ASA Activist Newsletter - APRIL 2012

April 01, 2012

Volume 7, Issue 4

Federal Agents Raid Oaksterdam University

Two The nation's first medical cannabis school, Oaksterdam University, was raided by federal agents in the early morning of April 2, along with a dispensary and the home of its founder.

Sealed federal search warrants were served by US Marshals and DEA and IRS agents wielding a sledgehammer and power saws at Oakster-dam's downtown Oakland location. Also raided was the apartment of founder Richard Lee, and Coffee Shop Blue Sky, one of four licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in the city.

Lee's Coffeeshop Blue Sky had moved twice in recent months after the dispensary's original landlord was threatened with property forfeiture by the area’s US Attorney, Melinda Haag.

The Oaksterdam Gift Shop and the Oakster-dam Museum, where Coffee Shop Blue Sky is now located, were also sealed off by federal agents. Lee was detained at his apartment, as were four workers at Oaksterdam's nursery. None have been arrested or charged.

News of the raids spread quickly through social media and the ASA raid text alert system, drawing scores of protestors with signs and bullhorns to the site of the Oaksterdam raid, including ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer.

Oakland police were called in to escort federal agents carrying bags of evidence, file boxes and safes from the Oaksterdam building. Sherer and other protestors blocked agents' vehicles at the site. At least three protestors were arrested, including ASA activists Danielle Schumacher and Jose Gutierrez.

At 2pm that afternoon, Sherer and other activists held a press conference and rally at Oakland City Hall to denounce the raids.

'Targeting a leader of the movement shows the federal government is growing desperate,' said Sherer. 'But they can't silence us. Science is on our side and compassion demands action.'

Lee, 49, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal injury, founded Oaksterdam University in 2007 to provide professional training on medical cannabis. Since 2005, Lee has served on the City of Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Ordinance Commission. In 2010, he led the effort to pass Proposition 19, the failed initiative that would have made adult cannabis use in California legal. He has started two cannabis-related publications, and his business ventures have helped revitalize a blighted area of downtown Oakland.

Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan called Lee an 'exemplary community member' in an interview with the East Bay Express, saying, 'His involvement in Oakland has been overwhelmingly positive.'

State Law Developments: NH, CT, NJ, MD, DC, AR

NEW HAMPSHIRE The New Hampshire Senate is sending a bipartisan medical cannabis bill to the state House for consideration. The bill, which would allow qualified patients to cultivate cannabis at home, passed on a vote of 13 to 11. When the New Hampshire House considered a medical cannabis bill last year, it passed 221 to 96.

If signed into law, the measure would allow registered patients and caregivers to have four mature plants and 12 immature, and possess up to six ounces of useable cannabis. Caregivers could be responsible for only one patient and could only be reimbursed for direct costs and not labor or time.

Supporters of the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Jim Forsythe (R-Strafford) include Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley and Sen. Gary Lambert (R-Nashua), who said he went into Health and Human Services Committee hearings opposed but came out convinced that cannabis is a medicine.

Governor John Lynch has opposed previous attempts to regulate medical cannabis in the state, vetoing a dispensary approach in 2009 and stopping a bill in the Senate last year by promising to veto it.

CONNECTICUT The Connecticut General Assembly’s judiciary committee has approved a bill to legalize medical cannabis 35-to-8.

Sponsored by Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R), whose terminally ill husband used medical cannabis, the bill would restrict access to terminal illnesses or conditions where conventional treatments have failed.

Cultivation would be limited to providers licensed by the state and regulated by the state’s Department of Consumer Protection.

State lawmakers considered similar legislation in 2007. Currently 68 percent of Connecticut voters favor legal access to medical cannabis, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA The Washington D.C. Department of Health has selected six cultivation centers to provide medical cannabis to the five district distribution centers scheduled to be named this summer.

All will be located in the Northeast neighborhood of D.C., and each may grow up to 95 cannabis plants at any one time. Operators of the centers must apply for additional business licenses and building permits before beginning any cultivation, but those are typically issued within two weeks.

The cultivation location operators were selected by a six-member panel in consultation with Advisory Neighborhood Commission members. The selected operators are Abatin Wellness Center, District Growers, Holistic Remedies, Montana Apothecary dba Alternative Solutions, Phyto Management, and Venture Forth dba Center City.

The selection process was established by the D.C. Council two years ago with input from ASA, after Congress in 2009 lifted a decade-old ban on implementing the medical cannabis initiative district voters approved overwhelmingly in 1998. All laws in D.C. are subject to congressional approval.

MARYLAND Three separate state legislative proposals to provide medical cannabis access points for patients are under consideration in Maryland. The bills are a follow up to the interim medical cannabis law passed last year that directed the legislature to find ways to provide safe access.

ASA supports House Bill 15, legislation that draws on best practices of medical cannabis states across the country and the only bill that would allow patient cultivation.

Montel Williams, the Emmy-award-winning talkshow host and former Marine who suffers from MS, was among those who testified before Maryland state lawmakers on the need for better legislation, saying “Cannabis…gives relief to millions of people.”

Governor Martin O’Malley opposes any bill that puts a state agency in charge of regulating the program, over fears state employees could face federal charges. US Attorneys in several states have sent state and local lawmakers threatening letters in recent months, warning them not to attempt to implement state medical cannabis programs or regulate distribution.

ARKANSAS A coalition of patient advocates in Arkansas reports they have collected roughly half the signatures they need to place a medical cannabis initiative on the November ballot.

Arkansans for Compassionate Care has until July to file 65,000 valid signatures. An initiative effort in 2004 gathered the number necessary but then had 17,000 invalidated due to a notary public error on some of the petitions.

Medical cannabis bills have been presented in the legislature in 2003, 2005 and 2011 but never come to a vote.

NEW JERSEY Land use battles over dispensary locations in New Jersey are preventing patients from getting the safe access they were promised more than two years ago when then-Gov. Jon Corzine signed the Compassionate Care Act. Six cultivation and distribution centers were preparing to open last year, but Gov. Chris Christie suspended implementation for several months. Now, towns slated for dispensaries are using zoning laws to block them, leaving four of the six dispensary operators without a location.

State officials now say the program will not be up and running until early 2013.

ASA Conducting Calif. Legal Seminars

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford has been conducting legal seminars to explain how recent California court rulings have changed the legal landscape in the state. The two-hour sessions have been held in San Francisco, Long Beach and San Diego. The last seminar is in Sonoma on April 5 from 3-5pm The

In January, after urging from ASA and other groups, the California Supreme Court decided to review a handful of appellate rulings on the operation of medical cannabis dispensaries. That decision set aside the rulings while the court considers them. Since then, two more appellate court rulings on dispensaries have been issued that affect whether cities and other local governments can ban them from their communities.

In addition to these state law issues, the recent Justice Department crackdown has had an effect on patients, providers and policymakers. Elford explains how and why ASA has filed a tenth amendment constitutional challenge to those actions, as well as an appeal of the classification of cannabis as a drug with no current medical use.

To register for the April 5 seminar in Sonoma see AmericansForSafeAccess.org/LegalSeminar.

Cannabinoids Fight HIV Spread, Researchers Find

Cannabinoids that activate CB2 receptors have now been shown to inhibit HIV infection at the cellular level by up to 50%.

While many HIV/AIDS patients rely on cannabis to ease the symptoms of the disease or side effects of harsh anti-viral medications, this is the first indication that cannabinoids have a direct therapeutic effect on disease progression.

The new research from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York focused on antiviral cannabinoid action on CD4+ T cells which are critical to immune function and a target of the virus. Previous research has shown that the use of cannabinoid drugs in patients with HIV is associated with an increase in CD4+ T cell number and has been shown to reduce viral load in an animal model of HIV. The new study found that a synthetic cannabinoid that targets CB2 receptors produced a dose-specific reduction of HIV infection of 40% to 50% .

Cannabinoids that selectively interact with the CB2 receptors can be non-psychoactive but still provide relief for the cachexia, nausea or neuropathic pain that cannabis has been shown to treat effectively.

The researchers say that the therapeutic use of cannabinoids may help fight the spread of the virus to uninfected T cells in late stages of HIV-1 infection and suggest further cannabinoid research “may result in the discovery of new anti-viral drugs that can also mitigate AIDS-associated symptoms.”

Costantino CM, Gupta A, Yewdall AW, Dale BM, Devi LA, et al. (2012) Cannabinoid Receptor 2-Mediated Attenuation of CXCR4-Tropic HIV Infection in Primary CD4+ T Cells. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33961.


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