Pages tagged "Raids"


US House votes to end funding for federal medical cannabis enforcement

Medical marijuana user Larry Harvey, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., Americans for Safe Access Executive Director Steph Sherer and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., speak at a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.The US House of Representatives voted late Thursday night to cut off funding for federal medical cannabis raids, arrests, and prosecutions in states where it is legal. This is arguably the biggest victory yet in the contemporary fight for medical cannabis rights. The vote represents a significant turning point in federal policy and a major victory for Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the grassroots medical cannabis movement.

(Picture: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer and "Kettle Falls 5" defendant Larry Harvey in front of the US Capitol for a press conference with four members of Congress)

By a vote of 219 to 189, the Republican-dominated House approved the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment to the Commerce, Science, and Justice (CJS) Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. Forty nine Republicans and 179 Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. The CJS bill is the vehicle that funds the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The amendment says that the DOJ is prohibited from using any funds to prevent states from implementing laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical cannabis.

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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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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.


San Diego prosecutor to try dispensary operator for third time

Third time’s a charm? Not in the case of Navy veteran and former San Diego dispensary operator Jovan Jackson.

San Diego Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Chris Lindberg decided this week to try Jackson for a third time in as many years. Jackson, who operated the San Diego dispensary Answerdam Alternative Care Collective (AACC), was raided by a multi-agency law enforcement task force in 2008 and again in 2009. Jackson was tried the first time on possession and distribution charges, but was acquitted by a jury in 2009.

Unsatisfied with that result, ADA Lindberg, likely at the behest of San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, tried Jackson a second time on charges levied after the 2009 raid on AACC. The second trial was not considered “double jeopardy” by the court because the prosecution was based on a different raid. During Jackson’s second trial in 2010, Lindberg prevented him from using a medical marijuana defense and, as a result, was convicted this time on the same charges of possession and distribution.

Outraged by this official persecution of a law-abiding dispensary operator and the waste of taxpayer dollars, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) appealed Jackson’s conviction in late 2011. In a unanimous landmark decision by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, Jackson’s conviction was overturned in October 2012. The court also held that Jackson should have been entitled to a medical marijuana defense, rejecting arguments made by both Lindberg and the Attorney General that patients must take part in the cultivation used to supply dispensaries.

Although the Attorney General decided not to appeal the 2012 ruling overturning Jackson’s conviction, in an unusual move Lindberg appealed to the California Supreme Court. Clearly disappointed by the High Court’s decision earlier this year not to review the case, Lindberg is seeking to try Jackson again. This time, however, Jackson is ensured a defense at trial.

The new trial, which has been set for May 1st in San Diego County Superior Court, is clearly a waste of taxpayer dollars in a time of fiscal crisis, but is also a futile attempt to undermine patients’ rights to safely and legally obtain their medication from storefront dispensaries.

Since the landmark appellate ruling, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has indicated his disinterest in prosecuting state-compliant dispensary operators in the city. Mayor Filner has also promised to help pass an ordinance that would establish local dispensary regulations, thereby making Jackson’s third trial that much more superfluous, yet still injurious for Jackson.

It seems doubtful to say the least that Jackson could now be convicted by a jury. It’s long past time for law enforcement in San Diego to abandon its hostile stance toward medical marijuana and allow California law to be implemented without further interference.

California Supreme Court Deems Legality of Storefront Medical Marijuana Dispensaries “Final”

"The matter is now final," according to the California Supreme Court.  On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court denied requests from the League of California Cities, the San Diego District Attorney's Office, the Sacramento District Attorney's Office, the Sonoma District Attorney's Office, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and the Los Angeles City Attorney to depublish or review the published decision in People v. Jackson.

After years of struggling over the issue, the Court of Appeal held that storefront dispensaries are legal under California law, so long as they operate on a not for profit basis and adhere to certain corporate forms.  This decision establishes that storefront dispensaries are unquestionably legal under California law and that localities cannot continue to rely on their now-discredited view that all sales of medical marijuana are illegal in order to support their ongoing attacks on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Another important impact of the appellate court ruling is providing medical marijuana providers with a clear defense to state criminal charges. Specifically, the ruling held that in mounting a defense at trial:
Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] had been established.

The court further held that:
[T]he collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense.

Feds Continue to Undermine Mendocino's Local Law by Violating Patient Privacy

It wasn’t enough for the Justice Department to conduct aggressive raids on state-compliant cultivators in Mendocino County in 2010 and 2011, then earlier this year threaten local officials with litigation if the highly successful cultivation program continued. Now, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal, federal authorities issued a subpoena for “financial records the county of Mendocino keeps regarding its medical marijuana ordinance.”

Little is known about the subpoena, other than it was issued in October to the Mendocino County Auditor-Controller's Office for records of funds paid to the county under its medical marijuana ordinance, County Code 9.31. Undoubtedly, the lack of information has to do with unwillingness by the Justice Department to come clean about its interference in the implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws. The offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney could “neither confirm nor deny” that a subpoena was issued, and local officials are also not talking.

In 2010, the DEA raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office, in the widely popular program that raised about $500,000 of new revenue for the county. Under the local law, which was abandoned in March after threats from the Justice Department, the Sheriff’s Office sold zip ties for $25 per plant to show that they were being grown in compliance with state law.

No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA reared its ugly head again in October 2011, with the raid of Matt Cohen’s farm, Northstone Organics. Like Greenfield, Cohen was in full compliance with the law. Sheriff Tom Allman commented at the time that, “As far as I know, Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics were following all of the state laws and local ordinances that are in place.” Matt, too, avoided arrest, but his entire crop was destroyed and he was intimidated from continuing to grow.

Escalating its effort to undermine Mendocino’s cultivation ordinance, in January the U.S. Attorney’s Office threatened to file an injunction against the program and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. However, the forced termination of the program was apparently not enough for the feds. Nearly a year later, the Justice Department now appears to be seeking private and outdated information that should be under the sole purview of local officials.

This, of course, raises a number of important questions beyond the sweeping impact of divulging private patient records to federal law enforcement.

  1. What are the motivations of federal officials in seeking this information?

  2. Who is being targeted and why?

  3. If the program is no longer in effect, why are these records important to the federal government?

  4. Shouldn’t privacy laws and the state’s Medical Marijuana Program prevent such invasive tactics by the federal government?


Regardless of how you answer these questions, the actions of the Justice Department are anything but “just” and, likely, violate the rights of California patients. Because of this, ASA intends to get to the bottom of the subpoena and take whatever actions are necessary to keep patients and their providers out of harm’s way. Our hope is that when all of this subsides, the Mendocino cultivation program will be operational once again.

California Medical Association Calls on Governor Brown to Urge for Marijuana's Reclassification

More than two weeks ago, with less fanfare than it deserved, the California Medical Association (CMA) voted to urge Governor Brown to petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Notably, the vote occurred two days ahead of oral arguments before a federal appeals court in a widely watched case concerning the reclassification of marijuana: Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. With this latest resolution from the CMA, pressure continues to build on the federal government to design policy based on sound science and to treat medical marijuana like the public health issue it is.

On October 14th, the 141st annual CMA House of Delegates voted unanimously to approve Resolution 103-12, urging the Governor to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule cannabis. The resolution was co-authored by Dr. Donald Abrams, Chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and an eminent cannabis researcher in his own right, and Dr. Larry Bedard, president of the Marin Medical Society and a physician who has practiced emergency medicine for more than 30 years.

Resolution 103-12 requests that:
California Governor Jerry Brown petition the DEA and the Administration to reschedule marijuana based on the science that shows medicinal marijuana has ‘accepted medical use.’

The CMA resolution also emphasized that:
[M]edical decisions should be based on science, not politics.

The CMA resolution comes as more than 70 medical professionals have co-signed an open letter calling for marijuana to be rescheduled from its current status as a dangerous drug with no medical value.

It’s not as if Governor Brown would be politically sticking out his neck, either. Within the last year, the governors of Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have all petitioned the DEA to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Given that the vast majority of Californians support medical marijuana, it would be politically prudent for Governor Brown to take this action. For all the harm that the Obama Administration has caused the medical marijuana community over the past few years -- incessant raids and prosecutions against legally compliant businesses -- it’s the least Governor Brown could do in favor of the state’s hundreds of thousands of patients who rely on the same dispensaries the federal government is shutting down.

According to its website:
CMA serves more than 35,000 members in all modes of practice and specialties representing the patients of California. CMA is dedicated to serving our member physicians through a comprehensive program of legislative, legal, regulatory, economic and social advocacy. … Our goal is to provide our members with the necessary support, so that they can surpass the challenges and continue to run successful medical practices.

A big win for ASA in San Diego

California’s 4th District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of San Diego medical cannabis provider Jovan Jackson today. The decision in People v. Jackson recognizes the right of medical cannabis dispensaries to exist and provide medicine to patient-members.  The decision further clarifies that members can participate in the association though financial contributions (sales) alone. This is an important milestone, because until now, some law enforcement and law makers all have refused to acknowledge that patients can organize cooperative and collective associations that sell medical marijuana. Today’s decision may have far-reaching implications for local and state implementation and regulation of medical marijuana.



Jovan Jackson was first arrested for providing medical cannabis in the City of San Diego in 2008. He was prosecuted for cannabis possession and sales and acquitted by the jury. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a steadfast opponent of medical cannabis, retried him on the same charges in 2009. In that case, Superior Court Judge Howard Shore denied Mr. Jackson the right to use California’s medical cannabis laws as a defense in court. Judge Shore referred to medical cannabis as “dope” and called state medical cannabis laws a “sham” during the trial.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) took Mr. Jackson’s appeal last year, because we knew this case was important for the future of safe access in California. Medical cannabis opponents have argued steadfastly that every member of a patients’ association must physically participate in the cultivation of plants and that no member can buy medicine. ASA disagreed, and this was just the case to settle the issue. Relying heavily on People v. Colvin, a prior appellate decision in the California’s 2nd District, the court ruled that
"Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] had been established… the collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense."

The California Attorney General may decide to appeal the Jackson decision, and ASA will be ready to fight this case all the way to the state Supreme Court. Regardless of what comes next in court, patients should hope lawmakers are listening to court today. California votes called on state officials to “to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana” when they approved Proposition 215 in 1996. State lawmakers tried to further clarify the issue when the adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003. That bill explicitly allowed collective and cooperative associations and provided for reimbursements for medicine.  It is past time for prosecutors like Ms. Dumanis, local law makers, and state representatives to stop stall and start regulating.

Marijuana Prohibition Turns 75, Feds Continue Attacks on Medical Marijuana



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is the 75th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in the U.S. and, as a society, we’re no better off for it. In fact, many would argue that we’re far worse off with prohibition than if at any point we had developed a sensible public health policy with regard to marijuana use.

The effects of marijuana prohibition have been unmistakable from a law enforcement standpoint -- the U.S. imprisons more people for marijuana than any other country. However, the effects on society of criminalizing marijuana for therapeutic use are also significant and undeniable.

Before the Marihuana Tax Act (MTA) was passed in 1937, medical marijuana (also known as cannabis) was commonly sold by pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly. However, Harry Anslinger, the country’s first drug czar, made sure that no exception was made for such therapeutic uses.

Today, the federal government maintains a similar policy on marijuana. Ever since President Nixon ushered in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, subsequent administrations have upheld the unscientific conclusion that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.

The federal government employs this outdated policy on marijuana not only to obstruct meaningful research into cannabis, but also to target patients and providers of medical marijuana with aggressive SWAT-style raids and costly criminal prosecutions.

Despite President Obama’s purported relaxation of marijuana enforcement, his administration has conducted an unprecedented attack on medical marijuana with more than 200 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids and over 70 new federal indictments.

Tragically, a month ago, Richard Flor, 68, a medical marijuana provider in Montana died while in federal custody after being convicted and sentenced to 5 years. Flor was raided by the DEA in 2011, and like so many others, was denied a medical marijuana defense or the ability to provide evidence of state law compliance.

This past Wednesday, federal agents worked with local and state police to raid more than 40 locations in Sonoma and Butte Counties. Approximately 300 law enforcement officials were used to aggressively target medical marijuana patients and providers. From the 10 homes raided in Butte County, officials allegedly came up with less than 100 plants per parcel, an acceptable amount even for personal use in some areas of the state. And the 1,150 plants allegedly seized from 33 locations raided in Sonoma County, amounted to less than 35 plants per parcel.

In Sonoma County, law enforcement targeted a poor Latino neighborhood, reminiscent of the Drug War’s racist roots. Families, including women with babies in their arms, were made to wait outside while their homes were ransacked by police. An alphabet soup of federal agents --including FBI, DEA, DHS and ICE -- were dressed in military garb, armed with automatic weapons, and came with an armored vehicle. To call the raids overkill would be an understatement. The involvement of ICE also underscores the cynical tactic of targeting Latinos in the U.S. Drug War.

So, this is where we find ourselves after 75 years of prohibition. The U.S. continues to imprison people for marijuana crimes at unprecedented rates, while simultaneously denying the scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy.

Seventy-five years is a long time, but this indefensible position cannot be maintained forever. Later this month, on October 16th, Americans for Safe Access will use scientific evidence to argue before the federal D.C. Circuit that the federal government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its classification of marijuana. The government may yet be forced to prioritize science over politics. Only then can we begin to develop a public health policy that will replace this country’s antiquated Drug War.