Blog Voices from the Frontlines
- Winning a legal victory that forces law enforcement to return medical marijuana to valid California patients
- Co-sponsoring the largest HIV/AIDS lobby day in DC
- Launching a grassroots campaign to pressure Gov. Schwarzenegger to stand up for patients' rights
- Protecting state laws by defeating the Coburn Amendment
- And much, much more...
Thanks to Alex at Drug Law Blog for including some of ASA's accomplishments in his top 10 drug law stories of 2007. Here's how we ranked:
8. ASA Sues the Feds for Putting Out Pseudo-Scientific Gobbledygook.
One of the intriguing things about law is the way formalized and seemingly very "square" tactics can sometimes accomplish surprisingly progressive goals. This year, Americans for Safe Access brought a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA based on a law called the Data Quality Act. The basic argument is that under the DQA, these federal agencies have to rely on accurate science in setting their policies, and that their position on medical marijuana manifestly fails to do that. This suit is still working its way through the courts, so we'll see what comes of it....
4. Medical Marijuana: The Feds Push, and California Pushes Back
... In November, the Fourth District Court of Appeal decided City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court, a case that was all about whether an individual should be able to get back medical marijuana that was seized by police if the marijuana was legally possessed under California law. We also saw the oral argument in the California Supreme Court in the employment law case of Ross v. RagingWire, which was about whether an employee could be fired for using physician-approved medical marijuana. Though it's tough to know how that one will ultimately come out, at least some of the comments from the justices suggested that they were sympathetic to the state's position on medical marijuana. [Both of these cases were argued by ASA Chief Counsel, Joe Elford.]
Check out the rest of his top 10 to see how we matched up.
Oakland Mayor Dellums Speaks Out for Safe Access On December 20th, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums came out strongly in support of medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by issuing a statement and sending a letter to House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI). Dellums also stated his support for Representative Conyers' decision to hold hearings scrutinizing the latest DEA tactics in California of sending threatening letters to landlords and raiding dispensaries that are in compliance with local and state law. In Dellums' letter to Representative Conyers, he "urge[s] the House Judiciary Committee to expeditiously hold hearings and examine this very important issue." Mayor Dellums' public statement and letter were a result of a coalition of activists reaching out to the mayor, including ASA, local attorney James Anthony, the Drug Policy Alliance, CA NORML, and the Marijuana Policy Project. Just under a month ago, Bay Area landlords who rented to collectives received letters from the DEA threatening to seize their assets if they did not evict the medical cannabis providers. ASA and the coalition of advocates sprung into action, reaching out immediately to local elected officials, calling on them to stand up for patients and providers. Mayor Dellums' recent public support joins a handful of other elected officials in the Bay Area, including Senator Carol Migden, Assemblyman Mark Leno, and the Oakland City Council who have come out publicly against the federal government's attack on medical marijuana. We are continuing to rally support from local officials and the community. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates have yet to release a statement supporting medical cannabis patients and providers and condemning the DEA's attacks. Read Mayor Dellums' letter to Representative Conyers at: http://www.americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/Dellums_Letter_to_Conyers.pdf Read Mayor Dellums' statement at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/Dellums_Statement.pdf
To find out ways to get involved and ensure safe access in San Francisco please contact Alex Franco at: AAAFranco@yahoo.com To find out ways to get involved in the East Bay please contact Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org
Court Appeals Verdict: Patient's Conviction is Reversed The Fourth Appellate District Court issued another very positive published decision in People v. Chakos last week. The two concurring judges, Aronson and Fybel, involved in the unanimous opinion were the same two concurring judges in the Garden Grove (Kha) case.
The court found that the conviction for possession with the intent to sell of defendant Chakos should be reversed because the court improperly admitted a cop to testify as an expert about marijuana distribution. They found him to be no more an expert than the average layperson because he did not understand the unique practices and difficulties faced by medical marijuana patients. Although the defendant possessed approximately six ounces of marijuana, had a digital scale, and plastic baggies, the court found that this did not suggest non-medical use. Specifically, after noting that a patient is legally entitled to possess eight ounces of marijuana under California law, the court stated:
"One might posit, then, that individuals who may lawfully possess marijuana under state law for medicinal purposes will have patterns of purchase and holding that will reflect the practical difficulties in obtaining the drug. Those practical difficulties could also explain the gram scale -- anyone with the lawful right to possess marijuana will need to take precautions not to insure that he or she does not get “ripped off” by a dealer, but that he or she does not possess more than the eight ounces contemplated by the Act. Practical difficulties of obtaining the drug also explain why a patient entitled to 13 possess it under state law might want to keep an extra supply on hand within the legal amount, since supplies would not be reliable."
They end the decision by referring to the "expert" cop:
"Now, are these speculations to be rejected because contradicted by the expert’s testimony on the record? No -- and that is the point: The record fails to show that Deputy Cormier is any more familiar than the average layperson or the members of this court with the patterns of lawful possession for medicinal use that would allow him to differentiate them from unlawful possession for sale. In other words, Cormier was unqualified to render an expert opinion in this case."
Read more about the case and the 4th Appellate Court's decision in the San Francisco Chronicle's story: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/12/21/BAJ0U37B7.DTL&tsp=1 Ukiah City Council Calls for Medicine Limits- Board of Supervisors to Consider Ballot Initiative The Ukiah City Council is expected to vote on a resolution today at 4:00pm, which calls on the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors to put an initiative on the ballot to limit the number of plants medical cannabis patients are allowed to cultivate and repeal the landmark legislation, Measure G. Measure G was voted on by the Mendocino County voters in 2000. 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 Council is calling for a repeal of Measure G and limiting the plant numbers to six per patient. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss putting the repeal of Measure G and limiting patients' cultivation on the ballot next Tuesday, January 8th.
Come out and support patients' access! Scroll down to "City and County Hearings" to find details about the Board of Supervisors meeting next Tuesday.
Read about Ukiah City Council's efforts to repeal of Measure G in the Press Democrat: http://www1.pressdemocrat.com/article/20071224/NEWS/712240316/1033/NEWS01 and in the Willits News: http://www.willitsnews.com//ci_7812598?IADID=Search-www.willitsnews.com-www.willitsnews.com
Orange County Begins Issuing Medical Cannabis ID Cards From Safe Access Now's Aaron Smith
On January 2nd, the Orange County Department of Public Health launched the statewide medical marijuana ID card program. Application for the cards are being taken on an appointment-only basis. Obtaining a card is voluntary for patients and caregivers but many find them to be very helpful in preventing false arrest by state and local law enforcement. In order to qualify for the ID card, you must be able to provide a copy of a valid doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana, proof of residency within Orange County and pay an application fee of $150 ($75 for MediCal recipients).
To make an appointment and apply for the card program, call the County Health Department at (714) 480-6717 during normal business hours.
By complying with the trial court's order, the Garden Grove police will actually be facilitating a primary principle of federalism, which is to allow the states to innovate in areas bearing on the health and well-being of their citizens. Indeed, "[o]ure federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of States [that have authorized the use of medical marijuana] to decide from themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens." [citation] The [Compassionate Use Act] and the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] are a clear manifestation of that decision-making process.The feds may do what the feds will do in enforcing their own laws, but the people of California are entitled to decide to tread a different path, which requires the return of medical marijuana wrongfully seized by the police. The City of Garden Grove was joined in its resistance to court-ordered return of medical marijuana by several amici (friends of the court), which included the California Peace Officer' Association and the California District Attorneys' Association. (The Attorney General, on the hand, filed a brief supporting our side.) The court addressed several of their claims:
Amici for the City also claim that ordering the return of Kha's marijuana is ill advised as a matter of public policy because local police are held to a high moral standard, they often cooperate with federal drug enforcement efforts, and they are generally charged with enforcing and administering “the law of the land,” which includes federal law. We appreciate these considerations and understand police officers at all levels of government have an interest in the interdiction of illegal drugs. But it must be remembered it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws as such. For reasons we have explained, state courts can only reach conduct subject to federal law if such conduct also transcends state law, which in this case it does not. To the contrary, Kha's conduct is actually sanctioned and made “noncriminal” under the CUA.The court emphasized to the police that medical marijuana patients are not criminals:
Amici argue the police should not have to return Kha's marijuana to him, even though he is qualified to use the drug for medical reasons under California law. 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.For the first time in a published opinion, a California court clarified to the local police that it is state law, not federal law, they should be enforcing. It was a pleasure to read this thoughtful, well-reasoned decision which strongly vindicates the right of medical marijuana patients everywhere. It will be cited often. For the briefs filed in the case see here.
ASA Applauds Gov. Richardson’s Inclusion of Medical Marijuana in HIV/AIDS Platform - Americans for Safe AccessOn Saturday, December 1, to commemorate Worlds AIDS Day, Democratic Presidential Candidate, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson unveiled his HIV/AIDS policy platform. In addition to recognizing the need for a National AIDS Strategy, the Governor’s plan includes a provision that would permit the use of medicinal marijuana to help people living with HIV/AIDS improve pain and symptom management. The anti-emetic and analgesic properties of cannabis have been particularly useful to HIV/AIDS patients. People living with HIV/AIDS have long used cannabis to help with symptoms of HIV related illnesses ranging from wasting and loss of appetite to adherence to medications. Consequently, it is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 AIDS patients use cannabis for medical purposes. Earlier this year, the journal Neurology published the results of a clinical trial indicating that smoked marijuana can alleviate painful, peripheral HIV/AIDS-related neuropathy. Research also shows that access to cannabis may improve health care outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS. For example individuals who use cannabis in conjunction with their antiretroviral therapy are approximately 3.3 times more likely to remain on their prescribed drug therapies than those who do not use cannabis. The Bush Administration has failed to acknowledge the growing body of evidence which demonstrate that marijuana has medical value. In fact, neither the Clinton nor the Bush Administrations have ever undertaken any effort to review or fully implement the recommendations of the 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study, Marijuana and Medicine-Assessing the Science, which acknowledged that "For patients such as those with AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy and who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication." In contrast, California and 12 other states, including New Mexico, have passed laws that authorize the use of cannabis by qualified patients who possess a recommendation from their physicians. Americans for Safe Access is encouraged by Governor Richardson’s sensitivity to the intersection of medical marijuana and HIV/AIDS. We hope other Presidential candidates will take note, and follow his lead.
In late September, DEA proposed a new rule that would effectively place dronabinol (the active chemical in MARINOL) in Schedule III. Wait a second, isn't MARINOL already in Schedule III? It is. When MARINOL was first marketed, it was placed in Schedule II. Once DEA was shown that it had a low potential for abuse, they agreed to place it in Schedule III. But the narrow language only places in Schedule III MARINOL's specific formulation (synthetically derived dronabinol, suspended in sesame oil). All other formulations remain in Schedule I.Marinol's patent is almost up, which will open up the market to generic dronabinol, as long as the rule change goes through. ASA submitted a Public Comment in support of the proposed rule change. Here are some highlights:
Primarily, the proposed rule is a positive step because in it, the DEA acknowledges, only for the second time (Marinol was the first in 1986), the obvious medical benefits of THC/dronabinol. These proposed changes also represent progress because they implicitly recognize the value of whole-plant cannabis and its capacity to extract naturally occurring THC that is bioequivalent to synthetic THC... This proposed change is also a positive development because its will likely result in greater access for patients to less expensive, naturally derived cannabis-based drugs in the short term... Generic drugs, drugs that are produced and distributed without patent protection (and approved by the FDA under 21 U.S.C. 355 § 505(j)), are generally much cheaper than brand-name drugs, such as Marinol.We go on to argue that the rule change does not go far enough, and that the DEA needs to consider rescheduling other cannabinoids:
...the DEA should initiate another proposed rule change that reschedules a wide array of natural, non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids to support the research and development of a wider variety of cannabis-based medicines. Research suggests that the beneficial therapeutic effects of cannabis may result from the interaction, or synergy, among various cannabinoids. This helps to explain why medicines developed from whole-plant extracts may be more effective than single cannabinoid drugs developed from synthetic compounds. For instance, Sativex is a cannabis-based medicine, which combines both THC and CBD to produce an entirely different therapeutic potential than THC alone, has been developed by UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, and has been approved for use in Canada and is undergoing clinical trials in Europe and the United States...And we further argue that the DEA should end the obstructions to medical cannabis research:
...the DEA should accept the opinion of its own U.S. Department of Justice-appointed Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Mary Ellen Bittner, who urges the DEA to grant a license to Professor Lyle Craker to cultivate research-grade cannabis for distribution exclusively to federally approved researchers, which would greatly facilitate research on the therapeutic value of cannabis and access to its naturally derived constituent cannabinoids, specifically THC.Please read ASA's full comment and MAPS' comment.