ASA Activist Newsletter - July 2010

July 01, 2010

Volume 5, Issue 7

First Webcast by National League
of Cities Features ASA

Live Webinar for Municipal Leaders Focuses
on Medical Cannabis

Americans for Safe Access explained the needs of medical cannabis patients in the first live webcast presented by the National League of Cities (NLC) on its internet TV channel.

Caren Woodson, ASA's Government Affairs Director, presented the benefits to patients and communities of establishing city-regulated distribution for medical cannabis and then participated in a question and answer session with webcast viewers.

'City officials benefit enormously from hearing the needs of patients,' said Woodson. 'A few states have mandated programs for medical cannabis distribution, but most of it happens at the local level and requires local governments to be involved in its implementation.'

States that leave distribution rules to local governments include California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The states that are currently considering laws that would establish regulated medical cannabis distribution include Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and Wisconsin.

The webcast was the first in series on medical cannabis presented by the NLC's Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations Committee (FAIR). A subsequent program featured Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers' Associations' Coalition, discussing law enforcement issues.

FAIR voted to take a closer look at the medical cannabis issue following inquiries from city representatives on the committee. FAIR invited Woodson to participate based on ASA's expertise in interpreting and implementing state-authorized safe access provisions at the local level.

'The elements of a safe, reliable and affordable distribution plan for medical cannabis primarily concern land use issues,' continued Woodson. 'ASA's research has shown that the additional security typically provided by medical cannabis distributors reduces or eliminates crime and nuisance activity in their neighborhoods.'

The NLC is the premier national organization representing municipal governments in the U.S., representing 19,000 cities, villages, and towns and working in partnership with 49 state municipal leagues.

More Information:
The National League of Cities FAIR webcast page
ASA Report on medical marijuana dispensary regulations

Bill Urges New Federal Policy on Medical Cannabis

California Assembly to Vote on Joint Resolution

A bill sponsored by ASA that urges federal officials to adopt a new national policy ensuring safe access is now before the California Assembly. Following testimony by California Director Don Duncan last month, the Assembly's Committee on Health voted 10-3 to pass the non-binding resolution to the full Assembly.

'This legislation is needed now more than ever,' said Duncan in his testimony to the committee. 'Lest federal officials think their job is done, they need to know their work addressing medical marijuana as a public health issue has only just begun.'

Originally introduced by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in June 2009, Senate Joint Resolution 14 urges the federal government to end medical marijuana raids and to 'create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it.' The full Senate passed the bill last August by a vote of 23-15.

'Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement,' said Senator Leno in a statement on the resolution. 'And legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids and prosecutions.'

The Department of Justice issued a memo to US Attorneys in October 2009, discouraging them from prosecuting individuals who comply with state medical cannabis laws. But raids, arrests and prosecutions have occurred since then in California, Colorado and New Mexico. More than two-dozen patients and providers are currently being prosecuted under federal law and face decades in prison.

In California, medical marijuana provider James Stacy, whose dispensary was raided by the DEA in September 2009, a month before the Justice Department policy was issued, is scheduled to go to trial next month.

'No one should go to federal prison for treating illness or injury with a safe, effective medicine,' said Duncan. 'Suffering patients across the country will benefit from a sensible, comprehensive federal medical cannabis policy.'

In addition to urging President Obama and Congress to 'move quickly to end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical marijuana law,' SJR 14 asks them to establish 'an affirmative defense to medical marijuana charges in federal court and establish federal legal protection for individuals authorized by state and local law.'

Under federal rules of evidence, defendants facing federal marijuana charges cannot use their medical condition or compliance with state law as a defense in court. A bill to change that, the Truth in Trials Act (HR 3939), is currently pending before Congress.

If passed by the Assembly, the resolution will then be sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, the Speaker of the House and each member of the California Congressional delegation.

Further information:
Senate Joint Resolution on medical marijuana
ASA fact sheet on SJR 14

Oregon Pharmacy Board Says Cannabis is Medicine

Decision Bolsters ASA's Federal Petitions on Medical Use

The latest indication of the scientific consensus on the medical uses of cannabis comes from the Oregon Board of Pharmacy, which officially reclassified the drug as a medicine last month.

After months of deliberation and input from scientist, physicians and patients, the board voted 4-1 to move marijuana from Schedule I, reserved for highly dangerous drugs with no medical use, to Schedule II. The action follows action by the Oregon legislature in August 2009, when it passed a bill directing the pharmacy board to reclassify marijuana to an appropriate schedule.

Although 14 states have adopted laws making the medical use of cannabis legal, and four have classified cannabis as medicine, it is still listed as a Schedule I substance by the federal government.

'When a state public health and drug regulatory body takes such an action, it sends a clear message to the federal government,' said Caren Woodson, ASA's Director of Government Affairs. 'They should approve the petition on rescheduling cannabis they've been sitting on for eight years, as well as ASA's petition on correcting the denials of its accepted medical uses.'

Congress defined cannabis as a substance with a high potential for abuse and no medical value in 1970, when it enacted the Controlled Substances Act. Requests to change that classification have been rejected by federal officials in the past, and the latest petition to reschedule cannabis has been under consideration since 2002.

That petition -- filed by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, of which ASA is a member -- has been passed to the DEA with a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, who awaits confirmation by the Senate, will have the final say on the matter.

'DEA Administrator Leonhart has yet to demonstrate that she understands the science on medical cannabis,' said Woodson. 'But this is nonetheless an opportunity for the Obama Administration to make good on its pledge to base policy on scientific findings.'

As part of its new National Strategy, ASA is developing a national grassroots campaign in support of the CRC petition. The campaign, which will launch this fall, will press local, state and federal officials to acknowledge the medical consensus on the therapeutic utility of cannabis and support the rescheduling effort.

Further Information:
Oregon legislation (SB 728) instructing BOP to reclassify marijuana
Oregon Board of Pharmacy page on reclassifying marijuana

Decision Due in Challenge to California Dispensary Bans

A California appeals court is due to issue a decision this month in a case with far-reaching implications for safe access in the state.
ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford argued before the Fourth Court of Appeals that the state legislature barred local governments from using nuisance statutes to ban medical cannabis dispensaries.

'Local governments cannot simply ban an activity that has been deemed lawful by the state,' said Elford. 'Dispensaries aren't nuisances, they're providers of essential health services.'

That argument was bolstered when the court requested additional briefing, and Senator Mark Leno, one of the principal co-authors of California's Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), filed papers telling the court that the legislature's express intention was to facilitate safe access and block such bans.

The case, Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, was brought by attorney Anthony Curiale on behalf of a dispensary that had been in operation for five months prior to Anaheim instituting a ban in July 2007. The appeal was filed in March 2008 after a Superior Court ruled that Anaheim could prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within its city limits.

Silicon Valley ASA Fights City Restrictions on Access


The Silicon Valley chapter of Americans for Safe Access staged a successful rally and lobbying effort to fight proposed restrictions on dispensaries in San Jose, California last month.

The city council was considering an 'urgency ordinance' that would impose restrictions on so strict that few, if any, dispensaries would be able to operate. So SV-ASA collected signed postcards protesting the changes and organized 200 local patients and advocates to attend the Council meeting and another 100 for a rally and press conference in front of City Hall.

Silicon Valley ASA delivered to Councilmembers and the mayor postcards from their constituents, a letter from SV-ASA about problems with the proposal, and a draft ordinance.

In a victory for patients, the Council did not adopt the proposed restrictions. The Council only adopted recommendations about enforcing zoning rules and monitoring dispensaries operating within 500 feet of sensitive uses. After the meeting, the city's planning director said he would only act on specific complaints.

'Truth Heals,' a video documenting the rally, can be seen at vimeo.com/12909505.



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