Pages tagged "Americans for Safe Access"

  • Medical Marijuana Patients Missing from California Supreme Court Oral Arguments

    In a highly-publicized and widely-watched medical marijuana case, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on whether municipalities should be able to ban local medical marijuana distribution, an activity deemed legal under state law. For all of the controversy and strenuous arguments made on both sides of the issue, those who stand the most to lose -- medical marijuana patients themselves -- were completely ignored.

    In the case City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, the abstract but quantifiable impact of dispensary bans is that tens of thousands of patients are left without safe and legal access to their medication, mainly as a result of hostile or reluctant local officials. Today, more than 50 localities in California have adopted ordinances regulating the lawful distribution of medical marijuana, while more than 200 of the state’s cities and counties have banned dispensaries outright. For the past 7 years, city councils and county boards of supervisors have passed bans with complete disregard to the impact on their most vulnerable residents.

    From a practical standpoint, patients who live in cities where dispensary bans exist and who cannot grow it themselves or find someone to grow it for them are stuck with an unfortunate dilemma: how to obtain a medication that is legal under state law. Every time a dispensary ban is unreasonably and arguably illegally imposed, hundreds if not thousands of patients wake up the next morning not knowing where they’re going to get the medicine they rely on. These patients are commonly forced to either go without their medication, travel long distances to obtain it, or engage with the illicit market as one of the few alternatives to such distribution prohibitions.

    The California Supreme Court ultimately focused on two issues: whether medical marijuana distribution is protected activity under the scope of California’s medical marijuana law, and, if so, whether local dispensary bans are preempted by state law.

    Much time was spent dissecting the first issue as it relates to the statutory language of the law. Did the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) passed in 2003 sufficiently spell out the mechanism for lawful distribution in the state? Did the statutory language sufficiently protect such distribution from local bans? Or, did local bans frustrate the purpose of the law, which is to uniformly implement a functional medical marijuana program?

    Little time, however, was spent reviewing existing case law that the High Court at one time or another had the chance to review. Plaintiffs’ counsel, J. David Nick, raised People v. Urziceanu and People v. Colvin, and would likely have raised People v. Jackson if the Justices hadn’t cut him off, to show that the legality of dispensaries was well established. Unfortunately, the City of Riverside’s false claim that no case law existed to substantiate the legality of storefront distribution went unchallenged.

    Some Justices, Judge Goodwin Liu in particular, questioned whether the MMPA was anything more than limited immunity from criminal prosecution. If so, the Court could logically evade the decision of whether cities can ban distribution. The California Supreme Court ruled previously in Ross v. Ragingwire that no right to civil action existed for patients and the City of Riverside missed no opportunity to invoke that decision. However, neither party nor the court raised an important caveat to Ross. In Butte County v. Superior Court, a landmark appellate decision that was denied review by the High Court solidly affirmed the civil rights of patients under state law. The Butte County Court held that the Medical Marijuana Program Act passed in 2003 was not limited to criminal immunities; it also could be applied more broadly in the civil context under certain circumstances.

    Regardless of how the Court rules in Riverside, patients will continue to demand uniform application of the law and a right to safe and legal access to their medicine. The patchwork system that currently exists in the state, with far more municipal bans than regulatory ordinances, has perverted the will of California voters and jeopardized the health and safety of countless patients.

    The California Supreme Court has a chance to assist in the equitable implementation of California’s medical marijuana law. Sensible public health policy dictates that municipal governments should have the right to regulate safe and legal distribution of medical marijuana, but not ban that activity outright. The High Court knows what to do and should take decisive action, ensuring against any further harm resulting from the current haphazard and largely punitive policy on local medical marijuana distribution.
  • Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Slowly Moving in the Right Direction

    As most of you know, Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana (MMJ) last November 6.  Although we were optimistic it would pass, we were very pleased when 63% of the voters, nearly 1.9 million people voted for this.

    The Massachusetts Medical Society (which has over 24,000 physician members) had been against the ballot initiative from the campaign’s infancy.  I attended their biannual meeting last November 30, where they were voting on whether to recommend delaying implementation of the ballot initiative, and if they should recommend physicians turn in other physicians to the licensing board if they recommended medical cannabis.



    With the help of Steph Sherer, we came up with a forceful argument to gain their support.  I presented the “Conant vs. Walters” legal decision, which protects physicians against legal action if they recommend cannabis to patients.  As well as info about the physician education course, which is taught by world-class physicians, that ASA has put together.  I said "the only education most, if not all of the physicians in the room have on medical cannabis is what they learned from smoking it in their dorm rooms during college."  There was laughter from the audience, but my point was well understood.  I further noted that the Massachusetts Medical Society has an obligation to its members to educate them about this medicine.

    Thankfully, my words were heeded that day and the Massachusetts Medical Society voted against both delaying implementation as well as recommending their members turn in other doctors who recommend medical cannabis.

    The November ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana required regulations be issued by May 1, to implement the law.  This deadline will most likely be missed due to complexity of trying to finalize rules.  Though the laws went into effect at the beginning of the year and patients can grow a limited amount, dispensaries will not be allowed to operate until regulations are set.

    I met with the officials at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, on January 22, regarding this issue. They were happy to receive the AHPA guidelines and even requested additional information on an array of issues.  I was especially happy because these regulators were genuinely grateful for the help and information we were offering. I left the meeting with the impression that they are working carefully and thoughtfully to create a medical cannabis program that will well serve patients’ needs in our state.

    Although there will always be those that vehemently oppose safe access, my experiences working on implementation in Massachusetts have shown me that so long as you are truthful, passionate about the cause, and assume best intentions, things have a way of moving forward in a positive direction.
  • California Supreme Court Deems Legality of Storefront Medical Marijuana Dispensaries “Final”

    "The matter is now final," according to the California Supreme Court.  On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court denied requests from the League of California Cities, the San Diego District Attorney's Office, the Sacramento District Attorney's Office, the Sonoma District Attorney's Office, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and the Los Angeles City Attorney to depublish or review the published decision in People v. Jackson.

    After years of struggling over the issue, the Court of Appeal held that storefront dispensaries are legal under California law, so long as they operate on a not for profit basis and adhere to certain corporate forms.  This decision establishes that storefront dispensaries are unquestionably legal under California law and that localities cannot continue to rely on their now-discredited view that all sales of medical marijuana are illegal in order to support their ongoing attacks on medical marijuana dispensaries.

    Another important impact of the appellate court ruling is providing medical marijuana providers with a clear defense to state criminal charges. Specifically, the ruling held that in mounting a defense at trial:
    Jackson was only required to produce evidence which would create a reasonable doubt as to whether the defense provided by the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] had been established.

    The court further held that:
    [T]he collective or cooperative association required by the act need not include active participation by all members in the cultivation process but may be limited to financial support by way of marijuana purchases from the organization. Thus, contrary to the trial court's ruling, the large membership of Jackson's collective, very few of whom participated in the actual cultivation process, did not, as a matter of law, prevent Jackson from presenting an MMPA defense.
  • California Supreme Court picks February 5th for oral arguments to decide whether municipalities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana

    The California Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments this week in a case that has received widespread attention inside and outside of the medical marijuana community. The appellate court ruling in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center is being reviewed by the High Court in order to address the issue of whether municipalities can use zoning regulations to ban outright the local distribution of medical marijuana.

    Oral arguments in the Riverside case will be held in a special session of the California Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 5th at 10:15am at the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law.

    In addition to the Riverside case, a number of other appellate court rulings from southern California focusing on the same issues were granted review by the Court, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles, City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective, and People v. G3 Holistic.

    Notably, two of these appellate rulings held that local officials may not ban distribution and must develop regulations instead. Specifically, the County of Los Angeles decision from July 2012 overturned a local ban on dispensaries, reversing the lower court’s preliminary injunction from the previous year. The appellate court in County of Los Angeles held that “medical marijuana collectives…are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function,” and that “[Los Angeles] County’s total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature's intent.” The Court further concluded that, a “complete ban” on medical marijuana is “preempted” by state law and, therefore, void.

    Yet, other appellate court decisions have sided with municipal governments in their cynical effort to push out any form of safe and legal access to medical marijuana.

    Rest assured, however, that Americans for Safe Access will work with the lawyers in the Riverside case to obtain a ruling from the California Supreme Court favorable to patients across the state. Just as with its amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief filed last year in the Riverside case, ASA will continue to fight for safe access. “While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely,” read ASA’s amicus brief. “These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.”

    See you at USF next month!
  • Feds Continue to Undermine Mendocino's Local Law by Violating Patient Privacy

    It wasn’t enough for the Justice Department to conduct aggressive raids on state-compliant cultivators in Mendocino County in 2010 and 2011, then earlier this year threaten local officials with litigation if the highly successful cultivation program continued. Now, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal, federal authorities issued a subpoena for “financial records the county of Mendocino keeps regarding its medical marijuana ordinance.”

    Little is known about the subpoena, other than it was issued in October to the Mendocino County Auditor-Controller's Office for records of funds paid to the county under its medical marijuana ordinance, County Code 9.31. Undoubtedly, the lack of information has to do with unwillingness by the Justice Department to come clean about its interference in the implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws. The offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney could “neither confirm nor deny” that a subpoena was issued, and local officials are also not talking.

    In 2010, the DEA raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office, in the widely popular program that raised about $500,000 of new revenue for the county. Under the local law, which was abandoned in March after threats from the Justice Department, the Sheriff’s Office sold zip ties for $25 per plant to show that they were being grown in compliance with state law.

    No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA reared its ugly head again in October 2011, with the raid of Matt Cohen’s farm, Northstone Organics. Like Greenfield, Cohen was in full compliance with the law. Sheriff Tom Allman commented at the time that, “As far as I know, Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics were following all of the state laws and local ordinances that are in place.” Matt, too, avoided arrest, but his entire crop was destroyed and he was intimidated from continuing to grow.

    Escalating its effort to undermine Mendocino’s cultivation ordinance, in January the U.S. Attorney’s Office threatened to file an injunction against the program and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. However, the forced termination of the program was apparently not enough for the feds. Nearly a year later, the Justice Department now appears to be seeking private and outdated information that should be under the sole purview of local officials.

    This, of course, raises a number of important questions beyond the sweeping impact of divulging private patient records to federal law enforcement.

    1. What are the motivations of federal officials in seeking this information?

    2. Who is being targeted and why?

    3. If the program is no longer in effect, why are these records important to the federal government?

    4. Shouldn’t privacy laws and the state’s Medical Marijuana Program prevent such invasive tactics by the federal government?


    Regardless of how you answer these questions, the actions of the Justice Department are anything but “just” and, likely, violate the rights of California patients. Because of this, ASA intends to get to the bottom of the subpoena and take whatever actions are necessary to keep patients and their providers out of harm’s way. Our hope is that when all of this subsides, the Mendocino cultivation program will be operational once again.
  • California Medical Association Calls on Governor Brown to Urge for Marijuana's Reclassification

    More than two weeks ago, with less fanfare than it deserved, the California Medical Association (CMA) voted to urge Governor Brown to petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Notably, the vote occurred two days ahead of oral arguments before a federal appeals court in a widely watched case concerning the reclassification of marijuana: Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. With this latest resolution from the CMA, pressure continues to build on the federal government to design policy based on sound science and to treat medical marijuana like the public health issue it is.

    On October 14th, the 141st annual CMA House of Delegates voted unanimously to approve Resolution 103-12, urging the Governor to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule cannabis. The resolution was co-authored by Dr. Donald Abrams, Chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and an eminent cannabis researcher in his own right, and Dr. Larry Bedard, president of the Marin Medical Society and a physician who has practiced emergency medicine for more than 30 years.

    Resolution 103-12 requests that:
    California Governor Jerry Brown petition the DEA and the Administration to reschedule marijuana based on the science that shows medicinal marijuana has ‘accepted medical use.’

    The CMA resolution also emphasized that:
    [M]edical decisions should be based on science, not politics.

    The CMA resolution comes as more than 70 medical professionals have co-signed an open letter calling for marijuana to be rescheduled from its current status as a dangerous drug with no medical value.

    It’s not as if Governor Brown would be politically sticking out his neck, either. Within the last year, the governors of Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have all petitioned the DEA to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Given that the vast majority of Californians support medical marijuana, it would be politically prudent for Governor Brown to take this action. For all the harm that the Obama Administration has caused the medical marijuana community over the past few years -- incessant raids and prosecutions against legally compliant businesses -- it’s the least Governor Brown could do in favor of the state’s hundreds of thousands of patients who rely on the same dispensaries the federal government is shutting down.

    According to its website:
    CMA serves more than 35,000 members in all modes of practice and specialties representing the patients of California. CMA is dedicated to serving our member physicians through a comprehensive program of legislative, legal, regulatory, economic and social advocacy. … Our goal is to provide our members with the necessary support, so that they can surpass the challenges and continue to run successful medical practices.
  • DC Circuit Orders Supplemental Briefing in Landmark Federal Medical Marijuana Case



     

     

     

     

     

     

    Just hours after the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in the federal landmark case Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, the court ordered supplemental briefing on the issue of “standing.” In a rare move for a case that has been covered by the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, and others, the request for additional briefing indicates that the court is taking the issue of medical marijuana very seriously.

    Yesterday’s order asks the petitioners to provide the court with details about how plaintiff Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran, sustained harm as a result of the federal government’s refusal to recognize the therapeutic value of marijuana. During yesterday’s oral arguments, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) Chief Counsel Joe Elford argued that Krawitz had been denied medical services and treatment from Veterans Administration physicians because of his status as a medical marijuana patient.

    Specifically, the court ordered ASA to file a brief not to exceed five pages in order to “clarify and amplify the assertions made [by] Michael Krawitz regarding his individual standing,” and “more fully explain precisely the nature of the injury that gives him standing.” The brief is due by Monday.

    If ASA can reasonably show that Krawitz has been harmed by a federal policy that holds marijuana has no medical value, the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group may also get the court to rule on the merits of the case -- whether the scientific evidence of medical efficacy is ample enough to reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I substance.

    We remain hopeful that the science on medical marijuana will prevail over politics in order to overcome the decades-long effort by the federal government to keep marijuana out of the reach of millions of Americans who would benefit from its use.
  • Marijuana Prohibition Turns 75, Feds Continue Attacks on Medical Marijuana



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Today is the 75th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in the U.S. and, as a society, we’re no better off for it. In fact, many would argue that we’re far worse off with prohibition than if at any point we had developed a sensible public health policy with regard to marijuana use.

    The effects of marijuana prohibition have been unmistakable from a law enforcement standpoint -- the U.S. imprisons more people for marijuana than any other country. However, the effects on society of criminalizing marijuana for therapeutic use are also significant and undeniable.

    Before the Marihuana Tax Act (MTA) was passed in 1937, medical marijuana (also known as cannabis) was commonly sold by pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly. However, Harry Anslinger, the country’s first drug czar, made sure that no exception was made for such therapeutic uses.

    Today, the federal government maintains a similar policy on marijuana. Ever since President Nixon ushered in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, subsequent administrations have upheld the unscientific conclusion that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.

    The federal government employs this outdated policy on marijuana not only to obstruct meaningful research into cannabis, but also to target patients and providers of medical marijuana with aggressive SWAT-style raids and costly criminal prosecutions.

    Despite President Obama’s purported relaxation of marijuana enforcement, his administration has conducted an unprecedented attack on medical marijuana with more than 200 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids and over 70 new federal indictments.

    Tragically, a month ago, Richard Flor, 68, a medical marijuana provider in Montana died while in federal custody after being convicted and sentenced to 5 years. Flor was raided by the DEA in 2011, and like so many others, was denied a medical marijuana defense or the ability to provide evidence of state law compliance.

    This past Wednesday, federal agents worked with local and state police to raid more than 40 locations in Sonoma and Butte Counties. Approximately 300 law enforcement officials were used to aggressively target medical marijuana patients and providers. From the 10 homes raided in Butte County, officials allegedly came up with less than 100 plants per parcel, an acceptable amount even for personal use in some areas of the state. And the 1,150 plants allegedly seized from 33 locations raided in Sonoma County, amounted to less than 35 plants per parcel.

    In Sonoma County, law enforcement targeted a poor Latino neighborhood, reminiscent of the Drug War’s racist roots. Families, including women with babies in their arms, were made to wait outside while their homes were ransacked by police. An alphabet soup of federal agents --including FBI, DEA, DHS and ICE -- were dressed in military garb, armed with automatic weapons, and came with an armored vehicle. To call the raids overkill would be an understatement. The involvement of ICE also underscores the cynical tactic of targeting Latinos in the U.S. Drug War.

    So, this is where we find ourselves after 75 years of prohibition. The U.S. continues to imprison people for marijuana crimes at unprecedented rates, while simultaneously denying the scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy.

    Seventy-five years is a long time, but this indefensible position cannot be maintained forever. Later this month, on October 16th, Americans for Safe Access will use scientific evidence to argue before the federal D.C. Circuit that the federal government has acted arbitrarily and capriciously in its classification of marijuana. The government may yet be forced to prioritize science over politics. Only then can we begin to develop a public health policy that will replace this country’s antiquated Drug War.
  • Medical Marijuana Patient Norman Smith Passes, But Not Without a Fight

    Last Saturday, a memorial service was held for Norman Smith, 64. I never met Norman in person, but I feel like I got to know a part of him before he passed. Norman was a fighter, yet he seemed to face the difficulties in life with grace and acceptance. In 2009, Norman was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer, and spent the rest of his years in treatment.

    Norman was also a medical marijuana patient. For nearly two years, Norman took part in a rare clinical trial to combat his liver cancer. During the trial, Norman smoked medical marijuana as an adjunct to his treatment, and was the only patient out of 60 to have a successful remission, earning him the moniker of “Miracle Man.”

    In September 2010, Norman became eligible for a liver transplant at Cedars-Sinai, where he was receiving treatment and where he obtained a recommendation for medical marijuana from his oncologist. However, Norman was removed from the transplant list by Cedars in February 2011 after testing positive for marijuana.

    In August 2011, Norman stopped smoking medical marijuana in order to adhere to Cedars’ requirements, which were remarkably stringent: 6 months of drug abuse counseling and random drug testing. Americans for Safe Access tried to intervene by urging Cedars to change its policy and by bringing attention to Norman’s plight. Tragically, despite compelling publicity from media outlets like the Los Angeles Times and Reason TV, and Norman’s compliance with the hospital’s 6-month requirement, Cedars refused to put him back on the transplant list.

    After he stopped smoking marijuana, Norman’s cancer returned and he was subjected to further chemotherapy instead of being given a transplant for which he should have been eligible, but for his medical marijuana consumption. Norman fought as long as he could and eventually passed this July.

    One of the many redeeming qualities about Norman was his selfless interest in helping others forgo what he had to go through. Unfortunately, Norman was not alone in being denied organ transplants at Cedars and many other hospitals across the country. Most recently, Toni Trujillo was kicked off the kidney transplant list at Cedars-Sinai for her medical marijuana use.

    Notably, over the past four years, there have been numerous reports of patients being purged from transplant lists across California, as well as in other medical marijuana states like Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington. In 2008, Seattle resident and medical marijuana patient Timothy Garon died after being denied a liver transplant by the University of Washington Medical Center. A year later, in 2009, Big Island resident and medical marijuana patient Kimberly Reyes died at Hilo Hospital after being denied a liver transplant.

    Norman, Timothy, Kimberly, Toni and all of the other patients who have benefited from medical marijuana deserve better from our health care system. Norman knew best how politics have trumped science and medicine, and he paid for it with his life.

    Norman will not be forgotten, and his wish that no one else follow in his footsteps is a rallying cry for the rest of us to change harmful policies such as those indefensibly upheld by Cedars and hospitals like it.
  • Cutting through the legal quagmire, patients demand safe and legal access to medical marijuana



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Last Friday, patient advocates Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center to convey the urgent need for safe and legal access to medical marijuana. In what is possibly the most important issue currently facing hundreds of thousands of patients in California, ASA urged the State Supreme Court to reject the notion that municipalities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana, thereby cutting off access. Specifically, ASA argued in its brief that:
    While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely. These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.

    In addition to the Riverside case, the State Supreme Court is reviewing the Pack v. City of Long Beach decision, which involves issues of federal preemption. Adding even more appellate decisions to the mix, last week the Second District issued two conflicting rulings. One of the rulings in County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective held that dispensaries were legal under state law and that municipalities could not ban them.

    At the time, ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford said in a prepared statement that:
    The court of appeal could not have been clearer in expressing that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal under state law, and that municipalities have no right to ban them. This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it’s currently reviewing.

    There are a staggering 178 cities in California that have completely ignored the needs of patients in their community by adopting bans against medical marijuana dispensaries. However, there are more than 50 municipalities, which have adopted regulatory ordinances that have safely and legally accommodated for the needs of their patients, as well as other members of their communities. An increasing number of studies also show that regulating dispensaries will decrease crime and increase the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.

    Patient advocates are not putting all their eggs in the California Supreme Court basket. There is still an effort afoot to pass legislation next year to regulate medical marijuana at the state level. The statewide ballot initiative process is yet another option available to patient advocates and one that will definitely be considered in the months ahead.