ASA Activist Newsletter - Oct 2015

In This Issue:

  • Kettle Falls Patients Get Federal Prison Sentences
  • New Bill Takes on Asset Seizures and Cannabis Eradication
  • California Regulations on Governor’s Desk
  • Maryland Opens Medical Cannabis Applications
  • California Passes Comprehensive Regulations
  • Study Confirms Long-term Cannabis Use Is Safe
  • National Medical Association Urges Rescheduling
  • ACTION ALERT: Sign the Pardon Petition


Kettle Falls Patients Get Federal Prison Sentences

President Obama Urged to Pardon All Three Defendants and End Prosecutions

Federal prison sentences were handed down Oct. 2 for the three remaining defendants in the Kettle Falls Five case in Washington State. The case has received national attention as an example of federal interference with state-qualified medical cannabis patients, and lobbying by Larry Harvey, a defendant in the case who died last month from cancer, was instrumental in getting Congress to restrict Department of Justice enforcement in states with medical cannabis laws.

Larry Harvey’s widow, Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, and her daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg were each sentenced to one year and a day. Rhonda’s son, Rolland Gregg, received a sentence of 33 months. All three were released pending appeal.

They were each charged with multiple federal felonies that carried stiff mandatory minimum sentences after a 2012 raid on the family’s personal cannabis garden in rural Washington State, even though there was no evidence of distribution and the garden was clearly marked as medical. The defendants were barred from raising a medical necessity defense, despite being qualified patients in Washington State. The jury acquitted them of all the government’s primary charges but found them guilty of “manufacturing” fewer than 100 plants.

“Federal prison time for patients who were participating in an established state medical cannabis program is an embarrassment to our judicial system and a violation of the restrictions Congress placed on the DOJ,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “We’re calling on President Obama to pardon all three defendants immediately.”

Prosecutors dropped charges against the terminally ill Larry Harvey just days before the case went to trial. The fifth defendant, family friend Jason Zucker, pleaded guilty and received a 16-month sentence after cooperating with the prosecution. He is free pending an appeal of his sentence.

Thanks in part to lobbying by Larry Harvey, Congress has now twice enacted the Rohrabacher-Farr amendments to the DOJ budget that ban it from interfering with state medical cannabis programs. The landmark amendment was signed into law by President Obama late last year.

In an April 8, 2015 letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder, amendment co-authors Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) cited “criminal prosecutions, like the recent Kettle Falls case in Washington” as examples of what the amendment was intended to stop. Rohrbacher and Farr have called on the Inspector General's Office to launch an investigation into federal raids and prosecutions of state-legal medical cannabis activities protected under the amendment.

Earlier this year the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the Rohrabacher-Farr medical cannabis amendment by an even wider margin, voting in favor 242 to 186. The amendment passed the Senate Appropriations Committee 22-8.

More Information:

Petition to Pardon the 3 defendants
Rohrabacher-Farr Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder
Rohrabacher-Farr Letter Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz
Medical Marijuana Patients Applaud House Reauthorization of Rohrabacher-Farr CJS Amendment
Senate Vote Reaffirms Congressional Support to End of Federal Interference In State-Level Medical Marijuana Programs


New Bill Takes on Asset Seizures and Cannabis Eradication

A new bill in the House would prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using civil asset forfeitures to fund cannabis enforcement. In introducing HR 3518, the “Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act,” Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) noted the DEA spent $18 million on cutting down cannabis plants last year, resulting in 6,310 arrests.

“As multiple states legalize marijuana across our nation, it is a huge waste of federal resources for the DEA to eradicate marijuana,” said Lieu. “The federal government should focus its precious resources on other issues and let the states innovate in the cannabis field.”

If enacted, the bill would also ban transferring seized property to any federal, state or local agencies “for any purpose pertaining to” the DEA’s cannabis eradication program. In 2013, the DEA got $18 million in seized property and funds, which it distributed to over 120 local and state agencies to target cannabis cultivation. The DEA claims the program destroyed more than 4.3 million plants this year, with more than half of those in California.

In 1985, federal forfeiture amounted to $27 million. By 2013, it was $2 billion. The DEA says it should receive $210 million of those funds this year.

The House of Representatives has already adopted by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Lieu to cut funding for the DEA’s cannabis eradication program by half. The money saved is to go toward deficit reduction and victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

This bill is another attempt to rein in asset forfeiture actions. Early this year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) introduced again the “Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration (FAIR) Act” in the House (HR.540) and the Senate (S.255). The FAIR Act would make it more difficult for federal agencies to seize and keep property and require any forfeiture proceeds to be deposited in the General Fund of the Treasury instead of being kept by the agency that seized it. The House bill currently has 85 bipartisan cosponsors; the Senate version is before the Judiciary Committee.

Under current law, property owners do not need to be convicted of a crime or even charged to lose their property. Citizens in civil forfeiture proceedings do not have a right to an attorney and must prove their innocence to reclaim their property. Current law creates incentives for property seizures because law enforcement agencies can keep whatever they seize.

Medical cannabis patients and providers have been routinely targeted by federal civil asset forfeiture proceedings, and federal prosecutors have used it to close hundreds of dispensaries.  


California Regulations on Governor’s Desk

Nearly 20 years since California voters made medical cannabis legal, their state legislators have finally passed a trio of bills that would establish comprehensive regulation and licensing of commercial distribution. Governor Jerry Brown has until October 11 to sign or veto the bills. If he does nothing, they become law.

On September 11, the final day of the legislative session, the Assembly and Senate slammed the three bills through, after unveiling them midday. Lawmakers had seen a host of medical cannabis bills introduced, amended, and combined, before pulling them all at the 11th hour at the behest of the governor. Staffers worked behind closed doors through the beginning of the month on three linked bills: Assembly Bills 243 and 266 and Senate Bill 643.

Assemblymember Bonta's press conference urgin signatures on the medical cannabis bills with Don Duncan at right

“History has shown that regulatory oversight can improve community outcomes and protect patient access to reliable medicine,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California Director. “Establishing medical cannabis regulation now before the state establishes an adult-use recreational system next year is extremely important for preserving a program that serves patients.”

Taken together, they delegate regulation and licensing of commercial medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, transportation, and distribution. Personal cultivation and collective gardens of five patients or fewer will remain options for patients, though a last-minute change limits individuals to 100 sq.ft. of cultivation space. ASA strongly opposes that limit and will work with legislators and regulators to modify it.

ASA successfully lobbied to exempt personal cultivation from commercial regulatory rules and to move proposed oversight from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to the Department of Consumer Affairs, where a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation will be created.  ASA also helped stop a proposed state-wide production tax on commercial cannabis cultivation.  

“Licensing and regulation will ensure higher quality standards and increased product safety, legally protect industry workers, and help reduce public ambivalence about the medical cannabis program,” said Kristin Nevedal, Director of ASA’s Patient Focused Certification program. “But no law is perfect, and we will urge legislators to revisit several aspects of these bills, such as the limits on personal cultivation and barriers to vertical integration of the medical cannabis industry.”

Further Information:

Assemblymember Bonta’s press conference with ASA’s Don Duncan and others, asking the governor to sign the bills
Why Regulations Are Good for Patients in California
Assembly Bill 243 Text
Assembly Bill 266 Text
Senate Bill 643 Text


Maryland Opens Medical Cannabis Application Process

PFC Program Hosting Informational Event for Interested Companies

Maryland has begun accepting applications for operating medical cannabis businesses in the state, with a deadline of November 6. Separate licenses will be issued for cultivating, processing and dispensing medical cannabis. A maximum of 15 cultivation facilities and up to two dispensaries for each of the state’s 47 senate districts will be licensed. The number of processor licenses is yet to be determined.

The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.says it expects to complete its selection process by sometime mid-January, depending on how many applications are received. Once approved, licensees will have one year to complete the remaining licensing requirements, including local zoning, and request final inspection.Assemblymember Bonta's press conference urgin signatures on the medical cannabis bills with Don Duncan at right

Maryland regulations require medical cannabis professionals to meet extensive training requirements and comply with the most robust product safety protocols in the country. ASA’s Patient Focused Certification program (PFC) is under contract with the State of Maryland to train all compliance inspectors for its medical cannabis program.

PFC will be hosting an education and networking event for those interested in applying on October 12 from 5:30 – 9:00pm at the Hilton Baltimore.  Leading industry experts will cover how to adequately prepare for the application process, including best practices for satisfying regulatory requirements. Speakers include ASA Lead Scientist Jahan Marcu, Ph.D., who is Chief Auditor for the PFC program, PFC Program Director Kristin Nevedal, and ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer.

The PFC training and education program prepares individuals to comply with state and local regulations and meet industry best-practice standards. PFC training is currently mandated by the Department of Public Health in the District of Columbia for all staff working in the DC medical cannabis program.


Study Confirms Long-term Cannabis Use Is Safe

A study of patients using medical cannabis to control chronic pain has confirmed that prolonged use is safe. Researchers found that pain patients using medical cannabis were no more likely to suffer serious adverse events than non-cannabis patients.

The “Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study (COMPASS)” was published online last month in the Journal of Pain. COMPASS included chronic pain patients using medical cannabis and a control group that was not, all selected from seven Canadian pain clinics.

The principal investigator for the study was Mark Ware, M.D., Director of Clinical Research of the Alan Edwards Pain Management Unit at the McGill University Health Centre and Executive Director of the non-profit Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids.

“This is the first and largest study of the long-term safety of medical cannabis use by patients suffering from chronic pain, ever conducted,” said Dr. Ware. “We found that medical cannabis, when used by patients who are experienced users and as part of a monitored treatment program for chronic pain over one year, appears to have a reasonable safety profile.”

 “Dr. Ware’s research clinically documents how safe medical cannabis can be for pain management,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “This study is an example of the type of research we can expect in America once federal barriers are removed.”

U.S. research is hampered by the classification of cannabis is listed as Schedule I drug, the most highly restricted category. The National Institutes of Drug Abuse is still the only source for research cannabis in the U.S. despite a ruling from a DEA Administrative Law Judge that more federal cultivation licenses should be issued.

More Information:
Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study (COMPASS)


National Medical Association Urges Rescheduling

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), one of the largest medical organizations in the United States, is calling for changing the federal classification of cannabis to a drug with medical uses.

The resolution adopted last month at the AAFP’s annual meeting in Denver states, “Drug Enforcement Administration scheduling of marijuana as a Schedule I drug prevents funding and legalization of research on the pharmacological properties of cannabinoids.”  The doctors group says “reclassifying marijuana … will facilitate further research on the potential medical uses of pharmaceutical cannabinoids.” Cannabis is currently classified as among the most highly dangerous drugs with no currently accepted medical uses.

The AAFP  represents more than 120,000 doctors, residents and medical students.


ACTION ALERT: Sign the Pardon Petition for the Kettle Falls Five

Sign the petition today calling on President Obama to pardon the three Kettle falls Five defendants.

Despite Congress telling federal prosecutors to stop interfering in state medical cannabis programs, three of the patients charged in the Kettle Falls Five case have been sentenced to federal prison terms and fines. Even though they were acquitted of 4 of 5 charges and only convicted of a single lesser charge related to cultivating for themselves under Washington State's medical cannabis program, they will each go to prison for more than a year at an enormous cost to taxpayers. 

We urge you to take action to ask President Obama to issue immediate orders of commutation and remission of jail time and fines for Rolland Gregg (sentenced to 2 years, 9 months; 3 years supervised release; $7,500 fine), his wife Michelle Gregg (1 year, 1 day; 3 years supervised release), and his mother Rhonda Firestack-Harvey (1 year, 1 day; 3 years supervised release). Additionally, we are asking for complete pardons of their convictions so that they are no longer considered felons.

Rhonda, Rolland, and Michelle deserve to get on with their lives and return to being the productive members of society that they were before this ordeal began.

Take a minute now to sign the White House petition.


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