Advocates Tear Apart GOP Candidate's Anti-Marijuana Comments

Illinois' medical marijuana law "stinks" and should have been vetoed, the state's Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner said during a Tuesday press conference. But medical marijuana advocates say he's just grandstanding to earn votes.

“I don’t think Bruce Rauner has any real interest in going after those [medical marijuana] licenses or any real skin in this game — he’s just going after the governor,” Executive Director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization For Marijuana Reform Dan Linn told The Huffington Post by phone Wednesday.

Reading from prepared statements, Rauner blasted Illinois' medical marijuana pilot program as incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) "secret, insider process" that "leaves a lot of questions left unanswered."

The state, which began accepting applications earlier this month, will grant licenses for up to 22 cultivation centers and 60 dispensaries across Illinois. Under the law, which passed with bipartisan support, applicants' names and certain other information will not be made public.

Referring to Illinois' jailed Democratic ex-governor, who is currently serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges, Rauner called the process for awarding licenses "so overtly corrupt, it would made Rod Blagojevich blush."

Bill sponsor Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) told NBC Chicago that withholding names ensures the state will "choose applicants that have no regard for who you are, who you know, how much money you have, what campaign donations you made and what relationships you may have in the world. The reason that the bill says what it says about disclosing this information is to keep corruption out, not lock corruption in."

Calling Rauner's comments "nine parts grandstanding, one part valid criticism," Linn said that while the GOP hopeful didn't specify which parts of the application he thinks should be made public, there are some parts the public has a right to view.

“Obviously there are things you can't release, like tax info or the security plan. You can't have [applicants] divulge 'We’re going to have the safes in this room,'" Linn said, noting that Massachusetts' medical marijuana application process stripped tax and other identifying information from public record.

"The public should be able to see what [an applicant's] business plan is, their community support, their research plans, what they’ll do to combat any detrimental effects in the neighborhood, their horticultural experience or their track record that verifies them as legitimate growers,” he added. Linn said it wasn't until Rauner's comments Tuesday that the candidate was "even on the radar" with his opinion about the state's medical marijuana law. Linn noted that if Rauner saw the application process as flawed, he could have weighed in during public hearings on the law.

"There was ample time for Rauner to make comments about this — he could have done this in a press conference months ago," Linn said.

Quinn, whom NORML calls "a strong ally" of medical marijuana, couldn't resist a jab back at Rauner. "It's heartless," said a statement from his campaign, that Rauner would have vetoed a law that "will ease pain and provide relief for cancer patients (and) severely ill people."

Chris Lindsey, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Chicago Sun-Times it was "deeply troubling" that Rauner would suggest turning the program into a money maker:

"I’m not sure he understands what the program is for. This isn’t a way to raise revenue. This is a way to provide an option to seriously ill patients. If he wants a money maker he should follow in the footsteps of Washington and Colorado and support a system to tax and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over. States don’t treat medical marijuana programs as a way to squeeze money from seriously ill patients.”

Though Rauner's comments were roundly criticized by medical marijuana advocates, Linn suggested one way the candidate could recover:

"As a business man, he could make a strong political play and say that he would veto the medical act but support legalizing marijuana entirely and letting the free market exist for legal cannabis in Illinois.”

In Israel, there is technically no legislation regulating marijuana for medical purposes but its Ministry of Health issues special licences allowing patients to use cannabis for certain medical reasons.

The country has been at the forefront of medical marijuana research since the 1960s, when Prof. Raphael Mechoulam isolated and studied THC, the psychoactive property in cannabis that leaves users feeling “stoned” but also helps relieve symptoms like food aversion and nausea.

Another Israeli professor, Ruth Gallily of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the other main medicinal ingredient CBD, the property that can act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety medicine.

Canadian licensed producer MedReLeaf has partnered with Tikun Olam, Israel’s primary supplier of medical cannabis, and a company on the cutting edge of marijuana advancement. It counts Mechoulam, “the grandfather of THC,” among its advisers.

“It’s the only country that I know that has been researching it for so long, and consistently,” said Maayan Weisberg, Director of Marketing and Business Development during an interview at MedReLeaf’s Markham, Ont., facility.

MedReLeaf has licensed some of Tikun Olam’s patented strains of marijuana that the company developed based on research collected from about 7,000 patients over the past seven years. Now, the company is involved in clinical research in major hospitals in Israel.

“We are the only company in the world that has this accumulated data about patients,” Weisberg said.

Tikun Olam, whose name means “healing the world” in Hebrew, has used patient feedback to create hybrid strains and play with genetic material. The company has experimented with different concentrations and ratios of cannabinoids to customize treatment for different types of patients.

“If it’s an elderly patient, you don’t instruct them the same way you do a child, you don’t instruct a Parkinson's patient the same as you do a cancer patient.”

Israeli researchers have studied the role of cannabis in treating a variety of ailments including anti-tumour properties for cancer patients, reducing weight loss among HIV patients, treating neuropsychological disorders and preventing tremors and shaking in multiple sclerosis sufferers.

The researchers last year found evidence that marijuana helps fight Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease.
The Netherlands
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Though the Netherlands legalized medical marijuana two years after Canada, its main provider has enjoyed more freedom to experiment than Canada’s former sole provider CanniMed, which was limited to one strain under the government’s old program.

Unlike in Canada, medical marijuana has been available through pharmacies since 2003 through a government agency that also works with universities and research institutes.

There is one major supplier in Holland — Bedrocan, which has used feedback from patients, epidemiological studies and genetics to develop three strains of marijuana to cater to specific needs. Bedrocan also ships to other European countries that allow medical marijuana. It is working to develop clinical trials in Holland.

Bedrocan’s three strains are all covered by Holland’s largest health insurer, and a majority of physicians support its use.

Now, Bedrocan Canada, a sister company that is importing product from Holland, is one of 12 licensed producers under Canada’s new medical marijuana free market.

Though the Canadian ruling came first, the country is still far behind in developing medical marijuana in part due to how the drug was introduced. In Canada, a Supreme Court ruling forced the government’s hand and made it possible to access cannabis for medical reasons, whereas in the Netherlands, medical usage became available because of a sympathetic government .

“The program in Canada has been forced upon Health Canada by the Supreme Court whereas in the Netherlands it was developed out of a compassionate use for patients so they have a lot more liberal attitude towards cannabis and how it can benefit,” said Marc Wayne, head of Bedrocan Canada.

He blames a change in government funding policy that was ushered in by the Harper government eight years ago for cutting off experimentation with therapeutic uses of ganja.

“On the scientific level we’ve been kind of stunted in Canada.”

Under a program that started April 1, which allows commercial-sized grow operations, research funding will be left up to the private sector. In the Netherlands, Wayne explained, Bedrocan is funding much of the research.

“It definitely influences what strains are brought to market,” Wayne said, adding that patient research is behind the six strains Bedrocan now has available.
United States
Licensed Canadian producers are turning south of the border for marijuana growing know-how.

Tweed Inc. of Smiths Falls, Ont., did research in Colorado and turned to Maine to find master grower Ryan Douglas, who worked for a state-level medical marijuana facility. There, he oversaw 20 strains of grass. Similar advancements are taking place at the state level across the U.S.

Yes, even Canada’s War on Drugs-focused neighbour is making strides in the development of new marijuana strains. Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, more than 20 states now allow medical marijuana usage and two states allow recreational use. An additional 12 states now have legalizing recreational marijuana use on the agenda.

There is research being done in universities and institutes, and even the American Medical Association has endorsed the reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I “most dangerous” drug to allow for further study.

Though officially opposed to its use as a medicine, the U.S. actually holds patents for cannabinoids.

Most recently, a proposal to study the effectiveness of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder got the green light from two U.S. federal agencies. Researchers are waiting on the Drug Enforcement Agency for the go-ahead for a clinical study at the federal level. The FDA has also approved clinical trials for the use of marijuana in treating epilepsy.