Blog Voices from the Frontlines

Feb 132011

Trouble in Montana - Americans for Safe Access

Medical cannabis patients and advocates all over the country should be paying attention to what is happening in Montana right now. The House of Representatives voted to repeal the state’s medical cannabis law on Thursday. If the Senate follows suit, Montana’s seven year old voter initiative could be gone on July 1st. The push to roll back safe access in the state comes amid hand-wringing over familiar topics – lenient doctors and a growing number of dispensaries. While patients and advocates rally to oppose the measure, the rest of the country should learn a lesson about how fragile support for medical cannabis can be.



Passing state medical cannabis laws is the first step in a long and expensive process. Advocates must follow up with legislation and rules to fully implement the laws before our increasingly-sophisticated opponents use anecdotes of abuse, real and imagined, to erode support. Research conducted by Americans for Safe Access beginning in 2005 clearly shows that sensible regulations reduce crime and complaints around medical cannabis facilities. The implication is clear – regulations are our best strategy for diffusing opposition.

The repeal of Montana’s medical cannabis initiative is not certain. Americans for Safe Access is talking with activists on the ground about solutions – a proactive media campaign, self-regulation, and old-fashioned grassroots opposition. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Helena are vetting numerous “fix it” bills to address ambivalence about the state’s rapidly expanding program. Patients there hope that cooler heads prevail, and the legislature opts for a middle ground.
Feb 102011

Activists Outweigh Lobbyists - Americans for Safe Access

  • February 10, 2011 1:28 PM
According to a survey of congressional staffers published last week by the Congressional Management Foundation, Members of Congress are more likely to be swayed by concerned citizens who visit, write or call their offices than by the efforts of paid lobbyists.  That's right, citizens have more power than they realize!

Now, this ne
ws isn’t earth shattering, but the survey provides some valuable insight about how crucial the work of grassroots advocacy is to manifest change and about which tactics work best.  For instance, nearly the entire sample of respondents, 97 percent, agreed that personal visits from constituents had “some” or “a lot” of influence on an undecided Member --- more than any other influence group or strategy.

In fact, visits from constituent representatives, like lobbyists, came in second.   And, a close examination of the survey reveals that even personalized letters, e-mails, phone calls and telephone town hall comments were more likely to change a member's mind than a lobbyist's efforts.

The study also explored the type of advocacy that staffers believe is most effective. Turns out that content matters more than medium.  Specifically, staffers indicated that hand-written or personalized notes — even when they are fewer in number — have a bigger impact than form letters and emails.

The point is your lawmakers want to hear from Y-O-U!  They want to know how the growing divide between state and federal medical marijuana laws is affecting you and your family.  They want to which legislation would help their constituents and why. They want to know why changing federal law is important to you!

So, the only question left to ask is: when are YOU scheduled to visit with your Members of Congress?
Feb 102011

Melissa Etheridge picks ASA - Americans for Safe Access

Singer, songwriter, and medical cannabis patient Melissa Etheridge picked Americans for Safe Access (ASA) to be her charity partner in promoting a groundbreaking new documentary about women and breast cancer. You can pick ASA to receive 10% of the proceeds when you buy a copy of Namrata Singh Gujral’s powerful new documentary, 1 a Minute. Visit the film’s website today to learn more about this important film and help raise money for ASA. You can buy a copy of the DVD and support ASA online right now. Over 200,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in 2010, and more than 40,000 died. A growing number of those living with breast cancer are turning to medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of the disease and the harsh side effects of therapy. ASA is working hard to be sure that everyone who needs medical cannabis has access and to promote advanced clinical research into this remarkable medicine. We appreciate Ms. Etheridge’s support for ASA and our work. Please take a moment to join her by picking ASA as your designated charity when you buy a copy of 1 a Minute.  An impressive list of stars narrate Ms. Gujral’s account of her journey from prevention, to diagnosis, treatment, and survival – Mellissa Etheridge, Olivia Newton-John, Kelly McGillis, Jaclyn Smith, and more. The Director writes about 1 a Minute:
With 1 a Minute ®, I hope to shed light on the seriousness and urgency of this nasty disease. I hope to raise funds for a cure and I hope to bring awareness to the cause. But mostly I hope to support my sisters (and brothers) who very quickly understand why the fight is called "battling" cancer and why one qualifies as a "survivor" in the aftermath. Simply put, it is a journey that is tough to walk but equally tough to comprehend. So, my hope is to also provide families and friends with a glimpse of their loved ones "real" journey...not a scripted screenplay that some Hollywood writer churned out on a rainy afternoon.
We know this important DVD will help patients, their loved ones, and others understand the complicated and difficult journey which women with breast cancer must take. Visit the film’s web site today to learn more, buy a copy, and pick ASA as your designated charity.
Feb 032011

Has the Federal Government Changed Its Policy on Medical Marijuana Enforcement or Just Changed Its Reasons for Continued Interference? - Americans for Safe Access

It would appear that raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in medical marijuana states have declined since President Obama’s Justice Department issued its infamous memorandum in October 2009. But, in fact, raids have continued at an alarming pace. For example, in the 16 months since the Obama Administration’s policy change, the DEA has conducted at least 43 raids in California, Colorado, Michigan and Nevada. That’s nearly 3 raids per month on average. Although arrests were not made at all of the raids, President Obama’s Justice Department has seen fit to indict and prosecute at least 24 patients and providers in connection with those federal actions. Can this really be the result of a new federal enforcement policy? Attorneys for two of the most recently indicted cultivators from Michigan vehemently argue that their young caregiver clients were in full compliance with state law. If that’s true, do these federal actions have more to do with hostile DEA agents and bitter U.S. Attorneys -- angry that their decades-long drug war has been narrowed -- or are they based on willful deception by President Obama’s Justice Department? Maybe both. While it could be argued that some of last month’s arrests in Las Vegas, Nevada, which resulted in a total of 15 indictments, was based on the fact that Nevada law does not allow for centralized distribution. And, yet, how are patients supposed to obtain their medicine if they are too sick or lack the skill to grow it themselves? Would the DEA prefer that patients seek out their medicine from the illicit market? And, why should the federal government be able to prosecute violations of state law in federal court, where patients are prevented from using a medical marijuana defense? Did the American people envision their tax dollars going to such harmful and unnecessary federal actions, especially after a policy was issued claiming that such actions would cease? With popular American support for medical marijuana at more than 80 percent, we think not. It’s time for the Obama Administration to deliver on its promise to leave patients alone. The DEA must take a hands-off approach to enforcement of medical marijuana production and distribution. Any allegations of local or state law violations should be prosecuted in state court, and not in federal court (i.e. no more federal indictments). In addition, DEA agents should be refusing to assist local law enforcement in raids on patients and providers, period. Only after the federal government stands down on this issue will states and their localities be able to effectively implement medical marijuana laws passed by the people.
Jan 302011

SB 129 – Stop Workplace Discrimination - Americans for Safe Access

[caption id="attachment_1222" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="CA Senator Mark Leno"]
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Employers in California can fire a legal medical cannabis patient, even if he or she does not use medicine in the workplace or come to work impaired. Patients facing termination or random drug screenings call Americans for Safe Access (ASA) every week looking for help, and there is no way to know how many more live in silent fear of losing their jobs every day. California Senator Mark Leno (D-SF) has just introduced ASA-sponsored legislation to finally protect responsible, law abiding patients from employment discrimination. Now we need your help to be sure SB 129 is adopted and signed by the Governor this year.



In 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in Ross v. Ragingwire Communications that the termination of a 45-year old veteran solely for medical cannabis use was legal. In what California Lawyer Magazine called one of the “worst decisions of the year,” the Court held that voters did not intend to protect patients’ civil rights when they adopted Proposition 215. Less than one week after that unfortunate decision, then-Assemblymember Leno introduced legislation to clearly establish protections for employment rights. The legislature adopted AB 2279, but it was vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – leaving patients unprotected.

ASA and Senator Leno are ready to finish this important work. SB 129 will prevent discrimination against patients in hiring, termination, or any term of employment, except in the case of safety-sensitive positions. However, the bill does not require an employer to accommodate cannabis impairment or use in the workplace, and does not require the employer to violate any state or federal laws.

The policy of this state should be to encourage gainful employment for those patients who are able to work. That is already the law in other states where medical cannabis is legal, including Arizona, Maine, and Rhode Island.  Adopting SB 129 is a matter of basic fairness in employment. It is also important because patients who lose their jobs could become an additional burden for state general assistance, MediCal, and other social service programs that are already stressed by the economic crisis.

SB `129 is a reasonable solution that protects patients, employers, and public safety. ASA needs your help to be sure it is adopted. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be asking you to contact lawmakers and help us build a powerful coalition of support behind the bill. With your help, we can pass this bill again (just like we did in 2008!) and get the new Governor’s signature. When SB 129 is the law, you can be proud of the fact that you helped stop those calls from frightened patients – and helped to protect and expand patients’ rights in California.
Jan 272011

Steph Sherer on Patient Privacy in the Huffington Post - Americans for Safe Access

ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer talks about the priority of medical cannabis patient privacy in state regulations. Read what she has to say about the proposed regulations in Colorado in "Patient Privacy Should be at the Heart of Medical Marijuana Regulations" -
This past November, Arizona became the 15th state to adopt a medical marijuana law. Even with medical marijuana laws in nearly a third of the country, ever-increasing scientific evidence of efficacy, and popular American support at over 80 percent, patients' rights are still threatened. As long as medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, patients everywhere are vulnerable. In fact, the discordance between federal and state laws makes it especially important to protect the privacy of patients. This week, the Colorado Department of Revenue Licensing Authority will be hearing public comment on proposed regulations addressing recent amendments to the state's medical marijuana law. Leading up to these hearings, members of our organization in CO have reached out to us with legitimate concerns about their privacy as patients. Unfortunately, in the rush to regulate Colorado's burgeoning medical marijuana distribution system, it is the privacy rights of patients in particular that have so far been either ignored or disregarded. While there are many issues that the Department of Revenue must deal with, patient privacy should be at the forefront...
Read the entire article on today’s Huffington Post.
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.