ASA Activist Newsletter - JULY 2013

Volume 8, Issue 7

Federal Interference with State
Medical Cannabis Programs Costs Millions

Since states began adopting medical cannabis laws in 1996, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars interfering with the implementation of patient programs, according to report released by ASA last month.

The report, What's the Cost? The Federal War on Patients, details how the Department of Justice (DOJ) over three presidential administrations has expended nearly half a billion dollars to investigate, raid, arrest, prosecute, and imprison hundreds of medical marijuana patients and their providers. The report reveals that President Obama, despite his repeated pledges to not use DOJ funds to interfere with state programs, has dedicated nearly $300 million to an extensive crackdown on medical cannabis, including at least 270 SWAT-style raids at a cost to taxpayers of more than $8 million. In 2011 and 2012, the DEA spent 4% of its budget on enforcement activities targeting medical cannabis patients or providers.

The ASA report is part of the Peace for Patients campaign recently launched by ASA that shows Congress the cost, in both monetary and human terms, of continuing current policy. The report
highlights the stories of some of those who have been singled out by the federal government, such as Michigan organ-transplant recipient Jerry Duval, who surrendered to federal authorities last month. His 10-year prison sentence will cost taxpayers more than $1 million due to his serious medical conditions. His son Jeremy has also been sentenced to federal prison for helping patients under Michigan law, and the government is seizing the farm that has been theirs for generations, devastating the family. There were no allegations that the Duvals violated Michigan's medical marijuana law.

The seizure of the Duval family farm is not an isolated incident. The Obama Administration has aggressively targeted the property of patients, their providers, and the landlords who lease to licensed medical cannabis businesses. Hundreds of letters from U.S. Attorneys threatening asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution have shut more than 500 dispensaries in California, Colorado and Washington state. At least another 100 letters were sent to landlords in California during the preparation of the report. The Obama Administration has brought as many as 30 asset forfeiture lawsuits involving medical cannabis, three times as many as the two previous administrations combined, at a cost of more than $10 million. Federal law allows the government to seize property without charging or convicting anyone of a crime.

ASA’s report includes recommendations for Congress, such as amending an appropriations bill to prevent DOJ funds from being spent on enforcing federal marijuana laws against anyone in compliance with state medical cannabis programs. The report also calls for the compassionate release of medical marijuana patients currently serving prison sentences, as well as the passage of HR 689, federal legislation that would reclassify marijuana for medical use.

California NORML contributed to ASA's 'What's the Cost?' report and produced a related report showing the number of people prosecuted and imprisoned as a result of the Justice Department's enforcement efforts. Their report shows the war on medical cannabis has resulted in 332 people being charged with federal crimes, with 158 of them receiving prison sentences totaling more than 490 years.

More information:
ASA report on the costs of federal interference
Source material behind the numbers
ASA's Peace for Patients campaign
California NORML report on DOJ enforcement

Conference of U.S. Mayors Says
End Crackdown on Medical Cannabis

The 81st Conference of US Mayors passed a resolution last month urging the federal government to stop interfering in state and local medical cannabis programs. The resolution 'in support of states setting their own marijuana policies without federal interference' was introduced by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and co-sponsored by eight other mayors from across the country.

'Local and state governments can develop, adopt, and implement public health laws without heavy-handed interference by the federal government,' said Steph Sherer, ASA Executive Director. 'This resolution reflects the frustration of local and state officials, which will continue until the federal government ends its attacks on medical marijuana.'

The mayors said that despite differing views on how to regulate cannabis in their cities, they believe 'states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana policies work best to improve the public safety and health of their communities.' Specifically, the resolution calls for an end to 'federal interference,' and 'urges the President of the United States to reexamine the priorities of federal agencies to prevent the expenditure of resources on actions that undermine the duly enacted marijuana laws of states.'

Cosponsoring the resolution were the mayors of Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, California; Aurora and Glendale, Colorado; Binghamton, New York; and Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. More than 100 million people, or 34 percent of Americans, currently live in states with medical cannabis laws.

The most recent resolution follows a similar one last year, in which the mayors called for an end to the state-federal conflict on marijuana policies that 'frustrates our citizens, costs cities significant time and resources to address, and prevents the establishment of a regulated and safe system to supply patients.' A resolution in 2007 from the 75th U.S. Conference of Mayors declared the war on drugs a failure and called for 'a health-centered' approach to drug policy.

Mayors and other local officials committed to ensuring and regulating access in their communities have resisted federal interference directly. When the DOJ filed an asset forfeiture lawsuit last July against the landlords of Harborside Health Center, California's largest dispensary, the City of Oakland counter-sued to stop the government's actions. When prosecutors filed a forfeiture lawsuit against the landlord of Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), one of California's oldest and most respected dispensaries, the city’s mayor and four city council members condemned the action, along with a host of other elected officials, and committed the city to intervene in support of BPG and its patients.

More information:
U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution

Lawyers Guild Says Fix Federal Cannabis Policy

A report from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) last month recommends reclassifying marijuana for medical use and reframing drug use as “a social and public health issue and not a criminal justice problem.” The report, High Crimes: Strategies to Further Marijuana Legalization Initiatives, cites the “[m]ounting scientific and anecdotal evidence” of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits and points out that “[r]escheduling cannabis would allow for expanded medical research and use under international law.”

The NLG report argues that current asset forfeiture practices create perverse incentives for law enforcement and recommends the law be changed to “require criminal convictions before enabling the government seizure of any property.” The NLG also notes that profit incentives within the private prison industry have been a major factor in U.S. drug policy and incarceration rates.

NLG is the country’s oldest and largest public interest and human rights bar organization.

More information:
NLG Report: High Crimes: Strategies to Further Marijuana Legalization Initiatives

New Hamp. Sends Compromise Bill to Gov.

On June 26, the New Hampshire legislature approved by a vote of 284-66 a compromise medical cannabis bill that reconciled differences between versions passed in the House and Senate. The measure is now on the desk of Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who said she would sign it. As part of the compromise, the legislature acceded to the governor’s request that a provision to allow patient cultivation be removed and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder eliminated as a qualifying condition. The bill also restricts physicians to providing recommendations to people who have been their patients for at least 90 days and tried other treatments.

HB 573 allows patients diagnosed with cancer, Crohn's disease and other conditions to possess up to two ounces of cannabis, which must be obtained from one of four dispensaries to be licensed by the state. Patients will have to designate a dispensary, and each dispensary will be restricted three mature cannabis plants, 12 seedlings and six ounces for each patient. A commission to be appointed immediately will establish other regulations for dispensary operations, which may take a year or more to implement.

Once Gov. Hassan signs the bill, New Hampshire will be either the 19th or 20th state with a medical cannabis program, depending on whether the governor of Illinois beats her to it. The Illinois Legislature approved similar legislation in May, which is awaiting signature.

More Information
New Hampshire HB 573

Hawaii Legislature Approves Program Changes

Hawaii’s Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed into law two changes in the state’s medical cannabis program. HB 668 shifts its supervision from law enforcement to public health officials; SB 642 expands the amount and types of usable cannabis patients may possess.

The effective date for switching the program from the Department of Public Safety, Narcotics Enforcement Division (NED) to the Department of Health (DOH) is not until January 2015, to give the agencies time to manage the transition.

SB 642 increases the amount of medical cannabis a patient or caregiver can grow and possess from one ounce and three mature and four immature plants to four ounces and seven plants whether immature or mature. The bill also stipulates that recommendations must be from the patient’s primary care physician. SB 642 will also take effect January 2015.

Hawaii’s program enjoys strong public support. A recent statewide poll found that 81% support access to medical cannabis, and 78% support a dispensary system.

More Information
Hawaii SB 642
Hawaii HB 668

New Jersey Legislature Sends
Bill on Minors to Governor

The New Jersey state legislature late last month approved legislation to make it easier for minors to access and use medical cannabis. The bill is before Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has expressed concern about it.

If enacted, the bill would make the medical approval process for minors similar to adults. Instead of requiring three physicians, one of whom must be a psychiatrist, minors would only need one doctor’s approval. The Assembly also approved edible forms of medical cannabis, which are easier to use in treating children. A restriction on the number of strains that can be cultivated by licensed facilities in New Jersey would also be lifted. The bill has already passed in the state Senate.

The bill was inspired by two-year-old Vivian Wilson, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. Wilson's family has had difficulty obtaining approval of a psychiatrist and says the strain of cannabis most likely to help her is not grown in New Jersey.

If the measure is vetoed, an override is unlikely. The legislation received one vote more than needed to override in the Assembly but was three short in the Senate.

More Information
New Jersey A4241 / S2842

Maine Adds PTSD to Qualifying Conditions

On June 26, the list of qualifying conditions for the Maine medical cannabis program was expanded. The bill to add Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, inflammatory bowel disease and other illnesses became law without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage. The new law will take effect late September.

H.P. 755 was sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson (D-Rockland), who said she took action at the request of a number of veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Originally, the bill would have allowed cannabinoid treatment for opioid or other pharmaceutical dependence, as well as “any other medical condition or its treatment as determined by a physician.” Those provisions were dropped because of opposition from some members of the Maine Medical Association, particularly some who specialize in treatment of psychiatric conditions and addiction.

Oregon lawmakers also expanded that state’s qualifying condition list to include PTSD last month. Medical cannabis is currently approved for the treatment of PTSD in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and New Mexico.

More Information
Maine H.P. 755

Two Dispensaries Open in Vermont Last Month

Medical cannabis patients in Vermont now have access to their medicine in Burlington and Montpelier, after dispensaries opened there last month. A third dispensary is slated for Brandon.

Vermont lawmakers established a medical cannabis program two years ago. The program requires dispensaries to grow their own cannabis in a secure environment. Qualifying Vermont patients can make an appointment to acquire their medicine.

The Burlington dispensary currently provides two strains of cannabis in three different potencies and offers a sliding scale to patients in need. The Montpelier dispensary is growing more than a half-dozen different varieties.

Oregon Considering Dispensary Regulations

Oregon state lawmakers are working on legislation that would regulate medical cannabis dispensaries in the state. The chief budget committee approved House Bill 3460 by a comfortable margin late last month, sending the bill to the House floor for a vote.

Oregon has an estimated 53,000 qualified patients, many of whom obtain their medicine from dispensaries not regulated or licensed by the state.

The bill has the support of state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who has urged the legislature to pass HB 3460, saying dispensaries 'operate in a climate of uncertain legality, and the absence of a clear regulatory structure makes ensuring compliance with the law difficult.'

The Oregon League of Cities also supports the bill, telling lawmakers in a letter that cities have 'divergent views' on medical cannabis but all want to ensure those who provide medical cannabis to patients 'do so in a responsible manner.'

Currently, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program allows patients to either grow their own or reimburse a state-registered non-profit grower to do so for them. HB 3460 would establish a $4,000 license for dispensaries that would pay for oversight. If passed, the bill will require dispensaries to operate as a non-profit, maintain records that law enforcement or program administrators could inspect and test all cannabis sold for pesticides, mold and mildew Dispensaries would be prohibited in residential areas and within 1,000 feet of schools or another dispensary.

More Information
Oregon HB 3460

New York Senate Scuttles Medical Cannabis Bill

New York politics appeared to get the better of the latest version of a medical cannabis bill. Passed by the state Assembly, the bill stalled in the Senate after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) expressed opposition and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomburg mocked the bill.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Diane Savino, an 'independent Democrat' and a member of the Senate's leadership team, who told the press, “there was overwhelming support for medical marijuana and that didn't move forward, because the governor didn't want to do it.'

Mayor Bloomberg made headlines late last month by telling a radio show that medical cannabis is “one of the great hoaxes of all time.'
A recent survey of 1,400 physicians, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that 76 percent of international doctors surveyed would recommend medical cannabis.

California Lobby Day Announced for August 12

Americans for Safe Access and its coalition partners at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) have announced a citizen lobby day at the state Capitol for Monday, August 12.

The lobby day comes at a crucial juncture in the legislative process when lawmakers are considering bills affecting patients.

The bill with the largest impact is SB 439, sponsored by President Pro-Tem Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Leno (D-SF), which clarifies the protections afforded by the state’s medical cannabis laws. SB 439 would recognize the legitimacy of storefront dispensaries and expand protections to employees who work there.

SB 283, a bill by Senator Hancock (D-Berkeley), would allow Californians convicted of medical cannabis-related and certain other drug-related offenses in state or federal court to receive public assistance, a benefit they are currently denied. Other legislation affects foster parents and credentialed teachers who legally use medical cannabis (AB 787 and AB 375, respectively).

For everyone who registers for the August 12 Lobby Day, ASA will make an appointment with their state Assembly member and Senator. This is a strategic moment for lobbying, as bills already approved by the Senate are in Assembly committees, and bills approved by the Assembly are in Senate committees. The legislature reconvenes from their summer break on August 12 to get bills out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

Register now online or download a mail-in registration form before August 2. ASA will make appointments for you, brief and train you to be an effective advocate, and provide you with professional lobby-day materials to take with you. If you can’t make it to Sacramento August 12, you can sponsor others to attend, or make a donation to ASA to support this event.

More Information
CRMM Aug 12 Lobby Day online registration
CRMM Aug 12 Lobby Day flyer & registration form
California SB 439 (dispensaries)
California SB 283 (previous convictions)
California AB 787 (foster parents)
California AB 375 (teachers)

ACTION ALERT: Ask Your Senators: What’s the Cost?

ASA has done the math and prepared the report. Now it’s your turn to ask your U.S. Senators why we’re spending so much interfering with state medical cannabis programs. Email your Senators today about DOJ spending. Click here to take action: .

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