ASA Activist Newsletter - December 2009

Volume 4, Issue 12

AMA Says Marijuana is Medicine, Urges Change in Federal Position

Physicians' Group Wants Research Barriers Removed

The leading national doctors' group has now endorsed the medical use of cannabis and called for more research into the drug's potential. The move by the American Medical Association, the largest and most prestigious organization of physicians with nearly 250,000 members, officially calls on the federal government to recognize marijuana as a medicine and make it available for more clinical research.

The decision by the AMA marks a change in policy for the organization, which has historically supported the federal government's contention that there are no currently accepted medical uses for cannabis. Led by ASA Medical and Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Sunil Aggrawal, the AMA's Medical Student Section pushed the larger organization to change its position based on the thousands of published, peer-reviewed scientific articles exploring the therapeutic applications of cannabis and cannabinoids, including 79 controlled clinical trials.

'It's been 72 years since the AMA has officially recognized that marijuana has both already-demonstrated and future-promising medical utility,' said Dr. Aggarwal, who was one of the expert reviewers for the AMA. 'The AMA has written an extensive, well-documented, evidence-based report.'

The AMA's Council on Science and Public Health concluded that 'controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.'

While these are conditions for which cannabis has been repeatedly shown to be effective, the AMA's formal recognition of the established science has larger policy implications. The U.S. federal government has long used the AMA's opposition to medical cannabis as justification for its own position. But that position has now been undermined by the AMA's report, which also urges the federal government to reconsider the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug. Reclassifying it as a medicine would, the AMA notes, help meet 'the goal of facilitating clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.'

The full report has not yet been made public, as the AMA hopes to publish it in a peer-reviewed journal 'to help educate the medical community about the scientific basis of botanical cannabis-based medicines.'
The report follows a resolution adopted in June by the Medical Student Section and responds to three resolutions dealing with medical marijuana that have come before the AMA in the past year. In February 2008, a position similar to the AMA's was adopted by the American College of Physicians, the country's second-largest physician group and the largest organization of doctors of internal medicine. That resolution also called on the federal government to review marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is considered to be highly dangerous and have no medical use.

'The two largest physician groups in the U.S. have established medical marijuana as a health care issue that must be addressed,' said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson. 'Both organizations have underscored the need for change by placing patients above politics.'

The AMA joins the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the British Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and dozens of other organizations of health professionals in recognizing established therapeutic uses and calling for additional research.

See the AMA report at: AmericansForSafeAccess.org

ASA Threatens Suit if LA Bans Medical Marijuana Sales

DA and City Attorney Say Patients Can't Legally Buy Medicine

The years-long battle to establish regulations for medical cannabis distribution in Los Angeles is coming to a head as the City Council attempts to craft an ordinance. Some officials are taking a narrow view of the law and urging the city to ban any sale of medical cannabis. ASA has notified the city that any such ban will result in a lawsuit on behalf of patients.

The LA City Council has been considering successive drafts of an ordinance that would define where and how patient collectives can operate. Both the District Attorney and the City Attorney have opposed any plan that would allow patients to continue purchasing cannabis from collectives. They claim that only collective cultivation is permitted under state law. ASA, which has successfully litigated several landmark cases in California, has told city officials that it is ready to file a Temporary Restraining Order to block any ordinance that prohibits medical marijuana sales.

'Neither the Los Angeles City Attorney nor the City Council has the right to ban activity that is protected under state law,' said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. 'Medical marijuana sales have been deemed legal by the state legislature, the courts, and the California Attorney General.'
Following the threat of legal action, Elford and ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes were featured on the local NPR affiliate on four separate programs, debating representatives of the city attorney's office and refuting the legal theories of the district attorney.

ASA also organized local patients and advocates to appear at city council meetings, with upwards of 400 supporters flooding committee hearings on the issue. That public pressure has resulted in the modification of some of the most unreasonable and unworkable restrictions, but the city attorney continues to insist that the city ban all sales, and the district attorney has promised to prosecute dispensary operators who accept money for medicine, even if they are adhering to city ordinances.

When California voters passed Prop 215 in 1996, they directed state and local officials to devise mechanisms to ensure 'safe and affordable distribution of marijuana.' In 2003, the state legislature specified that cultivators can be lawfully compensated by exempting cooperatives and collectives from state laws prohibiting marijuana sales or maintaining a place where sales occur. In August 2008, the State Attorney General issued guidelines recognizing the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries, detailing how collectives should operate in order to be in compliance with state law.

California's state tax authority, the Board of Equalization, has ruled that medical cannabis is a taxable commodity and collected estimated tax revenue in excess of $100 million from the state's cannabis dispensaries in 2008. Dispensing collectives have been providing cannabis to patients in exchange for cash contributions for more than a decade in California, and five other states have now adopted some version of a dispensary model.

The Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to consider the latest draft of the proposed ordinance on Tuesday, December 8, but few expect the battle over safe access to end there.

ASA Targets Recalcitrant Law Enforcement Group

California Narcotics Officers Association Gets Educated

Over the past two months, ASA has been confronting a group of California law enforcement officers who are trying to undermine the state's medical cannabis law.

Thirteen years after voters enshrined a right to safe access in the state constitution, the California Narcotics Officers Association (CNOA) continues to publicly insist that 'there is no such thing as medical marijuana.' So when ASA learned that the CNOA was conducting 'trainings' on how to subvert local regulations and shut down medical cannabis dispensaries, it was an opportunity to educate them on upholding the law.

For the first action, more than 100 protestors with colorful signs lined the streets outside the CNOA event in October. The luncheon training was titled 'The Eradication of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County' and featured both the LA City Attorney and the District Attorney.

For last month's CNOA training conference in San Francisco, ASA staged a 'welcome' for officers. ASA staff and local activists in business attire, lapel flowers, and 'welcome to CNOA' badges greeted arrivals with packets of ASA educational information about medical cannabis. By the time hotel management told ASA activists they had to leave, more than two-thirds of the literature was already in the hands of officers.

'They were expecting protesters, but we were so well dressed and nice that they couldn't help but take our welcoming packet,' said Don Morgan, ASA associate director. 'Two attendees even came out to look at the protest they had heard about. We had a nice chat and gave them our information to read. They took it and walked back in without realizing we were the protest.'

Further information:
CNOA training brochure

Celebrate the Year's Victories with ASA

December 16 in Oakland

From new federal policy on medical cannabis to support from the American Medical Association, patients and providers have much to celebrate as 2009 comes to a close. Americans for Safe Access is holding its annual holiday party on December 16, and all are welcome. Tickets are only $25 and all proceeds from the party go directly to helping ASA continue fighting for your rights.

The host will be the Executive Director and Founder of ASA, Steph Sherer, and there will be a screening of ASA's new video, 'Medical Cannabis in California: A Report from the Frontline,' as well as live bands, DJs, appetizers, refreshments, and more. The celebration is at Maxwell's Restaurant & Lounge, 341 14th Street (at Webster) in Oakland, California. The party is for supporters 21 and over, so please bring ID.

If you can't make it to the party, you can still support ASA's important work by making a tax-deductible donation. If you're considering year-end charitable giving, a contribution to ASA is a gift that keeps on giving. See the ASA website for more on supporting our work: