Blog Voices from the Frontlines
1. Days After Obama is sworn in, DEA Exploits Transition; Raids Dispensary
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided a medical cannabis dispensary Thursday in South Lake Tahoe in the first days of the new Obama Administration. Even though President Obama had made repeated promises during his election campaign to end federal interference in medical cannabis states, many high-ranking Bush Administration officials have yet to leave office. For example, still at the helm of the DEA is acting Administrator Michele Leonhart, who has been responsible for numerous federal raids in California, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Karen Tandy. Neither Eric Holder, President Obama's pick for U.S. Attorney General, nor a new DEA Administrator, have taken office yet.
"We are very concerned about the DEA’s raid on a legal medical cannabis providers during this transitional period in the Department of Justice. It is no secret that President Obama has made numerous public statements condemning this policy" said Caren Woodson, ASA's Director of Government Affairs. "We are hopeful that Obama will move quickly to, at a minimum, suspend such actions until his Administration has a chance to further look into the matter."
No arrests were made at Holistic Solutions in South Lake Tahoe, though medical cannabis and cash were seized. Since George Bush took office in 2000 Federal agents raided hundreds of sanctioned California dispensaries, as well as the Washington State offices of an advocacy group that was supplying starter plants to authorized patients. In Oregon, DEA used a federal grand jury to try to obtain the private medical records of 17 patients, an effort that was later rejected by a federal court, and even threatened New Mexico state officials with federal prosecution if they moved to implement the state's medical cannabis distribution program.
"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Senator Obama said in an August 2007 statement. "It's not a good use of our resources.". This statement was followed up by Obama in other public events in the run up to the election.
"President Obama must rise to the occasion by suspending all federal interference and by keeping the promise he made to the voters of this country," said Woodson. ASA has been working with the new Administration on changing federal law around medical cannabis, which has included a comprehensive set of policy recommendations.
In another last minute affront to patients, the Bush Administration last week rejected recommendations from its own DEA Administrative Law Judge to expand medical cannabis research, stating it is "in the public interest." The federal government currently prohibits scientists from cultivating cannabis for research, which has a stifling effect on developing the full medical potential of the cannabis plant. "The DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) coordinate the obstruction o meaningful research on medical cannabis, and instead prioritize studying its harmful effects," said Woodson. "Obama has the opportunity here to step in and discontinue a policy that hinders the development of a medicine that benefits hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S."
2. Montana Seeks to Revoke Rights of Patients who Drive, Allow Nurses to Recommend
Two separate bills are being considered by the Montana Legislature this year, each would move the states medical cannabis law in an opposite direction.
Montana House Bill 73 would revise existing state law to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners the authority to prescribe medical cannabis. Currently, only physicians are authorized to do so. The bill's lead sponsor, State Representative Julie French (D-Scobey), framed the issue as one of equality, and one that would help Montanans who live in rural areas and are often only able to see an physicians assistant, rather than a doctor. View the bill here .
However, another bill has also been introduced that would require police to take blood samples from every medical cannabis patient stopped at a traffic encounter. If the samples show traces of THC above an certain amount, the police would revoke a patients' right to use medical cannabis. Tom Daubert, president and founder of Patients and Families United (an ASA Affiliate), addressed the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, saying he supports to goal of reducing impaired driving on public highways but that the bill propsed by Kalispell Republican Sen. Verdell Jackson is offensive and unconstitutionally targets one class of patients. Opponents also argue that the blood concentration limits of THC set forth in the bill are arbitrarily low and would make it almost impossible for any qualified patient to legally drive.
State Senator Rebecca Sturdevan, a proponent of the measure, said that she acknowledges the medical benefits of cannabis but that she doesn't believe patients should be able to use their needed medicine if they are caught driving after using it.
Montana passed its state law in 2004 with 62% in favor.
3. New Mexico Nurse Sues to Recommend Cannabis
Albuquerque psychiatric nurse practitioner Bryan Krumm has filed suit against the federal government, saying he's afraid he'll be raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration if he recommends medical cannabis, as he's legally entitled to do under New Mexico law . The DEA has long undermined state medical cannabis laws, using a variety of tactics. In New Mexico, DEA has actually threatened state officials with prosecution if they carry out the laws passed by their state legislature.
Recently, New Mexico's health department finalized rules for non-profit organizations to grow and dispense medical cannabis to qualified patients, becoming the first state in the US to officially permit such establishments at the state level.
Krumm hopes the lawsuit will convince the courts to change the classification of cannabis to recognize its medical value - which federal agencies deny to this day despite 13 states that remove penalties for its use and almost 35 which recognize its medical use in some way (though patients may not be protected). He said he would recommend cannabis to patients, but hasn't due to fears that the federal agencies such as DEA and DoJ will intervene. He claims he hasn't been able to follow his ethical responsibilities as a nurse practitioner by referring his patients into the medical cannabis program, because the patients would be in jeopardy of federal charges.
4. Medical Cannabis Protections Proposed in Minnesota, Missouri
In the past week, both the Minnesota and Missouri legislatures introduced attempts to provide basic legal protections for patients who rely on medical cannabis as treatment.
The Minnesota State Senate introduced SF 97, which would allow qualified patients to possess only 2.5 ounces of cannabis, but they would be required to register with the state. The Senate passed a similar bill last year that was killed in the State House of Representatives. The proposed law would allow for state-regulated nonprofits to dispense cannabis, but would also create harsh penalties for patients and nonprofits that dispense cannabis to individuals that aren't included in the state registry.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has said he will veto the bill if its opposed by law enforcement, according to the Minnesota Independent .
This week, Missouri lawmakers introduced a medical cannabis bill for consideration this session as well, joining other Midwestern states and on the heels of Michigan's November initiative, passed by almost 64% of Michigan voters. Representative Kay Meiners of Kansas City filed House Bill 277.
In November, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to create patient protections, and the 13th state in the US.
To read the Minnesota bill, visit: http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/bills/billinf.php?ls=86
Read the Missouri bill in its entirety here: http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills091/bills/hb277.htm
1. San Deigo and San Bernardino Appeal ID Cards to US Supreme CourtAfter three consecutive losses in court, San Diego and San Bernardino Counties sent yet another petition to the US Supreme Court, asking to quit their state-mandated obligation to provide ID cards through their county health departments to legitimate medical cannabis patients, the goal being to protect them from wrongful arrest, and to make the distinction between recreational and medical use easier on police. The original lawsuit filed by the two counties in 2006 asserted that they were under no obligation to abide by California law by providing the ID's, since it differed from federal law. The case was argued against by ASA's Chief Counsel Joe Elford and struck down once at the trial courts, sent to the Appeals Court and struck down again, and then appealed to the California Supreme Court, which refused to review the case after considering the San Diego and San Bernardino position to be nonsensical. In every medical cannabis court ruling ever issued, including ones that were generally bad for patients, courts have always asserted that state medical cannabis laws can exist and operate along with federal laws. And yet the Southern California counties have continued to spend taxpayer dollars to fight this overwhelmingly consistent legal precedent. Now they've done it again, appealing to the United States Supreme Court for review. ASA has been campaigning to implement the County ID card program since SB 420 was passed by the California Assembly in 2003. We've seen legal success with the initial suit, success of our chapters in pushing for county implementation, we compelled counties to implement the program by threatening legal action to those who don't comply, and most recently filed suit against Solano County for not doing so.
2. Sacramento Begins Issuing ID CardsWhile San Diego and San Bernardino appeal to the US Supreme Court to avoid giving ID cards to patients who need them, Sacramento, a former hold-out county that has seen the light (due to threats of litigation from ASA) opened the application process for the ID cards on January 12th. Applications are accepted by appointment only with Sacramento County Vital Records. Appointments will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. Application forms are available on the Sacramento County Public Health Department's Web site at www.SCPH.com or through the Sacramento County Vital Records office: 7001 East Parkway, Suite 650. To request an application via mail, call (916) 875-2066.
3. Rosenthal Trial UnderwayOn Wednesday, renown medical cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal went to Appeals Court for oral arguments in his "reconviction" for charges for which he was originally convicted, and sentenced to one day in prison - time already served, in 2003. During arguments, Rosenthal's attorneys argued that he was not allowed to present an adequate defense because the judge refused to allow any evidence or hear testimony from individuals that Rosenthal had been deputized by the City of Oakland to grow medical cannabis in compliance with California's medical cannabis laws, and thus was protected from federal prosecution. Since 2000 when George Bush took office, the federal government has been interfering in state medical cannabis laws by arresting and prosecuting individuals who faithfully and legally execute those laws. During court proceedings federal judges keep the jury from knowing anything about the laws. The defendant, in this case Rosenthal, is presented to the jury as an ordinary large scale illegal drug dealer - even when elected officials, police, and other administrators and government officials give permission for and sanction the growing of medical cannabis in compliance with the law. Federal agents arrested Rosenthal in 2002, and a federal jury convicted him in 2003 of three counts of marijuana cultivation and conspiracy, though most jurors renounced the verdict upon learning that presiding Judge had disallowed evidence that Rosenthal grew the cannabis as a deputized Oakland official. The 9th Circuit Court overturned Rosenthal's convictions in April 2006, after discovering that a juror had engaged in misconduct by asking a lawyer friend whether jurors could ignore evidence and vote their conscience ("jury nullification"). Federal prosecutors re-indicted Rosenthal in 2006 on the same charges plus nine more, but the nine charges were dismissed in 2007 after the judge found that prosecutors had engaged in "vindictive prosecution". Rosenthal was re-convicted on May 30, 2007 despite the fact that could not be punished, as he had already served his sentence for the same charges. This is the appeal for his second conviction for the same offense.
4. Yucca Valley Council Extends MoratoriumOn Thursday, the Yucca Valley Town Council approved extending a 45-day moratorium on new medical cannabis dispensaries or its distribution at existing businesses an extra 10 months and 15 days. City staff are expected to study the dispensaries and submit their findings to the Planning Commission in February or March, and to have a second reading of a dispensary ordinance ready by June at the latest. Opposition to dispensaries was vocal at the meetings, and so community members supportive of medical cannabis action should take necessary steps to organize vocal support for the dispensaries.
Advocates Decry DEA Obstruction to Medical Marijuana Research - Obama Can and Should Regain an Adherence to Scientific Principles - Americans for Safe AccessOnly days before President Bush is to leave office, his administration has dealt yet another blow to scientific integrity by refusing to implement the recommendations of DEA Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner and open up the production of cannabis (marijuana) for research purposes. For more than 40 years, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has maintained a monopoly on the cultivation of cannabis for Food & Drug Administration-approved scientific studies. Instead of opening up research on the medical properties of cannabis, the Bush administration has chosen to hide its head in the sand and obstruct the advancement of this important therapeutic substance. In June of 2001, University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor Lyle Craker, an experienced research botanist, applied for a license to cultivate cannabis for FDA-approved studies. After nine days of testimony from many experts and administration officials, Judge Bittner issued a set of recommendations in February 2007, concluding that the current sole-supply of cannabis by NIDA was insufficient for the level of research that cannabis deserves and that expanded research was "in the public interest." After nearly two years of delay, acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart issued a ruling today that refuses to implement Judge Bittner's recommendations. This refusal by Leonhart to adhere to her own DEA Administrative Law Judge is especially disappointing and insensitive in light of strong Congressional support for expanded research and a desire to dismantle the current monopoly on research cannabis production. In 2008, forty-five members of Congress sent a letter to then-DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, urging her to accept Judge Bittner's recommendations and calling the federal monopoly on cannabis production "unjustified." Incoming president Barack Obama has an opportunity to correct this shortsighted position that fails to recognize medical and scientific precedent. Rather than turn a cold shoulder to the reams of scientific studies pointing to the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, president-elect Obama has the opportunity to develop a sensible policy with regard to medical cannabis research. In addition, since acting-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart has shown little capacity for understanding the need for more research into cannabis, Obama should appoint a candidate to head the DEA that can grasp the importance of advancing this important medicinal substance. To be sure, anything less will perpetuate the outdated position of the Bush Administration and deny hundreds of thousands of Americans a medicine that has been shown to be effective at treating innumerable illnesses and the side effects of toxic treatments.
The Senate Health Committee showed their commitment to safe access for patients this Wednesday by approving the resolution calling on an end to federal intervention in California and DEA attacks on medical cannabis patients, SJR 20. The 7-4 vote, split down party lines, is an key victory in putting an end to DEA raids in California. The Senate Judiciary Committee will be hearing the resolution next. Their vote will determine whether or not the resolution will move forward to a vote on the Senate floor and then the Assembly floor. Since this is a non-binding resolution, it will not need the Governor's signature. This is a very exciting move forward for medical cannabis patients throughout the state. If passed on the Senate and Assembly floors, this resolution will send a resounding statement nationwide saying to the Federal government that Californians are taking a stand and calling for an end to the attacks! Read more about the hearing on ASA's blog.SJR 20 is the Senate Joint Resolution that calls for an end to DEA attacks on California’s medical cannabis patients and providers and 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. To read more about SJR 20, visit www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/SJR20 Thank you to those who testified on Wednesday in support of SJR 20, including: Lisa Sawoya, Hollywood Compassionate Collective Yvonne Westbrook-White, patient/advocate (see her video testimonial here: www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/VideoTestimonial) Don Duncan, Americans for Safe Access Aaron Smith, Marijuana Policy Project Dale Gieringer, California NORML
There are several important medical cannabis bills and resolutions being heard by the state Senate and Assembly Committees over the next few weeks. ASA will continue to update our lists as things move forward. If you are not yet signed up for ASA's Forums to receive instant alerts, go to www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/ASAForums
Medical CannabisProvider, Michael Martin, Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges
On Wednesday Tainted Compassionate Medicinals operator, 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 five years in a federal prison, a $250,000 fine, and several years of supervised release. On September 26, 2007, the DEA raided five locations in Oakland and San Leandro, allegedly confiscating hundreds of edibles and 460 plants, and arresting Jessica Sanders (30), Michael Anderson (42), and Diallo McLinn (35). After a press conference on October 4, Michael Martin (33), who had been on vacation during the raid, voluntarily turned himself in. All four were originally charged with conspiracy to manufacture or distribute controlled substances and are out on bail. Two of the defendants have since had their charges reduced to misdemeanors and Sanders' charge has been reduced as well. Tainted Medicinal Edibles were available for patients as an alternative to smoking at dispensing collectives across the state. The emotional hearing was short and ended with Martin leaving the courtroom and nearly 50 supporters of Martin, his family, and medical cannabis exiting the courtroom all at once. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 2, 2008 at 2:30pm. Read more about the hearing in ASA Chief of Staff, Rebecca Saltzman's, blog, Vanessa Nelson's Article, and Michael Martin's blog on FreeTainted.com Los Angeles Activists and Victims of DEA Raids Rally in Response to Federal Attacks From ASA's California Campaign Director, Don Duncan Sixty medical cannabis patients and advocates protested in front of the DEA offices at the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday in response to last week’s DEA raids in the Los Angeles area. The protesters heard first hand from Virgil Grant, whose collectives and home were raided on Thursday in a coordinated paramilitary-style operation that involved dozens of DEA agents and police officers from Los Angeles, Gardena, and Compton. Before the protest, I joined Virgil Grant, Yami Balonos, Michael Levitt, and Sarah Armstrong at the Los Angeles City Council meeting where we asked that the council to move quickly to re-convene the city working group that is working on regulations for collectives and to oppose the DEA's interference tactics. Council Member Janice Hahn said she would reconvene the working group. California. Next Wednesday, April 2, the council will vote on a resolution endorsing CA Senator Carole Migden’s Senate Joint Resolution 20 calling on the President and US Congress to end the raids. See below in the City and County Hearings section for more details. Thanks to everyone who came out to support Virgil and his family! Watch the Fox 29 coverage of the rally and hearing. Patients File Against Mendocino County's Ballot Initiative Measure B Mendocino County Attorney, Edie Lerman, filed a lawsuit on behalf of medical cannabis patients Paula A. Laguna and George Hanamoto challenging the legality of ballot initiative Measure B. This Mendocino County initiative calls for a stricter cultivation limits for medical cannabis patients than the California state limit and a repeal of the 2000 initiative Measure G, further limiting the number of plants a medical cannabis patient can have Measure G 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 lawsuit filed on Wednesday states that Measure B cannot be a ballot initiative because there are two distinct components to the bill: the repeal of Measure G and limiting the plant limits for medical cannabis patients. California's state constitution forbids initiatives from containting more than one subject.
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.
Obama: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws." - Americans for Safe AccessI 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!