No, “The Right To Try” Law Doesn’t Help with Cannabis

One meme making the rounds today is about how President just signed a “Right to Try” law that will let terminally ill patients across the nation have legal access to Cannabis. The headline is dramatic: “Trump About to Legalize Medical Marijuana.” Unfortunately, it is all nonsense.

You can read one example of the meme here. And you can read the text of the federal bill that was signed into law here.

The first clue that the new law will not change much comes in the stated purpose of the bill, found between the Title and the text of the bill:

To authorize the use of unapproved medical products by patients diagnosed with a terminal illness in accordance with State law, and for other purposes.” (emphasis added).

This federal law does not require states to change their laws in any way, this law says only that the Federal government will allow certain things in accordance with state laws.  States that do not have medical marijuana will continue to enforce their laws as they did last week. States that have medical marijuana laws will continue to operate as before – in the case of my state (Florida), terminally ill patients are required to get a recommendation or ‘order’ from a state approved doctor, they have to be entered into the state database, and then they are eventually given permission to purchase from a handful of state licensed MMTCs.  None of that will change with the new law.

If you read further, the law in question applies only to medicines that have already undergone Phase 1 trials, and which have a pending application for approval as a prescription medicine. Cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms have undergone a few phase 1 (and even phase 2) trials, but there is no pending application to make cannabis an approved prescription medicine.

Maybe the GW Pharma prescription version of cannabidiol (CBD) meets all of those requirements – but it is an expensive prescription version of CBD, and even if GW Pharma is given permission to sell to the public before final approval, it is likely to cost much more than the CBD that millions of people are using across the US today.

Even if one could somehow interpret the law to include cannabis as an investigational drug in the pipeline, then what?  The manufacturer or sponsor of the investigational drug would then be able to offer that for sale to terminally ill.  Will a medical school conducting phase 1 trials in Maryland then start selling the medicine in Maryland?  Will they start selling across state lines? No.  The only federally authorized manufacturer of cannabis is a federal facility in Mississippi. Researchers are required to use their weak and stale ditchweed for all phase 1 trials, and they can only distribute it according to a government approved permit.

The bill does not suspend the Controlled Substances Act when it comes to Cannabis. An earlier version of the bill said that explicitly. The version that was passed had that removed, but it is a huge stretch to claim that the new law eases the CSA when it doesn’t bother to specifically say that.

Contrary to the internet memes, the law does not broadly guarantee anyone the right to try natural therapies that they believe may be beneficial for health.  The Senate added a section to the law that states that the Right to Try:

1) does not establish a new entitlement or modify an existing entitlement, or otherwise establish a positive right to any party or individual;

(2) does not establish any new mandates, directives, or additional regulations;

(3) only expands the scope of individual liberty and agency among patients, in limited circumstances;

Only in limited circumstances.  What circumstances?  Read the bill, which limits the circumstances, and which directs you to read sections of several other laws that determine which experimental drugs qualify.  It is not all simple. People want to believe that Cannabis is covered, but the law is based on the complex wording, not people’s simple wish to have certain freedoms.   The idea that terminally ill people can try absolutely anything does not match up with the words that became law. This bill will not let an old man in Idaho with stage 4 cancer try medical marijuana.  It won’t let a person with life-threatening seizures in Nebraska use CBD and THC.

There is a Right to Try law in Utah that did open a small door for Cannabis in that state. But the federal bill is nothing like that, even if the names of the 2 bills are similar. You can read about the Utah bill here at High Times.   Utah simply used the words ‘right to try’ in their incredibly limited medical marijuana bill.  The new federal law does not specifically mention cannabis or marijuana.

The federal Right to Try bill may ultimately not do very much at all. It gives permission for big pharma to sell their semi-approved drugs a bit earlier, but will they? There could be a PR backlash if the companies release the drugs before they are approved and side-effects are discovered. These drugs will not be covered by insurance companies, which only pay for fully approved prescription meds. Maybe a few experimental drugs will reach some patients sooner, and maybe some lives will be saved. I personally support the Right to Try, but I recognize it is very limited in scope, and will not improve access to medical Cannabis.

Final thought for the true believers:  If you look at who voted for it in the Senate and House, you will find lots of elected officials who are opposed to any form of medical marijuana! Why would they vote for such a bill if it legalized cannabis for dying people? The simple answer is that they have read the bill, they know that it does not provide the legal basis for expanded use of Cannabis.