ASA Activist Newsletter - OCTOBER 2011

Volume 6, Issue 10

Study Shows Medical Cannabis Dispensaries Cut Crime

RAND Report Confirms ASA Findings on Regulated Collectives

A report from the respected RAND Corporation has confirmed that medical cannabis dispensaries do not increase crime in their neighborhoods. On the contrary, they reduce it.

The report compared crime reported in areas around dispensaries in Los Angeles while they were operating and after they were closed by order of the LA City Council, as well as those that remained open. RAND found that crime rates more than doubled in the neighborhoods where the medical cannabis collectives were forced to close.

That finding is consistent with statewide data gathered in California over many years by Americans for Safe Access (ASA). Public officials from one end of the state to the other have reported that sound regulations for the operation of dispensaries have resulted in less crime and fewer community complaints.

“Regulated dispensaries don’t just provide safe access for the elderly and most seriously ill,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “They make the community safer.”

The RAND study examined Los Angeles crime data within a 10-day window before and after June 7, 2010, the date on which the LA City Council ordered the vast majority of the city’s 600-plus dispensaries to close. RAND compared crime reports between neighborhoods where dispensaries closed and those where dispensaries remained open. A total of 600 were included -- 170 dispensaries that remained open and 430 that were ordered closed.

The researchers found that within three blocks of a closed dispensary, crime increased an average of 60 percent.

The impact of medical cannabis dispensaries on crime in their communities has been a source of debate for more than a decade. Opponents to medical cannabis collectives in Los Angeles and elsewhere have argued that dispensaries are “magnets” for criminal activity.

Yet banks attract far more crime than dispensaries, according to the Los Angeles Police Chief, who reviewed the previous year’s statistics for the city in 2010. And a 2007 study by a UCLA researcher found that you are safer within 100 feet of a medical cannabis dispensary than you are that close to a restaurant, bar or liquor store.

“The additional safety medical cannabis dispensaries provide should come as no surprise,” said Sherer. “They add a clear security presence to their neighborhoods that benefits everyone.”

More than five dozen California cities and counties have established regulations for the safe distribution of medical cannabis in their communities. Other medical cannabis states such as Maine and New Mexico have established state-regulated distribution systems to provide medicine to qualified patients.

Arizona, Washington and Rhode Island are among the states that had or were considering regulated distribution programs but have halted them after receiving threats of federal prosecution from the U.S. Attorney’s office in their states.

More information:
RAND Study on Dispensaries and Crime
ASA Report on Dispensary Regulations

Patients’ Right to Bear Arms Challenged

ATF Tells Gun Dealers Not to Sell to State Card Holders

Federal firearms dealers were notified last month that they cannot legally sell weapons to any medical cannabis patients. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) sent the gun dealers a memo citing federal law that says no one who is “an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance' may legally possess a firearm or ammunition. The memo specifically notes that having a medical cannabis registration card is grounds for classifying a potential firearm or ammunition purchaser as an unlawful user or drug addict.

“Stripping citizens of their Second Amendment rights solely because they follow their doctor’s advice is outrageous,” said ASA spokesman Kris Hermes. “Qualified patients who comply with state law should not be prevented from owning guns or otherwise exercising their constitutional rights.”

The ATF said they issued the memo in response to 'a number of inquiries about the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and its applicability to federal firearms laws.' While this is the first federal intrusion into the right of medical cannabis patients to purchase firearms or ammunition, federal prosecutors have sought and obtained harsher sentences for patients convicted of marijuana offenses who also possessed guns.

'All medical cannabis patients should be aware of the serious legal risks,' said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel. 'The possession of a firearm can result in sentencing enhancements and additional charges, and just signing the federal form to purchase a firearm may make them subject to a $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison.”

The Montana Attorney General has formally objected to the memo and urged the Department of Justice not to take action. All three members of the Montana Congressional delegation have also voiced criticism of the ATF statement, as has a gun ownership organization. The state of Montana issued more than half a million hunting licenses last year, and has enshrined hunting as a right in the state constitution.

The federal courts have yet to rule on whether medical cannabis patients can be denied gun ownership. In a recent Oregon case, Willis v. Winters, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that local law enforcement cannot deny concealed weapons permits to qualified patients. The Oregon Sheriff's Association is appealing to the US Supreme Court.

Rhode Island Gvoernor Stops Dispensary Plan

In response to federal threats, the governor of Rhode Island has halted implementation of a 2009 state law that would have established three medical cannabis dispensaries in the state.

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s action came after five months of delays and debate about how to issue licenses to the distribution centers that the state Department of Health had approved.

The 2009 law that was to have established the distribution centers was designed to address limitations in the state’s current program, which limits patients to cannabis grown by themselves or a caregiver.

In stopping the program, Governor Chafee said patients “should have safe, reliable and well-regulated access to marijuana for therapeutic purposes” but that he had “received communications from both the United States Department of Justice and from the United States Attorney for the District of Rhode Island that large scale commercial operations such as Rhode Island's compassion centers will be potential targets of 'vigorous' criminal and civil enforcement efforts by the federal government.”

Gov. Chaffee said he hoped the state legislature would craft new legislation that will “make improvement to the existing medical marijuana card and caregiver system while not triggering federal enforcement actions.”

Judge Says Nevada Medical Cannabis Law “Makes No Sense,” Dismisses Cases

A Nevada trial court judge dismissed charges against two Las Vegas dispensary operators last month, calling the state’s medical cannabis law “mind boggling.”

The two men, Leonard Schwingdorf and Nathan Hamilton, were among 15 indicted in the wake of raids on five Las Vegas medical cannabis dispensaries last September. The raids were conducted by both federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and local law enforcement. All 15 indictments stemming from last year’s raids were initially filed in federal court, but eight of the cases were transferred to state court. Seven federal cases remain.

In dismissing the indictments, Nevada District Judge Donald Mosley said, “I can’t make any sense out of this law. Are people supposed to give it away? I mean it just makes no sense.”

Judge Mosley also said state prosecutors withheld important medical information from the grand jury that indicted the two men whose cases he dismissed.

Under Nevada state law, patients registered with the state may legally possess cannabis, but obtaining it is illegal.

California Governor Vetoes Bill Limiting Dispensaries

A bill that would have required California medical cannabis dispensaries to be located at least 600 feet from residential zones was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown last month.

SB 847, a bill by Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), was opposed by ASA and other medical cannabis advocates. ASA had urged advocates to visit legislative offices, make phone calls, write letters, and send emails to their elected officials.

“This veto shows that grassroots participation makes a difference,” said Don Duncan, ASA California Director. “We have some big challenges to overcome, but we have just finished a statewide tour talking with organizers, and are launching a new effort to coordinate grassroots support for ASA’s draft state legislation.”

ASA’s proposed California legislation can be downloaded at AmericansForSafeAccess.org