July 2009 Activist Newsletter

Volume 4, Issue 7

California City Loses Lawsuit, Pays
ASA $139,000 in Attorneys' Fees

Garden Grove Tried to Avoid Returning Cannabis to Patient

A California city's refusal to return less than $200 worth of cannabis to a qualified patient has now cost them at least a thousand times that. And they had to return the cannabis anyway.
As part of a settlement to resolve their unsuccessful challenge to the state's medical marijuana law, Garden Grove officials wrote a check for $139,000 in attorneys' fees to Americans for Safe Access, who represented the patient. That money is in addition to what the city spent fighting the case, estimated at in excess of $100,000.

"It's unfortunate that the City of Garden Grove felt it necessary to spend more than a quarter of a million dollars challenging a patient's right to his medicine," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "Hopefully, other local officials will now do better upholding medical marijuana patients' rights under the law."

When officials in Garden Grove said they would not return the eight grams of cannabis seized from Felix Kha in June 2005, ASA filed suit. All charges against Kha had been dismissed because he was able to show that he is a qualified patient under state law, but city officials argued that returning his medicine would require them to violate federal law.

In a landmark decision, a superior court disagreed and ordered the city to return the cannabis to Kha, but Garden Grove appealed. A state appellate panel also found in favor of Kha, ruling that, "it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws."

City officials then asked first the California Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the decision, but both refused to review the case.

"This settlement is a huge victory for patients that underscores law enforcement's obligation to uphold state law," said Elford. "Better adherence to state medical marijuana laws by local police will result in fewer needless arrests and seizures. That protects patients from hardship and avoids wasting resources."

ASA Suit Gets County to Issue Cannabis ID Cards

Others Face Legal Action if Calif. Program Not Adopted

Medical cannabis patients in Solano County will soon be able to obtain California state ID cards to protect them from wrongful arrest or seizure of their medicine, thanks to legal action by ASA.

The 3-2 vote by the county's supervisors comes five months after ASA filed suit to force them to implement the card program, and one month after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider another county's challenge to state medical marijuana law.

"Solano had come to the end of its legal rope, with no recourse but to obey state law," said Joe Elford, ASA's chief counsel. "More than twelve years after the passage of California's medical marijuana law, it's time for local officials to respect the legal rights and protections afforded patients."

Some local officials have argued that the federal prohibition on all marijuana use prevented them from complying with California's medical marijuana law. In 2006, San Diego County brought that argument to court in a closely watched case that was also litigated, in part, by ASA. The challenge was rejected first in superior court than at the appellate level. The California Supreme Court refused to review the case in 2008, and last month the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear it.

At time the lawsuit was filed in January 2009, Solano was one of 12 counties refusing to comply with California's 2004 Medical Marijuana Program Act, which mandates that counties make available voluntary ID cards to qualified medical cannabis patients and their caregivers.
According to the Department of Public Health, 52 of California's 58 counties are now issuing cards or have plans to do so. Officials in the six remaining counties—Colusa, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, and Sutter—have received notice from ASA that they face litigation unless they comply.

California Senate Resolution Asks for Change on Federal Medical Cannabis Policy

While the Obama Administration has promised a new policy on prosecuting medical cannabis cases, California state senators are telling Washington they want to see new law.

Senate Joint Resolution 14, introduced by Mark Leno (D-SF), asks Congress and the President to do more than just end federal raids, intimidation, and other interference with state medical marijuana laws. The resolution asks that the federal government establish a comprehensive policy that ensures safe and legal access for patients as well as allow them a medical defense to federal marijuana charges. It also asks them to actively encourage clinical research on the therapeutic use of marijuana.

The resolution is consistent with ASA's national strategy to enact nationwide protections for patients and advance scientific research to fully unlock the therapeutic potential of cannabis.

"The U.S. is poised for a fundamental overhaul on medical cannabis policy," Said Don Duncan, ASA's California Director. "Our legislative strategy is diverse and multi-faceted, with success on any one of our goals likely to have profound, domino-like policy implications."

ASA is mobilizing its grassroots base of almost 40,000 members in sixty chapters and affiliates to change federal policy. In 2009 and 2010, ASA's efforts will be geographically targeted, and SJR 14 is an important part of that strategy.

Congress Considers Bill to Protect
Medical Marijuana Patients

Law Would Allow Prescription, End Federal Obstruction

A bipartisan bill that would dramatically transform federal policy on medical marijuana is before the House. The bill seeks to change the classification of marijuana from a Schedule I drug, defined as having no medical value, to a Schedule II drug, which could be prescribed like other medications. Known as the "Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act" or HR 2835, the act would also prevent interference by the federal government in any state or local medical marijuana program.

The bill, introduced by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) along with a dozen other members, is similar to legislation introduced in previous Congressional terms.

"We're hopeful that the Obama Administration's new policy on medical marijuana creates the right political context for passing this important legislation," said Caren Woodson, ASA's Government Affairs Director. "It's time for the federal government to acknowledge marijuana's medical efficacy and develop a comprehensive plan to provide safe, consistent access for the hundreds of thousands of Americans that benefit from its use."

In addition to rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), HR 2835 would provide federal legal protections for all qualified patients and caregivers in states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, as well as any entity authorized under local or state law to distribute medical marijuana.

In addition to the Frank bill, Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has asked for clarification of the Obama Administration's policy in language he added to the appropriations bill that funds the Department of Justice.

"It's imperative that the federal government respect states' rights and stay out of the way of patients with debilitating diseases such as cancer who are using medical marijuana in accordance with state law to alleviate their pain," Rep. Hinchey said in a statement.

Rhode Island is Third with Patient Access Program

The Rhode Island legislature this month overrode Governor Donald Carcieri's veto to establish "Compassion Centers" for distributing cannabis to qualified patients.

By votes of 65-0 in the state House and 35-3 in the Senate, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the creation of three state-licensed, non-profit centers. The first will be operational within 7 months, the other two within a year after that.

The Obama Administration's new policy of not interfering in state medical cannabis programs has given state officials more options for ensuring access. New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill similar to Rhode Island's, and a ballot initiative in Maine will give voters a chance to allow dispensaries there, come November. California's legislature codified the legal status of patient collectives back in 2004, and New Mexico has licensed a non-profit medical marijuana producer and has plans for more.

"It's heartening to see states implementing distribution systems for patients who can't grow medical marijuana themselves," said Caren Woodson, ASA's Government Affairs Director. "What's needed now is for the federal government to work in harmony with these states to ensure access for patients."

The bill in Rhode Island was backed by the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, a group comprised of patients, advocacy groups, and healthcare providers, including the state Medical Society and Nurses' Association.

NATIONAL ACTION ALERT: Stop Federal Interference
Urge your Representative to Support HR 2835

On June 11, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and a small bi-partisan coalition of Members of Congress re-introduced HR 2835, The Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act. The legislation will help protect individuals who use or provide medical cannabis in accordance with their state law.

If passed, this important legislation would, among other things, change the classification of marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act and provide federal protections for qualified patients, their caregivers, and safe-access sites authorized by state or local law.

Use the link below to write your U.S. Representative now and urge support for Patient Protection Act!

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