Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Medical Cannabis Research For The Land of Enchantment: House Bill 155

House Bill 155: "Medical Cannabis Research"
Photo Credit: Whaxy

Now with 45 states having a medical cannabis programs, there has been a welcome increase in exploration of medical cannabis by academic institutions. Colorado State University-Pueblo launched an
Institute of Cannabis Research, backed by tax revenue from legalization. Revenue from legalization in California will also go to bring back to life the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California San Diego, which wrapped up funding from the state legislature several years ago. Jefferson University launched a Center for Medical Cannabis Education and Research ,which includes on its board Mahmoud El-Sohly, who is in charge of the Ole Miss federal medical cannabis farm. And in Louisiana, both state universities are making plans to become the first state universities to provide medical cannabis for a state medical cannabis program.

As many as nine other fully-accredited universities are now offering cannabis college courses and several more are developing them. Schools like the University of Colorado, Harvard, Hofstra, Oregon State University, Santa Clara University and Ohio State University- all offer cannabis courses that cover issues like cannabis business financing, cannabis economics, consumer demographics and job creation.
Photo Credit: UNM 1978

New Mexico’s medical cannabis history started in 1978.  Lynn Pierson, a 26 year old cancer patient,  brought the value of medical cannabis to the New Mexico legislature. After public hearings the legislature enacted H.B. 329, the nation’s first law recognizing the medical value of cannabis. Later renamed The Lynn Pierson Marijuana & Research Act set forth a program that had over 250 New Mexicans receiving medical cannabis through the University of New Mexico until 1986. Federal opposition and state bureaucratic opposition developed  thus ending the program in 1986.
Then in the early 2000’s, Erin Armstrong, a medical cannabis advocate who suffered from thyroid cancer, began to lobby the state legislature to pass a medical cannabis law.  Armstrong, a Santa Fe High and UNM grad, spent three years tirelessly advocating for the medical cannabis program we have today. The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, 2007, passed under Governor Bill Richardson and was lead in the state legislature by Senator Cisco McSorley.
In the New Mexico State House of Representatives, is one of the more important pieces of legislation in 2017 for the medical cannabis program and the medical cannabis community. Representatives Deborah A. Armstrong and Bill McCamley are sponsoring a Medical Cannabis Research bill, HB 155. A research assessment of physical and pharmacokinetic relationships in cannabis production and consumption in New Mexico hasn't ever been done in relation to Equivalency in Portion and Dosage for the medical cannabis program. The Medical Cannabis Research bill is a crucial one that lawmakers need to pass and the Governor should hopefully sign. As it pertains to the health and well being of over 40,000 New Mexicans, in addition to creating jobs in academic research and the development of new educational programs for the University of New Mexico.

Representative Armstrong’s daughter, Erin Armstrong, was a pivotal medical cannabis advocate, who suffered from thyroid cancer and that did not stop Erin, who began to lobby the state legislature to pass a medical cannabis law. Representative Deborah Armstrong represents district 17,  Bernalillo county, she was first elected to the House in 2014 and has a occupation as a consultant. Representative Armstrong had also tried getting a medical cannabis research bill passed in 2015. In the Roundhouse on the House chamber side, Representatives Bill McCamley,  Javier Martinez, and Deborah A. Armstrong- are all strong supporters of the medical cannabis program who want to see it to be protected and improved.

The Medical Cannabis Research bill, HB 155, would amend the current medical cannabis program law to provide for the research. This bill would create a “Cannabis Research Advisory Council”, a research fund and also limit liability for researchers to be able to do this. The "medical cannabis fund" is created in the state treasury. The fund consists of fees collected from the medical cannabis program and by the end of each month, ten percent of the fees collected by the department pursuant to the medical cannabis program during the previous thirty days shall be transferred to the cannabis research fund.

The "Cannabis Research Advisory Council" is created at the Health Sciences Center at the University of New Mexico to provide for research into the production, uses, effects and efficacy of medical cannabis. Members of the council as follows: one qualified patient; one licensed producer; one practitioner; one representative from a laboratory licensed in the state to test medical cannabis; one representative of the department; and any other individual whom the chancellor deems appropriate to advise the health sciences center in matters relating to cannabis research. Members of the council would serve five-year terms and every three years report to the legislative health and human services committee.

The DEA received the petition from Bryan Krumm in 2009, a Provider in New Mexico who helped draft the state’s medical cannabis law, (“Krumm Petition”), and the second from the then-governors of Rhode Island and Washington in 2011 (“Governor’s Petition”).
The Krumm Petition requested DEA to remove cannabis from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), asserting that:
1) Cannabis has accepted medical use in the United States;
2) Studies have shown that smoked cannabis has proven safety and efficacy;
3) Cannabis is safe for use under medical supervision; and
4) Cannabis does not have the abuse potential for placement in schedule.

The Governor’s Petition requested removal of cannabis and “related items” from schedule I and reschedule as “medical cannabis” in schedule II because cannabis has an accepted medical use in the United States; is safe for use under medical supervision; and for medical purposes has a relatively low potential for abuse, especially in comparison with other schedule II drugs.

Prior to initiating rescheduling proceedings both petitions require DEA to seek an opinion from Health and Human Services Dept. and determine whether the scheduling recommendation, scientific and medical evaluation and ‘all other relevant data’ constitute substantial evidence that the drug should be rescheduled as proposed. This review is commonly known as the “eight factor analysis.” The eight factors include:
1) The drug’s actual or relative potential for abuse;
2) The drug’s scientific evidence of its pharmacologic effect, if known;
3) The state of current scientific knowledge regarding the drug;
4) The drug’s history and current pattern of abuse;
5) The drug’s scope, duration, and significance of abuse;
6) The risk, if any, to public health;
7) The drug’s psychic or physiological dependence liability and
8) Whether the drug is an immediate precursor of a controlled substance.

Schedule II drugs that the US Government has concluded to be safer than cannabis, that can induce “severe psychological or physiological dependency,” include opioids and barbiturates such as adderall, cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, ritalin and vicodin. From 2000 to 2014 Schedule II drugs have killed over a million Americans from drug overdoses and yet cannabis has zero deaths associated with it. The DEA must be held accountable for the deaths they have caused by prohibiting access to this life saving medication. By continuing the total prohibition of cannabis, the DEA has demonstrated a complete disregard for human life and is violating fundamental rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.

For now, there remain two ways to change the federal government's classification of cannabis: for a host of federal agencies including the DEA and FDA to sign off on doing so; or for Congress to pass a law, and for the president to sign it.  Bryan Krumm  has appealed the DEA’s decision on his petition, review of this order has been docketed in the US Court of Appeals for the 10’th Circuit as 16-9557 Krumm v Drug Enforcement Administration.

Lifting the prohibition of medical cannabis will help to alleviate the suffering of millions of Americans and save countless lives.  It will allow much needed research to be conducted to determine which strains of cannabis are the best for treating psychiatric illnesses, curing cancer, treating chronic pain, preventing Alzheimer's and treating scores of other illnesses.  It will end the workplace discrimination of cannabis that has led to to job loss and denial of job opportunities to millions of Americans.

Medical Cannabis Research in 2017: A Battle Of States’ Rights

There have been several major developments for cannabis research in 2016 amidst unprecedented debate about marijuana’s medical potential among federal officials and congressional  lawmakers. The most significant growth in the cannabis industry happened during the eight years Barack Obama has been president. Before then, there were roughly a dozen states with medical cannabis laws and now that has more than doubled with several of those states formally allowing commercial adult use.

While Obama did not officially change federal policy around cannabis, his administration opted for a hands-off approach, deferring policy to states as a states’ rights issue through a series of Department of Justice memos. These memos essentially signaled to the states that the Department of Justice would likely only interfere if the cannabis activity in the states moved across borders, or into the hands of kids, for example. Outgoing President Obama also decided not to reschedule cannabis while in office, despite statements by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The interview was recently released as part of Frontline’s “Chasing Heroin” documentary.
“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled. You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate. So at a minimum, I think Congress needs to do that. Then I think we need to look at what happens in Colorado and what happens in Washington,” Holder said.

The most disappointing development was the DEA’s decision not to reschedule cannabis, leaving cannabis in Schedule 1, which means according to the federal government it is still considered to have no medical value and a high abuse potential. On the other, the government actually holds patents for the medical use of the cannabis plant. Since one part of the government applied for the patent of medical cannabis, and another part of the government approved that patent, it only logical to conclude that the federal government knows that marijuana does indeed have valid medical properties. The U.S. government’s own National Institutes of Health researchers even concluded: “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that Information on safety is lacking.” Maybe there are some big pharma lobbyists and bigwig campaign finance contributors that would get a little upset.

A positive development was the decision to, for the first time, to license more than one entity to grow cannabis for research, opening a four decades long ban. The University of Mississippi has had an exclusive license with the US government to be the only one to grow cannabis for federally sanctioned research.

While no other university has been federally approved to grow cannabis for research yet, one researcher in the running is Lyle Craker, who studies medicinal plants at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and has also tried in the past to get approval to grow cannabis to research. So far almost a dozen agricultural schools, including those with industrial hemp programs, are reluctant in their eagerness to grow cannabis for the federal government as found out by the Boston Media Group. Not interested, said Cornell University, the University of Kentucky, and Virginia Tech. Ditto, said Michigan State University, the University of Vermont, and Western Kentucky University. No plans, said University of California- Davis, and University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Same with Colorado State University, Oregon State University, and Purdue University.

To register for research with the DEA, applicants will need to show that they will have security measures in place to protect the cannabis and be willing to comply with a host of other requirements. And depending on the scale of the operation, prospective growers will likely have to make significant investments to get it up and running. The agency has indicated it wants just enough cannabis to be produced so research demands are met, but not more than that. Nor did the agency set any kind of deadline to select growers indicating a multi-year process.

State governments recognize the injustice of this cannabis prohibition. Soon after the DEA gave its decision, Washington state, in an announcement demonstrated perhaps the boldest act of states’ rights yet for cannabis.  As The News Tribune reported: “Washington state is moving ahead with its plans to allow scientific research of marijuana, sidestepping federal rules that critics say have hampered study of the drug for decades. The state has a new marijuana research license that will allow laboratories to grow marijuana for scientific study. State officials expect to start accepting applications for the new license by January.”

As Sam Méndez, executive director of the Cannabis Law & Policy Project at the University of Washington School of Law, points out: “It can take up to two years just to get the federal licenses in the first place, because the process is so long and onerous.” And, when a researcher finally does get a federal license, the only place they can get research-grade cannabis is from the University of Mississippi. Further, when discoveries are made about the medicinal properties of cannabis, they cannot be applied to state-level systems. Washington’s state licensing program will bypass these absurd hurdles, and will open the door for private research facilities to conduct research as well as state universities. Research-grade cannabis can be sourced from within the state from a variety of qualified producers. Oregon is also working to develop similar licenses to allow for cannabis research.

In Louisiana,  Louisiana State University and Southern University both agreed to provide medical cannabis for the state’s medical program. LSU’s agriculture vice president even suggested to the Washington Times, without getting into specifics, that he has had assurance that federal funds wouldn’t be at risk if the university went ahead with their plans. If that program goes forward, it would be a significant development and perhaps open the door for other universities that want to take a role in cannabis cultivation and research. The U.S. Patent Office issued patent #6630507 to the U.S.Health and Human Services filed on 2/2/2001. The patent lists the use of certain cannabinoids found within the cannabis sativa plant as useful in certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and HIV dementia.

Since cannabis sativa (marijuana) contains compounds recognized and endorsed by an agency of the U.S. government- Why is it that marijuana remains on the Federal Schedule One list of drugs? The issuance of patent #6630507 is a direct contradiction of the government’s own definition for classification of a Schedule 1 drug.  
Nowhere in the US Constitution is it written that the federal government can regulate cannabis. The Constitution defines the powers of the federal government, and according to the Tenth Amendment, if it’s not in the Constitution, it’s a state power. Additionally, states have traditionally held “police power”, or the right to regulate crime within their respective jurisdiction. Yet, there are federal laws that regulate cannabis, and under the Supremacy Clause, federal law supersedes state law. If this power isn’t in the constitution, how does the federal government justify regulation? The Commerce Clause of the Constitution is used to justify federal regulation of cannabis.
“To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”
Some critics argue that, in theory, the commerce clause can give the government authority to force people to eat vegetables and brush their teeth in an effort to reduce medical costs, which are linked to nationwide insurance companies.

States’ rights have advanced state medical cannabis programs since the 1970’s and paved the way for states with legal adult use of cannabis, states should continue on that same policy path for the issue of cannabis research. States like Washington and Oregon should get full commendations on leading the way for states’ rights in the act of “legislating” for freedom by breaking tyrannical barriers for research on a plant with so much promise. Prohibition of cannabis is not a fundamental right that should be imposed on the states by the federal government, it’s a choice that states should be allowed to make based on their culture and their values-allowing states to once again be laboratories of democracy.

"...a state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." - Justice Louis Brandeis