On Jan. 15, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on discrepancies between state and federal medical cannabis policy and federal roadblocks to clinical research. Many felt the conversation was long overdue.
“I honestly never dreamed I would see, in my lifetime, such progress and discussion on the need for more research on cannabis and CBD at the federal level,” says Ellen Lenox Smith, Co-Director of Medical Cannabis Advocacy for U.S. Pain Foundation. “But to my excitement, it happened, and it was a thorough discussion, lasting three and a half hours.”
A new federal bill would expand and coordinate scientific research of cannabidiol (CBD) or marijuana-derived products, allowing researchers to better understand their potential efficacy and safety. While medical cannabis is increasingly available in a number of states nationwide, too often, there is little clinical data available to help patients and health care providers make informed decisions about whether it would work well for their specific condition, or how much and what type to use.
An increasing number of states offer medical cannabis programs. In most cases, to be eligible, patients must be diagnosed with a specific condition listed by the state. Unfortunately, the list of qualifying conditions can be very limited, meaning a large number of people with chronic pain are left without access.
On July 17, the Hartford Courant published an op-ed by Ellen Lenox Smith–U.S. Pain Foundation board member and Medical Cannabis Co-Director–about Connecticut’s recent refusal to add chronic pain as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.
Ellen Lenox Smith is Co-Director of Medical Cannabis for U.S. Pain and a U.S. Pain Board Member. She lives with two rare conditions: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and sarcoidosis. After years of struggling to find pain relief without side effects or adverse reactions, she discovered medical cannabis.
A retired school teacher, Ellen is now a renowned patient advocate and works tirelessly to encourage safe, fair access to all treatment options, particularly medical cannabis. She has spoken at numerous conferences on cannabis access and been featured widely in the media on the topic. She is also the author of two books: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain—And Have A Good Life Anyway and My Life as a Service Dog.
Election Day was an exciting night for citizens hoping for legal access to medical cannabis. Both Missouri and Utah joined the list of states with medical cannabis programs, bringing the total of states with medical programs to 33, plus Washington, D.C.
Nine states now have recreational access: Michigan was among the states to approve recreational cannabis as part of the midterm elections, and while a recreational proposal in North Dakota did not pass, medical cannabis remains legal there. Finally, Wisconsin voters in 16 counties approved several advisory measures relating to cannabis, including measures to legalize medical cannabis, but the legislature must decide whether to act.
Policymakers across both aisles have had mixed viewpoints when it comes to cultivating cannabis, not in the literal sense, but as it relates to bills that would permit individuals to access medical cannabis. Several states, however, are expanding or considering expanding their medical cannabis programs, including Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. In addition, some federal institutions have taken steps to improve access: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Congress.
California has long been a harbinger of medical cannabis access. In 1996, it approved medical cannabis for patients with a physician’s recommendation, and in 2016, it legalized marijuana for all residents. Continuing to lead the way on this therapeutic treatment option, lawmakers are considering Assembly Bill 1996, which would establish a research program on the medical use of cannabis. It would be the first of its kind in the country.
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.
On May 23, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) awarded U.S. Pain with its inaugural “End Pain, Not Lives” Champion of the Year, a new award that recognizes the organization that best supports ASA’s effort to make it easier for people with pain, chronic pain, and opioid use disorder to utilize medical cannabis in their treatment plans. The award was presented at the Unity Awards Dinner, as part of ASA’s National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, D.C.
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Middletown, Conn. (May 4, 2018)—With the release of its eighth edition of the INvisible Project this month, U.S. Pain Foundation is tackling the stigma of medical cannabis. The issue features the raw but inspiring stories and photos of 10 individuals using cannabis to help manage their chronic health issues.