ASA Activist Newsletter - July 2014
IN THIS ISSUE
- Bipartisan Medical Cannabis Measure in Senate
- Federal Medical Cannabis Defendant Lobbies Senate
- ASA TV Ads Hit House Members on Vote
- New York to become 23rd Medical Cannabis State
- Certification for Businesses in Arizona, New Mexico
- ACTION ALERT: Contact Your Senators
Bipartisan Medical Cannabis Measure in Senate
Budget Amendment to End Federal Interference in States
State medical cannabis programs may soon operate more freely if a bipartisan measure in the U.S. Senate is adopted this month. The measure, introduced by rising stars Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), would prohibit the Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending any taxpayer money on interfering with state medical cannabis programs, including prosecution of patients and providers who comply with state law. The bipartisan Senate effort is similar to a House budget amendment to the Commerce, Science & Justice (CJS) appropriations bill that passed with an historic 219-189 vote last month. A Senate floor vote on the CJS amendment is expected to take place after the 4th of July recess.
"The Senate has an unprecedented opportunity to act on the overwhelming national support for safe access to medical cannabis," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "Our country deserves a level-headed approach to this issue, not more unnecessary and harmful federal enforcement that puts patients in federal prison."
For two decades, polls have shown overwhelming national support for legal access to medical cannabis, with a recent CBS News poll pegging support at 86%. Yet until the historic bipartisan vote in the House on the CJS bill, many federal lawmakers had been reluctant to act, though more have begun to speak out.
Former-President Bill Clinton, whose administration began the aggressive federal push-back against state medical cannabis programs, said in an interview last week that there is “a lot of evidence to argue for the medical marijuana thing,” and “this really is a time when there should be laboratories of democracy, because nobody really knows where this is going.” The U.S. Supreme Court has established that divergent state laws provide a “laboratory of democracy” for solutions to emerging public policy issues.
In January, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun that, "there's some medical reasons for marijuana." Reid, whose state of Nevada has had a medical cannabis program in place since 2000, also conceded that "[w]e waste a lot of time and law enforcement going after these guys that are smoking marijuana."
The hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that have been wasted are documented in ASA’s report What’s the Cost?, which found that the Obama Administration alone has expended more than $300 million to derail state medical cannabis programs, including the criminal prosecution of individuals who were in compliance with state law.
Among the scores of costly prosecutions is the widely watched Kettle Falls Five case, currently underway in Washington state. Federal prosecutors are seeking 10-year mandatory prison sentences for a handful of family members who were openly growing medical cannabis for their personal use as legal, state-qualified patients.
If the Paul-Booker medical cannabis amendment passes in the Senate, it will be included in the House-Senate conference committee negotiations expected in August. The budget bill that emerges from that committee will be sent to the President's desk for signature.
ASA will track the results of the Senate floor vote at VoteMedicalMarijuana.org as part of its "Vote Medical Marijuana" campaign to educate supporters and the general public on how their Members of Congress are voting on this issue.
House CJS Amendment text
ACTION ALERT: Pressure Your Senators Today!
We are on the brink of history. Your action today can push us over.
U.S. Senators are back in their home states on recess for the 4th of July holiday. When they return, they will vote on the historic amendment offered by Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that could stop federal prosecutions of qualified medical cannabis patients. There’s no better time for you to make your voice heard!
- Write a Letter to the Editor of your local paper.
- Call or Email your Senators offices.
- Schedule a Meeting with your Senators’ offices.
- Attend a Community Event your Senators will be attending.
- Share with Friends and Family so they can help.
Help us make sure the Senate sends the amendment to the President’s desk by taking action today. Go to http://www.safeaccessnow.org/take_action_for_medical_marijuana.
Federal Medical Cannabis Defendant Lobbies Senate Ahead of Vote
Medical cannabis patient Larry Harvey, 70, returned to Washington, D.C. in June to lobby the U.S. Senate in favor of ending the type of federal enforcement that results in prosecuting patients who comply with state law. Harvey is one of the "Kettle Falls 5," a federal medical cannabis case that is scheduled to go to trial on July 28 in Spokane, Washington.
Harvey is urging Senators to support the bipartisan Paul-Booker Amendment to the appropriations bill that funds the Department of Justice (DOJ). The amendment mirrors one that passed in the House with an historic 219-189 vote.
Federal District Judge Fred Van Sickle allowed Harvey to modify the conditions of his release so he could travel to Washington, D.C. against "strong objections" from U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby, who said that such travel was unnecessary and warned that Harvey's statements to the media "could and probably would be used against him at trial."
"The U.S. Senate has an historic window of opportunity to take action on behalf of patients like Larry Harvey," said Steph Sherer, ASA executive director. "The Obama Administration has already indicated a change to federal enforcement policy; all we're asking Congress to do is make that policy binding."
Despite repeated claims by the Obama Administration that it is not interested in targeting individual patients, the DOJ has spent more than $3 million so far to prosecute the "Kettle Falls 5," five patients who were growing fewer than 15 plants each for personal use in accordance with state law. The DOJ is seeking 10-year mandatory minimum sentences for each defendant, despite repeated calls by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in recent months for mandatory minimum sentencing reform. If convicted, the government could spend as much as $13 million to imprison the five patients.
Four of the five "Kettle Falls 5" defendants are Harvey’s family members, including his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, her son Rolland Gregg, 33, daughter-in-law Michelle Gregg, 35, and friend of the family Jason Zucker, 38. All five are legal patients with serious medical conditions. In August 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the rural home where Larry and Rhonda retired, seizing 44 premature cannabis plants. Federal agents also confiscated the family's 2007 Saturn, $700 in cash, their legally owned firearms, and other personal property.
"It's wrong what the federal government is doing to us," said Larry Harvey. "I just want to make sure Congress knows what's happening so they can fix the law and so there's no more money wasted on cases like mine."
A vote in the Senate on the bipartisan Paul-Booker amendment to end prosecutions of state-qualified patients such as the Kettle Falls 5 is expected after the 4th of July Congressional recess.
Court briefs related to Harvey's trip to DC
"Vote Medical Marijuana" TV Ads Hit House Members on Vote
Americans for Safe Access expanded its VoteMedicalMarijuana.org TV advertisements into Washington state last month with new spots about the recent votes of two Representatives on an amendment to cut funds for federal interference with state medical cannabis programs.
The two 30-second ads highlight the Kettle Falls 5 case--a federal prosecution against patients lawfully growing for their own personal use--and spotlight how two members of the Washington state delegation voted. The ads ran on MSNBC, CNN, and HLN in eastern and central Washington every day for a week.
One targets the “no” vote of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who grew up in Kettle Falls and now represents the same district where defendant Larry Harvey lives. Despite Washington's 16-year-old medical cannabis law and federal interference with it in her own district, McMorris Rodgers has consistently opposed medical cannabis reform in Congress.
The other ad, which ran in central Washington, praises Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), one of 49 House Republicans who voted in favor of restricting DOJ enforcement in medical marijuana states in a reversal of his stance on medical cannabis from previous years. Hastings will retire at the end of his term, and ASA’s ad encourages Washington voters to learn where the numerous candidates running for Hastings' open seat stand on medical cannabis.
The first two ads ran in Maryland and South Florida. One focused on Maryland’s Rep. Andy Harris (R), who spoke out on the House floor against the measure that would restrict Justice Department funds spent on medical cannabis enforcement in states that have legalized its use. Despite the recent passage of a medical cannabis law in his state, Rep. Harris made the claim Friday that "Marijuana is neither safe nor legal."
The other initial ad focused on Democratic National Committee Chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of South Florida, who was one of only 17 House Democrats to vote against the medical cannabis measure last week. A recent poll indicated 88 percent support for medical cannabis among residents of Florida; the state legislature has just enacted a limited bill to allow access to non-psychoactive cannabis-derived medicines rich in Cannabidiol; and voters are poised to approve a broader medical cannabis initiative in November.
The political advertisements are part of the "Vote Medical Marijuana" campaign which includes VoteMedicalMarijuana.org, an interactive online tool that provides voting statistics and a report card for each Members of Congress. A project of ASA, VoteMedicalMarijuana.org provides details not only on last month's vote, but also on other medical cannabis-related measures like the recent House budget amendment that would have allowed Veterans Affairs physicians to recommend medical cannabis to their patients.
"The VoteMedicalMarijuana.org' campaign will help the public better understand how their Member of Congress votes on these issues, so they can use that information when they go to the ballot box," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "Our elected representatives in Congress are making policy decisions on medical cannabis that affect millions of patients in the U.S."
After ASA ran the local television ads and Wasserman Schultz stated she opposed the Florida ballot measure, the DNC issued a statement clarifying that her opposition was not the official position of the party, and said it should be up to the voters of Florida to decide.
"Vote Medical Marijuana" campaign advertisements
New York to become 23rd Medical Cannabis State
Deficiencies in New York's law concern patients
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will soon sign a bill into law that will make New York the 23rd medical cannabis state. Gov. Cuomo struck a deal with the state legislature last month that will protect qualified patients from arrest, prosecution, and discrimination, and license up to 20 distribution facilities across the state.
The compromise bill includes many restrictions, such as a ban on smoking medical cannabis, that proven, preferred method of administration for most patients. Although dried flowers could be approved by the state for non-smoking purposes, it is expected that the program will only allow products in an extracted form of medical cannabis, like oil and edibles, which are to be produced under a state-licensed manufacturing process.
The bill empowers the New York State Health Department to license physicians to recommend cannabis to patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and a range of other medical conditions. It also imposes a seven-percent tax. The new law will take at least 18 months for the health department and state officials to establish regulations; it will sunset in seven years.
Most patients prefer to administer medical cannabis via inhalation because the rapid onset provides both quick relief and the ability to easily regulate dosage. Complying with the New York law will compromise the care for thousands of patients, and the behavior of most patients will remain criminalized. Recent studies have indicated that smoking cannabis does not increase risk of pulmonary disease or lung cancer.
Text of New York medical cannabis law
First Cannabis Businesses in Arizona, New Mexico Gain Certification
Three businesses in Arizona and New Mexico were certified last month by a new nationwide program that verifies the quality and reliability of medical cannabis produced, analyzed, and sold.
In New Mexico, the state-licensed dispensary New Mexicann of Santa Fe was the first in the state to be certified by the Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program for its production and distribution practices. In Arizona, the licensed dispensary Harvest of Tempe was the first medical cannabis business in Arizona to be certified. AZ Med Testing of Phoenix is the first laboratory in the country to be certified by the PFC program.
The PFC program, a project of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), is the only nonprofit, third-party certification for the medical cannabis industry based on new quality standards issued by the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) and the American Herbal Pharmacopeia (AHP).
"Americans for Safe Access has a long history of working to ensure the safety of medical cannabis for the patient community," said Steve Cottrell of AZ Med Testing, the Phoenix-based laboratory just certified by PFC. "AZ Med Testing also believes that the safety of patients comes first, which is why we place so much importance on PFC certification and raising patients' confidence in the medicine being sold in Arizona."
These certifications come as media attention has recently focused on the regulation of edible cannabis products, following a column in the New York Times that described the columnist’s experience after consuming more than she intended. One of her main complaints was with the accurate labeling of cannabis products, a category heavily scrutinized by PFC.
“Certifying the thousands of medical cannabis businesses across the country is a big project,” said PFC Director Kristin Nevedal. “This program shows that the medical cannabis community is serious about implementing health and safety standards in order to better serve patients.”
In addition to last month’s certifications, 16 licensed medical cannabis businesses in six states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have been, or will soon be, certified by PFC.
With more than one million qualified medical cannabis patients in 23 states and the District of Columbia, the industry that is developing to meet their needs is expanding rapidly. Many states and localities have created regulations to govern the location, size, taxation, and even the ownership and management of the businesses and organizations that serve patients.
AHPA’s recommendations for state regulators provide standards for the medical cannabis industry in the areas of manufacturing, packaging and labeling, dispensary operations, and laboratory practices. AHPA has also issued standards for commercial medical cannabis products, as well as the reliability and quality of related services. The AHP cannabis monograph sets standards for the plant's identity, purity, quality, and botanical properties.
ASA’s PFC program ensures adherence to the regulatory guidelines AHPA and AHP have established for the purity and identity of the products being sold and the methods for producing and distributing them.
ASA has been offering trainings to the medical cannabis industry for over a decade and holds a permit from the District of Columbia for mandatory industry trainings. PFC industry trainings are co-produced with the Cannabis Training Institute (CTI) and certify cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and laboratory technicians. Such trainings are mandatory in some states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, and the District of Columbia. The PFC program is available in all states with medical cannabis programs, as well as the District of Columbia.
The certification process, which is overseen by a review board of scientists, doctors, and industry and regulatory experts, includes a scheduled physical audit, a staff training audit, a complaint process and at least one surprise audit annually. PFC-certified products and businesses will exhibit the PFC seal on their marketing, promotions and packaging to help patients make educated purchasing decisions.
Patient Focused Certification (PFC) program
AHP Cannabis monograph (Abridged version)
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