seldom or never attend a religious service.

The pattern by age in ever having used marijuana does not show the same skew toward the young; instead, it peaks among the middle-aged. About half of adults between the ages of 30 and 49 (50%) and between 50 and 64 (48%) report having tried it.  Despite being less likely to currently smoke marijuana, these older Americans could be more likely than their younger peers to report having tried it because they've had more years to do so.  But this difference in their rates of experimentation could also reflect generational cultures and attitudes toward marijuana that have shifted over time....

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Though not discussed by Gallup, I cannot help but speculate that these latest results may reflect a greater willingness by marijuana consumers to admit to marijuana consumption (especially in states that have recreational or medical reforms in place) as well as a greater number of persons consuming marijuana. Just speaking for myself, I think I would be generally be much more willing to admit to a telephone interviewer my involvement with activities that are legal under state laws than to those that are illegal under state law. For this reason (and others), I always wonder whether changes in self-reported marijuana use primarily reflects changes in actual use rates or instead is impacted significantly by changes in self-reporting honesty.

August 8, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The latest government data on marijuana use and attitudes

This new USA Today article, headlined "Study examines evolving rates, perceptions of marijuana use," reports on some new data on marijuana consumption and related topics in the United States. Here are excerpts from the press report on the marijuana report:

A new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides an in-depth examination of marijuana use in the United States, as well as data regarding the public’s perception of the risks associated with the drug.  Using data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2012 to 2014, SAMHSA analyzed various regions around the country and within states to determine the rates of marijuana use and “perceptions of risks of harm” associated with the drug’s use in different parts of the U.S.

“This report provides a very detailed understanding of marijuana use and perception patterns in communities across the nation,” said Fran Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “This information can help public health officials and others better gauge the marijuana-related prevention and treatment needs in their communities and fine-tune their programs and services to best address them....

According to the study, 20.3 million people age 12 or older used marijuana in the past month, or approximately 1 in 13 people over the age of 12.

Although the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, many states have begun to make changes to their cannabis laws. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia are currently the only states with legalized recreational marijuana, but 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of medical marijuana while an additional 14 have taken measures to decriminalize the drug.

The report comes several months ahead of the November elections, where eight states will have the option to legalize either recreational or medical cannabis. Five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — are pursuing recreational marijuana, while three more — Arkansas, Florida and Missouri — could legalize medicinal cannabis.

Breaking their study into several regions — West, Northeast, Midwest and South — SAMHSA identified several states with multiple high use substate regions. Among those identified were Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. Rhode Island and Vermont are the only two of those states to have either not legalized recreational marijuana or not have it on the ballot in 2016.

In spite of the increasingly relaxed marijuana laws, the SAMHSA study also found that approximately 74.9 million people aged 12 or older “perceived great risk of harm” from using marijuana once a month, or approximately 2 out of every 7 people above the age of 12. The states with the highest percentages of perception of risk were all from the South — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Alabama, Louisiana and Texas were among the states with the lowest use rate. The states with the lowest perception of risk include high marijuana use areas like Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

The SAMHSA 19-page "short report" that is the basis for this article is available at this link under the title "Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk of Harm from Marijuana Use Varies within and across States."  For anyone really interested in marijuana data, especially divided by regions, the particulars and graphics from this report will be really interesting.

July 26, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Illinois judge orders reconsideration of making migraines an eligible condition for medical marijuana in the state

Migraines-spousesAs reported in this Chicago Tribune article, in Illinois "a judge has ordered state officials to reconsider adding migraine headaches to the list of conditions that qualify a patient to buy" marijuana.  Here is more about this significant ruling:

Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Rita Novak overturned Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah's denial of a petition to add migraines to that list.  The judge ordered Shah to reconsider evidence presented to the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board before its members voted to recommend approval of marijuana to treat migraines.

The court ruling came in response to a suit filed by a man whose name was kept secret because he already has been using marijuana to treat his headaches, his attorneys said.  Since adolescence, the middle-age man has suffered migraines up to three times a week, lasting from several hours up to three days, attorney Robert Bauerschmidt said.

The man has tried triptans, the most common treatment for migraines, but they didn't work well.  He tried narcotic painkillers but had a bad reaction that keeps him from using them, the attorney said.  "He's been through everything," Bauerschmidt said. "Marijuana doesn't cure it, but he finds the pain less severe and believes the headaches are less frequent when he's using it."

Though federal law still prohibits marijuana possession, state law allows it for patients who have any of about 40 specific medical conditions, including cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.  Patients may buy the pot only from state-approved dispensaries.

The latest ruling comes after another judge last month ordered the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical pot.  That ruling has been rendered somewhat moot, since Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a law adding PTSD and terminal illness as qualifying conditions.  But taken together, the separate rulings by different judges suggest that judicial review may further expand the program.

Attorney Mike Goldberg, whose firm handled the two prior cases, has pending lawsuits asking to add six other conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, chronic postoperative pain, osteoarthritis, intractable pain, autism and polycystic kidney disease.  "It's a potential game-changer for the industry," Goldberg said.

But Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which represents the state in court, emphasized that the ruling does not require adding migraines to the list.  It instead orders the director to reconsider within the parameters of the law and the judge's findings.

Joe Wright, the former director of the state's medical cannabis program, agreed that the case is not a done deal. "I'm not sure that means you'd necessarily have to add it," he said.  "That means they have to look at it again in light of what the advisory board considered."  If migraines and other conditions are added, Wright said, "That would open up the patient population fairly sizably."...

If the director adds migraines as a qualifying condition, that could greatly enlarge the number of patients. Migraines are a widespread condition, occurring in about 16 percent of Americans, according to two surveys cited by the American Headache Society.  Because there is no widely accepted blood test or brain scan to verify migraines, they typically are diagnosed by medical history, symptoms and a physical and neurological examination, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Typically Migraines occur repeatedly to the same patient, involving moderate to severe head pain that last for hours or days, nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to noise and light.

July 22, 2016 in Court Rulings, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New psychology research suggests why we ought to consider encouraging adults to use more marijuana and less alcohol

15As highlighted by this Washington Post piece, headlined "Researchers got people drunk or high, then made a fascinating discovery about how we respond," some notable new research provide yet another reason why society might be better off encouraging marijuana use rather than alcohol use. Here are the basics from the WaPo piece:

[R]esearch on the link between marijuana and aggression has been mixed. Marijuana seems to make most people relaxed, but it can also cause anxiety and paranoia, conditions which can occasionally manifest themselves in violent ways....

So a recent study from the Netherlands, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, attempts to put this question to bed using the gold standard of scientific research: a random controlled trial. They recruited a group of 20 heavy alcohol users (three-plus drinks a day for men, two-plus for women), 21 heavy marijuana users who smoked at least three times a week, and 20 controls who didn't use either drug heavily at all.... Then they made all three groups complete a number of tests designed to get people riled up....

The researchers measured aggression, before and after the respondents took the test, by asking them how aggressive they felt on a 100-point scale. For good measure, they had the marijuana and alcohol users go through the whole thing again one week later, this time without getting high or drunk, as a kind of separate control. They found, first of all, that "alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression in the alcohol group." The alcohol users, in other words, acted more aggressive when they were drunk than they did when they were sober. By contrast, the smokers became less aggressive when they were high.

These findings held through both the self-assessments — alcohol users rated themselves as more aggressive when drunk — and through the responses to the tests: The drinkers tried harder to undermine their computer opponents when they were drunk. But the smokers actually acted less aggressive toward their computer opponents when they were high. "The results in the present study support the hypothesis that acute alcohol intoxication increases feelings of aggression and that acute cannabis intoxication reduces feelings of aggression," the researchers conclude.

This is in line with other research. A study in 2014, for instance, found that marijuana use among couples was linked to lower rates of domestic violence. In a fun study from the 1980s, researchers gave undergraduates varying doses of marijuana and then asked them to administer electric shocks to people in another room. The more stoned the undergrads were, the less interested they were in zapping other people.

This multi-author research can be examined at this link and under the title "Subjective aggression during alcohol and cannabis intoxication before and after aggression exposure." And here is how the abstract of the article describes the results anf findings:

Results: Subjective aggression significantly increased following aggression exposure in all groups while being sober. Alcohol intoxication increased subjective aggression whereas cannabis decreased the subjective aggression following aggression exposure. Aggressive responses during the PSAP increased following alcohol and decreased following cannabis relative to placebo. Changes in aggressive feeling or response were not correlated to the neuroendocrine response to treatments.

Conclusions: It is concluded that alcohol facilitates feelings of aggression whereas cannabis diminishes aggressive feelings in heavy alcohol and regular cannabis users, respectively.

July 21, 2016 in Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

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)

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)

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)

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)