How Medical Cannabis Eases HIV Symptoms, Reduces Disease Progression

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) may no longer be a death sentence, but it is a life sentence for those who are coping with the chronic symptoms of the virus. Many people with HIV and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) live to their full life expectancy but at the cost of their everyday well-being. 

There are dozens of HIV/AIDS drugs on the market which reduce viral loads in the body and ease certain symptoms, but also cause unpleasant side effects such as headache and nausea. As a complementary medication, could cannabis improve the lives of HIV and AIDS patients? 

Well-known as an appetite stimulant, cannabis has been used to manage the anorexia and wasting disease symptoms of HIV/AIDS, but the plant might be able to go even further beyond this basic treatment. In fact, some research has suggested that cannabis may help HIV/AIDS patients feel better, treat complications of the disease, and temper prescription drug side effects. 

The Studies

The onset of the AIDS epidemic was a driving force for the medical marijuana movement, and the devastating disease was the first to help demonstrate the medicinal benefits of the plant. Some of the earliest studies regarding the medical use of cannabis focused on treating HIV/AIDS patients. In a study conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams, an integrative oncologist at the University of San Francisco and one of the first researchers to study the interaction between marijuana and AIDS, researchers found that cannabis did not cause any harmful changes in virus levels in patients. The study, which concluded in 2000, also suggested that cannabis could reduce the progression of the disease against the immune system. 

Marijuana was used early on in the AIDS epidemic by patients for the plant’s medicinal benefits. (Photo by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps News)

A 2017 Michigan State University study found that cannabis may slow the process of mental decline that occurs in half of HIV/AIDS patients. Specifically, the THC in cannabis reduced the levels of brain-cell inflammation in HIV/AIDS patients to such an extent that lead researcher Norbert Kaminski said, “those who used marijuana had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV.” Kaminski and his co-author, Mike Rizzo, also expressed hope that cannabis could treat other diseases associated with inflammation of brain cells, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. 

Additional research suggests that THC’s purported anti-inflammatory properties may be the secret weapon in treating other aspects of HIV/AIDS. THC may prevent HIV from progressing into AIDS, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes. Researchers found that THC can decrease the activity and numbers of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) which, at high levels, can lead to the progression of AIDS. A 2014 study conducted by Louisiana State University researchers found that THC also lowered the viral load in macaques infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), an AIDS-like disease suffered by various species of African non-human primates.   

Patient Perspectives

Nearly 40 years since the first AIDS diagnosis in the United States, the illness is still stigmatized. Perhaps this explains why a 41-year-old theater technician from Virginia chose to remain anonymous when sharing his compelling story with the authors of “Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Behind the Controversy” in 2000.

The unnamed HIV patient said: “Thirteen years ago I found out that I was HIV-positive. Since then I have taken AZT, ddI, d4T, Crixivan, Viracept, Viramune, Bactrim, Megace, and others. All these drugs have two things in common: they gave me hope and they also made me sick. Nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, and loss of appetite became a way of life for me.

“After three years of these side effects ruling my life, a doctor suggested a simple and effective way to deal with many of them. This remedy kept me from slowly starving to death, as I had seen many of my friends do. It helped me rejoin the human race as a responsible, productive citizen. It also made me a criminal, something I have never been before. This remedy, of course, is medical marijuana.”

Since the turn of the 21st century, countless other HIV/AIDS patients have reaped the same advantages of medical marijuana.

Keith Vines is a retired Air Force captain living with HIV. He told the nonprofit organization Americans for Safe Access in 2013 that he credits medical marijuana with saving his life: “My marijuana use is quite modest. I find that I need to take a couple of puffs only two or three times a week, in the evenings, in order to eat. There are also periods of weeks at a time when the marijuana is unnecessary. I do not smoke before or during business hours. I have not become addicted to marijuana.”

Vines’ experience falls in line with what some medical experts say about the benefits of treating HIV/AIDS with cannabis. 

Research has suggested that cannabis may help HIV/AIDS patients feel better. It also could temper complications of the disease and prescription drug side effects. (Photo by Gina Coleman/ Weedmaps News)

What the Experts Say 

Fighting fatigue, curtailing weight loss, and diminishing pain are just a few of the positive outcomes that Dr. Kate Scannell, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, has observed in treating HIV/AIDS patients. Scannell lamented in Americans for Safe Access’ 2013 informational publication “HIV/AIDS and Medical Cannabis” that the “the federal obsession with a political agenda that keeps marijuana out of the hands of sick and dying people is appalling and irrational.”

Dr. Neil Flynn, a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California at Davis School of Medicine, views medical marijuana as a strong option not only for HIV/AIDS patients but for anyone who is terminally ill or suffering. Flynn said in “HIV/AIDS and Medical Cannabis” that “Marijuana, in short, can help sick and dying persons achieve autonomy over their lives by alleviating the intense suffering caused by their illnesses or the side effects of their medications.” Flynn, who established the UCD AIDS and Related Disorders Clinic, said, “There is no doubt in my mind that for some seriously ill patients, marijuana can help make the difference between life and death….”

The Bottom Line

Medical use of cannabis medicine presents a broad spectrum of treatment for various HIV/AIDS symptoms and may be beneficial as a complementary treatment for patients.

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How to Become a Medical Marijuana Patient in Florida

Florida Amendment 2 passed by 71% of voters on Nov. 8, 2016, enabling medical marijuana to be prescribed when a physician believes its use likely outweighs the potential health risks for a patient. Smoking medical marijuana was initially prohibited under the medical marijuana law. However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against the prohibition and in March 2019 Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation allowing patients to smoke medical marijuana.

Florida’s medical marijuana program has proven to be popular. There were more than 323,000 patients registered as of July 12, 2019, according to Florida Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use statistics. The office is charged with writing and implementing the department’s rules for medical marijuana, overseeing the statewide Medical Marijuana Use Registry, and licensing Florida businesses to cultivate, process, and dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients.

Florida’s Qualifying Conditions

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Terminal condition diagnosed by a physician who is not issuing the certification

Applying for Medical Marijuana in Florida

Physicians must first diagnose patients with a qualifying medical condition and enter their information and order into the Medical Marijuana Use Registry to start the enrollment process. Once enrolled, patients must obtain a Medical Marijuana Use Registry Identification Card to purchase and possess medical marijuana and pay a $75 processing fee.

The Office of Medical Marijuana Use keeps an extensive list of physicians who have completed required training. The list, which is updated weekly, contains more than 2,300 physicians.

Patients younger than 18 must submit a certified copy of a birth certificate or a current record of registration from a Florida K-12 school, and a copy of the parent’s or legal guardian’s valid Florida driver’s license or identification card.

Appointing a Caregiver

Caregivers must sign up on the medical marijuana use registry for a caregiver identification card. Individuals can only be caregivers for one qualified patient unless the patient is a minor and the caregiver is a parent or legal guardian, the patient is an adult with an intellectual or developmental disability, or the patient is admitted to a hospice.

A caregiver must:

  • Not be a qualified physician
  •  Not be employed by or have an economic interest in a medical marijuana treatment center or a marijuana testing laboratory.
  • Be 21 years of age or older and a resident of Florida.
  • Agree in writing to assist with the patient’s medical use of marijuana.
  • Complete a caregiver certification course, which must be renewed every two years. The price of the course may not exceed $100.
  • Pass a background screening, unless the patient is a close relative of the caregiver.
Photo by Alexander Lukatskiy / Shutterstock
Florida has expanded the availability of medical marijuana and the types of cannabis that can be consumed. (Photo by Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock)

Acquiring Your Medicine

Patients and caregivers may purchase medical marijuana only from a state-approved medical marijuana treatment center. Medical marijuana treatment centers are allowed to deliver medical marijuana to qualified patients and caregivers.

A qualified physician will determine the type and quantity of low-THC medical marijuana to recommend for a patient, and a 35-day supply of marijuana in a form for smoking may not exceed 2.5 ounces, or 71 grams, unless an exception is approved.

There are currently 138 Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers throughout the state.

Rules for Patients Visiting from Other States (Reciprocity)

Florida law does not offer reciprocity for patients of other state medical marijuana programs. However, Section 381.986 of the Florida Statutes does permit seasonal residents to register.

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Using THC to Regenerate Brain Cells and Restore Cognitive Youth

Everyone knows that using cannabis as a teenager can slow you down a little bit, mentally. Not permanently of course, but it can be difficult for young people to focus and retain information when they’re stoned. However, the exact opposite is true for the older generations.

Yep, you read that correctly; cannabis can actually make elderly people sharper, help them focus better, and improve their memory! That’s the inference drawn from a study by a German-Israeli research team who ran a series of THC tests on elderly mice. Not only did the older mice perform as well as the young, sober mice, but their brain tissue physically changed and showed traits of cognitive youth following THC administration.

How it works 

To determine the brain cell regeneration powers of THC, researchers from Bonn University in Germany and Hebrew University in Jerusalem joined forces to perform a series of three different tests on mice.

In the first test, the mice were put through different mazes to measure their memory. Only the older mice who were being treated with THC successfully completed the test. The old sober mice and the young stoned mice both did poorly.

thc brain

Older rats did very well with THC treatments

Object location was the objective of the second exercise. Using a small lego piece, researchers observed whether or not the mice could locate it once it had been moved multiple times. The elderly mice under the influence of THC, along with the young, sober mice, were able to easily locate the lego piece no matter where it was. The older mice who hadn’t received THC therapy struggled to find the object.

“In the object location recognition test we used three identical Lego figures. We changed the position of one figure in the second trial. [Mice] that remembered the original positions spent more time investigating the object in the new position. Preference for the object in a new position (novelty preference) is an indicator that animals have recognized the repositioning of the object.” Andras Bilkei-Gorzo, Institute of Molecular Psychology at Bonn University.

The third and final trial was a partner recognition task, which was tested over the course of 24 hours to see if the mice still remember their partners after a full day. As expected, the two-month-old, sober mice and the elderly stoned mice were almost instantly drawn to their previous day’s partner.

Final conclusion, in every test performed, the older mice undergoing THC treatment surpassed their sober counterparts of similar age.

Understanding the Endocannabinoid System 

The endocannabinoid system is a group of cannabinoid receptors located in various parts of the body such as the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. The specific functions of the endocannabinoid system vary based on which part of the body you’re looking at, but overall, it exists for the purpose of homeostasis.

Homeostasis is a state of consistent equilibrium between the interdependent parts of our bodies, which elevates our overall physical well-being. This is the exact reason cannabis medications are so effective.

The next step for this German-Israeli research team is to conduct a clinical trial on humans to determine how helpful cannabis would be in treating dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive afflictions. 

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Study: Drug Rehab Experts Find Medical Marijuana Helpful, but with Risks

Ninety-three percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana. Now, thanks to new research, a sizable majority of substance abuse clinicians do, too.

Even though drug misuse professionals broadly back cannabis’s medical value, they also see risks associated with its use.

“While most participants agreed that medical marijuana should be legalized and that its ‘responsible’ use was ‘safe,’ ” the study concluded, “they also believed that it is often abused and has not been studied adequately. Consistent with prior research, we found that fewer addictions treatment professionals (approximately 70%) than members of the public supported legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”

Generally speaking, many medical professionals who treat substance use disorders (SUD) believe abstinence from recreational drugs is the best practice. This new study, which published in early July 2019 in the Journal of Substance Use, aimed to get a better understanding of where they stood on the medical use of marijuana.

“Given that negative attitudes toward patients, regardless of the reason, may result in premature treatment termination and poorer-quality care, it seems important to understand attitudes toward legalization of medical marijuana among SUD treatment professionals,” the researchers from Towson University in Maryland wrote.

Participants were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with 22 statements, including:

  • Marijuana is safe when used responsibly for medical purposes.
  • Medical marijuana is often abused.
  • A client can be in substance use disorder treatment when using medical marijuana.
  • Marijuana can help reduce withdrawal symptoms.
  • Taking marijuana instead of other drugs is only replacing one addiction with another.

They were also asked to share their personal history with cannabis and whether they knew anyone who had used medical marijuana.

A total of 966 addiction clinicians completed the survey between February and May 2018. They were identified through professional certification boards in Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Most reported having used marijuana (74%), knowing a medical cannabis patient (73%), and knowing patients with addiction issues who’d used cannabis in their recovery (61%).

Additionally, most respondents thought marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes and that its use was safe, though only 38% said it was “not detrimental to one’s health.” Sixty-four percent said they believed medical cannabis is often abused.

Via Journal of Substance Use

Interestingly, however, many participants agreed that cannabis, including products that contain cannabidiol (CBD), could help with symptoms associated with addiction, such as anxiety and insomnia. While 70% said consuming marijuana is “trading one addiction for another,” most also thought it was acceptable for a person in SUD treatment to use medical marijuana.

“Overall,” the study‘s authors note, “our results suggest that addictions treatment providers have mixed opinions about medical marijuana legalization.”

Among the factors that appeared to influence participants’ attitudes toward medical marijuana were age — younger professionals were more open to the idea — past experience consuming cannabis and personal knowledge of someone who’d used cannabis for therapeutic purposes. Providers on the East Coast also viewed medical marijuana more favorably than in other parts of the country.

“These mixed attitudes may actually reflect a healthy skepticism,” researchers conclude. “That is, if the current trends continue, addictions treatment professionals may be poised to both accept medical marijuana legalization and to handle any associated negative consequences.”


Featured Image: About 70% of drug abuse treatment professionals support medical marijuana legalization, but also fear the plant could be abused and has not been studied enough for its medicinal benefits. (Weedmaps News file photo)

This article was republished from Marijuana Moment under a content syndication agreement. Read the original article here. 

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Studies Show CBD Can Lower Blood Pressure

Nearly half of all adults in the United States struggle with high blood pressure, could CBD be a natural remedy to lower and maintain it?

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – is a condition categorized by a higher than normal force of blood being pushed against artery walls. Blood pressure is split into to categories, systolic (the top number), which refers to the pressure when the heart actually beats; and diastolic (the bottom number) which is the pressure when your heart rests between beats. Normal levels are below 120/80 mmHg.

There are often no symptoms associated with hypertension, which makes it all the more dangerous. If left untreated, high blood pressure can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke. There are some basic steps you can take to lower your blood pressure such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and cutting out tobacco and alcohol.

For anyone who needs something extra, medications are often prescribed, and this is where CBD might be able to intervene. CBD (cannabidiol) is the second most dominant cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants. It has a myriad of medicinal benefits without any of psychoactive effects. 

In the most recently published study on this topic, 9 healthy male volunteers were given either 600 mg of CBD or placebo in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study. They monitored the subjects using a finometer and laser doppler.

The results showed that just that one dose of CBD reduced the resting heart rate significantly. Across the board, the men’s blood pressure was rates were close to 120/60 in the CBD group. And this isn’t the first time this concept has been explored.

A study published in 2012 determined that cannabinoids had vascular effects, heart protective properties, and haemodynamic effects. Specifically, this study found that CBD lowered arterial blood pressure by an average of 16 mmHg without affecting heart rate, it’s a vasorelaxant, and has the ability to increase the available levels of nitric oxide in the blood. 

This is because it’s believed that CBD activates the PPARγ agonism, which has many positive effects on the cardiovascular system.

It’s important to note that these studies are small, and any changes to your treatment plan should be discussed with your doctor.

The post Studies Show CBD Can Lower Blood Pressure appeared first on CBD Testers.

Studies Show CBD Can Lower Blood Pressure

Nearly half of all adults in the United States struggle with high blood pressure, could CBD be a natural remedy to lower and maintain it?

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – is a condition categorized by a higher than normal force of blood being pushed against artery walls. Blood pressure is split into to categories, systolic (the top number), which refers to the pressure when the heart actually beats; and diastolic (the bottom number) which is the pressure when your heart rests between beats. Normal levels are below 120/80 mmHg.

There are often no symptoms associated with hypertension, which makes it all the more dangerous. If left untreated, high blood pressure can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke. There are some basic steps you can take to lower your blood pressure such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, and cutting out tobacco and alcohol.

For anyone who needs something extra, medications are often prescribed, and this is where CBD might be able to intervene. CBD (cannabidiol) is the second most dominant cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp plants. It has a myriad of medicinal benefits without any of psychoactive effects. 

In the most recently published study on this topic, 9 healthy male volunteers were given either 600 mg of CBD or placebo in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study. They monitored the subjects using a finometer and laser doppler.

The results showed that just that one dose of CBD reduced the resting heart rate significantly. Across the board, the men’s blood pressure was rates were close to 120/60 in the CBD group. And this isn’t the first time this concept has been explored.

A study published in 2012 determined that cannabinoids had vascular effects, heart protective properties, and haemodynamic effects. Specifically, this study found that CBD lowered arterial blood pressure by an average of 16 mmHg without affecting heart rate, it’s a vasorelaxant, and has the ability to increase the available levels of nitric oxide in the blood. 

This is because it’s believed that CBD activates the PPARγ agonism, which has many positive effects on the cardiovascular system.

It’s important to note that these studies are small, and any changes to your treatment plan should be discussed with your doctor.

The post Studies Show CBD Can Lower Blood Pressure appeared first on CBD Testers.

Standardized Cannabis Medicine – The ‘Responsibility Of All In The Industry’

Creating standardized medicine is the gold standard for the cannabis industry but the nature of the plant can make this difficult, attendees to Cannabis Europa heard.

Some panelists argued that attempts by the major pharmaceutical companies to patent drugs from the cannabis plant should be challenged. Others said that for cannabis medicine to achieve globally accepted standards there would need to be an involvement from the pharmaceutical giants to fund the research.

Dr Barbara Pacchetti, of U.K. company EMMAC Life Sciences, described cannabis as an ‘unconventional medicine’. “The aim is for standardized cannabis medicine, and this would be the peak of Everest. Doctors are not comfortable with anything else, but with cannabis we have the plant’s entourage effect and this leads to a lot of questions and grey areas in relation to variability.

“For pharma companies, isolates are the gold standard, but there is variability with cannabis due the to the different cannabinoids, plant strains, the terpenes and the flavonoids and this means we have to do more work to understand this entourage; the genetics.”

Speaking on day one of the the conference in a debate on ‘Cannabis-Based Medicines’ she said it would initially be difficult to bridge the gap left by a lack of research, due to the prohibition of cannabis over the last 60 years. And she added: “We are just the beginning to learn and to connect with regulators, the health authorities and this will allow us to make the right cannabis medicines available to the public.”

standardized cannabis medication

Creating consistent medications is a challenge in the cannabis industry

Dianna Gutierrez, of Spanish firm Linneo Health, agreed there was much research to be done. She said the company was looking at selecting different cannabis molecules and products to target different diseases. She added: “We have to change way we produce, grow and manufacture a medicine and we need the money; huge investment from funds to get the quality of drug we require.”

Aras Azadian, of Canadian company Avicanna, said physicians like to have straight-forward medicines they can rely on, and this is a challenge the cannabis industry can rise to.

“They depend on one or two, high-standard products. When prescribing it’s a case of taking it in stages – crawl, walk, run – but patients may see things differently and want different strains and flowers, for example. Patients have become accustomed to having the same level of consistency in their medicines, but the variability of the cannabis plant makes this difficult to achieve.

“Cannabis medicine needs to have the highest standards; Quality assurance, and standardization of cannabis medicine is necessary, achievable, and the responsibility of the people in this room.”

In a separate panel discussion on day two of the conference Prof Mike Barnes, chairman of the U.K. Medical Cannabis Clinicians’ Society argued that attempts to patent elements of the cannabis plant – something U.K. firm GW Pharmaceuticals has successfully achieved – is bad news for patients, as it increases the price of the drugs. He went on to say these patents should be challenged, when granted. 

However, Dean Billington of Brains Bioceuticals argued that the patenting route to market for a drug – including cannabis drugs – is necessary to fund the research. 

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New Jersey Increases Medical Marijuana Supply Limits, Eligible Ailments

New Jersey expanded its medical marijuana program, including increasing the number of illnesses eligible for cannabis use, under a broad new law signed by the governor July 2, 2019.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act at a tavern in Freehold known for holding charitable fundraisers. He was with the parents and sister of the bill’s namesake.

The law is named after a 7-year-old who died in early 2018 after battling brain cancer. His parents, Mike and Janet Honig, have fought for easier access to cannabis to ease pain during illnesses.

Processing supervisor Paige Dellafave-DeRosa, sorts buds at Compassionate Care Foundation, a medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey on March 22, 2019. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill July 2, 2019, that raises the amount of marijuana dispensaries can distribute to patients, expands the qualifying medical conditions eligible for marijuana, and permits home deliveries. (Associated Press file photo/Julio Cortez)

The measure makes a number of changes. It increases the limit that can be dispensed from 2 ounces to 3 ounces, or from 57 to 85 grams, or 18 months after the law goes into effect, with a commission that the measure establishes setting the limit afterward.

It boosts a patient’s supply from 90 days to one year and allows for home delivery to patients.

The law lowers the threshold from debilitating illnesses to qualifying illnesses in order to make it easier for health-care practitioners to prescribe the drug. The illnesses include seizure disorder, intractable skeletal muscular spasticity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), glaucoma, cancer, as well as chronic pain and opioid use disorder. Other illnesses could be added as well.

It permits physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to authorize medical cannabis. Previously, only doctors could prescribe it.

The law also sets up three new categories of licenses, including cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensaries. Currently, only a single permit allows alternative treatment centers (ATCs) that cover all three categories.

Compassionate Care Foundation employee Heather Randazzo trims leaves at the Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, medical marijuana dispensary. The bill Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed July 2, 2019, also creates new licensing categories for cannabis producers and doubles the number of alternative treatment centers (ATCs), which encompass cultivation, manufacturing, and retail, from six to 12. (Associated Press file photo/Julio Cortez)

The law calls for expanding the number of cultivators to 28. Currently, the state is in the process of increasing the number of ATCs from six to 12.

The measure also sets up a five-member commission to regulate cannabis, taking oversight of the program from the Health Department, and phases out the 6.625% sales tax over three years.

Before Murphy signed the legislation, Mike Honig told an emotional story about Jake enjoying waffle fries and a milkshake while on medical cannabis. Mike Honig said the morphine and opioids doctors had described had terrible side effects for Jake, including taking away his appetite and making him high. Medical cannabis, instead, helped his son feel like himself.

“Medical cannabis allowed Jake’s personality to shine through cancer,” Mike Honig said.

Murphy and the Democratic-led Legislature turned their attention to expanding medical marijuana after lawmakers failed in March to pass legalized adult-use cannabis.

New Jersey’s program began roughly a decade ago under Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. 

Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an ardent marijuana opponent, implemented the program slowly over his two terms.

The program currently has more than 49,000 patients, up from about 15,000 when Christie left office in early 2018.

Thirty-four states and Washington, D.C., have medical marijuana programs.


Feature image: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that expands the types of medical professional who can prescribe a now-larger amount of medical marijuana for a larger list of qualifying conditions.

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New Jersey Medical Marijuana Expansion Awaits Governor’s Approval

Nearly 50,000 patients obtain marijuana through New Jersey’s regulated medical cannabis system, a number that continues to grow steadily, straining a delivery system that cannot keep pace with demand, according to government reports.

Only six dispensaries currently serve a state with nearly 9 million people; six more are moving through the approval process. New Jersey lawmakers recently sent a bill to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy that could speed the expansion of facilities, although not as quickly as Murphy wanted.

At a June 21, 2019, conference on the state of marijuana in Somerset, New Jersey, by the member-supported news organization NJ Spotlight, the new bill dominated the morning conference on medical cannabis.

“We do have news. Yesterday afternoon, the state Legislature approved a new medical marijuana bill,” said Lee Keough, the editor-in-chief of NJ Spotlight and moderator of the discussion. “It’s an expansion of the program. We do expect the governor to sign it, because he did negotiate it with the Legislature before they voted on it.”

Lee Keough, editor in chief of news organization NJ Spotlight, moderates a conference on marijuana in New Jersey. (Photo by Bill Barlow)

Leadership in the Democratic-majority Assembly delayed a vote to get more input from Murphy, hoping to avoid a veto. AB 20 and matching legislation in the Senate include provisions for more edible cannabis products and increasing the maximum amount that can be purchased. The Assembly bill passed 66-5, and in the Senate 31-5. 

Known as the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act, the legislation was named for a young patient who had been diagnosed in 2012 with a rare form of cancer, Ewing sarcoma. 

Murphy had sought a more dramatic expansion of medical marijuana distribution licenses in the state, suggesting bringing the total number to more than 100. As approved, the bill would allow 28 new facilities statewide and make it easier for small operations to get started in the booming new industry.

Marijuana policy has been a priority for Murphy’s administration. The Somerset conference also included discussion of New Jersey’s move to allow adult use, which many expect to go to a referendum vote in November 2020. Advocates continue to push for action in the state Legislature.

At a later panel on legislation, Kelli Hykes, the Government Relations Director for Weedmaps, told participants that a ballot initiative would amend the state’s Constitution, which requires a much slower process to amend or change. She said she believes it is possible to move the legalization bill in 2019, if enough supporters and constituents reach out to their representatives. 

Hykes said that legalization should come through the Legislature, where policy and regulation details can be addressed with more specificity. In a referendum vote, the language is typically simple and lacking in details necessary to launch a new industry. 

Legalization should come through the Legislature, where policy and regulation details can be addressed with more specificity. In a referendum vote, the language is typically simple and lacking in details necessary to launch a new industry. 

The conference addressed medical marijuana first, however. Panelists included Jeff Brown, the assistant commissioner for the medical marijuana program under the New Jersey Department of Health. He said he had to be careful about commenting on pending legislation and gave no opinion on whether Murphy was likely to sign it.

Regarding changes to New Jersey’s medical cannabis program that are represented in the bill, Brown was more forthcoming. He said the bill could dramatically increase the number of health professionals who could recommend medical cannabis for a variety of qualifying conditions. It also aims to improve the number of dispensaries, which in New Jersey are known as Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs).

“We still only have six dispensaries open. There are six more in the pipeline. I’m working feverishly to get those open,” Brown said, noting that the state adds about 3,000 new patients to its medical marijuana system each month. “We’re only poised to continue to grow the market and to continue to improve conditions for patients and caregivers.”

Jeff Brown, the assistant commissioner for the medical marijuana program under the New Jersey Department of Health, addresses a conference on marijuana regulations and licensing in New Jersey, where only six dispensaries serve 9 million residents. (Photo by Bill Barlow)

Currently, for the six existing ATCs, and the six more on the way, each license holder must handle each step in the production process, from growing the plant, to producing the flower or other product, to selling to the patients. As approved, the bill would change that vertically integrated system, allowing licenses to specialize in growing, production, or distribution.

The proposed change also will allow smaller operations to enter the marketplace, Brown said.

 “A lot will be left up to the commission,” he said. The bill also would shift oversight of the state’s marijuana licenses from the state Department of Health to a new state marijuana commission. 

If New Jersey legislators take action in Trenton, the capital, or voters say yes to adult-use marijuana as expected, the new five-member commission also would oversee the adult-use market.

“If there was an agency transfer in the future related to the medicinal marijuana program, I think the No. 1 priority, above and beyond all else, would be to ensure that there’s no disruption for the patients,” Brown said. “The other stuff can fall into place around that.”

As Keogh described it, state officials modeled the system after the Casino Control Commission, which was created to oversee gambling in Atlantic City.

Other expected changes include an increase in the maximum amount a patient can purchase, increasing from 2 ounces to 3 ounces, or 57 to 85 grams, and phasing out the 6% sales tax imposed on medical marijuana sales by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an opponent of medical marijuana. For patients with terminal illnesses, the purchase limit would be removed entirely.

The bill reduces the number of required visits to the recommending doctor to remain in the medical marijuana program. Under current law, patients must return every 90 days, and must see the recommending physician four times before getting a medical marijuana card.

“The biggest complaint about the existing program are doctors’ visits,” Brown said. “It would be ridiculous if I went to my physician and he or she said you have high blood pressure. Oh, by the way, you have to come see me three more times before I can prescribe you any medicine.”

Cost is another sore point for patients, Brown said. Currently, patients pay from $350 to $500 an ounce in New Jersey. He does not expect the prices to drop to the level of California or Oregon but said he believes progress is possible.

“In New Jersey, it’s incredibly high priced. If you think about it, it’s simple economics here. There’s only six providers. There’s not much incentive or price competition,” Brown said. “The No. 1 method [to lower prices] is increasing supply.”


Feature image: Panelists at a conference organized by news organization NJ Spotlight discuss a bill to expand access to medical marijuana that awaits signature by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo by Bill Barlow)

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New Law Allows Sales of Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana in Maine

Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill June 27, 2019, setting up a legal framework for the sale of recreational marijuana to adults as early as next year.

Her office said that the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy plans to accept applications for licenses by the end of 2019. The Democratic governor said her administration has worked quickly to implement the voter-approved law since she took office earlier in 2019.

The state’s voters chose to legalize both the use and sale of recreational marijuana among adults in November 2016, but months of delays and political squabbles have slowed the implementation of a commercial industry. 

State officials say retail adult-use marijuana could arrive in stores as soon as early 2020. 

Medical marijuana was already legal in Maine, and under the 2016 law, adults over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces (70.9 grams) of marijuana without penalty.

The new law becomes effective in September 2019. At that point, the Office of Marijuana Policy has 60 days to finalize regulations. Then, the state must start accepting applications within 30 days.

In the meantime, Mills’ administration is working on a public health and safety education campaign, and figuring out how the state will track, trace and license marijuana.

“We have drafted these rules with a view toward keeping the public’s health and safety at the forefront,” said Office of Marijuana Policy Director Erik Gundersen.

The new framework makes several changes to state law ahead of sales.

Municipalities could opt in or out of allowing marijuana sales. Only a handful of cities and towns have laid the groundwork for retail sales.

Currently, state law defines poisonous or harmful substances as “adulterated.” The new law says Maine would not consider edibles produced with recreational marijuana adulterated.

Under the new law, Maine residents who have lived in the state for at least four years would have to claim at least 51% ownership of a cannabis company to qualify for a license. The state would also authorize the department to impose an administrative hold on a licensee.

Marijuana is legal for adult use in 10 states and the District of Columbia, though some, like Maine, have yet to set up commercial sales. 

— Marina Villeneuve


Feature image: Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill June 27, 2019 setting up a legal framework for the sale of adult-use marijuana that could arrive in stores as early as 2020. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

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