Medical Cannabis Policy Update - Spring '08
Ninth Circuit to Decide Whether Courts Can Review Federal Agency Statements
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will have a chance to decide if the federal government is legally required to tell the truth -- in this case, about the medical uses of marijuana. It will be the first test of a little-known law that says the information government agencies disseminate must be accurate.
At issue are statements issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that deny the medical value of marijuana. Despite the fact that numerous scientific studies demonstrate the medical value of marijuana, including the National Academy of Science's own Institute of Medicine's 1999 report, the federal government continues to insist that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States." In fact, HHS' website completely ignores the research, noting that "there have been no studies that have scientifically assessed the efficacy of marijuana for any medical condition." These statements continue to be repeated by federal officials and disseminated by HHS on federal government websites.
More than three years ago, Americans for Safe Access, acting on behalf of the patients who use marijuana therapeutically and the doctors who advise them to do so, filed a request with HHS for correction of information under the Data Quality Act. That request is now winding its way through the courts in a test of the law it was filed under.
There is considerable interest in the case because the Data Quality Act is a federal statute that require agencies to establish mechanisms to ensure the accuracy of the information they disseminate to the public. In compliance with this mandate, HHS and the Office of Management and Budget have guidelines that provide for the right of persons adversely affected by false statements by federal agencies to petition for a correction of that information.
But after two years of delay, HHS denied ASA's petition on a technicality, stating only that it would refer the matter to the DEA in connection with a new rescheduling petition.
Believing this inaction to be an evasion of the department's responsibility under the law, ASA took its case to federal court. Oddly, the District Court sided with the government, finding that no one can bring a cause of action based on the denial of a request for correction of information under the Data Quality Act. The court's ruling essentially says that this law is merely advisory.
Because the District Court's decision conflicts with years of precedent established by the federal courts about the reviewability of administrative actions under the Administrative Procedure Act, ASA is pursuing its case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit will be asked whether Congress's Data Quality Act has any teeth or, alternatively, can be disregarded at will by federal agencies.
Briefs are scheduled to be complete by summer and the case will likely
be heard this coming fall or winter.
2007 was a challenging year for state medical cannabis programs. Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted raids and continued to interfere with medical cannabis laws in California, Oregon, Washington, and New Mexico. Federal law enforcement activity peaked in California, where there are more patients and providers than anywhere else in the country. The number of DEA raids in California more than doubled in 2007, totaling more the fifty separate incidents. More alarming for patients were the two "super raids" - coordinated raids in January and July in which as many as twelve medical cannabis providers were hit at one time.
Last year also marked new federal criminal indictments of medical cannabis providers in Oakland, Los Angeles, Corona, and Morro Bay. These indictments included a physician in Southern California, Dr. Armand Tollette, Jr, who is a high profile and controversial medical cannabis specialist.
The DEA also broadened its targets to include law-abiding property owners. Beginning in the summer and continuing today, the DEA has issued more than 300 letters threatening the landlords of California's growing number of medical cannabis dispensaries with criminal prosecution and Civil Asset Forfeiture. The letters have already forced dozens of otherwise unwarranted evictions, restricting safe access in some communities.
The problems created by increased raids and new intimidation tactics were not lost on Democratic leadership in Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others heard an unprecedented outcry from constituents demanding a federal response. In December, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers published a statement condemning the DEA tactics and promising an investigation as part of his Committee's oversight responsibilities. ASA staff continues to work closely Congressional offices in Washington, DC to convene oversight hearings concerning DEA ongoing interference and heightened enforcement tactics.
In the meantime, medical cannabis patients and advocates in California are making themselves heard. Last fall, supporters sent 40,000 postcards to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office asking him to defend patients and the will of California voters. On October 5, ASA staff and a representative from Los Angeles City Council Member Dennis Zine's office met privately with the Governor's staff in Los Angeles to discuss how the governor could help patients. Just six days later, more than 300 supporters rallied in front of the governor's Los Angles office to reinforce the message - "Governor Schwarzenegger: Stand Up for Medical Marijuana!"
In February, during a follow-up meeting with the Governor's office in Sacramento, ASA was able to demonstrate to the Governor's staff the groundswell of support from local officials calling on him to take action. On the day ASA representatives met with the Governor's office, the San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed coauthored by state Senator Carole Migden and Board of Equalization Chair Betty Yee. The Board of Equalization, which is charged with assessing and collecting sales tax in California, is particularly concerned that federal interference and continued intimidation could jeopardize sales tax revues form dispensaries, which totaled $100 million dollars in 2007.
Senator Migden and Yee are not the only elected officials to speak out in response to the concerns of patients and advocates. Los Angeles City Council Member Dennis Zine, who is also a veteran of that city's police department, was one of the first to speak out against federal interference and reach out to the Governor. He was joined by another prominent Republican, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, who spoke up after a growing and vocal ASA Chapter made medical cannabis an issue in that historically conservative county. The DEA and Governor have also heard from Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, and hundreds of patients and advocates.
Supporting local officials as they speak up has been a key part of encouraging
Congressional opposition to the DEA's assault on medical access for patients.
Local ASA chapters have been active in building this grassroots support
- and in escalating resistance to DEA tactics. ASA's new text message
alert system lets activists know about DEA raids in their community within
minutes. This lets local chapters turn out protesters to shine a media
spotlight on DEA raids and, in some cases, use non-violent civil disobedience
to resist. One year of continuous federal attacks have bred a new spirit
of radicalism in California ASA chapters - and reinvigorated ASA's oldest
grassroots project, the emergency response protest. Federal agents attempting
to interfere with California's medical cannabis program will face energized
activists in the streets of California in 2008.
2007 marked a sea change in Americans for Safe Access' federal advocacy and grassroots campaigns, marked by new initiatives to expand medical cannabis research, support for Congressional efforts to end DEA interventions in state medical cannabis programs, and a dramatic expansion of ASA's chapters and affiliates.
ASA chapters and affiliates nearly doubled last year. ASA now has more than 60 active chapters and affiliates across the nation. As reflected on the map (see insert), new chapters and affiliates have not only spread across California, but also in the Northwest, Midwest, Northeast, and in some parts of the South.
ASA's chapters and affiliates are the cornerstone of the organization's national policy agenda. Grassroots organizers continue to participate in proactive campaigns designed to educate national policy makers about the need to establish federal legal protections for medical cannabis patients and their providers, increase FDA-approved research beginning with the full implementation of the Institute of Medicine recommendations, and develop comprehensive and national plan to provide safe access to medical marijuana for qualified individuals who suffer serious or chronic illness.
A key component to ASA's proactive national campaign has been advocating for better access to marijuana for FDA-approved research projects. In May of 2007, Representatives John Olver (D-MA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) co-sponsored a congressional sign-on letter to the DEA in support of that. The letter urges the agency to accept Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner's February 2007 Opinion and Recommended Ruling in support of Prof. Lyle Craker, UMass-Amherst, who seeks a license to grow marijuana exclusively for FDA-approved research. The UMass-Amherst facility would provide the first independent, non-government source of marijuana for scientific research since 1968.
To support Representatives Olver and Rohrabacher, ASA's national staff, chapters, and affiliates quickly organized the Fight Gridlock! Support Research campaign which helped convince 45 Members of the House of Representatives to co-sign the letter.
Another component of ASA's national grassroots efforts has been alliance building with other patient organizations to further ASA's national goals. In 2007, several of ASA's chapters and affiliates spearheaded outreach efforts to local groups representing individuals who could benefit from use of medical cannabis, including HIV/AIDS organizations, local MS chapters, and others. Outreach included information tables at local and national condition-based conferences and fairs, participation in team walk-a-thons, and small group presentations designed to raise awareness about the need to take a closer look at the therapeutic use of marijuana and the need for more research.
This year, ASA is building on last year's success and creating an even stronger contingency in states where medical cannabis is not yet legal to underscore the need for federal solutions. To read more about the 2007 achievements in the field, download ASA's 2007 National Field Report.
Certain types of heart disease may be treatable with the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), according to findings of researchers in Israel. The study tested the effect of CBD on ischemic rat hearts and discovered that "CBD induces a substantial in vivo cardioprotective effect from ischemia."
Researchers conclude that CBD may offer new treatments for human ischemic heart diseases, particularly since "CBD has previously been administered to humans without causing side effects."
Durst R, et al. "Cannabidiol, a nonpsychoactive Cannabis constituent,
protects against myocardial ischemic reperfusion injury." Am J Physiol
Heart Circ Physiol. 2007 Dec;293(6):H3602-7.
A smokeless delivery device for "vaporizing" cannabinoids for inhalation has been found "safe and effective" by researchers at San Francisco General Hospital. Inhalation is a preferred delivery method for many drugs, as the rapid onset of effects provides immediate relief and allows better titration, or dosage control, by patients than oral administration, which can take as much as an hour to reach full effect. The device works by heating cannabis plant material to a point just below smoke-producing combustion but still hot enough to release the therapeutic chemicals the plant contains. The study notes that vaporization resulted in higher concentrations of THC compared to smoked cannabis; other studies have found that a significant portion of the active ingredients are lost in smoking.
D I Abrams, et al. "Vaporization as a Smokeless Cannabis Delivery
System: A Pilot Study." Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics
(2007) 82, 572-578.
New research shows that osteoporosis, a degenerative bone condition afflicting 10 million Americans over age 50, may be treatable with cannabinoids. Researchers at the Bone Laboratory at Hebrew University of Jerusalem found that the body's natural endocannabinoid system helps control how the body replaces old bone with new growth. In the study, activating CB2 cannabinoid receptors in mice reduced bone loss and stimulated bone formation. This would seem to confirm early studies that showed faster bone loss in mice that had fewer CB2 receptors. The researchers concluded that synthetic cannabinoids that target those CB2 receptors could provide effective treatment for osteoporosis.
Bab IA. "Regulation of skeletal remodeling by the endocannabinoid
system." Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Nov;1116:414-22.
Cannabis has been commonly recommended to help people with HIV/AIDS combat
nausea and appetite loss, and numerous studies have shown it to be an
effective treatment. A new Columbia University study, the first in nearly
20 years to examine cannabis' efficacy, has shown that not only is smoked
cannabis effective, it's substantially more so than Marinol, the synthetic
oral drug, in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Patients in the
trial gained almost 2.5 lbs over four days. To produce similar weight
gain, Marinol had to be given in doses eight times higher than current
Haney M, et al. "Dronabinol and marijuana in HIV-positive marijuana smokers. Caloric intake, mood, and sleep." J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2007 Aug 15;45(5):545-54.
A statistical study has found that passing state laws legalizing the medical use of cannabis does not increase the drug's recreational use. Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, looked at two "high-risk" groups (ER patients and arrestees) in four states, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Researchers reported that "the introduction of medical cannabis laws was not associated with an increase in cannabis use." This finding confirms a study of states with medical marijuana laws conducted by the US General Accounting Office (GAO), which found that legalizing medical cannabis has not led to increased recreational use. The GAO report on the experience of four, early-adopting medical cannabis states can be viewed here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03189.pdf.
Dennis M. Gorman and J. Charles Huber Jr. "Do medical cannabis laws encourage cannabis use?" International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 18, Issue 3, May 2007, Pages 160-167.
Doctors, patients, and researchers from around the world are gearing up for the 5th National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, hosted by Patients Out of Time on April 4-5. The theme is "Re-Entering Mainstream Medicine. "
Several members of ASA's Medical and Scientific Advisory Board have been asked to present at the conference, including Philippe Lucas whose talk will be “Putting the Compassion in Compassion Clubs.” This cutting edge conference is an excellent opportunity for patients, and their physicians, to learn about exciting and important developments in research.
Started in 2000, the Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics is the only national conference organized specifically by patients where attendees will learn about the scientific evidence supporting the therapeutic use of cannabis. It offers the opportunity to meet, network, and share experienced with a diverse national gathering of patients, doctors, researchers and medical cannabis supporters.
The 5th National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, April 4-5, 2008 is being held at Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California.
For more information, see their website at www.medicalcannabis.com/conference.htm