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Chronicle AM: Fed Bill Would Allow MJ Ad Mailings, Far-Reaching MD Bills Filed, More... (2/5/16)

Oregon's federal representatives fight to protect marijuana advertising, medical marijuana and CBD bills are moving in the states, a Maryland delegates files bills for drug treatment on demand, supervised injection sites, opiate maintenance (including heroin), and drug decriminalization -- quite a package! -- and more.

A Maryland bill could lead to the first supervised injection facility in the US. (vch.ca)
Marijuana Policy

Oregon Federal Reps File Bill to Allow Published Marijuana Ads. Responding to warnings from the US Postal Service that mailing newspapers or magazines with marijuana advertising is prohibited even in states where it is legal, Oregon's two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have joined with two Democratic House members, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici, to file the Marijuana Advertising in Legal States (MAILS) Act (HR 4467). The bill would reverse the USPS policy. "Federal agencies must respect the decisions made by law-abiding Oregonians and small business owners in the state," Wyden said. "Our bill updates the federal approach to marijuana, ending the threat to news publications that choose to accept advertising from legal marijuana businesses in Oregon and other states where voters also have freely decided to legalize marijuana."

Michigan Legalization Campaign Getting Close to Signature Goal. The MILegalize campaign says it has already collected some 240,000 raw signatures and is seeking another 100,000 to ensure a comfortable cushion for invalidated signatures. The state requires 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama Bill Would Expand Access to CBD Cannabis Oil. Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison County) has introduced House Bill 61, which would expand access to CBD beyond a limited study program at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The new bill would allow parents with a valid recommendation for CBD cannabis oil to possess it in the state.

Delaware Bill Would Allow CBD Cannabis Oil for Kids in Schools. Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) has filed Senate Bill 181, which would allow authorized caregivers to possess and administer CBD cannabis oil to pupils in school as needed.

Utah Medical Marijuana, CBD Cannabis Oil Bills Move. Two medical marijuana-related bills are headed for the Senate floor after winning committee votes. Senate Bill 73, filed by Rep. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs), would allow whole plant medical marijuana, while Senate Bill 89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City), would expand on CBD cannabis legislation passed last year.

Kratom

Florida Bill to Ban Kratom Advances. A bill that would ban the increasing popular Southeast Asian herb, which some are using as an alternative to opiates or as a means to withdraw from them, has passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. The bill, House Bill 73, would make possession of kratom a misdemeanor. A similar measure seeking to make possession a felony failed last year.

New Synthetic Drugs

Kentucky Bill to Toughen Penalties for New Synthetic Drugs Advances. A bill that would increase penalties for possessing or selling new synthetic drugs has passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill is House Bill 66.

Drug Policy

Maryland Bill Package Attempts Comprehensive Drug Decriminalization, Harm Reduction Approach. A set of four bills being filed today would upend the way the state deals with drug use and related problems. One bill would provide for drug treatment on demand in emergency rooms and hospital settings, a second bill would allow for safe injection facilities (there are currently none in the US), a third bill would allow for opiate maintenance therapy, including with heroin, and a fourth bill would decriminalize the use and possession of personal use quantities of illicit drugs. The package is being sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County).

Drug Testing

Utah Bill Would Repeal Welfare Drug Testing Law. Since Utah approved a welfare drug testing law, only 47 applicants out of nearly 14,000 have tested positive for drugs. That's enough for Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) to call for an end to the program. Her House Bill 172 would do just that. It is currently before the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee.

Will the VA Let Doctors Recommend Medical Marijuana to Veterans? [FEATURE]

On Wednesday, a group of 21 US senators and representatives sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs calling on it to allow VA doctors to discuss and recommend marijuana as medicine in states where it is legal.

The bipartisan effort was led by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dina Titus (D-NV), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). All represent medical marijuana states.

Under current VA policy, embodied in VHA Directive 2011-004, which expires Sunday, VA doctors are prohibited recommending marijuana as a treatment option even in legal states. This discourages patients and doctors from being honest with each other.

"According to the current directive, VA providers are prohibited from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran's participation in a state-sanctioned marijuana program. This policy disincentivizes doctors and patients from being honest with each other," the solons wrote. "Congress has taken initial steps to alleviate this conflict in law and we will continue to work toward this goal. However, you are in a position to make this change when the current VHA directive expires at the end of this month. We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

If patients can't get a recommendation from their VA docs and thus can't access dispensaries, they would be tempted to go elsewhere for recommendations, to doctors "likely far less familiar with their symptoms and medical history," the solons wrote.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (senate.gov)
Noting that there has been a "sea change" in the legal framework around marijuana since the directive was issued in 2011, they asked that "upon the directive's expiration, any new directive remove barriers that would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in states that have chosen to legalize marijuana for medical purposes."

But without a new directive, even though the old one is expiring, it will be the status quo at the VA, said Michael Krawitz, a US Air Force veteran and executive director of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access. Krawitz participated in the process that led to the production and distribution of the directive.

"VA Directives remain in effect with full force even after expiration unless they are officially replaced or rescinded," he said. "Although I can understand that patients might not know that and might get uneasy about the expiring directive, but in practicality there should be no change in clinical practices caused by the expiration."

While VA patients could be spooked by the expiration, the status quo is unacceptable, said Dr. Sue Sisley, MD, in clinical psychiatry and internal medicine, who has two decades of experience treating veterans and who is set to do a pilot study on medical marijuana and PTSD for veterans.

"I've worked with veterans all over the country who are dealing with severe and chronic, debilitating medical problems," she said. "They just want the treatment that is going to help them the most, with the least side effects. I have seen firsthand the dramatic improvement so many veterans have had while taking cannabis. Not only have they experienced relief from problems such as PTSD, chronic pain, and migraines, but many of them have also been able to break their addiction to more dangerous drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."

Vets can't get into dispensaries without recommendations. (wikimedia.org)
VA staff physician Deborah Gilman, MD, said current VA policy forces physicians to ignore the science if it conflicts with policy.

"Unlike private practice physicians, VA physicians are under a gag order regarding discussing marijuana with patients," she said. "In other settings, doctors can be honest about their medical opinions regarding treatment options, based on science. In the VA, an administrator can write policy that you can't disagree with without losing your job. Veterans are fearful of losing either their medical benefits or their access to health care if they acknowledge using marijuana. This causes a VA doctor to give you a medical opinion based on the VA regulation, not on the science. I knew many VA doctors whose professional opinion was that cannabis might help some of their patients, but they could never say so in their office or in public."

"There is nothing more sacred in healthcare than the doctor-patient relationship," said Sisley. "Right now we are seeing interference with that coveted relationship. No government policy should come between a doctor and their patients. The only people who should be making medical decisions for veterans are their physicians, not a bureaucrat and not a law enforcement official. These men and women have sacrificed so much for their country. It's only fair that they get the care that they deserve, and have access to the whole range of treatment options."

For Krawitz, it's about getting health care he and countless other vets deserve.

"I suffer from a combination of internal injuries and broken bones leading me to be a perfect candidate for cannabis as an adjunct pain treatment," he explained. "I need to be able to go in and see my VA doctor and have a honest conversation where my doctor feels free to gain knowledge now available through continuing medical education and relay that information to me in writing even if that is the very documentation is what I need to participate in a state medical marijuana program."

Now it's up to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald. He's heard from Congress, he's heard from patients, he's heard from doctors and scientists. We'll see if he's listening.

Washington, DC
United States

Chronicle AM: MJ Arrests Plummet in NYC & Jamaica, ME May Refelonize Drug Possession, More... (1/4/16)

What a difference a policy change makes! After decrim in Jamaica and actually enforcing decrim in New York City, marijuana arrests plummet in both places, a bill to cut pot penalties advances in Kansas, a bill to refelonize hard drug possession is in play in Maine, and more.

Jamaican ganja decriminalization has seen marijuana arrests plummet. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Kansas Senate Approves Cutting Marijuana Penalties. The state Senate Wednesday voted 38-1 to approve House Bill 2049, which lowers marijuana possession penalties. The bill moves first time pot possession from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor and it moves second-time pot possession from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. The Senate rejected an effort by Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City) to decriminalize marijuana possession.

New York City Marijuana Possession Arrests Plummet. Marijuana possession arrests in the city hit their lowest level in 20 years last year, according to new data released by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Some 16,590 people were arrested for pot possession last year, down 42% from the year before and down a whopping 67% from 2011, when more than 50,000 people were arrested. While the arrests are down dramatically, what has not changed is the racial disparity in arrests: 88% of those arrested were black or Latino.

Medical Marijuana

California Governor Signs Bill to Kill Medical Marijuana Decision Deadline. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) Wednesday signed Assembly Bill 21, which will give cities and counties more time to develop local rules for commercial medical marijuana cultivation. An error in last year's statewide medical marijuana regulation bill had imposed a March 1 deadline for localities to act or they would lose control over regulating the grows to the state. More than a hundred cities and counties banned commercial cultivation in recent months as the deadline loomed.

Sentencing

Maine Officials Argue for Refelonizing Drug Possession. State Attorney General Janet Mills Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve a bill, LD 1554, that would refelonize the possession of hard drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. The legislature last year made first-time drug possession a misdemeanor when the defendant had no previous convictions, but Mills and other administration officials argued that without the threat of a felony conviction and sentence (up to five years)) hanging over their heads, drug users could not be forced into drug treatment. " A felony charge brings with it the possibility of a significant period of probation … along with a long sentence hanging over the person," Mills said. "That kind of potential sentence gives the person an incentive to get into treatment and to demonstrate their commitment to recovery." But Mills is getting pushback from lawmakers. Another working session on the bill is set for next week.

International

Marijuana Legalization Could Cut Mexican Cartel Revenues By One-Quarter, Report Says. Mexico supplies between 30% and 50% of the pot consumed in the US, with the drug cartels raking in between one and two billion dollars a year, but that figure could be cut by up to 26% if legalization proceeds apace in the US, according to a report from the Instituto Belisario Dominguez for the Mexican Senate as it debates marijuana policy this spring. Legalization in Mexico itself "could benefit Mexico because that would increase the financial damage to the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel."

Jamaica Ganja Arrests Plummet After Decriminalization. National Security Minister Peter Bunning said Tuesday that police have arrested 14,000 fewer people for marijuana possession since the government decriminalized it last year. He pointed out that arrests have serious consequences, including not being able to get a visa to visit the US and problems with finding employment.

Medical Marijuana Update

No new qualifying conditions for Illinois, Puerto Rico adopts medical marijuana regs, a New York state senator files a medical marijuana expansion bill, and more.

Illinois

Last Friday, the state refused to expand the list of qualifying medical conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New Hampshire

On Monday, a patient who sued the state over medical marijuana access died. Linda Horan, who sued the state in November to issue her a medical marijuana card so she could get her medicine in Maine because New Hampshire dispensaries hadn't opened, died Monday at age 64. The ailing labor leader won her lawsuit and was able to procure medical marijuana out of state, but succumbed to cancer. The court ruling applied only to Horan, but days after the ruling, the states began sending out ID cards to patients.

New York

Last Friday, a medical marijuana expansion bill was filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Puerto Rico

Last Thursday, the commonwealth adopted medical marijuana regulations. The island dependency's Health Department has adopted a regulation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana. The regulation does not allow smoking it. The department said it will implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and award licenses to doctors and companies that want to grow and manufacture medical marijuana projects. The system should be in place by year's end.

Rhode Island

On Wednesday, the governor announced a plan to impose hefty plant taxes on patients and caregivers. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has introduced a medical marijuana reform plan that would impose a $150 per plant tax on plants grown by patients and a $350 per plant tax on plants grown by caregivers. The governor says this will help the state raise $8.4 million in new tax revenues. But that tax is based on the administration's position that each plant is worth $17,000, which is nowhere near the case. Patient advocates are not happy.

Wyoming

On Monday, activists said the medical marijuana initiative won't make the ballot. A spokesman for Wyoming NORML, which organized the campaign, said Monday that the group had only managed to gather some 7,000 raw signatures ahead of next week's deadline and will fall far short of the more than 25,000 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. The group will try again in 2018, it said.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: DC Council Backs Away From Pot Club Ban, RI Gov Wants Patient Tax, More... (2/3/16)

The idea of marijuana social clubs in the nation's capital remains alive, Rhode Island patients face the prospect of seeing their plants taxed, there are medical marijuana advances in Australia and Poland, and more.

Marijuana Policy

DC City Council Backs Away from Pot Social Club Ban. The District of Columbia city council today voted to halt consideration of legislation that would permanently ban adult consumption of marijuana outside the home, and instead moved forward with the creation of a task force to explore the establishment of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana in the District. Last week, the council passed an emergency ban on social clubs and it was supposed to make that ban permanent today, but backed off in the face of strong public pressure. Instead, it voted to establish a task force to study the issue.

Medical Marijuana

Rhode Island Governor Wants to Impose Hefty Plant Tax on Patients, Caregivers. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has introduced a medical marijuana reform plan that would impose a $150 per plant tax on plants grown by patients and a $350 per plant tax on plants grown by caregivers. The governor says this will help the state raise $8.4 million in new tax revenues. But that tax is based on the administration's position that each plant is worth $17,000, which is nowhere near the case. Patient advocates are not happy.

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Bill Would Make It a Crime to Cheat a Drug Test. State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) has introduced a bill that would criminalize the possession, sale, or advertising of chemicals used to create synthetic urine to defeat drug tests. Under current state law, workers can be fired for cheating on drug tests, but face no criminal penalty. The bill would make using synthetic urine to cheat a drug test a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail for users and up to 90 days in jail for sellers or manufacturers. Fourteen other states have similar laws.

International

Human Rights Watch Condemns Tunisia's Drug Laws. The group issued a report this week singling out Law 52, which is says requires courts to impose "cruel, disproportionate, and counterproductive" sentences on drug offenders. The law requires a mandatory minimum one year jail sentence for any illegal drug possession, including marijuana.

Australian State Run Synthetic CBD Trials on Children With Epilepsy. The Victoria state government has authorized a study on 10 children as part of an effort to understand the effects of synthetic cannabinoids on children with epilepsy. The trial is set to get underway in Melbourne this month. The state government has kicked in $150,000 for the trial.

Polish Rapper Files Medical Marijuana Bill. The pioneering Polish rapper known as Liroy is now Polish Member of Parliament Piotr Liroy-Marzec, and on Monday, he presented a draft bill to legalize medical marijuana in the East European country. "This draft crowns everything I've said over the years, especially during the election campaign," said Liroy-Marzec. "I promised people I met who were ill that I would do everything possible to table this draft," he said.

Chronicle AM: Obama Wants $1 Billion to Fight Opioids, Legal Pot Sales Hit $5.4 Billion, More... (2/2/16)

A new report finds marijuana is a booming market, California doctors get on board with the AUMA legalization initiative, the White House wants nearly a billion bucks to fight opioid addiction -- with most of it going for "medication-assisted treatment" -- and more.

People line up to buy heroin in Chicago. The White House wants nearly $1 billion to fight opioid addiction. (Chicago PD)
Marijuana Policy

Legal Pot Sales Hit $5.4 Billion Last Year, Report Says. Legal marijuana sales increased 17.4% last year to $5.4 billion, according to data released this week by the ArcView Group. Nearly 80% of the sales were for medical marijuana, but $998 million was for legal adult use, up dramatically from $351 billion in 2014. Overall sales should grow to $6.7 billion this year, the group predicted.

California Medical Association Endorses AUMA Legalization Initiative. The CMA, the largest doctors' group in the state, announced Monday that is will support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act legalization initiative. The initiative, funded by tech billionaire Sean Parker and supported by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), has as one of its proponents Dr. Donald Lyman, who authored the CMA's 2011 policy called for decriminalization. "The California Medical Association believes the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a comprehensive and thoughtfully constructed measure that will allow state officials to better protect public health by clarifying the role of physicians, controlling and regulating marijuana use by responsible adults and keeping it out of the hands of children," Dr. Steven Larson, CMA's president, said in prepared remarks.

Medical Marijuana

New Hampshire Patient Who Sued Over Medical Marijuana Access Dies. Linda Horan, who sued the state in November to issue her a medical marijuana card so she could get her medicine in Maine because New Hampshire dispensaries hadn't opened, died Monday at age 64. The ailing labor leader won her lawsuit and was able to procure medical marijuana out of state, but succumbed to cancer. The court ruling applied only to Horan, but days after the ruling, the states began sending out ID cards to patients.

Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative Won't Qualify for Ballot. A spokesman for Wyoming NORML, which organized the campaign, said Monday that the group had only managed to gather some 7,000 raw signatures ahead of next week's deadline and will fall far short of the more than 25,000 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. The group will try again in 2018, it said.

Hemp

Twenty States Have Hemp Bills This Year, Vote Hemp Says. The industry group has issued its annual report and says 20 states are working to legalize or expand hemp production. There's much more in the report, too.

Drug Policy

White House Seeks $1 Billion to Fight Heroin and Prescription Opiate Abuse. The Obama administration Tuesday proposed a billion dollars in new funds over the next two years to combat widespread opioid use. More than $900 million of the newly sought funding would go for medication-assisted treatment (opioid maintenance), which also includes therapy. The administration said that 2.2 million people have been identified as needing treatment for opioid addiction, but only one million are receiving it.

Drug Testing

West Virginia Lawmaker Proposes Drug Testing Legislators. State lawmakers have once again introduced a bill to drug test welfare applicants, and in response, Delegate Shawn Fluharty (D-Wheeling) has introduced House Bill 2925, which would subject legislators to the same sort of testing. "There's no reason why state legislators should get a pass, simply because we wear suits," he said.

Chronicle AM: Maine Legalization Initiative On Target for Ballot, Narcan in the News, More... (2/1/16)

Maine's legalization initiative looks like it will qualify for the ballot, Tommy Chong endorses Bernie Sanders, a new federal bill would fund needle exchanges, naloxone is in the news, and more.

Naloxone kits save lives. (harmreduction.org)
Marijuana Policy

Obama Says Marijuana Reform Not on His Agenda in Final Year. In a Friday press briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said any progress on further federal marijuana reform would have to come from Congress, not the president. "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action. The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it and we'll see what happens.'"

Tommy Chong Endorses Bernie Sanders. This is not exactly a shocker, but every endorsement helps. Iconic stoner comedian Tommy Chong has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the Democratic presidential nomination, citing his support of marijuana legalization. "Bernie does support that… legalization that I care so deeply about, legalization of the super-medicine marijuana. So I know this year, you and I are going to 'Feel the Bern,' go up to the polling booths, and light up, man, for progress and change." Chong also touted Sanders' positions on immigration, equality, and a living wage, and he jokingly referred to Sanders as the "commander-in-Kush."

Maine Legalization Group Submits Nearly Double the Signatures Needed to Qualify for Ballot. It looks like Mainers will be voting on legalization in November. Today, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures for its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Seattle Medical Marijuana Shops Sue State Over Licensing Process. A handful of long-time Seattle dispensaries filed a lawsuit last Friday against the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board, saying the agency isn't following its own rules in issuing a new round of licenses for retail pot shops. The agency is supposed to give priority to dispensaries that have played by the rules, but the plaintiffs say it isn't doing that.

Medical Marijuana

Illinois Refuses to Expand List of Qualifying Medical Conditions. The administration of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will not allow patients suffering from eight conditions to use medical marijuana. The Department of Public Health announced last Friday that no new conditions would be added despite pleas from patients, advocates, and medical marijuana business owners. The Medical Cannabis Alliance of Illinois issued a statement calling the decision "a gross injustice to patients."

New York Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill Filed. Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chair of the Assembly Health Committee, last Friday filed a bill that would double the number of medical marijuana manufacturers and dispensaries in the state. The bill is not yet available on the legislative website.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Federal Bill Would Provide Funding for Needle Exchange Programs. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) last Friday introduced HR 4396 to address heroin and prescription opiate use. The bill has provisions for prevention, treatment, and recovery, as well as grant programs for needle exchanges and to reduce overdose deaths. The bill has been assigned to four different committees.

Asset Forfeiture

Utah Bill to Make Police Prove Seized Property Was Involved in Crime Wins Committee Vote. Rep. Brian Greene's (R-Pleasant Grove) House Bill 22, which would require police to prove seized property is involved in a crime, reversing the burden of proof requirement under the state's civil asset forfeiture law, has unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee. The bill also includes a provision making the state pay citizens' attorney fees and costs is property is wrongfully seized. It now heads for a House floor vote.

Harm Reduction

Overdose Prevention Drug Has Saved 2,000 Lives in North Carolina. The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported last Thursday that the number of people whose opiate overdoses were reversed by naloxone (Narcan) had surpassed 2,000.

CVS to Make Overdose Prevention Drug More Widely Available in Ohio. The pharmacy chain announced today that it will make naloxone (Narcan) more available at stores throughout the state. Law enforcement had been skittish about using the drug, but as Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp noted, "We are in a heroin epidemic and this is just another tool to save lives."

New Orleans to Make Overdose Reversal Drug Available Over the Counter. People seeking naloxone (Narcan) will be able to pick it up without a prescription at the University Medical Center, city officials announced last Friday. City Medical Director Dr. Joseph Kanter has ordered the move in a bid to reduce fatal overdoses."There are no side effects. There is no abuse potential," Kanter said. "The primary effect of this medicine is to save a life."

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: VT Legalization Bill Advances, Puerto Rico Issues MedMJ Regs, More... (1/29/16)

Pot policy is popping! A legalization bill advances in Vermont, a Maine initiative looks set to qualify for the ballot next week, a Virginia poll has a strong majority for legalization (somebody tell the legislature), and more.

Medical marijuana is coming to Puerto Rico, though not in smokable form. (wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legalization Advocates Turn in Signatures Monday. Organizers of a petition drive for a statewide vote on pot legalization will turn in more than 100,000 signatures Monday. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Vermont Legalization Bill Wins First Committee Vote. A bill that would legalize marijuana and allow for regulated marijuana commerce is advancing. Senate Bill 137 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-1 vote. The bill allows for marijuana to be sold in stores, but bans home cultivation. Only licensed commercial grows in safe, secure locations will be allowed. The Judiciary Committee vote to advance the measure came a day after six state physicians' groups came out against the bill, citing what they called the ill effects of marijuana. The measure now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, Judiciary Committee Chair Richard Sears said. If the bill gets through the Senate, it is expected to face a tough battle to get through the House this year.

Virginia Poll Has Strong Majority for Legalization. A poll from Virginia Commonwealth University has support for marijuana decriminalization at 80% and support for legalization at 62%. The poll comes just days after a decriminalization bill was killed in the legislature.

Medical Marijuana

Puerto Rico Adopts Regulation to Allow Medical Marijuana. The island dependency's Health Department has adopted a regulation to allow for the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of medical marijuana. The regulation does not allow smoking it. The department said it will implement a seed-to-sale tracking system and award licenses to doctors and companies that want to grow and manufacture medical marijuana projects. The system should be in place by year's end.

Ibogaine

Vermont Bill Would Allow Pilot Study on Ibogaine as Treatment for Opiate Dependency. The measure is H. 741. It would establish a grant within the Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs to study ibogaine's effects in treating opiate dependency.

International

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Says Marijuana Legalization Could Bring $5 Billion a Year in Tax Revenues. CIBC World Statistics reports that Canada could see a $10 billion a year legal marijuana industry, with the government gaining half of that in tax revenues. The report suggests Canada follow the Colorado legalization model. Canada's recently elected Liberal government has vowed to legalize it and is now taking initial steps down that path.

Seven Ways New York's Medical Marijuana Program Falls Short [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

New York's long-delayed medical marijuana program finally rolled out this month, not with a bang, but with a whimper. What looks to be the country's tightest medical marijuana program has an extremely limited number of producers and retailers, a tiny number of eligible patients, a dearth of doctors, and forbids both smoking marijuana and using edibles.

For patients and advocates, the very limited arrival of medical marijuana in the Empire State is not the end point they hoped to achieve. Now, instead of resting on their laurels, they will have to continue to fight to make the program one that actually serves the needs of New Yorkers.

"It's a start," said the Drug Policy Alliance's Julie Netherland, until recently the deputy director of the group's New York Policy Office, where she was deeply involved in massaging the law through the legislature and past a reluctant governor. "It's the first time New Yorkers can legally purchase medical marijuana, and it's the result of the hard work of thousands of patients and family members across New York."

But, she was quick to grant, the program has some serious issues, immediate ones in the way the program has been rolled out and longer-term ones with the statute itself.

Here are seven ways New York's medical marijuana program falls short:

Not Enough Access to Doctors

Under the law, before doctors can recommend medical marijuana to patients, they must complete a $249 four-hour course on the drug and then register with the Health Department. As of Thursday, only 306 physicians had done so. Unlike neighboring New Jersey, the Health Department maintains no public registry of doctors certified to recommend medical marijuana, making it that much more difficult for potential patients to find doctors who might certify them to purchase it. So far, only 465 patients have been certified by the department to buy medical marijuana.

"This is the number one complaint of patients," said Netherland, sketching out an almost Kafkaesque process. "The Health Department is telling me if I'm a patient, I should go see my doctor and see if he participates in the program and if not, to encourage him to register," she said. "If the doctors says he's not going to register, then I'm supposed to ask him for a referral, but the doctor isn't going to know about any list of certified doctors to refer me to, and then it's incumbent on me to tell him. It's just another set of hoops for patients to jump through."

At least the Health Department has now agreed to make the list of certified physicians available to patients.

Not Enough Dispensaries

In a state of 20 million, only eight dispensaries opened January 7, and only another dozen are envisioned under the June 2014 medical marijuana law. Weedmaps lists only three for New York City -- one each in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. By way of comparison, Los Angeles had 135 permitted dispensaries and probably three times as many actually operating.

New York is not only heavily populated, it's big. With only 20 dispensaries, large geographical swathes of the state will remain without access. Long Island, for instance, will have two dispensaries, but right now, it's a two-hour drive into the city.

"I'm disappointed that only eight dispensaries will open by the deadline," said Missy Miller from Atlantic Beach. "There are none opening on Long Island, which leaves my son Oliver, who suffers from life-threatening seizures, out of luck. This only highlights concerns we have had all along that the state has licensed way too few producers and dispensaries to serve a state as populous and geographically large as New York."

No Personal Cultivation

Unlike the majority of medical marijuana states, patients can't just grow their own. That means they are dependent on the dispensary system, with all its limitations.

Access Is Limited to Specified Qualifying Medical Conditions

The state law only allows medical marijuana for a list of specified medical conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain. The law allows the Commissioner of Health to add other diseases and conditions, but just last week, he refused to add PTSD, Alzheimer's, muscular dystrophy, dystonia, rheumatoid arthritis.

"We're hearing every day from patients with all kinds of conditions," said Netherland. "The commissioner was directed by law to consider those five additional conditions, but he declined to add any. That was a huge blow to patients across the state hoping he would do the right thing. Half the medical marijuana states include PTSD; we thought there was strong scientific evidence to include it."

Limitations on Forms of Ingestion

The law bans the sale of smokable marijuana. New York joins Minnesota as the only two medical marijuana states that ban smoking; 21 others do not. The state will only allow oils and capsules that can be administered orally, and liquid forms of marijuana may also be vaporized.

"The law prohibits any smoking, but regulations prohibit any access to the whole plant," said Netherland. "That means all the products will be extracts, oils, or tinctures. This is also an issue for a lot of our patients.

Limitations on Strains

The law only provides for five producers, and each producer can only grow five strains.

"We know there are dozens and dozens of therapeutic strains," said Netherland. "We'd like to have the flexibility to match symptoms with strains. One of the issues is that all of the products have to be approved by the Health Department."

Access for Limited Income Patients

Advocates sought unsuccessfully to get provisions to ensure access for low income patients. Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance, and could run between $200 and $1300 a month, depending on the product and the condition. Now it will be up to the charitable instincts of dispensaries.

"We had encouraged the state to create incentive programs for producers to have programs for low income access, and we also encouraged the state to set up a program itself. It chose to do neither," Netherland said. "Now, patients are basically waiting to see if dispensaries will step up."

"There's lots of room for improvement," she said. "We anticipated a lot of these problems when the law was passed, and we're looking at going back to the legislature. We'll be back in Albany in the coming months talking about the need to expand the program and make it work from the patient's standpoint."

It looks like there's plenty of work to be done.

NY
United States

Medical Marijuana Update

Members of Congress urge the VA to get out of the way on medical marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project eyes an Ohio initiative this year, Florida will vote on an initiative this year, California legislature is trying to fix a mess of its own making, and more.

National

On Wednesday, federal lawmakers called on the Veterans Administration to let doctors recommend medical marijuna to vets. Twenty-one members of Congress have written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald urging him to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana as a possible treatment in states where it is legal. A VA policy that does not allow doctors to recommend it expires at the end of this month, and the lawmakers are calling on McDonald to not extend it. "You are in a position to make this change when the current directive expires at the end of this month," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT), and others wrote Wednesday to McDonald. "We ask that you act to ensure that our veterans' access to care is not compromised and that doctors and patients are allowed to have honest discussions about treatment options."

On Thursday, Americans for Safe Access released a report on state medical marijuana programs. The patient advocacy group graded each state and graded toughhly. No state earned an "A" and only 12 earned a "B." Read the report here.

Arizona

On Monday, a GOP politician withdrew a bill that would have crippled the medical marijuana program. State Rep. Jay Lawrence (R-Fountain Hills) has withdrawn HCR 2019, which would have barred naturopaths and homeopaths from recommending medical marijuana. Nearly 90% of all recommendations in the state are written by those health care professionals. Lawrence said he withdrew his bill after his office "received so many calls" and he actually learned about how the program works.

California

On Monday, the Senate approved a bill to slow medical marijuana bans. The state Senate Monday approved Assembly Bill 21, designed to fix what lawmakers called a mistake in the state's comprehensive medical marijuana regulation laws. The bill had a paragraph that gave the state authority to license cultivation in localities that didn't have their own laws on the books by March 1, and many localities had responded by passing preemptive cultivation bans. The bill now goes to the Assembly.

On Wednesday, the Assembly approved the bill. After passing the Senate earlier this week, Assembly Bill 21, has now passed the Assembly and awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The bill lifts a March 1 deadline for localities to regulate medical marijuana or lose control to the state. The deadline has prompted more than a hundred localtities to enact bans on various sorts in a bid to retain local control.

Florida

On Wednesday,the Florida medical marijuana initiative qualified for the ballot The group behind the effort, United for Care, said the Division of Elections has recorded 692,981 verified voter signatures, nearly 10,000 more than needed to qualify. A similar effort won 58% of the vote in 2014, but failed to pass because constitutional amendments require 60% of the vote to pass in Florida.

Georgia

Last Thursday, a state representative admitted breaking the law to help families obtain CBD cannabis oil. Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) admitted that he has been going to other states to obtain the medicine and bring it back for patients. Under a law he sponsored last year, CBD cannabis oil is legal for people for certain diseases, but there is no provision for in-state cultivation or sales. "We made sure that families properly registered with the state got access to medical cannabis, including delivering it to them if that's the only way we can make that happen," Peake said. "Maybe at some point there is a need for civil disobedience. It comes down to, 'What would I do if it were my child?'" Peake said.

Hawaii

On Monday, a bill to ban patients from growing their own was filed. Now that dispensaries are set to open up in the state, Rep. Marcus Oshiro (D-Oahu) has filed a bill that would prohibit patients from growing their own, instead requiring them to use the dispensaries. The bill is House Bill 1680. Patient groups don't like it.

Illinois

This week, a petition is seeking to prod the governor to expand qualifying medical conditions. The state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board has recommended adding eight new qualifying conditions to the state's medical marijuana program. The petition is directed at Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and the head of the state Department of Public Health, who will make the final decision. The petition currently has more than 19,000 signatures and has been endorsed by Melissa Etheridge.

Indiana

Last Thursday, medical marijuana bills were pronounced dead. State Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said Thursday that medical marijuana bills in the state legislature would not got a hearing this year. "They are all dead," she said. "There just isn't the appetite in the Senate for approving any kind of medical marijuana, not with the current makeup of the (50-member) Senate. You need 26 votes, and they're just not there." Parents of children suffering from epilepsy had pleaded with lawmakers to act, to no avail.

Ohio

Last Wednesday, the Marijuana Policy Project announced plans for Ohio. MPP said Wednesday it plans to put a medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative would take the form of a constitutional amendment, but has not yet been drafted.

Last Friday, the attorney general rejected the wording on a medical marijuana initiative. State Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has rejected a third petition for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment. He said there were five discrepancies between the language of the proposal and its summary language.

Utah

Last Wednesday, a "whole plant" medical marijuana bill was filed. Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Saratoga Springs) has introduced Senate Bill 73, which would create a full-fledged medical marijuana system in the state. The bill would only allow marijuana to be consumed in the forms of oils and gummies, not smoked. Another bill already filed would allow only cannabidiol.

Last Thursday, the Republican governor signaled support for medical marijuana. Gov. Bob Herbert (R) said Thursday that he is not familiar with two medical marijuana bills filed this session and that he doesn't want a "Dr. Feelgood" situation, but "if there's a medicine out there that will alleviate pain and conditions and health concerns for people, if there's a medicine out there that can do that, we ought to see if we can embrace it." He added that he would prefer that Congress legalize it federally rather than leaving it up to the states to act.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

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