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Election Day was a good day for medical marijuana proponents.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia, following an Election Day in which Missouri voters adopted a ballot measure to regulate medical cannabis use in the state and Utah voters adopted Proposition 2, which regulates the licensed production and distribution of medical cannabis products to qualified patients who possess a physician’s recommendation.
The Election Day results helped further the long-held notion among workers compensation experts that the drug — touted as a pain-medicine alternative — is not going anywhere despite its illegal categorization by the federal government.
But even the federal government, which classifies the drug as a Schedule I substance on par with heroin and cocaine, is showing signs of a shift, according to experts.
In October, President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to seek public comments by the end of the month on whether marijuana ought to be reclassified under international drug treaties, which maintains that participating countries agree to keep marijuana illegal. Those comments were not made public as of publication.
Meanwhile, on the pharmaceutical front, the Drug Enforcement Administration in September published a final order rescheduling certain drug products that have been approved by the FDA that contain cannabidoil, often cited as the pain-relieving component of the marijuana plant. This follows the FDA’s approval in June of a cannabis-based drug to treat epilepsy patients.
The focus on cannabidoil warrants attention, as this element of marijuana does not contain or contains a negligible amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant that causes intoxication, according to several experts.
The federal government is likely to pull chemicals out of marijuana for rescheduling, but maybe not the entire drug, experts say.
Research into the efficacy of medical marijuana is also expected to expand, said Lisa Anne Bickford, Sacramento, California-based director of workers comp government relations for Coventry Workers’ Comp Services. “It just makes sense — do the research and then make the decision on whether it should be rescheduled,” she said.
The resignation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general after the election could also have ramifications for medical marijuana use, said Ms. Bickford.
“That has a lot of implications” because of his negative stance on medical marijuana, she said.
“There is tremendous momentum” for legalization, said Mark Pew, Atlanta-based senior vice president of product development and marketing for workers compensation pharmacy benefits manager Preferred Medical.
“Medical marijuana is never going away — there is billions of dollars at stake for the green rush,” he said.
Recreational marijuana is also trending following Election Day, in which Michigan voters joined 10 other states and the District of Columbia in approving recreational marijuana, although Nebraska voters rejected a measure to legalize the cultivation, possession, use and distribution of marijuana for individuals aged 21 years or older.
Employee-friendly changes to workers compensation courts and laws could be in store after the Democrats took control of the governorships and legislatures in multiple states, experts say.