ASA Activist Newsletter - August 2015

August 02, 2015 | William Dolphin

In This Issue:

  • Congressmen Call for Probe of Justice Department
  • CARERS Act Gains Powerful Co-Sponsors
  • New Medical Cannabis Laws in Effect in Washington State
  • Oregon to Allow All Adults to Use Dispensaries
  • Kettle Falls Five Defendant Sentenced to 16 Months
  • New York Announces Medical Cannabis Licensees
  • First Nevada Dispensary Opens
  • Michigan Supreme Court Steps in Again
  • Israel to Expand Program, Provide Cannabis in Pharmacies
  • Italy’s Army Now Cultivating Medical Cannabis
  • ACTION ALERT: 5 Things to Do this Summer

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Congressmen Call for Probe of Justice Department Compliance

Members of Congress want an investigation of federal prosecutors who continue to pursue medical cannabis cases despite restrictions placed on them last year. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) sent  a letter on July 30 to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, asking him “to investigate potential violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act by the Department with regard to its prosecution and other enforcement actions against persons and businesses conducting legitimate medical marijuana activities under state law."

 DOJ officials have said they can prosecute individuals who are part of state medical cannabis programs and pursue civil asset forfeiture against them because that is not interfering with states implementing their laws.

Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr authored the amendment to the 2015 DOJ budget bill intended to stop enforcement actions against anyone participating in state medical cannabis programs. Their letter states debate on their amendment made clear that supporters and opponents alike understood it was intended to end all federal prosecution of state-qualified patients and providers because "the implementation of state law is carried out by individuals and businesses as the state authorizes them to do." 

Prosecutors in California and Washington State have refused to back down from several high-profile cases, asking for prison time for the Kettle Falls Five, members of a family patient co-op in Washington State, as well as a dispensary operator in California, while pursuing asset forfeiture against the building leased by a dispensary in Oakland, California. In the letter, Rohrabacher and Farr write that such cases “are all instances of DOJ expending dollars it does not have the legal authority to spend,"

Prosecutors in California and Washington State have refused to back down from several high-profile cases, asking for prison time for the Kettle Falls Five, members of a family patient co-op in Washington State, as well as a dispensary operator in California, while pursuing asset forfeiture against the building leased by a dispensary in Oakland, California. In the letter, Rohrabacher and Farr write that such cases “are all instances of DOJ expending dollars it does not have the legal authority to spend."

More Info:
Text of the Rohrabacher-Farr letter to the Inspector General

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CARERS Act Gains Powerful Co-Sponsors

The CARERS Act, the first comprehensive medical cannabis legislation to be considered by Congress, is up to 15 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate, now that two influential senior senators have added their names. Chuck Schumer of New York and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland each became co-sponsors of SB 683 at the end of July.

Sen. Mikulski is the ranking member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, where she was instrumental in preserving the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, limiting federal interference in state medical cannabis laws. Sen. Schumer is the third ranking Democrat in the Senate with a reputation as an ardent supporter of the War on Drugs.

“Medical marijuana is the only recourse for many in New York and across the country who are in a great deal of pain,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement. “It is only humane and fair that they have access to the treatment they need when prescribed by a doctor.”

The legislation authored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was originally co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand (D). Other co-sponsors include senators from California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. The bill is currently in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but committee chair Charles Grassley (R-IA) has yet to set hearings.

More Info:
SB 683 (CARERS Act) cosponsors and text

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New Medical Cannabis Laws Go into Effect in Washington State

Several medical cannabis bills were passed by the Washington State legislature or went into effect last month. The measures were part of policymakers’ attempt to harmonize the state’s existing medical cannabis program with the new law that allows anyone who is at least 21 years of age to purchase and use cannabis. Among the changes is the name of the regulatory agency, which goes from being the Liquor Control Board to the Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Of the bills, the most wide-reaching is SB 5052, which brings much of the state’s largely unregulated medical cannabis operations under the umbrella of the new adult-use regulations while allowing qualified patients to continue personal cultivation and possess larger quantities than non-medical consumers.  Households will now be limited to the cultivation of 15 plants. To qualify for the additional amounts and protections, qualifying patients must register in the state’s new voluntary database, which law enforcement will be able to access to confirm registrations. This bill also expanded the qualifying medical conditions to include post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries but creates restrictions that will shut down many of the state’s existing medical cannabis businesses. The bill also specifies that qualifying patients between the ages of 18 and 21 will be able to purchase cannabis at retail locations with a medical endorsement.

State support for cannabis research was created by SB 5121, which establishes a licensing mechanism for studying cannabis, including establishing potency, testing cannabis-based products, exploring potential treatments, and conducting agricultural research. Studies are to be approved by the state’s Life Sciences Discovery Fund Authority.

Cities and counties in Washington State will enjoy a share of the tax revenues to be generated by sale of cannabis, medical or otherwise, thanks to HB 2136

More Info:
Text of SB 5052
Text of SB 5051
Text of HB 2136

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Oregon to Allow All Adults to Use Dispensaries

Late last month, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a law that will allow the state’s medical dispensaries to sell small amounts of cannabis to anyone over the age of 21. The move accelerates the timetable for implementing Measure 91, the initiative passed by voters last November, making marijuana available to all adults a year sooner than expected.  Lawmakers said they are eager to move from an underground market to a regulated one.

The Oregon Health Authority has until October 1 to establish regulations for a transitional phase from medical-only access to the 21-and-over model.  Dispensaries and other stores that want to sell cannabis under the new law can apply for permits beginning Jan. 4, 2016.  Health officials will oversee the transition as the Oregon Liquor Commission takes on regulatory oversight of the adult-use retail marijuana stores that are to be operating by October 2016.

Anyone 21 or older will be able to buy up to one-fourth ounce of cannabis per day at dispensaries, as well as seeds and up to four immature plants. The new adult-use retailers to be licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be allowed to sell up to one ounce at a time.

A consequence of the newly established transitional phase is that for three months adults will be able to buy cannabis without paying the 25 percent tax that goes into effect on January 4, 2016.  Measure 91, the initiative that legalized the possession, use and sale of cannabis for all adults, took effect July 1, but retail sales have been awaiting a regulatory framework and licensed retailers. 

More info:
Text of the new Oregon law

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Kettle Falls Five Defendant Sentenced to 16 Months

The Kettle Falls Five, before trial.

The first prison sentence has been handed down in the case of the “Kettle Falls Five,” the group of qualified patients in Eastern Washington who were indicted on federal charges.District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice sentenced Jason Zucker to 16 months in federal prison, but he remains free on bond pending appeal.

Zucker, 39, second from left in the photo at right, was the only one of the group to plead guilty. He accepted a last-minute deal with prosecutors to avoid the 20-year mandatory minimum sentence he faced if convicted.

Charges against Larry Harvey, the 71-year-old patriarch of the family who was ASA’s Lobbyist of the Year, were dropped in March just before trial because he has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. At trial, Zucker testified against Harvey’s wife, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, and her son and daughter-in law, Rolland and Michelle Gregg, but made clear that their cannabis cultivation operation was a co-op in which he and the four family members shared the medicine.

The jury acquitted Firestack-Harvey and the Greggs of four out of five charges and rejected the government’s claim that they had cultivated more than 100 plants. The remaining three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on October 2 in Spokane.

More Info:
www.kettlefallsfive.com

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New York Announces Medical Cannabis Licensees

In what Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker called “a major milestone” for the state’s medical cannabis program, New York has announced five companies that will be licensed to operate dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Forty-three had applied.

The five selected firms are Bloomfield Industries Inc., Columbia Care NY LLC, Empire State Health Solutions, Etain LLC, PharmaCann LLC. Each will have a single cultivation facility and four retail dispensing locations in different cities.  

The firms selected are to have medical cannabis products, which will be subject to a 7 percent tax, available by Jan. 1. The Compassionate Care Act was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last July.

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First Nevada Dispensary Opens

On the last day of July, Nevada’s first medical cannabis dispensary opened in Sparks, just a few miles east of Reno. Of the two dozen states that allow medical cannabis use, Nevada is one of the few with reciprocity that recognizes patients who are registered to use cannabis in their home state.

Since the state legislature adopted rules for distribution operations two years ago, 66 dispensary licenses have been issued. The Sparks City Council approved medical marijuana dispensaries last year, with Silver State Relief the first to begin serving patients. The licensing process went awry in the Las Vegas area, which has 40 million visitors each year, when county and state officials approved applicants in separate processes, ending in the state deferring to local decision on eight applicants.

 In the 15 years since state voters okayed medical use, registered patients or their caregivers could only access medical cannabis by growing up to 12 plants themselves, which they may continue to do.

Nevada's new distribution regulations include "seed-to-sale" tracking similar to Colorado’s. The state Department of Agriculture is finalizing a testing process that will screen for dozens of common pesticides.

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Michigan Supreme Court Steps in Again

For the ninth time in the seven years since the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act was adopted, the state’s Supreme Court has stepped in to clarify what it allows. In two cases before the court, the defendants claimed they should have been immune from prosecution because they were registered with the Michigan program to cultivate and provide cannabis to other patients, but the courts rejected their pretrial motions in 2011 and 2012.

Both Robert Tuttle and Richard Hartwick were certified to use and cultivate medical cannabis. Hartwick provided cannabis to five other people, and Tuttle to three others. The state Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling has now returned those cases to the circuit court for new hearings on the immunity motions.   

Noting that ” the many inconsistencies in the law have caused confusion,” the Michigan Supreme Court also overturned a lower court ruling that caregivers must obtain proof of their patients’ medical conditions and doctor-patient relationship.

For the last three years, state lawmakers have tried to pass bills that would allow local approval of dispensaries and set rules for the sale of cannabis oils and edible products.  

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Israel to Expand Program, Provide Cannabis in Pharmacies

Long a leader in cannabis research, Israel will soon make medical cannabis available through pharmacies in the country and expand the number of physicians who are authorized to prescribe it. The announcement was made in the Knesset by Israel’s deputy health minister, Yaakov Litzman, head of an ultra-orthodox party. Before the Health Ministry can license more growers to supply the pharmacies, the country’s Supreme Court must sign off.

The 22,000 Israelis who are authorized to use medical cannabis must acquire it directly from government-authorized farms. Allowing more physicians to prescribe the medicine is intended to eliminate the wait list that is currently a barrier to access. Israel has more medical users per capita than any other country.

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Italy’s Army Now Cultivating Medical Cannabis

The Italian army is currently growing medical cannabis in a military pharmaceutical facility in Florence, with plans to make100 kilos of medicine available to patients by the end of the year. Medical cannabis has been legal in Italy since 2007, but the country currently imports from the Netherlands about 50 kilos of medical cannabis each year for distribution through Italian pharmacies.

Italians with cancer, multiple sclerosis or chronic pain may obtain a prescription for cannabis from a physician. Demand for medical cannabis in Italy has reportedly skyrocketed in the past year.

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ACTION ALERT: 5 Things to Do this Summer

1. Host or Attend an Educational Session
Three workshop sessions are available in ASA's Truth About Medical Marijuana Educational Series. We’ll send you everything you need for a successful meeting, including a video, engagement materials, and a survey.

2. Engage your Senators about the CARERS Act
Constituents are 6x more effective than lobbyists with elected officials. Meet with your Senators to urge support for the bipartisan CARERS Act,  the comprehensive federal medical cannabis legislation. Visit their local Senate office.  Take five minutes to call your Members of Congress and demand their support for patients.  
Click Here to Find Your Elected Officials
Click here to watch online training videos & download of guide on how to successful meeting
Click here to read comprehensive analysis for the CARERS Act

3. Sign the CARERS Act Petition and Gather Signatures
Click here to sign the CARERS Act petition today.  
Then download the petition, gather more signatures, and send them back to ASA.
Click here to download the petition. 

4. Become an ASA member
Membership matters! Americans for Safe Access is a grassroots organization, and your support means we will have the resources to make medical cannabis legally available for everyone who can benefit from it. Click here to become a member today!

5. Build the movement!
Help us build momentum by printing 10 copies of our outreach poster and posting them in your community. 85% of Americans support medical cannabis, but 1% are active participants in the conversation. Remind your community that reform needs support to make it a reality. Click here to download the ASA Outreach Poster.

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