By Jerry S. Goldman and Ethan W. Middlebrooks
As a result of the conflicting laws and policies of the federal government and the various states, users of medical cannabis are faced with a host of practical challenges.
The Federal Controlled Substances Act places cannabis (including CBD, a constituent chemical) in Schedule I, the most tightly restricted category, with substantial criminal penalties for its sale and distribution and adverse implications for banking, taxation, intellectual property, and litigation. State law is subject to the primacy of federal law. For most of the 20th century, states mirrored the federal policy. Over the past two decades, however, a large majority of states have permitted the regulated distribution and possession of cannabis for medical and/or adult-use purposes. Some states permit such uses only for CBD; 21 other states (along with D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) have comprehensive medical cannabis programs; and 8 states have authorized adult-use cannabis programs.
With the release of its eighth edition of the INvisible Project on April 15, U.S. Pain is tackling the stigma of medical cannabis. The issue features the raw but often inspiring stories and photos of 10 individuals using cannabis to help manage their chronic health issues.
The INvisible Project was first published in 2010 as a way to create more awareness about the trials and triumphs of people living with pain. Last year, an estimated 65,000 copies were distributed. Patients’ stories are also featured on displays, which are then exhibited at conferences and events across the country.
Patient advocates have been heartened to see more states making progress in allowing access to medical cannabis for chronic conditions like pain. In New Jersey, chronic pain was recently added to the list of qualifying conditions for chronic pain. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, passed a bill to increase the number of licenses available for growers and dispensaries. (Unfortunately, the bill adds restrictions on physicians, which may discourage them from certifying patients.) In Hawaii, lawmakers are looking to establish a medical cannabis insurance reimbursement working group to address the possibility of insurance coverage for medical cannabis.
U.S. Pain is offering three online letter-writing campaigns to urge legislators improve access to medical cannabis. Check below to see if your state is among those that don’t allow full access to medical cannabis for people with pain. Please note you may need to use your nine-digit zip code, which you can look up here.
States: AL, GA, IN, IA, KY, MS, MO, NC, OK, TN, SC, TX, UT, VA, WI and WY
Despite recent roadblocks, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to restrict recreational marijuana use and the Veteran Administration’s refusal to study cannabis’s therapeutic benefit, legislation at the state and federal level is moving forward to allow or expand access to medical marijuana for those who need it.
“Americans should be encouraged by the progress being made,” explains Shaina Smith, director of state advocacy and alliance development for U.S. Pain Foundation. “Fortunately, Attorney General Sessions has only cracked down on recreational marijuana. Although there is some concern he might target medical cannabis, so far, we’re seeing a lot of positive action on medical marijuana bills in numerous states and at the federal level. But we need our advocates and ambassadors to step up and support the legislation being proposed.”
U.S. Pain believes people with chronic pain should have access to all safe, effective treatments, including medical cannabis. (You can read our full position statement on medical cannabis by visiting our medical cannabis advocacy page.)
With the help of our Co-Directors of Medicinal Cannabis, Ellen and Stu Smith, we have compiled resources to educate you on this valuable treatment option and how to advocate for it in your state.
During a Sept. 19 webinar for volunteers, Ellen Lenox Smith, co-director of U.S. Pain’s Medical Cannabis program and a leading national advocate for medical cannabis, presented on access to and advocacy for this promising treatment option.
Lenox Smith discussed included the benefits of cannabis, how to find out if you qualify in your state, and how to advocate for yourself if your state doesn’t have a program or the program is limited. If you missed the webinar, you can still watch the recording or download the presentation by clicking here.
On Sept. 19 at 1 pm EST, U.S. Pain will host its bimonthly webinar open to all volunteers and members. The first portion of the webinar provides an update from U.S. Pain’s department heads. The second portion will feature a presentation by Ellen Lenox Smith, U.S. Pain’s co-director of Medical Cannabis: “Why I turned to medical cannabis: An overview of cannabis use and activism.”
“The presentation is great for anyone who is interested in trying medical cannabis, but doesn’t know where to start,” says Lenox Smith.
U.S. Pain encourages advocates to take action to support the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act (S.1374/H.R.2920) by sending a letter to their legislators (click here to contact your legislator). The bill represents a major step forward for medical cannabis — it would move cannabis from a schedule I drug to a schedule II drug, reduce the role of the federal government in interfering with state medical cannabis programs, and enhance access for veterans.
Medical cannabis activists had an exciting month in April: on April 19, West Virginia became the 29th state to legalize medical marijuana, and, from April 7 to 11, many activists attended the largest conference dedicated to improving access to medical cannabis: the Americans for Safe Access (ASA) Unity Conference. Ellen Lenox Smith, U.S. Pain’s advocacy director of Medical Cannabis, was among the presenters at the four-day event, which was held in Washington, D.C.