Blog Voices from the Frontlines

Mar 272008

CA committee calls for an end to DEA raids, but prosecutions continue - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 27, 2008 11:44 AM

Yesterday was a historic day for the medical marijuana movement. SJR 20, a resolution that calls for an end to DEA attacks on California’s medical cannabis patients and providers, cleared the California Senate Health Committee.

Unsurprisingly, the votes came down on party lines. One Republican Senator stated that there is a pill that patients could use instead of smoking marijuana. Committee Chairwoman Sheila Kuehl responded that a pill did exist (Marinol), but that it is too strong for many patients. It's good to know that many of our state representatives are well educated on this issue and willing to stand up for patients and providers.

Californians have good reason to rejoice about this win. The resolution, authored by Senator Carole Migden, not only calls on the DEA to leave patients and providers alone, but further calls on the President and Congress to enact federal legislation to end the raids. If passed, this will be the first time in U.S. history that a state legislature has denounced the DEA’s interference in state laws and tactics used against medical cannabis patients and providers.

Unfortunately, even as our legislators consider this resolution, the raids and prosecutions continue. Just hours before the SJR 20 hearing occurred, Michael Martin plead guilty to a felony count of conspiracy to manufacture a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana. Martin now faces up to 5 years imprisonment, a $250K fine, and several years of supervised release.

 

Martin was arrested and charged in conjunction with the September 26, 2007 DEA raids of the Tainted, Inc. facilities that produced clearly labeled baked goods and other marijuana edibles for medical cannabis patients and collectives all over California. The products made by Tainted were available only through medical cannabis dispensaries and carried prominent warning labels.

Despite these precautions, the DEA attempted to paint Martin and Tainted as criminals who were pedaling marijuana-laced candy to children. Martin feels he has done nothing wrong, and the medical cannabis community showed up in force yesterday to support this assertion at his hearing yesterday. Fifty supporters packed the court room, sending a clear message to the judge.

The words that Martin wrote just before turning himself in will hopefully be heard by the California Senate and Assembly, as they consider passing SJR 20 to send a clear message to the federal government:

I encourage community leaders, government officials, patriotic citizens, and anyone who has the common sense to realize the failed policies of this war on medical cannabis, to rise up and be heard. Let your elected officials know that we demand a stop to these senseless acts of violence and the needless wasting of resources in states where citizens support the use of medical cannabis. The choice to use medical cannabis is a decision that should be made by a patient and a doctor... It is a fundamental right of the sick and dying to find relief for their pain and suffering through sound research and advice from their personal physician. The issue here is not a matter of whether a law has been broken. The issue is whether those laws are just and moral.

 

While a future change in law may not end the persecution Martin and his family are experiencing, it would prevent more tragedies like this from occurring.

Mar 262008

Obama: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws." - Americans for Safe Access

I was heartened to hear last Saturday words that cut right through the federal war on medical marijuana patients by one of the likeliest candidates to be our next U.S. President. In an interview with Mail Tribune of Oregon, Barack Obama stated, in answer to a question on medical marijuana, “…I think the basic concept of using medical marijuana for the same purposes and with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors, I think that's entirely appropriate.” Obama then uttered the following decisive and sensible phrase, giving hope to medical marijuana patients and advocates throughout the country:
I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.
Ideally, Obama would commit to changing federal policy around medical marijuana and allow legal access to those who benefit from it. Unfortunately, the federal government continues to ignore the mountain of evidence that marijuana has medical efficacy for a number of health conditions. Eventually, the federal government will align with the vast majority of U.S. citizens that support medical marijuana, and maybe that day will come with Obama in the White House. In the meantime, however, we can at least get the Bush Administration to end its harmful medical marijuana raids. While Obama’s words may not be strong enough to pierce the flak jackets of this Administration’s DEA agents, they may eventually resonate with the new DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart or Attorney General Michael Mukasey (and maybe they need to hear from more of us too). What Obama’s words do give us is hope for the future; that, at the least, the federal government will not hinder states that choose to establish medical marijuana laws. No need to sit around for that day to come, though. There’s something that we can do right now to ensure that outcome and more quickly. Americans for Safe Access has been urging the top candidates to pledge that they will introduce an Executive Order to end DEA activity in states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Sound familiar? Maybe he lifted the idea from our Executive Order campaign. Regardless, he has not formally pledged yet. Here’s your chance to urge Obama and Clinton to officially pledge to introduce an Executive Order, if elected President, that cuts off funding to the Department of Justice for enforcement against medical marijuana in states that have adopted such laws. Please consider emailing either or both of them from our Executive Order campaign page, or write to them at the following addresses: Senator Hillary Clinton Hillary for President 4420 North Fairfax Drive Arlington, VA 22203 Senator Barack Obama Obama for America P.O. Box 8102 Chicago, IL 60680 Just last week, six dispensaries were raided by the DEA in the Los Angeles area, aptly illustrating how this issue could not be more timely and important for our next President. Act now!
Mar 252008

ASA Introduces New Video Testimonials - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 25, 2008 5:05 AM
Watch 3 Medical Cannabis Supporters Share Their Stories As the National Field Coordinator for ASA I meet patients, medical professionals, caregivers, and people from all walks of life on a daily basis. When meeting people new to the movement I am regularly asked who supports medical cannabis and why should I get on board? In the past, I would then take several minutes to explain, but that is about to change today! Over the next month on each Monday, ASA will be releasing video testimonials through our blog of medical cannabis supporters to help educate people about medical cannabis. Below are three Bay Area medical cannabis supporters who volunteered to share their stories to help spread the word about medical cannabis. The video testimonial project has been designed to help educate people about medical cannabis by having patients and supporters share their stories. This project was also designed to help people like you educate your friends and family about medical cannabis by sharing these videos with your community. Forward this blog to family, friends, and community members and help spread the word about medical cannabis. Also, check back here next Monday for the next installment of the video testimonials. Steve from Oakland, California Yvonne from Richmond, California Carole from Fremont, California Thank you to Carson Higby-Flowers for volunteering to record, edit, and produce the testimonials. Also, thank you to all of the brave patients, supporters, and advocates who took the time to come in and participate in the video shoot.
Mar 212008

California Weekly Round Up - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 21, 2008 1:23 PM

California Supreme Court Affirms ASA Win in Return of Property Case From California Campaign Director, Don Duncan

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court declined to review or "de-publish" the landmark ruling in City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court of Orange County (Felix Kha case) that upheld the right to return of wrongfully confiscated medical cannabis, despite federal law! The decision in Felix Kha's case was a huge victory for patients, but we feared the worst after the City of Corona asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The Court might have "de-published" the case, making it impossible to cite as a precedent in other litigation.

Wednesday's ruling was an about-face from the Supreme Court's unconscionable ruling allowing employment discrimination against legal patients in Ross v. Raginwire Telecommunications.

Now that the Felix Kha decision has been vindicated, patients and caregivers can challenge the wrongful confiscation of medicine in any court in the state. This will leave local law enforcement with a tough choice - obey California law or face a torrent of litigation under this decision. No longer can they hide behind the illusion of enforcing federal law. We have been waiting a long time for a ruling that would put some teeth in Proposition 215. This is a big incisor! ASA spent years identifying this test case, preparing for the fight, and arguing in court. That is the kind of long-term, big picture thinking it is going to take to break the culture of resistance among some California police officers. This summer, ASA will beef up its return of property campaign to be sure every patient and caregiver in the state enjoys the full benefit of this precedent. Have a look at ASA Staff Counsel Joe Elford's blog on this topic at http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/blog/?p=74 ASA, Operators, and Advocates Call on State to Protect Tax Revenue

On Tuesday, advocates and dispensary operators from throughout the state met up in Sacramento to testify at the Board of Equalization's hearing to help protect safe access and sales tax. The group met with the Board to encourage them to protect an important source of revenue - $100 million in sales tax collected annually by medical marijuana dispensaries.

ASA's Chief of Staff, Rebecca Saltzman testified first saying that dispensaries' tax revenue is in danger, due to increased federal interference in the state medical marijuana program. In 2007 alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana providers, and they embarked on a new strategy, sending more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries, threatening property owners with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture. She also mentioned House Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers' intent to hold the DEA accountable for their actions against patients in future oversight hearings. Read Saltzman's report on the hearing on ASA's blog.

Following Rebecca Saltzman was Californial NORML's Dale Geiringer who broke down the numbers for the BOE, focusing on the amount of tax revenue dispensaries produce. He also discussed the problem of the DEA seizing assets from dispensaries.

Geiringer was followed by several dispensary operators and former operators from Berkeley, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma who explained the DEA threats they have been forced to face. Read more in Rebecca Saltzman's blog about the hearing.

DEA Raids 5 Los Angeles Dispensaries

On Thursday, the DEA raided 6 dispensaries and the private residence of an operator in Los Angeles. All of the dispensaries are from a single family of collectives. The collectives raided were:

The Holistic Caregivers, Compton Western Caregivers Group, LA Crenshaw Holistic Caregivers Group, LA THC Gardena, Gardena Southern California Caregivers Group, LA (SFV) Med Ex, LA

No arrests were made and the collectives, which took only minor losses due to careful precautions, are expected to reopen today. During one of the raids, acitivists at the site protesting over heard one of the DEA officers tell the others that "the alert has gone out" and "they're on the way." This further shows that ASA's Raid Response Emergency Text Messaging system is working!

Sign up for ASA's Emergency Response Text Messaging System to receive instant alerts about raids in your area. Visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/RaidAlert

Look for an announcement over the next few days about LA ASA's response to the raids at Los Angeles City Hall and the downtown Federal Building on Tuesday morning.

Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison

Federal Judge Frank C. Damrell sentenced Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, Dale Schafer to five years in prison for "conspiracy to grow marijuana and manufacturing it in a medicinal marijuana case." During the four hour sentencing hearing, Judge Damrell said he had no choice but to issue the statutory minimum of five years in federal prison with an option to appeal the decision. The couple has posted bail at $25,000 per person as they await appeal.

On September 28, 2001, the DEA raided the Cool, California (El Dorado County) clinic of medical marijuana physician and breast cancer patient Mollie Fry and her husband, attorney and hemophilia and chronic pain patient Dale Schafer, and seized patient records. Almost immediately after the Raich decision, on June 22, 2005, Fry and Schafer were arrested and indicted for marijuana found on the premises during the raid. In 2002, the federal government also successfully revoked Fry's DEA license to practice medicine.

In order to convince the jury to convict on charges of cultivation of more than 100 plants, the U.S. Attorney took the unusual and controversial step of aggregating the plants in gardens from three different years. Additionally, Judge Damrell did not allow them to explain to the jury that the El Dorad County Sheriffs and District Attorney had previously given them active permission to grow their relatively modest garden.

Fry and Schafer are currently caring for three beautiful children and two grandchildren in their home.

Read more about the hearing in the Sacramento Bee.

Local Updates: Santa Barbara Approves Dispensary Ordinance and Sacramento Votes Against ID Cards This week, the Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted to approve a citywide dispensary ordinance. The vote came after a 6-month moratorium which began last summer. The Santa Barbara ASA chapter has been diligently working to urge the city council to develop and implement a dispensary ordinance for over a year. Santa Barbara has seven dispensaries. Under the new regulations, only one dispensary will be in full compliance. The city council foresaw this problem and placed an addendum to the ordinance allowing the current dispensaries three years to fall into compliance with the new ordinance.

While the Santa Barbara City Council was voting for new regulations to protect safe access for patients, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted against implementing the state medical cannabis ID card program. The County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 against the program. Many patients testified at the hearing asking the board to adopt the program, but the board refused. The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney testified against the program citing concern that the program would encourage marijuana use.

Thank you to Sacramento ASA chapter, Aaron Smith from the Marijuana Policy Project, and all of the other medical cannabis advocates who have been working for months to urge the Board of Supervisors to adopt the program.

To read more about Santa Barbara and Sacramento read the Santa Barbara Independent Article and the Sacramento Bee Article.

 

Mar 202008

Building a Movement in Maryland - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 20, 2008 5:19 AM
Tony Bowles was a plaintiff in ASA’s successful lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol. He has taken action time and time again on behalf of patients in need of medical marijuana. He now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he is working hard to help improve Maryland’s medical marijuana law. Tony can be reached at tonebowles@sbcglobal.net Last week, ASA, in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance, kicked off our Patients for Access campaign in Maryland, which I first wrote about here in January. The campaign is designed to build grassroots support and identify potential leadership to support future legislative reform efforts. More than a dozen people came out for our first Medical Marijuana Teach-In and Know Your Rights Training. I think we gave an astounding presentation and I was pleased to see many familiar and new faces. The crowd was incredibly diverse and the feedback portion of the training indicated that they sincerely appreciated the information and the training. "Dynamic", "Necessary", "Informative", and "Enraging" were just a few of the descriptions used during an oral evaluation. Little is known by the public about the state’s medical marijuana law and a few attendees were not even aware that Maryland has a medical marijuana law. We believe our first training raised awareness and provided a foundation to build on. Everyone at the training signed our petition to protect Maryland medical marijuana patients and many also signed up to participate in a field trip to meet friendly state legislators next Month in Annapolis. A few took the information, sign-up sheets, and membership forms to get their friends and family involved. We were fortunate to be hosted at a really great space in Baltimore's Charles Village inside an old Methodist Church which now serves as a noncommercial, cooperatively managed space for radical politics and grassroots culture -- a project sponsored by a local co-op, 2640. We are conducting similar teach-ins throughout the month of March. This week we host trainings in Salisbury, Maryland (Eastern Shore) and Silver Spring, MD (Montgomery County). Our final training occurs in Western Maryland on the March 25th. For more information and to keep updated about our continued efforts to improve Maryland’s medical marijuana law see: http://www.drugpolicy.org/statebystate/maryland/ http://www.americansforsafeaccess.org/maryland
Mar 192008

And Sometimes We Win - Americans for Safe Access

Hours ago, the California Supreme Court denied review, as well as a request for depublication, of Garden Grove v. Superior Court. This was the 41-page published decision that strongly affirms the right of medical marijuana patients to possess their medicine without law enforcement harassment and requires courts to order the return of marijuana that was improperly seized by the police. The decision seemed unlikely to survive the California Supreme Court's scrutiny after the Supreme Court's horrendous decision in Ross v. RagingWire. Now, the decision ihas withstood this challenge and is binding on all of the superior courts of this state. Whereas the California Attorney General was on our side, all of the largest police officers' associations, as well as the California District Attorney's Association, filed briefs against us and plead with the Supreme Court to grant review of the case. Their desire for the published decision be repealed is understandable. It rejects all of the meritless arguments made by the police in no uncertain terms, especially in the last five pages. In particular, the decision states that California's laws are not preempted by federal law and that "it must be remembered it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws as such." So much for the police's purported confusion about which law to enforce. The decision also contains many other quotable passages. Among them is the court's rejection of the characterization of medical marijuana patients as "criminals." In response to the police, the court states as follows:
Characterizing Kha as a “criminal defendant,” amici claim the CUA only provides him with a “defense” to certain offenses and does not make his possession of medical marijuana “lawful.” But Kha is clearly not a criminal defendant with respect to the subject marijuana. Since the prosecution dismissed the drug charge he was facing, he is nothing more than an aggrieved citizen who is seeking the return of his property. The terms “criminal” and “defendant” do not aptly apply to him.
This court got it. I am elated their words remain "published" and binding on every superior court and law enforcement as well.
Mar 192008

Medical Marijuana Providers Call on State to Protect Tax Revenue - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 19, 2008 8:05 AM
Yesterday, I joined advocates and providers in Sacramento to call on the State Board of Equalization to protect an important source of revenue - $100 million in sales tax collected annually by medical marijuana dispensaries. After waiting through half a dozen unrelated tax cases to be heard before the board, I testified, explaining how this tax revenue is in danger, due to increased federal interference in the state medical marijuana program. In 2007 alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana providers, and they embarked on a new strategy, sending more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries, threatening property owners with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture. I also described reactions from elected officials - ranging from a statement by US House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers questioning the DEA's tactics to State Senator Carole Migden's introduction of SJR 20, which calls for an end to federal interference and urging Congress and the President to establish policy consistent with the compassionate use laws of California. I concluded my comments with a plea that would be echoed by all of the following advocates, asking the BOE to work with the Governor and state legislature to protect this source of state revenue, which has become increasingly vital to our state's fiscal health in the face of budget cuts to important state programs. Dale Gieringer of CA NORML spoke next, highlighting the amount of sales tax and income tax dispensaries contribute. He also discussed the problem of the DEA seizing assets from dispensaries. For example, the "Compassion Center for Alameda County paid $3 million in sales taxes before it was closed by the DEA on October 30th. In the process of seizing CCAC's bank account, the DEA stopped a $348,078.49 bank transfer to the Board of Equalization, which the CCAC had transmitted just before the raid." Next, half a dozen current and former dispensary operators spoke about their experiences of DEA harassment. Lisa Sawoya, former director of Hollywood Compassionate Care in Los Angeles, explained that she had gladly paid sales tax to the state. But in July of 2007, her landlord - who had previously been very supportive - received a threatening letter from the DEA. Sawoya agreed to shut down the dispensary at the end of July, and her landlord subsequently called the DEA to tell them of the agreement. Then, on July 25th - days before she was set to close - eight DEA agents stormed into the dispensary, holding guns to employees heads, and seizing all of the money and medicine at the facility. Bill Pearce, former director of River City Patients' Center in Sacramento, explained that he too had willingly paid taxes - to the the tune of $700K over three years to the BOE and another $250K to the IRS and Franchise Tax Board. When the DEA raided him on September 26, 2007, they seized all of his assets, leaving him with nothing to support himself and his family, let alone to pay his legal bills. Four other dispensary operators from Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa, told their stories of DEA harassment, and explained that though they continue operating their dispensaries, they live in fear. Their landlords could evict them at a moment's notice, or worse, the DEA could raid them, seize their assets, and they could face federal charges. All of the BOE members seemed to listen closely, and I could hear exclamations from those seated in the audience who had not been aware of this dire situation. After we spoke, BOE Member Betty Yee addressed the Board, conveying the sense of responsibility and obligation she felt on this issue. She expressed her concern, not only for the tax revenue generated by dispensaries, but also for the patients who depend on these facilities for access to their medicine. She urged the BOE to work with state officials to ensure protection of dispensaries from DEA attacks, echoing the statements she made in a recent opinion piece co-authored by Senator Migden. I left the meeting feeling that we had been listened to and that the BOE may take further steps to protect our community.
Mar 142008

California Weekly Round UP - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 14, 2008 11:33 AM
Santa Cruz Joins the State ID Card Program This week, Santa Cruz County announced their plans to implement the California state medical cannabis ID card program. Santa Cruz County has had their own version of a medical cannabis ID card program for over 5 years, leaving patients at risk to have a negative law enforcement encounter outside of Santa Cruz County limits. Implementing the state ID card program has the potential to help reduce the risk of a negative law enforcement encounter when traveling throughout California. One of the draw backs for Santa Cruz patients, however, is the increase in cost associated with the state ID card. Santa Cruz County joins thirty-six other counties in implementing the medical cannabis ID card program. The ID card program's momentum has reached several of California's counties, including Sacramento, which will be holding a hearing to discuss implementing the medical cannabis state ID card program on Monday. Read the Sacramento Bee editorial about the debate over implementing the medical cannabis ID card program in Sacramento. Read more about Santa Cruz's ID card implementation in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Cloverdale Limits Access for Patients Wednesday the Cloverdale City Council voted to severely limit patient access by banning both medical cannabis dispensaries and outdoor cultivation. The city council voted 4-0 to tentatively ban both outdoor cultivation and dispensaries. If the council's decision becomes permanent, Cloverdale will become the fifth city in Sonoma County to limit patients' access to medicine by banning dispensaries. The council's decision also impacts patients' lives because it leaves patients to have to travel distances to find medicine or forces them to cultivate their own medicine indoors. Many patients do not have the resources to travel long distances and/or cultivate medicine. Read more about Cloverdale's attack on safe access in the Press Democrat.
Mar 132008

Join ASA at Medical Cannabis Conference - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 13, 2008 12:12 PM

Join ASA at the 5th National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics!

 

Doctors, patients, and researchers from around the world are gearing up for the 5th National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, hosted by Patients Out of Time on April 4-5. Click here to register for the conference. Patient Out of Time's Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics will feature patients, activists, doctors, and researchers gathering to discuss the latest research on medical marijuana. This important conference only happens once every other year, so if you are a patient, doctor, researcher, and/or supporter, we strongly encourage you to consider attending the conference, which will be held on the Monterey Peninsula. The conference is less than a month away, and the registration price increases after March 20, so register today! Several members of ASA's Medical and Scientific Advisory Board have been asked to present at the conference, including Philippe Lucas whose talk will be "Putting the Compassion in Compassion Clubs." This cutting edge conference is an excellent opportunity for patients, and their physicians, to learn about exciting and important developments in research. Started in 2000, the Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics is the only national conference organized specifically by patients where attendees will learn about the scientific evidence supporting the therapeutic use of cannabis. It offers the opportunity to meet, network, and share experiences with a diverse national gathering of patients, medical cannabis researchers, our allies and supporters. Join ASA at the 5th National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, April 4-5, 2008, at Asilomar Conference Center, in beautiful, coastal Pacific Grove, California. If you are a patient, please share this information with your medical cannabis physician. The conference has been accredited by University of California, San Francisco which means your physician could be eligible to receive Continuing Medical Education credits. For more information, see their website at www.medicalcannabis.com/conference.htm Help send ASA's staff and supporters to the National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Become a member of ASA today!
Mar 112008

Celebrate National MS Awareness Week - Americans for Safe Access

  • March 11, 2008 9:02 AM
Celebrate National MS Awareness Week: Become a Member of ASA's MS Union This week, thousands of people surviving Multiple Sclerosis are celebrating National MS Awareness Week by taking action to find a cure. During Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week we are encouraging medical cannabis supporters who have been affected by MS to sign up to become a member of ASA's MS Union and help us spread the word about medical cannabis by contacting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at www.NationalMSSociety.org. The Multiple Sclerosis Union works with Americans for Safe Access to distribute important research information, work with condition-based organizations to support patients' right to cannabis in lieu of failed alternatives, and advocate for safe, legal access to marijuana for all patients who need it. The MS Union is open to MS patients who use medical cannabis, caregivers, family members, researchers, physicians, and other health providers who support the use of medical cannabis. Many MS patients report that cannabis has a startling and profound effect on muscle spasms, tremors, balance, bladder control, speech and eyesight. Many wheelchair-bound patients report that they can walk unaided when they have smoked cannabis.  Please take action today to support medical cannabis and Multiple Sclerosis. Become a member of ASA's MS Union today! If you are already a member of ASA's MS Union, celebrate MS Awareness Week by reaching out to other MS groups, such as the National MS Society and tell them how medical cannabis has helped you treat symptoms associated with Multiple Sclerosis.  For more information, contact Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org