By Erik Janus
The states are obligated to step in and provide a well-regulated medical cannabis program in the face of continued federal inaction.
Cannabis has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years and there is evidence from ancient civilizations in China, India and Egypt that this was case 1,000 to 3,000 years before Jesus Christ walked the Earth. By the late 1800s, cannabis tinctures became a common ingredient in the doctor’s kit bag. The first clinical conference to discuss this was held in 1860 by the Ohio State Medical Society and, in 1886, a landmark neurology textbook by Gowers described use of “Indian hemp” tincture (aka “Squire’s extract”) to treat Parkinson’s tremor. Many well-known companies produced these products worldwide: Merck in Germany; Burroughs Wellcome in the United Kingdom; and Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Parke Davis in the United States.
It was only within the last century that this all changed. Decline in the use of cannabis tinctures by the 1930s was multifactorial: legislation was introduced (Marijuana Tax Act of 1937); political forces introduced propagandist films such as “Reefer Madness” and “Devil’s Harvest”; technical problems with replication and efficacy; and perhaps, most importantly, the introduction of hypodermic needles and morphine for pain control.
Today, West Virginia faces an ethical issue: How can we deny elderly veterans, pediatric patients and chronic pain sufferers an alternative medicine that has been deemed safe and effective for thousands of years? How can we still deny these patients when 175 million US citizens now have access to medical cannabis through state-based regulatory programs? The non-profit group Compassion West Virginia believes that patients throughout the Mountain State deserve a well-regulated medical cannabis market that allows access to alternative medicines for a number of different treatable conditions, to include chronic pain, controlling the side effects of chemotherapy, intractable epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and opiate addiction.
The Drug Enforcement Agency has most recently denied multiple requests to “re-schedule” cannabis under the 1970 Controlled Substance Act. While the FDA continues to dribble out cannabinoid-based drugs (as it has since the 1980s), the agency’s ability to do more is restricted by the DEA and the fact that the plant Cannabis sativa is literally a square peg that cannot currently fit in the round regulatory holes of FDA. The agency is not really set up to regulated a plant with close to 500 chemical components in it, much less one that has perhaps a dozen viable individual cannabinoids and terpenes of true health & wellness significance. For example, it is not yet considered “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS), as many medicinal herbs are, and this would allow some regulatory flexibility.
Given FDA’s inability to regulate cannabis as a medicine at the federal level, states have embarked on an individual basis of laws with each state bringing its own personality and resources to result in a “patchwork effect” of regulation. While all approaches differ, there is one thing they all share: the ability to provide predictable and reliable jobs, income and revenue.
The state can no longer justify waiting for the federal government to create a national medical cannabis market. Not only does this betray our fierce sense of independence and self-reliance as Mountaineers, but it also willingly prolongs many very serious problems facing West Virginia (such as unemployment, opiate addiction and lack of state revenue). Compassion West Virginia urges the leaders of the state to take action during the 2017 legislative session and provide its residents with the well-regulated medical cannabis market it deserves.
Our very lives may depend on it.
Erik R. Janus is the co-founder and Director of Business Operations for West Virginia’s only 501(c)(3) non-profit, Compassion West Virginia. He also currently runs a cannabis consulting company out of his home in Shepherdstown after a successful 25-year career at the interface of science and law.