ASA Activist Newsletter - Nov 2015

November 04, 2015 | William Dolphin

In This Issue

  • Federal Judge Lifts Injunction that Shut Dispensary
  • Dispensary Report Details Benefits of Regulated Local Approach
  • Scientific Society Launches Cannabis Research and Testing Group
  • Think Tank Says Government Stifles Cannabis Research 
  • California Medical Cannabis Regulation Bill Signed
  • ACTION ALERT: Sign the Kettle Falls Pardon Petition

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Federal Judge Lifts Injunction that Shut Dispensary

First Court to Enforce Congressional Limit on Prosecutors

For the first time, a federal court has said federal prosecutors cannot stop the distribution of medical cannabis if it is done in compliance with state law. The ruling enforces a budget amendment enacted last year to rein in the Department of Justice (DOJ).

On October 20, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer lifted a federal injunction that in 2011 had closed a Northern California dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM). The judge ruled the injunction violated restrictions placed on the DOJ by Congress last year in the Rohrabacher-Farr budget amendment, which says the DOJ cannot use tax dollars to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis programs.  

Judge Breyer’s ruling says that a “plain reading of [the Amendment] forbids the Department of Justice (DOJ) from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extent that MAMM operates in compliance with state California law” and noted that local officials considered MAMM to be a “model business in careful compliance” with state law and local regulations.

The DOJ and the U.S. Attorney in the MAMM case had argued that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment does not prevent prosecutions or civil actions targeting individuals. MAMM was shut down by a civil injunction that was accompanied by the threat of criminal prosecutions. Other federal courts, such as the one that tried the Kettle Falls Five in Washington State, have not allowed the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment to be used to stop the prosecutions.

 “The Justice Department’s interpretation of our amendment was completely ludicrous,” said Rep. Sam Farr, (D-CA), one of the amendment’s coauthors. “It should not have taken a federal judge to explain that to them. Closing dispensaries denies patients access to medicine, clearly preventing states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws. With this ruling, it’s time for the Department to finally listen to the majority of Americans who want patients to have access to medical marijuana.”

Fellow amendment sponsor Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) also issued a statement, saying, “After months of experiencing the Department of Justice’s refusal to follow the letter and intent of the ‘Rohrabacher-Farr’ provision, a federal court has finally reined them in. The people’s representatives in Congress have, on more than one occasion, heeded the demands of the American people to allow for the possession, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana in states that permit such activities. For the Department of Justice to flout this Congressional directive is unfathomable. As such, Judge Breyer’s rebuke of DOJ’s ridiculous interpretation of our amendment is most welcome.”

Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment for this fiscal year last December. An updated version for next year names the additional states that have passed medical cannabis laws since then. It passed the House by an even wider margin than last year (242-186) and has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (21-9), but the budget bill it is attached to has not yet passed the full Senate.

“After all the years we’ve worked  to make the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment a reality, this ruling is the first major victory it has brought to patients,” said Michael Liszewski, ASA’s government affairs director. “Judge Breyer’s ruling shows that Congress has provided real-life protection from federal harassment for medical cannabis businesses.”

After sending a memo to members of Congress while the amendment was debated saying its passage would prevent all marijuana prosecutions, the DOJ now claims it only prevents them from bringing direct legal challenges to state laws. Judge Breyer ruled otherwise, saying "it defies language and logic for the government to argue that it does not prevent California from implementing its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these...heavily regulated medical marijuana dispensaries."Judge Breyer also noted that the sponsors of the amendment have brought complaints against the DOJ for ignoring the law.

On July 30, Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr asked the Inspector General’s Office within DOJ to investigate if the continued raids and prosecutions against state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers violate the Antideficiency Act that requires federal agencies to spend money only as Congress directs. In that letter, they noted that everyone in Congress was clear that “the intent and language of the provision was to stop DOJ from interacting with anyone legitimately doing business in medical marijuana in accordance with state law."

More Information:
 U.S. vs. MAMM Injunction Ruling
ASA memorandum to DOJ on Application of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment
Senate Reaffirms Support to End of Federal Interference In Medical Marijuana Programs
House Reps Demand Investigation of DOJ for Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

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Scientific Society Launches Cannabis Research and Testing Group

Cannabis research and testing standards are the focus of a new initiative by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific group. The ACS, which is 139 years old and has 150,000 members, voted last month to establish a Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision within the society’s Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS). The CHAS provides expertise in laboratory safety, chemical management and chemical safety practices, a mission that will extend to the subdivision, according to its chair, Ezra Pryor.

“Having a group like this will help everyone get on the same page, and upcoming programming could elucidate existing regulations and testing challenges in the cannabis industry,” said Pryor. “We have the opportunity to recognize those that are taking every effort to be ethical and compliant while also informing those who are not.  We can also educate the general public and illustrate how consumer awareness can drive best industry practices. I’d like to thank Americans for Safe Access for supporting this important work.”

Comprised of experts with collectively over 100 years of experience in cannabis chemistry, research and industry regulation, the subdivision will provide a symposium for research and facilitate the development and use of best practices.  Since 2011, the number of cannabis testing laboratories has grown from two to more than two dozen, some of which provide product testing required by state law.  

“The American Chemical Society recognizes the need for scientific leadership on cannabis,” said Jahan Marcu, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) senior scientist and CANN subdivision vice chair.  “We were told the process might take years, but the members realized the importance of this work and made the process much faster.”

ASA has previously collaborated with the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) to create standards for cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and laboratory analysis. AHPA’s cannabis standards have been included in regulations in over a dozen state medical cannabis laws including, Alaska, Florida, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Hawaii, Colorado and California.  

ASA also worked with the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia to create the Cannabis monograph, which established the first scientifically valid standards for companies engaged in laboratory analysis of cannabis, cannabis-derived products and hemp products. 

“The creation of the Cannabis Chemistry Subdivision is another important milestone in the professionalization of cannabis science,” said Steph Sherer, ASA’s executive director. “We will work with America’s top chemists to promote sound cannabis laboratory regulations and create effective standards that give patients confidence in their medicine.”

More Information:
CANN Subdivision Video Announcement
CANN Facebook Page
AHPA Guidelines
APH Cannabis Monograph

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Think Tank Says Government Stifles Cannabis Research

A respected think tank last month issued a scathing report criticizing the U.S. federal government for actively undermining important research on the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

The Brookings Institution report “Ending the U.S. government's war on medical marijuana research” explains the various barriers that have “paralyzed science” that could lead to a better understanding of the medical uses of cannabis. The authors, Brookings fellow John Hudak and senior research assistant Grace Wallack, note that “of all the controlled substances that the federal government regulates, cannabis is treated in a unique manner in ways that specifically impede research.”

While cannabis is demonstrably a far safer drug than any other listed in Schedule I or even Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Hudak and Wallack note the circular logic that keeps it in the most restrictive classification. Medical research is limited because Schedule I means it lacks current accepted medical use, and it is not accepted for medical use because it lacks large-scale research.

Just changing the classification would not fix the problem, according to the report. Layers of institutional barriers would remain. Among the recommendations the report makes are: “removing the DEA-mandated NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse) monopoly on production of marijuana for research, issuing agency guidance, expanding the compassionate use program, and reforming license and registration requirements."

The report also notes that even though the Executive Branch could initiate some of these changes, it would take far longer than action by Congress. The CARERS Act that was introduced in the Senate would make many of the necessary changes, but despite its widespread bipartisan support, it remains stalled. The authors comment that this political “reluctance is very difficult to understand” as public opinion everywhere in the country overwhelmingly favors allowing physicians to prescribe cannabis like other drugs.

Now that 40 states have enacted some sort of law that establishes legal medical use of cannabis or a cannabis derivative, a substantial majority of the country lives somewhere that allows it and would directly benefit from the research that current policy blocks.

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Dispensary Report Details Benefits of Regulated Local Approach

ASA last month released a new white paper on medical cannabis dispensaries that details the benefits of local regulations for managing the impacts on patient access, teen use, crime rates and community concerns. The report “Where Will Patients Obtain Their Medicine?” covers the experiences of local officials and communities that have grappled with this contentious issue since dispensaries emerged in California in 1996.

ASA’s report finds no basis for concerns that medical cannabis dispensaries will worsen crime rates or otherwise undermine the communities that host them. Empirical research conducted by law enforcement, academics and journalists shows that dispensaries bring economic development and are not associated with increased levels of crime or other social ills.  

“Studies show that well-regulated dispensaries are responsible neighbors that create jobs and improve communities,” said Steph Sherer, ASA’s executive director. “Creating equitable rules for medical cannabis access is a win-win scenario for everyone.”

Among the states that have passed legislation to create medical cannabis programs, several are still implementing dispensary licensing.  Massachusetts, Minnesota and Illinois have issued licenses to medical cannabis dispensaries for the first time in the last year.  Maryland, Hawaii and New Hampshire are currently accepting license applications for dispensaries and cultivation sites.

"Counties and cities in states with new medical cannabis programs can be uncertain about dispensaries opening,” said Mike Liszewski, ASA's Government Affairs Director. “But local officials who restrict access to dispensaries are not creating any public benefit by imposing extra burdens on a vulnerable patient population."

ASA published a similar report in 2004, “Medical Cannabis Dispensing Collective and Local Regulation,” to guide California communities in creating effective, equitable regulations for dispensaries.  Since then, hundreds of cities and counties have established licensing, zoning and other regulatory rules for dispensary locations. 

ASA is distributing the report along with state-specific legal information to officials in Maryland, Hawaii and New Hampshire to educate them as they craft regulations to facilitate medical cannabis access in their communities.

More Information:
ASA Report: Where Will Patients Obtain Their Medicine?
ASA Report: Medical Marijuana Access in The U.S.
ASA Analysis: Maryland County to Choose Between Sensible Zoning and Anti-Patient Restrictions

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Governor Signs California Medical Cannabis Regulation Bill

Medical cannabis in California will become a commercial business like any other once the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act is fully implemented. Since 1996, distributors and cultivators have existed as not-for-profit collectives and cooperatives, but lack of clarity in how to operate legally has generated years of litigation.

On October 9, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the trio of interconnected bills that will establish commercial regulation of medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and transportation, as well as a state-level licensing system.  After years of wrangling, the California legislature passed Assembly Bills 243 and 266 and Senate Bill 643 on September 11, 2015, with overwhelming support in both the Assembly and the Senate.

“Governor Brown’s approval of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act ushers in a new era in California,’” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the lead sponsor of AB 266. “Patients will have more assurances that their products are safe. Law enforcement will have a foundation for identifying drugged drivers and increased funding to protect the public. The environment will be protected from neglect, destruction, and water diversion. And the medical marijuana industry itself will be able to come out of the shadows and receive the same protections under the law as other state-licensed businesses, creating jobs and contributing to the economy.”

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has long advocated for sensible regulations that provide legitimacy and oversight for the medical cannabis industry and ensure the safety and quality of medicine provided to patients. ASA lobbied to make the Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act as effective and inclusive as possible, successfully advocating to exempt patients’ personal cultivation rights from commercial regulatory rules and to move oversight from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, where it was to be housed, to a newly created Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs.  ASA also successfully opposed a state-wide production tax on commercial cannabis cultivation.

““This action ensures that safe and legal access to medical cannabis will be a permanent right for Californians,” said Steph Sherer, ASA’s executive director. “ASA has been working for more than a decade to show California that sensible regulations can facilitate patient access, ensure product safety and create fair rules that are sensitive to community concerns.”

Implementation of the new laws will entail significant rule making by state agencies over the next year.  ASA and other advocates will have a chance to influence how that plays out.

“We remain concerned over some of the last-minute changes to these bills and will work hard to fix problems,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California director. “Limiting personal cultivation space to 100-square-feet may create hardship for patients who need it the most, and vertical integration restrictions create undue obstacles to legitimate members of the medical cannabis industry.”

More Information:
ASA Analysis- Why Regulations Are Good for Patients in California
Assembly Bill 243 Text
Assembly Bill 266 Text
Senate Bill 643 Text

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ACTION ALERT: Sign the Kettle Falls Pardon Petition

Urge President Obama to pardon the three remaining Kettle Falls Five defendants today by signing the petition.

Congress told the DOJ to stop interfering in state medical cannabis programs, but three of the patients charged in the Kettle Falls Five case are facing federal prison terms and fines. Even though they were convicted of a single charge for their family medical garden, they will each go to prison for more than a year at an enormous cost to taxpayers. 

Take action today to to ask President Obama to issue immediate orders of commutation and remission of jail time and fines for Rolland Gregg (sentenced to 2 years, 9 months; 3 years supervised release; $7,500 fine), his wife Michelle Gregg (1 year, 1 day; 3 years supervised release), and his mother Rhonda Firestack-Harvey (1 year, 1 day; 3 years supervised release). Rhonda, Rolland, and Michelle deserve to get on with their lives and return to being the productive members of society.

Take a minute now to sign the White House petition. SafeAccessNow.org/pardon_the_kettle_falls_five

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