Pages tagged "Dispensaries"

National Lawyers Guild Report Condemns Federal Marijuana Policy, Calls for Reclassification of Marijuana for Medical Use

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) -- the country's oldest and largest public interest and human rights bar organization -- issued a report yesterday addressing the federal government's flawed policy on marijuana. According to its author NLG Senior Researcher Traci Yoder, High Crimes: Strategies to Further Marijuana Legalization Initiatives "analyzes the legalization process under way in the states, suggests strategies to further marijuana legalization initiatives, and highlights current obstacles to ending prohibition."

While significant attention is given to the adult use of marijuana, generally, the report recommends reframing drug use as "a social and public health issue and not a criminal justice problem," something we've been saying for years at Americans for Safe Access. High Crimes also recommends reclassifying marijuana for medical use. Citing the "[m]ounting scientific and anecdotal evidence" of marijuana's therapeutic benefits, the Guild rightly points out that "Rescheduling cannabis would allow for expanded medical research and use under international law."

The NLG report comes days after a report issued by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), detailing the social and economic costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. The ASA report entitled What's the Cost? is geared toward educating federal legislators on the consequences of that war, not only in terms of how it affects the prisoners, their families, and thousands of patients, but also how it impacts the average taxpayer and our federal budget.

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U.S. Mayors Demand Change to Federal Policy, End to Crackdown on Medical Marijuana in Their Cities

Mayors from across the United States gathered in Las Vegas this past weekend for the 81st annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. In a watershed moment, mayors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a  resolution "in support of states setting their own marijuana policies without federal interference." The resolution was introduced in advance of the conference by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and co-sponsored by 17 other mayors from across the country. Yesterday's passage of the resolution came just days after medical marijuana advocates issued an alarming report detailing how the Obama Justice Department has spent nearly $300 million to undermine medical marijuana laws in the U.S.

"Ultimately, this is about whether local and state governments can develop, adopt, and implement public health laws without heavy-handed interference by the federal government," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, which authored "What's the Cost?" an extensive report issued earlier this month on the economic and social costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. "This resolution is emblematic of the frustration experienced by local and state officials, which will continue until the federal government ends its attacks on medical marijuana." More than 100 million people, or 34 percent of Americans, currently live in states with medical marijuana laws.

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What's the Cost?

Did you know that the Department of Justice has already spent nearly a half a billion dollars fighting medical cannabis? Did you know that the Obama Administration spent over half of that money on medical cannabis investigations, paramilitary-style raids, prosecutions, incarceration, and civil asset forfeiture lawsuits? Most Americans do not know these things, but what is worse is that most Members of Congress don't know that either. Can you help Americans for Safe Access (ASA) let them know?

Make a donation of $50 or more to help ASA send copies of our groundbreaking new report "What is the Cost" to every Member of Congress, and we will send you your own copies to give to your Representatives in July.

56 full-color pages filled with facts about the economic and human cost of the federal attack on medical cannabis comprise this timely report. The economic arguments are persuasive, but the report also highlights the human cost of federal enforcement. "What is the Cost" contains moving profiles of the victims of federal enforcement – those who have died for lack of safe access to medicine and those who are in federal prison right now. The report ends with politically-viable solutions to end the federal attack on medical cannabis that Congress could adopt this year.

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AB 473 falls short in California Assembly

Tom Ammiano

The California Assembly rejected AB 473 on Friday. The 35-37 vote means the effort by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) to regulate commercial medical cannabis activity in the state will not move on to the Senate. Friday was the last day for bills to be approved in their house of origin, but even after two votes in as many days, the controversial bill did not garner the forty one votes needed for approval. AB 473 would have created a new Division in the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to write and enforce statewide regulations.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our coalition partners at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) strongly support the goal of better and more equitably regulating commercial medical cannabis activity in California. Although medical cannabis has been legal in the state for seventeen years, the legislature has never adopted a comprehensive plan to implement Proposition 215 or regulate cultivation, transportation, and distribution of medicine. Patients, cultivators, industry workers, and other stakeholders need sensible regulations to help overcome public ambivalence, perceptions of abuse, and wildly inconsistent enforcement practices in communities across the state.

AB 473 might have been an important step towards a better-regulated medical cannabis system in California, but there were some big problems with the bill. The medical cannabis community was reluctant to embrace ABC as a regulatory body for medical cannabis. ASA steadfastly argued for regulatory oversight in another part of the Department of Consumer Affairs or the Department of Health. We worried that ABC, which is charged with reigning in vice, would be poorly motivated to facilitate access to medicine.

ASA also took issue with an eleventh-hour amendment in the Appropriations Committee that made local zoning approval a prerequisite for the state registration required under the bill. More than two-hundred cities and counties already have bans on medical cannabis patients’ cooperatives and collectives. Others have bans or severe limitations on cultivating medicine. A recent California Supreme Court Decision, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, authorizes local bans, and many of our constituents were looking for legislation that corrected or mitigated the court’s unfortunate ruling. This amendment did the opposite.

One lesson from AB 473 is that lawmakers need to hear from supporters in their community if we expect them to make difficult decisions and stand up for medical cannabis. AB 473 lost because Democrats in Southern and Central California failed to support the bill. Fourteen Democrats from these more conservative parts of the state joined five Northern California Democrats in voting no on the bill. Another seven Democrats cast no vote at all, which is functionally vote against the bill (forty-one votes are needed for approval). The bill only needed six of those twenty six votes to pass. Could patients and advocates have swayed six of these twenty six Democrats to vote yes, if the Assemblymembers knew there was support for an affirmative vote at home? Absolutely.

Another lesson from AB 473 is that lawmakers need to listen to their constituents when they have concerns about legislation. The community’s uncertainty about the net benefit of AB 473 was clear. The Author and Democratic leadership must realize that our community expects to be heard alongside the army of lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants that have flocked to this issue in the last two years. Medical cannabis may be a nascent industry, but it is still fundamentally a patients’ movement. Patients must be at the table when bills and amendments are being vetted.

Perhaps the most important lesson from the demise of AB 473 is the need for pragmatism from all of the stakeholders. This bill was imperfect, but the process of implementing medical cannabis law and regulating commercial activity must move forward for everyone’s benefit. We are not going to get everything we want in a medical cannabis bill right now, and we will not be able to stop every proposal or amendment with which we disagree. Compromise is part of the political process. It would be a shame to miss another opportunity to move the ball down the court for patients, cultivators, and industry workers because we do not agree on all of the details.

We are going to have another chance to do something about medical cannabis in Sacramento this year. SB 439 by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-SF) was approved by the Senate on May 20. That bill will clarify the scope of protection offered by the state’s medical cannabis laws and codifies guidelines published by the Attorney General in 2008. SB 439 will formally recognize the right of patients’ cooperatives and collectives to maintain storefront facilities (dispensaries) to provide medicine for members, expands protections to employees of patients’ associations, and recognizes that members buy their medicine from the associations. Substantial amendments – good and bad – are likely as the bill moves through the Assembly.

Let’s learn our lessons from AB 473 and do a better job of shaping and adopting SB 439. Speak up to your lawmakers about this bill, insist that everyone is included in the debate, and be reasonable about compromises that may be necessary to get where we need to go.

CA Senate approves regulation bill

Sen. Darrell Steinberg

The California Senate approved SB 439 on Monday. The bill, which is co-authored by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) clarifies the scope of protections offered by the state’s medical cannabis laws and codifies guidelines published by the Attorney General in 2008. SB 439 will formally recognize the right of patients’ cooperatives and collectives to maintain storefront facilities (dispensaries) to provide medicine for members, an interpretation supported by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) since lawmakers adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420) in 2003. The bill also expands protections to employees of patients’ associations and recognizes that members buy their medicine from the associations.

ASA supports SB 439 because uncertainty about the scope of California’s medical cannabis laws has led to differing interpretations and inconsistency in law enforcement around the state. Some cities and counties regulate and tax storefront facilities, while others ban them outright or turn a blind eye to their operation. Lobbyists for law enforcement are promoting a narrow interpretation of the law, which leaves patients in some jurisdictions without safe, legal, and dignified access to medicine. Patients and lawmakers need more clarity about what is legal in California, and SB 439 is an important step in that direction.

At a hearing before the Senate Public Safety Committee, President Pro-Tem Steinberg told his colleagues that SB 439 was a starting point. We can expect substantial amendments as the bill moves through one of more committees in the Assembly and on to a final vote on the Assembly floor before September 13. Differences between the Senate and Assembly versions will be resolved in a concurrence committee made up of members of each house. The Governor will have thirty days to sign or veto the bill.

Advocates must be vigilant and practical in the effort to complete this bill. There are many voices in Sacramento this year trying to influence the outcome. Lobbyists for law enforcement, local government, community groups, and others will be pushing for changes we don’t like. We have to push back and ask for what we want with a unified voice. ASA will be calling on members and friends to be a part of that conversation for the rest of the legislative season. Be sure you are a part of that process by making your voice heard. Sign up for our mailing list to stay informed and find out how you can participate online and face-to-face with lawmakers.

ASA and our coalition allies at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) have developed the Principles of Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation to help lawmakers understand what we want to see in state regulations. We developed these principles after a year of conversations that started at the California Unity Conference in 2012 and are still ongoing. Constituents took these principles with them to visit dozens of legislative offices at our California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day May 5-6. If you agree that principles like these make sense, please join ASA and CRMM in asking lawmakers to support them.

This is going to be a big year for medical cannabis in California. The legislature is determined to do something about the issue, so let’s work together to be sure they do the right thing!

CA Supreme Court ruling puts the ball in our court

The California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that medical cannabis dispensaries are legal under state law, but cities and counties can still ban them. The decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center is disappointing, but it is not the end of the fight for safe and dignified access to medicine in approximately two hundred communities where patients' associations are banned. The Supreme Court pointed out that "nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach." That means the ball is in your court now.

Ask your California lawmakers to protect safe access for every legal patient by adopting statewide regulations based on our "Principles of Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation." Two measures before the state legislature seek to regulate medical cannabis activity – AB 473 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and SB 439 by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). Act now to be sure these two measures, which are still being finalized by lawmakers, reflect what patients and other medical cannabis stakeholders want to see.

Almost one hundred members of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our allies hit the halls of the State Capitol Building on Monday to take our pro-regulation message directly to our elected Representatives. The California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby day was a success, but we need to stay at the table as the legislative session continues. You can ask your Assemblymember and Senator to adopt sensible regulations whether or not you were at the Capitol this week. Send a message right now.

ASA will be rolling out new programs this summer to help patients and advocates fight local bans with new legislation and voter initiatives. Your participation and support will be the key to success in Sacramento and in communities statewide. You can start helping by joining ASA or making an additional contribution right now. 

I want to say a special thank you to everyone who attended the summit and lobby day, and especially to our sponsors – California NORML, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Bay Area Safe Alternatives, Greater Los Angeles Collectives Alliance, Emerald Growers Association, Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, Berkeley Patients Group, Crusaders for Patients Rights, Good Fellows Smoke Shop, and Desert Organic Solutions Collective.

Thank you for acting to support regulations and fighting with ASA for safe access for everyone.

Kal Penn of "Harold & Kumar" off-base for defending Obama attacks in medical marijuana states

Last week, Kal Penn, who plays Kumar in the “stoner” film franchise Harold & Kumar, spoke to Huffington Post Live about President Obama’s marijuana policies. During the April 26th interview, Penn defended recent Justice Department attacks on dispensaries in medical marijuana states like California, citing articles he read from a Google search.

Unfortunately, we cannot always rely on a pliant mainstream media -- that too often quotes Justice Department officials without any counterpoint -- to provide consistently factual information.

Take, for example, the rationale that forms the basis for the Obama Administration’s most sweeping closures of dispensaries in California, Colorado and Washington State: they’re within 1,000 feet of a school. Using threats of asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has succeeded in shuttering hundreds of dispensaries in the past couple of years.

However, if Penn had done his homework, he would have found out that in California, where well over 500 dispensaries have closed for fear of retaliation by federal drug enforcement officials, dispensaries are only required to be at least 600 feet from schools:

No medical marijuana cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator establishment, or provider who possesses, cultivates, or distributes medical marijuana pursuant to this article shall be located within a 600-foot radius of a school.

Also glossed over by Penn was the Obama Administration’s callous attitude about the impact of these dispensary closures. Each of the shuttered dispensaries provided medical marijuana to hundreds, often thousands of qualified patients who are now left with little option to find a medicine that’s legal under state law.

And, believe it or not, the dispensary operators and their landlords who are warned with letters of imminent legal action are the lucky ones. The dispensaries that are targeted with aggressive SWAT-style raids stand to lose much more. At minimum, those dispensary operators can expect seized bank accounts, computers, patient records, and other property.

However, if there are arrests, federal defendants can expect 5-10 years in prison. Over the past few months, several state-compliant dispensary operators and cultivators have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including California dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky (10 years), Michigan Cultivators Jeremy and Jerry Duval (5 years and 10 years, respectively), and John Marcinkewciz (5 years), as well as Montana cultivator Chris Williams (5 years). Another Montana cultivator, Richard Flor, died in federal custody last August while serving a 5-year sentence.

Indeed, Penn’s failure to understand the impact of the Obama Administration’s policies on medical marijuana is symptomatic of the lies being told to the American public and the impunity with which it’s being done. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both claimed that they are not targeting those in compliance with state law, but refuse to confront the evidence that belies such pronouncements.

It’s about time that the federal government admits that the devastating and costly effects of its enforcement policies in medical marijuana states are unnecessary and unproductive. All patients are asking for is a compassionate and even-handed policy that treats medical marijuana like a public health issue.

Patient Advocates Seek Changes to Draft Regulations for Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law

Patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed recommended amendments today to draft regulations which were issued last month by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) in order to implement Question 3, the state’s new medical marijuana law. The amendments were filed in advance of a scheduled hearing by the Public Health Council that took place today in Boston.

The draft regulations are the product of many weeks of deliberation, during which time DPH sought input from medical marijuana patients and other stakeholders, including ASA, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Seeking a broad range of feedback, DPH held public hearings earlier this month in Boston, Plymouth, and Florence.

In November, sixty-three percent of voters approved Question 3, making Massachusetts the 18th medical marijuana state. Question 3 establishes a framework that allows qualifying patients with serious illnesses to get a recommendation from their licensed physician for the use of marijuana, and further enables patients to obtain their medicine from a registered Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC). Overseen by DPH, the MMTCs will be licensed to cultivate, process, and sell medical marijuana to qualifying patients who are allowed to obtain up to 10 ounces in a 60 day period. Patients who qualify under a hardship provision will be able to cultivate for themselves if unable to access a MMTC due to distance, disability, or low income.

And, while patient advocates are generally pleased with the draft regulations and the progress made by DPH, there remain concerns over a few provisions that could limit patients’ access to medical marijuana. For example, the regulations require physicians to register with DPH and undergo mandatory training before being authorized to recommend marijuana to their patients. Patients are concerned that this requirement will chill physician participation in the program and make it more difficult for patients to obtain a recommendation.

Dr. Karen Munkacy, an anesthesiologist and delegate to the Massachusetts Medical Society, as well as a board member of ASA, testified at today’s hearing. While Dr. Munkacy agreed that educating doctors about medical marijuana would be helpful, she said in a previous statement that, "I have concerns about any regulation that would create additional obstacles for physicians who want to incorporate this medicine into their practice.”

The draft regulations also prohibit patients from obtaining their medication from more than one MMTC, and place unique and onerous restrictions on minors who might benefit from medical marijuana. Advocates argue that these types of restrictions create unnecessary barriers to treatment. Dr. Munkacy testified today that:

If we limit this medicine only to dying children, then it is not legally available for the 80 percent of children who live longer than six months after their cancer diagnosis.  Childhood cancer is rare, but distraught parents, who are already dealing the nightmare of their child having cancer, shouldn’t also have the nightmare of buying their children’s medicine from back alley drug dealers.

Although Massachusetts law allows certain qualifying patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana, advocates argue that the draft regulations unduly limit such activity. For example, patients that can show their income, disability, or lack of mobility is an impediment to obtaining their medicine from an MMTC, they may be able to cultivate it themselves or find a caregiver to grow it for them. However, the financial hardship threshold, as it stands, only includes the poorest of the poor and excludes patients who still have a legitimate economic barrier to purchasing their medicine from an MMTC. Also, the lack of an appeals process for patients seeking hardship qualification denies them due process rights that are part of other social services programs.

After the final draft regulations have been completed, DPH will present them again to the PHC on May 8th and, if adopted, they will go into effect on May 24th.

Research on Health-Related Quality of Life in Medical Cannabis-Using Patients

In August 2012, I published an article based on my PhD research in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine which documented symptom relief and health-related quality of life in a surveyed series of medical cannabis using patients in Washington State who were recruited from a medical cannabis dispensing site and were all drawing from the same batch of herbal cannabis.  You can read the article, entitled "Prospectively Surveying Health-Related Quality of Life and Symptom Relief in a Lot-Based Sample of Medical Cannabis-Using Patients in Urban Washington State", here and see the supplementary material here.  My colleague, Dr. Jahan Marcu, who blogs here, contacted me soon after the publication to do an interview by email with me about the article.   I wrote up the responses to his questions, but unfortunately, due to busyness and other competing demands, the interview never made it out into the blogosphere. Given that I now have this space to blog, and given that I presented a poster summarizing this data at the ASA National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference last month, I thought that I would share my interview here about this research.  I hope you like it!

In other news, the other poster I presented at the ASA Conference, "Cannabinergic Pain Medicine: Developing A Concise Clinical Primer and Surveying Randomized-controlled Trial Results" I also presented a few weeks later at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Annual Assembly in New Orleans where it received a poster award from the Scientific Subcommittee!  It was prominently displayed at the conference where ~2,500 physicians and nurses were in attendance.  Here is the publication that this poster was based on--the article was featured on the journal's cover  last month!

Thank you to Dr. Marcu for the great question prompts below on the article "Prospectively Surveying Health-Related Quality of Life and Symptom Relief in a Lot-Based Sample of Medical Cannabis-Using Patients in Urban Washington State"!

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NH set to become the next medical cannabis state, while MD considers yet another symbolic bill

Yesterday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 573, by a voted of 286-64. The bill is expected to pass the Senate, which approved similar legislation last year. In fact, the year's bill will provide patients with greater access options, as they will be able to purchase medical cannabis from a state-regulated dispensary in addition to being able to cultivate their own medicine in an enclosed, locked facility. While last year's bill was vetoed by the previous governor (the veto fell just 2 shorts shy of being overridden),  it is expected that it will again pass the senate followed this time with the signature of newly elected Governor Maggie Hassan.

ASA worked with NH state Representative Donald "Ted" Wright to help with language as the bill made its way through the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, and commends the work of the committee and each of the legislators that voted in favor of the bill that will create true safe access in New Hampshire. Although the bill failed to included protections against housing, employment or education discrimination, HB 573 is a very patient friendly bill, and will provide access to patients living with any of a number of debilitating conditions. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about legislation that is about to pass the Maryland General Assembly.

Late on Wednesday, it was announced that both the Maryland House Health and Government Affairs and Judiciary Committees approved HB 1101, a bill that would in theory create an access model where patients would obtain medicine from hospitals that are approved to conduct research on human subjects.  Earlier this month, Maryland was considering a true safe access, HB 302, which would have been created access through dispensaries and cultivation while providing patients with the strongest privacy protections in the nation. Instead, this system can only be described as a symbolic bill because even the state's own Department of Legislative Services (DLS) analysis said the likelihood that any facility is approximately "nonexistent." In fact, the state's analysis noted that;

"Both the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) previously advised (with regards to a similar bill introduced in the 2012 legislative session) that they did not intend to participate in the program as academic medical centers. JHU and UMMS have confirmed that their intentions have not changed. It is unclear how many, if any, other institutions are eligible (and willing) to participate as
academic medical centers under the bill."

In other words, the state has no idea (or confidence for that matter) that there is a single facility in the state that will provide medical cannabis to patients with a qualifying condition. Even less friendly for patients is the fact physicians will not be able to write recommendations for conditions for which they have not been pre-approved to recommend. In fact, there is not a single debilitating medical condition that a patient in Maryland would be guaranteed access for under this law, bad news for Marylanders with rare conditions.

Worse still, this completely unproven approach is anticipated to be a financial quagmire for the state.  The DLS analysis further states that,

"Because participation in the program is expected to be low (or nonexistent)...DLS advises that the commission is not likely to be able to comply with the bill’s requirement to set its fees at a level sufficient to offset program costs (notwithstanding that some costs, including those associated with the required database, are the responsibility of DHMH rather than the commission) unless it sets its fees at a level that would likely be prohibitively high."

In other words, if by some miracle, some eligible facility stepped forward to become a provider of medical cannabis, the state would be hemorrhaging money on the program. Regardless of whether a facility stepped forward, the state would still bear the expense of promulgating unimplementable regulations. Bottom line, Maryland is about to pass the expensive symbolic medical cannabis law in history.

So there you have it. Neither Maryland nor New Hampshire are set to pass perfect medical cannabis bills in 2013, but the difference between them is night versus day. Or should I say, sickness vs. wellness.