Blog Voices from the Frontlines

Oct 292007

A Sad Day in Montana, and across the Country - In Remebrance of Robin Prosser - Americans for Safe Access

It is a sad day for the people of Montana, medical marijuana advocates, and people anywhere who are sympathetic to the plight of the sick and dying. Robin Prosser, a Missoula, Montana medical marijuana patient, and a powerful activist fighting for the rights of patients, took her life on October 18. She will be remembered in the struggle for a compassionate and humane federal policy on medical marijuana. Robin was a fighter. She encountered many obstacles, but many victories along the way. In 2002, she sustained a 60-day hunger strike in order to bring attention to her need  for medical marijuana, as well as a need for the protection of patients. In 2004, Robin was charged with possession of an illegal substance and paraphernalia, but managed to fight the charges and continue to use medical marijuana. Arguably, the attention Robin gave to the issue in the preceding years helped to pass I-148, the Montana Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) of 2004. However, even with the passage of the much-needed MMMA, Robin's troubles were not over. In 2007, a UPS package was intercepted from her registered caregiver by the DEA. The package was her twice-monthly shipment of 20 grams of medical marijuana. Though no federal charges were ever filed against Robin, the action by DEA agents was a clear attempt to intimidate her and others. In fact, the DEA's involvement is representative of increased attacks on patients in states with medical marijuana laws. It is part of a last-ditch effort to avoid a federal policy change. I had a chance to talk with Robin shortly after the DEA seized her medical marijuana and she informed me at the time that she had no other way to obtain the medicine she relied on to treat her severe pain and nausea caused by an immunosuppressive disorder she had endured for more than 20 years. Robin was rightfully angry and despondent. It is a shame that we have lost another activist in this struggle. It is shameful that the DEA either cannot see the harm it is inflicting, or is cognizant of the consequences of its actions but refuses to change course. Regardless, it's a tragedy. Robin will be missed, but we must carry on her strong activist conviction.
Oct 262007

ASA's Trip to LA: Protest, DEA Raid & Interviews - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 26, 2007 7:39 AM
ASA's trip to LA two weeks ago for the rally calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to Stand Up for Patients' Rights was apparently well documented. On Thursday, hundreds of patients and advocates rallied outside of Governor Schwarzenegger's Los Angeles office: Later that night, the DEA raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. ASA and LA activists jumped into motion and coordinated a protest outside of the dispensary: During the weekend, Dean Becker interviewed me for a documentary he's working on, and I discussed the increase in raids and ASA's response to DEA actions (my interview follows the one with Dr. Mitch Earlywine):
Oct 252007

News From Dallas: ASA on the Road - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 25, 2007 12:12 PM
ASA Participates in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's National Conference! This week, ASA Executive Director, Steph Sherer, Government Affairs Director, Caren Woodson, and I traveled to Dallas, Texas to attend the annual National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 2007 National Conference in an effort to continue to build a coalition of condition-based groups and expand ASA MS Patients' Union. We staffed our educational outreach exhibit and discussed safe access to marijuana with a receptive audience of people living with MS, their family-members, caregivers, and advocates. We also were afforded the opportunity to broaden our knowledge about both the National MS Society and the innovations in Multiple Sclerosis research and treatment. The overall reception from conference participants has been very encouraging. Many people remembered us from last year's conference. Others were introduced to medical cannabis as treatment for symptoms associated with MS for the first time. Building on the momentum generated from an article published earlier this year by InsideMS, "Considering Cannabis," We have been introducing several MS Society chapter leaders, members, and staff to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and it's ability to treat several symptoms associated with MS. Since ASA participated in last year's conference, the National MS Society has implemented a Cannabis Task Force, led by MS expert, Dr. Alan J. Thompson, to, "review published studies on medical marijuana and make recommendations." Read more about the objectives of the task force in the Considering Cannabis article. Click here to read more about ASA's Patients' Unions.
Oct 222007

Stop the DEA from Breaking Up Two Happy Families - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 22, 2007 7:49 AM
DEA raids consistently disrupt the lives of innocent patients and providers, but two recent raids have threatened to break up these two happy families: Ronald Naulls & FamilyBreaking Up a Family... Ronald Naulls operated a safe, legal medical cannabis collective in Corona for over a year. On July 17, 2007, Naulls's home and the collective were invaded by the DEA. They seized everything: his property; his personal accounts; all of the collective's assets. Naulls was arrested and is now facing federal prosecution for distribution of medical cannabis. But that wasn't the worst of it. County child protective services came along and took Naulls's three little girls, ages 1, 3, and 5, and charged his wife with felony child endangerment. When they spoke to their children in their confidential foster home, the big sister said, Mommy, we're ready to come home now, we promise to be good. The family has since been reunited, but Naulls is still facing a lengthy legal battle. You can help out by donating through Green-Aid. Michael Martin and Family Paramilitary-Style Raids Deny Patients Access to Edible Cannabis On September 26, 2007, the DEA raided five locations the DEA says are connected to Tainted, Inc., a well-known supplier of edible medical cannabis products available in dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state. Heavily armed federal agents seized cannabis plants and medicinal edibles, arrested three people and killed an employee’s dog. On October 4th, Michael Martin turned himself in following an arrest warrant issued during the raids. He spoke in front of the Oakland Federal Building, surrounded by his wife, two children, and his mother, pleading with the federal government to spare his family more pain. Martin and three other defendants in the Tainted case are facing a lengthy and expensive legal battle, and Martin could face twenty years or more in federal prison for his role in supplying medical cannabis to qualified patients. You can help out by donating through Free Tainted.
Oct 192007

California Weekly Round Up - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 19, 2007 11:35 AM
Arcata City Council and Local Activists Reach a Working Compromise for Safe Access This week, Arcata City Council voted unanimously to establish a medical marijuana working group in an effort to protect the community and patients' rights. Humboldt County ASA and other local activists attended the meeting in support of the effort, while voicing concerns about regulations. This effort came about as a compromise between local medical cannabis supporters and the city council. Earlier in October, members of the council had expressed concerns about lack of security and safety regulations at medical cannabis grow houses. Rather than taking drastic measures to ban medical cannabis grow houses, at the urging of the community, the council decided to implement a working group to assess the need for and then begin to develop regulations. The medical cannabis working group will first examine the community's need for regulations, while being mindful of patients' rights. They will then focus on establishing a task force which will develop zoning regulations and guidelines for medical marijuana grow houses. Read more about the new working group in the Eureka Reporter. Landlord Letters Come to Orange County In continuation of the DEA's recent trend targeting innocent third parties, this week, landlords in Orange County received asset forfeiture letters. These letters threaten to confiscate the landlords' properties if they do not cooperate with the DEA and evict dispensing collective tenants. The DEA, once more, has chosen to victimize an innocent third party, property owners, in its ongoing war on medical cannabis. This trend of targeting innocent people has been seen in other Southern California cities such as Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Long Beach. We need a political fix for this problem in the immediate future. The DEA is continuing to go to drastic measures like these to undermine California state law. This is yet another reason Governor Schwarzenegger needs to stand up for patients' rights and defend California's medical marijuana laws. Click here to send a message to the Governor urging him to stand up for patents' rights. We must put an end to the mindless victimization of innocent citizens! To sign up to receive the weekly round up by email, click here.
Oct 152007

Patients Rally, Police Raid - Americans for Safe Access

On Thursday, October 11th, 300 medical cannabis patients and advocates rallied in front of the Governor's office in downtown Los Angeles demanding that he stand up for patients' rights and the will of California voters and lawmakers. Later that night night, the DEA and LAPD staged yet another raid a one of Los Angeles' most respected collectives, the Arts District Healing Center (ADHC). Dozens of protesters turned out again to defend ADHC, which serves patients just blocks from City Hall. It is disheartening to see our local police department continue to support these harmful and unnecessary raids – despite clear guidance from LAPD Veteran and City Council Member Dennis Zine and his colleagues that the City intends to regulate medical cannabis facilities instead of close them. It is crucial that City Council members move forward quickly with a proposed resolution calling on an end to cooperation between the LAPD and DEA on medical cannabis raids. The image of our police department has been battered of late by brutality and scandal. This city does not need to see the men and women who should be heroes doing the work of villains. I was so proud of my fellow Angelinos and our guests from as far away as Rhode Island who stood up twice yesterday. It is a tremendous credit to local organizers that this constituency is so well trained and prepared to respond to an emergency on short notice. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) staff and volunteers leapt into action – sending hundreds of text messages and thousands of email alerts about the raid and protest less than one one half an hour after in began. Volunteers started calling phone trees prepared in advance for just this situation. ASA members showed up with signs and bull horns they keep in their cars in case of a federal raid. We will need all of those skills and dedication to keep pace with the continuing escalation of federal attacks on patients’ access in Los Angeles. We will likely face more raids in the near future, and some advocates will escalate their opposition using tactics of non-violent resistance, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience. The Los Angeles Chapter of ASA is prepared to train and support these advocates all along the way. We will continue to face these raids until we finally succeed in harmonizing federal law with the laws of California and the other states that allow for medical cannabis. Support from our Governor and other public figures is an important part of that effort. We also need to educate Members of Congress and their staffs so they are prepared to solve this problem once and for all. Every single day, ASA staff is working in Washington, DC, to defend patients in Los Angeles and nationwide. It makes a tremendous difference in their work when elected officials hear from their constituency about medical cannabis. Our DC staff can tell you first hand: your calls and letters matter. The next few months may be tough in Los Angeles. Please join us to fight back. On Thursday, I told the crowd at the rally that Los Angeles is where we will win the battle for safe access in California. That battle in underway in earnest right now. Thank you to those who have already joined the fight. We need everyone else! The next LA-ASA meeting will be on Saturday, October 20, at 1:00 at the Patient ID Center. Get a map or public transit information at http://www.ASAaction.org You can join the nation’s largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research right now – http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/Join You can also sign up for our emergency text message alert to be notified about DEA raids at http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/RaidAlert See you at the meeting! See you in the streets!
Oct 152007

California Weekly Round Up - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 15, 2007 6:52 AM
Hundreds Gather at the Governor's Office Calling on Him to Stand Up for Patients' Rights On Thursday, over 300 medical cannabis supporters gathered from around the state to call on Governor Schwarzenegger to stand up for patients' rights and call on the Bush Administration to end the war on patients. The people began gathering in front of the Governor's over an hour before the event was scheduled. By the time the rally began, the crowd took up almost the entire block, spilling into the streets. During the rally, people were chanting, "support patients' rights, stand up and fight," and, "we're patients, not criminals!" Patients, providers, supporters, and concerned citizens held marquis-styled signs reading clever slogans such as, "Coming Soon: the Gov. in Terminate the DEA," "Coming Soon, the Gov. in End of DEA Days," and "The Gov. in Stop the Federal Predators." Some of the Rally Participants Brian Perry, LA City Council Member, Dennis Zine's, staffer read a powerful statement at the rally saying, "this year has seen a dramatic increase in federal law enforcement activity surrounding medical cannabis, including raids, confiscation of medicine and plants, and indictments." Other speakers included a reading of a statement by Orange County Supervisor, Chris Norby, ASA Executive Director, Steph Sherer, Michael Martin, the former medical marijuana edible manufacturer who was recently raided by the DEA, and ASA California Campaign Director, Don Duncan. The rally ended on a somber note when the crowd went silent to hear federal inmate, Stephanie Landa, speak on a participant's speaker phone from jail. Her speech further illustrated the need for the Governor to intervene in this dire situation. This year alone, the DEA has conducted at least 44 separate raids of patients and providers, more than twice that of the prior two years. Illustrating the breadth of these attacks, the DEA has conducted raids in no less than 10 counties across the state and has shut down entire regions of access to medical marijuana. Bringing a new dimension to the federal effort to undermine state law, letters were recently sent to more than 150 landlords in California, threatening asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution if they continued to lease to medical marijuana providers. Executive Director, Steph Sherer This rally culminated weeks of advocacy that resulted in more than 40,000 postcards sent to the Governor, as well as hundreds of phone calls and emails, all urging him to take action to defend patients’ rights. In addition to calling on the Governor to end the federal raids on patients and providers, advocates are seeking a directive from the Governor to local law enforcement discouraging cooperation with federal raids. Advocates are also urging Schwarzenegger to solicit support from Governors of other medical marijuana states in order to ward off federal interference. In August, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson sent a letter to President Bush after the DEA threatened state officials with criminal prosecution if they implemented the state-mandated medical cannabis distribution system. Read more about the rally in the Associated Press, the Daily Breeze, and KSBY - NBC TV 6 (San Luis Obispo). DEA Raids Downtown Dispensary Following the Rally From ASA California Campaign Director, Don Duncan Last Thursday, more than 300 medical cannabis patients and advocates rallied in front of the Governor's office in downtown Los Angeles demanding that he stand up for patients' rights and the will of California voters and lawmakers. Last night, the DEA and LAPD staged yet another raid a one of Los Angeles' collectives, the Arts District Healing Center (ADHC). More than 50 protesters turned out again to defend ADHC, which serves patients just blocks from City Hall. It is disheartening to see our local police department continue to support these harmful and unnecessary raids – despite clear guidance from LAPD Veteran and City Council Member Dennis Zine and his colleagues that the City intends to regulate medical cannabis facilities instead of close them. It is crucial that City Council members move forward quickly with a proposed resolution calling on an end to cooperation between the LAPD and DEA on medical cannabis raids. The image of our police department has been battered of late by brutality and scandal. This city does not need to see the men and women who should be heroes doing the work of villains. I was so proud of my fellow Angelinos and our guests from as far away as Rhode Island who stood up twice yesterday. It is a tremendous credit to local organizers that this constituency is so well trained and prepared to respond to an emergency on short notice. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) staff and volunteers leapt into action – sending hundreds of text messages and thousands of email alerts about the raid and protest less than one one half an hour after in began. You can sign up for our emergency text message alert to be notified about DEA raids at http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/RaidAlert. To sign up to receive the weekly round up by email, click here.
Oct 112007

Some Examples of Local Cooperation with the DEA in Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 11, 2007 1:37 PM
So, think about this. Medical marijuana use and cultivation has been legal in California since 1996, but more than ten years later, there are still local law enforcement agents who refuse to follow state law. Especially since the Raich decision in 2005, many California law enforcement officials have cooperated with the federal government in investigating, raiding, and arresting medical marijuana patients and providers. In the most egregious cases, local governments have actively regulated and issued permits to these providers, only to have local law enforcement later turn them over the federal government. Here is an incomplete list of some stories of this practice, feel free to post others in comments with source links.
  • On 9/13/07, DEA and Nevada County Sheriffs raided several residences near Big Oak Valley, and arrested 3 individual patient-cultivators for cultivating 190 plants. Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal initiated the investigation, and utilized federal DEA warrants because federal charges carry more jail time upon conviction than state cases and he intends to continue to raid collective cultivation sites. "We asked for help through the U.S. Attorney, and the DEA came through with the warrants," Royal said. Source
  • On 8/29/07, DEA, San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force, and San Mateo PD raided 3 dispensing collectives in San Mateo (Patients Choice Resource Cooperative, Peninsula Patients Local Option, M.H.T.), confiscating medicine and shutting them down. After considering a letter he had received from Patients Choice that explained the legality of dispensing collectives under state law, San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe decided to call in the DEA to raid the dispensaries. "We could have sat here and spent a great deal of taxpayer money in San Mateo County, prosecuting it and going through the appeals, or we could bring the case to the attention of the federal government," Wagstaffe said. Source
  • On 7/25/07, DEA & LAPD raided 10 dispensing collectives in Los Angeles, confiscating medicine, arresting 5 and closing many of the collectives. Specifically, one LAPD Officer, Detective Dennis Packer, was caught on video wearing DEA regalia and actively participating in the raid, and was a cross-deputized agent. While the LAPD promised to investigate his role in the raid, on 8/16/07, LAPD Commander David R. Doan told the Los Angeles City Council that the LAPD will continue to participate in federal raids on local medical marijuana dispensing collectives. Doan told council members (many of who were pressuring him not to cooperate) that the LAPD had a positive relationship with the DEA and he did not want to risk damaging that relationship and that it was LAPD policy to provide assistance with lawful federal warrants. Doan stated, "If it's going to be our position to say we're not going to help the [Drug Enforcement Administration], I'm not authorized to make that statement today," Doan said. Sources here, here, here and here.
  • On 5/1/07, DEA, Kern County Sheriffs & Bakersfield PD raided Nature’s Medicinal Collective in Oildale and confiscated medicine, warning the dispensing collective not to reopen. It reopened anyway, and as the culmination of an 18-month investigation, the same law enforcement agencies raided again on 7/17/07, confiscating medicine and eventually arresting 8 patients on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, remarked after the first raid, “I understand why they are offended. First you regulate us and then arrest us. It’s contradictory and I am aware of that.” Eventually, all 6 dispensing collectives in the Bakersfield area closed, with one owner/operator crediting his decision to an alleged discussion where Sheriff Youngblood informed him of his intention to call the DEA to shut him down. The Sheriff himself took credit for these shutdowns in Business Week, saying that his own warnings, combined with the federal raids, have eliminated dispensing collectives in Kern County. "It is a federal crime, and federal law trumps California law," he says. Sheriff Youngblood then announced in 8/07 that he will not issue any more dispensing collective licenses (which is his job under the Kern County dispensing collective regulation ordinance) as he feels that he is helping people break the law. Sources are here, here, here, here, and here.
  • On 3/29/07, DEA & San Luis Obispo County Sheriffs raided Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay, confiscating medicine, and arresting 1 patient-employee on state charges. The Sheriffs spent the afternoon inside the dispensing collective with the DEA, taking down names and other information of patients arriving throughout the day. Sheriff's Sergeant and Public Information Officer Brian Hascall reported that the raid was the culmination of a year-long investigation by his Department. "The entire investigation started with us," Hascall said in a later interview. "I can't say why, but we started the investigation, and then because of the nature of the investigation, we requested the DEA's assistance, and it became a joint investigation between the two of us. That's common for it to be done that way." The Sheriffs did not get a state search warrant, and used a federal search warrant to carry out a local arrest warrant. Hascall explained that the Sheriff's Department has a duty to uphold both state and federal laws, pointing to the oath of office that requires them to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America as well as the Constitution of the State of California. "That's where the conflict between the federal law and the state law becomes such a problem," Hascall said. Sarah Pullen, Public Information Officer for the DEA's Los Angeles field division said that the agency does typically use local law enforcement in all enforcement actions. Source
  • On 7/17/07, presumably as a result of evidence gathered in the previous state-initiated raid, DEA arrested Charles Lynch (owner/operator of Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers) at his residence. He is currently being federally charged with manufacturing and distributing marijuana, distributing marijuana to a person under 21, possession with intent to distribute, maintaining a drug-involved premise, and aiding and abetting to distribute marijuana and his case is ongoing. Source
  • On 9/27/06, DEA, IRS and Modesto PD raided the California Healthcare Collective in Modesto, confiscating medicine and arresting 4 patients. Modesto PD and DEA engaged in a 15-month investigation in which they sent officers to purchase cannabis from the clinic. Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden’s gave a statement supporting the raid: "Make no mistake about it…It simply will not be tolerated." Sources here and here.
  • On 12/12/05, and then again on 7/6/06, after a self-characterized joint investigation, DEA, San Diego County Sheriffs, and San Diego PD raided 11 dispensing collectives in San Diego under federal and state search warrants, confiscating medicine, arresting 6 on federal charges, and then pressured the rest of the city’s dispensaries to shut down. San Diego County DA Bonnie Dumanis filed state charges against five dispensing collectives and during the investigation, San Diego PD officers went to doctors to get recommendations and also visited dispensaries, posing as legitimate patients. After the raids, Dumanis put the unraided dispensaries on notice, saying, “We've raided some of you today. We'll raid the rest of you if you do not cease and desist. We'll raid you again and again.” Sources here, here and here.
Crazy, huh?
Oct 112007

ASA Files Amicus Brief in California Supreme Court - Americans for Safe Access

Since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act over a decade ago, California courts have struggled to determine what a person must do to establish himself as the primary caregiver for a qualified patient. Providing marijuana alone, several courts have said, is insufficient even to have a jury hear a defense based on one's status as a primary caregiver. In People v. Mentch, which is pending before the California Supreme Court, the Court will provide further guidance. The Compassionate Use Act defines a "primary caregiver" as "the individual designated by the person exempted under [the Compassionate Use Act] who has consistently assumed the responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of that person." Because the California electorate has declared that marijuana is medicine, it is ASA's position that consistently cultivating marijuana for a qualified patient, standing alone, is sufficient to establish one's status as a primary caregiver. The Attorney General, on the other hand, has argued that one must do more, such as house, feed, or clothe the qualified patient. ASA's amicus brief seeks a definition of primary caregiver that is more faithful to the language of the Compassionate Use Act and the voters' intent.
Oct 102007

Obfuscation by Kern County Officials Means No Access for Hundreds of Area Medical Marijuana Patients - Americans for Safe Access

In the latest saga of obfuscation by Kern County officials, District Attorney Ed Jagels has recommended the banning of dispensaries in the county. The Bakersfield Californian quotes Jagels in an October 10 article as saying, "I do not think we benefit from the cooperative/collective licensing ordinance." Who doesn't benefit, and what exactly are the problems caused by the existing ordinance approved by the Kern County Board of Supervisors in 2006? Let's be very clear about this. The people who stand to lose the most from a lack of dispensaries in Kern are the hundreds of patients now forced to travel to other counties to obtain their medical marijuana. Let's be clear about another thing. The Kern County Sheriff was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to oversee the dispensary permitting process as defined by the county's regulatory ordinance. The fact that Sheriff Youngblood cooperated with federal DEA agents to raid and close the same dispensaries that had been permitted by his office is cause for great concern. I wonder if Sheriff Youngblood understands that medical marijuana patients and providers are prevented from using medical evidence at their federal trial. Is it possible that Sheriff Youngblood couldn't figure out how to file charges under state law, or was he trying to ensure a conviction in federal court for conduct with which he disagreed, even if he had to violate his own ordinance to do it? There's one more thing to be clear about. The Kern County Board of Supervisors did the right thing in adopting the 2006 ordinance regulating dispensaries. The dispensaries that were permitted under the ordinance and the communities surrounding them had very few problems. But, Sheriff Youngblood wasn't the same Sheriff that took part in drafting the ordinance, and now he has succeeded in undermining both state and local law. The solution is not, as suggested by DA Jagels, to shut down dispensaries or ban them from Kern County. The best solution is one of the options offered by the Kern County Counsel -- maintain the current ordinance, but appoint another agency to oversee the permitting process. Kern County patients rely on these facilities, and it's up to county officials to figure out how to effectively regulate them.