Pages tagged "D.C."

Off to the U.S. Supreme Court We Go

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, last week the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a petition for rehearing filed be Americans for Safe Access in ASA v. DEA. After more than a decade of legal wrangling with the federal government over the medical efficacy of marijuana and its relative lack of abuse potential, the D.C. Circuit gave great deference to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) position that marijuana has no proven medical value. In doing this, the D.C. Circuit not only ignored voluminous evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, but it held the petitioners to a standard above and beyond that advanced by the government itself. Out of thin air, the Court interpreted the phrase “adequate and well-controlled studies” to require FDA-approved Phase II or Phase III studies, rather than the common meaning of the term. A similar such standard as that interjected into the proceedings by the Court at the last possible moment had already been rejected by the same Court and others in the cases of Grinspoon v. DEA, 828 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1987) and Doe v. DEA, 484 F.3d 561 (D.C. Cir. 2007).  This, coupled with the failure of the Court even to consider marijuana’s lack of abuse potential, was the basis for ASA’s recent petition for rehearing.

Unfortunately, for medical marijuana patients and others, the extremely small number of active judges on the D.C. Circuit makes rehearing en banc (by the entire circuit) next to impossible. Because there are only eight active judges on the D.C. Circuit, en banc review is extremely rare, with only one petition granted by this Court last year. Thus, the next legal step is to challenge the DEA’s action in the Supreme Court of the United States through a petition for writ of certiorari , which must be filed within ninety days. This opens the possibility for arguments that exceed those allowed under the recently denied petition for rehearing.  It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of this wrong-headed approach to medical marijuana at the highest judicial level.

Stay tuned for more details on the upcoming appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in ASA v. DEA.

My Bumpy Road To The ASA Conference in Washington D.C.

I spent the last three years working as an Executive Legislative Assistant to a ranking budget chair in the Washington State Legislature, so it should come as no surprise that a trip to the Nation’s Capitol has always been high on my  bucket list. I was this close to fulfilling my dream in 2008, after scrimping and saving for over two years on a relatively low salary. Unfortunately, prohibition happened.

I became a medical cannabis patient in ‘05 while living in Oregon. At that time, I did not know that I had a rare genetic disorder; only that I had long been suffering from chronic joint and muscle pain, extreme nausea and vomiting, disabling migraines and eventual insomnia. After an honest conversation with my doctor about the handfuls of pills I was taking to mask the symptoms - at the ripe ol’ age of 25, mind you – it was suggested that cannabis might relieve what ailed me. I was honestly taken aback when it worked so well and I was able to wean myself off every single pharmaceutical.

Happy ending, right? Not really.

Like many who wind up in court for cannabis, I was pulled over by a traffic cop. It happened on a desolate stretch of Interstate 5 in Southwest Washington. In what has become a recurring nightmare for cannabis consumers nationwide, the State Patrolman asserted that he “smelled a strong odor of marijuana.” The two joints I had were sealed in a glass jar, so it was more likely the peace sticker on my car, identifying me as a beatnik, that aroused the officer’s suspicion. Regardless, I knew better than to consent to his request for a search. In an instant, I was handcuffed and in the back of a patrol car, yelling out the window “you do not have permission to search my vehicle. I do not consent to the search you are performing right now.”

Reality quickly set in. My doctor’s recommendation from Oregon was no good here, even though I was just 50 miles north of Portland. My eyes zeroed in on the bumper sticker on the plexiglass in front of me that proudly proclaimed, “It’s Not JUST Marijuana” and featured a bright red no sign over a pot leaf. I then realized my vocal protests about the search were in vain. The officer obtained probable cause the moment he allegedly smelled cannabis. It would be his word against mine and a determined drug enforcer like him was bound to find my medicine. It was only a matter of time before I found myself in the Cowlitz County Jail with bail of $5,000, payable only in cash. I was facing a felony for Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, a charging decision left up to the discretion of individual officers. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was cancelling my East Coast vacation and using the funds to bail myself out, literally and figuratively.

Since then, my priorities have shifted greatly. I have become increasingly active in the medical cannabis, legalization and criminal justice reform movements. My life trajectory was forever altered by the horrific death of Richard Flor, Montana’s first registered cannabis caregiver. 68 years old and incredibly ill, Richard died from the neglect he experienced while serving a five-year prison sentence. His widow, Sherry, remains imprisoned even after her husband’s tragic death. The once-happily-married couple of 37 years were named co-conspirators in a federal indictment. The last four months of Richard’s life, they were not only imprisoned apart from one another – separated for the first time in their marriage – but they needed special permission from each of their wardens to communicate just by mail. That permission never came. Instead, Sherry’s final words to her husband were in a call to her daughter, Kristin, who stood helpless over her father’s comatose body, as he lay shackled to a hospital bed. The U.S. Government got its pound of flesh from the Flors, but that wasn’t punishment enough.

Two of Richard’s business partners and two other employees were also indicted.  A third business partner accepted a plea bargain that spared him from indictment, but required “significant cooperation” with investigators. One of the co-owners, Chris Williams, courageously took his case to trial. Watching firsthand as Chris’s nightmare unfolded in federal court, my resolve was cemented. I could not rest until the whole world knew what was happening in America’s so-called justice system.

Soon after, I left my Legislative career to work with the November Coalition. Founder Nora Callahan and her husband, Chuck Armsbury, are also casualties of the War on Drugs through separate but equally absurd tales of conspiracy, drugs and guns. Then, just this month, I met another inspiring victim of cannabis prohibition. Jacob Shepherd was four years old when he watched as law enforcement agents gunned down his father in a deadly standoff over a small backyard cannabis garden. His mother was hit by a stray bullet. As an impressionable young child, Jacob was whisked away from the scene in a police cruiser, covered in both of his parents’ blood. That was almost 20 years ago. When will the madness end?

I am incredibly appreciative of the kind-hearted sponsors who donated to the scholarship fund for ASA’s upcoming Unity Conference in Washington D.C.  Thanks to their assistance, I will be able to personally tell members of Congress about Richard, Sherry, Kristin, Chris, Nora, Chuck, Jacob and countless other stories of injustice. I will get to learn from world-renowned medical experts who have studied cannabis science in depth. I will get to meet other like-minded advocates from across the country, all because of the generosity of complete strangers! I am forever grateful for this amazing opportunity and plan to make the most of every second I have in the epicenter of democracy! Thank you again to Americans for Safe Access for hosting the conference and every supporter who has made this trip possible.

Why I am Attending the National Unity Conference

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) opened the eyes of this thirty-three year law enforcement veteran. Caught in the whirlpool of drug prohibition policy, prohibitionist law enforcement folks as I once was, forget the importance of maintaining an open mind. Unfortunately, “ group-think” is where most of us tend to feel comfortable.

Until roughly four years ago, I knew virtually nothing of medical marijuana. I must say that I was somewhat skeptical of the claim for its medicinal properties. My knowledge of marijuana originated from two places, my experimentation as a teen in 1975 and from an enforcement perspective throughout my lengthy law enforcement career. Neither provided any meaningful insight to the medicinal properties or benefits of marijuana.

One of the first people I met when I assumed the role of LEAP’s executive director was ASA’s executive director, Steph Sherer. People had told me of ASA and Steph, but it wasn’t until I met with Steph that I began to educate myself regarding all there is to learn of medical marijuana (properties, policies and patients). My interaction with ASA encouraged me to visit medical marijuana dispensaries in California where I met dispensary owners like Steve De Angelo and Debby Goldsberry. I toured Oaksterdam University where I met Richard Lee and Dale Sky-Jones. Educationally, I benefitted tremendously from my firsthand experience.

The quality of the dispensaries, the marijuana and the people managing them is exceptional, but it was my interaction with patients that gave me the best insight. Hearing patients speak of the benefits was truly eye opening. They spoke of their weaning from debilitating opiate based prescription drugs and the quality of life returning once again. I heard of marijuana’s effectiveness in combating many illnesses with virtually no side effects. And to this day I continue learning.

This is why I am attending the ASA conference this month in Washington DC. Do you know any law enforcement types in need of an education? Do you know of anyone in need of a medical marijuana education? If so, invite them to the conference and let’s open some minds. Education and public policy changes are so desperately needed in acquiring safe and legal access.

Support our POWs during this year’s Medical Marijuana Week

Every year during medical marijuana week, I like to sit down and consider what I’m thankful about in the medical cannabis movement. After such a turbulent year fraught with raids, bad court decisions, and friends being sent to federal prison, I find I’m most thankful for the brave medical cannabis warriors who have lost their freedom for our cause. For this reason, the theme of ASA’s MMJ Week activities is “Have a Heart for our POWs.”

Every day this week ASA has a suggested list of advocacy activities you can do to support our POWs and the medical cannabis community. Writing a letters to our POWs , attending a local MMJ week event, and contacting your elected representatives are easy ways to make an impact this week and I urge you to participate in these actions!

I’m also looking forward to seeing many of you at our Unity Conference in DC in just over a week. We have great speakers and trainings lined up for attendees and we’re excited for a fun and educational experience! The thing I’m most looking forward to is storming Capitol Hill with all my fellow activists for a day of face-time with our elected. It’s going to be epic and I can’t wait to share the experience with everyone who can make it.

Appellate decision puts the ball in your court

The US appellate court in Washington, DC, denied our appeal to reschedule cannabis under federal law today, agreeing with the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) position that "adequate and well-controlled studies" on the medical efficacy of medical cannabis do not exist. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) strongly disagrees with the court’s opinion. Our briefs referenced two hundred peer-reviewed scientific studies proving the medical value of cannabis.

The Obama Administration keeps changing the definition of medical efficacy.  Politics have trumped medical science on this issue. ASA can point to a research approval process for medical cannabis, controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is unique, overly rigorous, and hinders meaningful therapeutic research. ASA argued in its appeal brief that the DEA has no "license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case."

The decision in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration is disappointing, but not the end of the road. ASA will seek an en banc review, asking all nine judges to review the two-to-one decision by a three-judge panel that heard oral arguments in October of last year. If the full nine-member panel does not reverse the decision, we will ask the US Supreme Court to hear the case. In the meantime, the ball is in your court. We must now turn to Congress to do what the courts have not. ASA is calling on patients and advocates to join us in Washington, DC, February 22-25, for our national conference and historic citizen lobby day.

The conference, called “Bridging the Gap between Public and Policy,” is a chance to network with other activists from around the country, attend panels and workshops to improve your skills and increase your knowledge, and to engage in direct citizen-lobbying efforts in the halls of Congress on Monday, February 25. Our goals are to bring medical cannabis into the mainstream political conversation in the nation’s capitol and to send an army of motivated and empowered activists back home to work at the local and state level. The courts may not be ready to acknowledge that cannabis is medicine – but we are going to be sure Congress and the Obama Administration get the message. Do not miss your chance to be a part of it. Register for the conference today!

ASA’s national conference is sponsored by the International Association of Cannabinoid Medicines, Patients Out of Time, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, the American Herbal Products Association, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Scholarships are made possible by a generous matching funds contribution from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.

See you in Washington, DC!

ASA's Year in Review 2012

This is the time of year when I take some time to reflect over the past twelve months and prepare myself for the opportunities that lay ahead in the New Year.

2012 was bittersweet. On one hand, we moved the fight for safe access to medical cannabis forward – adding two new medical cannabis states, Connecticut and Massachusetts; legislatures in a dozen states considered medical cannabis bills; current medical cannabis states tried to tackle regulation and implementation; new and influential allies joined the fight, like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Americans Herbal Products association (AHPA); and the election brought with it new allies in the Senate and House.

But nineteen of our brothers and sisters spent their holidays in prison, and a half a dozen more will be joining them in the next few months. Millions of patients are left without access following aggressive raids and landlord threats. US Attorneys seem to be hell bent on destroying access models built by states and cities across the country.

Despite all this, I cannot help but to look at 2012 and see a movement of resistance and courage. As I think about 2013, I am filled with a great sense of hope. As a member of ASA, you helped us do so much this year:

I know that, if we can pool our resources, we can change federal law. We start 2013 with a President in his second term, a more sympathetic Congress, and 106 million Americans living in states with medical cannabis laws. We are going to greet our federal elected officials in 2013 with the largest gathering of medical cannabis advocates ever seen in Washington, DC, at our Bridging the Gap Between Public and Policy Conference February 22-25.

Also in 2013, we will hear from the courts on our rescheduling lawsuit, we will be working on new legislation in a dozen states, we will be preparing for initiatives in 2014 in Arkansas and California (to name a few), we will be working with current medical cannabis states on passing access laws and implementing new laws, and all of this while we continue to provide free legal support and other resources for patients and providers.

Let’s play to win in 2013! Start off by joining or renewing your membership to ASA, and making plans to join us at our national conference.

Happy New Year!

Steph Sherer is the co-founder and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access.

Medical Marijuana Advocates Take Fight to DC

As the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, it’s my privilege to meet and facilitate the work of medical cannabis advocates throughout the nation. In the week before yesterday’s election, I drove all over Arkansas, visiting counties to drop off signs and connect with activists. This is an amazing movement, made up of compassionate people and patients willing to fight for their health. Last night we learned of many victories for patients who can be helped by cannabis, at both the state and federal levels. Most directly, the voters of Massachusetts overwhelmingly supported a compassionate use law, bringing the total number of medical marijuana states to 18 (plus the District of Columbia)! The results for Congress were especially positive for our movement. 95% of our Congressional champions who ran were reelected. Patients and their supporters are excited to welcome medical cannabis supporters Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin to the Senate. Fresh faces in the House and Senate mean that new champions of the cause can emerge, and Americans for Safe Access and other organizations will be working hard to provide Congressmen and women with plenty of opportunities to stand up for patients. The lead-up to last night’s results was an exciting campaign season for medical marijuana patients and advocates. In response to President Obama’s crackdown on medical marijuana states, we organized voters throughout the nation with Camp WakeUpObama, bringing our message to Obama campaign headquarters and events in nationwide and local actions. In October, the Appeals Court heard our lawsuit challenging the federal government’s policy of marijuana as “without accepted medical use,” and the forthcoming court decision may set the agenda in the coming year. We’ve further deepened our relationships with the scientific and medical community. Superstring theorist Dr. John Schwarz wrote an op-ed in favor of treating the science of marijuana fairly, and medical associations have been increasingly outspoken in opposing laws against medical marijuana, with the California Medical Association recently calling on Governor Jerry Brown to support rescheduling the drug to make it more available. We now have a second term of the Obama Administration, led by a President that has publicly expressed support for state medical marijuana laws, yet overseen an unprecedented federal attack on them. We have new state legislators who will join the nation-wide conversation happening in state capitals from coast to coast. We have new Senators and Congressman who are empowered to end the federal state divide. And an additional state now recognizes the medical need for cannabis. Though the voters of Arkansas did not pass a medical marijuana initiative, organizers in the state are fired up and ready to take the issue up with their legislature. This movement is ready for the second Obama administration. We are ready for a House with an unchanged partisan dynamic, but many new faces, Republican and Democratic, who support medical cannabis. We are ready for a Senate that includes supporters of our cause. Because of these victories, Americans for Safe Access will start the new year with a strong focus on the federal government. In February, medical cannabis advocates, researchers, doctors and legal professionals will come to together to work to end the federal-state divide over cannabis access. Our National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference will bring the fight for access from the statehouses to the Capitol. The lawmakers elected yesterday will be the ones we will meet with, and we are eager to begin the dialogue. See you in February! Steph Sherer is the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. This was originally posted at the Huffington Post.

Honoring Medical Cannabis Warriors

[caption id="attachment_3287" align="aligncenter" width="270"]
ASA v DEA plaintiffs (l-r) Michael Krawitz, Bill Britt, and Cathy Jordan receive the Courage Award from ASA.[/caption]

On Tuesday evening, October 16th, Americans for Safe Access celebrated our 10th anniversary - and patients' day in court - with an awards dinner honoring the brave warriors for medical cannabis access who have fought for all patients.

Executive Director Steph Sherer introduced the courageous champions, saying:
I am honored to share this evening with all of you. Over the years, ASA has been blessed with a truly dynamic staff, dedicated volunteers, and courageous members. I am truly grateful to have been fighting this fight alongside all of you. I would especially like to thank our awardees. Dan Rush, who is accepting the Movement Building Award on behalf of UFCW and Michael McGuffin, who is accepting the Patient Partnership Award on behalf of the American Herbal Products Association, have been instrumental in cultivating exciting new partnerships which I truly believe are the future of the medical cannabis movement. Presented with the Spirit Award is Jon Gettman, and presented with our Courage Awards are the plaintiffs in ASA vs DEA Mary Lynn Mathre, Al Byrne, Bill Britt, Catherine Jordan, Michael Krawitz, and Rick Steed. Each one of these individuals has served as an inspiration for the work that is done every day as well as to me personally.

The biographies of the plaintiffs, who were given our Courage Award, can be found here. The other awardees are:

Spirit Award: Jon B. Gettman is a marijuana reform activist, a leader of the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, and a former head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He has a PhD in public policy and regional economic development from George Mason University and is a longtime contributor to High Times magazine. Gettman filed a petition in 1995 to remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act that was eventually denied. A second petition was filed in 2002, with the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, that remains under review by the Department of Health and Human Services. Gettman frequently publishes on the marijuana industry and teaches public administration at Shepherd University in West Virginia.

Patient Partnership Award: Michael McGuffin is a leading expert on dietary supplement regulation. He has been published in scholarly and scientific journals, including the Food and Drug Law Journal and Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, and also wrote the highly-lauded publication AHPA's Annotated Final Rule on Dietary Supplement cGMP (2007). Additionally, Mr. McGuffin served as Managing Editor of AHPA's Botanical Safety Handbook (1997) and Herbs of Commerce, 2nd edition (2000). He speaks frequently on dietary supplement regulation in the U.S. and abroad. Michael McGuffin was honored in 2010 for over 20 years of dedicated service, having served as the President of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) since 1999 and a member of the Board of Trustee's for 10 years prior. Mr. McGuffin has represented the herbal industry at state and federal hearings on herbal regulatory issues. He has served as a member of the FDA's Food Advisory Committee Working Group on Good Manufacturing Practices for Dietary Supplements (1998-99), the FDA's Food Advisory Committee's Dietary Supplements Subcommittee (2003-5) and currently serves on California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Analysis Food Warning Workgroup and the Advisory Board of the USC School of Pharmacy Regulatory Science Master's Degree Program. He also serves on the boards of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and United Plant Savers.

Movement Building Award: Dan Rush is the National Director for the Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). UFCW is North America's Neighborhood Union with 1.3 million members standing together to improve the lives and livelihoods of workers, families, and communities. Mr. Rush is a medical cannabis industry pioneer and authority. He is the spokesperson for the Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana and the board secretary of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR). In 2010 he established UFCW5's Cannabis Division and organized the very first union members in the medical cannabis industry."UFCW is the union of retail, food processing and agricultural workers, and the medical cannabis industry is a retail, food pro- cessing and agricultural industry", says Mr. Rush. "Our union is bringing dignity, legitimacy, stability, standards and strength to both workers and employers. We advocate for a regu- lated industry that creates good jobs and significant tax revenue for our communities." Dan is a native of Oakland California. He is a Central Committee Delegate of the California Democratic Party and an expert on statewide ballot initiatives. He coordinates an annual National Labor-Community Awards in San Francisco, which is the largest event of its kind in the United States.

Jonathan Bair is ASA's Social Media Director.

DC Circuit Orders Supplemental Briefing in Landmark Federal Medical Marijuana Case







Just hours after the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the federal landmark case Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, the court ordered supplemental briefing on the issue of “standing.” In a rare move for a case that has been covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, and others, the request for additional briefing indicates that the court is taking the issue of medical marijuana very seriously.

Yesterday’s order asks the petitioners to provide the court with details about how plaintiff Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran, sustained harm as a result of the federal government’s refusal to recognize the therapeutic value of marijuana. During yesterday’s oral arguments, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) Chief Counsel Joe Elford argued that Krawitz had been denied medical services and treatment from Veterans Administration physicians because of his status as a medical marijuana patient.

Specifically, the court ordered ASA to file a brief not to exceed five pages in order to “clarify and amplify the assertions made [by] Michael Krawitz regarding his individual standing,” and “more fully explain precisely the nature of the injury that gives him standing.” The brief is due by Monday.

If ASA can reasonably show that Krawitz has been harmed by a federal policy that holds marijuana has no medical value, the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group may also get the court to rule on the merits of the case -- whether the scientific evidence of medical efficacy is ample enough to reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I substance.

We remain hopeful that the science on medical marijuana will prevail over politics in order to overcome the decades-long effort by the federal government to keep marijuana out of the reach of millions of Americans who would benefit from its use.