ASA Activist Newsletter - JANUARY 2012

Volume 7, Issue 1


ASA Sues to Stop Federal Interference

ASA filed suit against the federal government in October to stop interference with California’s medical cannabis program. The lawsuit says the Department of Justice is violating the U.S. Constitution by illegally coercing elected officials with threats of prosecution for implementing state law.

'Medical cannabis patients are not exempt from federal laws, but the 10th Amendment forbids the federal government from using coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the state,' said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who authored the suit.

'Medical cannabis patients are not exempt from federal laws, but the 10th Amendment forbids the federal government from using coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the state,' said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who authored the suit.

Federal prosecutors have threatened state and local elected officials with criminal prosecution if they regulate medical cannabis distribution. They have also threatened to seize city buildings where licenses for dispensaries are issued or other medical cannabis regulations are administered.

The four U.S. Attorneys in California have also targeted landlords who rent space to dispensing collectives, threatening them with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they do not evict their tenants within 30 days. Prosecutors have also vowed to go after publications and other media that accept advertising promoting medical cannabis.

ASA’s lawsuit acknowledges that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal prosecutors may bring charges against state-authorized medical cannabis patients and providers but distinguishes that from the commandeering of California’s legislative function. The lawsuit states that this commandeering and intimidation of state and local officials is a 'misuse of the government’s Commerce Clause powers, designed to deprive the State of its sovereign ability to chart a separate course, that forms the basis of plaintiffs’ claims.'

More information:
Text of ASA lawsuit

ASA Forces Answer on Rescheduling, Enabling Appeal

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

The appeal was filed just two weeks after an ASA lawsuit forced action from the government after a nine-year delay.

ASA’s appeal argues that the government’s decision contradicts the scientific consensus on the medical value of cannabis and harms the millions of patients throughout the U.S. who might benefit from this uniquely safe and effective medicine.

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 millennia, and hundreds of modern scientific studies showing its broad therapeutic applications. Since the CRC petition was filed in 2002, more studies and results from clinical trials have been published, including new research demonstrating its cancer-fighting properties.

More information:
ASA notice of appeal
DEA answer to CRC petition
CRC rescheduling petition (2002)
White House scientific integrity memo

ASA Builds Grassroots with Trainings and Online Tools

ASA expanded its grassroots support nationwide last year through online activist bootcamps, web-based training tools, an ASA Advocates App, and roaming stakeholder meetings.

In February activists from coast to coast gathered for ASA’s first virtual conference, a two-day 'Activist Boot Camp' of trainings that combined a more than 300-page workbook of materials with informational DVDs.

Virtual bootcamp participants from Denver to Detroit, Portland to Chicago, Las Vegas to St. Louis, learned about effective outreach, coalition building, leadership development, lobbying public officials, organizing protests and rallies, and working with the media.

Don Duncan in ChicoASA also spent the year holding in-person stakeholders’ meetings and raid preparedness trainings in Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, as well as throughout California. Facilitated by ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer and California Director Don Duncan, the meetings helped participants share experiences and identify goals, problems and solutions. The raid preparedness trainings gave community members tools and strategies for responding to interference by law enforcement.

In response to ideas generated in the stakeholders’ meetings, ASA launched an online initiative to give advocates 24/7 access to lobbying tools, an information center, and tools for rapid response to federal raids.

The Medical Cannabis Think Tank and Policy Shop provides the information and support activists need to analyze pending or proposed legislation and to lobby officials for the best laws possible.

The ASA Online Training Center gives advocates access to all ASA’s training and educational materials, including streaming video presentations and comprehensive manuals and worksheets for developing advocacy skills.

ASA also improved its Raid Response Center to better cope with federal interference, including how to prepare for and respond to law enforcement actions.

In December the ASA App launched, putting a full range of ASA tools and information in the hands of advocates through iPhones and iPads. The app will be available on Android this spring.

More Information:
Think Tank & Policy Shop
Online Training Center
Raid Response Center
ASA App for iPhone & iPad

ASA Appeals Conviction of Dispensary Operator

In November, ASA appealed the conviction of a California dispensary operator on the grounds that the judge had refused to allow any evidence related to his role helping qualified patients during trial.

Jovan Jackson was first tried and acquitted for distributing cannabis to patients in 2009, but he was charged again based on a subsequent raid of his facility the same year he was acquitted. In the second trial, the prosecutor convinced the judge to exclude all medical evidence, arguing California does not provide for storefront collectives. Denied a defense, Jackson was convicted and served 180 days in jail before being released on bail pending appeal.

ASA has taken this potentially precedent-setting case because a handful of prosecutors in California are attempting to eliminate storefront collectives by claiming they are illegal -- despite case law to the contrary, the 2008 guidelines issued by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown, and court filings by one of the principal co-authors of the state’s Medical Marijuana Program Act.

More information:
Jackson appeal brief filed by ASA

Trio of Medical Cannabis Bills Introduced in Congress

Three bipartisan medical cannabis bills were introduced in Congress in 2011 with support from ASA and other patient advocates. The bills would respectively reclassify cannabis as a drug with medical use, protect access to financial services for patients and providers, and rein in aggressive audits of providers by the IRS.

HR 1983, the State’s Medical Marijuana Protection Act of 2011, would provide a medical necessity defense in federal court and reclassify cannabis from a Schedule I substance with no medical use to Schedule III, a level that would allow doctors to prescribe it like other medications.

HR 1984, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, would allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to medical marijuana businesses without being subject to 'suspicious activity' reporting requirements. Several banks have closed the accounts of medical cannabis providers under pressure from the Department of Treasury.

HR 1985, the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2011, would change the federal tax code 'to allow a deduction for expenses in connection with the trade or business of selling marijuana intended for patients for medical purposes pursuant to State law.' The IRS has been aggressively auditing dozens of the most successful medical cannabis dispensing centers, disallowing their operating expense deductions and claiming back taxes.

Federal Agency Recognizes Cannabis Fights Cancer

In March, an agency of the U.S. federal government for the first time acknowledged that cannabis has been shown to fight cancer, and said health care providers may recommend it for that purpose. But after five days of media attention, the National Cancer Institute removed from its website any mention that cannabis may be used to combat tumors.

The NCI originally said that 'the health care provider may recommend medicinal Cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.' That directly contradicts the federal government’s oft-repeated contention that cannabis has no medical use.

The NCI website still notes that 'cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years,' and says people living with cancer may find cannabis effective for combating nausea, stimulating appetite, relieving pain, and improving sleep. It also classifies cannabis as a Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and summarizes several decades of research on the potential role of cannabis and its constituent chemicals in cancer treatment.

The antitumor effects of cannabinoids include reducing the spread of cancer cells, selectively cutting off the blood supply to tumors, and reprogramming malignant cells to die off. Researchers have demonstrated these effects on human cancer lines including skin, breast, bone, liver, adrenal, leukemic and brain cancers.

More information:
NCI web page on Cannabis

Four States Petition to Reclassify Cannabis for Medical Use

In a bipartisan effort, the governors of four medical cannabis states have asked the federal government to reclassify cannabis so it may be legally distributed like other medicines.

Govs. Christine Gregoire (D) of Washington and Lincoln Chafee (I) of Rhode Island announced the petition Nov. 30 after each received threatening letters from federal prosecutors regarding their states’ medical marijuana laws.

Since then, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) of Vermont has signed on and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) filed a separate but similar request.

Gregoire and Chafee were among the governors warned that their states employees would be at risk for criminal prosecution if they were in any way involved with licensing or regulating the distribution of medical cannabis to qualified patients.

As a result, in April, Gov. Gregoire vetoed sections of a bill that would have permitted dispensaries in Washington because of federal threats, and in September, Gov. Chafee suspended implementation of the Rhode Island dispensary licensing law.

Doctors Group Condemns Federal Cannabis Policy, Urges Rescheduling

The California Medical Association formally condemned the federal government approach to medical cannabis as 'failed public health policy' in October and called for it to be rescheduled.

The CMA said the current Schedule I status of cannabis has severely hindered researchers from establishing its full medical potential. The CMA notes that the easiest way to remove the barriers to research and treatment is to simply make all cannabis use and possession legal.

Delaware and Maryland Join Medical Cannabis States

Last year the governors of Maryland and Delaware each signed new medical cannabis measures into law that shield patients from criminal liability.

In Delaware, the new medical cannabis law allows people 18 and older with cancer, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, Multiple Sclerosis and several other conditions to possess up to six ounces of cannabis, which patients may obtain at state-regulated distribution centers. State officials are to finalize regulations for operating the program in 2012.

Maryland’s new law is a limited improvement on its previous medical cannabis law, which only allowed for a reduced criminal penalty. Under SB 308, qualified patients who possess an ounce or less will no longer be guilty of a misdemeanor, but may be subject to a $100 fine. Maryland’s new law also establishes a working group to develop proposals for shielding patients from prosecution and establishing distribution centers.

Counting Maryland, there are now 17 states plus the District of Columbia that give patients a legal right to cannabis.

More information:
Maryland SB 308
Delaware SB 17

DC & New Jersey Implementing Access in 2012

In 2012, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey will finally implement their respective medical cannabis laws.

The D.C. Department of Health will announce on Jan. 20 the cultivation centers eligible to register, determined by a merit-based system ASA helped establish. ASA also helped secure enhanced privacy protections, as well as a licensing board. ASA is working to expand the qualifying conditions, as only patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma will qualify under the current rules.

In New Jersey, officials at the Department of Health and Senior Services say the program will open soon, with 99 physicians and six distribution centers already registered to participate. The state’s program was established by the legislature nearly two years ago, but current governor Chris Christie delayed implementation until July, before deciding to move forward with a distribution plan despite federal threats.

Officials in several states received formal letters from federal prosecutors threatening criminal prosecution if they regulate the distribution of medical cannabis. Arizona, Rhode Island and Washington halted implementation as a result, while Delaware, Vermont and Maine forged ahead.

Maine Defies Federal Threats, Expands Program

In 2011, Maine lawmakers changed their medical cannabis law to better protect the privacy of patients, broaden the scope of qualifying conditions, and improve legal protections.

As the result of federal threats, lawmakers made the state patient registry voluntary and eliminated the list of qualifying conditions. Physicians may now recommend cannabis for any ailment that may be helped by it, and the state no longer collects information about those recommendations.

Legal protections for medical cannabis patients were also expanded. Qualifying patients are now protected from arrest, and local governments are prohibited from adding restrictions.