The 2016 National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference in Washington, D.C. was held from March 18 to March 22. It was presented by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), an organization founded by patient advocate and activist Steph Sherer in 2002, now the group’s executive director.
She reminded the 250 attendees that the ASA was instrumental in crafting the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015 (CARERS), one of the most comprehensive medical cannabis legislation initiatives introduced in Congress. It was the first Senate bill to legalize cannabis for medical use.
The ASA wants to resolve federal and state confusion on medical cannabis laws, regulate cannabis like herbal medicine, and ensure safe and legal access for the medical use of cannabis.
Sherer noted how discussions about cannabis have changed over the last few years and how the plant has become more credible in the process. “We used to have to beg people to come to present at these shows when I first started putting them together,” she said in her opening speech. “Now we have people here from Johns Hopkins and from universities around the country who are here helping us find solutions. That is a huge step forward for this movement and our cause.”
Next was a short video from Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. “There is growing support in the Senate for medical cannabis,” she said. “Get engaged in the process. We are closer now than ever to passing comprehensive medical cannabis reform. Let’s just do it.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Lumír Ondřej Hanuš, a Czech analytical chemist and leading authority in cannabis research, discussed cannabinoids and the chemical structure of the plant. “It is wonderful medicine, but it doesn’t cure every time, it doesn’t cure everybody, it doesn’t cure every disease,” he said. “Cannabis has a huge amount of different medicines. And each of us is genetically different, and it affects us differently. We must study it more because it is more complicated.”
As the lineup of speakers and topics demonstrated, this was a conference dedicated to scientific analysis and observation of the cannabis plant, its effect on people, and how to work with legislators to get their help in advancing legalization for medical use.
The speakers came from all walks of life—business, politics, academia, and science—including Pavel Kubů, who founded the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute and became the CEO of the institute’s research and innovation hub; Steve Berg, a former stockbroker who became the CFO of O.penVAPE, the co-founder of the ArcView Angel Investor Network, and editor of one of the cannabis industry’s leading independent market research reports; Stephen Corn, MD, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a prolific inventor who specializes in anesthesiology and pain medicine; and Stephanie Phillips, a senior legislative assistant for Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), with experience in managing marijuana and drug reform policy.
Ryan Vandrey, an experimental psychologist and currently an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, talked about quality control issues with cannabis, referring to his research in which he bought 75 edible cannabis products from dispensaries in California and Washington and tested them to see if the THC content listed on the package was accurate. “Out of 75 products, 13 were accurately labeled and 17 were under-labeled and had at least 10% more THC,” he said. “And 45 had significantly less THC than printed on the label. One product labeled with 1,000 mg of THC tested at 1,236 mg, he said. “So this research shows how important the need for standardization is. This labeling problem is unacceptable for any other medicine, so I am not sure why it’s OK for medical cannabis.”
Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, and a leading researcher in cannabis and PTSD, discussed his research about how cannabis can have negative consequences, including a discussion of withdrawal issues for users and cravings that develop when they stop using cannabis. “These are tricky issues and there are lots of gray areas here,” he said.
In the afternoon of the last day of the conference, groups who registered with their state representatives went to Capitol Hill to practice their lobbying skills.