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"It’s the height of hypocrisy,"…

FDA Is Open To Medical Marijuana For Vets, But Other Agencies Stand In The Way

Mona Zhang , Contributor

Dr. Sue Sisley, a medical marijuana researcher, speaks at the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at the Capitol in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned cannabidiol producers against making medical claims about cannabis products, it seemed par for the course for any federal agency. Cannabis is simply not considered medicine in the eyes of the government.

But the FDA actually appears pretty open to considering the potential of marijuana as medicine. “We’ve had good experiences working with the FDA,” said Brad Burge, communications director at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). The non-profit is currently conducting the first FDA- and DEA-approved clinical trial on whole-plant marijuana and enrolled its 30th participant on October 26.

“We have a long relationship with the FDA — a lot through our MDMA research. They’ve been open to approving research protocols into Schedule I drugs,” said Burge. “It’s other regulatory agencies that have been standing in the way.”

It’s certainly unhelpful that the National Institutes of Drug Abuse have a monopoly on growing research cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department aren’t helpful on this front either. But the lack of support for the study from Veterans Affairs (VA) is even more egregious.

Dr. Sue Sisley, the trial’s lead researcher, says she’s determined to focus on veterans for this study. She plans to examine the effects of cannabis on 76 subjects with treatment-resistant PTSD. Her main motivation in focusing on veterans is the epidemic of veteran suicides in the U.S. The VA estimates that about 22 veterans commit suicide every day – Sisley thinks that number is probably higher.

“As a scientist, I’m skeptical of subjective claims,” said Sisley. “[But] we have a mountain of anecdotal reports from veterans claiming that cannabis is lifesaving.”

The implications go beyond saving their lives – Sisley has heard plenty of military spouses and children sing the praises of the drug. “The kids will say, ‘I got my dad back’ after years of [him] being disengaged, irritable and mean,” she said.

Now, her main challenge is recruiting enough veterans who fit the study criteria and are able to participate on-site in Phoenix, Arizona. Sisley estimates that the Phoenix VA hospital has 20,000 veterans in their system who meet the study’s eligibility requirements. But the hospital is refusing to provide information about the study to its patients.

“[In] some of the states that have put in appropriate controls [for medical marijuana], there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin at a White House press briefing in May. “We’re interested in looking at that and learning from that.”

But Sisley says that Shulkin has so far refused to express support for her study: “It’s the height of hypocrisy,” she said.

“The VA Secretary could make a call to the Phoenix VA, and we could start sharing information with these patients,” said Sisley. “Why does it take political courage to defend a federally legal study? Not even defend it, just fast-track it. We’ve been stonewalled at every turn.”

The researchers have paid for various types of advertising and hired a veteran to oversee recruitment efforts. Still, “the issue for us is [getting] cooperation from the Phoenix VA hospital,” said Sisley. Recruitment has dwindled to a “pretty slow trickle.”

If the study fails to recruit 46 more veterans in the next couple of months, “we’ll have to reevaluate,” she said. “We fought for so many years and the veteran community has stood shoulder to shoulder with us, helping us kick down the doors… Many of them have adopted this trial as their own.”

The American Legion, a veterans organization that has more than 2 million members, called on the VA to support the clinical trial in September. “We ask for your direct involvement to ensure this critical research is fully enabled,” wrote the organization’s National Commander Denis Rohan in a letter to Shulkin. “[The study] could potentially produce scientific evidence that will enhance, improve, and save the lives of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

But Shulkin has remained mum on the issue.

“I’m assuming that [Attorney General] Sessions has created an atmosphere of fear around the word ‘cannabis’ and so nobody’s willing to step out,” said Sisley. “The FDA deserves major commendation because they at least are responsive.”

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Stars, Stripes, and Hemp Fly over Capitol

  • By Tim Marema
  • November 11, 2015

    Photo by Donnie Hedden 2015

    A plant the federal law says is a Schedule I controlled substance was used to make the U.S. flag that will fly over the Capitol on Veterans Day. Industrial hemp could be a boon for small farmers, say proponents, including the U.S. veteran who grew the hemp used to make the flag.

    An American flag made of industrial hemp grown in Kentucky by U.S. military veterans will be flown over the U.S. Capitol for the first time on Veterans Day, according to a press release from organizers of the event.

    The event is in support of federal legislation that would restore the industrial hemp industry in America.

    The 2014 farm bill granted states limited permission to allow cultivation of industrial hemp for agricultural research or pilot projects. Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the legislators who supported the measure.

    “Hemp was a crop that built our nation,” said Mike Lewis, a U.S. veteran and Kentucky hemp farmer who directs the Growing Warriors Project. The project grew the hemp used to make the flag.

    “Betsy Ross’ first American flag was made of hemp. We have flags made in China now. That’s almost sacrilegious,” Lewis said. He served in the “Commander in Chiefs Guard” of the 3rd U.S. Infantry from 1992 to 1995.

    Twenty-seven U.S. states have enacted or are considering laws to allow industrial hemp cultivation or are petitioning the federal government to declassify industrial hemp as a drug.  The proposed federal legislation would remove industrial hemp from the controlled substance list.

    Joe Schroeder with Freedom of Seed and Feed said industrial hemp could be a big help to America’s small farmers.  “If a hemp industry is to thrive in America again and provide the stability for so many communities that tobacco once did, it has to start with the stability of the small farmer,” Schroeder said.

    Hemp advocates say the fibrous plant can be used as raw material in clothing, carpet, beauty products, paper, and even as building material, insulation, and clutch linings.

    About 30 countries allow cultivation of industrial hemp, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report. These nations produced about 380 million tons of hemp in 2011. The U.S. imported $37 million in hemp products in 2014, according to the report.

    Al Jazeera America reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s last record of a hemp crop was in the 1950s. The plant was grown to make rope during World War II. Its production peaked in 1943 when 150 million pounds were harvested from 146,200 acres.

    Hemp is related to the plant that produces marijuana but contains negligible amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Political observers say the effort to change U.S. law on hemp is part of a larger rethinking of cannabis laws.

    An opponent of marijuana legalization told Al Jazeera last year he doubted that a change in the U.S. industrial hemp laws would have much impact on the marijuana debate.

    “On the one hand, I think it’s part of a larger agenda to normalize marijuana by a few,” said Kevin Sabet, director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a national alliance that opposes pot legalization. “On the other hand, will it have any difference at the end of the day? I would be highly skeptical of that.”

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  • Why Are So Many Veterans on Death Row?

    By Jeffrey Toobin

    A new study shows that at least ten per cent of death-row inmates are military veterans.

    The death penalty has always provided a window into the darkest corners of American life. Every pathology that infects the nation as a whole—racism, most notably—also affects our decisions about whom to execute. A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center adds a new twist to this venerable pattern.

    The subject of the report, just in time for Veterans Day, is the impact of the death penalty on veterans. The author, Richard C. Dieter, the longtime executive director of the invaluable D.P.I.C., estimates that “at least 10% of the current death row—that is, over 300 inmates—are military veterans. Many others have already been executed.” In a nation where roughly seven per cent of the population have served in the military, this number alone indicates disproportionate representation. But in a nation where military service has traditionally been seen as a route into the middle class—and where being a vet has been seen as more of a benefit than a burden—the military numbers are especially disturbing.

    Why are so many veterans on death row? Dieter asserts that many veterans “have experienced trauma that few others in society have ever encountered—trauma that may have played a role in their committing serious crimes.” Although this is hardly the case with every veteran, or even the overwhelming majority of them, Dieter goes on to relate several harrowing stories that follow this model. Because of such traumas, many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which they have too often received poor treatment, or none at all.

    Veterans who kill are not, by and large, hit men or members of organized crime or gangs. They very often lash out at those around them. Dieter notes that a third of the homicide victims killed by veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were family members or girlfriends. Another quarter were fellow service members. This record suggests that, if these veterans had received adequate mental-health care, at least some of them and their victims might have had a different fate.

    But it’s possible to see, in the D.P.I.C. study, an echo of another recent high-profile study. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, of Princeton, found that the death rates for middle-aged white men have increased significantly in the past decade or so. This was largely due, according to the authors, to “increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.” The Princeton study fits into a larger pattern in American life, which is the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites.

    That cohort has gravitated to military service for generations. And while, again, most veterans never commit any crime, much less crimes that carry the death penalty, the sour legacies of our most recent wars certainly play into the despair of many veterans. Earlier generations of veterans came home from war to ticker-tape parades, a generous G.I. Bill, and a growing economy that offered them a chance at upward mobility. Younger veterans returned to P.T.S.D., a relatively stagnant economy, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, and an epidemic of drug abuse. And they came home to a society where widening income inequality suggested the futility of their engagement with the contemporary world.

    In an interview with Vox, Deaton said that the death rate for members of this cohort had increased, in part, because they had “lost the narrative of their lives.” This elegant, almost poetic phrase can be read to include the lost promise of military service—the vanished understanding that veterans earned more than a paycheck, that they also gained a step up in status, both economic and social. The reality has been that many veterans returned to lives that were materially and spiritually worse than the ones they left, and far worse than the ones they expected.

    According to the Princeton study, a shocking number of poorly educated whites turned their rage inward, in the form of drug abuse and suicide. But a small handful inflicted their rage on others, and an even smaller number wound up on death row. They are different groups of people, and their individual stories are even more variegated, but it’s possible to see across them the symptoms of a broader anguish.

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    Patients Are Relying on Congress to Reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment

    Steph Sherer Become a fan

    Executive Director, Americans for Safe Access

    Today, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take part in a “marijuana vote-a-rama” of sorts, with several amendments to dealing with marijuana to be offered on the floor during the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill. The amendments offered will cover topics from hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) to protection of state adult-use laws. Not to be lost in the shuffle is the vote to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which stipulates that the Department of Justice is not to spend any funds inferring with lawful state medical marijuana conduct. Patients, such as 15-year old Crohn’s patient/Colorado refugee Coltyn Turner, need the protection that a reauthorized Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment would continue to offer.

    The amendment was originally passed the House in May 2014, 219-189, with a strong bipartisan showing of 49 Republicans joining 170 Democrats. Later in December, Senator Mikulski helped ensure the bill remained in the final CRomnibus bill that President Obama signed into law. While its passage marked the first time since Congress approved a medical marijuana reform since designating marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, momentum for additional medical marijuana reforms grown substantially in the past 12 months with introduction of the CARERS Act in both chambers and the passage of the Veterans Equal Access Amendment offered by Senators Daines (R-MT) and Merkley (D-OR) in Senate Appropriations Committee last month.

    Once again the amendment showing strong bipartisan support out of the gate, with 6 Republican, and 6 Democrat cosponsors lending their name to this year’s version: Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Ribble (R-WI), Lee (D-CA), Massie (R-KY), Blumenauer (D-OR), Heck (R-NV), Cohen (D-TN), Young (R-AK) Polis (D-CO), McClintock (R-CA), Titus (D-NV). The number of states listed on the amendment has jumped from 32 to 39, with New York, North Carolina,Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana becoming the latest states to be added to the list. This now means that about 85% of the U.S. population now lives somewhere with some sort of medical marijuana patient protection. Patients like Coltyn cannot afford to wait for the federal government to play catch-up and be denied access to their medicine, and in fact, they won’t wait, as Coltyn has said ““I’d rather be illegally alive than legally dead.” With an estimated 2.4 million medical marijuana patients as of October 2014 who are being “illegally healed” in the eyes of the Department of Justice who makes no internal distinction between medical and non-medical marijuana use, the protections afforded by the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment are needed now more than ever.

    During the floor debate last year, many of the amendment cosponsors spoke in favor of the amendment, thereby establishing the legislative intent of the amendment. From their words as well as the words of the amendment’s opponents, it was clear that the intent of the amendment was to prevent the Dept. of Justice from interfering with with state legal medical marijuana conduct. As Rep. Farr put it:

    “This is essentially saying, look, if you are following State law, you are a legal resident doing your business under State law, the Feds just can’t come in and bust you and bust the doctors and bust the patient. It is more than half the States. So you don’t have to have any opinion about the value of marijuana. This doesn’t change any laws. This doesn’t affect one law, just lists the States that have already legalized it only for medical purposes, only medical purposes, and says, Federal Government, in those States, in those places, you can’t bust people. It seems to me a practical, reasonable amendment in this time and age.”

    In practical terms, it is still hard to measure the true effectiveness of the amendment, but there has been an appreciable decrease in the amount of federal interference with state-legal medical marijuana conduct. This is not to say that DOJ is being in full compliance or is even being transparent about how it has been complying with the spending restriction. While DEA raids of state-legal facilities are no longer the regular occurrence they once were, raids and their subsequent prosecutions are still continuing, even in the absence of proof that state laws were being violated, such as the Kettle Falls Five case in Washington State. While Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr have sought answers from DOJ on why this kind of interference is continuing to take place, the Department has largely sidestepped the issue, offering a terse quasi-explanation in the L.A. Times, but little else. But as Rep. Farr responded in a tweet, “@TheJusticeDept lawyers can try to parse words but Congress was clear: Stop wasting funds/resources prosecuting patients!”

    We couldn’t say it better ourselves, but it’s worth repeating, it is a waste of taxpayer funds to prosecute state-legal medical marijuana patients. To further reiterate Rep. Farr, passage of the amendment sends a strong signal to DOJ that interfering with lawful state medical marijuana conduct goes against the sense of Congress. This sense is shared by over 85% of Americans who believe that patients should have safe and legal access to medical marijuana programs under the recommendation of a physician. The health of patients like Coltyn depends on the federal government not interfering with state medical marijuana laws (his self-produced PSA underscores the reason why it’s important). Supporting this medical marijuana amendment is not only compassionate, but also fiscally pragmatic and politically safe. This vote should be a no-brainer for conservatives and liberals alike who want to keep big government out of the doctor’s office. Take action and ask your U.S. Representative to VOTE AYE on the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment.

    Follow Steph Sherer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/safeaccess

    More:

    Rohrabacher Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment Americans for Safe Access Cjs CARERS Act Marijuana Marijuana Medical Marijuana Rohrabacher Farr Amendment Asa Safe Access Veterans Equal Access Amendment

    US Senators Cast First-Ever Vote In Favor of Medical Marijuana Access

    US Senators Cast First-Ever Vote In Favor of Medical Marijuana Access

    May 26, 2015

    via NORML’s Deputy Director, Paul Armentano:

    The majority of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday cast votes in favor of expanding medical cannabis access to United States veterans. The committee vote marks the first time that a majority of any body of the US Senate has ever decided in favor of increased cannabis access.

    Committee members voted 18 to 12 in favor of The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. It was added in committee to a must-pass military construction and veterans affairs spending bill (the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act). The bill is “certain” to pass on the Senate floor, according to a Drug Policy Alliance press release.

    Weeks ago, House members narrowly killed a similar amendment in the House version of the Appropriations Act by a floor vote of 210 to 213. Once the Senate version of the act is passed by the Senate floor, House and Senate leaders will need to reconcile the two versions.

    The Daines/Merkley amendment permits physicians affiliated with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans in states that allow for its therapeutic use. Under current federal law, VA doctors are not permitted to fill out written documentation forms authorizing their patients to participate in state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs.

    Stand-alone legislation (HR 667) to permit VA physicians to recommend cannabis therapy is pending in the US House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans Affairs: Health Subcommittee. A similar provision is also included in Senate Bill 683/HR 1538, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act.

    NORML coordinated its 2015 legislative ‘fly-in’ and lobby day in Washington, DC this past week, where many attendees visited with US Senators and urged them to vote for the Daines/Merkley amendment, among other pending reform legislation. Archived presentations from the conference are online here.

    To learn and/or to contact your elected officials in regard to other pending marijuana law reform legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.

    More at: NORML Blog
    Upcoming event: NORML Aspen Legal Seminar May 28-30, 2015 – Limited tickets available!

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