Biden Signs Bill To Expand Medical Cannabis Research

President Joe Biden added his signature last week to a bipartisan bill that seeks to broaden and streamline research into medical cannabis. 

Dubbed the “Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act,” the law “establishes a new registration process for conducting research on marijuana and for manufacturing marijuana products for research purposes and drug development,” according to a release on Friday from the White House

Despite medical marijuana’s ubiquity throughout the country, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, which has hamstrung the potential for research into the area. The newly signed bill aims to change that. 

It passed the United States Senate last month with bipartisan support after it won approval in the U.S. House of Representatives with the Democratic and Republican votes in July. 

It is the byproduct of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, which celebrated Biden’s signing of the bill on Friday.

The group of lawmakers touted the measure as “the first standalone federal marijuana reform law enacted since the adoption of the Controlled Substances Act in 1971.”

The law aims to “facilitate research on marijuana and its potential health benefit…by streamlining the application process for scientific marijuana studies and removing existing barriers for researchers that frequently slow the research process.” 

“For decades, the federal government has stood in the way of science and progress—peddling a misguided and discriminatory approach to cannabis. Today marks a monumental step in remedying our federal cannabis laws. The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act will make it easier to study the impacts and potential of cannabis,” Cannabis Caucus Co-Chairs Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and Brian Mast (R-FL) said in a joint statement following Biden’s signing. “Research is foundational for the path forward on cannabis policy. Research is essential to better understand the therapeutic benefits of cannabis that have the potential to help millions of Americans struggling with chronic pain, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, anxiety disorders and more.”

“We celebrate the enactment of this critical and long-overdue legislation, and we know there is much more to do to remedy the ongoing harms of the failed war on drugs,” the chairs added. 

In the other chamber, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California said that there is “substantial evidence that marijuana-derived medications can and are providing major health benefits,” and that the bill “will make it easier to study how these medications can treat various conditions, resulting in more patients being able to easily access safe medications.”

“We know that cannabidiol-derived medications can be effective for conditions like epilepsy. This bill will help refine current medical CBD practices and develop important new applications. After years of negotiation, I’m delighted that we’re finally enacting this bill that will result in critical research that could help millions,” Feinstein said. 

The group of lawmakers said that the caucus “will continue working to reimagine the federal government’s approach to cannabis and enact further reforms,” including “the SAFE Banking package, the Veterans Equal Access Act, the PREPARE Act, and the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act.”

It marks the second action that Biden has taken on federal marijuana policy in the last two months. In October, the president announced pardons for those who have previously been convicted of simple pot-related offenses under federal law. 

In addition, Biden also signaled his desire to move toward federal decriminalization, saying he has directed cabinet officials to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, which enshrines federal prohibition on pot.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said in his announcement. “Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

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Nevada Medical Pot Patients Can Sue Former Employer If Fired, Court Rules

If you’re a medical cannabis patient in Nevada, smoke up: medical cannabis patients in the state were recently empowered to consume cannabis on their own time after a landmark decision in court.

On December 1, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that employees in the state have the right to sue their former employees if they were terminated for consuming cannabis off the clock. Keep in mind, however, that adult-use cannabis consumers in the state aren’t exactly provided the same protections.

The ruling dates back three years, when Jim Roushkolb filed the lawsuit in the Eighth District Court in November 2019.

“It relaxes me,” Roushkolb told FOX affiliate KTNV, who suffers from PTSD and numerous other conditions. In 1995, Roushkolb was severely attacked when a former inmate assaulted him in his car as a corrections officer in Ohio.

“He opened the door, and he grabbed me, and he just hit me in the head with a pipe,” he said, “and just started beating me in the head, and he took his thumb and jammed it in my eye like that and tore my retina.”

Roushkolb used cannabis to ease PTSD symptoms and anxiety, but then in 2018, his employer, Freeman Expositions LLC, fired him on the spot after he tested positive for THC, which he was taking legally as a medical cannabis patient in Nevada.

His attorney Christian Gabroy immediately recognized a clear-cut case. 

“The company acted discriminatory, this company violated his rights, and this multi-jurisdictional, multi-million dollar company, they terminated him in violation of Nevada law,” Gabroy said.

Not the Same For Adult-Use in Nevada

Recreational cannabis smokers in Nevada might not get the same outcome in court. NORML pointed out last September that recreational cannabis consumers and patients are subject to a different set of parameters.

Nevada law limits employers from punishing workers who are enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis access program. Furthermore, a 2019 law makes it “unlawful for any employer in [Nevada] to fail or refuse to hire a prospective employee because the prospective employee submitted to a screening test and the results of the screening test indicate the presence of marijuana.” 

But good luck fighting it in court if you’re fired for a drug test. As it turns out—there’s plenty of legal precedent on the matter: Just last August, the Nevada Supreme Court denied a similar lawsuit for an employee fired for testing positive for THC.

The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss a complaint by an employee who was fired for testing positive for THC for a routine test after getting in an accident.  

In the case of Ceballos v. NP Palace, LLC, the employee said that the positive THC result was due to his use of recreational cannabis at home, and that he was not intoxicated or impaired at work, complying with state law. 

Nevada law under NRS 613.333(1) makes it unlawful for employers to “[d]ischarge . . . any employee . . . because the employee engage[d] in the lawful use in this state of any product outside the premises of the employer during the employee’s nonworking hours” so long as “that use does not adversely affect the employee’s ability to perform his or her job or the safety of other employees.”

However, Nevada judges ruled that federal law—and the federal status of cannabis—also applies in that clause, and the plaintiff’s complaint was denied. A similar decision was reached by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2015. Using this logic, however, medical cannabis would also be illegal under federal law.

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Minnesota Adds New Qualifying Conditions to Medical Cannabis Program

The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Wednesday that the agency will add irritable bowel syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder to the list of qualifying medical conditions for participation in the state’s medical cannabis program. Under state law, the addition of the new qualifying conditions will become effective beginning on August 1, 2023, according to state officials.

“We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement from the health department.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, as well as irregular bowel movements that can result in diarrhea, constipation, both diarrhea and constipation, or bloating. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurring, intrusive thoughts that often cause significant emotional distress and anxiety in those living with the disorder. This can lead to repetitive actions or other behaviors that those affected by the condition feel compelled to perform to reduce that distress.

“Research has shown that people who suffer from these conditions can see benefits from using medical cannabis to treat their symptoms,” the health department wrote. 

The new qualifying conditions offer a modest expansion to the state’s medical cannabis program, with an estimated 10% of adults having IBS and 1% meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCD, according to media reports. 

Minnesota Patients Support Adding New Conditions

In public comments on the petitions to add IBS and obsessive-compulsive disorder to Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, a man identified by the initials RH described himself as a working professional with a wife and two daughters.

“My daily life consists of constant fear and stress,” said RH, who noted he has OCD. “Practically the only time I am free of the symptoms is when I am sleeping.”

Under state rules, patients certified for the newly approved qualifying medical conditions will become eligible to enroll in the state’s medical cannabis program on July 1, 2023. Patients will be able to receive medical cannabis from either of the state’s two medical cannabis manufacturers beginning on August 1, 2023. Patients who wish to use medical marijuana to treat any of the state’s qualifying conditions need advance certification from a participating Minnesota healthcare provider.

Opioid Use Disorder Not Approved

The health department declined to approve petitions to add opioid use disorder and gastroparesis, a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of the stomach muscles, to Minnesota’s list of conditions that qualify a patient to use medical marijuana. The petition not to add gastroparesis was not approved as a qualifying medical condition because research indicates that cannabis can make the condition worse.

Chris Tholkes, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis, said that the decision not to add opioid use disorder was a difficult one, noting that limited access to existing treatment options, such as methadone clinics, in some geographic areas was one factor that supported approval of the petition.

“We did struggle with this one,” Tholkes told the Star Tribune, adding that medical providers were concerned that “introducing another type of drug could lead to relapse. And in the case of opioid use, relapse can be fatal.”

The decision not to approve opioid use disorder comes as Minnesota and the nation remain in the grips of an opioid overdose death epidemic. Many public comments revealed success in substituting marijuana for opioids.

“After having gone (through) nine years of painkiller use under medical prescription for pain, I know that the use of cannabis would help ease the withdrawal side of it,” said a commenter, identified publicly by the initials TB. “I only use cannabis now.”

When Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation creating the state’s medical cannabis program in 2014, the law included nine conditions that qualified a patient to receive medical cannabis. With the new additions, the list of qualifying conditions will be 19. Current qualifying conditions include chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cancer in certain circumstances, glaucoma, and other serious medical conditions.

More than 39,000 Minnesotans are enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, up from 29,000 in 2021. Almost all registered participants are qualified because of intractable or chronic pain, and about a third for PTSD. Muscle spasms, cancer, and sleep apnea are also common qualifying conditions.

New Conditions Considered Annually

Each year, the health department conducts a formal petition process to solicit public input on potential qualifying medical conditions and delivery methods, followed by a public comment period and a review panel.

Under state rules, the commissioner of health is required to annually consider new petitions to add qualifying medical conditions and cannabis delivery methods. No petitions for new delivery methods were submitted this year.

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900 Mississippians Approved for Medical Cannabis as Program Takes Shape

Mississippi’s fledgling medical cannabis program is slowly but surely coming together, with state officials targeting early next year for the opening of the first dispensaries. 

Local news station WLBT reports that “900 Mississippians have already applied and been certified for their medical marijuana cards,” and that there is hope for the first dispensaries to open their doors early next year.

The state began accepting applications for medical cannabis cards in June.

Mississippi legalized a medical cannabis program earlier this year after the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, signed a bill into law.

“The ‘medical marijuana bill’ has consumed an enormous amount of space on the front pages of the legacy media outlets across Mississippi over the last three-plus years,” Reeves said in a statement following the bill signing. “There is no doubt that there are individuals in our state who could do significantly better if they had access to medically prescribed doses of cannabis. There are also those who really want a recreational marijuana program that could lead to more people smoking and less people working, with all of the societal and family ills that that brings.”

The governor’s signature marked the culmination of a multi-year legislative process after voters in the state approved a ballot measure in 2020 to legalize medical marijuana treatment there. 

The state Supreme Court struck down the voter-approved measure, deeming it unconstitutional on a technicality, prompting lawmakers in Mississippi to draft their own medical cannabis proposal. 

Reeves, who was opposed to the 2020 ballot measure, engaged with the legislature on the bill, at one point insisting that lawmakers impose a limit for patients to receive 2.7 grams per day.

The legislation that arrived on his desk earlier this year, however, allowed patients to purchase up to 3.5 grams as many as six times per week. It passed the legislature with a veto-proof majority.

“I have made it clear that the bill on my desk is not the one that I would have written,” Reeves said in his statement at the time. “But it is a fact that the legislators who wrote the final version of the bill (the 45th or 46th draft) made significant improvements to get us towards accomplishing the ultimate goal.”

The governor did, however, applaud a number of provisions in the new law.

“1. Reduces the total amount that any one individual can receive to 3 oz. per month. This one change will reduce the total amount by 40 percent from the original version (I asked for 50 percent). Said differently, there will be hundreds of millions of fewer joints on the streets because of this improvement,” Reeves said at the time. “2. The medical professional can only prescribe within the scope of his/her practice. And they have to have a relationship with the patient. And it requires an in-person visit by the patient to the medical professional. 3. Only an MD or DO can prescribe for kids under 18 and only with the consent of a parent/legal guardian. 4. An MD or DO must prescribe for young adults between the ages of 18-25. 5. The MSDH will promulgate rules regarding packaging and advertising, and I have confidence they will do so in a way that limits the impact on our young people. 6. Prohibits any incentives for the Industry from the Mississippi Development Authority. 7. Protects our churches and schools from having a marijuana dispensary within fewer than 1,000 feet of their location.”

Reeves thanked the lawmakers for their efforts, and expressed hope that “we can put this issue behind us and move on to other pressing matters facing our state.”

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Arkansas Regulators Revoke Medical Cannabis Cultivator’s License

Regulators in Arkansas on Monday revoked a medical marijuana cultivator’s license to operate after a judge ruled earlier this month that the state erred when it granted the license two years ago. Doralee Chandler, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration and the head regulator of the state Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC), revoked the license from medicinal cannabis cultivator River Valley Relief (RVR) on November 28 at a hearing that lasted nearly an hour.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission granted RVR a license to cultivate medicinal cannabis in July 2020, making the company the last of eight growers authorized by the state. But another company, 2600 Holdings, filed a lawsuit in January 2021, arguing that RVR should not have been granted the cultivation license. The plaintiff asked the court to disqualify River Valley Relief and award the license to 2600 or provide other relief under the Arkansas Administrative Procedures Act.

Attorneys for 2600 argued that the MMC had illegally granted the license to Nolan Storm, the owner of RVR, during the state’s second round of cultivator licensing. They maintained that the action violated state law because Storm’s license application was no longer valid and the site for the cultivation operation was too close to Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center. The plaintiff argued that the site violated state requirements that medical marijuana facilities be located at least 3,000 feet from schools, churches, and daycare centers.

The case was litigated for the state by attorneys for the DFA, which submitted a 36-page brief disputing 2600’s filing. Nolan and his legal representatives were blocked from participating in the case by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herb Wright. 

Earlier this month, Wright ruled that 2600 had proven its case and should be granted relief, ordering that RVR’s license be revoked. The judge decided that the MMC’s action had exceeded the agency’s authority, which is referred to as an “ultra vires” act.

“Plaintiff has, therefore, met its burden in showing that the undisputed facts of the case, viewed in a light most favorable to Defendants, prove that the plaintiff is entitled to relief,” Wright noted in his ruling handed down on November 3. “Defendants have acted unreasonably, unlawfully, and capriciously by awarding Nolan a license.”

“An effort was clearly made by the MMC to give Nolan thread to stitch up the holes in the RVRC application,” Wright continued in his decision. “Whether that was fair or unfair to any of the applicants, it was at minimum an unconstitutional and ultra vires act.”

Arkansas License Revoked at Hearing on Monday

At a Monday hearing of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), the MMC oversight agency, Nolan and his attorney Matthew Horan argued that Wright’s decision contained important errors. Nolan addressed each point while under oath during the hearing, saying that he was trying to abide by the state Medical Marijuana Commission’s rules and the guidelines of officials including the secretary of state. Among other points, the attorney argued that the cultivation site, which is 2,400 feet from the youth detention center, did not violate MMC regulations.

“There is no evidence anywhere that the detention center is operated by a public school,” Horan said, adding that the Arkansas Department of Education issued a letter saying the juvenile facility was not a school. But Chandler noted that the hearing was being held solely for the purpose of deciding on the license revocation and refused to reconsider matters settled by the court case.

“We’re not here to litigate matters over any other location,” Chandler told Nolan, according to a report from the Arkansas Times. “You need to worry about your permit and your application.”

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the DFA, said in a statement that the formal license revocation order would likely be issued no later than the end of the week, according to a report from Arkansas news site Talk Business & Politics.

Hardin also noted that Nolan has appealed Chandler’s administrative decision to revoke the license. The appeal temporarily halts the license until after a hearing by the full board overseeing Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control. The next hearing of the board is scheduled for December 21, meaning that RVR will be able to continue operating at least until that time.

After Monday’s hearing, Nolan said that the case would be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“River Valley Relief Cultivation has appealed the Pulaski Circuit Court decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court,” Nolan said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “RVRC has asked that proceedings be stayed until the appeal is heard. We await the decision of the Supreme Court.” 

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Pennsylvania Starts Program Providing Financial Assistance to Low-Income Cannabis Patients

Certain low-income senior citizens in Pennsylvania will receive financial assistance for their medical cannabis treatment thanks to a newly launched pilot program in the state. 

According to Capitol Wire, the state’s Department of Health launched the program “to offer $50 a month in financial assistance to help almost 1,400 senior citizens afford the cost of medical marijuana.”

“The payments are the first step toward establishing a third phase for the financial assistance program authorized to help low-income medical marijuana patients afford the drug. Because insurance companies don’t include medical marijuana in their prescription drug coverage, medical marijuana patients are left to pony up the full cost of medical marijuana when they visit the state’s dispensaries,” Capitol Wire reported.

Even so, that’s a small portion of the pool of patients who are potentially eligible for the discount, with Capitol Wire reporting that the state “doesn’t have sufficient funding to provide meaningful assistance to all of the patients identified as being low-income.”

The launch of the financial assistance marks the third phase of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program (MMAP), which was initiated earlier this year. 

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, “Phase 1 [eliminated] annual card fees for eligible participants registered in an existing Commonwealth financial hardship program; Phase 2 [eliminated] all background check fees for eligible caregivers; [and] Phase 3 will distribute a to-be-determined benefit amount per funding period per eligible patient.”

The Department of Health said that “Medical Marijuana Program Fund was created as a special fund in the State Treasury. The Office of Medical Marijuana was tasked with assisting patients by using an allotted percentage of this fund to establish…A program to assist with the cost of providing medical marijuana to patients who demonstrate financial hardship or need…A program to assist patients and caregivers with the cost associated with the waiver or reduction of fees for identification card…[and a] program to provide for the cost of background checks for caregivers.”

The cost of medical cannabis has been a concern for officials in Pennsylvania

Earlier this year, John Collins, the former director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana, sounded the alarm over rising costs

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in March that the “average wholesale price for a gram of medical cannabis leaf in Pennsylvania has fallen 36% since the beginning of 2020,” but Collins said that the “the average retail price that patients pay is down only 14% over the same period.”

“I’m clearly calling out today, secretary, a red flag that needs to be investigated,” Collins told Pennsylvania Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter, as quoted by the Inquirer

These aren’t the only changes the state’s Department of Health has made to the medical cannabis program either. 

In February, the agency instructed growers and retailers to stop selling hundreds of products that it said were not in line with regulatory standards.

“The Department of Health is committed to ensuring that the Medical Marijuana Program is operating appropriately and effectively,” the agency said in an email. “As you know the Department recently conducted a statewide review of all vaporized medical marijuana products containing added ingredients. After finishing this review, the Department has determined that certain vaporized medical marijuana products containing some added ingredients have not been approved for inhalation by the United States Food and Drug Administration.”

Capitol Wire reports that in March the state “began waiving the cost of the medical marijuana cards and the costs of background checks for caregivers of medical marijuana.”

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New Poll Shows 9 Out Of 10 Americans Support Legal Pot

A new poll released on Tuesday shows that nearly nine out of 10 Americans believe that cannabis should be legal in some form, with a strong majority saying that recreational marijuana should be legalized for adults. The survey, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center last month, was published online on November 22 after being administered during the first half of October.

The results of the poll, which were essentially unchanged from a similar survey conducted in April 2021, showed that 88% of American adults surveyed believe that marijuana should be legalized. More than half (59%) said that medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis should be legal, while nearly a third (30%) said that cannabis should be legalized for medicinal use only. Only one in 10 respondents said that marijuana should be illegal in all cases.

Support For Legalization Varied By Age

Support for recreational marijuana legalization was sharply divided by the age of the poll’s respondents, with only 30% of those 75 and older believing that all forms of cannabis should be legalized. By contrast, 72% of those 18 to 29 years old said that both recreational marijuana and medical cannabis should be legalized, while 62% of respondents age 30 to 49 said the same. Just over half (54%) of adults aged 50 to 64 said both recreational and medical marijuana should be legal and 53% aged 65 to 74 agreed.

The new survey also found varying levels of support for marijuana legalization based on the political affiliation of respondents. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said that they believed that marijuana should be legal for both recreational and medical use and another 21% said that only medical marijuana should be legalized. Among liberal Democrats, 84% said both forms of cannabis should be legal, while nearly two-thirds (63%) of moderate and conservative Democrats said that they held the same view.

However, less than half (45%) of Republicans and independent voters who lean Republican said both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis should be legal, with an additional 39% saying only medical marijuana should be legalized. A majority (60%) of moderate and liberal Republicans said that both medical and recreational marijuana should be legalized, while less than four out of 10 (37%) conservative Republicans said both forms of cannabis should be legal. 

Poll Taken After Presidential Pardons Announced

The new poll was conducted after President Joe Biden announced on October 6 that he would pardon all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession and encouraged state governors around the country to take similar action. At the same time, the president directed the U.S. attorney general and the head of the Department of Health and Human Services to examine the rescheduling of cannabis under federal drug laws. 

About three weeks following the completion of the survey, voters in five states decided on ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana in the November midterm elections. The legalization bids succeeded in Maryland and Missouri, while similar proposals in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota were rejected by voters.

The new Pew Research Center poll, which was conducted October 10 through 16, also identified different levels of support for marijuana legalization among different racial groups. A majority of white (60%) and Black (68%) adults were in favor of ending the prohibition on both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis. By contrast, less than half of both Hispanic (49%) and Asian (48%) respondents said that they were in favor of full legalization.
The survey’s overall results are similar to a recently released Gallup Poll that also showed strong support for legalizing marijuana. In that survey, which was taken between October 3 and October 20 and did not differentiate between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana, more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said that they favored legalization, tying a record high for the poll. A Monmouth Universtiy poll released last month showed similar support.

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