Blog Voices from the Frontlines

Dec 132010

With Great Hope - Americans for Safe Access

Another year is winding down and our movement has added more amazing victories to our impressive list. From taking down anti-medical marijuana AG candidate Steve Cooley to passing access regulations in Washington DC, ASA has shown the power of grassroots patient advocacy. With a new year looming, this is a great time to reflect and to think about what the future will bring. As a patient advocate, this is the time that I think about how I personally contributed to creating safe and legal access and what that commitment will look like next year. As Executive Director of ASA, it is my job and commitment to our members to look at the national landscape and to prepare our movement for the challenges and opportunities coming.  Part of that preparation this year was traveling across the country, taking the pulse of our movement by hosting five and six hour-long strategic planning meetings with our community.  In every city, I met individuals with medical conditions that made every moment of their life a struggle as well as individuals at the end of their lives - MS patients with months to live, women whose cancer had progressed passed treatment, a forty year old with ALS so severe he needed specialized equipment to communicate. Over and over again I was moved to tears by the passion and commitment of our members. Members who may not be around to see the results of their organizing but still want to be a part of change. Members who, despite great discomfort, are advocating so that YOU and I can have safe access. As a member of ASA, you are connecting these individuals into a movement. As a member of ASA, you are making sure that our patient advocates have the resources they need to be effective and strategic. We held meetings with our communities this year because we thought that was the right way to win; now we know that it’s the only way to win. Safe and legal access will only happen if WE, the movement, make it happen. We’re in a unique position this year to take your voice to the top. We have political capital built up and we’re ready to spend it. Because of our wins last year, your contribution today will go further than it ever has before. Help us take your voice to DC. We all have a role in this movement. I’ve told you about the passion and commitment of those at the end of their lives, those with the very least to gain and the invaluable role they’re playing. I believe one of my roles is to create a world where our terminally ill do not spend the last months of their lives in six-hour policy meetings and we need your contribution to make that happen. So the question now is, can you fulfill that role? Can you sacrifice a fraction of what they have given so that we can build a safer, fairer world? Thank you, as always, for your generous support. I wish for your happiness in the new year.
Dec 072010

LA Patients Protest County Ban - Americans for Safe Access



Fifty medical cannabis patients and advocates protested in front of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ meeting this morning in response to the Board’s 4-1 vote to ban medical cannabis collectives in unincorporated communities. Protesters cheered as motorists honked in support, including one Los Angeles Police Department squad car. Supervisor Michael Antonovich proposed the ban earlier this year, in response to concerns over public safety and a handful of non-permitted collectives in the county.



The Board voted unanimously to adopt regulations in 2006, but the Regional Planning Commission has never issued a Conditional Use Permit for medical cannabis. Today’s ban is part of a statewide effort by law enforcement and medical cannabis opponents to push back on safe access. Orange County banned collectives at the same time as Los Angeles County, and Supervisors in Riverside County have abandoned plans to repeal the county’s ban. Fresno and Santa Barbara counties may not be far behind.

Today’s protest in Los Angeles is the first step in what may be a long campaign to change Supervisors’ minds. Americans for safe Access (ASA) and advocates are planning to counter opposition to medical cannabis by keeping the need for regulations on the front burner. They will be speaking at Board meetings, writing elected officials, and visiting county offices to keep the pressure on.  Advocates who wish to help should attend the LA-ASA chapter meeting on Saturday, December 18.

Read the ASA Press Release for today's protest on the ASA website.
Dec 062010

CA Supreme Court Denies Law Enforcement Request to Review Landmark Case - Americans for Safe Access

After years of wrangling in the Court of Appeal, medical marijuana patients, on August 18, 2010, obtained a published decision affirming that federal law does not preempt California law regarding medical marijuana collectives.  Dissatisfied with this outcome, numerous law enforcement organizations, including:  five former DEA Administrators, the Drug Free America Foundation, and the California State Sheriff’s Association, along with numerous cities and counties, filed requests for the California Supreme Court grant review and reach an opposite conclusion.  On Thursday, this came to and end, as six of the seven Justices of the California Supreme Court voted to decline review. This denial of review bodes well for medical marijuana patients, as there are now at least four published decisions affirming that federal law does not preempt California’s medical marijuana laws.  This has been an argument made by numerous localities to avoid abiding by California’s medical marijuana laws.  Although this latest decision does not officially put the matter to rest, it signals that the California Supreme Court does not seem to buy the federal preemption argument.  Chalk one up for the patients.
Dec 022010

"Driven to the back alleys" - Americans for Safe Access

LA County Supervisor Don Knabe and his colleagues on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission just overturned a ban on raves at the LA Coliseum. The Commission enacted a ban this summer after a 15-year old girl died of a drug overdose at a dance party with over 185,000 attendees. The LA Times reported Supervisor Knabe’s rationale for lifting the ban:
"There's a way to do it right where we protect the public and allow this opportunity to take place," said Supervisor Don Knabe, who serves on the commission and said he preferred regulating raves at the publicly owned venue rather than see them "driven to the back alleys."
Supervisor Knabe’s logic is sound, but his actions are inconsistent. Just nine days earlier, the Supervisor voted to ban medical cannabis patients’ collectives in the unincorporated communities of the county. He and his colleagues adopted the ban despite overwhelming opposition from community members, who asked instead for tighter regulations (the same kind the Commission will impose on raves). The advocates’ rationale was the same as the Supervisor’s. A ban just pushes medical cannabis back into the shadows, and that is bad for legal patients and their communities. So what is going on? Massive dance parties, where dangerous drug use is commonplace, are better regulated than banned. But legal medical cannabis patients’ collectives are too dangerous to regulate? That does not make sense. Research conducted by ASA and our experience over the last fourteen years tell us that sensible regulations for collectives reduce crime and complaints.  In fact, collectives can make a neighborhood safer. Oakland City Administrator Barbara Killey says the neighborhoods around her city’s regulated collectives are “some of the safest areas of Oakland now… since the ordinance passed." So why should legal collectives be “driven to the back alleys,” as Supervisor Knabe says? They should not. If Supervisors are worried about public safety, they can do what the Commission did – improve regulations. If they are worried about the small number of non-permitted collectives now operating in the county’s jurisdiction, they can take appropriate enforcement action. An outright ban, however, does nothing to protect public safety of stop non-permitted facilities. It only prevents legal patients’ collectives from obeying the law. The City of Los Angeles is slowing winnowing the number of collectives inside city limits, and many other cities in the county have bans or protracted moratoria on new collectives. There has never been a better time for the county to issue permits for qualified and well-vetted applicants pursuant to the sensible regulations adopted in 2006. Unfortunately, the decision to ban collectives raises doubt about whether or not legal patients and unincorporated communities will ever realize the proven benefits of regulations. That is a shame. At the end of the day, it will be legal patients who are “driven back to the alleys,” and that is not what LA County voters want. Los Angeles County patients and advocates will protest in front of the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, December 7, when the Supervisors will vote on final approval of the ban.
Dec 012010

World AIDS Day 2010 - Americans for Safe Access

  • December 01, 2010 3:15 AM
Wednesday, December 1 marks the 23rd annual World AIDS Day. The theme of this important day this year is Universal Access and Human Rights, something we as members of the medical cannabis movement can certainly understand and get behind. ASA's website is going red for the day in recognition of this event.

Despite a lack of coverage of the AIDS pandemic, it is still very real and still very much a threat all over the world. According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS' (UNAIDS) estimate, there are now 33.3 million people living with HIV including 2.5 million children. These 33.3 million people are not just numbers - they are your friends, neighbors, partners, brothers, sisters, parents, children, husbands, wives and co-workers. AIDS is not just someone else's problem - it is a crisis that affects us all, and it is up to us to stand in support of our fellow human beings with HIV/AIDS this World AIDS Day and every day.

So this Wednesday, do something to support those living with HIV/AIDS. Light a candle in remembrance or support, wear a red ribbon, practice safe sex, educate someone on the importance of prevention and early detection. And please, take a moment to honor the commitment and sacrifices of patient advocates past and present. To find out how else you can get involved, visit the World AIDS Day 2010 Events Calendar.
Nov 302010

Congress Critters Seek IRS Clarification - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 30, 2010 6:24 AM

...And the hits just keep coming!

Despite the DOJ memo and our best efforts the federal government continues to engage innovative tactics to continue their campaign of interference with state medical marijuana laws.   The latest tactic is to use an antiquated tax code to prohibit medical marijuana dispensing facilities from taking IRS deductions and credits attributed to amounts paid or incurred during the taxable year. ASA has confirmed that several medical cannabis collectives in California are now being (and have in the past been) targeted by this very law under the guise of federal tax audits.  These “audits” seem to be unfairly applied, especially as they appear to target the largest collectives serving the greatest percentage of the population.

For the patients  who rely on the access to medicine these collectives provide, enforcement of this provision could result in a number of unanticipated consequences.  Without doubt, collectives will be forced to raise the cost of medicine and services in order to compensate for the loss of a deduction/credit.  It’s possible that some collectives may simply stop filing federal tax returns, which may jeopardize the integrity of the collective and put patients in harm’s way.  And, in the worst case, collectives will simply shut their doors, forcing what are otherwise well regulated facilities back to the underground.

To combat this issue ASA has enlisted the leadership of Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA), known as one of the nation's foremost advocates of tax reform.  Mr. Stark has championed a “Request for a Revenue Ruling on Allowing Legal Marijuana Dispensaries to Take Trade or Business Deductions.”   Mr. Stark and a handful of Congressional colleagues who also serve as senior members of the relevant oversight committees including Ways & Means, Joint Taxation, Banking, and Judiciary have cosigned a letter requesting that the IRS issue a revenue ruling - or similar pronouncement upon which all taxpayers may rely - concerning deductions for medical marijuana dispensaries.

The Revenue Request represents an initial step toward a final solution and ASA will continue our dialogue with Congress and Administration officials about this issue.   These ongoing and indirect tactics underscore a need for Congress to provide a solution to the growing divide between state and federal laws concerning the use of marijuana for medical purposes.  In the meantime, PLEASE visit the following webpages and offer these allies your personal thanks and sincere appreciation for their leadership on this important issue.

Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA/13) Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA/17) Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ/7) Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA/4) Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA/39) Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO/2)
A senior member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, he is currently the Chairman of its Health Subcommittee.
Nov 242010

It's Official... ASA Wins Big! - Americans for Safe Access

Like most of the country we had mixed feelings about the mid-term elections. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, there were gains and concessions, reliefs and disappointments. But, there was one race that changed everything—one election that leveraged our movement so greatly things will never be the same.

If you don’t live in California you may not have heard much about our Attorney General race. Steve Cooley was running for AG with the most blatant anti-patient platform this country has ever seen. Hand picked by the cops and funded by rightwing political strategist Karl Rove, Cooley made no small effort to let voters know that if he were elected he would do everything in his power to eradicate medical marijuana for California.



Knowing how important the success of California’s safe access program is in directing the rest of the country, we threw the full weight of ASA into this race; galvanizing our community, educating Californians and mobilizing voters. We built coalitions, created strategic marketing videos and fervently developed our field.

We watched the results pour in November 2nd, excited when he was down and nervous as his numbers went back up. Our office held our breath as the outcome seemed to change every hour. At around mid-night it was clear we weren’t going to have an answer, and we went to bed crossing our fingers that we would wake up to good news.

Well, as you may know we didn’t get that good news for another three weeks. Today, we found out—patients won! Steve Cooley was defeated, and California’s safe access is protected.

And, while this is great news for the west coast it’s even better news for us nationally, because ASA has established medical cannabis patients as a real player in the electoral landscape. This election was won by only the smallest margin of votes. It is clear to every political expert in the country that it was the patient community that swung this election, and it will be ASA that will continue to swing elections as long as our patients’ rights are in jeopardy. You saw us win in California, now help us win nation-wide.

Every ounce of weight and leverage we have is because of our members. YOU are ASA! It is our members that supported this effort, and a special thanks to members David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and to the American Cannabis Research Institute’s Ben Bronfman and Matt Atwood for their generous support.

We need your support, too. You are protecting your rights when you help us fight back and win big victories like this. ASA will be there for the next battle, if you help us do it.
Join ASA today and make sure this win is heard across the country—make sure that when you need help, we’ll be there too.

 

 

 
Nov 242010

Set your DVR...'Waiting to Inhale' premiers on TV!! - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 24, 2010 3:47 AM
Americans for Safe Access in partnership with Jed Riffe Films is pleased to inform you that the award winning documentary, WAITING TO INHALE,  will have its national broadcast TV premiere on two cable networks in the coming weeks. The first airing of "Waiting to Inhale" is taking place today, Wednesday the 24th at 10:30pm pacific/1:30am eastern with several encore airings throughout the week.  The LINKTV premiere is part of their pledge week activities -- so give 'em a little love!  You can find LINKTV on channel 375 on both Dish TV and Direct TV. The premiere on Free Speech TV is set for Sunday, December 19, 9pm EST/6PM PST which is now airing on Direct TV channel 348, and DISH Network channel 9415. These broadcasts provide advocates an excellent opportunity to reach audiences who have not yet seen the film, especially in non-medical marijuana states where education is desperately needed.  Set your DVR so that you can share this documentary with your friends and loved ones whenever you want.
Nov 232010

LA Supervisors Fumble - Americans for Safe Access

[caption id="attachment_1019" align="alignleft" width="106" caption="Supervisor Antonovich"]
[/caption]

Los Angeles County Supervisors voted 4-1 today to ban medical cannabis collectives in the unincorporated communities of the county, overturning a 2006 ordinance regulating safe access. The vote was in response to concerns about public safety following high-profile violence in the City of Los Angeles and the proliferation of un-permitted collectives in the county. Today’s vote should be a wakeup call for patients and advocates all over California. Bad press and public perception can roll back progress on medical cannabis.



Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a long-time medical cannabis opponent, started the push to ban collectives in June, after media coverage about multiple shootings at collectives in the City of Los Angeles stoked community concerns about safety. It should have been a short debate. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina, and Don Knabe all supported the regulations in 2006; and newly-elected Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas voted to support patients’ rights as a state Assemblymember in 2008. But much of that goodwill evaporated as Supervisors watched neighborhood concerns(and media coverage) rise along with the number of illegal collectives in cities and unincorporated areas.

Patients and advocates must be vigilant for turning tides of public opinion. Long term trends are towards greater acceptance and support for medical cannabis. But opponents like Supervisor Antonovich will continue to seize on short comings and neighborhood ambivalence to push back whenever they can. Antonovich did not have to prove a correlation between collectives and violence. He only had to raise the issue and let the media zeitgeist carry the day.

The facts are on our side. Research conducted by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the experience of the last fourteen years prove that sensible regulations reduce crime and complaints. In fact, collectives can make a neighborhood safer. Even Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told reporters in January that the idea that collectives attract crime “doesn’t really bear out.” It is too bad for patients in Los Angeles County that Supervisors just were not listening.

Los Angeles County Supervisors fumbled today when they banned medical cannabis collectives. The ban will prevent law-abiding patients from operating collectives, but do little to close the un-permitted collectives causing so much hand-wringing in the county. In casting this unfortunate vote, the majority ignored input from a small, but dedicated, segment of community that fought the ban for the last five months. We can only hope cooler heads prevail after headlines celebrating the crackdown have faded, Supervisors claim victory, and advocates start the hard work of changing this bad policy.
Nov 222010

Leonhart Gets a Pass - Americans for Safe Access

  • November 22, 2010 5:46 AM
On Wednesday, November 17, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened for the nomination hearing of Michele Leonhart for the position of Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In preparation, ASA had submitted questions for the committee members to ask Ms. Leonhart, hoping that she would finally be taken to task for ignoring statements issued by the President, Attorney General, and Assistant Attorney General regarding ceasing raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. As both Deputy Administrator and Administrator, Ms. Leonhart has been behind an extremely large number of these paramilitary type raids on dispensaries, and ASA implored committee members to ask her why these raids were continuing, why she was continuing to prosecute those who were "in clear and unambiguous compliance with state law." Instead, Ms. Leonhart was praised for her work. Senators Franken and Klobuchar were both proud to claim the native Minnesotan as one of their own and Senator Feinstein was pleased to note that Ms. Leonhart and her family currently reside in California. The only real questioning on marijuana came that afternoon from Senator Jeff Sessions of Georgia (seemingly the only Republican Senator present and definitely the only one who asked any questions of Ms. Leonhart), and that was in regard to legalization. Senator Sessions believes legalizing is dangerous and the wrong thing to do and praised Ms. Leonhart agreed with him. This led to Ms. Leonhart's only comment of the day that was truly pertinent to medical marijuana when she said that she and the DEA would continue to enforce federal drug laws regardless of state law. It looks like we can expect more of the same old from the DEA in the near future.