Blog Voices from the Frontlines
- Yesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the DEA's tactic of sending letters to landlords of dispensaries notifying them of the illegality of the facilities and the possibility that their property could be seized. Yet today ASA also learned that the DEA had sent out yet another round of letters to landlords.
- Last month, Northern California's new US Attorney, Joseph Russoniello, explained that he thought medical marijuana raids were wasteful, creating new hope in our movement. But this didn't bring much comfort to dozens of federal defendants who have already been charged, like Michael Martin, who had a status hearing yesterday, or Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, who will be sentenced next week.
- In January, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in Ross v. RagingWire that denied the rights of medical marijuana patients to work. But just last week, Assembly Member Mark Leno, along with Assembly Members Berg, Hancock, and Saldaña, introduced ASA sponsored legislation that would reaffirm this right.
Advocates Urge Presidential Candidates to End DEA Raids by Executive Order - Americans for Safe AccessNationwide campaign launched today to end federal enforcement against medical marijuana With only a week left until Super Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates launched a nationwide campaign today to urge presidential candidates to end federal raids in states with medical marijuana laws. The campaign urges candidates to issue an Executive Order upon taking office that would end federal interference in state-sanctioned medical marijuana laws. The proposed Executive Order would deny funds to the Department of Justice for federal enforcement efforts against patients and providers in states that have adopted medical marijuana laws. "To match the increased level of federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, we're asking candidates to clearly state their opposition by pledging to issue an Executive Order, if elected." said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, the advocacy group that launched the campaign. "We're spending millions of dollars on law enforcement actions that harm our most vulnerable citizens," continued Woodson. "And, the President wields the power to stop it at any time." Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has stepped up its enforcement actions against medial marijuana patients and providers. While federal interference has occurred in multiple medical marijuana states, some have been hit harder than others. In California, the DEA has conducted more than 100 raids and threatened more than 300 landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue to lease to medical marijuana dispensing collectives (dispensaries). In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently prosecuting more than 100 medical marijuana-related cases. The campaign focuses on candidates that have already made supportive statements on medical marijuana: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, former Senator John Edwards, and Representative Ron Paul. These candidates are being asked to officiate their support by pledging to issue an Executive Order, which states that:
"No funds made available to the Department of Justice shall be used to prevent States from implementing adopted laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. In particular, no funds shall be used to investigate, seize, arrest or prosecute in association with the distribution of medical marijuana, unless such distribution has been found by adjudication to violate state or local law."DEA actions have already garnered opposition from both local and federal lawmakers, including Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. In December, Mayor Dellums made a public statement condemning DEA tactics. The same month, Chairman Conyers publicly voiced his "deep concern" over DEA "efforts to undermine California state law," and he committed to sharply question these tactics in oversight hearings.
California Court Rules Against Patients' Rights- Assemblyman Mark Leno and ASA Respond with Legislation
This week, the California Supreme Court delivered a major blow to patients' civil rights. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 215 does not protect legal patients from being fired if they test positive for medical cannabis use. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court claimed that Ross could not rely on the Fair Housing and Employment Act or the state's medical marijuana law to prevent discrimination at the workplace. Gary Ross, a 45-year old disabled veteran and a medical marijuana patient, was fired in 2001 by his then-employer Raging Wire Telecommunications after he disclosed that he was a medical cannabis patient and would test positive to the company's mandatory drug test. Following this event, Ross filed a lawsuit arguing that Raging Wire illegally discriminated against him because of his condition. However, a Sacramento Superior Court, and then the Third Appellate District Court both rejected his argument. In October 2005, ASA appealed to the California Supreme Court on behalf of Ross. The California Supreme Court's decision on Thursday was a major blow to medical marijuana patients' rights, with the potential to limit a patients' right to work. ASA's Chief Counsel, Joe Elford, played a significant role in Mr. Ross' case, helping write the appeal and serving as co-counsel to Mr. Ross starting in 2005. For more information on the Ross case read Mr. Elford's blog on the case and the California Supreme Court Decision at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/RossDecisionBlog
The good news is that California Assemblyman Mark Leno and ASA were waiting to respond in case of an adverse ruling like this. Assemblyman Leno announced only hours after the decision on Thursday that he will be introducing an ASA-sponsored piece of legislation that will amend California law to protect patients from this kind of discrimination. In his press release, Assemblyman Leno wrote, "Today's California Supreme Court ruling strikes a serious blow to patients' rights. In the coming weeks I will introduce legislation that secures a medical cannabis patient's right to use their doctor recommended medication outside the workplace. Through the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 and SB 420 in 2004, the people of California did not intend that patients be unemployed in order to use medical marijuana." Assemblyman Leno's legislation will accomplish what the California Supreme Court's decision has diminished. This bill will properly protect legal medical cannabis patients and ensure their right to work.
Read Assemblyman Leno's press release about this important piece of legislation: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/leno_ross_release.pdf For background on the Ross vs. Raging Wire case visit: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/Ross Read the California Supreme Court's decision at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/Ross_Ruling.pdf San Francisco Democratic Committee Calls on Mayor Newsom to Take a Stand From San Francisco ASA Core Leader, Alex Franco In a huge step forward for the Stand Up Newsom Campaign and patients in San Francisco, the San Francisco Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee passed a resolution with the following amendment: "...that Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and San Francisco’s State legislators join with Oakland Mayor and former Congressman Ron Dellums in denouncing the DEA tactics surrounding the property rights of landlords who rent to medical cannabis dispensaries." At Wednesday night's San Francisco Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee meeting, party Vice Chair and San Francisco Marijuana Offenses Oversight Committee co-chair, Michael Goldstein, seeing the ineffectiveness of the resolution as presented proffered an amendment requesting Mayor Gavin Newsom to join Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums in condemning the DEA's recent tactics of intimidating property owners who rent to medical cannabis dispensaries. Upon hearing the loud applause from the public in attendance, committee member Robert Haaland was moved to ask to join Vice Chair Michael Goldstein's amendment by adding language that included the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and San Francisco's elected state officials. This added strength to a position of support already voiced to advocates by many of the Board members, and Senator Carole Migden who is currently moving legislation supporting medical cannabis dispensary owners and their landlords through the state legislature. San Francisco Assembly member Mark Leno has also voiced support of safe access of patients to their medication. Activists from Axis of Love SF, the Harvey Milk Club and Americans for Safe Access San Francisco spoke on behalf of the resolution. Some activists who were called minutes before the meeting rushed to the site and were able to demonstrate their support through their presence. The committee showed it understood the issue by first supporting the amendment, then by passing the entire resolution that included the amended language. Both votes were nearly unanimous with the exception of one abstention by Senator Diane Feinstein. Feinstein's proxy, George Broder, explained his vote by noting he was unable to vote without passing it by the Senator. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. The DCCC is the only political committee in the country whose principal mission is to support Democratic House candidates every step of the way through this critical election year. Congratulations to ASA and the activists involved in getting this resolution passed. For more information about the DCCC's decision and to find out how you can get involved, contact Alex at: aaaFranco@yahoo.com
It was a very cold day today in the Bay Area. It was cold in San Francisco and, unusually, colder still in Oakland. Far colder was the California Supreme Court's decision in Ross v. Ragingwire, which limits the Compassionate Use Act to far less than a shell of its promise of "ensur[ing] that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician. . . ." And this is not even to mention the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which, though hardly mentioned by the Supreme Court, was the basis for our position. While the politics involved here, as well as the uninformed opinion of those that think this was case was governed by federal law, make this decision unsurprising to many, I can state with confidence, even in defeat, that our legal position was solid and we should have won. Rather than take my word for it, I will simply direct everyone to the dissenting Put simply, in the words of Justice Kennard, "The majority’s holding disrespects the will of California’s voters who, when they enacted the Compassionate Use Act, surely never intended that persons who availed themselves of its provisions would thereby disqualify themselves from employment." There is no federal law that required the employer to drug test under the facts of this case, much less to fire Ross for testing positive for marijuana. The only relevance of federal law to the facts of this case is to sell Ragingwire's legally disingenuous position to the press and public. Unless there is a conflict between state and federal law, and here there is none, federal law cannot defeat state law requirements, which require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. Absent such conflict the Court was obliged to apply state law (the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Compassionate Use Act), which requires Ragingwire to provide a reasonable accommodation (not fire him for using the substance, legal under California law, to treat his disability). Unfortunately, as an an attorney who must continue to litigate cases before this Court, there are limitations on what I can say. Suffice it to say, we would not lose this case before all judges in California (or elsewhere), but only before these five of seven judges who were appointed to sit on this Court. Judges make all the difference, and in this case, they made for a cold, cold day.