Blog Voices from the Frontlines
City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court, a unanimous panel of three judges on California's Fourth Appellate District issued a 41-page published opinion, which made clear that all superior court judges across the state must return confiscated marijuana to qualified marijuana patients who demonstrate that they are entitled to possess it under California law. The opinion is written by the Honorable William Bedsworth, whom many consider the "Literary Jurist." It has many quotable passages. The opinion starts out with a noticeable description of the issue presented -- "We confront here the facially anomalous request that we approve state confiscation of a substance which is legal in the circumstances under which it was possessed." I take this to mean that the court is stating that it will not condone police seizing marijuana that is possessed legally under California law. In other words, the police should not have taken Felix Kha's marijuana in the first place. The court, then, treated seized medical marijuana just like other legally possessed property taken by the police and found that "[b]ecause Kha is legally entitled to possess it, due process and fundamental fairness dictate that it be returned to him." There would not be an exception to these constitutional principles for medical marijuana patients. Courts must return medical marijuana to qualified patients. But what about federal law, you wonder? Well, federal law expressly contains an exception to its marijuana laws for law enforcement officers performing their functions. 21 U.S.C. Section 885(d) provides that "no civil or criminal liability shall be imposed [under the federal Controlled Substances Act] upon any . . . duly authorized officer of any State . . . who shall be lawfully engaged in the enforcement of any law or municipal ordinance relating to controlled substances." Thus, as did a unanimous court of appeals in Oregon, the Fourth Appellate District held that the courts and police are immune from federal drug laws for returning medical marijuana. Law enforcement's reliance on federal law in refusing to do this is misplaced. The court further explained:
By complying with the trial court's order, the Garden Grove police will actually be facilitating a primary principle of federalism, which is to allow the states to innovate in areas bearing on the health and well-being of their citizens. Indeed, "[o]ure federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of States [that have authorized the use of medical marijuana] to decide from themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens." [citation] The [Compassionate Use Act] and the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] are a clear manifestation of that decision-making process.The feds may do what the feds will do in enforcing their own laws, but the people of California are entitled to decide to tread a different path, which requires the return of medical marijuana wrongfully seized by the police. The City of Garden Grove was joined in its resistance to court-ordered return of medical marijuana by several amici (friends of the court), which included the California Peace Officer' Association and the California District Attorneys' Association. (The Attorney General, on the hand, filed a brief supporting our side.) The court addressed several of their claims:
Amici for the City also claim that ordering the return of Kha's marijuana is ill advised as a matter of public policy because local police are held to a high moral standard, they often cooperate with federal drug enforcement efforts, and they are generally charged with enforcing and administering “the law of the land,” which includes federal law. We appreciate these considerations and understand police officers at all levels of government have an interest in the interdiction of illegal drugs. But it must be remembered it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws as such. For reasons we have explained, state courts can only reach conduct subject to federal law if such conduct also transcends state law, which in this case it does not. To the contrary, Kha's conduct is actually sanctioned and made “noncriminal” under the CUA.The court emphasized to the police that medical marijuana patients are not criminals:
Amici argue the police should not have to return Kha's marijuana to him, even though he is qualified to use the drug for medical reasons under California law. Characterizing Kha as a “criminal defendant,” amici claim the CUA only provides him with a “defense” to certain offenses and does not make his possession of medical marijuana “lawful.” But Kha is clearly not a criminal defendant with respect to the subject marijuana. Since the prosecution dismissed the drug charge he was facing, he is nothing more than an aggrieved citizen who is seeking the return of his property. The terms “criminal” and “defendant” do not aptly apply to him.For the first time in a published opinion, a California court clarified to the local police that it is state law, not federal law, they should be enforcing. It was a pleasure to read this thoughtful, well-reasoned decision which strongly vindicates the right of medical marijuana patients everywhere. It will be cited often. For the briefs filed in the case see here.
ASA Applauds Gov. Richardson’s Inclusion of Medical Marijuana in HIV/AIDS Platform - Americans for Safe AccessOn Saturday, December 1, to commemorate Worlds AIDS Day, Democratic Presidential Candidate, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson unveiled his HIV/AIDS policy platform. In addition to recognizing the need for a National AIDS Strategy, the Governor’s plan includes a provision that would permit the use of medicinal marijuana to help people living with HIV/AIDS improve pain and symptom management. The anti-emetic and analgesic properties of cannabis have been particularly useful to HIV/AIDS patients. People living with HIV/AIDS have long used cannabis to help with symptoms of HIV related illnesses ranging from wasting and loss of appetite to adherence to medications. Consequently, it is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 AIDS patients use cannabis for medical purposes. Earlier this year, the journal Neurology published the results of a clinical trial indicating that smoked marijuana can alleviate painful, peripheral HIV/AIDS-related neuropathy. Research also shows that access to cannabis may improve health care outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS. For example individuals who use cannabis in conjunction with their antiretroviral therapy are approximately 3.3 times more likely to remain on their prescribed drug therapies than those who do not use cannabis. The Bush Administration has failed to acknowledge the growing body of evidence which demonstrate that marijuana has medical value. In fact, neither the Clinton nor the Bush Administrations have ever undertaken any effort to review or fully implement the recommendations of the 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study, Marijuana and Medicine-Assessing the Science, which acknowledged that "For patients such as those with AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy and who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad-spectrum relief not found in any other single medication." In contrast, California and 12 other states, including New Mexico, have passed laws that authorize the use of cannabis by qualified patients who possess a recommendation from their physicians. Americans for Safe Access is encouraged by Governor Richardson’s sensitivity to the intersection of medical marijuana and HIV/AIDS. We hope other Presidential candidates will take note, and follow his lead.
http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=5251 Read the press coverage by: NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/30/us/30pot.html?ref=us SF Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/11/30/BAIFTLCNQ.DTL The Recorder: http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1196361712064 Orange County Register: http://www.ocregister.com/news/marijuana-law-kha-1931328-state-garden CBS 2: http://cbs2.com/local/Medical.Marijuana.Garden.2.598475.html Medical Marijuana Movement Loses Linda Senti From Chris Payaso, c/o Oaksterdam News and Weedbay.net: It is with great sadness that I am writing to tell you all that a great shining light of compassion and freedom here in California has been snuffed out. Linda Senti, wife of cannabis activist Eddy Lepp, passed from this world at 8 pm PST Sunday, November 25. Linda was my closest confidant and friend in California, and although sad at her passing, I am happy she is no longer in pain from the cancer she has been fighting for decades. Please pray for Linda, and especially Eddy Lepp. He needs all the support and love that we can offer so that he can continue fighting for OUR RIGHTS. Both Eddy and Linda worked tirelessly for at least the last 20 years together on their vision. A vision that included personal freedom for everyone. Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Deny Dispensary Permit This week, in a disappointing act, the Sonoma Board of Supervisors denied Creekside Medicinal Organics their permit in a 3-0 vote with two Supervisors missing. Despite the large contingency of Sonoma ASA chapter members, patients, and activists who testified in support of Creekside Medicinal Organics, the board went ahead and voted the permit down, citing ordinance residential zoning rule. The collective had met every stipulation of the county's ordinance with one small exception. The land parcel site is 53 feet from residential zoning. The ordinance rule is 100 feet. The physical building, however, is located over two hundred feet from the residential zoning, but because parcel line is only 53 feet away, the permit was recommended for denial and then voted down in a unanimous decision. ASA would like to thank Sonoma ASA and all the activists, patients, and concerned citizens that showed up in support of the collective. Even though we did not win, we appreciate your hard work and your commitment to safe access. It is people like you that keep this movement alive and strong. Read more about the hearing at: http://www.ktvu.com/news/14710912/detail.html Update on Long Beach Raid Two weeks ago, DEA agents raided Long Beach Compassionate Caregivers, seizing medicine and other resources and arresting the collective's operator, Samuel Matthew Fata. The collective has remained closed since the raid, and ASA has not received reports of their plans to reopen. The raid was the first federal attack on a dispensary in Long Beach, and the DEA has released a press statement saying it will not be the last. The city of Long Beach does not have a dispensary ordinance, nor regulations in place, despite the reported 10+ dispensaries in the city. Several dispensaries in Long Beach have fallen under attack recently when the DEA issued asset forfeiture letters to the facilities' landlords. ASA will report breaking news on access in Long Beach as well as upcoming court dates and support for the collective as we receive reports. If you have any information about upcoming court dates for Fata, please contact Sonnet@AmericansforSafeAccess.org To read more about the raid, see the following news articles: Long Beach Press-Telegram: http://www.presstelegram.com/search/ci_7530132 and http://www.presstelegram.com/search/ci_7544769
In late September, DEA proposed a new rule that would effectively place dronabinol (the active chemical in MARINOL) in Schedule III. Wait a second, isn't MARINOL already in Schedule III? It is. When MARINOL was first marketed, it was placed in Schedule II. Once DEA was shown that it had a low potential for abuse, they agreed to place it in Schedule III. But the narrow language only places in Schedule III MARINOL's specific formulation (synthetically derived dronabinol, suspended in sesame oil). All other formulations remain in Schedule I.Marinol's patent is almost up, which will open up the market to generic dronabinol, as long as the rule change goes through. ASA submitted a Public Comment in support of the proposed rule change. Here are some highlights:
Primarily, the proposed rule is a positive step because in it, the DEA acknowledges, only for the second time (Marinol was the first in 1986), the obvious medical benefits of THC/dronabinol. These proposed changes also represent progress because they implicitly recognize the value of whole-plant cannabis and its capacity to extract naturally occurring THC that is bioequivalent to synthetic THC... This proposed change is also a positive development because its will likely result in greater access for patients to less expensive, naturally derived cannabis-based drugs in the short term... Generic drugs, drugs that are produced and distributed without patent protection (and approved by the FDA under 21 U.S.C. 355 § 505(j)), are generally much cheaper than brand-name drugs, such as Marinol.We go on to argue that the rule change does not go far enough, and that the DEA needs to consider rescheduling other cannabinoids:
...the DEA should initiate another proposed rule change that reschedules a wide array of natural, non-psychoactive phytocannabinoids to support the research and development of a wider variety of cannabis-based medicines. Research suggests that the beneficial therapeutic effects of cannabis may result from the interaction, or synergy, among various cannabinoids. This helps to explain why medicines developed from whole-plant extracts may be more effective than single cannabinoid drugs developed from synthetic compounds. For instance, Sativex is a cannabis-based medicine, which combines both THC and CBD to produce an entirely different therapeutic potential than THC alone, has been developed by UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, and has been approved for use in Canada and is undergoing clinical trials in Europe and the United States...And we further argue that the DEA should end the obstructions to medical cannabis research:
...the DEA should accept the opinion of its own U.S. Department of Justice-appointed Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Mary Ellen Bittner, who urges the DEA to grant a license to Professor Lyle Craker to cultivate research-grade cannabis for distribution exclusively to federally approved researchers, which would greatly facilitate research on the therapeutic value of cannabis and access to its naturally derived constituent cannabinoids, specifically THC.Please read ASA's full comment and MAPS' comment.
http://AmericansforSafeAccess.org/OrangeCountyBlog DEA Raids Long Beach Dispensary DEA agents raided Long Beach Compassionate Cooperative yesterday. ASA is awaiting further details on the raid. A patient that was there claims that DEA raided LBCC 5 minutes after they opened yesterday morning. DEA took the medicine and harassed the volunteers, but we still have not heard of any arrests. Please post any news on the raid at our forum, http://www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/LongBeachRaid Tom Kikuchi Sentenced to Two Years in Federal Prison Tom Kikuchi, co-defendant along with Stephanie Landa and Kevin Gage, was sentenced yesterday to two years in a federal prison for violating the conditions of his federal supervised release. Tom Kikuchi, Stephanie Landa, and Kevin Gage, a noted Hollywood actor, accepted a plea agreement in 2003. This case drew attention because San Francisco police apparently turned her and two others over to federal prosecutors. The three had met with the city’s district attorney and police officials before beginning cultivation. For more information about the case and Tom Kikuchi's hearing, read Vanessa Nelson's article at: http://www.medicalmarijuanaofamerica.com/content/view/166/111/
HHS denied ASA’s petition on April 20, 2005. ASA quickly filed an appeal, and after even more delays, on July 12, 2006, HHS denied the appeal. Having exhausted its administrative remedies, ASA filed a lawsuit on February 21, 2007, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, naming HHS and FDA, and challenging the government’s violation of the Data Quality Act. An amended complaint was subsequently filed on August 17, 2007. Mr. Elford's arguments called for an answer from HHS in a timely manor. We expect a ruling from Judge Alsup within a few weeks. Mendocino County Supervisors Send Medical Marijuana Regulations Back to Committee This week, Mendocino County Supervisors voted to send the proposed medical marijuana regulations back to committee. The proposed dispensary regulations which were sent back to committee put a cap on only 2 dispensaries in the large county. It has also been criticized as having unattainable regulations which will put up roadblocks for providers and patients. The current draft of the regulations will be amended in the Criminal Justice Committee. Just two months ago, the CJ committee made recommendations to limit the number of plants a patient is allowed to have. In response, the same Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance calling for the county to honor the voters' wishes as specified in measure G and to keep the guidelines at 25 plants per patient. The Board of Supervisors rejected the Criminal Justice committee's recommendation to lower the County's limits to 6 mature and 12 immature plants. Activists in Mendocino County are hoping the Criminal Justice committee scraps the regulations all together. To find out how you can help in Mendocino County and ensure safe access, please contact Bruce at: MendoBruce@yahoo.com.
Fate of Medical Marijuana Patients' Right to Work Rests with the California Supreme Court - Americans for Safe AccessAnalysis of oral arguments before the California Supreme Court in Ross v. RagingWire on 6 November 2007 Unfortunately, I was not able to attend Tuesday's oral arguments before the California Supreme Court (CSC) on whether employers like RagingWire Telecommunications, Inc. have the right to discriminate against medical marijuana patients like Gary Ross. At the time the CSC granted review in November 2006, I was the Legal Campaign Director at Americans for Safe Access (ASA). Without a doubt, it was a proud day for me and everyone else at ASA to have this case finally get heard. I was equally excited, in my new role as Media Liaison at ASA, to see the extent of news coverage on this important issue, with articles in AP, SF Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, The Recorder, and FindLaw. When I viewed the oral arguments after the fact, on the California Channel, which ran a live feed from the courtroom, I was left with much optimism for a ruling that favors Ross's struggle to be free from discrimination. The three areas I felt the court focused on most were: whether RagingWire, the employer, would be unreasonably inconvenienced to be required to hire or continue to employ medical marijuana patients; whether federal law somehow prevented RagingWire from hiring or continuing to employ medical marijuana patients; and whether the People of California or the State Legislature intended to exclude medical marijuana patients from the workforce. It was my impression that ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford and attorney Stewart Katz, each acting as co-counsel arguing before the court, nailed each of those issues extremely well, while opposing counsel for RagingWire foundered and failed to provide solid responses to the court. I will attempt to detail each of the three issues below. Regarding unreasonable inconvenience, Elford rightly claimed that concerns over unlikely interference by federal law enforcement at the workplace, or elsewhere, did not rise to the level of needing to carve out a large exception to the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) simply to allow employers to discriminate in this way. Nor did it rise to the level of forcing more than 200,000 medical marijuana patients in California from the workplace and denying them a right to thrive. Elford also points out that some of the existing accommodations required of employers by FEHA (he used the example of ramps for wheelchair-bound workers) far surpass any inconvenience that might be posed by accommodating the productive employment of medical marijuana patients. The Compassionate Use Act (or Proposition 215) is pretty clear in conferring "the right" to "seriously ill Californians" to "obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes." To have any meaning, this "right" must not prevent patients from earning a living. Regarding the issue of supposed state-federal conflict, it was amply answered that there is none. By granting Ross, who is a productive, disabled veteran, the same right to work as others in his field, the employer is in no way violating federal law. The Drug-Free Workplace laws pertain only to on-the-job intoxication, possession, or distribution of illegal substances. As offensive as many drug-testing requirements are, the federal government never meant Drug-Free Workplace laws to reach into the homes of productive workers. The specter of losing federal contracts is also a red herring, since such forms of punishment absent of wrongdoing (under state or federal law) by the worker(s) and employer would be unjustified and arguably illegal. Regarding the intent of the legislature, Ross wins hands down. The fact that the California Legislature only implied the right to work by indicating that employers need not accommodate on-the-job medical marijuana use compelled the court to ask multiple questions on the matter. That the legislature made note of employment in the Medical Marijuana Program Act but failed to provide employers with a blanket right to discriminate against patients speaks volumes to their right to work. However, we don't even need to go there. There should be no question as to the intent of the legislature, since an amicus 'friend of the court' brief was filed by all five of the original co-authors detailing their intent to provide medical marijuana patients the same discrimination-free opportunities as other productive workers in California. The CSC will decide this case on or before February 5, 2008. The livelihood of literally hundreds of thousands of patients is now in the delicate hands of the court. However, regardless of the outcome, the strong conviction of a majority of Californians voters and a legislature that endorsed the rights of medical marijuana patients will continue to compel us to strive for justice. For more information, see ASA's web page on the Ross v. RagingWire case, which is also located on ASA's Brief Bank page.
Associated Press story was picked up by more than 200 papers nationwide. FindLaw and The Recorder offered legal analysis of the hearing, and Drug Law Blog posted YouTube clips of the highlights of the arguments. A ruling in the case will be issued within 90 days of the hearing. For further explanation and links to the legal briefs, go to ASA's Brief Bank page on Ross v. RagingWire. Federal Defendant Bryan Epis Remains Free Bryan Epis was the first medical marijuana patient convicted in federal court after the passage of California’s Proposition 215. Epis was arrested June 25, 1997, after Butte County sheriff's officers discovered marijuana plants growing in the basement of his home in Chico. After an incredibly lengthy federal trial process, on September 14, 2007, U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Damrell sentenced Epis to 10 years in prison. Epis has been out on bail since August 9, 2004, pending his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Damrell denied the prosecution's request to imprison him immediately. Epis' attorney, Brenda Grantland, then filed a motion for continued bail pending his appeal, and after reading it, the U.S. Attorney conceded, and did not oppose the motion. In a piece of great news, this means that Epis will remain out of federal prison and home with his family for at least the next 18 months, which is the soonest he can expect a decision on his case from the Ninth Circuit. An in-depth report of Epis' sentencing hearing by Vanessa Nelson is available (with pictures) here. Congratulations again, Bryan, from ASA staff and membership!
Attorney General's opinion on concentrated cannabis and the conclusion that hashish as well as any other concentrated cannabis is protected under Prop 215 and SB 420. With this information in hand, I knew that this was covered and never thought twice about being in possession of hashish. As I found out the hard way, not all law enforcement agencies feel the same way. I was originally going to be cited for possession of marijuana since I also had 2.5 grams of marijuana, but once the officer noticed the hashish, he stated that it as well as marijuana is illegal under federal law. Knowing that city police officers were not under federal jurisdiction, I felt I should question the officer on this statement. I had asked the officer "Are you telling me that prop 215 and SB 420 are not valid laws?" To this the officer promptly replied "Under federal law possession is still illegal and we have been instructed to follow it as such". At this point the officer also informed me that possession of hashish is a felony and that he was placing me under arrest. I had to be bailed out of jail that night so I would be able to go to work the next day. Going to the first court date for arraignment I was not sure what was going to happen. I can honestly say I was scared. I have been a tax paying citizen of Orange County all my life and never once had I been in trouble with the law so this was all new to me. At court I was assigned a public defender to handle my case. While I was giving my interview to the public defender, he had asked for a copy of my recommendation so they could make copies. On my next court date that was my pre trial I find out that a new public defender had been assigned to my case and at that point got to meet her. As we were talking about the case she asked if I have a copy of my recommendation to which I responded that I had already given this to them. Come to find out they had lost my recommendation out of my file. Once again court dates pushed forward for another month. I show up to my next pre-trial date but this time with an attorney specializing in medical marijuana cases. Due to me getting a new attorney we once again had to push the court dates up yet another month. At this point it is starting to get ridiculous, not to mention costly. We show up for the next court date for my preliminary hearing this time to see if I am going to be bound over to the Superior Court for jury trial - keep in mind the whole time I am going through this the DA is wanting me to plead out and take a felony hit on my record all over .2 grams of hashish even though I am a qualified patient. We were in the middle of filing a motion for dismissal to the courts since the District Attorney was not willing to drop the case. Of course this prompted yet another court date which pushed it a month and a half later into October. Back to October 29th 2007, we are sitting in court waiting to be called and finally my name is called. The judge asked if we as well as the prosecutor were ready to which we both said we were. After waiting about 30 minutes the District Attorney comes into the court room and walks up to my attorney. She asks him if we have any witnesses to which he responded yes that we had two since I and another patient who was with me the night I was arrested were there to testify. The reason for the other patient to be there is due to the fact that my recommendation was taken from me that night and never returned, it was never entered into evidence nor was it placed into my property bag. This was brought up to the prosecutor and she was not sure how to handle it as she did not have any experiences with medical marijuana cases. Due to this she went downstairs to the District Attorney's office and spoke with another person that is well versed in the laws. After waiting 30 minutes the prosecutor walks upstairs to inform my attorney that they will not be proceeding with the case and were dismissing charges. This was the best news I had heard. I can for one speak on the fact that going through hearings and court is one of the most trying times that one can experience. I am thankful for the support of the medical marijuana community that has been shown to me. It is easy to lose faith and want to give up and it is so important to have a strong support group for the person going through something like this. I also would like to thank ASA as they have been there for me from the beginning to the end and assisted in every way they could.