Blog Voices from the Frontlines
Federal Agency Tips Hat to Medical Cannabis While 9-Year-Old Rescheduling Petition Gathers Dust - Americans for Safe AccessAccording to the Washington Independent, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has added "Cannabis" to its website as a Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM). This is the first time in contemporary history that a federal agency has made such an admission, especially as it applies to cancer:
The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep. In the practice of integrative oncology, the health care provider may recommend medicinal Cannabis not only for symptom management but also for its possible direct antitumor effect.This statement is in stark contrast to the historical rhetoric of HHS, which has consistently said marijuana (cannabis) is a dangerous drug with no medical value. Further complicating the government's position, NCI also states on its website:
Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years prior to its current status as an illegal substance.Meanwhile, a 9-year-old petition to reschedule cannabis sits before the federal government gathering dust. The Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, which filed its petition in 2002, has never received a response. Read more about this federal contradiction from ASA's press release on the issue here.
UPDATE: Patients Speak Up in Montana.
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is calling on medical cannabis patients and advocates to speak up in opposition to paramilitary-style raids on medical cannabis patients, growers, and providers in Montana and California this week. The Obama Administration needs to hear that Americans do not support targeting legitimate patients, who use medical cannabis to treat the symptoms of AIDS, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain, and other serious conditions. The President and Department of Justice must allow states to implement and regulate medical cannabis laws, while developing a comprehensive federal policy that protects safe and legal access for every patient.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided twenty-six medical cannabis facilities in Montana over a two-day period this week. This would be egregious at any time, but these raids were timed to coincide with an important vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bill that would repeal the state’s medical cannabis law. The bill died in committee on Monday, but the bills’ author, House Speaker Mike Milburn, vowed to reintroduce it on the floor of the Senate. A vote may be imminent.
It is no coincidence that the critical vote in the Senate will come right after shock-and-awe style raids statewide. Lawmakers and voters alike will be influenced by media reports suggesting widespread drug trafficking, money laundering, and the like. Conscientious citizens all over the country should be appalled by the fact that the DEA is so clearly used its federal police power to subvert the political process in Montana. Voters in Montana should also be asking which of their elected officials called in federal storm troopers when there were not enough votes to get the repeal bill through committee.
Montana was not the only state to see a federal crackdown this week. Two licensed medical cannabis collectives in West Hollywood, California, were raided by the DEA on Tuesday. Residents there are stunned, because West Hollywood is often cited as an example of a city that has properly regulated safe access to medicine. Its four legal collectives have business licenses, pay taxes, and operate under careful scrutiny. Was there some urgent threat to public safety that the Sheriff’s Department could not handle without federal reinforcements? Probably not. View more on the West Hollywood raids from Reason.tv.
The warrants for Tuesday’s raids in West Hollywood remain sealed, so we do not know yet why the DEA seems to have acted outside the guidelines outlined in a memo from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden in October 2009. Ogden wrote then that agents should not make medical cannabis enforcement a priority against “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” Ogden’s memo was a watershed moment in the struggle for safe access, but we clearly have a long way to go to end federal interference and intimidation once and for all.
We must not give into complacency or the cynical view that the victims of this week’s raids were “doing something wrong.” We may never know the full story behind the raids. The US Attorney’s offices may or may not prosecute these cases, and if they do, no evidence or testimony about medical cannabis will be allowed in the federal courtroom. But we do know this for certain – until we harmonize federal law with the laws of the states that allow medical cannabis, every patient, grower, and provider is a criminal. That must change before we have the luxury of debating whether or not DEA raids are justified in any given case.
Americans must speak up in opposition to DEA interference in the Democratic process and the effort to implement and regulate medical cannabis laws. ASA calls on the Obama Administration to end federal raids, allow state and local regulation, and to finally develop a national policy to ensure safe and legal access to medical cannabis for everyone who needs it.
A San Fernando Valley collective is recruiting its members in the effort to sponsor ASA’s new training for medical cannabis professionals. The staff and operators at Buds and Roses in Studio City are asking patients to help sponsor “Putting Patients First,” and it seems like it is working. They have already collected half of the money they need to sponsor the new training program in their counter-top donation jar. Thanks, Buds and Roses!
ASA will host the second-ever “Putting Patients First” training on Saturday, April 9, at the Medical Cannabis Caregivers Directory in Pasadena. This ASA certified training is highly participatory, fast moving, and a lot of fun. A new section on Treating the Whole Patient, builds competency and awareness for students to better understand the unique challenges that patients face in daily living through a greater awareness of how physical, psychological, and emotional health conditions affect patients functioning. This is the most relevant and comprehensive training in the field. Sign up now to save on the registration fee.
Can your collective or business help promote or sponsor the event? Perhaps sponsor patients or staff to attend? ASA will acknowledge your generosity, and you can feel good knowing you are helping build the field of well-trained medical cannabis professionals in Southern California. Visit the ASA website, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call toll free for information: (888) 929-4367.
See you on April 9th in Pasadena!
ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer testified before the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday in opposition to HB 161, a bill that would repeal the state’s six-year old medical cannabis law, before setting off on a three-day tour of the state. Judiciary Committee members delayed a vote on the bill, which has already been approved by the full House of Representatives. ASA is opposing HB 161 to preserve access for patients in Montana, and calling on lawmakers there to properly regulate medical cannabis instead of repealing it.
Ms. Sherer is visiting cities around the state this weekend to hold stakeholder’s meetings to talk about how to push back on HB 161. Grassroots opposition to the bill is essential. Research and experience show that lawmakers are more likely to respond to a broad and genuine citizen’s movement than lobbyists in St. Helena. ASA works on the frontlines with patients and providers, because medical cannabis patients advocating for their own needs are the most effective advocates for their own rights. That is why ASA makes training and skills building priorities in our work.
We ignore the repeal effort in Montana at great risk to patients. Medical cannabis opponents are exploiting growing public ambivalence about medical cannabis nationwide, and this has a real impact on policies that effect patients’ welfare. Opponents are also trying to repeal medical cannabis laws in New Mexico and Oregon. Other states may follow. This battle will take place at the local level, too, where cities and counties in the fifteen medical cannabis states consider ordinances that severely limit or prohibit safe access to medicine.
I hope you will support ASA in our efforts to build the powerful and effective grassroots movement to push back on opposition like what we are seeing in Montana – and to push forward in the work of protect and expanding patients’ rights nationwide.
Patients left the Senate hearing in Annapolis with an uneasy feeling last Thursday, wondering if they would have to suffer another year of criminal behavior. What appeared to start off as an optimistic legislative session for patients awaiting the passage of HB291/SB308, has taken on an all too familiar and realistic tone. Talks of more studies and less action resonate, as working groups are assigned to sort out the details of how cannabis will be brought to the patient community.
Since the passage of the Darrell Putman Act in 2003, patients have returned to Annapolis pleading with the legislature to bring safe access and legitimacy to the patient community, and each year, patients have left Annapolis with nothing, not even their dignity. Many patients, activists and concerned citizens find it hard to understand how a legislature who has made it clear they agree marijuana is medicine can keep this group of constituents who suffer from debilitating medical conditions in the dark alleys of the black market and in the handcuffs and prison cells of the “criminal justice system.” Well this year, patients say the buck stops here! Not only is the criminal prosecution of medical cannabis patients immoral and wrong, it poses greater health risks to the patient in question, and is a drain on our already fragile economic system.
Patients are no longer begging with the legislature, a tactic that has clearly failed in trying to improve the Darrell Putman Act of 2003 over the past eight years. We are demanding that we are no longer seen as criminals in the eyes of the law. If patients have to wait at the very least another year for the legislature to figure out safe access to cannabis, and the legislature is as committed as they say they are to the medical cannabis community, then they will repeal the criminal penalties of the Darrell Putman Act this legislative session to ensure patients are no longer criminals in the eyes of Maryland’s law.
On Tuesday, Angelenos will decide whether or not to put an additional 5% tax on medical cannabis and vote in seven City Council races. Medical cannabis patients have a lot at stake in the Primary Election. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is calling on patients and advocates in Los Angeles to reject a “Sin Tax” on medical cannabis by voting no on Measure M, and to consider City Council Members’stance on medcial cannabis before casting a ballot.
Tuesday’s Primary Election is a great opportunity to make a difference for patients in a city that is still struggling to implement its medical cannabis program. Less than sixteen percent of registered voters showed up for the last Primary Elections in 2009. That means medical cannabis patients and advocates can make a big difference in the election – if they turn out in larger than expected numbers.
Measure M will impose a business license tax on patients’ collectives and cooperatives of $50 per $1,000 in gross receipts (5% on top of 9.75% sales tax). This is disproportionate with existing business license taxes in Los Angeles, which range from $1.07 to $5.07 per $1,000 in revenue. Why should legal patients pay almost ten times more tax than anyone else in the city? Is that the legal patients' fair share? Public ambivalence and media bias make medical cannabis an easy revenue target, but that does not make a “sin tax” on medical cannabis fair or reasonable.
Some proponents argue that the city needs the money from Measure M to offset the cost of implementing the city’s controversial Medical Cannabis Ordinance. However, Measure M funds are not ear marked for that purpose; and the ordinance already requires the collectives and cooperatives to pay for registration, inspection, and enforcement. In reality, Measure M is simply an attempt to raise revenue during tough economic times.
ASA calls on the Los Angeles City Council, which voted to place Measure M on the ballot, to shift the tax burden away from legal patients, and to find fair and reasonable solutions to the city’s budget shortfall. ASA and medical cannabis patients are not alone in opposing Measure M. The Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily Breeze have both urged voters to reject the measure.
Voters will also cast ballots in seven City Council races, and frustration with the protracted regulatory process in the city will be a factor for voters in several districts. City Council Member Bernard Parks (District 8 ) co-sponsored a motion, seconded by Council Member Greig Smith (District 12) to ban medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives outright in December. Medical cannabis patients and advocates in those districts should feel justified in voting for opponents in either race, although neither district is considered “in play” in Tuesday’s election. Medical cannabis voters in District 14 have organized a campaign called “No Way Jose” to unseat incumbent City Council Member Jose Huizar in the city’s closest and most controversial race.
ASA urges Angelenos to making voting on Tuesday a priority. A relatively small number of voters will decide Measure M and the City Council races, so this is a great opportunity to be influential. So find your polling place and vote no on Measure M on Tuesday.
I’ve had two loved ones succumb to the ravages of cancer -- my mother passed away in June and my brother-in-law passed away 6 years ago. Both of them got to the point where they couldn’t eat and their doctors wished they could recommend medical marijuana to stimulate their appetite. I also know what it’s like to live in poverty and to not be able to afford desperately needed medicine. People should not be denied access to medical marijuana because they cannot afford it or because they cannot travel to locations where it's dispensed. Of course we should control it and regulate it, but we should not shut out people who need it.Patient cultivation is currently a right of hundreds of thousands of patients in 14 of the country’s 15 medical marijuana states. New Jersey is the only state to deny its patients the right to cultivate. Now, more than a year after the bill was passed, New Jersey has not registered a single patient, nor has it licensed a single producer or distributor. Subsequently, no patient is able to obtain medical marijuana legally in New Jersey. The Maryland Health and Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary Committee will hear HB 291 at 1pm on Monday, February 28th. Delegate Glenn's amendment will be heard by committee members at that time, as will testimony from patients, doctors and other experts. In preparation for the hearing, Americans for Safe Access issued a brief report on the importance and necessity of patient cultivation. The report points legislators to certain needs that would go unmet if patients were prevented from cultivating, such as affordability, reliability, consistency and quality. For additional information, see ASA’s press release.
This is an excerpt from the openning chapter of the 200-page workbook from ASA's Activist Boot Camp. The next nationwide events will be Marh 19-20. look for local announcements.
--- from "The Medical Cannabis Advocate's Handbook" ---
Almost fifteen years of experimenting with state-based medical cannabis laws has made one thing clear: adopting state laws is only the first step in a long and often expensive process to meet the legitimate needs of patients. Some states have taken nearly a decade to enact legislation designed to correct the shortcomings of early victories, ensure access, and guarantee the protection of patients' rights. In other states, however, patients are still waiting for programs that meet their needs.
The policymaking process continues long after a law has been adopted by a state legislature or citizen initiative, and usually includes the development of rules and regulations for safe access. A vast array of factors can affect the successful implementation of a state medical cannabis law, including legislative intent, administrative capacity, political support, and interest group activity. While adopting new laws may be challenging, ASA believes that the true test of success is whether those laws are properly implemented and the patient community has achieved safe and legal access.
The implementation of statewide medical cannabis laws is challenging for a number of reasons. First, and most notable, is that administrative agencies are forced to create and enforce regulations that arguably conflict with federal law. Second, statewide medical cannabis laws continue to be laboratories of democracy in our federalist system - and sometimes these experiments fail. And finally, the processes by which many of these laws have been adopted exclude both the development and participation of a local grassroots movement. As a result, policymakers usually do not feel an urgency to implement the law until there is a perceived emergency, and often do not understand the impact of politically expedient compromises on patients’ welfare.
Thirty years of intransigence by federal authorities has resulted in the patchwork of state laws that underlies our strategy for moving forward. The overwhelming majority of arrests and prosecutions for cannabis-related activity occur at the state and local level, so these Compassionate Use laws offer significant protection to the patients. However, considerable disparities exist among the state laws. For example, California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 leaves determination about the specific conditions for which medical cannabis should be used to the professional judgment of physicians, while other states narrowly restrict the use of cannabis to a list of specific medical conditions. Theses narrow lists sometimes exclude serious and chronic illnesses for which research has shown cannabis may be helpful.
Some state laws do provide civil protections for qualified individuals, but in most states, individuals who use or provide medical cannabis continue to suffer pervasive discrimination in employment, child custody, housing, health care, public accommodation, and the like. A few states have even established production and distribution systems to ensure qualified individuals have access to medical cannabis from licensed distributors, while patients in other states are forced to acquire or grow cannabis on their own. However, because medical cannabis possession, production, and distribution remain illegal under federal law, patients and their providers remain vulnerable to federal raids, arrest, and prosecution, and have no defense in federal court or remedy for the loss of property or freedoms.
The necessary and proper implementation of state medical cannabis laws and regulation of dispensaries has been frustrated by federal interference, including hundreds of raids and a variety of intimidating tactics (asset forfeitures, threats to landlords, bank account closures, IRS audits, etc.). Even in situations where local officials and governments were in good faith seeking to regulate access to cannabis, the federal government chose to respond with interference and intimidation.
This weekend, patients and advocates in more than twenty cities and nine different states will participate in ASA’s National Call to Action: Activist Boot Camp, the nation’s first virtual skills-building conference for medical cannabis activists. The Activist Boot Camp is a part of ASA’s commitment to educating, training, and empowering a powerful grassroots base nationwide. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have medical cannabis laws today, but patients inside and outside those states continue to struggle for access and fight for their rights. Please take a minute to register for ASA’s Activist Boot Camp today, so that you can be a part of that powerful grassroots base.
More than fourteen years of experience with medical cannabis laws in the United States has made one thing clear: the adoption of state laws the first steps in a long and hard process to meet the legitimate needs of patients. ASA believes that the true test of success is whether those laws are properly implemented, and the legitimate patient community has achieved safe and legal access. We are well on our way, but challenges remain.
That is why the Activist Boot Camp is so important. State and federal lawmakers rarely hear from their constituents about medical cannabis. It will take a strategic and persistent effort to reverse that trend. If ASA can mobilize that grassroots base, we can show lawmakers that there is a political safe space for supporting good legislation, and a potential downside to standing in its way. They key to achieving this is to put the voices of those invested, empowered patients at the front of the debate in 20011 and 2012. So sign up for the Activist Boot Camp nearest you today!
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.