December 2, 2009 – Stephany Bowen suffers from fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy and chronic pain from four back surgeries, a metal plate in the back of her neck and hypertension in her right leg.

Her daily ritual includes insulin, Vicodin and up to two bowls of marijuana, which she claims eases nausea caused by her medication and takes her mind off her pain.

She said she is unable to work and rarely leaves home. Her marijuana use is a crime under state law, but she is hopeful that one day that will change.

“I believe it does have medicinal qualities to it,” said Bowen, 46, of Penn Hills. “Since marijuana is grown naturally, it should be legal.”

Momentum supporting that position is growing. Since 1996, 13 states have legalized medical marijuana.

State Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, introduced House Bill 1393 in April that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes. A public hearing is scheduled tomorrow in Harrisburg before the House Health and Human Services committee.

The bill aims to ease the lives of suffering patients, take money away from the drug trade and create about $25 million a year in tax revenue from the sale of marijuana, Cohen said.

“The bill has a 1-in-4 chance of becoming law, but I think that health care groups will lean toward it,” he said.

Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, chairman of the subcommittee on drugs and alcohol, said the decision to legalize marijuana should rest with the medical community.

“Doctors should determine whether there’s a place for the drug in the treatment of their patients,” he said.

The American Medical Association last month changed its position on medical marijuana, urging the federal government to reconsider pot’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug. The goal is to clear the way to conduct clinical research and develop marijuana-based medicines, according to the association.

The AMA’s statement was a topic of conversation recently at the first meeting of Pittsburgh NORML, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws.

A group of about 20 members, who ranged widely in age and profession, discussed methods of spreading information about medical marijuana.

“We will be organized and professional,” said Patrick Nightingale, a Downtown defense attorney and founder of Pittsburgh NORML. “We’re not a bunch of freaks getting together to get stoned.”

Nightingale, a former Allegheny County assistant district attorney, said he supports complete legalization.

“It concerns me as an attorney that I’ve had to prosecute and defend folks for conduct no different than buying a six-pack or bottle of wine,” he said.

Tomorrow’s public hearing is a small step forward for supporters of the bill, but with just six co-sponsors there’s a chance it will never reach a vote, said Rep. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler.

“Marijuana is still considered a gateway drug, and a lot of the people who are fighting for this bill want to use the legislation as a step-off point for legalizing all marijuana,” said Vulakovich, a former police officer.

Gov. Ed Rendell maintains his position on medical marijuana, said spokesman Gary Tuma.

“If a reasonable, well-crafted bill reached his desk,” Tuma said, “he would sign it.” By Kyle Lawson Source.

About state House Bill 1393
Although federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In Arizona, doctors are permitted to prescribe marijuana. (The Obama administration recently directed federal prosecutors to back away from pursuing cases against medical marijuana patients.)

State House Bill 1393 would legalize marijuana for use by patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS or any other health issues that a licensed doctor deems treatable by marijuana in a manner that is superior to treatment without marijuana.

Patients who qualify would be required to have a registry identification card and possess no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of pot.

To read the bill, go online, select “Bill #” at the top under “Find Legislation By,” type in “H 1393” and click “Go”

Source: State House Bill 1393

All those in favor

A Gallup poll in October found that 44 percent of Americans were in favor of making marijuana legal — not just for medicinal purposes — and 54 percent opposed it. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25 percent range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31 percent in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade, according to Gallup.

Source: http://www.gallup.com

November 23, 2009 – The same day they rejected a gay marriage ballot measure, residents of Maine voted overwhelmingly to allow the sale of medical marijuana over the counter at state-licensed dispensaries.

Later in the month, the American Medical Association reversed a longtime position and urged the federal government to remove marijuana from Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act, which equates it with heroin and cocaine.

A few days later, advocates for easing marijuana laws left their biannual strategy conference with plans to press ahead on all fronts — state law, ballot measures, and court — in a movement that for the first time in decades appeared to be gaining ground.

“This issue is breaking out in a remarkably rapid way now,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Public opinion is changing very, very rapidly.”

The shift is widely described as generational. A Gallup poll in October found 44 percent of Americans favor full legalization of marijuana — a rise of 13 points since 2000. Gallup said that if public support continues growing at a rate of 1 to 2 percent per year, “the majority of Americans could favor legalization of the drug in as little as four years.”

A 53 percent majority already does so in the West, according to the survey. The finding heartens advocates collecting signatures to put the question of legalization before California voters in a 2010 initiative.

At last week’s International Drug Reform Conference, activists gamed specific proposals for taxing and regulating pot along the lines of cigarettes and alcohol, as a bill pending in the California Legislature would do. The measure is not expected to pass, but in urging its serious debate, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) gave credence to a potential revenue source that the state’s tax chief said could raise $1.3 billion in the recession, which advocates describe as a boon.

There were also tips on lobbying state legislatures, where measures decriminalizing possession of small amounts have passed in 14 states. Activists predict half of states will have laws allowing possession for medical purposes in the near future.

Interest in medical marijuana and easing other marijuana laws picked up markedly about 18 months ago, but advocates say the biggest surge came with the election of Barack Obama, the third straight president to acknowledge having smoked marijuana, and the first to regard it with anything like nonchalance.

“As a kid, I inhaled,” Barack Obama famously said on the campaign. “That was the whole point.”

In office, Obama made good on a promise to halt federal prosecutions of medical marijuana use where permitted by state law. That has recalibrated the federal attitude, which had been consistently hostile to marijuana since the early 1970s, when President Richard Nixon cast aside the recommendations of a presidential commission arguing against lumping pot with hard drugs.

Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he was astonished recently to be invited to contribute thoughts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, was police chief in Seattle, where voters officially made enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority.

“I’ve been thrown out of the ONDCP many times,” St. Pierre said. “Never invited to actually participate.”

Anti-drug advocates counter with surveys showing high school students nationwide already are more likely to smoke marijuana than tobacco — and that the five states with the highest rate of adolescent pot use permit medical marijuana.

“We are in the prevention business,” said Arthur Dean, chairman of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. “Kids are getting the message tobacco’s harmful, and they’re not getting the message marijuana is.”

In Los Angeles, city officials are dealing with elements of public backlash after more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries opened, some employing in-house physicians to dispense legal permission to virtually all comers. The boom town atmosphere brought complaints from some neighbors, but little of the crime associated with underground drug-dealing.

Advocates cite the latter as evidence that, as with alcohol, violence associated with the marijuana trade flows from its prohibition.

“Seriously,” said Bruce Merkin, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group based in the District, “there is a reason you don’t have Mexican beer cartels planting fields of hops in the California forests.”

But the controversy over the dispensaries also has put pressure on advocates who specifically champion access for ailing patients, not just those who champion easing marijuana laws.

“I don’t want to say we keep arm’s length from the other groups. You end up with all of us in the same room,” said Joe Elford, counsel for Americans for Safe Access, which has led the court battle for medical marijuana and is squaring off with the Los Angeles City Council. “It’s a very broad-based movement.”
By Karl Vick. Source.

November 17th, 2009 – A widely prescribed and expensive cholesterol drug is not as effective as niacin, a cheap vitamin, in helping to unclog coronary arteries in people already taking statins, the standard medicines used to lower cholesterol, according to a new study.

The research, which appears Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is sending rumbles through the medical community because it is the third recent study to raise questions about the effectiveness of Zetia and its sister drug, Vytorin, highly profitable pharmaceuticals made by Merck & Co.

Introduced in 2002 and 2004 amid heavy direct-to-consumer marketing, Zetia and Vytorin became blockbusters for Merck and Schering-Plough, which had collaborated on their development. The companies recently merged.

Last year, a study released by Merck showed that Zetia did not reduce plaque in arteries compared with patients taking only statins, which are much less expensive and available in generic form. Although released in January, the study had been completed in 2006, prompting a class-action lawsuit alleging that Merck intentionally withheld unfavorable results of a clinical trial. The company paid $41.5 million in August to settle the claims.

Another study published last year showed a potential increase in cancer among patients taking Zetia and Vytorin, compared with those taking only statins.

So what does this have to do with medical marijuana? Everything. Understand that these same profit-making mega-corps of Big Pharma are desperately trying to create cannabinoid-based medicines that can’t be grown in your back yard or closet. While we rejoice that the AMA reversed its position and urged the rescheduling of cannabis, keep your mind focused on why they might have done that. Is it the pure altruism of realizing a mistake and returning to a rational scientific approach to cannabis moderated by compassion for suffering people and the benefit herbal cannabis would provide?

Or is it the realization that the people are crusading for legal marijuana and succeeding, and if herbal cannabis becomes truly legal their friends in the pharmaceutical industry lose all the profits off of cannabinoid pills, sprays, and inhalers to the ultimate “less expensive generic”?

Remember that drug companies only make money if you take drugs. If you’re not sick, you don’t take drugs, so they need to keep finding new drugs to push on you for new ailments you never knew you had. If you go about relieving your unhealthful stress with a joint after a long day, you’re not going to get those stress-related diseases for which you’ll need a lifelong regimen of drugs.

Beware the medicalization of marijuana. I can forsee a ruling where herbal cannabis is placed in Schedule II so research is then allowed to take place. At Schedule II, your doctor could prescribe it to you, but since Schedule II drugs are tightly controlled (no refills, for instance) perhaps he won’t. Meanwhile, Big Pharma identifies and synthesizes the medically-effective compounds in cannabis (taking out the pesky “high”, of course) and these expensive drugs are packaged and mega-hyped on TV. These drugs are placed, like Marinol, at Schedule III or lower. With effective alternatives to herbal cannabis found (and lobbying pressure from Big Pharma looking to protect their investments), states have no reason to begin or continue their herbal cannabis programs.

Next thing you know, the “medical marijuana era” is a relic of the history books, “crude” marijuana is rejected, and those who grow it are busted just like now (remember, possession and manufacture of an unauthorized Schedule II substance can get you in as much trouble as Schedule I.) By: Radical Russ. Source.

November 16, 2009 – Medicinal use of cannabis is being discussed more actively than ever. Although prior to its prohibition in 1937 cannabis was used widely in conditionsmap_340pharmacies, there was little debate about its usefulness to treat various symptoms such as inflammatory pain. Cannabis remedies were well known, publicly advertised and widely prescribed.

“Marijuana,” on the other hand, was virtually unknown Mexican jargon before becoming the “assassin of youth” in propaganda films. Such depictions led to an unceremonious vote by Congress to effectively criminalize Cannabis sativa in all of its forms. The strongest opposition came not from the public (which did not equate the new “scourge” with cannabis remedies) but from the American Medical Association, whose congressional liaison decried the legislation as speciously motivated by “indirect hearsay evidence.”

Over the next 72 years, the image of the American cannabis user morphed from the immigrant madman and criminal deviant of the ’40s, to the counter-culture crowd of the ’60s to the unmotivated slacker of the ’80s. In the ’90s, a “new” image arose: the medical marijuana patient, who is driven not to get high but to get well. It is linguistically ironic that “medical marijuana” may usher in a new chapter in the ancient relationship between human society and the cannabis plant.

Now the American Medical Association has turned heads by again weighing in on cannabis policy. After extensive review of scientific and clinical evidence regarding the harms and benefits of cannabinoids (molecules found in cannabis) as well as recent legal precedence regarding medical marijuana, the AMA announced that the federal Schedule I status of marijuana (most prohibited) should be reconsidered in order to advance clinical research with botanical cannabinoid medicines. The AMA report furthermore expresses that “physicians who comply with their ethical obligations to ‘first do no harm’ and to ‘relieve pain and suffering’ should be protected in their endeavors, including advising and counseling their patients on the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes.”

The emphasis on research is important. There is a future for botanical cannabis-based medicines, but patients and physicians should be empowered to base health care decisions on real evidence rather than hyperbolic claims of marijuana’s dangers or virtues. Not surprisingly, the AMA does not support legalizing medical marijuana through state ballot initiatives, such as the one Floridians could vote on next year if a petition by the group People United for Medical Marijuana gains traction. Cannabis is a plant and modern standards for purity, packaging and delivery of drugs play an important part in assuring reliable predictability. Also at play is the arena of pharmaceutical development — new drugs are being pioneered to enhance the body’s THC-like “endocannabinoid system,” intended to achieve therapeutic effect with improved specificity and minimal psychoactivity. Research is clearly needed to ensure efficacy and safety of these new drugs.

Nonetheless, the perceived promise of such drugs highlights a need for greater maturity in social discussion of medical use for cannabis and/or its constituent molecules. Whatever else might be said about the apparent sea change of public opinion about cannabis, the oft-repeated claims by federal drug czars that medical marijuana is a “smoke screen” or lacks even a “shred of evidence” must be laid to rest as a relic of socially juvenile, 20th century reefer madness. Public policy should be based on sound scientific evidence — not a roadblock to it. Cannabis has been used safely as a folkloric remedy for thousands of years, but in modern America inappropriate Schedule I listing of marijuana has obstructed research to find promising therapies for debilitating human conditions. This is a paramount reason why the scheduling should be changed. By Gregory L. Gerdeman and Juan Sanchez-Ramos. Source.

Gregory L. Gerdeman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, Ph.D./M.D., is the Helen Ellis Professor of Neurology and chair for Parkinson’s Disease Research at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.

Sanchez-Ramos was a physician involved in the “Compassionate Use Protocol for Marijuana” sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In this study, marijuana was prepared and shipped by NIDA to patients with various medical conditions. His patient suffered from muscle spasms and pain caused by a rare disease, successfully treated with cannabis.

November 15, 2009 – Marijuana has long been classified as a dangerous drug with no medical benefits. But thanks in part to the work of a University of Washington sunilmedical student, the American Medical Association this week urged the federal government to reconsider.

“It’s a huge shift on medical ideology,” said Sunil Aggarwal, who’s been studying the medical uses of marijuana for 10 years. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since I was an undergraduate and found out that marijuana wasn’t a horribly dangerous thing.”

Since 1997, the American Medical Association has taken a hard line against the drug, endorsing its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance — the most restrictive category — and asserting its lack of medical value. Aggarwal’s research, published in his dissertation and in two articles in the Journal of Opioid Management — helped convince AMA members that the drug has potential.

At its annual meeting Tuesday, the country’s largest physicians’ organization adopted a policy that urges the federal government to reclassify, or “reschedule,” the drug.

And cannabis activists cheered.

“It’s like part of the Berlin Wall coming down,” said Vivian McPeak, founder of Seattle Hempfest — the largest pot rally in the nation — and one of 400,000 people nationwide authorized to use medical marijuana.

“For the longest time, those of us working for medical marijuana have been hearing this argument that none of the medical organizations or establishments have supported medical marijuana. With the AMA now doing pretty much an about face, who’s going to be able to say that?”

Aggarwal’s path to the 250,000-member organization began last spring, when the UW chapter of the medical student section of the AMA endorsed his resolution to reschedule the drug. After he got it through a national meeting of the student section that June, he presented the idea and his research to the AMA’s 2008 annual meeting, where the organization agreed to study the issue for a year.

Aggarwal served as expert reviewer of the groundbreaking report released Tuesday.

His only complaint? The AMA should have gone farther.

The report drafted by the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health asks for a “review” of marijuana’s classification but neither demands the government reschedule the drug nor emphasizes the need Aggarwal believes hundreds of thousands of patients have for the drug’s medicinal properties.

“I tried as best as I could to make the language stronger than it was, but that was as far as it was going,” Aggarwal said. “But I realized that even at that level, it would still be a big shift.”

And not just for the medical community. Speaking at Hempfest last year, Aggarwal urged the crowd not to feel like criminals.

“We have to change the way people think about people and cannabis,” he told the crowd. “This is a staple of the earth and a basic medicine for a lot of people.”

The government hasn’t shown any sign of following the AMA’s suggestion just yet, though it’s hardly the first organization to call for change. Last year, the American College of Physicians also urged the government to reconsider marijuana.

Aggarwal, who expects to stay in what he calls the now “exploding” field of cannabinoid science after he graduates in June, is sure change is coming.

“I’m pretty happy,” he said. “This Schedule 1 thing is going to be a thing of the past.”
Source.

Hear his speech to Hempfest below:

November 10, 2009 – The American Medical Assn. changes its policy to promote clinical amaresearch and development of cannabis-based medicines and alternative delivery methods.

The American Medical Assn. on Tuesday urged the federal government to reconsider its classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use, a significant shift that puts the prestigious group behind calls for more research.

The nation’s largest physicians organization, with about 250,000 member doctors, the AMA has maintained since 1997 that marijuana should remain a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive category, which also includes heroin and LSD.

In changing its policy, the group said its goal was to clear the way for clinical research, develop cannabis-based medicines and devise alternative ways to deliver the drug.

“Despite more than 30 years of clinical research, only a small number of randomized, controlled trials have been conducted on smoked cannabis,” said Dr. Edward Langston, an AMA board member, noting that the limited number of studies was “insufficient to satisfy the current standards for a prescription drug product.”

The decision by the organization’s delegates at a meeting in Houston marks another step in the evolving view of marijuana, which an AMA report notes was once linked by the federal government to homicidal mania. Since California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996, marijuana has moved steadily into the cultural mainstream spurred by the growing awareness that it has some beneficial effects for chronically ill people.

This year, the Obama administration sped up that drift when it ordered federal narcotics agents not to arrest medical marijuana users and providers who follow state laws. Polls show broadening support for marijuana legalization.

Thirteen states allow the use of medical marijuana and about a dozen more have considered it this year.

The AMA, however, also adopted as part of its new policy a sentence that admonishes: “This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product.”

The association also rejected a proposal to issue a more forceful call for marijuana to be rescheduled.

Nevertheless, marijuana advocates welcomed the development. “They’re clearly taking an open-minded stance and acknowledging that the evidence warrants a review. That is very big,” said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It’s not surprising that they are moving cautiously and one step at a time, but this is still a very significant change.”

Advocates also noted that the AMA rejected an amendment that they said would undercut the medical marijuana movement. The measure would have made it AMA’s policy that “smoking is an inherently unsafe delivery method for any therapeutic agent, and therefore smoked marijuana should not be recommended for medical use.”

Dr. Michael M. Miller, a psychiatrist who practices addiction medicine, proposed the amendment. “Smoking is a bad delivery system because you’re combusting something and inhaling it,” he said.

Reaction from the federal government was muted.

Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said, “At this point, it’s still a Schedule I drug, and we’re going to treat it as such.” The Food and Drug Administration declined to comment.

In a statement, the office of the White House drug czar reiterated the administration’s opposition to legalization and said that it would defer to “the FDA’s judgment that the raw marijuana plant cannot meet the standards for identity, strength, quality, purity, packaging and labeling required of medicine.”

The DEA classifies drugs into five schedules, with the fifth being the least restrictive. Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine and morphine, are considered to have a high potential for abuse, but also to have accepted medical uses.

Several petitions have been filed to reschedule marijuana. The first, filed in 1972, bounced back and forth between the DEA and the courts until it died in 1994. A petition filed in 2002 is under consideration.

Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said that advocates hoped the petition would receive more attention. “Given the change of heart by the AMA, there is every opportunity for the Obama administration to do just that,” he said.

In a report released with its new policy, the AMA notes that the organization was “virtually alone” in opposing the first federal restrictions on marijuana, which were adopted in 1937. Cannabis had been used in various medicinal products for years, but fell in to disuse in the early 20th century.

Sunil Aggarwal, a medical student at the University of Washington, helped spark the AMA’s reconsideration after he researched marijuana’s effect on 186 chronically ill patients. “I had reason to believe that there was medical good that could come from these products, and I wanted to see AMA policy reflect that,” he said.

The AMA is not the only major doctors organization to rethink marijuana. In 2008, the American College of Physicians, the second-largest physician group, called for “rigorous scientific evaluation of the potential therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana” and an “evidence-based review of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance.”

Last month, the California Medical Assn. passed resolutions that declared the criminalization of marijuana “a failed public health policy” and called on the organization to take part in the debate on changing current policy. By John Hoeffel. Source.