ASA Activist Newsletter - Dec 2012

December 06, 2012

Volume 7, Issue 12

Massachusetts Becomes 18th Medical Cannabis State

On November 6, Massachusetts voters made it the 18th state with a medical cannabis program when 63% of them approved Ballot Question 3. The initiative will go into effect January 1.

As of then, patients with debilitating medical conditions may provide to DPH a doctor’s certification and obtain a registration card that allows them to possess up to a 60-day supply of medicine. Designated caregivers at least 21 years of age may also obtain registration cards that will allow them to obtain cannabis at licensed distribution centers.

The measure directs the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) to devise within 120 days regulations to implement the law, which includes the licensing within one year of at least 14 “nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers” for distributing cannabis to qualified patients. Each county in the state is to have at least one center and no more than five, with a total for the state set at 35.

DPH is also to create regulations within 120 days allowing home cultivation for registered patients whose access is limited due to distance to a distribution center, financial hardship, or lack of transportation. Until final regulations are issued, the written recommendation of any patient’s doctor will be considered a limited cultivation registration allowing the patient or a caregiver to grow cannabis in an enclosed, locked facility.

The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), the group who lead the effort to pass the initiative, is launching a campaign to educate patients and involve them in the development of statewide regulations. An FAQ and information about public education events will be posted at MPAA’s website: www.MassPatients.org.

With the addition of the more than 6.5 million residents of Massachusetts, there are now more than 101 million Americans, or roughly one-third of the nation’s population, living where there are state and local legal protections for medical cannabis.

ARKANSAS AND MONTANA ALSO VOTE

In other ballot news, an Arkansas initiative to allow patients with qualifying conditions to grow, possess and use cannabis narrowly failed on a vote of 52% to 48%. However, patient advocates in the state have convinced some opponent groups to work with the legislature to produce a bill there.

Voters in Montana approved a medical cannabis measure that affirmed stringent regulations created by the state legislature last year.

Montana Provider Faces 80-year Federal Sentence

Montana medical cannabis provider Chris Williams is facing a mandatory sentence of at least 80 years in federal prison, following his conviction September 27 on eight counts related to producing medicine for qualified patients.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said the federal government should not Of the more than 70 individuals who have faced federal charges for state-legal medical cannabis work during the Obama Administration, Williams is one of only four who have defied pressure from federal prosecutors and gone to trial in defense of their principles.

The others agreed to plea deals to reduce their sentences, since federal courts do not allow marijuana defendants to present evidence of medical use or compliance with state law, sentencing rules on marijuana charges can require prison terms longer than most violent crimes, and prosecutors routinely add charges to coerce plea deals.

“I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable,” wrote Williams in a letter to the local newspaper. “Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost.”

Williams, co-founder of Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest providers to qualified patients, was among those indicted following mass federal raids in Montana in March 2011 as the state legislature was considering modifications to the state’s medical cannabis program. The jury in Chris William’s case never heard how he strictly complied with Montana state law in providing medicine for patients. Three of the charges the federal prosecutor piled on to pressure him into a plea deal require sentences of at least 25 years, and another requires five, all to be served consecutively.

Williams was denied release on bail pending appeal and is currently in federal custody awaiting his sentencing hearing, scheduled for January 4, 2013. He is appealing his criminal conviction to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and he is the lead plaintiff in the appeal of a civil lawsuit that claims the federal raid and subsequent prosecutions violated the U.S. Constitution’s10th Amendment.

“No one complying with state law to help qualified patients should go to federal prison,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “An 80-year sentence is unconscionable and makes a tragic joke of the Obama Administration’s stated policy on medical cannabis.”

Medical Cannabis Advocates in Federal Prison

Under a plea agreement, one of Williams’ partners in Montana Cannabis, Richard Flor, 68, was sentenced in April to five years in prison, where he died within months. Flor’s wife and son a serving sentences of two and five years, respectively, and the family lost their home, vehicles and other property to federal asset forfeiture.

Other recent medical cannabis defendants who have chosen to go to trial include Gerald Lee Duval Jr., 52, and his son, Jeremy Duval, 30, of Michigan. After their greenhouse was raided by DEA agents in 2011, they were each charged with three felony marijuana counts, of which they were convicted in April after being denied a medical defense or reference to state law. Gerald Duval was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, less than the 16 years prosecutors had sought. Jeremy received a sentence of five years; prosecutors had asked for 14.

In California, Aaron Sandusky, 42, had closed two of the three collectives he operated east of Los Angeles in response to threat letters from federal prosecutors, but the remaining location was raided by the DEA in November 2011, and Sandusky was charged with six felonies. Five others were also charged, but all accepted plea deals in exchange for reduced sentences. Sandusky was convicted at trial October 12 after being denied a medical or state-law defense. He remains in custody awaiting sentencing in January, when he will face a minimum of ten years in federal prison.

Among the many other medical cannabis patients currently serving time in federal prison, Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, attorney Dale Schafer are 18 months into mandatory five-year sentences. Fry and Schafer were arrested by federal agents on Sept. 28, 2001, little more than two weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and charged for providing medical cannabis and cultivation classes for qualified patients in California. A clemency petition was submitted to President Obama by their attorney in May 2011.

Bryan Epis, the first medical cannabis provider to be arrested after California passed Proposition 215 in 1996, is scheduled for release in early 2014 instead of late 2016, after a July agreement with the federal prosecutor took 2-1/2 years off his 10-year sentence. Epis had argued that the prosecutor misrepresented evidence at his 2002 trial. Epis was free pending appeal from August 2004 to May 2009. He will be subject to 10 years of federal supervision following his release.

More information:
More on Chris Williams pardon efforts
New York Times OpDoc video on Williams’ case

Do you know about federal cases in your area?

Make sure the ASA is kept in the loop. Call the Legal Hotline at 510-251-1856 or email legalsupport@AmericansForSafeAccess.org.

Medical Cannabis Champions Elected to Congress

Election Day was a good one for supporters of medical cannabis in the US Congress. For the first time, patients will have outspoken, public supporters of safe access in the US Senate with the election of Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said the federal government should not In the Senate, one of ASA’s strongest champions in the House, Tammy Baldwin, won her bid to become not only the first openly gay US Senator but also the first who has cosponsored safe access federal legislation in the past. Baldwin will be joined in the Senate by Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren, who spoke during the campaign about her father’s struggle with cancer and how she strongly feels patients in that position need access to medicine that works.

In the House of Representatives, 35 of the 37 champions of medical cannabis won reelection. These are all members of Congress who have taken action on behalf of safe access by introducing or cosponsoring medical cannabis legislation, or working behind the scenes to get other members on board.SA has developed a relationship with these Representatives and their staffs, and they will be key to citizen lobbying efforts on the Hill in February following ASA’s national conference in DC.

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said the federal government should not The only medical cannabis champions not returning to Congress lost their reelection bids to members of their own party, one to another incumbent chmapion. Congressman Pete Stark, one of the strongest defenders of patients rights who introduced or cosponsored numerous medical cannabis bills, lost to a fellow Democrat as a result of the state’s new primary system that pits the top two vote getters against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The other champion who fell victim to political circumstance was Howard Berman, who was forced by redistricting to run against fellow incumbent and medical cannabis champion Ben Sherman.

Four of ASA’s longtime champions in Congress are retiring at the end of the year. Reps. Barney Frank (D, MA), Ron Paul (R, TX), Maurice Hinchey (D, NY), and Dennis Kucinich (D, OH) introduced and cosponsored much of the safe access legislation in the past decade.

“Patients are losing four powerful voices for safe access in Washington but we’re gaining new allies,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “We’ll be lobbying the 113th Congress to finally bridge the gap between public policy and public health and opinion.”

Americans favor letting states decide cannabis policy by 59%, according to a CBS News poll this month. The number supporting safe access for patients is now at 83% nationwide, up almost 20% since the first state medical cannabis laws were enacted in 1997.

ASA Urges Mendocino Officials to Fight Federal Subpoena

Prosecutors Want “Any and All” Records of Cultivation Program

Federal prosecutors in San Francisco are demanding all information Mendocino County officials have on medical cannabis collectives and patients in the area.

At the urging of ASA and other patient advocates, the Mendocino Board of Supervisors has hired outside counsel to determine if they must comply with a federal subpoena or can take action to have it quashed. The county has an extension until Jan. 8 to answer.

The subpoena from the US Attorney's Northern District Office was issued Oct. 23 and delivered to the Mendocino County sheriff and a variety of public officials. The subpoena takes what one official called “the everything and the kitchen sink” approach, asking for "any and all records" for the county's medical cannabis cultivation ordinance, County Code 9.31. That includes all "e-mails, letters and any other communications," as well as all financial records and county bank accounts where program fees would have been deposited.

Under the Mendocino program, local residents could register with the sheriff to grow up to 99 plants, receiving special zip ties for each plant to show they were being cultivated in compliance with state law and local regulation. As soon as the program was launched in June 2010, the DEA raided the garden of the first person to register, destroying her medicine but making no arrests. In 2011, DEA agents raided the registered farm of Northstone Organics, though the sheriff publicly commented that the operators appeared to be following all state laws and local regulations.

The Mendocino registration program was suspended in March after US Attorney Melinda Haag threatened the Mendocino county counsel and some members of the Board of Supervisors with an injunction against the program and legal action against officials who supported it.

"Federal prosecutors are abusing their authority by making absurdly broad demands related to a program they already shut down through intimidation," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "Not only are patient records at risk here, but this type of harassment undermines all attempts to implement state law."

ASA has invited the Mendocino Board of Supervisors to join its lawsuit against the Justice Department alleging this type of intimidation of elected officials is a commandeering of local law that violates the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment. ASA has been working with the Emerald Growers Association, an advocacy coalition of cultivators in Northern California, in urging local officials to resist federal intimidation.

A federal court quashed a similar subpoena in 2007. The Oregon Attorney General successfully fought a federal attempt to get state records of 17 patients in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has not yet commented on the federal subpoena in Mendocino County.

Last year the Justice Department obtained the records of seven patients from the Michigan Department of Community Health after the state Attorney General declined to fight the subpoena despite patient privacy protections in state law.

More Information:
Text of the federal subpoena

ACTION ALERT: Write a Holiday Letter to a POW

Reach out to a medical cannabis prisoner this month. Several patients and providers are behind bars, even though they complied with their state law, because they could not present a medical defense in federal court. The holidays are a tough time to be separated from family and friends. Support these federal prisoners by writing a letter. Hearing from you can make the holiday season much brighter for these courageous people.

To take action, go to AmericansForSafeAccess.org/writetoPOWs.

Click here to download a PDF of this newsletter to copy and distribute.


Do you know about federal cases in your area?
Make sure ASA is kept in the loop. Call the Legal Hotline at 510-251-1856 or email legalsupport@AmericansForSafeAccess.org.


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