ASA Activist Newsletter - June 2011
June 01, 2011
Volume 6, Issue 6
Petition to classify cannabis as having medical use pending for nine yearsAfter nearly a decade of waiting for action by the federal government on a formal petition to re-classify cannabis as having medical use, the coalition of patients and advocacy groups that filed it have gone to court for an answer.
The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC), ASA, Patients Out of Time, and individually named patients filed papers in the federal DC Circuit Court to compel the Obama Administration to answer the 2002 petition to reclassify medical cannabis.
"The federal government's strategy has been delay, delay, delay," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who is the lead attorney for the action. "It is far past time for the government to answer our rescheduling petition. Since they are being unreasonable, we’re asking the court for resolution."
In 2006 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) passed on its recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the final arbiter in the rescheduling process, but the DEA has refused to respond. The writ of mandamus filed last month argues that the five-year delay violates the Administrative Procedures Act.
On average, it takes six months from HHS review to final action. The five-year delay on the CRC petition is more than twice as long as any other rescheduling petition reviewed since 2002.
"The Obama Administration's refusal to act on this petition is an irresponsible stalling tactic," said Jon Gettman, who filed the rescheduling petition on behalf of the CRC.
A formal rejection of the petition would enable the coalition to challenge in court the government's claim that marijuana has no medical value.
“We have more than just the hundreds of scientific studies demonstrating how effective and safe a medicine cannabis is,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, who is a named plaintiff in the case. “The government’s own reviews come to the same conclusion, and their National Cancer Institute describes it as a Complementary Alternative Medicine.”
Currently, cannabis is classified under federal law as a Schedule I substance with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
The two largest physician groups in the country -- the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians -- have each called on the federal government to review that classification.
THC, the chemical in cannabis that produces psychoactive effects, is a Schedule III drug marketed in synthetic form as Marinol®. Pharmaceutical companies vying to create less-expensive generic versions are petitioning the government to be allowed to extract natural THC from the plant.
The CRC legal action on rescheduling
ASA backgrounder on rescheduling
CRC rescheduling petition
2006 HHS recommendation
2011 DEA Position on Marijuana
ASA Supports Bills to Reschedule, Protect Financial Services and Rein in IRSThree bipartisan medical cannabis bills were introduced in Congress last month 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.
The most significant of the three bills is HR 1983, the State's Medical Marijuana Protection Act of 2011, which provides a medical necessity defense for patients and caregivers facing charges in federal court. Introduced by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), HR 1983 also reclassifies marijuana from a Schedule I substance with no medical use to Schedule III, a level that would allow doctors to prescribe it like other medications. Congress put cannabis in Schedule I more than 40 years ago as part of the Controlled Substances Act.
"The time has come for the federal government to stop preempting states' medical marijuana laws," Rep. Frank said. "This bill would block the federal prosecution of patients in states that allow medical marijuana."
The financial services bill, HR 1984, the Small Business Banking Improvement Act of 2011, will allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to medical marijuana businesses without being subject to "suspicious activity" reporting requirements. Wells Fargo, CitiCorp and Bank of America are among the institutions that have summarily closed bank and other financial services accounts of medical cannabis providers under pressure from the Department of Treasury. Introduced by Representative Jared Polis (D-CO), HR 1984 is cosponsored by Reps. Frank, Pete Stark (D-CA) and Ron Paul (R-TX).
"In states that have legalized medical marijuana, and for businesses that have been state-approved, it is simply wrong for the federal government to intrude and threaten banks that are involved in legal transactions," said Rep. Polis.
The IRS bill, 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." Introduced by Rep. Stark, the bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Reps. Frank, Polis, Paul, and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
"Our tax code undercuts legal medical marijuana dispensaries by preventing them from taking all the deductions allowed for other small businesses," Rep. Stark said.
The IRS has been aggressively auditing dozens of the most successful medical cannabis dispensing centers, disallowing their operating expense deductions and claiming back taxes.
"Each of these bills will help the hundreds of thousands of Americans who rely on medical cannabis to treat their medical conditions, while having virtually no effect on anyone else," said Steph Sherer, ASA Executive Director. "These bills will update federal policy to better reflect the reality of state medical cannabis programs."
Rescheduling bill (Frank)
Banking bill (Polis)
IRS bill (Stark)
New and improved programs for patients and activistsIn support of the new legislative initiatives in Congress, Americans for Safe Access last month launched three new and improved programs for medical cannabis patients and advocates. Dubbed ASA 3.0, the programs equip patient advocates with new lobbying tools, an online information center, and an online tool for rapid response to federal raids.
The programs were developed in response to feedback and ideas generated in the medical cannabis stakeholders’ meetings ASA has been holding across the nation.
The "Medical Cannabis Think Tank and Policy Shop" is a new lobbying tool that provides activists the information and support they need to analyze pending or proposed legislation and to lobby officials for the best laws possible.
“While state medical cannabis laws vary tremendously, the needs of patients remain consistent across the nation,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer in announcing the new programs. “Many regulations look good on paper, but their impact can be detrimental to the patients they seek to help.”
The new "ASA Online Training Center" gives patients and activists access to all the training and educational materials ASA has developed over many years. The Online Training Center includes more than four hours of streaming video presentations and over 400 pages of instruction manuals and worksheets for developing the skills effective advocates need.
“Advocates asked for support in developing a grassroots community, so we created the Online Training Center,” said Sherer. “If we are going to keep the safe access we have now and build on it, we will need to fight at every level of the political spectrum.”
ASA has also improved its "Raid Response Center" to help patients, providers and advocates better cope with aggressive federal interference. The Rapid Response Center includes information on how to both prepare for and respond to law enforcement actions.
“Unfortunately, state laws provide no protection from the federal government,” said Sherer. “That’s why we’ve taken ASA’s proven raid response trainings across the nation and created the Raid Response Center.”
In conjunction with the launch of these new and improved programs, ASA and other advocacy groups went to court in Washington D.C. to compel the federal government to answer a nine-year-old petition to reclassify cannabis as a drug with medical use.
ASA Think Tank
ASA Online Training Center
ASA Raid Response Center
Maryland’s SB 308 is an improvement on its previous medical cannabis law, which only allowed for a reduced criminal penalty in cases of medical necessity. Under the new law, qualified patients who possess an ounce or less of cannabis will no longer be guilty of a misdemeanor, but some patients are still vulnerable to punitive $100 fines.
"We welcome improvements to Maryland's medical cannabis law," said Kristen Ford, Field Director with ASA. "But the law falls short of the basic protections offered in all other medical marijuana states, so we look forward to working with the legislature next year to pass improvements."
Under the new law, Maryland is establishing a working group to develop proposals for protecting patients from prosecution and establishing state-regulated distribution centers.
In Delaware, the new medical cannabis law allows people 18 and older with certain serious or debilitating conditions to possess up to six ounces of cannabis. Qualifying conditions are more restricted than in many states, but include cancer, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, and Multiple Sclerosis.
Under the bill, qualifying patients will have access to state-licensed and regulated compassion centers, which will be responsible for growing, cultivating and dispensing the marijuana. Each of the three counties will have initially have one dispensary after a year and a half, and patients may obtain up to six ounces a month. After two and a half years, the total number of dispensing centers may expand to six.
Maryland SB 308
Delaware SB 17
ACTION ALERT: Tell Congress to Support the New Bills
Do your part to change federal law! Our allies in Congress have introduced critical legislation to protect medical cannabis patients and providers. But they need your support to get it passed. Take a minute to contact your Representative in the House today! Urge your Rep to sign on as a sponsor of these three important bills: HR 1983, 1984 and 1985.
You can reach your Representative by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. Or take action online now at AmericansForSafeAccess.org/NewBills.