ASA Activist Newsletter - February 2010

Volume 5, Issue 2

New Jersey Now 14th Medical Marijuana State

Law Establishes State-Regulated Distribution Program

New Jersey became the 14th state to establish protections for patients who use cannabis on the advice of their doctors. The "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine shields qualified patients from arrest and prosecution for possession and transportation, and mandates distribution of medical cannabis by state-regulated "Alternative Treatment Centers." As the 11th most populous state in the nation, New Jersey is the third largest state to pass medical cannabis legislation, after California and Michigan.

"The passage of New Jersey's medical cannabis law is a victory for commonsense health policies," said Caren Woodson, ASA's government affairs director. "It's only a matter of time before the federal government catches up."

The bill was passed by a 48-14 vote by the General Assembly and a 25-13 vote by the State Senate after years of lobbying by patients and advocates. New Jersey officials must now develop regulations for administering the program that will go into effect in six months. The law prohibits patients from cultivating their own medicine, requiring them to purchase their medicine from one of the six distribution centers to be established by the state.

The number of patients who will qualify for access through the state-run program is unclear, since lawmakers intentionally excluded the primary condition for which patients use cannabis: chronic pain. Among the qualifying conditions for which a doctor may recommend cannabis are cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.

Following the signing of his state's medical cannabis bill, U.S. Representative Donald Payne (NJ-10) added his name to the list of co-sponsors on the federal Truth in Trials bill, which would allow medical cannabis patients who face federal marijuana charges that they were acting in compliance with state law. Currently, federal rules of evidence prevent cannabis patients from using any type of medical defense.

The "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" can be downloaded here.

Maryland to Consider Medical Cannabis Bill

Maryland Delegate Dan Morhaim announced at a January 26 press conference that he will be introducing a bi-partisan bill to protect the state's medical cannabis patients.

The bill would reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug under state law and allow eligible patients to obtain and possess medical cannabis when recommended by a physician. Similar to New Jersey's recently enacted law, patients would be required to purchase their medicine from designated centers run and regulated by the state.
Morhaim estimates that Maryland could register 1,000 qualified patients per month, if the bill is passed.

District of Columbia Takes Up Implementation

Medical cannabis patients in Washington, D.C. are edging closer to legal protection, in the wake of a lifting of the Congressional ban on implementing the medical cannabis initiative passed overwhelmingly by city voters in 1998. City Councilmember David Catania has introduced a bill, co-sponsored by nine of the 13 council members, that would put Initiative 59 into effect.

The council will consider regulations on how many dispensaries to allow, whether they'll be nonprofit, for which conditions patients can qualify, and rules for cultivation. Catania has said he anticipates five to 10 nonprofit dispensaries in the city, restricted to locations at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other dispensaries.
A council spokesperson predicted the council will pass the bill by late spring, and may be approved in Congress by the end of summer.

California Supreme Court Nixes Quantity Limits on Medical Marijuana

Protection from arrest upheld for state-issued ID cardholders
In a unanimous ruling, the California Supreme Court said lawmakers cannot impose limits on how much cannabis qualified patients may possess or cultivate. The published decision in People v. Kelly struck down plant and possession guidelines established by the state legislature in 2003, declaring the limits to be an unconstitutional change to the Compassionate Use Act approved by voters in 1996. Under the ruling, California patients are entitled to quantities consistent with their reasonable personal use.

The court left intact the legislature's voluntary ID card program, which provides protection from arrest and prosecution for card-carrying patients who are within state or local guidelines for personal-use quantities. Californians who exceed those guidelines may still have to go to court to prove their compliance with state law.

"The California Supreme Court did the right thing by abolishing arbitrary limits on medical marijuana possession and cultivation," said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel. "At the same time, the court may have left too much discretion to law enforcement. Qualified patients should not fear arrest and prosecution."

The ruling affirms the decision of an appellate court to overturn the conviction of a southern California man, Patrick Kelly, who uses cannabis to treat a number of serious medical conditions, including hepatitis C, chronic back pain, and cirrhosis. A jury had concluded that the 12 ounces of dried cannabis and 7 plants Kelly had at his home exceeded the limits of 8 ounces and six mature plants established by the legislature's 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act.

In an unusual twist, attorneys for both Kelly and the State of California told the court that the legislative limits on medical marijuana should be abolished as unconstitutional. Both parties also opposed the appellate court's invalidation of the entire statute, Health & Safety Code Section 11362.77, which protects ID cardholders from arrest and prosecution if they are in compliance with local or state guidelines. The state high court agreed, and reversed the appellate decision on the ID card program.

The California Supreme Court decision can be downloaded here.

Appeals Court Requests More Briefs on Dispensary Bans

In a critical case that addresses the right of medical cannabis dispensaries to operate, a California appeals court has asked for additional briefs. The case of Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, brought by attorney Anthony Curiale and argued at appeal by ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, raises the question of whether the legislature's 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act preempts municipalities from banning dispensaries. ASA argues that it does, but the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District has asked for additional arguments on the legislature's intent, as the law specifies exemptions from statutes that could be the basis for such bans. A favorable ruling would mean legal challenges to any local ordinances that ban collectives and cooperatives from dispensing cannabis to qualified patients.

LA to Regulate Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

Restrictions on Locations May Be "Poison Pill"

The second largest city in the U.S. has adopted regulations for the operation of medical cannabis dispensaries. After more than two years of lobbying by ASA and other patient advocates, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance establishing rules for the operation of patient collectives and cooperatives that dispense medical cannabis.

"This is a bittersweet victory for medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles," said Don Duncan, who led the lobbying effort as ASA's California director. "We've fought hard for sound regulations, but this ordinance includes "poison-pill" restrictions that threaten to wipe out nearly all of the dispensaries in the city."

More than 500 medical cannabis dispensaries currently serve Los Angelenos. The new regulations limit the number of dispensaries that may operate in the city to 70, though the 137 dispensaries that were registered with the city two years ago, when the city council established an Interim Control Ordinance, can apply to remain open.

Among the new rules with which dispensaries must comply are restrictions on location. The ordinance establishes buffer zones of 1,000 feet around schools, parks, and other "sensitive use" locations, and prevents any dispensaries from being located adjacent to residential or mixed-use buildings.

"Dispensaries will be unable to locate in virtually any of the commercial zones in the city," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "They will be relegated to remote industrial zones, making access unnecessarily onerous for many patients."

The vast majority of registered dispensaries cannot comply with the ordinance's proximity restrictions and may be forced to move, but a concession won by ASA creates an exception for operators who can demonstrate they have been "good neighbors" in their current location.

Los Angeles joins more than 40 other cities and counties in California that have adopted regulations for the distribution of medical cannabis through patient collectives and cooperatives.

ASA Affiliate Packs Sheriff Candidates Forum

At a recent forum, candidates for sheriff in Sacramento County, California, faced questions on medical cannabis from a host of patients and advocates organized by Crusaders for Patients Rights (CPR), an ASA affiliate. The January 20 forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs' Association and the Sacramento County Law Enforcement Managers' Association.

Prior to the forum, Lanette Davies of CPR urged members at the organization's meeting to attend, which she then followed up with an announcement of the forum on the ASA Sacramento email list. The result was that of the 50 people in attendance at the forum, a dozen were patients or advocates.

Questions for the candidates were selected by the League of women Voters from cards submitted by attendees. Thanks to the strong showing by CPR, 25-30 of the cards submitted had questions about medical cannabis, with two being presented to the candidates for sheriff.

Bret Daniels, a former sheriff's deputy, gave his full support. Jim Cooper, a captain in the department who is currently the mayor of Elk Grove, said he supports legitimate patients but feels there is too much abuse. Scott Jones, also a department captain, states he supports the law. The three men are seeking to replace Sheriff John McGinness, who is retiring after one term.

The forum has been broadcast twice on local cable channels.