Blog Voices from the Frontlines

Nov 072007

A Medical Marijuana Patient's Long Road to Victory - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 07, 2007 7:19 AM
Nate. R. is a medical marijuana patient living in Orange County, California who uses marijuana to treat clinical depression. I wanted to write this post to let others who are qualified patients know that the law is here to work for us. I found this out on October 29th, 2007 when I went to my preliminary hearing at the Harbor Justice Center courthouse in the City of Newport Beach to find that the District Attorney had dismissed charges of Possession of Concentrated Cannabis 11357 (A) of the Health and Safety code. Lets rewind this back to 5 months ago when the incident in question took place. I was arrested on May 5th 2007 in Newport Beach, Orange County, CA for being in possession of .2 grams of hashish. I was no stranger to medical marijuana and knew the laws that were put in place for us. I have read these numerous times and can recite them, I have also studied that Attorney General's opinion on concentrated cannabis and the conclusion that hashish as well as any other concentrated cannabis is protected under Prop 215 and SB 420. With this information in hand, I knew that this was covered and never thought twice about being in possession of hashish. As I found out the hard way, not all law enforcement agencies feel the same way. I was originally going to be cited for possession of marijuana since I also had 2.5 grams of marijuana, but once the officer noticed the hashish, he stated that it as well as marijuana is illegal under federal law. Knowing that city police officers were not under federal jurisdiction, I felt I should question the officer on this statement. I had asked the officer "Are you telling me that prop 215 and SB 420 are not valid laws?" To this the officer promptly replied "Under federal law possession is still illegal and we have been instructed to follow it as such". At this point the officer also informed me that possession of hashish is a felony and that he was placing me under arrest. I had to be bailed out of jail that night so I would be able to go to work the next day. Going to the first court date for arraignment I was not sure what was going to happen. I can honestly say I was scared. I have been a tax paying citizen of Orange County all my life and never once had I been in trouble with the law so this was all new to me. At court I was assigned a public defender to handle my case. While I was giving my interview to the public defender, he had asked for a copy of my recommendation so they could make copies. On my next court date that was my pre trial I find out that a new public defender had been assigned to my case and at that point got to meet her. As we were talking about the case she asked if I have a copy of my recommendation to which I responded that I had already given this to them. Come to find out they had lost my recommendation out of my file. Once again court dates pushed forward for another month. I show up to my next pre-trial date but this time with an attorney specializing in medical marijuana cases. Due to me getting a new attorney we once again had to push the court dates up yet another month. At this point it is starting to get ridiculous, not to mention costly. We show up for the next court date for my preliminary hearing this time to see if I am going to be bound over to the Superior Court for jury trial - keep in mind the whole time I am going through this the DA is wanting me to plead out and take a felony hit on my record all over .2 grams of hashish even though I am a qualified patient. We were in the middle of filing a motion for dismissal to the courts since the District Attorney was not willing to drop the case. Of course this prompted yet another court date which pushed it a month and a half later into October. Back to October 29th 2007, we are sitting in court waiting to be called and finally my name is called. The judge asked if we as well as the prosecutor were ready to which we both said we were. After waiting about 30 minutes the District Attorney comes into the court room and walks up to my attorney. She asks him if we have any witnesses to which he responded yes that we had two since I and another patient who was with me the night I was arrested were there to testify. The reason for the other patient to be there is due to the fact that my recommendation was taken from me that night and never returned, it was never entered into evidence nor was it placed into my property bag. This was brought up to the prosecutor and she was not sure how to handle it as she did not have any experiences with medical marijuana cases. Due to this she went downstairs to the District Attorney's office and spoke with another person that is well versed in the laws. After waiting 30 minutes the prosecutor walks upstairs to inform my attorney that they will not be proceeding with the case and were dismissing charges. This was the best news I had heard. I can for one speak on the fact that going through hearings and court is one of the most trying times that one can experience. I am thankful for the support of the medical marijuana community that has been shown to me. It is easy to lose faith and want to give up and it is so important to have a strong support group for the person going through something like this. I also would like to thank ASA as they have been there for me from the beginning to the end and assisted in every way they could.
Nov 052007

Advocacy in a Hurry - Americans for Safe Access

Sometimes, medical cannabis advocates have plenty of time to prepare in advance for an important vote at their City Council or County Board of Supervisors. We can write letters and make phone calls to elected officials, prepare a speech for public comments, and even rally the troops by inviting friends and loved ones to attend a meeting.

In other cases, however, you may have to jump and run when you learn about a challenge or opportunity in your community. That is exactly what happened last week in Orange County, when Supervisor Bates quietly introduced an ordinance that would have prohibited the County from issuing any licenses, permits, or allowances for an activity that violates local, state, or federal law. Nothing in her ordinance mentioned medical cannabis, but if adopted, it would have been a de facto ban on medical cannabis patients’ dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of Orange County. This is a tactic already used successfully in at least two Orange County cities.

County staff failed to realize the significance of Bates’ eleventh-hour proposal for medical cannabis patients until an alert aide in Supervisor’s Norby’s office realized what was about to happen – less than twenty-four hours before the vote! Supervisor Norby has always been a strong supporter of medical cannabis, and asked his staff to contact ASA right away. News reached our office at 3 PM on Monday, October 29. By that time, there were only two hours left in the workday before the Board convened to vote at 9 AM on Tuesday morning.

I left short telephone message for all five supervisors, then followed up with a longer email explaining that regulating collectives was a better option than banning them. I asked them to table the matter until they had a chance to read ASA’s report on the positive outcomes of regulations statewide and review LA County’s year-old ordinance. Then I called a handful of dedicated local advocates to invite them to speak at the Board meeting the next morning. Finally, I used ASA’s Southern California announcement list and new discussion forums to alert the grassroots of the challenge.

The other speakers and I were successful in persuading the Board to table the issue for more study, giving us the time we need to sell them on the benefits of regulation. I anticipate Orange County will now follow LA’s lead towards sensible regulations, instead of San Diego’s path of obstruction. That’s good news for patients in Orange County, and a strategic victory for the statewide campaign! As an added benefit, we were able to show some grassroots support for Supervisor Norby, who recently joined ASA in calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to stand up for patients.

The lesson from Orange County is to be prepared in advance to act quickly. Do you know where to find the telephone numbers and email addresses of your local representatives? Most cities and counties have web sites list this information. Do you know what to say if you have to speak at a meeting or to the media? (You can find talking points for issues like these on the ASA web site.) Do you know whom to call to help you out? You could organize a small group of advocates in your city to be a medical cannabis “strike force” that can act on short notice. Your local ASA Chapter is a great place to find your team.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is to make a personal commitment to act in your community when there is a challenge or an opportunity. The outcome in your city or county may depend on whether or not you and your neighbors are prepared to take responsibility for defending patients’ rights and safe access. So get prepared, stay alert, and take action… no matter how short the notice!

Nov 022007

California Weekly Round Up - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 02, 2007 12:54 PM
ASA and Orange County Medical Marijuana Activists Achieve a Victory for Safe Access! From ASA California Campaign Director, Don Duncan The Orange County Board of Supervisors decided this week to delay a vote on banning medical cannabis collectives after Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and local advocates expressed concern about the impact on patients and the process through which the item suddenly appeared on the Board’s agenda. Supervisor Bates’ eleventh-hour motion would have prohibited the county from issuing permits, licenses, or allowances for any activity that violates federal law, a back door approach to banning collectives already used in two Orange County cities. ASA and advocates did not get word of Supervisor Bates’ motion until the afternoon before the early morning hearing. I asked the Board to table the issue to allow more time to consider how other jurisdictions are regulating collectives, including neighboring Los Angeles County. I told the Board that concerns over abuse of the state’s medical cannabis laws are valid, but that regulations are the best tool for protecting patients and communities. I left each Board Member with a copy or our report on the outcomes of regulations for collectives in cities and counties all over California and some information about what the County and City of Los Angeles are doing to effectively regulate their facilities. You can read the report at http://www.AmericansForsafeAccess.org/DispensaryReport The Board also heard from William Britt of the Association of Patient Advocates. Mr. Britt told the Supervisors that banning collectives would harm patients and was inconsistent with the Board’s decision in April to issue Medical Cannabis ID Cards mandated under CA Health and Safety Code 11362.71 (SB-420). A local patient told the Board that there is insufficient access to affordable medicine in Orange County, and this motion would only make things worse. The Board voted unanimously to continue the motion until December 4. ASA will continue to educate the Board about compassionate and sensible alternatives before that vote. Congratulations to advocates for their quick and effective response to this unanticipated vote. DEA Strikes East Bay Collective and Facilities On Tuesday, the DEA raided the Compassionate Patients Cooperative of California (CPCC) in Hayward, arresting the two operators, Winslow and Abraham Norton. The raid began in the early morning on Tuesday with the DEA shattering the collective's patients intake center glass door and then moving on to the actual dispensary next door. During that time the Norton Brothers were arrested and their homes were raided. They were taken into custody and held overnight without bail. CPCC had a permit from Alameda County, authorized by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to operate. The permit required that they follow stringent regulations and allow the Sheriff's Department to conduct monthly inspections. They did not have any permit violations during their time of operation in Alameda County. ASA activists, patients, and staff received the news via ASA's Emergency Text Messaging System and sprung into action. While a handful of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco activists came out to show their support, several CPCC collective members showed up to the collective with the intent of getting their medicine and stayed to protest the attack on safe access in Alameda County. The group of protesters drew a crowd of onlookers and local media. NBC 11, KTVU Channel 2, and the Daily Review were just a few of the many media outlets that covered the story. See video from the raid here: http://www.bayareanewsgroup.com/multimedia/iba/2007/player/?f=1030pot Alameda County Sheriff's officers were at the site of the raiding claiming to be there for "crowd control." The officers carried batons and weapons and stared the crowd down with only the yellow tape between them and the patients. The County police went so far as to post an officer on the roof of the collective with what appeared to be a tear gas gun. While the dispensary raid was happening, several other facilities in association with CPCC were raided by the DEA in a joint operation involving DEA, Berkeley PD, Oakland PD, and the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. Tuesday's raids in Hayward were the third major attack on patients and providers in the Bay Area in less than a month. Bay Area activists, patients, and providers will be continuing to bolster their emergency response plans to ensure large protests at future raids. To sign up for ASA's Emergency Raid Response Text Messaging System, go to www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/RaidAlert ASA will report further details on the Norton brothers' status and the collective as information comes in. DEA Raids Orange County Collective and Operator's Home Yesterday, the DEA arrested Steele Smith at his home in Fullerton at 6:00 in the morning. At the same time, Smith's dispensary, C-3 Collective in Garden Grove, and one other home in association with the collective was raided. One of the collective's employees and Smith’s wife were arrested as well. They had a bail hearing today at 2:00pm in Los Angeles. ASA will continue to report further details as we receive them. Orange County ASA will be meeting on November 14th to discuss support for the Smiths and C-3 Collective. See "ASA Chapter and Affiliate Meetings" for more details.
Nov 022007

DEA Raids Hayward Dispensaries, but Activists Don't Stand Down - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 02, 2007 12:23 PM
Justin Alan Ryan is an independent professional and medical cannabis advocate, activist, and patient from Texas living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Beginning early in the morning, October 30, 2007, the DEA raided several locations connected to Compassionate Patients' Cooperative of California (CPCC). Medical Cannabis supporters from around the SF Bay trekked to a far southeast outpost of our thriving safe access community after receiving SMS messages from ASA's alert system. In addition to various federal agents, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department came in tow, at least twenty strong by noontime, though the facility being raided has been issued a license by the county. In contrast to a raid that occurred in LA the day of our mobilization to the governor's office, these officers were slightly more laid back, presented less of a unified front, and after some time in many cases were joking and laughing, maybe at us, who knows. A number of folks on our side of the tape observed that a small group of women present within the law enforcement faction were assigned the duty of sweeping up the broken glass from a door that probably could easily have been opened without force, which is perhaps representative of how out of date the opposition to our issue are in every aspect of existance. Due especially, I'm sure, to the time of day this raid was executed, at least a handful of patients joined the protest when they found they couldn't get any medicine at CPCC, and many apparent patients drove away without stopping, sporting alarmed and surprised looks. By the time we had been out for a couple of hours or more, the numbers of officers grew, eventually including a fellow proudly sporting an automatic teargas gun, roughly aimed at a group of less than ten nonviolent protestors, a staff member of a county supervisor, and a couple of television cameras. All in all, I'd say our community responded very well given the time of the raid, it's just a shame that having great community support won't increase the level of access for patients in this remote area of the SF Bay, our best hope for now is probably that it can keep the operators out of prison.
Nov 012007

Steph Sherer Shares Her Story with Drew Carey - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 01, 2007 8:09 AM
If you're familiar with ASA's work, you've probably heard a lot about our Executive Director, Steph Sherer. What you might not have know though is that she is a medical marijuana patient. Drew Carey recently interviewed Steph, as part of The Drew Carey Project, and she talked to him about her experiences as a patient and her inspiration to found Americans for Safe Access. Please watch the interview with Steph and Drew Carey's segment on medical marijuana: If you like what you saw, please help us spread the word by passing on a link to the video to your friends, co-workers and family: www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/DrewCarey
Oct 292007

A Sad Day in Montana, and across the Country - In Remebrance of Robin Prosser - Americans for Safe Access

It is a sad day for the people of Montana, medical marijuana advocates, and people anywhere who are sympathetic to the plight of the sick and dying. Robin Prosser, a Missoula, Montana medical marijuana patient, and a powerful activist fighting for the rights of patients, took her life on October 18. She will be remembered in the struggle for a compassionate and humane federal policy on medical marijuana. Robin was a fighter. She encountered many obstacles, but many victories along the way. In 2002, she sustained a 60-day hunger strike in order to bring attention to her need  for medical marijuana, as well as a need for the protection of patients. In 2004, Robin was charged with possession of an illegal substance and paraphernalia, but managed to fight the charges and continue to use medical marijuana. Arguably, the attention Robin gave to the issue in the preceding years helped to pass I-148, the Montana Medical Marijuana Act (MMMA) of 2004. However, even with the passage of the much-needed MMMA, Robin's troubles were not over. In 2007, a UPS package was intercepted from her registered caregiver by the DEA. The package was her twice-monthly shipment of 20 grams of medical marijuana. Though no federal charges were ever filed against Robin, the action by DEA agents was a clear attempt to intimidate her and others. In fact, the DEA's involvement is representative of increased attacks on patients in states with medical marijuana laws. It is part of a last-ditch effort to avoid a federal policy change. I had a chance to talk with Robin shortly after the DEA seized her medical marijuana and she informed me at the time that she had no other way to obtain the medicine she relied on to treat her severe pain and nausea caused by an immunosuppressive disorder she had endured for more than 20 years. Robin was rightfully angry and despondent. It is a shame that we have lost another activist in this struggle. It is shameful that the DEA either cannot see the harm it is inflicting, or is cognizant of the consequences of its actions but refuses to change course. Regardless, it's a tragedy. Robin will be missed, but we must carry on her strong activist conviction.
Oct 262007

ASA's Trip to LA: Protest, DEA Raid & Interviews - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 26, 2007 7:39 AM
ASA's trip to LA two weeks ago for the rally calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to Stand Up for Patients' Rights was apparently well documented. On Thursday, hundreds of patients and advocates rallied outside of Governor Schwarzenegger's Los Angeles office: Later that night, the DEA raided a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. ASA and LA activists jumped into motion and coordinated a protest outside of the dispensary: During the weekend, Dean Becker interviewed me for a documentary he's working on, and I discussed the increase in raids and ASA's response to DEA actions (my interview follows the one with Dr. Mitch Earlywine):
Oct 252007

News From Dallas: ASA on the Road - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 25, 2007 12:12 PM
ASA Participates in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's National Conference! This week, ASA Executive Director, Steph Sherer, Government Affairs Director, Caren Woodson, and I traveled to Dallas, Texas to attend the annual National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 2007 National Conference in an effort to continue to build a coalition of condition-based groups and expand ASA MS Patients' Union. We staffed our educational outreach exhibit and discussed safe access to marijuana with a receptive audience of people living with MS, their family-members, caregivers, and advocates. We also were afforded the opportunity to broaden our knowledge about both the National MS Society and the innovations in Multiple Sclerosis research and treatment. The overall reception from conference participants has been very encouraging. Many people remembered us from last year's conference. Others were introduced to medical cannabis as treatment for symptoms associated with MS for the first time. Building on the momentum generated from an article published earlier this year by InsideMS, "Considering Cannabis," We have been introducing several MS Society chapter leaders, members, and staff to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and it's ability to treat several symptoms associated with MS. Since ASA participated in last year's conference, the National MS Society has implemented a Cannabis Task Force, led by MS expert, Dr. Alan J. Thompson, to, "review published studies on medical marijuana and make recommendations." Read more about the objectives of the task force in the Considering Cannabis article. Click here to read more about ASA's Patients' Unions.
Oct 222007

Stop the DEA from Breaking Up Two Happy Families - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 22, 2007 7:49 AM

DEA raids consistently disrupt the lives of innocent patients and providers, but two recent raids have threatened to break up these two happy families: Breaking Up a Family... Ronald Naulls operated a safe, legal medical cannabis collective in Corona for over a year. On July 17, 2007, Naulls's home and the collective were invaded by the DEA. They seized everything: his property; his personal accounts; all of the collective's assets. Naulls was arrested and is now facing federal prosecution for distribution of medical cannabis. But that wasn't the worst of it. County child protective services came along and took Naulls's three little girls, ages 1, 3, and 5, and charged his wife with felony child endangerment. When they spoke to their children in their confidential foster home, the big sister said, Mommy, we're ready to come home now, we promise to be good. The family has since been reunited, but Naulls is still facing a lengthy legal battle. You can help out by donating through Green-Aid. Paramilitary-Style Raids Deny Patients Access to Edible Cannabis On September 26, 2007, the DEA raided five locations the DEA says are connected to Tainted, Inc., a well-known supplier of edible medical cannabis products available in dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state. Heavily armed federal agents seized cannabis plants and medicinal edibles, arrested three people and killed an employee’s dog. On October 4th, Michael Martin turned himself in following an arrest warrant issued during the raids. He spoke in front of the Oakland Federal Building, surrounded by his wife, two children, and his mother, pleading with the federal government to spare his family more pain. Martin and three other defendants in the Tainted case are facing a lengthy and expensive legal battle, and Martin could face twenty years or more in federal prison for his role in supplying medical cannabis to qualified patients. You can help out by donating through Free Tainted.

Oct 192007

California Weekly Round Up - Americans for Safe Access

  • October 19, 2007 11:35 AM
Arcata City Council and Local Activists Reach a Working Compromise for Safe Access This week, Arcata City Council voted unanimously to establish a medical marijuana working group in an effort to protect the community and patients' rights. Humboldt County ASA and other local activists attended the meeting in support of the effort, while voicing concerns about regulations. This effort came about as a compromise between local medical cannabis supporters and the city council. Earlier in October, members of the council had expressed concerns about lack of security and safety regulations at medical cannabis grow houses. Rather than taking drastic measures to ban medical cannabis grow houses, at the urging of the community, the council decided to implement a working group to assess the need for and then begin to develop regulations. The medical cannabis working group will first examine the community's need for regulations, while being mindful of patients' rights. They will then focus on establishing a task force which will develop zoning regulations and guidelines for medical marijuana grow houses. Read more about the new working group in the Eureka Reporter. Landlord Letters Come to Orange County In continuation of the DEA's recent trend targeting innocent third parties, this week, landlords in Orange County received asset forfeiture letters. These letters threaten to confiscate the landlords' properties if they do not cooperate with the DEA and evict dispensing collective tenants. The DEA, once more, has chosen to victimize an innocent third party, property owners, in its ongoing war on medical cannabis. This trend of targeting innocent people has been seen in other Southern California cities such as Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Long Beach. We need a political fix for this problem in the immediate future. The DEA is continuing to go to drastic measures like these to undermine California state law. This is yet another reason Governor Schwarzenegger needs to stand up for patients' rights and defend California's medical marijuana laws. Click here to send a message to the Governor urging him to stand up for patents' rights. We must put an end to the mindless victimization of innocent citizens! To sign up to receive the weekly round up by email, click here.