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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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