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Florida Representative Pushes for Medical Cannabis

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Floridian Rep. Matt Gaetz made headlines on May 21 when he announced his support for medical cannabis.

According to Tampa Bay Times, Gaetz announced that he supports cannabis and doesn’t think that cannabis advocates need to despair. “A lot of people think we can’t pass cannabis reform in a GOP controlled congress,” Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times regarding the current Republican control. “It reminds me of when Gov. Scott sent his Surgeon General to testify against my Florida legislation—and then took credit for it when debating Charlie Crist. This issue is moving fast. It turns out people like freedom.”

For those following Gaetz closely, this shouldn’t be a major shock. Last month, the Republican introduced a bipartisan bill called the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018. He even hosted a special event on Capitol Hill in support of freeing up cannabis for medical research.

If the new act ends up passing, it would require the federal government to routinely check up on whether there is enough medical-grade cannabis available for testing. One of the major complaints from researchers in the past has been that cannabis that is cultivated for research purposes is actually much lower quality than cannabis cultivated in legal states for recreational and medical sale. It would also provide a safe harbor for researchers who fear of being interrupted or persecuted for studying medical cannabis.

“The federal government has lied to the American people for a generation about the medical properties of cannabis,” Gaetz said. “We have a moral obligation to democratize access to research so that innovators can unlock cures to improve quality of life for millions.”

The state of Florida has continuously failed to act on implementing their medical cannabis program, even resulting in a lawsuit. All that aside, however, this is a major milestone to show how far support for medical and testable cannabis has come.

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FDA Provides Updates on Research Gaps for Regulating Cannabis

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It has long been a point of contention for the legal cannabis industry that cannabis products have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While cannabis is still federally illegal, the FDA recently addressed some of the challenges in regulating cannabis compounds and products containing cannabis.

According to the FDA, not having access to enough research data is one of the main issues that the organization faces. Specifically, the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health notes that many CBD products are marketed toward women, such as sex products, and more research is essential in order to better understand the effects of those products. “As women are generally the principal healthcare consumers in the US, understanding sex and gender differences between women and men must be at the forefront of our minds,” said Kaveeta Vasisht, director of the FDA’s Office of Women’s Health and associate commissioner for women’s health.

In addition to regulating CBD, one of the most popular legal cannabis derivatives on the market, the FDA is also looking for more information on regulating THC and other popular compounds such as CBN and CBG, as well as terpenes. “FDA’s responsibilities are over the entire spectrum of the products derived from cannabis and the FDA must be prepared to regulate them in the most appropriate ways,” said Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Overall, the FDA outlines some major problem areas due to lack of knowledge, including logistics, evolving legislation, increased legality of cannabis and scientific uncertainty. The plan is to tackle these areas and gain more knowledge so they can properly regulate cannabis of all types. This includes employing the help of cross-agency committees called the “CBD Working Group,” which enlists the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Center for Drug Evaluation, Center for Biological Evaluation and Research, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, Center for Veterinary Medicine, National Center for Toxicology Research, Center for Tobacco Products and Coordinated by the Office of the Commissioner.

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California Cannabis Czar Lori Ajax to Step Down

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After overseeing the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) for nearly five years, the woman known as California’s Cannabis czar is calling it quits.

Alex Traverso, spokesperson for the BCC, confirmed her resignation and said she informed staff at the agency last week. Her resignation is effective Dec. 2.

Lori Ajax was initially appointed in February 2016 to oversee California’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation by then-Governor Jerry Brown. She was appointed only months after legislators approved the first statewide regulatory system for medical cannabis in California.

Ajax stayed in charge of the agency after the name was changed to the BCC following the 2016 election when recreational cannabis was legalized in California. She oversaw the rollout of California’s recreational cannabis market in January 2018, and was retained by Governor Gavin Newsom after he took over in office in January 2019.

The BCC recently donated nearly $30 million in public university grant funding to various universities across California. The BCC received more than 100 applications and awarded up to $2 million for any specific research proposal. “The research conducted through these public university grants will provide critical information for evaluating our legal cannabis system and its impacts,” said BCC Chief Lori Ajax said. “This research will be a valuable tool to inform future cannabis policy in California.” The top five universities to receive some of this grant money is University of California, San Francisco, University of California, Santa Barbara, Cal State University Dominguez Hills, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles.

Traverso said it’s unclear whether an interim chief will be appointed and some of the concern is due to the BCC merging with two other state regulatory agencies that oversee the cannabis industry in the state. The merger is expected to happen next year and the new department will be called the Department of Cannabis Control.

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Two Studies on Cannabis and Heart Disease Reveal New Findings

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Two new studies shed light on the effects that cannabis can have on patients with heart disease.

Presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, which is an annual conference that has since gone digital due to COVID-19, two new studies are helping to fill in the unknown gaps regarding how cannabis may affect those who suffer from heart disease. Some findings were negative, such as increased risk of stroke or bleeding after surgical procedures. However, the studies revealed that those who use cannabis were also less likely to encounter issues with sudden kidney failure as well.

“Marijuana is becoming more accessible, and patients should be aware of the increased risk after [angioplasty],” said Dr. Sang Gune Yoo, an internal medicine resident at the University of Michigan and lead author of one of the studies. “While these are risks to be aware of, they shouldn’t deter patients from obtaining this lifesaving procedure.” Yoo and his team examined information on 113,477 Michigan patients, 3,970 of which said that they consumed cannabis. Researchers paired nearly 3,903 cannabis consumers with non-users to find a pattern regarding which group experienced more bleeding and strokes. Ultimately, results showed that 5.2 percent of cannabis consumers experienced bleeding, and 0.3 percent experienced a stroke (non-users were reported at 3.4 percent bleeding and 0.1 percent strokes, respectively).

The other study analyzed national data from patients who went through artery-cleaning procedures following a heart attack. Researchers found that cannabis consumers had an increased chance of subsequent heart attacks over those who don’t consume cannabis (7.2 percent versus 4.5 percent). However, they also discovered that risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol were significantly lower in cannabis consumers. “I have spent the last 25 years studying the effects of marijuana and THC [the psychoactive component in cannabis], and I think the Yoo study raises some important questions, especially since we’ve seen more and more reports of cardiovascular events occurring in the context of marijuana,” said professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza. “This is an interesting paper.”

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