Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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A new study suggests that states where medical marijuana is legal put less strain on Medicare and see less use of prescription medications.

medical marijuana prescriptionIn a nation with an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, that could be a very positive sign. It’s also good news for government regulators and lawmakers, who continue to look for ways to preserve Medicare funding in coming decades.

The study found that the District of Columbia and 17 states where full medical marijuana is legal saved roughly $165 million in Medicare spending in 2013. Conducted by scientists at the University of Georgia, the report was published in July in the journal Health Affairs.

“The results suggest that if all states had implemented medical marijuana, the overall savings to Medicare would have been around $468 million,” the research team said in a press statement.

The researchers examined the quantity of medical prescriptions for treatment of various conditions, including chronic pain. Specifically, they studied prescriptions filled through Medicare’s Prescription Drug Plan, also known as Part D, between 2010 and 2013.

They then focused on prescriptions that could be replaced by medicinal cannabis in states where the drug is legal for that use. In addition to pain, the diseases they studied include anxiety, depression, nausea, glaucoma, psychosis, insomnia, seizures, and spastic disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

MMJ reduced opioid prescriptions

The survey concluded that doctors in MMJ states wrote fewer prescriptions for most of these disorders. Opioid painkiller prescriptions, for one, dropped by 1,800 doses each day, while prescriptions for antidepressants declined by 265 daily doses.

Researchers paid special attention to glaucoma, a serious eye condition that can be effectively treated with cannabis. Glaucoma is extremely painful and can end in blindness, but regular marijuana use has been proven to decrease ocular pressure by 25 percent.

“It turns out that glaucoma is one of the most Googled searches linked to marijuana, right after pain,” said Dr. David Bradford of the university’s School of Public and International Affairs.

But unlike some of the other diseases, the symptoms of glaucoma return rapidly after using, and it would be unrealistic to expect patients to smoke often enough to prevent those relapses. That means the number of prescriptions for this condition shouldn’t drop – just as the study found.

Glaucoma prescriptions have increased

Instead, the numbers have increased for glaucoma while dropping for the other diseases. That sharp difference led the researchers to conclude the drug is truly effective in treating many conditions even while it is less effective in treating others.

In other words, medical cannabis patients use the drug because it works, not because they feel like getting high for the fun of it.

“The results suggest people are really using marijuana as medicine and not just using it for recreational purposes,” said the study’s lead author, Ashley Bradford, who added that she hoped “this research will influence and reform policy making.”

The report focused mostly on the financial savings of medical pot to the government and taxpayers, but there are other benefits as well. Less reliance on prescription drugs could help reduce the wave of opioid overdose deaths sweeping the United States.

“We now know that overdoses from prescription opioid pain relievers are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.”

Tobacco kills – we all know that. And it’s probably common knowledge that a large percentage of marijuana users also smoke tobacco. That, as it turns out, is an especially bad idea.

A new study out of the United Kingdom reports that mixing tobacco with cannabis, as many stoners do, increases the risk they’ll become addicted to either drug, or both.

“Cannabis dependence and tobacco dependence manifest in similar ways, so it is often difficult to separate these out in people who use both drugs,” said lead author Chandni Hindocha, a Ph.D candidate at University College London. “Cannabis is less addictive than tobacco, but we show here that mixing tobacco with cannabis lowers the motivation to quit using these drugs.”

Tobacco and pot are among the most popular recreational drugs in the world: Nearly 200 million people use marijuana while roughly 1 billion smoke or chew tobacco products. In many countries it’s common for cannabis users to mix the drug with tobacco, for at least two reasons.

Why people like to mix

For one, mixing is cheaper than smoking weed and cigarettes separately, since it delivers both drugs while satisfying psychological cravings for nicotine. For another, tobacco may heighten marijuana potency, as it increases the efficiency of smoke inhalation.

The consequences of longtime tobacco use can be severe. Cigarettes kill nearly half a million Americans each year, more than any other intoxicating or addictive drug. Pot smoking can also lead to addiction, thought it’s typically much less damaging and easier to break.

Mixing cannabis and tobacco has be highly addictive
Spliffs are the consumption method of choice in Europe, but not as popular in the Americas.

Heavy cannabis use can lead to memory and cognitive problems, though they are strictly temporary and lift when marijuana is no longer used. The drug’s only serious long-term effect is chronic bronchitis, a condition that often amounts to a persistent but mild cough.

The new study was published by scientists working with Hindocha, as well as researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia, King’s College London, and the National Health Service. The team examined responses from a 2014 survey of 34,000 subjects from 18 countries.

Study compared consumption methods

The study is the first of its kind to explore how many people around the world use various methods of consuming marijuana. The results showed these methods vary widely between countries, with spliffs – joints or blunts containing both cannabis and tobacco – most popular in Europe and least popular in the Americas.

For example, just 4.4 percent of U.S. residents use spliffs, along with 6.9 percent of Mexicans and 16 percent of Canadians. Spliffs are also rare in South and Central America. Vaporizers, on the other hand, are most popular in the Americas and less prominent elsewhere.

But the study’s central finding suggests a combination of marijuana and tobacco in the same joint, blunt, or bowl raises the risk of addiction to both, even more than using both drugs separately. What’s more, scientists learned that smokers who mix are less likely to seek professional help for addiction: Those who don’t mix were 62 percent more likely to want help for cannabis dependence and 81 percent more likely to want help for tobacco addiction.

“Our results highlight the importance of routes of administration when considering the health effects of cannabis and show that the co-administration of tobacco and cannabis is associated with decreased motivation to cease tobacco use, and to seek help for ceasing the use of tobacco and cannabis,” said Michael Lynskey, professor of addictions at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. “Given a changing legislative environment surrounding access to cannabis in many jurisdictions, increased research focus should be given to reducing the use of routes of administration that involve the co-administration of tobacco.”

In other words, spliff aficionados may want to reconsider.

Tell us: Do you smoke spliffs? Does the study make it any more likely you’ll quit smoking tobacco?

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New research suggests a critical chemical in marijuana could help people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer less and live longer.

A study published in June in the scientific journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease reports that THC may alleviate certain Alzheimer’s symptoms by repairing damage to nerve cells in the brain. THC is the chemical in cannabis that gets users high, and it has numerous medical uses.

In experiments, researchers found that THC effectively removed amyloid beta proteins from nerve cells, also called neurons. These brain cells, which number in the tens of billions, are responsible for every aspect of human life, including emotion, memory, and cognitive function – all of which are affected by Alzheimer’s.

Cases of dementia expected to triple by 2050

Prevalence of the disorder, a form of dementia that ends in death, is expected to triple by 2050, as an increasing share of the Baby Boom ages. The problem could get worse later in the century, when the even larger Millennial generation will reach old age.

Amyloid beta proteins form clumps of plaque in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. These protein cells are thought to disrupt communications between neurons, leading to memory loss and other symptoms of dementia.

Demential Alzheimer's

The scientists behind the study, led by Prof. David Schubert of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California, changed neurons to generate excessive levels of amyloid beta. At these concentrations, amyloid beta in the brain causes cellular inflammation, which in turns kills off neurons.

“Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves,” said Antonio Currais, another of the researchers at the Salk Institute.

Inflammation may be the basis of numerous fatal conditions

Inflammation has become a central focus of modern medicine, as scientists believe it may underlie a host of deadly diseases, including Alzheimer’s. Previous research has even suggested that regular marijuana use throughout adulthood could prevent Alzheimer’s by acting as an anti-inflammatory on the brain.

Cannabis interacts with brain cells through endocannabinoids, one of many chemicals that carry biological information from neuron to neuron. These substances are produced naturally by the body, in contrast with exocannabinoids, which are part of the marijuana plant.

Alzheimer's Disease

In studying neuron inflammation, researchers concluded that endocannabinoids helped protect these brain cells from amyloid beta. Since endo- and exocannibnoids interact with the same brain cell receptors (docking ports where neurons receive chemical messages), scientists decided to test whether THC would have the same effect as the endocannabinoids. It did.

“When we were able to identify the molecular basis of the inflammatory response to amyloid beta, it became clear that THC-like compounds that the nerve cells make themselves may be involved in protecting the cells from dying,” Currais said.

The discovery came when researchers applied THC to neurons that were tweaked to produce high levels of amyloid beta. The THC, they noted, reduced amyloid beta and the inflammatory response to it. That in turn protected neurons from death.

“Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” Schubert said.

Let us know: What does this news mean for Alzheimer’s patients? Would you recommend pot to a parent suffering with the disease? Comment below.

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A team of medical researchers in Australia is developing a therapy for skin cancer that involves a new marijuana-based treatment.

Skin cancer

The medicine scientists hope to create would be used to treat melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The study is funded by a $1 million grant from Cann Parmaceutical, an international medical marijuana producer that will provide medical-grade pot for the clinical trials.

Sudha Rao, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Canberra in southeastern Australia, is leading the project, which she said will take about two years. Researchers at the university’s Health Research Institute are already involved in intensive cancer studies, including research into melanoma treatments.

Can cannabis prevent relapse of tumors?

Specifically, Rao and her team are investigating treatments that could shut off cancer stem cells and prevent relapse of tumors. The trials should give researchers a good idea of how effective cannabis is as a therapy for life-threatening skin cancer.

Several large studies have already established marijuana’s potential as a cancer drug. Cannabis is known to have the ability to shut off the rapid, abnormal growth of skin cells that contributes to cancer. A study published in 2011 shows that cannabidiol (CBD), a common chemical found in marijuana plants, has particular promise as a cancer therapy.

Comprehensive science on the effectiveness of cannabis in treating melanoma is scarce, but studies involving other types of cancer suggest the idea holds real promise. And marijuana is well-established as a helpful treatment for the severe nausea, pain, and wasting that accompany many cancer treatments.

Melanoma affects many Australians

Effective means of stopping melanoma are particularly important in Australia, part of which lies in the tropics. The sun is especially bright at those latitudes, leading to higher levels of skin cancer.

“Australians have the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with estimates of more than 13,000 new cases to be diagnosed in 2016 alone,” Rao said. “When you consider that melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia and New Zealand, and almost 1,800 people will die as a result of this cancer this year, we need to work harder at finding effective treatments.”

Medical Marijuana
The study will research how cancer cells respond to CBD.

Melanoma patients in Rao’s study will be given medical cannabis as well as standard chemotherapy. The study is slated to start in 2017, and scientists will closely monitor how cancer cells respond to marijuana and CBD.

Melanoma is one of the more common cancers and has a higher fatality rate than any other type of skin malignancy. Genetics may play a part in triggering it, but by far the most common cause is exposure to sunlight and the ultraviolet radiation it carries.

Wearing sunscreen with a high SPF and avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight are the most effective means of preventing melanoma. White people and others with light complexion are at highest risk of developing skin cancer, especially those who use tanning salons.

Tell us: How do you think marijuana will ultimately factor into cancer treatments in America? Leave a comment below.

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Nearly 50,000 Americans die by drug overdose each year, but that fact is not as simple as it may seem. Most of these deaths are caused not by illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine but by prescription painkillers – legal medication meant to help people, not kill them.

That’s a very serious problem. Roughly 20,000 people die of prescription overdoses annually in the United States, and opioid painkillers are the No. 1 reason.

But how did we get to this point, and what can we do about it? Could marijuana help?

The opioid problem, which has grown to epidemic scale in recent years, is driven by a wave of addiction that started in the 1990s. That was the decade when medical science became convinced the nation suffered from a tidal wave of poorly treated pain. Roughly 100 million Americans endured chronic, intractable pain, and physicians scrambled to find an answer.

Study underestimated dangers of legal opioids

It came to them in 1996, when a prominent pain doctor released findings suggesting the medical community should treat pain as a “fifth vital sign,” along with blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature. That announcement, coupled with a small (ultimately unreliable) study on opiate addiction, convinced drug companies and physicians a highly addictive, potentially lethal prescription drug was in fact neither particularly addictive nor especially lethal.

Watch: How marijuana could helf fight the opioid epidemic

And then, over the next 20 years, everything went wrong. The small opiate study fell apart. Addiction rates soared as Oxycontin, Percocet, and other forms of legal “hillbilly heroin” spread across the Eastern United States and then the rest of the country. Addicts who ran out of pills or prescriptions or money turned to street heroin instead. Either way, many millions got hooked and many thousands died.

A safer alternative

Now the medical community is desperately looking for new approaches to pain and addiction. Marijuana, as it turns out, may be one of their best options.

Medical Marijuana Safer Than Opioid Painkilers

There are two reasons for this. First, a fair amount of hard scientific data suggests cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain (though less helpful in treating severe acute pain). Many states now include intractable pain on the list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.

Pot, of course, doesn’t kill. It has a zero fatality rate and causes almost no long-term health problems, making it a much safer alternative to drugs such as Oxy and Vicodin.

Less addictive

The second reason marijuana may help fight the opioid crisis is that its users rarely get hooked on it. Cannabis has an addiction rate below 10 percent while heroin hooks at least 23 percent of its users. The numbers may be even higher for prescription painkillers.

That means cannabis could be used as an effective, relatively harmless means of treating long-running pain. And there is no doubt that’s important: America’s pain problem is very real, even if the original attempt to solve it backfired spectacularly.

Of course, if that attempt hadn’t been so misguided, musician Prince and untold thousands of other people might still be alive. That’s why it’s so critical policy makers look to pot as a possible way out. People die with needles in their arms every day. No one has ever toked to death. That’s not a hard choice.

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Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, is an angry longtime opponent of marijuana legalization and the last person one would expect to vote for any degree of reform. But in June he did just that.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer

Harris joined with Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, to push legislation that would make it easier for scientists to research cannabis – both its harms and its benefits. Blumenauer is one of the most adamant supporters of legalization on Capitol Hill, recently named “top legal pot advocate” by Rolling Stone magazine.

Harris, on the other hand, is so antagonistic to reform he single-handedly prohibited legal pot shops in Washington, D.C. But he says he wants to “cut through the red tape” that now blocks researchers from obtaining cannabis and studying its effects in clinical trials.

Researching the harms and benefits

His bill, the bipartisan Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2016, would open up new sources of research marijuana, he said. Currently scientists may obtain the drug from only a single source, a small marijuana farm at the University of Mississippi.

“Because of this monopoly, research-grade drugs that meet researchers’ specifications often take years to acquire, if they are produced at all,” researchers at the Brookings Institution reported last year.

Scientists also face difficult bureaucratic obstacles: Before studying marijuana, they must win approval from the DEA, the FDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and, sometimes, the National Institutes on Health. That process is so burdensome and time-consuming it discourages most researchers from even trying. One study on cannabis as a treatment for PTSD was stalled for seven years while the team behind it sought government permission.

Medical Marijauna Research Act

Harris and Bluemnauer joined Reps. Sam Farr, a California Democrat, and H. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican, in sponsoring the Medical Marijuana Research Act. They said the bill would help growers supply researchers with marijuana, remove layers of federal review required to clear studies, and cut the amount of time it takes to win approval.

medical marijuanaBut the biggest change in the legislation could be a watershed for medical cannabis. The change would require federal agencies to “grant an application for (approval) unless it’s not in the public interest, rather than assuming it’s not,” Blumenauer said. “Reversing that presumption is huge.”

The bill would not actually legalize pot – or make it any easier to do so. The drug would remain listed under schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, a category of drugs banned for any use that includes heroin, LSD, and magic mushrooms. Instead, the legislation would create a subcategory within schedule 1 for research marijuana.

“Marijuana’s actually different from other things in Schedule 1, which are all discrete chemicals,” Harris told The Washington Post. “The plant is a combination of hundreds of compounds, so it needs to be treated separately from the other drugs in schedule 1.”

The DEA is currently considering whether to reschedule cannabis on its own authority, a decision expected by July. If it were to happen, states could safely legalize the drug for medical and possibly recreational use. But most observers predict the DEA will reject that proposal. Harris said that process had no influence on his legislation.

“I’m not going to wait for the DEA to figure out what’s going on,” he said.

Just days after activists in Ohio abandoned their efforts to legalize medical marijuana by public referendum, Gov. John Kasich finished the job for them.

Ohio Governor John KasichKasich, a Republican who lost to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries, signed legislation in June that creates a new system for the legal cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana as medicine. The program itself won’t be on the ground for at least a year, and it could be longer than that before patients have access to pot.

The law also isn’t terribly friendly to tokers. It prohibits home grows and smoking, meaning patients must vape, eat, or consume cannabis in some other way. Kasich signed the bill June 8.

Marijuana Policy Project withdrew funding

Just days earlier, backers of a campaign to approve medical marijuana by way of a ballot initiative announced they were withdrawing their financial support. The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest pro-cannabis group in the country, said its money could be better spent elsewhere, since it appeared increasingly likely Kasich would sign the lawmakers’ bill after it passed the Ohio Legislature.

Ohio and 24 other states now allow “whole-plant” medical marijuana, including parts of the plant that contain concentrated THC, the chemical that gets users high. More than a dozen other states allow medical use only of CBD, a non-intoxicating chemical in cannabis. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for any adult use.

Success for marijuana policy reformers

Despite the tight restrictions, Kasich’s signature is a big victory for marijuana policy reformers. It brings medical pot to another large, Midwestern swing state; lawmakers in neighboring Pennsylvania approved medical cannabis days before Kasich approved the Ohio law.

That law puts most of the details in the hands of the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Ohio Pharmacy Board, and the Ohio Medical Board, along with a new bipartisan advisory panel.

Adult patients with any of 20 listed conditions may be eligible for marijuana treatment once the program is up and running. They include HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, and intractable pain. Patients have the right to petition the medical board to add specific disorders to the list.

Rules for prescription have yet to be addressed

Medical MarijuanaThe rules for prescribing have yet to be written, but a patient with a listed condition will have to obtain a written recommendation from a medical doctor. Physicians will be regulated and educated by the state.

It won’t technically be legal for patients to medicinally use cannabis until early September, 90 days after the secretary of state officially files the new law. And until the first dispensaries open at least a year from now, there will be no legal source for cannabis anywhere in Ohio.

Kasich’s signature closes the chapter on a tumultuous period in Ohio marijuana politics. Pro-pot advocates tried in 2015 to legalize the drug for both medicine and recreation but failed at the ballot box. That effort died in large part because its organizers used it to try to build a monopoly to benefit their investors.

The activists who pushed that campaign have since departed the marijuana reform scene in Ohio, leaving future legalization efforts to national groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project – and to the state officials who made medical marijuana legal this month.

Tell us: Should activists in Ohio have kept up their push for a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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Medical marijuana has made a startling difference in the lives of patients who use it to treat pain and nausea, according to a recent study out of Israel.

Medical Symbol leavesThe report, presented at the International Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy in May, collected evidence from patients both with and without cancer, including some who use cannabis as medicine. These patients were cleared to use marijuana by Israel’s health ministry.

Israel is the leading grounds for research into the benefits of medical marijuana, as almost every other government in the world bans extensive study of the drug. That includes the United States, where pot is illegal for any use under federal law.

The Jerusalem study was spearheaded by research professor Pesach Shvartzman of Ben-Gurion University. A large majority of patients in the survey reported that marijuana helped relieve the pain and nausea caused by cancer and its treatments, Shvartzman said.

Marijuana shown to ease nausea and pain

The study marked the first time Israeli scientists have examined data on actual marijuana users. There are 22,000 patients in the country who are allowed to use medicinal cannabis, but there has been little research into their individual circumstances.

Almost all the patients in the Jerusalem study reported that they turned to marijuana after every other conventional medical approach failed. Many of the patients reported minor side effects, including dry mouth, drowsiness, fatigue, and hunger. Researchers tracked each patient for two years.

Roughly 40 percent of participants in the study got marijuana through a doctor’s recommendation. Seventy-five percent of them smoked the drug, while 21 percent used hash oil and the rest vaped. Less than 10 percent of the patients who used cannabis quit after first being surveyed.

No rise in teen marijuana use despite legalization

CAmedicalmarijuanainjarThe Israeli report came out on the same day U.S. officials released new data showing a decline in the number of teenagers with problems tied to marijuana use. That drop tracks with the legalization of cannabis in four Western states and the District of Columbia.

That data came from a study of more than 216,000 teens in the United States, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. It showed adolescent pot use dropped 10 percent between 2002 and 2013, even as legalization spread.

Medical marijuana first appeared in California in 1996, six years before the start of the U.S. study. More than two dozen states now allow the drug as medicine, including the four that have legalized it for recreation: Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington.

The U.S. study examined statistics from teens aged 12-17 over a 12-year time frame. Among other conclusions, researchers found that the number of teens suffering from cannabis dependency and other problems related to the drug dropped by 24 percent in that time.

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A good thing is happening in the realm of medical marijuana reform, and while it’s happening mostly under the radar, it could have big ramifications for suffering patients everywhere.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)The U.S. Senate, and now the House of Representatives, have finally passed legislation that would make it easier for America’s veterans to get their hands on a medication that could change their lives. The bill, part of an amendment attached to the federal budget, passed both houses in May.

The votes broke an impasse, as the Senate had approved the amendment repeatedly in recent years while the House had always voted it down. This time, the chambers agreed on the need to make it easier for veterans to get medical marijuana.

Veterans frequently suffer from PTSD

The drug can be an effective treatment for multiple health problems commonly experienced by veterans, especially chronic pain and PTSD. Pain treatment frequently leads to addiction, as it involves powerful opium-derived medications.

“The death rate from opioids among VA health care is nearly double the national average,” said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon. “From what I hear from veterans is that medical marijuana has helped them deal with pain and PTSD, particularly as an alternative to opioids.”

The House acted first, overcoming expectations that lawmakers there would again kill prospects for VA reform; the amendment passed by a vote of 233 to 189. The Senate quickly followed with a vote of 89 to 8. The amendment now moves to the desk of President Barack Obama as part of a larger military appropriations bill.

Bill allows VA doctors to discuss MMJ

PTSDThe amendment specifically allows VA doctors to discuss the efficacy of medical cannabis with their veteran patients. Because the drug is prohibited by federal law for any use, doctors have always been barred from doing so. The new legislation blocks the Obama administration from using federal money to continue enforcing that ban.

The amendment will now move to a conference committee, where members of each house will negotiate a compromise bill with provisions from both their versions. If they succeed – an outcome considered likely – the amendment would be wrapped into the federal budget for the 2017 fiscal year, a budget Obama is expected to sign.

The votes on Capitol Hill drew praise from cannabis policy advocates, who have called attention to veterans’ medical marijuana needs for years. Success in the House and Senate marks a major step forward for reformers, who continue their push to make marijuana more widely available to all patients who need it. Widespread public support for military veterans likely made it easier for lawmakers to go along with this legislation.

“Prohibiting VA doctors from recommending medical marijuana does nothing to help our veterans,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Current VA policy is preventing physicians from thoroughly monitoring patients’ medication decisions and engaging in frank conversations about available treatment options. It dramatically undermines the doctor-patient relationship. This measure removes unnecessary barriers to medical marijuana access for the men and women who have volunteered to serve in our armed forces.”

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A second attempt to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio has ended with a whimper.

Marijuana Policy Project logoLess than a year after an earlier effort failed badly at the ballot box, backers of a 2016 follow-up abandoned their medical cannabis campaign, saying a recent vote by lawmakers made it a moot point. The Ohio Legislature voted in May to approve its own approach to medical pot.

The announcement means the state’s legislators, rather than its voters, will shape the details of medical marijuana throughout Ohio. That could lead to tighter restrictions, as similar approaches have in other states.

The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest national group lobbying for legalization of marijuana, announced with its local affiliate, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, that it would end its push to legalize medicinal cannabis at the ballot box. The groups were in the process of collecting the 300,000 signatures required to put the question before voters in November.

MMJ rules will be decided by state legislators

Legalization advocates said they were surprised by the announcement. Just days earlier, Aaron Marshall, a spokesman for the reform campaign, had said the groups would keep pushing the initiative even if the legislature passed its bill. “Hell yes,” he said when a reporter asked the question.

But the lawmakers’ vote left the Marijuana Policy Project with an obvious choice: Either the group could pour more money into its Ohio initiative in hopes of tweaking the specifics of the state’s new policies or they could direct that cash toward states where the very future of MMJ is still in doubt.

Ballot drives are expensive, eating up millions of dollars. Last year’s failed effort to legalize marijuana in Ohio for both medical and recreational use cost $20 million before voters even made it to the polls – and then died there anyway. A continued push by the Marijuana Policy Project would have drained millions more, and to no apparent end.

“The reality is that raising funds for medical marijuana policy changes is incredibly difficult, especially given the improvements made to the proposed program by the Ohio General Assembly and the fact that the Governor is expected to sign the bill,” Brandon Lynaugh, campaign manager for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, said in a news release.

Smoking and cultivation banned

Marijuana LeavesThe version adopted by the legislature, which should receive the signature of Gov. John Kasich soon, would legalize most medical forms of pot under the auspices of the Ohio Department of Commerce, the state’s Pharmacy Board, and its Medical Board. But the initiative would have allowed smoking and home grows, while the legislative bill would not.

Rather than smoking cannabis, patients would be forced to vape it, eat it, or take it in another form. These methods are not effective for all patients.

“Smoking dope and growing dope, that’s not an Ohio thing,” said GOP Sen. Dave Burke, who pushed the bill through the Ohio Senate. “That’s not medicine.”

Ohio’s version of MMJ would become available within 16 months once Kasich signs the legislation, Burke said. The law would allow Ohioans to buy and use marijuana in other states – but they can already do that, and it is a federal crime to bring the drug back across state lines, so the rule would not provide measurable relief to any patients.

Burke and his supporters took the announcement by the Marijuana Policy Project as a victory. They accepted medical marijuana begrudgingly, and then only because they wanted to stop outside groups from shaping state law.

“Marijuana Policy Project choosing to withdraw its ballot initiative is welcomed news,” said House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, also a Republican. “But more importantly, it is an indication of the General Assembly’s willingness to listen and respond to the will of Ohioans.”