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Volume 6, Issue 9
The stakeholders’ meetings and raid preparedness trainings Americans for Safe Access has been conducting in states all across the country came home to California in August.
Hundreds of patients, caregivers and advocates gathered in 11 cities for events to support stronger grassroots involvement in the campaign for safe access.
Facilitated by ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer and California Director Don Duncan, the meetings were an opportunity for participants to share experiences and identify goals, problems and solutions. The raid preparedness trainings gave community members tools and strategies for responding to interference by federal and local law enforcement.
“Sharing the insights and concerns of patients and advocates builds a stronger movement for safe access,” said Sherer. “ASA is committed to empowering local grassroots action across the country because that drives national change.”
The ASA California Tour included Chico, Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa. ASA has held similar meetings and trainings in Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, with more to come.
At the end of August, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that for the first time explicitly recognizes the legality of local medical cannabis distribution centers and the right of municipalities to regulate the distribution of medical cannabis to patients.
The new law, AB 1300, says the state of California cannot prevent cities and other local governments “from adopting and enforcing local ordinances that regulate the location, operation, or establishment of a medical marijuana cooperative or collective.'
“ASA opposed this bill because it did not do enough to protect critical patient services,” said ASA California Director Don Duncan. “But recognizing the legitimate role of California’s more than 1,000 storefront dispensaries and delivery services is an important step.”
Currently, more than 50 California localities have ordinances regulating the distribution of medical marijuana, and more than 90 local governments are considering such regulatory laws. Research conducted by ASA found that dispensary regulations not only benefit the thousands of patients across the state, but also help to reduce crime and improve the neighborhoods surrounding such facilities.
California local ordinances
ASA’s report on dispensaries in California
A California trial court has for the second time upheld the city of Anaheim’s ban on medical cannabis dispensaries, despite an appeals court ruling that questioned the basis of the ban.
The unpublished ruling, which does not establish precedent, said that California state law does not prevent cities from banning what it termed “mass distribution” of medical cannabis through storefront dispensaries.
Yet the appeals court which overturned the original ruling and sent it back to the trial judge questioned how 'a city may criminalize as a misdemeanor a particular use of property the state expressly has exempted from 'criminal liability.''
California State Senator Mark Leno, one of the principal co-authors of the state's Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), had filed a brief with the appeals court stating that it was the intent of the legislature to prohibit local governments from banning collective distribution.
“The trial court’s emphasis on ‘mass distribution’ has no basis in the law,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the case on appeal and filed an amicus brief. “The State Attorney General Guidelines recognize the legitimacy of storefront medical cannabis distribution facilities.”
The MMPA, passed in 2003, establishes that qualified patients and caregivers are not subject to criminal sanctions for collectively cultivating or distributing cannabis for medical use.
An appeal of the latest ruling in the Anaheim case is expected to be filed soon.
Trial Court Ruling
Appellate Court Ruling
ASA’s Amicus Brief on appeal
Attorney General Guidelines 2008
At the end of July, the mayor of Seattle did what Washington state’s governor refused to: he signed a measure to regulate the dispensaries that provide safe access to the neediest members of the community. The city council had passed the bill on July 18 after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed the regulatory provisions of a state law because of threats from federal prosecutors.
'We are taking the approach that what we need to do is honor the wishes of the City of Seattle and honor the wishes of the voters of Washington when it comes to medical marijuana, and appropriately regulate its use,' Mayor Mike McGinn said at the signing ceremony.
City officials estimate there are 70 or more storefront dispensaries in Seattle. More are expected to open to meet patient need.
While the state of Washington does not require patients to register like other states such as Oregon and Colorado, the per capita number of qualified patients in those states suggests that Washington has from 80,000 to 160,000 people using cannabis on their doctor’s recommendation. Colorado, with a population 1.6 million less than Washington, has licensed more than 700 dispensaries and 1,000 cultivators.
Last month, Michigan’s Court of Appeals ruled that the sale of medical cannabis is illegal under state law. Regulations for the distribution of medical cannabis have been adopted by several cities in Michigan, including Ann Arbor, Lansing, Traverse City and Ypsilanti. An estimated 400 dispensaries are operating across the state.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero denounced the decision in the local media, calling it “a terrible setback” and saying the court “subverted the will of the people rather than facilitated it.”
The Michigan Medical Marihuana Act of 2008 provides legal protection for medical cannabis patients but did not establish a mechanism for them to safely obtain their medication.
“Regulated distribution centers are a proven community solution to ensuring safe access to medical cannabis for the most seriously ill patients,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “It’s disappointing that the court has undermined local elected officials who have recognized that and taken action to help their constituents.”
The case is People v. Compassionate Apothecary.
The federal government has asked the district court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer seeking a federal ruling about the legality of the state’s medical cannabis program. Citing broad threats from the US Attorney’s office, Gov. Brewer filed suit and halted implementation of dispensary regulations mandated by the voter initiative that passed last November.
The US Attorney’s office told the court that until state employees face a direct threat of prosecution under federal drug laws, the issue is speculative and cannot be litigated. As with the other threats sent to state officials around the country, the letter warns that those involved with distribution or programs that facilitate it may be criminally prosecuted in federal court.
Calling them “hypocrites,” Arizona state Attorney General Tom Horne said what he wants is an assurance from federal prosecutors that no state officials will be targeted for regulating the distribution program the medical cannabis initiative directed the state to establish.
“Principled state and local officials are standing up to federal intimidation all across the country,” said ASA executive Director Steph Sherer. “If Gov. Brewer were less opposed to medical cannabis and more faithful to the people of her state, she would, too.”
Prop. 203 allows patients to cultivate cannabis and share with other patients if they live more than 25 miles from a licensed dispensary. Since no dispensaries are yet licensed, all patients in Arizona can currently cultivate. Unlicensed collectives are operating informally, but AG Horne is trying to shut them down because of nominal membership fees and donations that entitle qualified patients to obtain free cannabis from other patients.
One of the targeted collectives is the 2811 Club in Phoenix, which provides educational and support services for patients and facilitates the sharing of cannabis between patients. One of the organizers of the 2811 Club, Al Sobol, told local media that state officials are deceiving patients by charging them $150 for a registry card but refusing to let patients use it to access their medicine. “I want the courts to weigh in and make a decision,” Sobol said.
A group representing medical cannabis dispensaries that are now prevented from operating filed suit against the state two months ago, seeking full implementation.
By early next year, medical cannabis patients in Washington, D.C. should finally have the safe access voters approved nearly 13 years ago. At the beginning of August, the Department of Health began accepting applications from prospective cultivation center operators who filed letters of intent in June.
Applicants will be evaluated on a merit-based system ASA helped establish, after ASA and other advocates rejected the first-come, first-served approach in the Council’s initial proposal. ASA also helped secure enhanced privacy protections for patients in the District rules, as well as an appointed four-member licensing board.
Expanding the qualifying conditions is also a priority for ASA, as only patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma will qualify under the current rules.
The District Council is implementing a voter initiative that passed in 1998 but was blocked by Congress until 2010. The D.C. Department of Health is scheduled to announce on January 20 which cultivation centers will be eligible to register in the District.
Official Implementation Timeline
Cultivation Center Applicants
After a long wait, New Jersey’s medical cannabis patients are edging closer to safe access. Officials at the Department of Health and Senior Services say the program should be up and running soon, with 99 physicians and six distribution centers already registered to participate.
The state’s program was established by the New Jersey legislature and signed by then-governor Jon Corzine nearly two years ago, but current governor Chris Christie had delayed implementation. He relented in July, saying he would move forward with a distribution plan for his state's medical cannabis program, despite threats from federal authorities.
'The need to provide compassionate pain relief to these citizens of our state outweighs the risk we are taking in moving forward with the program,' Gov. Christie said in ending the delay.
New Jersey is one of several states that received formal letters from federal prosecutors threatening state officials with criminal prosecution if they regulate the distribution of medical cannabis. Arizona, Rhode Island and Washington have halted implementation as a result, while Delaware, Vermont and Maine have forged ahead.
New Jersey’s new law removes state penalties for the possession and use of up to two ounces of cannabis a month for patients whose New Jersey-licensed doctors recommend it for treating cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis or other qualifying conditions.
Video of Governor Christie's press conference
New York Times article on New Jersey's law delays
DOJ Threat Letters
June 29th Deputy AG Cole memo
Alabama will be the first state to have ASA’s model medical cannabis legislation introduced, thanks to the work of the recently formed patient advocacy group Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition (AMMC).
AMMC announced last month that State House Representative K.L Brown (R-Calhoun) will be the lead sponsor of its proposed Alabama Medical Marijuana Patient’s Rights Act. The new bill is based on model state legislation developed by ASA’s new Medical Cannabis Think Tank.
Advocates in Alabama had introduced medical cannabis legislation early in 2011, but the bill (HB 386) died in committee this past spring.
“We’re working to ensure medical cannabis laws reflect the needs and experience of patients,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “ASA created the Think Tank and our new Online Training Center to give patients and advocates everywhere the tools to effectively lobby officials.”
ASA’s Medical Cannabis Think Tank and Online Training Center are both part of a new initiative to expand and support effective grassroots advocacy around the country. The Online Training Center features more than four hours of educational streaming video as well as comprehensive training manuals and worksheets.
ASA Model Legislation
Text of the proposed Alabama legislation
ASA’s Medical Cannabis Think Tank
ASA’s Online Training Center