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.

“Each state is taking a unique approach toward expanding the therapeutic option of medical cannabis,” says Ellen Lenox Smith, U.S. Pain Foundation’s co-director for Medical Cannabis. “Unfortunately, we still have states like Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, and Idaho that lack any program at all, which is where we come in.”

Lenox Smith says that the organization is pushing lawmakers in those states to introduce legislation that would allow qualifying patients to access cannabis to manage chronic conditions such as pain. “We’ve had 24 advocates in these five states step up and submit letters to their legislators through U.S. Pain’s online engagement,” Lenox Smith explains. “This number is a great start, but lawmakers need to continue hearing from their constituents to understand how supportive patients are to have the right to access various pain treatments, including cannabis.”

If you would like to advocate for a state medical cannabis program and reside in ID, KS, LA, NE, and SD, take action here.

For those states where patients are able to access cannabidiol (CBD), Lenox Smith says it’s a good step, but some people with chronic conditions find benefit from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in combination with CBD. “Kentucky lawmakers are finally starting to listen to constituents and have three bills pending to expand its medical cannabis program to allow THC products,” Lenox Smith says. “This is great to see progress in Kentucky, but more work needs to be done in the over one dozen other states that only allow access to CBD. It’s up to patient advocates to help their elected officials fully understand the efficacy of not only cannabis, but THC in its correct dosage proving beneficial for a number of residents.”

Lenox Smith notes that such advocacy efforts are effective, with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signing a bill into law that expands access for medical cannabis; practitioners can now recommend CBD or THC-A oil for any condition they think would be beneficial to patients. Previously, only those suffering from intractable epilepsy could qualify for CBD or THC-A oil.

Residents of AL, GA, IN, IA, KY, MS, MO, NC, OK, TN, SC, TX, UT, WI and WY have taken advantage of U.S. Pain’s online engagement, calling on their state legislature to allow full access to medical cannabis. A total of 230 letters have already been sent by 83 advocates across the 16 states. If you reside in one of those states and would like to help in expanding the cannabis program, join our effort here.

While many states have legalized cannabis for medical reasons, Lenox Smith says a large number do not define chronic pain as a qualifying condition to access medical cannabis. “We were disappointed that Illinois, for example, rejected adding chronic pain and we sent a letter of concern to the Governor,” she says. “However, we are inspired to keep fighting for patient rights in Illinois and other states that disregard the chronic pain community when legalizing medical cannabis.” Currently, 29 advocates residing in AR, CT, FL, IL, ME, MN, or WA submitted 79 letters to state representatives and senators through U.S. Pain’s campaign. For those who would like to expand their state’s list of qualifying conditions to include chronic pain, help make change here.

At the federal level, Congress continues to sit on the Marijuana Effective Drug Studies Act (MEDS Act), but that has not deterred 140 U.S. Pain volunteers and others from submitting a total of 206 letters of support to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The engagement is still open to those who encourage scientific research on cannabis as an effective and safe medical treatment. To improve medical research on this complementary therapy option, click here.