CannaTech Sydney 2018 is history. The inaugural Australian event, with 550 registrants from every level of the cannabis world, was a rousing success. For those who dreamed of the global cannabis revolution there is good news: the dream has arrived. For this particular cannabis veteran there was validation of the movement’s future in the form of 12-year old Rylie Maedler, the founder and president of Rylie’s Smile Foundation (https://ryliessmilefoundation.org). She is from Rehobeth Beach, Delaware and she was a long way from home when she took the stage in Sydney, Australia.
Rylie developed an aggressive brain tumor at the age of eight. Surgery would remove the tumor but seizures became a new nightmare that was resolved by cannabis oil, administered by her mom. The youngster would survive, start her foundation to help other pediatric cancer patients and become a cannabis activist along the way. Rylie’s composed presentation at CannaTech would literally bring down the house, leading to an encore presentation after the final speaker on Tuesday afternoon.It was an honor to pose with Rylie for a picture which I can’t help but look at and think, “There we are, the future and the past of medical cannabis.” Don’t get me wrong, I hope to have many more years to speak with people and remind them of the beginnings of the medical marijuana movement. It is my honor — perhaps even my duty — to recall the past.
And when I recall the past I think of Josh Andrews, three years old in 1980 and suffering from Wilm’s Tumor cancer. Like Rylie’s mom, Josh’s mom, Janet, was willing to do anything to save her child, including the use of cannabis. And like Rylie, Josh survived. He is now 42-years old and living in Idaho. It was my honor to finally meet the Andrews family in 2016. I wrote about Josh for Cannabis Now Magazine (https://cannabisnow.com/josh-a-reagan-era-mmj-miracle-30-years-later/).
These stories are compelling and bring us all to tears. But there are thousands of Joshs’ and Rylies’ whose names we will never know, children whose parents take grave risks to save the lives of their children. Some succeed, some do not. But each should have the opportunity to LEGALLY use cannabis because it may well save the life of their child. ❖
Canada has been an international leader with respect to cannabis regulation. They first legalized cannabis for medical purposes in 2000 and they have become the second nation to legalize marijuana for adult use, a program that will launch in October 2018. But, ironically, this national program designed to decriminalize and expand the rights of all Canadians to possess marijuana is threatening the existence of the nation’s premiere medical cannabis program.
The shocking suggestion to kill Canada’s medical cannabis program has come from the country’s top medical group, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). And their reasoning behind the suggestion is even more shocking: CMA wants the program to close because some of its members are “uncomfortable” prescribing cannabis due to a “lack of high-quality research.”
A story on the Canadian Broadcasting Commission (CBC) website quotes leading CMA spokespersons with a stunning lack of knowledge and compassion. Like federal bureaucrats here in the U.S., the CMA seems incapable of delineating between medical use and recreational use, assuming that cannabis is cannabis and any supply will do, even if you need it medically.
Surrendering their intellectual sovereignty to the knee-jerk reactions of anti-marijuana zealots, the CMA does not take this opportunity to applaud a new day in drug regulation that could actually lead to that “high quality” research they are seeking. Instead they have chosen to abrogate their responsibility to “do no harm.” Sending the seriously ill to a recreationally-oriented dispensary risks exposing these patients to unnecessarily high dosing of THC at a time when research — yes, CMA, it is being conducted — shows that micro-dosing is often the best route for patients.
Meanwhile the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) has arrived at the proper conclusion— maintain separate programs. Karey Shuhendler, a spokesperson with the 139,000 member CNA says, “”Protecting a medical stream helps to ensure that there’s going to be product produced for medical purposes, and that access to those products won’t be minimized and swayed toward a more commercially driven product demand.”
Unfortunately the CMA is not alone in its backward thinking. Several of the states in the U.S. that have both medical and recreational use programs have chosen to merge the two and abandon the patients. This demonstrates that despite tremendous strides in terms of educating the public, medical cannabis reformers have failed to impress upon regulators the fundamental differences between recreational and medical use.
It’s ironic that, once again, patients are being forced to lobby for compassionate regulations that provide them with what they need. Twenty years ago the goal was legal access to any cannabis but now we have learned too much about the endogenous cannabinoid system to return blindly to “smoke as directed.” Patients need quantifiable, well-tested product with the best analysis available relative to cannabinoid content. And they need the type of leadership demonstrated by the Canadian Nurses Association. ❖
Reverend Scott Tracy Imler, medical marijuana hero and Methodist minister, has unexpectedly died at the age of 60. He passed peacefully in his sleep on August 9, 2018.
I met Scott in the 1990s in Santa Cruz, California where he was successfully orchestrating the passage of Prop A, a local ballot initiative authorizing the medical use of cannabis. Scott would go on to become a co-author of Prop 215, the 1996 history-making ballot initiative that launched the era of state-authorized medical cannabis programs. After passage of Prop 215, Scott would establish the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center which was raided by federal DEA agents in October 2001. Scott would battle charges for the next several years. He was eventually convicted but did not serve any time in jail.
What I will most remember about Scott was his untiring work for Bob and I during the October 1992 display of the AIDS Quilt on the Washington Mall. It would be an unprecedented event with the entire Quilt on display, stretching from one end of the Mall to the other. At that time Bob and I were focused on the Marijuana AIDS Research Service (MARS), an offshoot of our group, the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT). MARS had one purpose: to get AIDS patients legal access to cannabis. We had streamlined the paperwork that would allow AIDS patients to request legal access to federal marijuana. The project was incredibly successful with thousands of AIDS patients completing the paperwork and submitting it to the FDA. The federal government’s response was to shut down the only means of legal access to cannabis. The public’s outrage caught the feds completely by surprise. They expected an uproar from AIDS groups but the outrage spread across the general public as well. It was these events that set the stage for passage of Prop 215 four years later.
But in the Fall of 1992 we were still endeavoring to get federal officials to change their minds and re-open the compassionate access program. When we learned about the Quilt display we quickly arranged for an exhibit booth. We realized we would need lots of help to coordinate our efforts. Tens of thousands of people were expected to visit the Mall and view the Quilt and visit the exhibits. We asked Scott, who was living in Santa Cruz, to come to Washington for several months and help us get everything coordinated. He readily agreed and his help was invaluable.
We arranged for several AIDS patients to travel to Washington and to help us at the exhibit booth. These were our “men from MARS.” They included Kenny Jenks, a recently widowed hemophiliac who contracted AIDS from tainted blood and unwittingly passed it on to his wife Barbra. They became national heroes when they successfully fought marijuana cultivation charges and then secured legal access to federal marijuana. Jim Barnes was a quiet soul from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His application for federal marijuana was approved but he never received legal supplies. Ezekiel Ramshur was from Monroe, Louisiana, was also approved to receive cannabis but had not gotten supplies. Soft spoken with the trendy single braid at the nape of his neck, Ezeikiel arrived with his partner Robert who had just been crowned Miss Monroe. “The city, not the star,” he exuberantly exclaimed.
Scott was the like a platoon commander, organizing the men and quickly determining who was capable of what. The opening day of the display was cold and wet but our Men from MARS carried on. The next day dawned with crisp autumn air and the sunlight was dazzling in that way that only autumn sunlight can be.
Our exhibit table was swamped with people. That night we participated in the Candlelight March, up the Mall and past the White House, ending at the Reflection Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. President George H.W. Bush had talked about “a thousand points of light” and here was tens of thousands of points. But Bush senior had turned his back on AIDS patients and they wouldn’t forget. A few weeks later he was defeated by Bill Clinton.
Scott is in nearly every photo from that day. He was tireless. And his calm demeanor helped keep everyone focused. It was an event that none of us would ever forget.
Looking at that photo from the Candlelight March I realize that everyone but me is gone. I think of the line from James Taylor’s song, Fire and Rain, “I always thought I would see you again.” I certainly thought I would see Scott again.
The true cannabis pioneers — the ones who carved the way through the wilderness of the federal prohibition and set the stage for the reform that has come in this Century, are dropping away. Scott Imler was part of that pantheon and he will be missed. ✦
The British Home Secretary has announced that specialized clinicians will be allowed to legally prescribe cannabis by the autumn. The announcement was the result of a two-part review the Secretary commissioned on June 19.
According to the Gov.UK website, “The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) carried out the second part of the review, considering the appropriate schedule for cannabis-derived medicinal products, based on the balance of harms and public health requirements. The ACMD recommended that such products meeting a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.”
This action is rooted in two developments in the U.K. Firstly, there has been intense pressure from the parents of children with intractable epilepsy. These parents have been routinely traveling to the U.S. to see if their child responds to cannabis-derived preparations like Charlotte’s Web. Secondly, the British based company, GW Pharmaceuticals, recently received U.S. FDA approval to market their anti-epilepsy drug, epidiolex. The company is awaiting action by the DEA to rescheduled appropriate cannabinoids so the new cannabis-derived preparation can be prescribed. The ACMD, according to the news release, “recommended that such products meeting a clear definition of what constitutes a cannabis-derived medicinal product should be placed in Schedule 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.”
Other forms of cannabis will be kept under strict controls.
This move by U.K. officials will likely be copied by the DEA.
A recent article from the business newsletter Small Caps really underscores how curious the cannabis issue has become. The Australian company, Queensland Bauxite, is integrating medical cannabis into its corporate platform and has snagged a plum import/export license from Australia’s Office of Drug Control.
Mining is among the largest sectors in Australia’s economy with coal being the surprising #1 mineral mined. Most coal is exported to China. Bauxite is the principal ore of aluminum and Australia is the largest producer of alumina in the world.
But Australia is very ecology-minded and it is not surprising that mining companies might want to diversify to protect themselves in the future. Queensland Bauxite has made a dramatic statement of where it sees the future heading.
A recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times about the coming release of epidiolex really got me to thinking about the gulf that exists between real life and the lofty realms of “national” organizations. The article featured quotes from Ayesha Akhtar, director of education at the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. Ms Akhtar works on the frontlines of epilepsy. She said there has been a “flood of inquiries from people who were “ecstatic” about the FDA’s announcement.” She termed the drug’s approval a “sea change” for epilepsy treatment.
That is quite different from the tepid statement released by the national office of the Epilepsy Foundation (EF) which, in a press release, said they were “pleased.”
It has always seemed to me that a disconnect exists between national offices and their local chapters. The use of cannabinoids in treating epilepsy, particularly Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, has been public since 2011 when the Stanley brothers of Colorado developed Charlotte’s Web for young Charlotte Figi who was five years old at the time and suffering dozens of seizures a day. The cannabis cultivar developed by the Stanley brothers was rich in cannabidiol (CBD) and it stopped Charlotte’s seizures, for the most part. When the story was featured in the CNN special entitled “Weed” it was truly a watershed moment which was capped by Dr. Sanjay Gupta apologizing for turning a blind eye to the medical potential of cannabis.
It’s impossible to know how many parents of children with intractable epilepsy turned to CBD but it is safe to say thousands. Local chapters of the Epilepsy Foundation were inundated with questions and the national office began taking steps by encouraging research and rescheduling. And there is an excellent web page at the EF website. But there is still a reticence to embrace the issue fully. Indeed, when the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) requested a booth at the annual meeting of the Epilepsy Foundation in 2017 they were denied.
Somehow I think the Chicago chapter of the EF would be happy to have an ACNA exhibit table.
Some parents are concerned that the release of Epidiolex will result in a crackdown and curtailment of products like Charlotte’s Web. Others are concerned that epidiolex is an isolate, not a true plant derivative. They point to the “entourage effect” and express concern that the FDA-approved medication will be “too pure,” perhaps providing relief for a period of time but eventually failing.
These are the battles that are ahead of us. I’ve got a pretty good idea which side of the argument the EF will come down on.
Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Wellcome Trust Library in London and review the archives of Elizabeth Brice and the UK chapter of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT). A history student from Bristol University alerted me to the existence of these archives. He was writing his undergraduate dissertation on the role of patients in changing the attitudes toward medical cannabis in the United Kingdom so it is no surprise that he focused on Elizabeth. For much of the 1990s Liz was THE face of medical cannabis in Britain. She was a powerful voice for the issue and she was also an MS patient.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is quite prevalent in Britain. At one time there was a theory that MS tended to cluster in cold climates. Whether that is true or not I don’t know but it does seem to me that most MS patients I have had the pleasure to know have been from northern climes. Elizabeth read that cannabis could help her MS and after some careful trials she determined that it was, indeed, very helpful. She set out to help others and almost single-handedly turned the tide of public opinion. She also became friends with a fellow named Geoffrey Guy who would establish GW Pharmaceuticals in England. Dr. Guy was determined to establish a cannabis-based medicine that would be available through the conventional channels of doctor-patient-pharmacist. He succeeded in developing Sativex. Liz was among the first to use the drug and found it quite helpful.
Sativex has been controversial but a recent study in Italy found it to be helpful for MS patients. Here is the link: https://multiplesclerosisnewstoday.com/2018/06/29/sativex-relieves-pain-multiple-sclerosis-italian-study/. Liz would be happy to read this report. Unfortunately she died in 2011 at the age of 54, the same age as Robert was when he died (in 2001). These heroic patients get too little credit for today’s booming green rush. I’ll be writing more about Elizabeth and the other brave souls who were the true pioneers of medical cannabis.
Monte Content is a Denver-based company that creates 2-3 minute educational videos on various topics relating to cannabis. Those videos are then put onto a kiosk that can entertain patients and customers as they wait to be admitted into a dispensary. While in Denver recently Monte Content asked me to sit down for an interview on the history of the medical cannabis movement. You can see the results here. Feel free to share and if you own or are affiliated with a dispensary consider contacting Monte Content about their product.