ASA Weekly Alert 1/23/2009
1. Days After Obama is sworn in, DEA Exploits Transition; Raids Dispensary
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided a medical cannabis dispensary Thursday in South Lake Tahoe in the first days of the new Obama Administration. Even though President Obama had made repeated promises during his election campaign to end federal interference in medical cannabis states, many high-ranking Bush Administration officials have yet to leave office. For example, still at the helm of the DEA is acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, who has been responsible for numerous federal raids in California, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Karen Tandy. Neither Eric Holder, President Obama's pick for U.S. Attorney General, nor a new DEA Administrator, have taken office yet.
"We are very concerned about the DEA’s raid on a legal medical cannabis providers during this transitional period in the Department of Justice. It is no secret that President Obama has made numerous public statements condemning this policy" said Caren Woodson, ASA's Director of Government Affairs. "We are hopeful that Obama will move quickly to, at a minimum, suspend such actions until his Administration has a chance to further look into the matter."
No arrests were made at Holistic Solutions in South Lake Tahoe, though medical cannabis and cash were seized. Since George Bush took office in 2000 Federal agents raided hundreds of sanctioned California dispensaries, as well as the Washington State offices of an advocacy group that was supplying starter plants to authorized patients. In Oregon, DEA used a federal grand jury to try to obtain the private medical records of 17 patients, an effort that was later rejected by a federal court, and even threatened New Mexico state officials with federal prosecution if they moved to implement the state's medical cannabis distribution program.
"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Senator Obama said in an August 2007 statement. "It's not a good use of our resources.". This statement was followed up by Obama in other public events in the run up to the election.
"President Obama must rise to the occasion by suspending all federal interference and by keeping the promise he made to the voters of this country," said Woodson. ASA has been working with the new Administration on changing federal law around medical cannabis, which has included a comprehensive set of policy recommendations.
In another last minute affront to patients, the Bush Administration last week rejected recommendations from its own DEA Administrative Law Judge to expand medical cannabis research, stating it is "in the public interest." The federal government currently prohibits scientists from cultivating cannabis for research, which has a stifling effect on developing the full medical potential of the cannabis plant. "The DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) coordinate the obstruction o meaningful research on medical cannabis, and instead prioritize studying its harmful effects," said Woodson. "Obama has the opportunity here to step in and discontinue a policy that hinders the development of a medicine that benefits hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S."
2. Montana Seeks to Revoke Rights of Patients who Drive, Allow Nurses to Recommend
Two separate bills are being considered by the Montana Legislature this year, each would move the states medical cannabis law in an opposite direction.
Montana House Bill 73 would revise existing state law to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners the authority to prescribe medical cannabis. Currently, only physicians are authorized to do so. The bill's lead sponsor, State Representative Julie French (D-Scobey), framed the issue as one of equality, and one that would help Montanans who live in rural areas and are often only able to see an physicians assistant, rather than a doctor. View the bill here .
However, another bill has also been introduced that would require police to take blood samples from every medical cannabis patient stopped at a traffic encounter. If the samples show traces of THC above an certain amount, the police would revoke a patients' right to use medical cannabis. Tom Daubert, president and founder of Patients and Families United (an ASA Affiliate), addressed the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, saying he supports to goal of reducing impaired driving on public highways but that the bill propsed by Kalispell Republican Sen. Verdell Jackson is offensive and unconstitutionally targets one class of patients. Opponents also argue that the blood concentration limits of THC set forth in the bill are arbitrarily low and would make it almost impossible for any qualified patient to legally drive.
State Senator Rebecca Sturdevan, a proponent of the measure, said that she acknowledges the medical benefits of cannabis but that she doesn't believe patients should be able to use their needed medicine if they are caught driving after using it.
Montana passed its state law in 2004 with 62% in favor.
3. New Mexico Nurse Sues to Recommend Cannabis
Albuquerque psychiatric nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm has filed suit against the federal government, saying he's afraid he'll be raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration if he recommends medical cannabis, as he's legally entitled to do under New Mexico law . The DEA has long undermined state medical cannabis laws, using a variety of tactics. In New Mexico, DEA has actually threatened state officials with prosecution if they carry out the laws passed by their state legislature.
Recently, New Mexico's health department finalized rules for non-profit organizations to grow and dispense medical cannabis to qualified patients, becoming the first state in the US to officially permit such establishments at the state level.
Krumm hopes the lawsuit will convince the courts to change the classification of cannabis to recognize its medical value - which federal agencies deny to this day despite 13 states that remove penalties for its use and almost 35 which recognize its medical use in some way (though patients may not be protected). He said he would recommend cannabis to patients, but hasn't due to fears that the federal agencies such as DEA and DoJ will intervene. He claims he hasn't been able to follow his ethical responsibilities as a nurse practitioner by referring his patients into the medical cannabis program, because the patients would be in jeopardy of federal charges.
4. Medical Cannabis Protections Proposed in Minnesota, Missouri
In the past week, both the Minnesota and Missouri legislatures introduced attempts to provide basic legal protections for patients who rely on medical cannabis as treatment.
The Minnesota State Senate introduced SF 97, which would allow qualified patients to possess only 2.5 ounces of cannabis, but they would be required to register with the state. The Senate passed a similar bill last year that was killed in the State House of Representatives. The proposed law would allow for state-regulated nonprofits to dispense cannabis, but would also create harsh penalties for patients and nonprofits that dispense cannabis to individuals that aren't included in the state registry.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has said he will veto the bill if its opposed by law enforcement, according to the Minnesota Independent .
This week, Missouri lawmakers introduced a medical cannabis bill for consideration this session as well, joining other Midwestern states and on the heels of Michigan's November initiative, passed by almost 64% of Michigan voters. Representative Kay Meiners of Kansas City filed House Bill 277.
In November, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to create patient protections, and the 13th state in the US.
To read the Minnesota bill, visit: http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/bills/billinf.php?ls=86
Read the Missouri bill in its entirety here: http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills091/bills/hb277.htm
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