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Volume 5, Issue 8
ASA Director to Hold Stakeholders' Meeting this MonthGarden State citizens who use cannabis on the advice of their doctors were to have begun enjoying some legal protection this month, but Governor Chris Christie asked for a 90-day delay to come up with a new distribution scheme and has postponed enacting the law until next year. ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer will be facilitating a stakeholders' meeting in New Jersey later this month to help advocates and policymakers move forward.
The governor's idea was to have Rutgers University grow the state's medicinal cannabis, and teaching hospitals distribute it, but that was nixed by university officials over concerns they would lose federal grant monies. Since hospitals are in similar jeopardy over Medicare and Medicaid funds, hospital officials say they don't expect that part of the governor's plan to pan out, either.
As passed by the legislature last year and signed by outgoing Governor Jon Corzine, New Jersey's medical cannabis law stipulates six not-for-profit 'alternative treatment centers' would grow and distribute it. One of the state senators who sponsored the bill, Nicholas P. Scutari, told the New York Times that Gov. Christie wants too much control over the program, leaving the state no choice but to approve private growers.
Americans for Safe Access is working with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ) to facilitate effective implementation of the state's new law. Steph Sherer will be in Trenton on Saturday, August 21 for a stakeholders' meeting at the New Jersey State Museum Auditorium from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm.
Like other stakeholder meetings ASA has been facilitating across the country, this event is aimed at creating meaningful national progress through building a strong grassroots that can advocate for change. CMMNJ's Executive Director Ken Wolski, RN, and the group's media spokesperson, Chris Goldstein, will be joining Sherer for discussion of how to not just pass federal, state, and local legislation that creates safe and legal access but also implement those laws so they meet the needs of patients.
The cost to attend the all-day conference is $20. A benefit dinner with Steph Sherer and CMMNJ volunteers and board members will be held the previous evening, Friday, August 20, at 7:00 PM. Tickets for the benefit dinner are $100. Go to www.cmmnj.org for more information and reservations.
Policy at Odds with Government's Classification of CannabisIn a decision with far-reaching implications, the federal Veterans Health Administration (VA) last month reversed a long-standing policy that barred veterans who receive VHA care from using medical cannabis. The new policy states that 'patients participating in state medical marijuana programs must not be denied VHA services.'
The VHA directive is another formal acknowledgment that the federal government's contention that 'marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States' is in error. As a result, Americans for Safe Access has filed a new brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of its lawsuit arguing that the government is required by law to correct its misstatements about the medical utility of cannabis.
'They've denied the science for years,' said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the notice with the court. 'But it's all the more difficult for the federal government to say cannabis has no medical value when one of its agencies has accepted it as a legal medicine.'
Prior to the directive being issued, the new policy was laid out in a letter to Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access. In the letter, Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel writes that agreements between doctors and patients about how to treat pain 'should draw a clear distinction between the use of illegal drugs, and legal medical marijuana.'
Over the past several years, ASA has received numerous reports of veterans being denied pain medication by VHA physicians for refusing to discontinue their medical use of cannabis, even though it had been approved by other doctors. Dr. Petzel's letter states that under the new policy, 'if a veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law, testing positive for marijuana would not preclude the Veteran from receiving opioids for pain management.' VHA physicians are still prohibited from directly authorizing cannabis use.
Numerous clinical and pre-clinical studies have demonstrated that cannabis is not only an effective analgesic in its own right but also creates an 'entourage effect' that increases the effectiveness of opiod pain killers, allowing patients to reduce the dosage of drugs with potentially dangerous side effects. Other reports indicate that cannabis can be an effective treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to Krawitz's group, more than 100,000 veterans, or 27% of veterans treated by the VHA, have been diagnosed with PTSD.
The brief ASA just filed as the result of this policy change is in support of ASA's lawsuit to compel the federal government to correct its misstatements about medical cannabis. The suit, which is currently on appeal, stems from an administrative petition ASA filed in 2005 under the Data Quality Act, a federal law that says information disseminated by government agencies must be based on sound science.
Veterans Health Administration policy directive issued July 22
Letter from the VA to Michael Krawitz
ASA's legal brief on the directive
Data Quality Act appeal filed by ASA
New Raids in California, Patient-Provider Denied DefenseIt's been nine months since the Department of Justice handed down a new policy on medical cannabis, but some federal officials apparently haven't gotten the memo. In the past two months alone, federal agents raided three medical cannabis dispensing collectives in San Diego, a federal defendant was denied the opportunity to tell the jury in his case that he was operating a medical dispensary in compliance with state law, and the first person to be certified by the Mendocino sheriff to grow cannabis for patients had her farm raided and plants and computers seized by the DEA.
Following President Obama's campaign promises to end federal interference with state medical cannabis programs and official statements from the White House and Attorney General Holder that those promises would be kept, the attorney general's office sent a memo to U.S. Attorneys in October 2009 telling them it would be an 'inefficient' use of federal resources to prosecute individuals who are in 'clear and unambiguous' compliance with state law.
'This pattern of continuing interference with state medical cannabis programs suggests the Obama Administration can't control the DEA or federal prosecutors,' said Caren Woodson, ASA's Director of Government Affairs. 'How could anyone's compliance with state law be any clearer or more unambiguous than having certification from the sheriff? And then preventing them from presenting evidence about their medical conditions or state law only guarantees their conviction.'
Joy Greenfield was the first person in Mendocino County to register with the sheriff's office to cultivate cannabis for patients. Shortly after she received certification last month, which included individual zip-ties to identify the registered plants, DEA agents raided her property, confiscating all her plants and the sheriff's zip-ties.
James Stacy, a San Diego-area medical cannabis provider raided by the DEA in September 2009, goes to trial in federal court on August 30. The judge in his case ruled last month that Obama Administration's new policy on medical cannabis would not change what he was permitted to introduce as evidence. Legislation is currently pending in Congress that would change those rules of evidence.
'Despite a new Justice Department policy on medical marijuana enforcement, James Stacy was still denied a defense in federal court,' said Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), author of HR3939, the Truth in Trials Act, legislation that would allow defendants such as Stacy to use evidence of state law compliance in federal court. 'The Truth in Trials Act would correct this aberration of justice and ensure that no one else will needlessly face years in prison without the means to defend themselves.'
'It's hard to read the tea leaves, but we're encouraged that the court is referring to a single opinion rather than more than one,' said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the case before the Fourth Court of Appeals. 'We expect a unanimous decision in favor of patient rights.
Elford told the court that California's Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB420) specifically bars local governments from using nuisance statutes to ban medical cannabis dispensaries. That argument was bolstered by a concurring brief from Senator Mark Leno, one of the principal co-authors of the bill.
A decision is now expected within the next 30 days.