ASA Activist Newsletter - November 2010

Volume 5, Issue 11

Initiatives Fail in Oregon, South Dakota but Arizona Close to Win

Statewide medical cannabis ballot issues had mixed results on Election Day around the country with measures to create or expand patient protections failing in Oregon and South Dakota, while one in Arizona is poised to win. At the same time, voters in California and Colorado approved expanded access in their local communities and rejected dispensary bans.

In Arizona, a win is near for Proposition 203, a state initiative that would fix problematic language that has kept their previous medical cannabis initiative from being implemented. The measure was ahead by 4,421 votes with roughly 10,000 still to count at the end of the week.

In Oregon, where medical cannabis has been legal for more than a decade, voters declined to expand their state's medical cannabis law to allow state-licensed non-profits to cultivate and distribute cannabis to authorized patients.

In South Dakota, voters rejected Measure 13, the South Dakota Safe Access Act, which would have shielded qualified medical cannabis users from prosecution.

'Poll after poll shows the vast majority of Americans support safe and legal access to medical cannabis,' said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. 'The results of election night show that we have even more work to do educating and mobilizing the American people so that we have laws that reflect that.'

Control of the U.S. House of Representatives shifted from Democrats to Republicans, but at least two states, Connecticut and Vermont, gained governors who have stated their support for medical cannabis.

'It is more important than ever that ASA bring an educated and empowered constituency with real solutions to the table,' said Sherer. 'We have to show policymakers how to bridge the divide between federal and state laws regarding medical cannabis.”

California AG Race a Nail Biter

ASA Analysis Projects Democrat to Win

One of the closest, and most closely watched, state races in the country is the contest for California Attorney General, where absentee and provisional ballots are still being counted. ASA analysis of the remaining ballots projects Democrat Kamala Harris to win.

The election pitted the district attorneys from Los Angeles and San Francisco against each other, with Republican operative Karl Rove taking the side of LA's Steve Cooley and medical cannabis advocates supporting Harris.

A dramatic election night saw Cooley take an early lead as conservative rural counties reported,. Cooley declared victory early, before the tide turned as results from the state's urban centers came in. Then it became apparent that his home county was going against him by a sizeable margin. Before the night was out, he had cancelled his press conference for the next morning, and Harris had taken a narrow lead of a few thousand votes out of more than 7 million tallied.

As of the day after the election, 2.3 million ballots remained uncounted among 51 counties. If each county's remaining ballots were to split between the candidates by the same percentage as those counted on Election Day, calculations show Cooley would end up with 9,000 votes more than Harris.

But now that slightly more than half those absentee and provisional ballots have been counted, applying that same mathematical model to the remaining uncounted ballots shows Harris with an advantage of more than 11,000 votes. This means Harris is getting roughly 2% more votes from absentee and provisional ballots than she did on Election Day.

If that trend holds true for the remaining million ballots, Harris's final margin of victory projects to be in the range of 0.3% or 30,000 votes out of the more than 9.6 million cast.

'After she trailed in all the polls, this remarkable result for Kamala Harris shows the political strength of patient advocates,' said ASA California Director Don Duncan. 'Our efforts to educate the public about Steve Cooley's record made the difference, particularly on his home turf of LA, where he lost by 14 points.'

California county elections officials must report their final results to the Secretary of State by December 3, and the Secretary of State then has seven days to certify the results. A recount can be requested within five days by any voter or candidate, but they must provide a cash deposit to pay for it.

ASA and other medical cannabis advocates became involved in this race because Cooley's record in LA shows him to be an ardent opponent of safe access who has actively undermined local efforts at regulating dispensaries. ASA created a website,, to educate the public on not just his opposition to California's medical cannabis program but also his poor record on environmental issues, women's rights, and marriage equality.

On the other side, Karl Rove's political action committee dumped $1 million into last-minute ads on behalf of Cooley.

While elections for Attorney General rarely get as much attention as other statewide races, whoever occupies the position plays a critical role in the interpretation and enforcement of law and policy, from environmental laws and the health care reform bill to access to medical cannabis and prosecution of patients.

Record Number of Calif. Local Cannabis Measures

In addition to the statewide initiative to make cannabis legal for all adults, California voters faced an unprecedented number of local ballot measures on cannabis regulation this election.

From increased taxes on medical cannabis dispensaries, to the licensing of large-scale cultivation, to bans on distribution of medical marijuana, voters in more than a dozen municipalities were asked to make decisions that would affect the lives of patients.

Voters in Santa Barbara and Morro Bay soundly defeated measures that would have banned distribution of medical cannabis in their cities.

Meanwhile, measures to impose taxes on medical cannabis distribution were approved in 10 California cities, most by large margins. The levels of taxes imposed by these initiatives ranged from 2.5 percent in Berkeley and Stockton to 10 percent in San Jose and La Puente. Albany, Long Beach, Oakland, Rancho Cordova, Richmond and Sacramento were the other cities approving special dispensary taxes.

'Voters understand the need for safe access and the important contribution dispensaries can make in their communities,' said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. 'But patients are being over-taxed and under-protected.'

Cash reimbursements for medical cannabis are subject to sales tax in California, and the Board of Equalization estimates that dispensaries collected as much as $100 million in sales tax this past year. Prescription medications are exempt from sales tax in the state, but since cannabis can only be recommended and not prescribed, it is subject to state and local sales tax, in addition to any special levies.

Medical cannabis cultivation was the subject of local measures, too. In Fresno, voters passed an ordinance banning all outdoor cultivation, despite state law allowing it. While Rancho Cordova approved a fee of up to $900 per square foot for gardens, which would mean that even the smallest indoor gardens would be subject to a tax of tens of thousands of dollars. Both measures are ripe for legal challenge as infringing on the constitutional rights of patients.

Colo. Voters OK Dispensaries in 7 Locales

Colorado faced a large number of local measures on regulating medical cannabis, with voters approving dispensaries or commercial cultivation facilities in at least six counties and two cities. They will join 19 other Colorado cities with regulated access to medical cannabis for qualified patients.

'Colorado voters have helped ensure that their neighbors have safe, community-based access to the medicine they need,' said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, an ASA affiliate. 'These communities will also benefit from the new tax revenue and jobs these locally regulated centers create.'

Voters in a number of Colorado municipalities appear to have narrowly defeated measures to allow local dispensaries, but many of these votes remain close .

Colorado counties that approved dispensaries in this election are Alamosa, Costilla, Eagle, El Paso and Park. Garfield County approved licensed cultivation centers but not dispensaries. The cities of Frasier and Minturn also approved dispensing centers.

Medical Cannabis Raids in Bay Area Spark Protests

Meth Task Force Targets Dispensaries; Dozens Arrested

Patients and advocates were out in force twice this past month in San Jose, protesting recent raids on medical cannabis dispensaries.

The Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team, a local multi-agency police force tasked with fighting methamphetamine trafficking and gang activity, has carried out several raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and arrested as many as three dozen people for providing medicine to qualified patients. More than 100 pounds of medical cannabis and other property was also seized.

The first protest and press conference on October 14 was held at the local courthouse to demand the dismissal of charges against those arrested in raids on October 1 and 7. The second was at the November 9 San Jose City Council meeting following yet another raid at just two days after city voters approved Measure U, a tax plan for the dispensaries targeted by the task force.

'The City of San Jose must put a stop to this harmful campaign a,' said Lauren Vazquez, of ASA's Silicon Valley chapter. 'Voters have again expressed their support for community-based solutions for safe access, and local officials are accountable for law enforcement's failure to respect that.'

After the protest at the San Jose City Council meeting, ASA staff members provided a 'Know Your Rights' training for patients and caregivers, and helped develop a local raid alert system.

The City Council is currently deliberating on a local ordinance that would regulate and license the more than eighty dispensaries currently operating in San Jose.