Blog Voices from the Frontlines

Jan 222011

Montel Williams in LA - Americans for Safe Access



Talk show host and medical cannabis patient Montel Williams told the Los Angeles City Council on Friday that an amendment to the city’s Medical Cannabis Ordinance (MCO) establishing a lottery to select one hundred patients’ collectives will do little to identify the best qualified applicants. The Los Angeles Times reports that Mr. Williams met privately with City Council Members on Thursday.



At Friday’s meeting, Special Assistant to the City Attorney Jane Usher told City Council Members that they must adopt the amendments – including the lottery – in response to a Preliminary Injunction blocking enforcement of portions of the MCO. Ms. Usher said the judge has “put our feet to the fire,” and she urged the City Council to adopt the unpopular provision. Mr. Williams, who uses medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, responded:
"Holding feet to the fire? Let me explain something to you. For the last 10 years, from morning til night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, I have absolute neuropathic pain through my feet, my shins, my side and my face," he said, his voice quavering. "You walk in and out of here every day and don't think about your feet. Mine I have to think about every second of the day."
(quoted from the LA Times)

Mr. Williams is to be commended for reminding City Council Members that patients need and deserve the best possible collectives. It is unfortunate that Council Members deferred again the City Attorney, and adopted a selection process that ignores longevity, performance, and goodwill. Time will tell if patients get lucky in the lottery.

There is some good news for patients. Friday’s amendments removed the two-year sunset clause, which might have forced every collective to close in 2012. The changes also provide more protection for patients’ medical records. These are hard-won victories in the multi-year struggle to regulate safe access in the state’s largest city.

Most importantly, the latest amendments should make a motion by City Council Members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry to ban collectives outright unnecessary. Like his predecessor, Rocky Delgadillo, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has steadfastly supported a ban on collectives. But the Parks/Perry motion, seconded by Council Member Greig Smith, is the first sign that banning collectives has any traction on the City Council. The latest amendments should reassure City Council Members that they can successfully regulate access to medical cannabis – without banning collectives.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has worked with officials in Los Angeles to promote sensible regulations since 2005. The adoption of an ordinance, despite its flaws, is a victory for patients. Our research and experience show that regulations reduce crime and complaints around collectives, while preserving access for legal patients. We know that this work is not finished. New lawsuits by disenfranchised collectives are inevitable, and there are still improvements to make in the state’s toughest ordinance. ASA is committed to standing up for patients in Los Angeles at City Hall and in the courtroom until this work is finished.
Jan 152011

ASA protests in MI and NV - Americans for Safe Access

Medical cannabis patients in Michigan are upset that the US Department of Justice wants the state to turn over the names of legal medical cannabis patients in that state. This latest escalation in federal interference and intimidation brought protesters out into the streets Lansing and Grand Rapids this week. ASA is grateful to Michigan Chapter Coordinator Robin Schneider for braving the cold weather to let lawmakers know that patients’ privacy must be protected. (Video from Las Vegas - click More.)



Meanwhile in Las Vegas, ASA Chapter Coordinator Eric Woodson rallied in opposition to recent Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids and arrests in the city. According to the DEA, the most recent arrests were connected to dispensary raids conducted in September of last year. Nevada law does not provide for community-based access programs, leaving many legal patients who cannot or will not grow medicine with no legal option.

Jan 152011

New Colorado Medical Marijuana Regulations Disregard Patient Privacy - Americans for Safe Access

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a letter Friday, commenting on the proposed rulemaking (or regulations) for amendments to Colorado’s medical marijuana law. The State Licensing Authority of the Colorado Department of Revenue, Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division is currently accepting public input to help guide its policy efforts. Advocates applaud Colorado’s effort to improve its law by bringing greater access to medical marijuana for seriously ill patients in the state. Input by the public and, more importantly, the patient community is critically important to a well functioning law. However, ASA takes issue with several provisions of the law and the current proposed rules, and is most concerned about a seeming disregard for patient privacy. In particular, the rulemaking provisions that allow law enforcement unfettered access to surveillance information is very troubling given marijuana’s legal status under federal law and the continued enforcement of those laws by the Obama Administration. In fact, the Justice Department is currently in federal court seeking the private records of several Michigan patients, after having been rebuffed by the Michigan Community Health Department. ASA is also concerned with how available private patient records are to an increasing number of people, including court clerks and other court staff. Access to this information must be extremely restricted, and medical marijuana patients, like other patients, should be able to enjoy the full protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Although the deadline for written submissions closed on Friday, there will be another opportunity to give oral comment on January 27th and 28th, starting at 9am in Hearing Room 1 of the Jefferson County Justice Center Administration and Courts Facility at 100 Jefferson County Parkway, Golden, Colorado.
Jan 142011

Momentum in Massachusetts - Americans for Safe Access

  • January 14, 2011 5:35 AM
Guest blog by MMPA Organizer Matt Allen - In Massachusetts, optimism and ambition are high among medical marijuana advocates as the new legislative session is starting up.  Turnout at our stakeholder's meeting November (facilitated by ASA Executive Director Steph Shrer) exceeded expectations, helped us build connections amongst one another, and left everyone motivated to take action and work together to pass medical marijuana reform in the next two years.  In addition the meeting provided Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance with valuable information about the hopes and concerns of the medical marijuana advocacy community that we were able to relate to Chairman Smizik, lead sponsor of the medical marijuana bill that will be filed, and a long time supporter of our cause.  Individual patients and family members who want to see Massachusetts catch up to other states in the region like Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine, are now contacting their state reps and asking them to cosponsor the medical marijuana bill that will be filed next week.  We accomplished a lot last year through outreach at community events and lobbying legislators as well as seeking support from other public health groups.  But our coalition wasn't even founded until the middle of last session.  This time we are organized and will be able to present a unified grassroots presence at the state house from day one.  As the organizer for MPAA I've already had the opportunity to join some patients on visits to their reps to discuss the issue, and it has been awesome!  We are getting the message out that this is a real public health issue and that its wrong to deny patients their medicine.  Legislators are listening, and the public is behind us.  And we are growing!  Visit us at masscompassion.org to follow the campaign in Massachusetts, or e-mail mjpatients@gmail.com if you're a Massachusetts resident who wants to get more involved.
Jan 072011

It IS a Chronic Problem - Americans for Safe Access

  • January 07, 2011 5:26 PM
On September 8, 2010, several search warrants were executed at dispensaries across Las Vegas.  Federal agents, assisted by local law enforcement, seized medicine, cash, and closed these dispensaries, proving that the Obama Administration AND the Department of Justice are not agencies of their word. On December 17, 2010, 3 criminal complaints were filed behind closed doors in federal court, and on January 6, 2011, these complaints were unsealed and 15 arrest warrants were issued.  Providers across Las Vegas and the entire state are under attack.  The joint task force is calling this siege Operation Chronic Problem.  Well, at least they've got one thing right.  Federal interference with state implementation of medical marijuana laws has been, and continues to be, a chronic problem. Stay tuned for news about this case, and we'll keep you in the loop about our next action to DEMAND an end to these raids and prosecutions. For the complaints, see here, here, and here. For more information about the arrests, see here and here.
Dec 312010

Happy New Year! - Americans for Safe Access

Happy New Year from Americans for Safe Access (ASA)!

We look forward to working with all of our members and friends to promote safe and affordable access for every patient in 2011. Thank you for your ongoing support and commitment.
Dec 302010

Aggressive Police Actions Taken Against SLO Medical Marijuana Delivery Services - Americans for Safe Access

A Narcotics Task Force (NTF) made up of local and state law enforcement agencies aggressively raided 5 collectively-run San Luis Obispo County medical marijuana delivery services on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, arresting at least 13 people on felony charges and holding them on bails of up to $100,000. Several of those arrested were charged with child endangerment, after Child Protective Services (CPS) removed at least 6 children from the homes of 3 different families. One of the people arrested on Monday suffered a heart attack because of the police raid and was taken to a local emergency room before being arrested. As of Thursday afternoon, at least four people were still in jail unable to raise bail. Read the ASA press release for more information.
Dec 242010

Happy Holidays from ASA! - Americans for Safe Access

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) wishes all of our members and friends a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season! What better way to share the holiday spirit than gifts that promote safe access? Giving ASA gear to your family and friends helps spread the message of change. And all the proceeds go to fight for patients rights and advance safe access for everyone. For gifts that make a difference, checkout ASA's online store today!
Dec 222010

LA Court Rejects Strict Dispensary Ordinance, Officials Respond with Greater Restrictions - Americans for Safe Access

On December 10th, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr ruled in the case Americans for Safe Access v. City of Los Angeles, which involves more than 100 plaintiffs, that the city's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance was too restrictive. Relying on the recent landmark decision in Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, Judge Mohr held that state law forbids such onerous restrictions on local distribution. However, some LA City Council Members must not have read the decision.



Judge Mohr's 40-page ruling was a shot in the arm for advocates of safe access to medical marijuana. Though unpublished, Judge Mohr's ruling clearly emphasized the need for local distribution and called for a functional regulatory scheme in Los Angeles to implement it.

Specifically, Judge Mohr found that:
"[T]he State of California authorized certain people to operate collectives," and "the [Los Angeles] Ordinance denies without due process of the law the statutorily conferred right to operate a collective."

Going out of his way to make the point, Judge Mohr warned all California cities that wholesale or de facto bans against local medical marijuana dispensaries are in violation of state law:
"[I]n discharging its powers and duties under the police power, the City must not lose sight of the fact that the People of the State of California have conferred on qualified patients the right to obtain marijuana for medical purposes. No local subdivision should be allowed to curtail that right wholesale or regulate it out of existence."

The ruling also weighed in on the issue of "sales," or reimbursements for the cost and expense of running a medical marijuana dispensary. Contrary to the position that "sales" are illegal under state law held by staunch medical marijuana opponents like Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley who recently lost a bid for State Attorney General, Judge Mohr pointed to the 2008 Attorney General Guidelines, stating that:
"[U]nder proper conditions…a storefront dispensary can be a legitimate medical marijuana collective. The Guidelines also suggest that under proper circumstances, an exchange of money for medical marijuana is allowed."

In granting the preliminary injunction against enforcement of the city's ordinance, Judge Mohr also struck down the sunset clause banning dispensaries in two years unless the ordinance is reauthorized, and barred the city from disclosing to police the personal information of patients as a violation of their privacy rights.

[caption id="attachment_1114" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Jan Perry"]
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[caption id="attachment_1115" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Bernard Parks"]
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However, instead of embracing Judge Mohr’s order, and his rejection of an overly restrictive ordinance, Los Angeles City Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry introduced a motion to completely ban distribution within the city limits. Completely ignoring Judge Mohr's ruling issued five days before the ban motion was filed, Parks and Perry claimed that it was "in the best interest of the City…to ban medical marijuana dispensaries," pointing to crime as the rationale.

Parks and Perry also apparently ignored the crime data of their own Police Chief, Charlie Beck. In a 2009 study, Chief Beck found that 71 robberies had occurred at the more than 350 banks in the city compared to 47 robberies at the more than 500 medical marijuana facilities. In response to his report, Chief Beck observed that:
"banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,"

and the claim that dispensaries attract crime:
"doesn’t really bear out."

Parks, Perry and the rest of the Los Angeles City Council ought to reconsider what’s in the best interest of the City and heed Judge Mohr's order. Furthermore, the Council should work better with the patient community to craft an ordinance that will meet their needs and one that is not overly restrictive or simply a sweeping reaction to sensationalized safety concerns.

The case will now proceed to trial as long as Judge Mohr’s decision isn't appealed by the City of Los Angeles, an action that is unwarranted but likely.
Dec 172010

San Diego Dispensary Operator Sentenced, Advocates Vow to Appeal - Americans for Safe Access

On Wednesday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard H. Shore told a crowded courtroom of patient advocates:
“Medical marijuana is a scam.”

[caption id="attachment_1101" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Jovan Jackson (right) and attorney Lance Rogers at Jackson's sentencing"]
[/caption]

During his vitriolic rants, Judge Shore found time to sentence Jovan Jackson, a dispensary operator who was recently convicted after being denied a defense at trial. Judge Shore harshly sentenced Jackson to 180 days in jail, and imposed a $5,000 fine and three years of probation, during which time Jackson is prohibited from using marijuana to legally treat his medical condition.

Unsurprisingly, Judge Shore also denied ASA’s motion for a new trial, based on double jeopardy and the denial of Jackson’s defense. This was the second time Jackson had been tried on the same charges-- the first time he was acquitted. Not satisfied with just skirting double jeopardy laws, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis fought to exclude Jackson’s defense on the most dubious grounds. Though not written into law, nor part of the 2008 California Attorney General guidelines on medical marijuana, the court held that most or all of Jackson’s patient membership must participate in the cultivation to be afforded a defense.

Judge Shore’s contempt for medical marijuana could also be seen in other ways than just his bombastic statements from the bench. For example, patients were required to pass through a second metal detector placed directly outside the courtroom, a requirement unique to Jackson’s hearing. And, although there was no jury to influence at Jackson’s sentencing hearing, his supporters were once again prevented from brandishing Americans for Safe Access (ASA) logos on their shirts or bags, as if doing so would injure the court’s sensibilities. Judge Shore had imposed similar restrictions during Jackson’s trial.

Judge Shore also ignored -- at his own peril -- the recent Los Angeles Superior Court decision and its affirmation of dispensaries’ right to operate in accordance with local and state laws. To make the laws less ambiguous, the LA court recommended more decisive regulations, rather than impeding the efforts of the patient community. Contradicting Judge Shore’s interpretation of state law, the LA court ruled in its unpublished decision that the Medical Marijuana Program Act,
“does not deal with issues like who must be involved in the cultivation…”

The irony of San Diego’s failed efforts to adopt a meaningful regulatory ordinance is not lost on the city’s patients. The San Diego City Council has been trying unsuccessfully to pass a local law for months, a law that would license the same activity for which Jackson was just convicted and sentenced. Coincidence? Whether or not foul play can be attributed, the patient community is demanding reasonable regulations to set a standard for the area’s dozens of dispensaries to meet.

In the meantime, ASA will be appealing Jackson’s conviction and sentencing well before he is scheduled to surrender to authorities on February 1st. ASA will also argue for Jackson’s release on bail pending appeal. Stay tuned for more from San Diego in the fight for safe access.