Drugs

Despite Science, New Medical Cannabis Laws Prohibit Smoked Cannabis

Smoking bans are not backed by scientific research and they serve to proliferate a black market.

Photo Credit: Couperfield / Shutterstock.com

A CBS poll taken in early January of this year concluded that 86 percent of the nation now supports safe access to cannabis at a doctor’s discretion and there are no signs of public opinion reversing on any other element of cannabis legalization. As public opinion changes, legislatures around the country have explored ways to meet local demand for safe access.

As marijuana becomes incrementally more legal for all uses, states grappling with implementing legislation responding to constituent demand for cannabis in all its forms have passed various measures restricting cannabinoid content or strains available. As Minnesota and New York become the 22nd and 23rd states to implement medical cannabis laws, both states plan to prohibit smoked cannabis.

There is no scientific basis for such a ban or evidence that alternative methods of ingestion are more effective for a patient. In fact, there is a lot of evidence supporting the use of smoked or vaporized flowers and concentrates as opposed to ingestibles alone. So are New York and Minnesota banning smoked marijuana simply because it doesn’t “look” medical? Perhaps there is a financial explanation.

In New York State, the bill is awaiting the signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has already agreed to sign. A less restrictive version made it through the state legislature but Cuomo refused to sign without certain concessions limiting dispensaries to 20 for the entire state (or one dispensary per million New Yorkers) and bans the smoking of cannabis flowers (marijuana buds). Cuomo has the authority to cancel the program at any time.

Qualifying patients will likely have access to infused products such as capsules and tinctures via legal state dispensaries.

Clearly there is strong demand in New York state for medical cannabis, although legislators and advocates have worked for over a decade to get something passed to no avail. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support safe access to medical cannabis—88 percent in favor and only 9 percent opposed. Even registered Republicans in the state support medical cannabis by an overwhelming majority of 82 percent.

The Argument for Smoked Cannabis

The bulk of medical cannabis studies have been conducted with smoked cannabis and there are well documented studies supporting the use specifically of smoked marijuana for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)HIV/AIDSnausea and vomiting (specifically the side effects of chemotherapy) and Crohn’s Disease, among many others. Additionally, government-backed researcher, Dr. Donald Tashkin, has proven that smoked cannabis does not cause cancer as once thought, and likely has therapeutic benefits in cancer treatment.

Smoked cannabis has a rapid onset—often within seconds. Many medical cannabis users, specifically those with gastrointestinal conditions, gravitate towards or feel the need to smoke or vaporize cannabis flowers and extracts specifically because it provides them immediate relief from pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

“Inhaling cannabis allows for a tight controlled titration—making sure you don’t get intoxicated,” says Dr. Jahan Marcu, well known cannabinoid researcher and Research & Development Director for Green Standard Diagnostics. “When you eat edibles or consume cannabis orally it can take between 30 minutes and eight hours [to take full effect].”  

Medical cannabis patients use a system of titration to determine what the best dosage is for them. By inhaling cannabis and immediately feeling its effects, it is far easier and more comfortable for the patient to determine whether or not the dose was adequate and progressively increase or decrease their dosage as necessary.

“When people titrate their dose they know their threshold, they can feel the onset of the effects much more quickly and much more rapidly and it’s much more efficient,” Marcu says.

Pills and edible cannabis are often ineffective to treat nausea and vomiting because not only are pills unable to be absorbed when they are vomited out of the body, they don’t provide immediate relief.

Marcu says that this sort of restriction will likely increase the size of production, with the liklihood of mistakes and contamination going up accordingly.

“Cannabis is a very safe thing,” Marcu says. “Commercialization is harmful. Instead of requiring a minimally processed inexpensive material that people can purchase as raw product and do with it what they want—infuse it, inhale it, whatever—now you are forcing people to use extracts.”

Proliferating Black Market Cannabis

Not only are smoking bans not backed by scientific research, they serve to proliferate a black market for cannabis where product used as medicine is often unprofessionally produced, not lab tested and sold illegally.

“[These laws] are disingenuous at best as it is the ultimate goal is not to provide medical care to patients, but to maintain the criminality of marijuana in America while limiting the significant gains achieved in reforming our draconian drug laws,” says Lt. Diane Wattles-Goldstein (Ret.), and speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “Enacting laws that limit access to whole-plant medicine results in forcing patients to go into the streets and only benefits the criminal element while endangering patient safety.”

Cannabis Opposition is Big Money

Despite the research and science, Governor Cuomo was insistent the bill be more restrictive, and refused to sign the bill if the smoking ban was not included.

So why is Cuomo opposed to smoked cannabis? Although the bulk of Cuomo’s campaign financing comes from shady LLC’s manipulating the law to allow real estate developers to contribute unchecked amounts of money to campaigns, he is a regular beneficiary of campaign funding from the legal alcohol market and health insurance industries—both industries that see legal cannabis as a threat.

This election cycle alone Cuomo has received nearly 40 percent of the donations for the entire Democratic party in New York state, bringing his “war chest” to about $33 million including $99,000 from Manhattan Beer Distributions LLC, $131,000 from Anheuser-Bush Companies, Inc., and $70,000 from local health insurance provider Empire Health.

“The law is based on politics, not on what is actually [scientifically] shown,” says Dr. Marcu.  “If you looked at this discussion objectively, about what forms of cannabis we should allow, you would say, ‘We have a lot of information about the application of inhaled cannabis for therapeutic uses. We have some data on using pure THC orally. We have virtually no data on cannabis infused products to treat diseases.’ So what of those three things does the state of New York do? The one that has the least support scientifically but the one that sounds good politically.”

Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in Cannabis Now, SFCritic Music Blog, Skunk Magazine, and West Coast Cannabis, among others.