Blog Voices from the Frontlines
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.
Israel & Canada Move Ahead, while US Lags Behind in Medical Marijuana Research - Americans for Safe AccessEarlier this month, there were two exciting developments for medical cannabis internationally. In Israel, a Tel Aviv medical clinic began dispensing medical cannabis to patients in need, while in Canada, a federal court ruling ended the monopoly a federal contractor has on supplying cannabis to patients, opening up possibilities for dispensaries and collective production of medicine. Our international counterparts may be surging ahead in their paths to provide safe access for patients who benefit from medical cannabis, but here in the US, it's sometimes hard to move to the conversation about access when our government barely budges on research issues. The DEA continues to uphold a monopoly on the production of cannabis for research, even though it's own administrative law judge recommended ending this monopoly by granting a license to Professor Lyle Craker to grow research material. While whole plant medical cannabis is being stonewalled though, GW Pharmaceuticals is moving rapidly through Phase III trials in the US for Sativex, a cannabis-based tincture. GW's chairman, Dr. Geoffrey Guy, had this to say about the progress of Sativex:
"2008 promises to be an equally eventful year for GW, with the results of a number of key Sativex Phase III trials in Europe and the US due to be reported. The momentum behind Sativex and the wider field of cannabinoid medicines, as highlighted today by the promising results of our THCV metabolic research programme, continues to grow..."It's good to know that GW recognizes the potential for a wider field of cannabis medicine, but until the monopoly on production of cannabis for research is ended, it will be difficult for researchers to push this field forward in the United States. Until then, at least patients in Israel are happy: "One cancer patient said the ministry's decision to offer the drug through the clinic was "a blessing," saying it prevents suffering patients from being driven to buy the drug illegally."
"Resolved by the Senate and the Assembly of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature respectfully memorializes the Congress and President of the United States to enact legislation to require the Drug Enforcement Agency and all other federal agencies and departments to respect the compassionate use laws of states, including returning any assets seized from medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives to the states in which they are located…" Senator Migden's actions follow several recent statements from other California elected officials. Senator Migden joins Los Angeles City Council Member Dennis Zine, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, and others in opposing the DEA actions. ASA and an ad-hoc coalition of reform organizations and activists have been reaching out to elected officials, calling on them to stand up for patients and providers. While Senator Migden's resolution is a significant win for the medical cannabis community, we must continue to urge our elected officials to stand up for patients and providers and call for an end to DEA raids in California.
To better protect the rights and interests of landlords, ASA has created a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, which can be downloaded here. To find out how you can get involved in the campaign to end DEA raids in California, contact Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org or your local California ASA chapter and/or affiliate. Chapter and contact information for your local ASA chapter can be found at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/CaliforniaContacts
San Luis Obispo County Approves the Opening of the First Dispensing Collective This week, the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission voted to approve the permit for a dispensing collective in Templeton. This approval comes after 6 months of debate. With a narrow 3-2 victory, the collective will be the first dispensary in San Luis Obispo County. This is a great victory for the hundreds of patients living in the region who have so far been denied safe access. With the permit approval, the dispensing collective can open in 30 days, pending no appeal from the opposition. Read more about the new collective on KSBY and SanLuisObispo.com
Mendocino Supervisors Vote to Limit Patients' Access and Revisit Measure G This week, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted to restrict patients' cultivation limits to only 25 plants per land parcel. This decision means patient cultivation collectives and gardens are limited to only 25 plants, regardless of the number of registered medical cannabis patients living on or co-owning the parcel of land. This decision has the potential to unduly limit the number of plants patients have the right to cultivate dictated by California state law. Following the vote, the board of supervisors also voted to revisit the 2000 initiative Measure G. The measure decriminalized personal use of cannabis, with the intent to create safer access for medical cannabis patients. Measure G also allowed patients to cultivate up to 25 plants for personal use. The board's decision to put an initiative up for voters to revisit Measure G this June could have a significant impact on patients’ access. If Mendocino voters vote in favor of an initiative which opposes Measure G, this could be a blow to patients' rights by limiting patients' cultivation. Activists in Mendocino County, including Mendocino ASA are springing in to action as a result of the Board of Supervisors’ recent votes. To find out what you can do in Mendocino County, contact MendoBruce@yahoo.com Read more about the Board of Supervisors' votes in the Ukiah Daily Journal.
El Dorado County Denies Dispensing Collective Permit El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted to not renew the business permit for the medical cannabis collective, Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of El Dorado County. The board's decision will have a grave impact on safe access for patients in El Dorado County. The collective, located in Cameron Park, applied for a business license and in 2004. Following license approval by the county, the collective opened its doors to patients in 2005. The decision to deny the license and shut down access for patients cited the disharmony of the federal and state medical marijuana laws. In response to the Board's decision, the collective's operator, Matt Vaughn, has decided to sue the county for violating California state law and the Compassionate Use Act. ASA will keep you updated on the lawsuit and access in El Dorado County as news comes in. To read more about El Dorado County and the Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of El Dorado County, go to: http://www.sacbee.com/101/story/622253.html