June 2009 Activist Newsletter

Volume 4, Issue 6

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms State Medical Marijuana Program

High Court Refuses to Hear County Challenge to California Law

In another landmark victory for the ASA legal team, the U.S. Supreme Court has said no to an attempt by a California county to overturn the state's medical marijuana law.

The case, brought by San Diego County and joined by two others, alleged that the federal prohibition of marijuana preempts the state law that allows legal access for qualified patients. County officials were resisting the legislature's mandate to implement a identification card program for medical marijuana patients.

"No longer will local officials be able to hide behind federal law and resist upholding California's medical marijuana law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who helped argue the case. "The courts have made clear that federal law does not preempt California's medical marijuana law and that local officials must comply with that law."

The San Diego Superior Court and the Fourth District Court of Appeals both rejected the argument, which was followed by the California Supreme Court's refusal to review the case in 2008. ASA filed a lawsuit in January against Solano County for its refusal to implement the state ID card program.

"This decision and our lawsuit against Solano will undoubtedly have an impact on the other 10 counties that have failed to implement the ID card program," said Elford.

Colusa, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, San Bernardino, San Diego, Solano, Stanislaus, and Sutter counties have each been notified about their obligation to implement the ID card program.

ASA worked with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project to litigate the San Diego case, with both organizations on the side of the California Attorney General defending the state's medical marijuana law. The County of San Bernardino joined San Diego County in its original lawsuit and the subsequent appeals.

The ID card program was established in 2004 with the legislature's passage of SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. The ID cards are intended to assist law enforcement identify qualified patients and protect those patients from wrongful arrest.

ASA Defends Marijuana Seizure Ruling on Appeal

California Court Considers Law Enforcement Limits

The right of California patients to both organize collectives to grow medical marijuana and be protected from unreasonable search and seizure was defended by ASA last month before a state appeals court. Butte county officials are trying to overturn a lower court's decision that had removed restrictions the county had imposed on patient collectives.

"We're cautiously optimistic about the outcome," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the case. "The panel asked tough questions of the county and clearly understands that this is an important and interesting case for defining the limits and obligations of state medical marijuana law."

The case, Williams v. Butte County, involves a collective of seven patients who had pooled their labor and resources to maintain a 41-plant garden. But county policy required every member of the collective to live on the property or physically till the soil, a restriction not found in California law. So when the sheriff's department entered the property without a warrant and ordered the owner to tear down all but six plants for himself and six plants for his wife -- which he did under threat of arrest - ASA sued the county and won.

Butte officials are appealing the trial court's ruling that the Butte County policy is preempted by state law and that a patient may file a claim for unreasonable search and seizure in such a circumstance. The county is being supported before the Court of Appeal for the Third District by the California Peace Officers' Association, California Police Chiefs' Association, and California Sheriffs' Association, organizations that have filed amicus briefs arguing against patient rights in several ASA cases.

In addition to the question of whether county's can impose onerous restrictions on how collectives may operate, the court was concerned with when and how law enforcement may seize medicine.

The county argued that there is no restriction on seizures of marijuana by state officials, since it remains illegal under federal law. One of the justices commented that this would seemed to violate the spirit of Proposition 215 and asked whether the electorate would be "mystified" by a decision that would allow law enforcement to seize marijuana from patients without any restriction.

ASA argued that the California Supreme Court's opinion in People v. Mower that "probable cause depends on all of the circumstances, including one's status as a qualified medical marijuana patient" means that law enforcement must have probable cause to seize medicine from qualified patients.

Elford told the court that in this case there was neither probable cause nor a search warrant, and without any exigent circumstance to justify a warrantless seizure - the officer knew that Williams wanted to keep the marijuana and was not going to destroy it on his own -- there is no excuse for failing to get a warrant.

ASA Chapter Profile: Honolulu, Hawaii

Since it was formed last September, ASA's Honolulu, Hawaii chapter has been growing steadily and gaining ground in the fight for medical cannabis patients rights. Honolulu ASA is the only advocacy group on the island which works exclusively for medical cannabis issues. In the past few months, Honolulu ASA has formed alliances with other advocacy groups on Oahu such as the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the West Oahu Hope For A Cure.

Last month, the chapter gained a seat on Hawaii's statewide Medical Cannabis Task Force, which was established by the legislature on April 29th to look into the Hawaii program and make recommendations early next year. The director of the Honolulu chapter of ASA will represent ASA members throughout the state in the upcoming deliberations to make Hawaii's program a viable system, including the possible creation of a distribution system.

This is the first time that an ASA local chapter will have a seat on a statewide task force. This bill is now being sent over to the governor for her approval.

The Honolulu chapter has been growing rapidly, with membership recently reaching 100 members, thanks in part to a new partnership with a local physician. ASA Honolulu's goal is to eventually have every medical cannabis patient on the island of Oahu as an ASA member.

ASA Honolulu has established a relationship with Dr. Jimenez to have a presence in his Hawaii office as he is seeing new and re-certifying patients during his monthly visits to the island. This allows ASA an opportunity to introduce the organization to qualified patients and get them signed up as new members.

Dr Jimenez is also an ASA member and a member of the local chapter and has been added as the Medical Advisor to the chapter to assist in work on the Medical Cannabis Task Force. Dr. Jimenez is one of the primary medical cannabis recommendation physicians in Hawaii and California with approximately 11,000 current recommendations written.

This month, the Honolulu chapter will begin holding approximately 20 different "Cannabis Classes" to teach patients valuable tips and techniques for choosing, growing, cloning, harvesting, curing, and using their medication. They are also working out the details for weekend "Cannabis Camps" to be held at various beach parks on Oahu each year. These Cannabis Camps will offer ASA members additional opportunities for classes, fellowship with other patients, and entertainment while camping at a beautiful Hawaii beach. Members from other chapters are invited to attend these Cannabis Camps as an opportunity to further relationships between the chapters.

For more information about the Honolulu ASA chapter and the work that we have been doing in Hawaii, visit our chapter website at www.HonoluluASA.org or contact us by email at [email protected] or by phone at (808) 840-0229 or (808) 352-5815.

NATIONAL ACTION ALERT: Educate Senator Coburn
He Wants Research? We'll Give Him Research!

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) recently introduced an amendment aimed at obstructing the effective implementation of state medical cannabis laws. Fortunately, we helped kill the amendment, but before Sen. Coburn tries again, we need you to take action!

During committee debate, Sen. Coburn challenged us to produce even a single research article to demonstrate that smoked cannabis may be effective treatment for any condition. So we need you to help take his challenge.

Since 2007, there have been four FDA-approved, phase 1, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials which indicate that smoked cannabis is effective in treating pain. Visit www.SafeAccessNow.org/SpankCoburn and send an email to Senator Coburn with links to each of the four studies, so he can read them for himself!

Or, better yet, take a minute to print out the studies and mail them directly to his office at:

The Honorable Senator Tom Coburn
172 Russell Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510.

Show the senator that science is on our side!

Thanks for taking action. Join ASA today! www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/Join.

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