Pesky Politics

Know what to look for in legislation.

Taken as an exercpt from Ganja Guide to Autoimmune Diseases.

Medical cannabis is definitely a hot topic in the United States.  Over half of our states have some medical cannabis laws on the books, and several have even legalized adult-use marijuana.  We should have the happiest and healthiest patients around.  So given the percentage of states that have some form of medical cannabis laws, why do Americans actually take more pills than most of the world?  The answer is simple.  Many of these laws are symbolic, others are designed to help less than 1% of their populations that need access, and others are so Draconian that patients have no access.   As you are helping to legalize, pay attention to these buzzwords and issues!  The presence or absence of these will determine the viability of your new or proposed law. 

States will outline which patients will have access to therapy.  Only a few pre-approved conditions usually apply, even in states with the most robust medical marijuana programs.  Epilepsy is on nearly all of these lists because that group is loud. All patients need to get loud to and make sure those designing and approving the legislation include your needs.  Don’t assume someone else will do it.

Where are you getting it????

            Make sure the bill introduced allows for production, distribution, and possession at the bare minimum.  Many programs like the one in Georgia may allow a patient to possess the cannabis, but getting it has proven problematic. Georgia is working on it, with new legislation passed in 2018. Keep in mind, those bills say you can get it from a state that allows for out-of-state transactions and commit a crime by transporting it home, but what patient can afford that travel expense?  Who needs jail time when there is a patient to care for?  Even trying in itself is a violation of some state laws.   There has to be a reciprocal agreement with another state that allows medical marijuana else there is truly no legal protection for the patient.  Without a legal means of production and distribution, the law is useless.  A local program for patients to access their medicine must be included in the bill.  Besides, think of the jobs?  You will need an ENTIRE industry of workers!

Who gets access?

Most of the programs passing now for both medical are low-access programs. They are over-regulated, high cost, and low variety programs like the ones found in Florida, New York, and Illinois. Cost is the single biggest barrier to patient access. As regulation increases, so does price. Some patients are reporting cannabis expenses over $1,000 a month to save their loved one’s life. Next hinges on proper dosing. For many conditions, dosing amounts can be high. Possession limits on medical programs are often more based on intoxication rather than any real dosing need. Third, restrictive programs often sacrifice variety. Cannabis is more than THC or CBD, and those small differences in chemical make up translate to a huge variety of effects. Having oils with THC or CBD are fabulous, but what about THCa, CBG, CBC, linalool, myrcene, pinene, and beta-caryophyllene? Patients who report success, often also report using a wide variety of strains to manage symptoms.

What is allowed?

Most research shows that the cannabinoids need each other to perform their duties effectively, and those ratios need to be individualized for each patient.  Passing low-THC laws contradicts current research about efficacy in illness. Even with epilepsy patients, very little respond to CBD only treatments.  It is a learning process like any other.  With any disease, you try to find the right combinations of medicine, diet, and lifestyle.  Each strain of cannabis is a different medicine with a different effect.  Patients should be allowed to find the ones that work for our particular illnesses.  CBD laws do not enable a patient to find the “just right” therapy for them.  While these laws are a start, they truly don’t accomplish the purpose of the law – to help end patient suffering.  Usually these laws are inspired by epilepsy patients, but what they don’t tell you is many cannabinoids are not intoxicating and the THC:CBD ratios need to be adjusted for seizure controlling attributes.  CBD alone will help some, but it truly is a small percentage. Make sure your program is as inclusive as possible, and keep working on it until it is. Your fight doesn’t end because the bill passed, it intensifies as competing interests fight for your consumer dollars.

Some states allow for all forms of cannabis medication to be sold in dispensaries, but others will only allow CBD oil. Watch for attempted bans on smokable cannabis, raw cannabis, cultivation, and edibles. All of these routes have been tried. Access to flower allows for the patient to target their therapy and keep costs down. While candy is appealing to all ages, edibles can be a valuable tool in the kit. They are metabolized by the liver and provide a stronger version of THC. Cultivation is needed for consistent access to acid forms. It will be up to you and your neighbors state to make sure the proposed bills contain as inclusive application as possible.

When will the medicine be in your hand?

            This is another clever way that politicians can trick you into thinking you have passed awesome legislation!  You looked and your bill outlines production and distribution!  YAY!!!!!  Or so Illinois thought!  Their legislation passed but it was several years before a dispensary openedThe patient registration process is expensive and invasive.  The debacle appeared as if the legislators never expected it to pass, and therefore never set up any framework.  The last several years, Illinois’ politicians have bickered over the nitty-gritty while patients still have little to no safe access to medical cannabis.  Had a specific implementation date been included in the original legislation, Illinois patients could have had results much sooner.  Many states have used this “unlimited time to decide” as a way of blocking programs that they didn’t agree with, similar to how Congress uses a filibuster.

Tax and Regulate

Beware of the tax and regulate recreational schemes popping up in the US.  The first 4 states that “legalized” recreational, have either lost, or are fighting for their medical programs.  Tax money becomes an intense lure, and states move to adopt one “retail” marijuana framework.  That framework is heavily taxed, over-regulated, and places medical dosing out of reach for the sickest patients. Law enforcement and  “concerned citizen” groups will bring restrictive bills in the legislature, slowly crippling the programs put in place by the patients.  Cannabis no longer becomes a medical therapy, but is treated more like alcohol and cigarettes.  Vice taxes begin to appear, then potency caps.  That is how prohibition started in the first place, the tax on hemp made it too expensive to grow. 

As you develop your medical program, be sure to include protections for patients like:

  • Never allowing for medical to be phased out in favor of a tax and regulate system. Put verbiage in your  legislation to prevent any recreational laws from impeding on medical. Make sure your recreational bills also reflect that it should never impact or blend with your medical program.
  • Your bills should specify “medical” and “recreational/adult-use” and always maintain those dual regulatory frameworks.  Use of the word “retail” opens the door for blending, and any restrictions passed using “retail” will eventually apply to your medical program.
  • Cultivation and caregiver systems promote free-market and keep costs reasonable for patients.
  • For more information, click here.

How can you help?

If any of these things appear sketchy in your bills, make sure you address them. 

  • Hold your legislators accountable. They work for you, not corporations or lobbyists. You have every right to connect any legislator. Contact all of them, and often. The more people who are aware, the better! 
  • Educate your citizens, including neighbors that don’t use cannabis. This area is largely ignored by activists, but is a key component to gaining public favor. If you don’t know how to start, send us a message.
  • Gain publicity. Call all your local news stations and get interviews done. Get as many citizens as possible to contact news outlets. The more press you have the better.
  • Organize “Patient Days” at the local State Capitol. Arrange for legislators to come meet patients or to have patients go to them. The more human they see us, the better chance of support we will have.

If you don’t think your voice matters, understand that every state cannabis program has come from citizen voices, and not lobbyists. While lobbyists and special interests are involved with cannabis, it is the voice of the people that mattered. To many are defeated without trying because they feel it is useless to bother. Bother. Access depends on it, and lives depend on it. Positive change never comes from a place of silence. Use your voice confidently and know you can make a difference. Entire hearing committees have been swayed based off one testimony. It could be yours.

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