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.”

Smith is asking volunteers to participate in an online campaign to encourage Senators to back the Marijuana Effective Drug Studies Act (MEDS Act) of 2017. Introduced by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), S.1803 encourages scientific research on cannabis as an effective and safe medical treatment.

“Legitimate studies are needed to learn, understand and support how its use can be an effective alternative for safe medical treatment,” says Smith.

At the state  level, Tennessee recently joined Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and others to introduce medical cannabis legislation this year. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order that he says will “focus on expanding patient access.” Executive order number six was signed on Jan. 23 and notes that of the Garden State’s nine million residents, only about 15,000 are eligible to participate in the existing medical marijuana program.

“It’s inspiring to see states moving forward with sound legislation despite the barriers at the federal level,” says Smith. “Our role as an organization will be to once again ensure these proactive state lawmakers allow our patient population to qualify for and access medical cannabis.”

Advocacy groups and coalitions are working together to make the process easier for states to implement or improve medical cannabis programs. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) released its blueprint, Medical Cannabis as a Tool to Combat Pain and the Opioid Crisis, which will serve as an educational tool for advocates looking to see how their state measures up when it comes to its medical cannabis program. The blueprint also offers recommendations to enhance existing medical cannabis programs and model language for states considering the development of such a system for residents living with painful, invisible illnesses.

“Change is happening all around us this legislative session and it’s up to organizations like U.S. Pain to seize those opportunities and mold them into beneficial outcomes for people living with chronic conditions,” Smith adds.