ASA Activist Newsletter - AUGUST 2011

Volume 6, Issue 8

ASA Appeals Cannabis Rescheduling Denial

Federal Action Creates Opportunity to Air Scientific Research

Americans for Safe Access and the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) has appealed the federal government's denial of the latest petition to reclassify cannabis as a drug with therapeutic uses.

ASA's July appeal to the D.C. Circuit comes just two weeks after another ASA legal action forced action from the government, which had been stalling on a decision since the rescheduling petition was filed back in 2002 by a coalition of patients and advocacy groups.

ASA's appeal will argue that the federal government's decision contradicts the scientific consensus on the medical value of cannabis and harms the millions of patients throughout the United States who might benefit from this uniquely safe and effective medication.

'By ignoring the wealth of scientific evidence that clearly shows the therapeutic value of cannabis, the Obama Administration is playing politics at the expense of sick and dying Americans,' said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the notice of appeal. 'For the first time in more than 15 years, we will be able to present evidence in court to challenge the government's flawed position on medical cannabis.'

For more than 40 years the federal government has classified cannabis as a dangerous drug with no medical value, despite documented use in medicine dating back thousands of years, and thousands of modern scientific articles and studies showing its broad medical applications.

Although two other rescheduling petitions have been filed since the establishment of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, the merits of medical efficacy was reviewed only once by the courts in 1994. But in 1988, the DEA was told to reschedule cannabis by its own Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, who concluded after extensive hearings that, 'Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.' The government ignored his ruling.

'Federal agencies have been using every trick in the book to block research and keep this medicine from patients,' said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. 'But the research that's been done tells us it has the potential to treat cancer, MS, Alzheimer's and a host of other conditions conventional medications cannot.'

Since the CRC petition was filed almost a decade ago, even more scientific studies have been published that show the medical benefits of cannabis for a wide variety of conditions, including recent research that shows it is effective for fighting many types of cancer tumors. Earlier this year, the National Cancer Institute, a division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, added cannabis to its list of Complementary Alternative Medicines for cancer treatment,.

'We're holding the Obama Administration accountable for its promise to preserve and promote scientific integrity,' said Elford. 'The time has come to put the politics aside and do what doctors tell us is right for their patients.'

Currently, pharmaceutical companies are seeking permission to extract THC from cannabis plants to make a generic form of Marinol®, a costly Schedule III drug made synthetically.

More information:
ASA notice of appeal
DEA answer to CRC petition
Lawsuit compelling government to answer CRC petition
ASA backgrounder on rescheduling
CRC rescheduling petition

New Jersey's Medical Cannabis Program Moves Forward

Governor Takes Action despite Federal Threats to Officials

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) held a press conference last month to announce his plans to 'begin work immediately' on a distribution plan for his state's medical cannabis program, despite threats from federal authorities. Governor Christie said he expects licensed Alternative Treatment Centers that would distribute cannabis to qualified patients could be operating by the end of the year.

'We're moving forward with the program as it was set up,' said Governor Christie, a former federal prosecutor. 'The need to provide compassionate pain relief to these citizens of our state outweighs the risk we are taking in moving forward with the program.'

New Jersey is one of many states considering distribution regulations who received formal letters from the US Attorney in their area, threatening state officials and employees with criminal prosecution if they implement any program to assist patients whose doctors have recommended cannabis. Officials in Arizona, Rhode Island and Washington have all delayed implementation of key provisions in their state laws as a result.

'Governor Christie has shown that the federal government cannot intimidate compassionate public officials working on behalf of their citizens,' said Steph Sherer, ASA Executive Director. “Elected leaders in Arizona, Rhode Island and Washington should show the same resolve and implement the laws they’ve enacted.”

Delaware and Vermont have also implemented distribution plans, despite the federal threats.

New Jersey's law establishes a patient registry for the thousands of its citizens who use medical cannabis. They will be able to access their medicine from six distribution centers scattered around the state, once the state licenses them.

The announcement by Governor Christie came two days after the New York Times criticized the state’s failure to implement a program after nearly two years.

Local and state medical cannabis production and distribution laws in particular have come under scrutiny by the federal government in the past few months, culminating with the Cole memo.

In April, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire gutted the distribution licensing provisions in a bill passed by the state legislature, allegedly because of a letter she received from U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has filed suit against the federal government seeking clarity on whether she can implement her state's medical cannabis initiative passed by voters last November.

More information:
Video of Governor Christie's press conference
New York Times article on New Jersey's law
DOJ Threat Letters
June 29 DOJ Memo from Deputy AG Cole

Maine Adds Patient Privacy Protections

State officials in Maine have defied federal threats to their state medical cannabis program and expanded it. As the result of the increased federal interference, Maine lawmakers changed the provisions of their medical cannabis law to better protect the privacy of patients who participate in the program.

At the end of June, Maine Governor Paul LePage signed a new law that not only makes the state patient registry voluntary, but also broadens the number of patients it covers. A list of qualifying conditions has now been eliminated, physicians may now recommend cannabis for any ailment that may be helped by it, and Maine will no longer collect information on those conditions. Legal protections for patients were also expanded. Qualifying patients are now protected from arrest, and the new law also prevents local governments from imposing any restrictions more stringent than those in state law.

'I am proud to a sign a bill that protects patient privacy and respects the will of the voters,' Gov. LePage said in a statement.

Medical cannabis is legal under local law in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Suit, Countersuit over Ariz. Law

In a move that has delayed implementation of Arizona's voter initiative, state officials in May asked a federal court to clarify whether its medical-cannabis law conflicts with federal prohibition. The legal process promises to be lengthy and has already spawned at least one counter-suit last month from a group representing medical cannabis dispensaries who are now prevented from operating.

Currently, qualified patients and their caregivers may grow up to 12 plants per patient. Arizona has so far licensed nearly 2,700 people to cultivate. Once the distribution centers mandated by the initiative are established, only patients who live more than 25 miles from a dispensary will be permitted to grow their own medicine. The licensing process for distribution centers under Proposition 203 was halted by an executive order from the governor.

Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne say they filed suit in response to a threatening letter from the local US Attorney to the state health director. As with the other threats sent to state officials around the country, the letter warns that those involved with distribution or programs that facilitate it may be criminally prosecuted in federal court.

The message from federal authorities has been mixed at best. President Obama promised during his campaign to end federal interference in state medical cannabis programs, a promise reiterated by US Attorney General Eric Holder. A Department of Justice memo to federal prosecutors in 2009 suggested they not expend resources targeting medical cannabis patients or providers, but that was contradicted by a new DOJ memo released last month that urged prosecution even for individuals in full compliance with state medical cannabis laws.

That confusion was compounded by a statement from the US Attorney, who said, 'We have no intention of targeting or going after people who are implementing or who are in compliance with state law. But at the same time, they can't be under the impression that they have immunity, amnesty or safe haven.'

The suit by prospective dispensary operators asks that Governor Brewer's suit be dismissed and state law be implemented. With a June deadline of applications looming, many potential operators, who are required by state rules to show at least $150,000 in startup funds, had already arranged leases, began local zoning processes, and hired employees.

'We'd like to believe Governor Brewer has the best interest of Arizonans at heart,' said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. 'But her opposition to medical cannabis is well known, and this is a way to stall implementation.'

In addition to the dispensary group, the legal action to dismiss the governor's lawsuit was joined by the ACLU, Marijuana Policy Project and the Rose Law Group.

San Diego DA Opposed by Patients in Mayoral Race

Opposition to implementing California's medical cannabis law may cost the San Diego District Attorney a shot at the Mayor's office. San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis was greeted at her first fundraiser dinner by protestors kicking off their own campaign.

A Facebook page for the opposition group 'Not Dumanis' has gained more than 400 fans, more than twice as many as Dumanis had for her mayoral campaign, before her campaign page was taken down.

'Anyone would be better than Dumanis,'' said Eugene Davidovich, who helped organize the 'Not Dumanis' campaign and is a local community liaison with Americans for Safe Access. 'She has ignored the will of the people and wasted taxpayer money on overzealous prosecutions of medical cannabis providers and patients.'

Davidovich was acquitted by a jury last year on several medical cannabis-related charges.

The latest of a series of medical cannabis prosecutions brought by Dumanis is targeting Dexter Padilla, who is alleged to have used a warehouse to cultivate for a small patient collective. The prosecution has continued despite extensive documentation and testimony by their attorney, a former federal law clerk and law school professor who advised them on how to ensure they complied with state law.

A local news station reported that a political consultant thinks Dumanis may be hurt by the campaign. A similar campaign targeting LA District Attorney Steve Cooley may have swung the closest statewide election in modern memory to now-Attorney General Kamala Harris, who trailed in all pre-election polls but emerged the victor.