Thursday, June 20, 2019

Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder will not be allowed to treat their conditions using Colorado’s medical marijuana program.

Veteran American FlagThe state Board of Health voted 6-2 in July to reject PTSD as a legitimate medical disorder under the medicinal weed system. The decision came after hours of emotional testimony from scientists, military veterans, and other PTSD sufferers.

Board members said there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support adding PTSD to the list of approved conditions. The eight disorders currently on that list include HIV/AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.

Had the proposal passed, it would have marked the first time Colorado officials added a new disease since MMJ was enacted statewide in 2000. Efforts to put PTSD on the list have failed twice in the past.

“We’ve let down our veterans today, and [board members] should be ashamed,” said Sean Azzariti, an Iraq veteran and marijuana advocate. “I really believed that this year it would pass, especially since it only failed by one vote last year. It’s truly a sad day in Colorado.”

PTSD sufferers can purchase high-tax recreational marijuana

Weed is legal for any use in Colorado, so PTSD patients can still buy the drug at retail pot shops. But they won’t get the sizeable tax breaks and discounts given to medical users, which could make it hard for many patients to obtain enough cannabis. There are also tighter possession limits for recreational marijuana.

Nine states now allow pot treatment for PTSD. Recent studies suggest the drug can be very helpful in treating symptoms, but the science is somewhat contradictory.

The vote in Colorado came as a surprise to many, as Dr. Larry Wolk, the state’s chief medical examiner, recommended board members pass the proposal. Wolk, who opposed the idea last year, changed his mind when it became clear that many PTSD patients already have access to MMJ for chronic pain.

Vets are suffering without MMJ

Rolling Marijuana Joint“We don’t want people to suffer as a result of not being able to access [the medical weed program] honestly,” Walk said when he announced his support.

Coverage for PTSD is especially important for veterans, Azzariti said. Access to marijuana could save lives, he said.

“We have countless vets killing themselves with prescription cocktails, and having safe access to cannabis could help save them,” Azzariti said.

Scientists believe marijuana may be useful in treating several symptoms of PTSD, including sleep issues, nightmares, anxiety, traumatic memories, irritability, and depression.

“The most common symptoms that vets turn to conventional meds for are sleep problems, nightmares, chronic anxiety, intrusive memories (‘flashbacks’), chronic anxiety including social situations and other places, irritability, depressed mood, and pain,” said Dr. Deborah Gilmarn, who recently retired after 22 years at the Veterans Administration. “Pain can be related to combat wounds or not. In my opinion, all of them could be benefited to some degree by various properties in marijuana. Marijuana is useful for pain as well as for psychiatric problems.”

Suffering Minnesotans finally have access to the medicine that could alleviate their pain and even save their lives.

Marijuana TinctureMedical marijuana became legal for patients in Minnesota July 1, the same day Oregon formally legalized weed. But the program may not prove as effective as its backers hoped.

That’s because patients are barred from smoking cannabis. Instead, they must vaporize it, use a tincture that could contain alcohol, or take ineffective THC pills. Until pot users have access to smokeable plant, some patients may get little relief.

Still, many more patients stand to benefit from the new MMJ regime. With dispensaries opening across the state, patients with doctors’ recommendations will be able to buy, possess, and use medical cannabis.

Opposition remains strong

Resistance to the idea remains deeply entrenched in Minnesota. The state’s largest pyshician’s group opposes MMJ and insists, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that the drug is dangerous and has no legitimate medical applications.

The medical community in Minnesota is unusually old, unusually white, and unusually conservative – not only on healthcare issues but on politics generally. Patients may have a hard time finding doctors willing to consider the upside of weed as medicine.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, initially tried to stop MMJ, urging lawmakers not to legalize the drug for medicinal use. They did it anyway, and he reluctantly signed the law last year. In the months since, support for the program has only grown.

Step in the right direction

Certain regulations have already been loosened, holding open the door to a more inclusive list of qualifying conditions. Cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis are currently covered, along with other diseases, but most health conditions are not. It’s also possible lawmakers could remove the prohibition on toking.

But for now, limits on the program could lead to high prices and long lines. And there will be few dispensaries, so many patients may have to drive long distances to buy their medicine. Even so, adovcates said the program is a step in the right direction.

“The door is opening,” said Bob Cappechi of the Marijuana Policy Project. “This will start helping people out. That’s really what this is all about.”

“Whole plant” MMJ

Minnesota MarijuanaMinnesota’s medical cannabis laws are widely considered more restrictive than any other state with “whole plant” MMJ, though New York also bars patients from smoking marijuana. Whole plant laws allow the medical use of any chemical provided by the pot plant, while so-called “CBD” laws only allow patients to use cannabidiol preparations, also known as CBD oil.

In addition to the 23 states that currently permit whole plant cannabis, another 15 limit patients to CBD oil. CBD, used primarily to treat epileptic children, is non-intoxicating, unlike weed that contains THC.

The lack of THC has made CBD highly appealing to conservative politicians who want to help patients but oppose whole plant MMJ. Dayton ultimately signed the state’s law in large part because of a push by parents with epileptic children seeking access to CBD. Though he wanted to limit the program to CBD, Democratic lawmakers prevailed and passed a full medical weed law.

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Be careful what you believe when you buy edible medical marijuana. That’s the lesson of a new study that shows food infused with cannabis is often much less potent than advertised.

nugs in jarsThe study found that a majority of edible cannabis products designed for medical use are mislabeled. That makes it much more difficult for patients to know how much THC the products contain.

THC is the chemical in cannabis that gets users high. THC levels vary from strain to strain and are higher in concentrated forms of marijuana, including edibles. Strains and concentrates with especially high levels of THC are prized.

THC and CBD content misrepresented

For recreational users, an inaccurate THC count means the difference between getting high and getting really high. But for medical marijuana patients, effective treatment can depend on careful dosing. That can’t be done with misleading data.

CBD levels are also typically misrepresented, the study found. CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid used to treat severe seizure disorders and other conditions. Many patients require a THC/CBD ratio of roughly 1:1, a balance that can be hard to find.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that just 17 percent of 75 tested edible products, all bought legally in three cities, were correctly labeled. The survey defined accuracy as a reported THC level within 10 percent of the actual measured level.

The study found 23 percent of the items were under-labeled, advertising less THC than they really contained. But the remaining 60 percent oversold their THC contents, reporting levels that didn’t bear out under laboratory testing.

Patients and recreational users being undersold

The patients who buy these items are getting less than they’re paying for. They’re also often getting a less effective form of treatment, especially from products that are low in both THC and CBD.

“A couple of products that were supposed to contain 100 milligrams of THC but had only two to three,” said Ryan Vandrey, lead author on the study and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Johns Hopkins University. “That was striking – these were not cheap products and were being sold as medicine.”

Medical marijuana is legal to varying degrees in 37 states, including 14 that allow only CBD preparations. Most of the study’s data came from Colorado, where pot is legal for both recreational and medical uses.

Limited research on medical marijuana

Marijuana EdiblesThe authors of the study note that the science on medical marijuana remains scarce. Among other things, that makes it more difficult to gauge the best concentration of THC or CBD for patients. It’s easier to dose these chemicals using edibles, but even then it’s nearly impossible for patients to accurately assess the THC or CBD levels.

And underdosing isn’t the biggest danger. Many patients have limited tolerance for side effects, and too much THC can trigger panic attacks, paranoia, headaches, and other unpleasant effects. Edibles can contain substantially more THC than dried, smokeable plant matter, even without mislabeling.

Edibles are a sizeable part of the medical marijuana market. They account for 16 to 23 percent of cannabis purchases by patients, according to the study.

There are some rules in place to protect against mislabeling, but few that specifically address medical marijuana. Colorado passed regulations last year requiring potency testing, but only on the recreational cannabis market.

New laws in the state now require independent testing and certification for weed-infused products sold as medicine. Washington State requires similar testing of THC and CBD levels in MMJ.

In the fight against marijuana reform, opponents of legalization have repeatedly trotted out a scare line designed to prod voters into backing away from real change. Legalizing the drug, they say, will lead more teens to use it.

teen marijuana useBut a new study calls that line of reasoning into serious doubt. Scientists in New York and Michigan pooled a massive amount of data on adolescent drug use and determined that states where medical marijuana is now legal have seen no notable uptick in teen cannabis use.

The study was published in the medical journal The Lancet June 15. Ressearchers billed it as the most comprehensive report of its kind to date.

Scientists reviewed extensive survey data from the University of Michigan, which gathers yearly updates from American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders about their use of marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, and other recreational drugs.

The researchers concluded that cannabis use among teenagers was higher than average in states that have adopted medical marijuana. But the difference had nothing to do with MMJ: The numbers were higher in these states even before medical legalization.

In other words, states that already enjoyed marijuana were the most likely to adopt it for medicinal use. This makes sense: Convincing a state full of stoners to support MMJ is a lot easier than convincing a bunch of NASCAR fans.

Teen marijuana use didn’t rise with MMJ

But the key finding of the Lancet study was that the higher use rates in cannabis-friendly states didn’t climb after the enactment of MMJ.

The study covered data gathered from more than 1 million adolescents over a quarter century, starting five years before the 1996 legalization of medical pot in California. In the time since that law passed, 36 other states have adopted MMJ; four of them now also allow recreational marijuana use.

Scientists examined statistics from 48 states and focused only on MMJ. They said they plan to examine underage recreational use next.

It’s still not entirely clear what happens when minors smoke marijuana. Some limited studies suggest that early, frequent use could stunt intellectual growth and cause permanent brain defects. At least some research indicates IQ levels may be lower in pot smokers who start young and use heavily.

Lack of scientific research

But there isn’t exactly a wealth of science on the subject. Researchers don’t know what causes these problems or exactly how they affect stoners, or even how problematic the problems are.

The uncertainty has led to a great deal of fear-mongering and panic among legalization opponents, mostly based on the slimmest of scientific evidence. Researchers wanted to provide some definitive answers.

The Lancet study isn’t the first to tackle questions of nationwide teenage drug use. Some earlier studies suggested an increase following MMJ, while others with slightly larger sample sizes found otherwise.

Reliable data

Marijuana TeenagerThis study, though, includes a huge sample size, far larger than most human studies are able to access. That means the results are likely much more accurate and reliable. Scientists behind the study said they hope their work will clear up some confusion in the public discourse.

“We have a war going on over marijuana, and I think both sides have been guilty at times of spinning the data,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University. “It’s nice to have a scientifically rigorous study to guide policy.”

Opponents of legalization predictably tried to cast doubt on the study, saying the period of time it covers – 24 years – somehow isn’t long enough to prove legalization won’t lead to increased adolescent pot smoking.

“Medical marijuana laws vary drastically across the U.S. and often take years to be implemented, so what we need to see is the longer-term effects of these laws and the accompanying commercialization efforts, which this study does not do,” said Kevin Sabet, a leading cannabis foe.

Overall, the study found that 16 percent of teens have used pot in states where it’s legal as medicine. Roughly 13 percent have tried the drug in other states. And the passage of MMJ laws made no apparent difference in either figure.

“We showed no hint of an increase at all after the laws were passed,” Dr. Hasin said.

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Medical marijuana probably won’t be coming to a hospital near you anytime soon, but several medical centers in New York are seeking to team up with the dispensaries that will sell the drug to patients.

Mount Sainai Hospital, New YorkThe partnerships would allow easier access to cannabis for sick patients. And that could reduce the cost, an important issue since prescription weed isn’t covered by either private insurers, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Businesses had until May 5 to apply for one of five marijuana licenses, each of which will cover up to four dispensaries. The hospitals themselves have not applied for separate retail licenses but instead are teaming up with the companies that have filed applications.

One New York medical group, the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, said it was joining Silverpeak NY, the local branch of Colorado MMJ dispensary Silverpeak Apothecary. The two companies applied for a license together.

Partnership with Silverpeak

The hospital network’s CEO, Michael Dowling, said the company partnered with Silverpeak to make sure patients can get the drug once it’s recommended by a doctor. New York’s medical weed program operates under rigid rules that limit who can sell cannabis.

The program will involve the participation of several local hospitals, though they have not yet been selected. Only physicians who practice at these centers will be able to prescribe marijuana, and then only for a very short list of severe medical disorders.

Officials with the Jewish Health System said in a news release that the hospital “recognizes the importance of our patients having access to every legal option to manage the symptoms of their illness, if there is clinical evidence to support marijuana’s use for the condition.”

38 states allow medical weed

New York is now one of 38 states that allow some form of medical marijuana, including Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma, the latest places to adopt so-called CBD cannabis legislation. Those laws allow the use of CBD oil, a non-intoxicating form of marijuana, for childhood epilepsy.

New York, on the other hand, passed a law last year that allows “whole plant” cannabis, including THC, the chemical that gets users high. The state is one of 23 with full medical marijuana programs.

Hospital VapingOther medical groups are asking for licenses that would allow them to work with the retail providers, including the company behind the Greater New York Hospital Association, a trade group. The University of Rochester Medical Center and the Mount Sinai Health System, located in New York City, are also seeking to partner with dispensaries, though they have not filed for a license.

All these hospitals are large research centers that study some of the diseases covered by the law, including HIV/AIDS, cancer, and seizure disorders. Greater access to marijuana will make it easier for these facilities to examine patient use of the drug.

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The legalization of medical cannabis is in full swing in no less than 23 states and in Washington D.C., and many more are set to implement their own medical marijuana laws in the near future. The specifics of medical cannabis regulation differ from state to state, with California having been the first to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Here’s a breakdown of the (current) states with medical cannabis.

states with medical cannabis

Alaska
Alaska legalized medical marijuana in 1998 by way of Ballot Measure 8, which was passed on the strength of a 58% vote. Medical users in the state are legally allowed to possess an ounce of usable product, and to cultivate 3 mature and 3 immature plants.

Arizona
Arizona legalized medical cannabinoids in 2010 by way of Proposition 203, which was passed via a 50.13% vote. Medical users in the state can possess 2.5 ounces of usable product, and grow as many as 12 plants.

California
California passed medical marijuana legislation in 1996 by way of Proposition 215, which was passed on a 56% vote. Medical marijuana users in California can possess up to 8 ounces legally, and grow 6 mature or 12 immature plants.

Colorado
Colorado passed medical marijuana legalization in 2000 with Ballot Amendment 20, passed on a 54% vote. Medical marijuana users can possess 2 ounces of usable material, and grow 3 mature and 3 immature plants.

Connecticut
Medical marijuana was legalized in 2012 in Connecticut, by way of House Bill 5389. The law was passed on the strength of a 96 to 51 vote in the House, and a 21 to 13 vote in the Senate. The exact amount medical marijuana patients are legally allowed to possess has yet to be determined, but users are allowed to possess a one-month supply.

DC
In Washington DC, medical marijuana was legalized in 2010 on the strength of Amendment Act B18-622, voted into effect on a 13 to 0 vote. Medical marijuana users are allowed 2 ounces of dried product, with the limit for other forms of marijuana to be determined at a future date.

Delaware
Delaware legalized marijuana for medical use in 2011, by way of Senate Bill 17. Passed on the strength of a 27 to 14 House vote, and a 17 to 4 Senate vote, the bill allowed the possession of up to 6 ounces of usable product.

Hawaii
Hawaii legalized medical marijuana in 2000, by way of Senate Bill 862. The bill was passed on a 32 to 18 House vote, and a 13 to 12 Senate vote. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 3 ounces of usable product legally, and grow 3 mature and 4 immature plants.

Illinois
Medical marijuana was legalized in Illinois in 2013. Passed on the strength of House Bill 1, voted into effect by a 61 to 57 House vote and a 35 to 21 Senate vote, the law allowed the possession of 2.5 ounces of usable product for up to 14 days.

Maine
Maine passed its own medical marijuana legalization law in 1999 by way of Ballot Question 2, which was voted in by 61% of respondents. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 2.5 ounces of usable product and grow 6 plants.

Maryland
Maryland voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2014, by way of House Bill 881. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess a 30-day supply legally, with the exact amount to be determined.

Massachusetts
Massachusetts voters passed the state medical marijuana law in 2012 with Ballot Question 3. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess a 60-day supply legally.

Michigan
Michigan passed medical marijuana legalization in 2008 with Proposal 1, voted into effect by 63% of respondents. Medical marijuana users can possess 2.5 ounces of product, and grow 12 plants.

Minnesota
Minnesota passed medical marijuana legalization in 2014 by way of Senate Bill 2470. Medical marijuana users in the state can legally possess a 30-day supply of marijuana in non-smokable form.

Montana
Montana passed medical marijuana legalization in 2004 with Initiative 148, voted into effect by 62% of respondents. Users can possess 1 ounce of usable product for medical purposes, and grow 4 mature plants and 12 seedlings.

Nevada
Nevada passed medical marijuana legalization in 2000 with Ballot Question 9. Passed on a 65% vote, the law allowed medical marijuana users to possess 1 ounce of usable product, and to grow 3 mature and 4 immature plants.

New Hampshire
New Hampshire passed medical marijuana legalization in 2013 with House Bill 573. Medical marijuana users in the state can legally possess as much as 2 ounces of useable product for a period of 10 days.

New Jersey
New Jersey passed its medical marijuana law in 2010, by way of Senate Bill 119. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess as much as 2 ounces of usable product.

New Mexico
New Mexico voted medical marijuana into legality in 2007, with Senate Bill 523. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 6 ounces of usable product legally, and grow 4 mature and 12 immature plants.

New York
Medical marijuana was legalized in New York in 2014, by way of Assembly Bill 6357. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess a 30-day supply of marijuana in non-smokable form.

Oregon
Oregon passed medical marijuana legalization in 1998, with Ballot Measure 67. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 24 ounces of usable product, and cultivate 6 mature and 18 immature plants.

Rhode Island
Rhode Island voted medical marijuana into legislation in 2006, with the passage of Senate Bill 0710. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 2.5 ounces of usable product and grow 12 plants.

Vermont
Vermont passed medical marijuana legalization in 2004 with Senate Bill 76. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 2 ounces of usable product and grow 2 mature and 7 immature plants.

Washington
Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998 with Initiative 692. Medical marijuana users in the state can possess 24 ounces of usable product and grow 15 plants.

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A U.S. congressman is pushing a new bill that would let doctors with the Veterans Administration recommend medical marijuana to their patients.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, OregonRep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat and a driving legislative voice in the campaign for cannabis reform, introduced an amendment at the end of April to the 2016 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations package, a spending bill for the VA.

The amendment would effectively strike down a current rule that specifically bars VA physicians from prescribing or recommending medical weed. More than 20 million veterans currently live in the United States, and a large number of them use the VA for their primary healthcare needs.

Veterans have no access to legal weed

That means a large portion of the veteran population in America has practically no legal access to medical marijuana, even in states where the drug is legal. To get it, they usually must go outside the VA system, and their veterans benefits may not cover the expense.

Blumenauer’s amendment would strike down the federal rule that prohibits VA doctors from completing paperwork from patients seeking medical weed recommendations. It wouldn’t actually remove the rule but would instead prevent the VA from using federal funds to enforce it.

Defunding federal anti-MMJ efforts

This is the approach Blumenauer and a rapidly growing group of pro-legalization lawmakers are taking toward marijuana generally. They supported two bills, passed by Congress last year, which sought to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering in medical cannabis where it’s legal under state law.

That bill also tried to block the DOJ by defunding its anti-MMJ activities. But the DOJ has refused to recognize the authority of the law and has continued its illegal crackdown on medical weed patients and providers.

Blumenauer, who represents the Portland area, said veterans need access to medical pot, especially those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a severe anxiety condition triggered by combat and other traumatic experiences.

Medical MarijuanaVeterans continue to suffer

The current suicide rate among soldiers and veterans is astronomical, and cannabis activists are trying to make sure these patients get the help they need to live good lives.

“While there is no single approach to aiding our nation’s veterans, medical marijuana is proven to help in treating post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries frequently suffered by veterans,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “States are listening to their residents on the benefits of medical marijuana, including veterans, and are changing their laws. It is unacceptable for our wounded warriors to be forced out of the VA system to simply seek a recommendation on whether or not medical marijuana is a good treatment option. We should not be preventing access to medicine that can help them deal with these injuries to survive and thrive. I encourage my colleagues to show compassion to our veterans and pass this amendment.”

New rules are in place for New York’s medical marijuana program.

MarijuanaThe state’s Health Department released a 121-page set of regulations for medicinal pot in the Empire State on March 31. The state’s legislature passed an MMJ law last year, and patients should have access to the drug by January.

The list of diseases covered by the law now includes HIV/AIDS, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, spinal cord injuries, nerve pain, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and Huntington’s disease.

Patients prohibited from smoking

Under the law and the new regulations, patients will not be allowed to smoke marijuana. Instead, they’ll have to vaporize liquid concentrate or take THC pills. The Health Department will license five non-profit distributors across the state.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the law last July, making New York one of two states that allow medical weed yet bar patients from smoking the drug. The other is Minnesota, which also adopted MMJ last year.

New York will soon begin accepting applications for medical cannabis business licenses. Applicants will pay $10,000 as a filing fee, plus a $200,000 registration fee for the businesses that are selected. Each license would expire after two years.

Tight medical weed restrictions

Applicants would also have to meet security requirements, which are likely to be stringent in a state with some of the nation’s tightest medical weed restrictions.

Advocates pushed for inclusion of several new conditions on the approved list, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder, but the Health Department didn’t add them. Officials defended that decision.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker “believes the current list is reasonable and supported by scientific-based evidence,” department officials said in a statement.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who sponsored the medical pot law, has called the regulations “gratuitously cruel.” He opposed them when they were issued in draft form last year.

More information will follow

Medical MarijuanaFew changes were ultimately made to the proposed regulations before they were issued. But health officials promised more information to come.

“Additional information concerning the registered organization application process will be posted to the medical marijuana program’s web page very soon,” the department said.

Officials did say they would consider allowing nurse practitioners to prescribe marijuana. Critics complained during the draft process that allowing recommendations only from physicians would hurt patients.

The state may also expand the number of cultivation and distribution licenses, currently set at five. And officials are eying a program to allow distribution of charity samples to low-income patients.

But the Health Department has yet to release detailed information about the actual application process, such as when and how applications will be accepted. Those guidelines are expected in coming weeks.

Few observers are laying bets yet, but the odds are steadily growing that medical marijuana will soon come to the Deep South.

Old Woman Smoking MarijuanaAt least three Southern states – Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida – are currently considering proposals to legalize real medical weed. These states already allow a non-intoxicating form of the drug, but only for children with epilepsy.

A Republican Tennessee state senator is working on a bill that would legalize medicinal cannabis for patients suffering from any of a restricted list of conditions. In other states, these lists typically include patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

Pushing for limited medical weed

Sen. Steve Dickerson said in March that he was working with a fellow lawmaker to write a law that would allow “limited” medical weed. Dickerson said it wasn’t yet clear what the limitations would be.

“We want to make sure that it’s medically appropriate, substantiated, and that it answers the real needs of Tennesseans,” he said.

Tennessee Democrats have tried to pass MMJ legislation in the past, with no success. A separate bill, drafted by a Democratic lawmaker, has been bottled up in committee. But Dickerson’s entry into the issue could be a hopeful sign.

Florida will succeed second time round

entourageIn Florida, meanwhile, most observers believe full medical pot is a matter of months away. If the legislature doesn’t approve it, voters probably will in November. They failed to pass an MMJ ballot initiative in 2014 by falling just short of the needed 60 percent majority.

Lawmakers in the Sunshine State are considering a bill to allow pot for medical use. Its odds are long at the moment, but it could come up again next year if it fails this time around. Even if it does, voters are likely to decide the issue at the polls in 2016.

An MMJ proposal would almost certainly pass on a second try. The first attempt was tainted by partisan politics; polarizing gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, a Democrat, failed to bring enough voters to the polls to pass the initiative, which was funded almost exclusively by his law partner.

Up the Atlantic Coast, pro-weed activists are hopeful for the prospect of medical marijuana in North Carolina. A bill in the state legislature isn’t likely to pass this year, they concede, but support for the idea is gaining steam.

“I think the public’s evolving,” said state Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “I think we’ll get there. We won’t get there this year, but it’s a grassroots movement building support.”

The very fact that the subject is up for debate in all these places is a good sign. The thought of legal weed of any kind in the Deep South was commonly laughed off just a few years ago. Yet in all likelihood, it will soon come true in Dixie.

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Just days after a Florida jury acquitted a medical marijuana patient on drug charges, the same thing happened in federal court.

Larry HarveyThis time, it was the family of medical weed patient Larry Harvey, 71, a hero of the MMJ movement. A jury in Washington State delivered a not guilty verdict on most charges in the trial of Harvey’s wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 56; their son, Rolland Gregg, 33; and Gregg’s wife, Michelle Gregg, 36.

The three registered patients, who insisted they obeyed state law while growing MMJ at Harvey’s home, were convicted on just one count, a charge of growing fewer than 100 cannabis plants.

Family could still face prison time

Unfortunately, they could still be sentenced to several years in prison. But this is much less severe than the decades they originally faced. Despite the conviction, pot proponents praised the verdict as a sign of things to come.

“The Department of Justice didn’t get the message from Congress and the president, but today they got the message from the jury, and the message is that there’s not a jury in the state of Washington that will convict people of medical marijuana,” said Kari Boater, coordinator for the Washington office of Americans for Safe Access.

Federal agents raided Lee Harvey’s home in 2012 and arrested him and his family for growing dozens of cannabis plants. The family said they grew within the limits of state law, a point the feds chose to ignore.

Harvey’s family barred from arguing medical necessity

Indeed, the federal judge in the trial barred Harvey or his relatives from arguing medical necessity. That meant they couldn’t even bring up their legal status as patients during the trial – or mention anything about medical weed.

This made the trial a major hurdle for Harvey and his family. Eventually, prosecutors dropped the charges against him because his cancer could kill him at any time. But they refused to drop charges against the others.

A family friend was also charged and pleaded guilty last year to undisclosed marijuana charges; he faces roughly 16 months in prison. The Harvey family, on the other hand, refused to capitulate to prosecutors. The gamble paid off.

A sign that times are changing

Medical MarijuanaAnd this verdict could be a sign that the tidal wave of marijuana reform sweeping the states has reached the court system. If juries continue to acquit defendants, the government will hopefully get the message that times have changed and American life will never return to what it used to be.

A jury in Florida made exactly that point in late February by acquitting a patient of growing weed. The man, Jesse Teplicky, testified at trial that he had smoked a joint that day to treat his nausea and anorexia nervosa, but the jurors found him not guilty anyway. It was the first such verdict in Florida history.

Washington adopted medical weed in 1998, just two years after California voters approved the world’s first legal MMJ system. Voters in Washington legalized recreational cannabis in 2012.

Congress enacted a law late last year that was supposed to prevent exactly this kind of prosecution by blocking the Department of Justice and its agencies – including the DEA – from interfering with medical weed in states where it’s legal.

Earlier, the Obama administration issued guidelines to U.S. attorneys, designed to stop the torrent of federal charges against legal marijuana users. Sadly, many of those prosecutors haven’t received the message.