ASA Activist Newsletter - JUNE 2012

Volume 7, Issue 6

Connecticut’s Medical Cannabis Law Signed

Federal Threats No Deterrent to State Lawmakers

On May 31, Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy signed a bill creating a medical cannabis program in the state. Connecticut becomes the nation’s 17th state to remove criminal penalties for patients who use cannabis on a doctor’s advice.

The Connecticut legislature passed the measure earlier in the month despite threats against state lawmakers from federal prosecutors. The US Attorneys in many jurisdictions across the country – including Connecticut, California, Rhode Island, and Washington – have warned state and local officials not to pass or implement medical cannabis laws or face federal prosecution.

'We are encouraged elected officials are moving ahead with important public health laws that benefit their communities,' said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, which worked with local advocates to help pass the Connecticut law. 'Lawmakers in other states should follow their lead in rejecting the intimidation tactics of the Department of Justice.'

Under the new law, qualifying patients may possess up to a one-month supply of usable cannabis. Conditions for which Connecticut residents at least 18 years of age may qualify to register with the state include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s, MS, Crohn’s disease, spinal injury and PTSD. The Department of Consumer Protection may add other conditions at its discretion.

“We hope to soon see the list of qualifying conditions expanded to include chronic pain and others that we know are helped by medical cannabis,” said Sherer. “Removing the prohibition on patients cultivating their own medicine would also be a further step forward. Too many states that rely on centralized distribution have seen delays.”

Connecticut is one of 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed medical cannabis laws. The others are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. In addition, Maryland has a medical cannabis law that reduces penalties for authorized medical use but does not make it completely legal.

Further information:
Text of HB 5389

Calif. Assembly Passes Dispensary Regulations

Stalled Bill Revived by Citizen Lobbying

By a vote of 41-28, the California State Assembly on May 31 passed AB 2312, a bill that would regulate the production and distribution of medical cannabis statewide.

The Medical Marijuana Regulate, Control and Tax Act was thought dead in committee, but it got to the Assembly floor thanks in part to a concerted citizen lobbying effort lead by Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM), a coalition that includes Americans for Safe Access.

'The Assembly has shown leadership in passing needed statewide regulations that will help clarify how medical cannabis should be produced and distributed,' said Don Duncan, ASA’s California Director. 'We urge the State Senate to do the right thing and approve this commonsense approach.'

Although a majority of California’s medical cannabis patients rely on dispensaries, the state has so far left regulation up to its localities. There are currently more than 50 differing local ordinances regulating medical cannabis dispensaries. This patchwork of local laws has created confusion for officials, more work for law enforcement, and forced many people to travel long distances or use the illicit market to obtain their medication.

The bill would create a nine-member appointed board responsible for developing, implementing, and enforcing statewide regulations for dispensaries. Some lawmakers opposed the bill because they said this board would be stacked in favor of patients, since five of the nine members would represent patients, advocates or doctors.

Although regulations would be set at the state level, AB 2312 preserves municipal control over zoning decisions about where dispensaries could operate. The measure would also establish a taxing mechanism that could generate significant revenue for California.

The citizen lobbying effort that helped propel AB 2312 to passage was spearheaded by CRMM, a recently formed statewide coalition of policy reform advocates, medical cannabis businesses, and organized labor. The coalition worked closely with Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D, SF) to introduce AB 2312 earlier this year, then held a Unity Conference in Sacramento in May to coalesce support.

The CRMM conference, which was hosted by ASA, culminated in a Lobby Day that saw more than 300 patients and policy advocates gather at the Capitol to meet with each member of the state legislature and urge them to pass the bill.

AB 2312 is now before the State Senate. It must pass out of committee by July 6 and come to a floor vote by August 31.

Polling by EMC Research shows that 77% of Californians support a regulatory approach like AB 2312.

Further information:
Text of AB 2312

California Supreme Court Affirms Legality of Dispensaries

Court Denies Review of Ruling on Participation, Transport, Extracts

The California Supreme Court has let stand a landmark Court of Appeal ruling on medical cannabis collectives. The court declined to review a decision that says a collective’s members need not participate in its operations, that collectives can cultivate and transport cannabis on behalf of their members, and that cannabis extracts and concentrates are legal.

Law enforcement and the state attorney general had asked the California Supreme Court to overturn the appellate ruling in People v. Colvin, arguing that an undefined percentage of patients are legally required to participate in the operation of a medical cannabis collective in order to obtain medication from it.

The Court of Appeal had rejected that reasoning, saying the attorney general’s interpretation of the law would 'limit drastically the size of medical marijuana establishments,' and 'contravene the intent of [state law] by limiting patients' access to medical marijuana.'

The ruling in People v. Colvin also noted that 'collectives and cooperatives may cultivate and transport marijuana in aggregate amounts tied to its membership numbers' and affirmed that possession of extracted or concentrated forms of medical cannabis is covered by state law.

'The California Supreme Court has recognized, as the appeals court did, that those most in need of medical cannabis are those least able to do the work of cultivating and distributing it,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. 'Allowing collective members to rely on each other, transport their medicine, and use more effective extracts is a commonsense approach to safe access.

A number of medical marijuana dispensary cases were granted review by the California Supreme Court earlier this year, including Pack v. City of Long Beach, Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center, and City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective. The Pack case addresses issues of federal preemption, which have already come before the high court, whereas the Riverside and Lake Forest cases address the issue of whether localities have a right to permanently ban dispensaries.

'The Colvin decision provides better protections for medical cannabis patients and providers, particularly those who have faced prosecution,' said Elford. 'Specifically, it supports our appeal of collective operator Jovan Jackson’s conviction in San Diego, since his prosecution was based on the same argument about member participation.'

Further information:
Court of Appeal decision in People v. Colvin

CRMM Calif. Unity Conference a Success

The California Unity Conference last month drew a diverse group of stakeholders to Sacramento, and ultimately played an instrumental role in passing a statewide dispensary bill in the Assembly.

Organized by the coalition Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) and hosted by ASA at an AFL-CIO office in Sacramento, the event brought 200 advocates together from across the state for two days of strategy and training sessions aimed at advancing favorable state legislation and local regulations. Following that was a Lobby Day on Monday, May 21 that saw 300 patient advocates descend on the state Capitol to bring their message directly to state lawmakers.

After a rally on the steps of the Capitol with Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, sponsor of AB 2312, the Medical Marijuana Regulate, Control and Tax Act, the advocates went from office to office, urging support for that and other measures to ensure consistent safe access everywhere in California.

“The Lobby Day was our crowning achievement,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “We had constituents from 70 of the 80 Assembly Districts and 36 of the 40 Senate districts – a statewide turnout that in the past has only been matched by California’s heaviest-hitting interest groups.”

CRMM is a statewide coalition of policy reform advocates, medical cannabis businesses, and organized labor that includes ASA, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California NORML, and others.

Further information:
ASA CRMM advocacy workbook
State Lawmakers’ video address to the conference

Arizona Considers Dispensary
Applications, New Conditions

In Arizona, last month marked the deadline for dispensary permit applications and a state hearing on expanding the list of qualifying conditions.

The Arizona Department of Health Services has received more than 400 applications from would-be operators of medical cannabis dispensaries, all vying for one of the up to 126 licenses provided for by state law. The department is to name those selected for certification on Aug. 7.

Gov. Jan Brewer had suspended the licensing process over fears that state employees could face federal criminal prosecution. She restarted the process after a judge ruled that the initiative passed by voters requires the state to implement a dispensary program.

The 2010 state law also requires state health officials to periodically consider requests to expand the list of qualifying conditions. The Department of Health Services hearing last month included 2½ hours of testimony from more than two-dozen patients and other concerned citizens who urged officials to include post-traumatic stress syndrome, migraines, depression and general anxiety disorder.

The law currently extends patient protections to those with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, chronic pain, muscle spasms and hepatitis C.

The University of Arizona is working with the Department of Health Services to identify relevant research on various conditions that might be added. Officials have said they are cautious about adding new conditions because the law does not allow them to be removed once added.

More than 28,000 Arizonans are currently registered with the state program, with chronic pain the most common medical condition.

Montana High Court Hears
Distribution Arguments

The Montana Supreme Court last month heard arguments on whether the initiative passed by the state’s voters in 2004 provides a constitutional right to sell medical cannabis.

A lower-court last year ruled unconstitutional the portion of a 2011 law passed by the Legislature that effectively banned sales of medical cannabis.

The Montana Attorney General’s office told the justices that District Judge James Reynolds erred in overturning the 2011 law’s injunction against compensation for cultivators of medical cannabis because there is no right to sell products that are illegal under federal law.

Reynolds ruled that banning payment for cannabis would deprive Montanans of their fundamental rights to pursue their health and livelihoods. As passed by state lawmakers, the law would only allow cultivation by patients and caregivers for up to three qualified patients.
At the time of that bill’s passage, 27,000 Montanans were registered with the state medical cannabis program as patients and 5,000 as providers. That number has dropped to fewer than 10,640 patients and 414 providers.