Blog Voices from the Frontlines
$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.
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.
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!
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
Judge Larson's decision and the recent attacks as reported in the Mercury News and the Desert Sun. Dispensary Operator Sues Modesto for Conspiring with the DEA On Thursday, former California Healthcare Collective Operator Luke Scarmazzo filed a lawsuit against the city of Modesto for conspiring with the federal government to shut down his dispensary. Assisted by local police, the DEA raided California Healthcare Collective in September 2006. Scarmazzo is suing the city for emotional distress, mental anguish, and loss of employment. The September 2006 raid occurred five days after the city had realized that they could not shut the dispensary down. For more information on the lawsuit read the Modesto Bee article. Sacramento ASA Leader Questions Gov. Schwarzenegger About Medical Cannabis From Sacramento ASA's Lanette Davies "As most of you already know I had the opportunity Wednesday to meet Governor Schwarzenegger at Mimi's cafe while he was promoting "redistricting." I was invited by the League of Women Voters to attend and was sitting with our state President of the league when the governor came to our table to shake hands, while being filmed and recorded by a score of press and TV reporters. This gave me the opportunity while on camera to ask him directly about how he feels about protecting the medical marijuana patients of California and I asked how he feels about the use of cannabis by patients. He stated, " support medical marijuana and the patients of our state." I then informed him that we have legislation right now in the California Assembly and the Senate that will protect the patients and we need his support. He then stated he was not aware of the new legislation however, he promised to take the time to review the bills as he definitely is interested in protecting the patients. He asked for my business card so his staff can call my office to get further information. Later, when he came back by I asked for a picture as I was wearing my nice Stop Arresting Medical Marijuana Patients button and both the Governor and the Secretary of State took their picture with me. The picture was taken by the League of Women Voters and they requested use of it in their website. They also said they will email me a copy of the picture. It was a good day for us!" DEA Raids Orange County Dispensary On Tuesday, DEA agents raided Natures Wellness Collective in Orange, California. ASA received reports of the raid after it had occurred. According to an unconfirmed eyewitness there were no arrests made. If you have information about the Natures Wellness Collective raid please e-mail Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org Sign up for ASA's Emergency Response Text Messaging System to receive instant alerts about raids in your area. Visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/RaidAlerts
Check out CBS's coverage of the resolutions. ASA Urges BOE to Protect Sales Tax Revenue ASA's California Director, Don Duncan, testified at the Board of Equalization (BOE) hearing in Culver City this week. There were approximately fifty people present and a dozen speakers -- although only one talking about medical cannabis. Don Duncan sent Chairwoman Chu and the other Board Members copies of ASA's sales tax fact sheet, along with Senator Carole Migden's sales tax amnesty bill and non-cooperation resolution. Duncan praised Vice-Chairwoman Yee for the op-ed piece she authored with Senator Migden in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month. He emphasized that the timing of the op-ed's release was perfect because it coincided with the recent meeting with the Governor's senior staff in Sacramento. During his testimony, Duncan reiterated that dispensaries are legal in California and generated an estimated $100 million dollars in sales tax revenue in 2007. He also told the Board that federal interference and intimidation threaten both patients and revenue. Duncan asked the board to support Senator Midgen's efforts and to encourage the Governor to take visible action. Following his comments, Vice Chairwoman Betty Yee thanked the staff for working so hard on the issue and said it was a very tough time for dispensaries. A larger group of advocates and collective operators will be attending a similar hearing in Sacramento next month. Contra Costa County Votes to Thwart Safe Access This week, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to limit safe access in the unincorporated regions of the county. The unanimous decision banned the opening of any new dispensaries in Contra Costa County. The ban, however, allows the one current dispensary in the unincorporated area of the county to stay open, M.E.D. Dispensary in El Sobrante. Since M.E.D. Dispensary was approved for a land-use permit prior to the 2006 moratorium in Contra Costa, the Board of Supervisor's decision will not affect the dispensary. Thank you to the medical cannabis supporters and activists who attended and spoke at the hearing. Read more about the ban in the Contra Costa Times and the Mercury Times.
www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/MMJWeekMonday Next, supporters were urged to contact their U.S. Senators' district offices urge them to support research. Over a dozen groups nationwide dropped in on their Senators' offices on that day. Since then, medical cannabis supporters have continued to meet with their Senators' district offices. To find out how you can support medical cannabis research visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/MMJWeekTuesday On Wednesday the 12th , two dozen activists used ASA's Action Center to send letters to their local news papers calling on their Senators to take a stand and support medical cannabis research. If you have not yet written a short message to your local paper visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/MMJWeekWednesday to make your voice heard! On Valentine's Day, 35 patients and advocates met their condition-based union match. These individuals to their support for safe access a step further by joining one of ASA's seven different condition-based unions such as the Chronic Pain Union, HIV/AIDS Union, Seniors Union, etc. Become a member of ASA's condition-based union today! Visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/MMJWeekThursday On Friday, ASA released its first annual National Field Report and gave supporters a look at the work and accomplishments ASA's chapters and affiliates had in 2007. After reading the national field report, nearly a dozen people contacted ASA saying they wanted to start an ASA chapter and/or become an affiliate. See what all the fuss is about! Visit www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/MMJWeekFriday During Medical Marijuana Awareness weekend, ASA challenged supporters to walk their talk and circulate a new petition in their community. In just over a week, ASA has already begun to receive signature-filled petitions from activists. Join the momentum and download your state-specific petition today at www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/MMJWeekSunday Thank you to all the activists, chapters, affiliates, and supporters for making Medical Marijuana Week such a success! Let's keep this train rolling! Take Action today!
- Yesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the DEA's tactic of sending letters to landlords of dispensaries notifying them of the illegality of the facilities and the possibility that their property could be seized. Yet today ASA also learned that the DEA had sent out yet another round of letters to landlords.
- Last month, Northern California's new US Attorney, Joseph Russoniello, explained that he thought medical marijuana raids were wasteful, creating new hope in our movement. But this didn't bring much comfort to dozens of federal defendants who have already been charged, like Michael Martin, who had a status hearing yesterday, or Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, who will be sentenced next week.
- In January, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in Ross v. RagingWire that denied the rights of medical marijuana patients to work. But just last week, Assembly Member Mark Leno, along with Assembly Members Berg, Hancock, and Saldaña, introduced ASA sponsored legislation that would reaffirm this right.
Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org. Read ASA's press release and the Oakland Tribune article about the bill introduction. Medical Marijuana Awareness Week, For Patients By Patients Title Provided by SF ASA Organizer, Alex Franco Last week the medical cannabis community celebrated Medical Marijuana Awareness Week 2008. Thousands of patients, activists, and supporters participated in ASA's daily action, generating letters to the editors, joining ASA as members, and meeting with elected officials. Locally, the week started out with Sunday's Medical Cannabis University, sponsored by San Francisco ASA. Twenty patient-students graduated from the Medical Cannabis University. On Tuesday, San Francisco ASA sponsored a free legal training at which over 30 patients learned their constitutional rights and developed skills on how to deal with a raid situation. Meanwhile, in Arcata, Humboldt County ASA honored several medical cannabis supporters, including Rep. Mike Thompson, for their leadership around medical cannabis issues. San Francisco ASA sponsored the 5th Annual ASA SF Valentine's Day Spread the Love Seed Planting to deliver a special Valentine to mayor Gavin Newsom asking him to write letters to both Governor Schwarzenegger urging him to publicly support medical cannabis and Congressman John Conyers encouraging him to hold investigative hearings. The Valentine also stated that if patients lost safe access to medical cannabis because of his inaction, we will ask him to personally grow the medicine for us. Over 50 patients participated in the event and 20 plants were given to Mayor Newsom. On Friday, East Bay ASA hosted a testimonial video filming walk-in day with dozens of patients participants. LA ASA celebrated Medical Marijuana Awareness Week at their monthly meeting by hosting ASA's Medical Advisory Boardmember, Jahan Marcu, to speak.The week also featured two separate film screenings, first on Wednesday, at Oaksterdam University with a Sneak Preview of an unreleased medical marijuana film and on Saturday, with a free film festival featuring several medical cannabis documentaries. The week came to a close on Sunday with SF ASA's 5th Annual 215 Party, which featured live music, raffles, and live djs. Over 100 advocates and patients turned out for the event. Thank you to everyone who helped organize the events and actions. It is volunteers and supporters like you that made Medical Marijuana Week 2008 a success! Fullerton City Council Vote Leaves Safe Access Up in the Air After originally voting 3 to 2 against a ban on dispensaries several weeks ago, the Fullerton City Council met on Wednesday and voted against banning dispensaries, and at the same time voted against developing dispensary regulations, leaving the situation up in the air. The police department made a presentation against collectives. Orange County ASA members and other advocates attended the hearing and spoke in support of safe access in Fullerton. What is next in Fullerton remains to be seen. Patients and activists are preparing materials to follow up with the council and will decide how to move forward after meeting with the local representatives. Local patients will be crucial in this effort, so please keep you eyes on ASA's forums and the upcoming Weekly Alerts for updates.
San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed piece authored by California Senator Carole Migden and Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee decrying the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) crack down on medical cannabis and the impact it has on property owners, state coffers, and legal patients. The letter urges the federal government to “back off and respect state compassionate use laws that authorize a network of responsible, law abiding and tax-paying medical marijuana providers.” This is a far cry from the usually sensationalized rhetoric to which we are more accustomed, and is a breath of fresh air – and common sense – for patients and their loved ones statewide. Senator Migden introduced Senate Joint Resolution 20 into the State Legislature this month calling for an end to the federal interference that she says costs the state millions of dollars in lost revenue, forces medical cannabis providers underground, and harms legal patients. If adopted, the resolution will send the strong message to Washington, DC, that California lawmakers remain committed to fully implementing the 1996 voter initiative that legalized medical cannabis in the state and to ending federal persecution of patients and providers. Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee joined the Senator in criticizing the impact the DEA raids, saying that federal interference and intimidation cost the state millions of dollars in lost tax revenue and badly needed jobs. As Chairwoman of the elected body charged with assessing and collecting sales tax for the cash-strapped state, Yee has a special interest seeing to it that medical cannabis facilities remain open and pay their fair share. She worries, however, that providers will be forced to close their doors or move underground to avoid federal attacks – a very real concern. The significance of having a State Senator and the Chairwoman of the Board of Equalization speak out on behalf of medical cannabis should not be missed. Elected officials are just now feeling the hardship caused by DEA interference – which escalated to new heights last year with more than 50 raids, several indictments, and more than 300 letters threatening property owners who rent to medical cannabis facilities with prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is finally getting some high-level support for his stance against the DEA tactics and promised investigation. The op-ed piece was timely, appearing in Migden and Yee’s hometown paper on the same day the ASA Chief of Staff Rebecca Saltzman, Legal Director Kris Heremes, and I met for the first time with representatives from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s’ office to discuss federal interference and what the Governor can do to help. It is too soon to know if the Governor will take visible action in response to ASA’s grassroots campaign, but Senator Migden and Chairwoman Yee are certainly pointing him in the right direction. With today’s op-ed, these two leaders join police veteran and Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, and thousands of medical cannabis advocates in calling on the Governor to defend patients’ access and the will of voters. We may be approaching a sea change in the state and federal debate over medical cannabis, but what happens from here depends on whether or not grassroots advocates can persuade the Governor and Legislature to put their considerable clout behind Representative Conyers’ effort to stop DEA interference in California. Local and state leaders should stand up… and the Governor should lead the way.