By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
July 13, 2016 9:18am – (Updated 5:52pm) – On Friday, the state of Maine rejected the addition of addiction treatment to their qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Filed in February of this year by Dawson Julia, the petition was the first attempt in the nation to add addiction treatment as a condition for recommending cannabis in a legal medical marijuana state.
The decision was mailed, US Mail Certified, to Mr. Julia on Friday, July 8, 2016. The decision was due by Sunday, July 10. Julia received the letter on Monday, July 11.
The Denial Letter
The letter stated, in part:
“This letter will serve as the Departments final written decision regarding your Petition dated January 12, 2016, to add ‘Addiction to Opiates and drugs derived from chemical synthesis’ to the list of debilitating conditions…for the reasons set forth in the attached Briefing Memoranda…I hereby declare that the Petition is denied.
The letter was followed by a two page memo with a detailed description of their reasoning. They systematically showed that they wanted more “human” studies, which are very hard to obtain with the current federal scheduling of cannabis as Schedule I in the Controlled Substances Act.
“Despite the disappointing decision, it pleases me to know this petition was lobbied against hard by the corporate pharmaceutical mafia,” petitioner Julia told Oregon Cannabis Connection (OCC). “Now that I have their attention … I intend to work twice as hard with the 128th legislative members as we build an army of support to stand against your corrupt money.”
Julia is the owner of East Coast CBDs, a medical marijuana center in Unity, Maine. We reported on his petition in our article, Cannabis for Opioid Addiction: The New Treatment Option May Be Coming To Maine.
“When you go through detox you suffer incredible nausea—you think you are going to die,” Julia explained to WABI TV5 in an interview. “You are going to have sleep deprivation; you’re going to have muscle spasms; you’re going to have appetite issues and these are all things … that have been proven marijuana works for.”
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) wanted to see more animal and human health trials than were presented, or that seem to be available currently. Those trials would be on treatment of addiction directly with cannabis as opposed to treatment of the symptoms. At this point, they say it’s not there.
“Would you utilize another addicting substance as treatment for that addiction? That’s a difficult position to take, and really DHHS takes the stance that any evidence-based protocol that can be used for substance use disorder is a treatment that we could support,” Dr. Christopher Pezzullo, state health officer with Maine DHHS also told WABI TV5 in Portland.
“There were some studies with animals, and rat and mouse models, that seem to show that there might be a positive effect utilizing marijuana for an opioid addiction,” explained Dr. Pezzullo further. “But, there were also several studies that suggested that there was no effect at all, and there were several studies that suggested that it might actually enhance the opioid addiction.”
The Director of Cannabis Action for Maine People (CAMP) and Owner of Greener Pastures Holisticare, Roxie Gullikson Figaratto, also didn’t like the ruling and explained to OCC, “I reject the denial of Dawson Julia’s petition to add addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in Maine.”
“The LePage administration missed an important and crucial opportunity to help Mainers in the throes of Maine’s deadly opiate epidemic …. Cannabis is not FDA-approved, yet to hold its safety and efficacy to FDA process and standards is disingenuous, at best,” Figaratto explained further. “Cannabis is approved as a treatment for a wide variety of ills in Maine, despite the seeming lack of FDA approval and human trials, and to patently deny the treatment of this scourge of addiction is a disgrace and a grievous failure to act in the best interests of Maine citizens.”
Figaratto has reason to be concerned over the decision. CAMP, the organization she leads, did hundreds of hours of research, compiled the most targeted and compelling scientific and medical studies, and solicited amazing testimony from Maine doctors, nurses, and patients.
CAMP is a non-profit advocacy group in Maine whose mission is to protect, improve and expand the Maine Medical Marijuana Program (MMMP). Figaratto explained they are a patient education and advocacy group that seeks to involve and empower patients to have a say in the Maine’s medical cannabis program.
“CAMP did indeed present well-documented and respected safety data in its hearing report, despite the Department’s claim that we did not,” She told OCC. “Simply put, Maine is a cash cow for the Pharmaceutical Industry, and DHHS failed to take a stand against it, despite a well-researched, scientifically-supported, and expertly presented hearing in April.” (Contact CAMP at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy of the hearing materials.)
“We created a patient impact survey we used to gather data about patients whose use of opiates and opioids declined or stopped once they began using medicinal cannabis,” Figaratto explained. You can find it on their website at www.campmaine.org.
Greener Pastures Holisticare, Figaratto’s clinic, provides comprehensive holistic wellness services for medical cannabis patients in Maine, including the Greener Pastures Recovery Program. She explained that it is a mindfulness-based addiction treatment program that uses holistic medicine, humanist philosophy, and community as the cornerstones of recovery. They are at 144 Ocean Avenue in Portland, Maine.
“We have so many patients that are in recovery now, due to cannabis therapy, and the need for this service is growing,” explained Figaratto. “I get calls and emails every week from people all over the country asking about our service.”
Not Everyone Surprised
Dr. Dustin Sulak made an impressive presentation concerning cannabis for opioid addiction treatment earlier this year, and at the April hearing in Maine. At his clinics, Integr8 Health, he frequently saw opioid addicted patients. But, considering the previous outcomes for adding conditions, he was not very surprised.
“The Maine DHHS already set the standard for denying petitions to add qualifying conditions in 2013 when they denied Tourette Syndrome, stating that in order to approve a condition they would need to see the same level of evidence that the FDA would require to approve a new drug,” Dr. Sulak explained to OCC. “While there is significant observational data that cannabis can replace opioids in the setting of chronic pain, there is very little controlled clinical evidence that cannabis is safe and effective at helping with opioid addiction…So, I see why they denied the petition – a government employee can’t just approve an indication for cannabis on a whim without good evidence.”
His clinic recently polled their chronic pain patients to see how many used cannabis in combination with opioids. What they found was in 542 patients who used both, 39% were able to completely stop opioids after adding cannabis, and another 39% were able to reduce their dose. He said that the results also showed 80% reported improved function and 87% reported improved quality of life after adding cannabis.
Legalization in November?
Maine has a legalization initiative on the ballot for the 2016 November general election. If approved, it would provided access to adults who may want to use cannabis on their own in their addiction treatment. Though it’s less than ideal, it is better than no access at all.
“At a time when our state is facing a growing and deadly opioid crisis, we should be expanding options for treatment – yet this disappointing decision by DHHS does the opposite – preventing Maine people suffering from substance use disorder from accessing the care they need,” said Alysia Melnick, Political Director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like
Alcohol. “This decision reinforces the importance of voting “Yes on 1” in November, which would allow marijuana use for adults and secure access for those seriously ill Mainers not covered by the medical program.”
“Maine has a much better chance of adding qualifying conditions through legislative action, and our vote on legalization this November can also bring access to patients who do not currently fit into the qualifying conditions,” Dr. Sulak agreed.
Find out more about that initiative at Legalize Maine.
As more states legalize medical marijuana, we will see the “crucible of liberty” notion getting played out. Unfortunately, the pawns in this game are sick and suffering people who could benefit from this forbidden herb. Policy diversity and innovation between the states is a good thing, unless in doing so you are enabling barriers to reasonable commerce, fair trade, or equal treatment on matters of importance. When we consider cannabis as a medicine, then reasonableness, fairness, and equal treatment should rule the day. The best solution is federal de-scheduling so cannabis can be treated as the valuable, beneficial, and inspiring plant it is.
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