ASA Activist Newsletter - September 2010

Volume 5, Issue 9

ASA Holds Stakeholder Meetings in Michigan, New Jersey

Americans for Safe Access continues to build the empowered grassroots that can make effective local and national change through stakeholders' meetings around the country. This past month, Executive Director Steph Sherer held events with patients, caregivers and advocates in Michigan and New Jersey to develop strategies and share experiences.

In New Jersey, ASA conducted the meeting in partnership with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ), with a focus on how to facilitate effective implementation of the state's new medical cannabis law, which has been stalled by the state's governor.

CMMNJ's Executive Director Ken Wolski, RN, and board member Chris Goldstein joined Sherer and ASA Government Affairs director Caren Woodson for discussion with the approximately 75 people from around the state who participated in the stakeholders' meeting. A benefit dinner attended by 23 people raised funds for CMMNJ.

'We saw that New Jersey has a great set of capable advocates,' said Woodson. 'As a result of the meeting, they now have a better sense of how to move forward.'
The participating patient advocates were able to clearly define the problems that have frustrated the implementation process, as well as who to target to get results. Among other actions, state advocates will be working with the New Jersey Department of Health to build a coalition that can overcome Governor Christie's obstruction of the law.

'We got very good press coverage, made many new contacts and raised much-needed funds for our educational mission,' said Ken Wolski, CMMNJ Executive Director.

Local media covered the event, with CMMNJ's Goldstein and ASA's Sherer both quoted in the articles that ran in news outlets in both New Jersey and neighboring Philadelphia.

The other local stakeholders' meeting with Steph Sherer last month was held in Detroit, Michigan. Over 150 people attended the meeting from all over the state, most of whom had not met each other before. Organized by Brandy Zink and other Michigan volunteers, the event was welcomed as much needed and timely in bringing people together.

As with other stakeholders' meetings, Sherer facilitated discussion among participants to identify goals, problems and solutions. At the end of the day, participants had a plan for how to better implement safe access in Michigan, and several participants made commitments to start ASA chapters to further the work.

ASA's national strategy for securing access for all patients puts the needs and constraints of individual states within a framework of national impact. Stakeholder meetings give local advocates a chance to discuss  strategies, identify goals and create action plans.

Congressmen Push Truth in Trials Bill

The two principal co-sponsors of federal legislation to allow a medical defense in federal marijuana trials are pushing for action on the bill. Reps. Sam Farr (D, CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA) have sent a letter to Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D, MI), chair of the Judiciary Committee, requesting immediate hearings.

The Congressmen sent the letter after getting word from Americans for Safe Access about the continuing plight of medical cannabis patients and caregivers facing trial in California and elsewhere. ASA National staff worked closely with the Congressmen's offices to help draft the letter.

'Congress cannot keep ignoring the growing divide between state medical cannabis laws and rigid federal prohibition,' said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson. 'We can't bridge that divide by prosecuting suffering citizens who are doing nothing more than following their doctor's advice in compliance with state law. We need legislation.'

The Truth in Trials Act (H.R. 3939) would allow individuals facing federal prosecution for marijuana-related offenses to provide evidence during trial that their activities were legal under their state medical canna-bis program. Federal medical cannabis defendants are barred from presenting any evidence of medical conditions, doctors' recommendations, or state law, virtually ensuring their conviction. Caregivers and providers are particularly vulnerable, as harsh sentencing guidelines established for drug traffickers typically mean long mandatory federal prison sentences.

President Obama promised on the campaign trail to end federal interference with state medical cannabis programs, a position echoed by his attorney general, Eric Holder. But the memo issued by the Department of Justice did not establish a defense for patients facing charges, nor does it forbid federal agents from making arrests or stop prosecutors from bringing charges. Meanwhile, 14 states and the District of Columbia have established laws governing the use and possession of medical cannabis.

Caught in the middle are people such as James Stacy, a San Diego martial arts expert who uses cannabis to treat injuries and the nausea he's suffered since losing his gall bladder. Stacy decided to open a patient collective adjacent to his dojo after researching the law and new policy. But that didn't stop federal agents from raiding him last September, or prosecutors from indicting him on multiple felony counts.

'I'm the most follow-the-rules kind of guy around, so I thought I was the perfect guy to do it,' Stacy told a local paper. 'When the collective was open, I'd have days where we'd turn away as many as 10 people who didn't have the proper paperwork.'

Stacy asked the judge in his case for permission to tell the jury about the new federal policy and the steps he took to ensure his compliance with state law. The motion was denied, and Stacy goes to trial this month. The other medical cannabis defendant facing charges as the result of the September raids in San Diego took a plea bargain under the threat of a long prison term. At bail hearings, federal prosecutors told the court Stacy faces potential life imprisonment.

See more information.

Calif. Appeals Court Says No Federal Preemption on State-Authorized Cannabis Dispensaries

Following a long-awaited California appeals court decision on medical cannabis dispensaries, Americans for Safe Access has notified more than 140 local governments that their bans on distribution may violate state law. The letters were sent two weeks after California's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that federal law does not preempt the provisions of state law intended to facilitate uniform distribution of cannabis to patients across the state.

The unanimous decision reversed the trial court's ruling that federal law preempts state law, sending the case of Qualified Patients Association vs. City of Anaheim back to Orange County Superior Court for trial. The dispensary's attorney, Anthony Curiale, ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the appeal, and Sen. Mark Leno, one of the principal co-authors of the state's Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), have all told the court that the MMPA expressly prohibits local governments from banning collective distribution.

While nearly four-dozen California localities - including some of the most populous cities, such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, and San Francisco - have successfully implemented ordinances for medical marijuana dispensaries, more than 130 cities have imposed bans like Anaheim's.

Without ruling on the matter, the appeals court's decision questioned how 'a city may criminalize as a misdemeanor a particular use of property the state expressly has exempted from 'criminal liability,'' as it does in the MMPA.

'We're disappointed that the court did not put an immediate end to hostile jurisdictions denying patients access to their medication,' said Elford. 'But at least the plaintiffs will have the opportunity to prove that dispensary bans are illegal under state law.'

Qualified Patients Association was a local medical marijuana dispensary that had been in operation for five months prior to Anaheim officials instituting a ban in July, 2007. An Orange County Superior Court ruled, erroneously, that Anaheim could prohibit dispensaries from operating within its city limits because federal prohibition preempted California's medical cannabis law. That decision was appealed in March, 2008, and argued last September.

'Regulation of dispensaries, not bans, is what is consistent with state law,' said Elford. 'The Medical Marijuana Program Act, previous case law and guidelines issued by the California Attorney General are all on our side, and local officials can no longer hide behind federal preemption.'

California Advocates Concerned Over AG Race

Steve Cooley Has Opposed Safe Access in LA

Concerned California citizens have begun a campaign to educate voters about the candidates for state attorney general. While the AG rase typically gets little attention, the holder of the office holds enormous power of the implementation and enforcement of state medical cannabis laws. Democrat Kamala Harris, currently the San Francisco District attorney, is facing Republican Steve Cooley, the longest-serving district attorney in Los Angeles history.

Harris has said she favors creating state-wide regulations for the operation of dispensing cannabis collectives to ensure the uniform access the state legislature tried to create with its Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003.

In contrast, Cooley says he interprets the law to say that no one can legally buy or sell medical cannabis in California, and he has repeatedly tried to undermine the operation of patient collectives in LA County. When the LA city council was creating regulations for dispensaries, Cooley denounced the council as 'irrelevant,' saying he would ignore anything they passed, and prosecute anyone operating a dispensary. His official spokesperson has even said that, if Cooley is elected attorney general, he may find 'rare exceptions' to enforcing the law.

This should be no surprise, since as LA District attorney, Cooley participated in a 'training' for the California Narcotics Officers Association aimed at 'eradicating' dispensaries around the state.

Advocates for the environment, women's issues and marriage equality are also concerned about a Cooley win.

As DA, Cooley dismantled the environmental protection division of his office. And he has steadfastly opposed state efforts to protect the environment, urging the repeal of California's historic greenhouse initiative and supporting an initiative bankrolled by the state's biggest toxic polluters.

On women's issues he faces allegations of discrimination within his office, and his insensitivity is legend. At one university law forum, he publicly mocked state laws designed to protect women and children.

And while current attorney general, Jerry Brown, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger both declined to defend Prop 8, the measure that stripped marriage rights from same-sex couples, Cooley has said he would go to court to protect it.

For more on the  AG race, see