Excerpt from Boot Camp: Realizing the Vision

February 24, 2011 | Don Duncan
[caption id="attachment_1288" align="alignnone" width="150" caption="Activist Boot Camp in LA"]
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This is an excerpt from the openning chapter of the 200-page workbook from ASA's Activist Boot Camp. The next nationwide events will be Marh 19-20. look for local announcements.

--- from "The Medical Cannabis Advocate's Handbook" ---

Almost fifteen years of experimenting with state-based medical cannabis laws has made one thing clear: adopting state laws is only the first step in a long and often expensive process to meet the legitimate needs of patients. Some states have taken nearly a decade to enact legislation designed to correct the shortcomings of early victories, ensure access, and guarantee the protection of patients' rights. In other states, however, patients are still waiting for programs that meet their needs.



The policymaking process continues long after a law has been adopted by a state legislature or citizen initiative, and usually includes the development of rules and regulations for safe access. A vast array of factors can affect the successful implementation of a state medical cannabis law, including legislative intent, administrative capacity, political support, and interest group activity. While adopting new laws may be challenging, ASA believes that the true test of success is whether those laws are properly implemented and the patient community has achieved safe and legal access.

The implementation of statewide medical cannabis laws is challenging for a number of reasons. First, and most notable, is that administrative agencies are forced to create and enforce regulations that arguably conflict with federal law. Second, statewide medical cannabis laws continue to be laboratories of democracy in our federalist system - and sometimes these experiments fail. And finally, the processes by which many of these laws have been adopted exclude both the development and participation of a local grassroots movement. As a result, policymakers usually do not feel an urgency to implement the law until there is a perceived emergency, and often do not understand the impact of politically expedient compromises on patients’ welfare.

Thirty years of intransigence by federal authorities has resulted in the patchwork of state laws that underlies our strategy for moving forward. The overwhelming majority of arrests and prosecutions for cannabis-related activity occur at the state and local level, so these Compassionate Use laws offer significant protection to the patients. However, considerable disparities exist among the state laws. For example, California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 leaves determination about the specific conditions for which medical cannabis should be used to the professional judgment of physicians, while other states narrowly restrict the use of cannabis to a list of specific medical conditions. Theses narrow lists sometimes exclude serious and chronic illnesses for which research has shown cannabis may be helpful.

Some state laws do provide civil protections for qualified individuals, but in most states, individuals who use or provide medical cannabis continue to suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, health care, public accommodation, and the like.  A few states have even established production and distribution systems to ensure qualified individuals have access to medical cannabis from licensed distributors, while patients in other states are forced to acquire or grow cannabis on their own. However, because medical cannabis possession, production, and distribution remain illegal under federal law, patients and their providers remain vulnerable to federal raids, arrest, and prosecution, and have no defense in federal court or remedy for the loss of property or freedoms.

The necessary and proper implementation of state medical cannabis laws and regulation of dispensaries has been frustrated by federal interference, including hundreds of raids and a variety of intimidating tactics (asset forfeitures, threats to landlords, bank account closures, IRS audits, etc.). Even in situations where local officials and governments were in good faith seeking to regulate access to cannabis, the federal government chose to respond with interference and intimidation.
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