ASA Activist Newsletter - March 2010

Volume 5, Issue 3

D.C. Holds Hearing on Medical Marijuana

ASA testifies on behalf of patients

Local officials in Washington, D.C. are shaping legislation to make medical marijuana available to patients there, after Congress lifted a ban on implementing a 1998 initiative in the District.

D.C. resident and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access Steph Sherer was among the patients and advocates who appeared before the council at a hearing this month to explain why they should use care in restricting access to medical marijuana.

"A lot of regulations look good on paper but don't really help patients," Sherer told the members of the council's judiciary and public health committees. She urged the council not to limit patients to receiving recommendations only from their primary care physicians, explaining that chronically ill patients frequently see many specialists, and those that specialize in cannabis therapies are no different.

The D.C. council is wrestling with regulatory amendments for implementing Initiative 59, which was approved directly by District voters. In addition to restrictions on who can write recommendations for medical cannabis, officials are considering limiting what conditions patients could be treated for, who will be permitted to work in dispensaries, and where the cannabis would be cultivated.

Officials have said they are concerned because any legislative action taken by the council must be approved by Congress. Council Chairman Vincent Gray co-introduced the proposed legislation with council members David Catania and Phil Mendelson.

"This is a great first step, and we are confident that after hearing from patients in the District, the Council will make the necessary improvements," said Sherer.

Further Information:
Proposed D.C. legislation to implement I-59
Text of I-59, as passed in 1998.

Maryland May Be 15th Medical Cannabis State

Advocates and patients testify before state lawmakers

Patients and advocates testified before Maryland state legislators this month in support of new legislation to make medical marijuana legal in the state. The hearings of the House Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee addressed concerns about the proposed law's restrictions.

"We applaud the Maryland legislature for recognizing the need to protect medical marijuana patients," said Caren Woodson, ASA Government Affairs Director. "But this bill falls short of meeting the fundamental needs of patients."

The proposed measure -- HB712, introduced by Maryland House Delegate Dan Morhaim, M.D. -- would replace the state's current medical marijuana law, the Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act, which was adopted in 2003. Existing law provides for patients who use and possess cannabis for medical treatment to receive misdemeanor convictions with maximum fines of $100.

The new legislation would put the state's health department in charge of the medical marijuana program, including the licensing of patients, caregivers, large-scale growers, and distributors. Patients would b e prohibited from cultivating any cannabis themselves and could only legally possess two ounces or less of medicine.

Further information:
Maryland's new proposed medical marijuana law HB712
ASA Legislative Memo re: Maryland proposed law
Darrel Putnam Compassionate Use Act (current law)

ASA Argues Against Dispensary Bans in Calif.

State Senator files brief in support

In a case with profound implications for safe access in California, new briefs were filed with a state appeals court this month, arguing that local governments cannot legally impose bans on medical cannabis dispensaries.

Americans for Safe Access and State Senator Mark Leno both told the court in their filings that the law adopted by the legislature bars city and county officials from using nuisance statutes to prevent cannabis from being distributed through retail storefront locations. Senator leno co-authored California's 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420) when he was an Assemblymember.

"The City of Anaheim cannot hide behind federal law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the case before the court in September. "Local governments cannot simply ban an activity that has been deemed lawful by the state."

Although more than 40 California localities have adopted ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensing collectives, or dispensaries, more than 120 cities have permanently banned such activity. A decision is expected within the next two months.

Further information:
Mark Leno's amicus brief on legislative intent
ASA's amicus brief on nuisance statutes
Original ASA amicus brief in Anaheim case
List of dispensary regulations and bans in California

ASA Files Suit Over Dispensary Rules in LA

Restrictive rules on where medical cannabis dispensaries can operate in the city of Los Angeles have prompted Americans for Safe Access to file suit against the city.

Once the new ordinance takes effect in LA, dispensaries will have to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries, churches and other "sensitive uses," and cannot abut or be across the street from any residence. Those dispensaries operating in locations that do not comply with the buffer zoneswhich is all but a handfulwould only have seven days to find a new location, but the restrictions exclude the majority of the city's commercial areas.

ASA's suit on behalf of two of the dispensaries, Venice Beach Care Center and PureLife Alternative Wellness, says this violates due process protections.

"Requiring patient collectives that have been operating for years to move on a week's notice is already unreasonable," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "To then prevent them for relocating to virtually any area of the city, and without providing them with maps of where they can operate, is simply outrageous. This is a de facto ban."

Despite taking more than two years to develop regulations, the city council imposed the new rules without seeing maps of where the location restrictions would permit dispensaries to operate.

Further information:
Lawsuit filed by Americans for Safe Access
City of Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary ordinance.

Medical Marijuana Week a National Success

Now in its eighth year, Americans for Safe Access' Medical Marijuana Awareness Week has become a national phenomenon, with events designed to raise awareness of medical cannabis issues. Medical Marijuana Week is scheduled each year for the week including February 15, in recognition of California's Proposition 215, the nation's first law permitting therapeutic use of cannabis.

Events spanned the country, from California and Washington to Oklahoma and Florida. Here are a few highlights from ASA chapters and affiliates:

In Birmingham, Alabama, Alabamians for Compassionate Care and Alabama NORML kicked off Medical Marijuana Week with a celebration that included a pot luck dinner, fellowship, speakers, and a march through town."

In Olympia, Washington, the Olympia Patient Resource Center held a seminar on "Learn to Grow Medical Marijuana."

In Sunrise, Florida, People United For Medical Marijuana hosted a potluck rally to strengthen ties within the community and then gathered signatures in support of a medical cannabis law in Florida.

In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Compassionate Care Campaign organized patients and activists to meet with their state representatives in support of new legislation being offered. The campaign provided volunteers to support all who participated.

In Napa, California, activists held a free seminar on "Understanding the Legal and Safety Aspects of Responsibly Using Medical Cannabis" at the public library to educate the community about the history of cannabis, legal information, and safety standards.

The ASA chapter in San Francisco held their Annual Seed Planting at City Hall. The event featured snacks and singing leading up to the symbolic seed planting at 2:15 pm. ASA San Francisco closed out the week with a fundraising party. Also in San Francisco, Greenway held meetings in two locations on separate days with Dr. Melissa Soriano as a featured speaker, and such special guests as former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan.

Across the Bay in Richmond, California, Seven Stars held a patient appreciation party to benefit ASA with a movies, a DJ, food, and patient grab bags. In San Jose, California, the Silicon Valley chapter of ASA also held a fun fundraiser, and Sacramento ASA hosted a mixer for patients that included door prizes, music, raffles and refreshments.

In Oakland, the ASA staff hosted a volunteer day that let activists get to know the ASA office staff and volunteers. Also in Oakland, Oaksterdam University held a fundraiser featuring fun games, with half the proceeds benefiting ASA.

"This was the most successful year ever," said ASA Field Director Sanjeev Bery, who coordinated events with ASA chapters and affiliates throughout the U.S. "The grassroots energy across the country is inspiring action at all levels, and this week is a great way to focus it for the year ahead."

Researchers Report on State-Funded Studies

Six completed clinical trials show cannabis effective

A series of 14 studies of medical marijuana funded by the state of California has confirmed that the drug is uniquely effective for relieving neuropathic pain and reducing muscle spasms, among other conditions.

"This report further confirms the claims of ASA's Data Quality Act petition," said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson. "The law requires the federal government to acknowledge the science and admit that marijuana has medical uses."

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research issued a report on the 10-year program as part of its mandate by the state legislature, which established the center to fund and coordinate research at campuses of the University of California. Results of only five of the 14 studies have been published to date, with a sixth completed but not yet published. The remaining studies have not yet been completed.

Pain relief was the focus of many of the double-blind placebo-controlled studies in the $8.7-million research effort. Two showed that smoked cannabis was effective for hard-to-treat pain in HIV patients. One demonstrated that cannabis is effective for relieving neuropathic pain related to spinal cord injuries and other conditions. Another study found that higher doses of cannabis produced more relief in subjects who had pain induced via chemical heat.

The fifth study compared smoking cannabis to the use of a vaporization device, which subjects found effective and preferable to smoking.

The sixth completed study, which has not been published, found that smoked marijuana reduced spasticity and associated pain for patients with multiple sclerosis.

The studies published to date appeared in the peer-reviewed journals Neurology, Neuropsychopharmacology, Journal of Pain, Anesthesiology, and Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

Further information:
The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research report.