Pages tagged "Americans for Safe Access"

  • DEA’s Leonhart says “We will look at any options for reducing drug addiction,” but what about medical marijuana?



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Administrator Michele Leonhart has created quite a controversy with her comments on medical marijuana made last Wednesday during a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) House oversight hearing. From her bumbling response to Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) on the issue of addiction and comparing medical marijuana to the harmful effects of other Schedule I substances like heroin or methamphetamine, to her commonsense response to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on leaving the question of medical marijuana treatment, “between [a patient] and his doctor,” Leonhart illustrated her illogical approach to medical marijuana as a public health issue.

    Notably, toward the end of Rep. Polis’s examination, he asked Leonhart if she was “willing to look at the use of medical marijuana as a way of reducing abuse of prescription drugs,” given that reducing prescription drug abuse is the DEA’s top priority. Leonhart candidly responded:
    We will look at any options for reducing drug addiction.

    Well, Administrator Leonhart, you’re in luck. There is indeed evidence that shows patients using medical marijuana to reduce or eliminate their addictive and often-harmful pharmaceutical drug regimen.

    Just this month, eminent medical marijuana researcher Philippe Lucas, M.A. published an article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs called, “Cannabis as an Adjunct to or Substitute for Opiates in the Treatment of Chronic Pain.” According to Lucas, “Evidence is growing that cannabis [medical marijuana] can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, presenting a safe and viable alternative or adjunct to pharmaceutical opiates.”

    As if directly addressing Leonhart’s statement to Rep. Polis, and her concern over prioritizing prescription drug addiction, Lucas notes that:
    Addiction to pharmaceutical opiates has been noted by the medical community as one of the common side-effects of extended use by patients (such as those suffering from chronic pain), and a growing body of research suggests that some of the biological actions of cannabis and cannabinoids may be useful in reducing this dependence.

    Lucas further argues that, “[R]esearch on substitution effect suggests that cannabis may be effective in reducing the use and dependence of other substances of abuse such as illicit opiates, stimulants and alcohol.”
    As such, there is reason to believe that a strategy aiming to maximize the therapeutic potential benefits of both cannabis and pharmaceutical cannabinoids by expanding their availability and use could potentially lead to a reduction in the prescription use of opiates, as well as other potentially dangerous pharmaceutical analgesics, licit and illicit substances, and thus a reduction in associated harms.

    Another article on the effects of medical marijuana “substitution” was published in December 2009 by the Harm Reduction Journal. Researcher Amanda Reiman MSW, PhD notes that medical marijuana patients have long been engaging in substitution by using it as an alternative to alcohol, prescription and illicit drugs. In a study Reiman conducted with 350 medical marijuana patients, she found that 40 percent reported using medical marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, twenty-six percent reported using it as a substitute for illicit drugs, and nearly 66 percent use it as a substitute for prescription drugs.
    [S]ixty five percent reported using cannabis as a substitute because it has less adverse side effects than alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, 34% use it as a substitute because it has less withdrawal potential…57.4% use it as a substitute because cannabis provides better symptom management.

    If Leonhart is serious about combating prescription drug abuse, she should heed the conclusions of researchers like Lucas and Reiman and pay attention to the evidence. Answers to two important public health concerns -- medical marijuana and prescription drug abuse -- lie at her feet waiting to be addressed.
  • Obama (Double) Speaks on Medical Marijuana



     

     

     

     

     

    Finally, President Obama has spoken about his aggressive stance toward medical marijuana. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, his statements are underwhelming, inaccurate and do nothing to address medical marijuana as a public health issue. In response to a question from Rolling Stone on why his administration is conducting more medical marijuana raids than the Bush administration, President Obama failed to come clean on reasons for the breadth and intensity of the attacks, which significantly escalated since he took office.
    What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana…

    Actually, what Obama said on the campaign trail in 2008 was that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws.”

    The shell game continued with Obama declaring that, as President, he “can’t ask the Justice Department to…‘ignore…a federal law that’s on the books.’”

    In fact, Obama has complete discretion to let local and state authorities enforce their own medical marijuana laws. When affirming that discretionary authority in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court also questioned the wisdom of going after medical marijuana patients.

    Obama then declared that his Justice Department should use “prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize [its] resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.”

    That, however, seems to beg several questions, not the least of which is “how does one determine what “things” are “really doing folks damage?” Why is that not the purview of local and state officials to enforce? And, is the federal government doing more damage than it’s supposedly preventing? Keep in mind that the damage his administration has inflicted also impacts the fiscal bottom line of local and state governments. In California, dispensary closures precipitated by the federal crackdown have robbed the state of millions of dollars in lost taxes.

    The president seems to seek cover with his comment that, “there haven’t been prosecutions” of medical marijuana users. But, even if it was true, and it’s not (all of the more than 60 people indicted on his watch use medical marijuana), this reasoning would still not justify the SWAT-style raids and the fear and intimidation they create. Nor would it justify the purging of lawful medical marijuana businesses from commercial banking institutions, or the IRS requirement that dispensaries pay taxes on gross proceeds, thereby ensuring bankruptcy, or discrimination against patients in public housing and the Veterans Administration.

    At the end of the day, whether or not Obama’s Justice Department decides to prosecute whom it considers “wrongdoers,” qualified patients are still being denied a safe and legal means of obtaining their medication.

    Even Obama’s “Drug War” excuses don’t match those of his U.S. Attorneys who are directly engaged in the attacks. The president erroneously stated that, “The only tension that’s come up” has been “commercial operations” that may be “supplying recreational users.” However, U.S. Attorneys have made little reference to targeting medical marijuana businesses because they’re allegedly selling to non-patients. The prevailing excuse has been simply that dispensaries are federally illegal or that they are too close to schools and other so-called “sensitive uses” (according to federal standards, not to local or state standards).

    Obama’s weakest rationale for continuing the assault on medical marijuana patients is that he “can’t nullify congressional law.” However, the president can realistically do a number of things to address medical marijuana as a public health issue. First of all, Obama could introduce a bill that would carve out an exception for medical marijuana patients and providers. In fact, he doesn’t even have to introduce his own legislation, he could simply throw his weight behind HB 1983, a bill that would do just that. The president could also issue an executive order, not to change federal marijuana statutes but to exclude medical marijuana so as to let the states enforce their own laws.

    Additionally, the president, through his executive powers, could also reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I substance -- a dangerous drug with no medical value. Yet, he and his Drug Enforcement Administration choose not to. In addition to four governors who have filed rescheduling petitions within the last year, Americans for Safe Access has a pending federal lawsuit that seeks reclassification.

    At some point, President Obama is going to run out of excuses. Until then, please join ASA in urging him to do the right thing.
  • Tension Builds Between Local and Federal Officials over DOJ Crackdown on Medical Marijuana



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Late last year, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag successfully shut down Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), the oldest operating dispensary in California, by threatening its landlord with asset forfeiture. It didn’t seem to matter that MAMM had the staunch support of Fairfax public official and members of the community. It was, truly, the end of an icon.

    Then, news came out this week that the federal government had won in its effort to shut down Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), another historical icon in the medical marijuana community. Despite support from the Chamber of Commerce and its neighbors, BPG and its landlord were targeted by Haag for being too close to two private schools. Notably, teachers from one of the schools Haag is ostensibly trying to “protect” have spoken out in defense of BPG.

    While Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates joined the chorus of support for BPG, calling it a “high-class operation,” with “no complaints,” and “compliments from neighbors,” he stopped short of standing up to the federal government. Instead, Bates said in a statement that, “We’re really sorry to see them close up.”

    However, no sooner than it was announced that BPG would be shutting its doors, the dispensary refuted the news. In a statement issued on Thursday, BPG Chief Operating Officer said, “BPG is not closing.”
    Berkeley Patients Group remains dedicated to providing safe and affordable access to its patient-members, while working to preserve the jobs of its 70+ employees… We have been looking to relocate for several years and look forward to announcing our new site, soon.

    Maybe they won’t have to wait for Mayor Bates to grow a spine after all.

    In contrast to Berkeley’s trepidation, other Bay Area cities have shown bold leadership on medical marijuana. Both San Francisco and Oakland have recently permitted several new dispensaries. While Haag has been threatening numerous San Francisco landlords, which has resulted in a handful of dispensary closures in the so-called “Sanctuary City,” three new facilities have just been permitted. In Oakland, four new dispensaries were licensed this week, doubling the number facilities in that city.

    Cities like San Francisco and Oakland are examples of how to stand up to federal intimidation. We need more local officials to take their lead and develop local laws that recognize the needs of patients in their communities, not the fickle demands of the federal government.
  • California Court of Appeal Issues Mixed Ruling on Medical Marijuana

    Landmark decision denies localities the right to ban dispensaries outright Last week the California Court of Appeal issued another landmark decision on medical marijuana, which is sure to have a far-reaching ripple effect throughout the state. The Fourth Appellate District ruled in City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective that localities may not pass outright bans on medical marijuana dispensaries, facilities which a majority of Californian patients rely on for their medication. In its 48-page published decision, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court’s ruling that “local governments may impose a per se ban on medical marijuana dispensaries without contradicting state law.” This is the first time an appellate court in California has rejected the argument that local governments can use their land use authority to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from operating outright. The court reasoned that SB420, also known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), allows for medical marijuana dispensaries as a matter of statewide concern, so localities cannot simply ban them. The court’s decision brings into question nearly 200 such bans across the state. Unless or until it’s appealed and taken up on review by the California Supreme Court, the Lake Forest case throws a significant wrench into the efforts of medical marijuana opponents and favors the rights of patients to safely and legally obtain their medication. That said, the Lake Forest decision was a mixed bag for the medical marijuana community. Even while agreeing with another recent landmark decision in People v. Colvin, that “a patient or primary caregiver [need not] personally [] engage in the physical cultivation of marijuana” in order to enjoy the protections of California law, the Lake Forest court held that dispensaries must cultivate all of the marijuana they sell on-site.
    [W]e conclude off-site dispensaries are not authorized by California medical marijuana law because nothing in the law authorizes the transportation and possession of marijuana to stock an off-site location.
    Unfortunately, in this regard, the Lake Forest court got it wrong. The MMPA explicitly protects patients from arrest and prosecution for transportation of marijuana when engaged in collective medical marijuana activity.  This part of the court’s decision is not only bad public policy, but has no basis in the law.
  • Reason TV on Cedars-Sinai denying liver transplant to medical marijuana patient Norman Smith

    The fight to get a liver transplant for Norman Smith took another big step today with a Reason TV expose, "Transplant Denied," featuring Smith and Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the group that’s throwing its weight behind the struggling medical marijuana patient. Smith, 63, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2009 and was put on a transplant waiting list at the world-renowned Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. However a year ago, after becoming eligible for a transplant, Smith was removed from the list for testing positive for medical marijuana use. It didn’t seem to matter that Smith’s oncologist at Cedars was the physician who had recommended its use. This moving piece by Reason TV accurately conveys the life of a man hanging in the balance between policies based on moral judgment and the therapeutic benefits of medical marijuana. At his wit’s end, Smith tells Reason TV:
    It’s only my life that I'm fighting for. What do I have to hide? I have nothing to hide.
    Smith called his chances a “long shot,” but still wanted to “effect a change:”
    It’s probably too late for me, but I hope it makes it easier for the next guy.
    Unfortunately, there are plenty of other medical marijuana patients in California and other states who are suffering the same fate as Smith. With the authority for such decisions left to Cedars and transplant centers like it, the push for policy change must be directed locally. As such, ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford sent a letter to Cedars, urging it to immediately re-list Smith and change it policy with regard to medical marijuana. So far, Cedars has refused to budge. Stay tuned here at Voices from the Frontlines for next steps in the transplant case of Norman Smith and the outdated policies of Cedars-Sinai. In the meantime, view this additional video footage of Smith and his plight.
  • Landmark Court Decision Affirms Legality of Storefront Dispensaries in California



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Second District Court of Appeal rejects Attorney General’s argument that all collective members must participate in cultivation

    The California Court of Appeal issued a landmark published decision last week affirming the legality of storefront dispensaries and rejecting the argument that every member of a collective or cooperative must participate in the cultivation. Didn’t hear about the ruling? Maybe because the decision came from the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles, the domain of District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, famously intolerant to medical marijuana dispensaries. It would be an understatement to say that the ruling jabs a large thorn into both of their sides. You’ll certainly see no publicity from their corner.

    The case People v. Colvin involves William Frank Colvin, the operator of Hollywood Holistic Inc., who was arrested while lawfully transporting a pound of medical marijuana from one collective he operates to another. Even while acknowledging that Colvin was operating a legitimate dispensary, the trial court denied him a defense on the grounds that transportation of medical marijuana was illegal under state law. After being denied a defense, Colvin was convicted.

    On appeal, California Attorney General Kamala Harris advanced the view that under state law all members of a collective must somehow participate in the cultivation process and “come together” in “some way” for this purpose. In characterizing Attorney General Harris’s argument, the Court said:
    The Attorney General does not specify how many members must participate or in what way or ways they must do so, except to imply that Holistic, with its 5,000 members and 14 growers, is simply too big to allow any ‘meaningful’ participation in the cooperative process; hence, it cannot be a ‘cooperative’ or a ‘collective’ [in compliance with state law].

    The Court then compared medical marijuana cooperatives with food cooperatives:
    [The Attorney General’s interpretation of state law] would impose on medical marijuana cooperatives requirements not imposed on other cooperatives. A grocery cooperative, for example, may have members who grow and sell the food and run a store out of which the cooperative's products are sold. But not everyone who pays a fee to become a member participates in the cooperative other than to shop at it.

    However, the Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the stringent requirement that an “unspecified number of members to engage in unspecified ‘united action or participation’ to qualify for the protection of [state law].” Perhaps most importantly, the Court said that the “logical conclusion” of such requirements would likely “limit drastically the size of medical marijuana establishments.” Furthermore, the Court said that:
    [T]he Attorney General’s vague qualifier provides little direction or guidance to, among others, qualified patients, primary caregivers, law enforcement, and trial courts. Rather, imposing the Attorney General’s requirement would, it seems to us, contravene the intent of [state law] by limiting patients’ access to medical marijuana and leading to inconsistent applications of the law.

    It should be no surprise why Cooley, Trutanich and the other opponents of medical marijuana would want to downplay such a landmark decision. However, at a time when trial courts are denying a defense to medical marijuana dispensary operators, the Court’s decision is a welcome one that is long overdue.
  • California Attorney General Calls Federal Government “Ill-Equipped” to Enforce State’s Medical Marijuana Laws



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    In a series of letters sent by California Attorney General Kamala Harris yesterday, the state’s top law enforcement official railed against the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana and called on the state legislature to clarify the law.

    Harris sent a letter to the California’s four U.S. Attorneys who in early October announced with great fanfare an intensified campaign targeting the state’s medical marijuana growers and distributors. In her letter, Harris condemned the federal government’s attempt to enforce violations of local and state medical marijuana laws:
    The federal government is ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws when cultivating marijuana for medical purposes.

    Harris also sent a letter to multiple state legislators, calling on them to clarify California’s medical marijuana laws, especially with regard to the rules on distribution. Citing “unsettled questions of law and policy,” Harris urged action by the legislature:
    Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist.

    Harris emphasized the “premium” that California law places on “patients’ rights to access marijuana for medical use.” In her letter to State Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and State Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), Harris cautioned the legislators on abridging the rights of patients:
    In any legislative action that is taken, the voters’ decision to allow physicians to recommend marijuana to treat seriously ill individuals must be respected.

    Lack of clarity in California’s medical marijuana law, however, is not an invitation for the federal government to interfere in its implementation. Harris is right to condemn this federal interference and the harm it causes law-abiding patients. After 15 years, it’s about time that Proposition 215 and its call to “implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana” was realized.
  • Attorney General Holder Says One Thing While His U.S. Attorneys Do Another



     

     

     

     

     

    Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder answered questions before the House Judiciary Committee on his Justice Department’s handling of the now-famous federal ATF operation, “Fast and Furious.” During the hearing, Rep. Polis (D-CO) asked a series of questions on medical marijuana. Holder responded that the October 2009 Ogden memo de-emphasizing marijuana enforcement in medical marijuana states was still in effect. Specifically, Holder said that, “we will not use our limited resources,” to target people who “are acting in conformity with [state] law.” This seems to equate with the Ogden memo and the pledge that President Obama made before and after taking office. There’s only one (big) problem…the Justice Department is currently on a rampage in medical marijuana states, spending tax dollars like there was no fiscal crisis.

    Over the past year, Obama’s Justice Department has spent millions of dollars raiding more than one hundred dispensaries in at least 7 states. Holder’s U.S. Attorneys have also sent threatening letters to public officials in 10 medical marijuana states, attempting to undermine the same laws that Holder purports to respect. In California, U.S. Attorneys are not only using raids to spread fear and intimidation, they are also threatening landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue leasing to medical marijuana dispensaries.

    In March, the Obama Administration conducted the largest set of coordinated raids on medical marijuana facilities yet. No less than 8 federal agencies, including the DEA, FBI, EPA, ATF, OSHA, IRS, and ICE, worked with 22 local law enforcement agencies to execute 26 search warrants in 13 cities across Montana. A number of people were later indicted and are now dealing with federal prosecutions. At the time of the raids, the Justice Department complained of state law violations, but cases currently under way indicate the opposite.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard is trying to prevent several defendants from using a state law defense at their federal trial. To be robbed of a defense is a travesty, but unfortunately all too common in federal medical marijuana cases. Thaggard’s comments in an August court filing, however, underscore the hypocrisy of the Justice Department’s policy on medical marijuana:
    Montana’s medical marijuana laws have no relevance to the present prosecution…

    So, how long will President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and the U.S. Attorneys on a rabid attack against medical marijuana be able to prop up their Orwellian policy of saying one thing and doing another? Only time and a whole lot of pressure will tell.
  • California State, Local Elected Officials Blast Federal Attacks on Medical Marijuana



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Earlier this month, in response to federal attacks by California’s U.S. Attorneys, several local and state officials spoke out against the aggressive interference in their medical marijuana laws. State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) held a press conference with patients and advocacy groups, including Americans for Safe Access. The message was clear: the federal government must “stand down.”

    On October 19th, Senator Leno stated the following:
    I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries, which will have devastating impacts for the state of California. At a time when resources are precious and few, federal officials have chosen to waste time and money in an ambush that will harm countless patients who will no longer be able to safely access doctor-prescribed treatments. Our federal dollars, especially during a down economy, would be better spent on activities and programs that save jobs and help people in need. Instead, this ill-timed offensive would have no positive impacts on our state and would only force more Californians into unemployment.

    Assembly member Ammiano also declared that:
    Instead of supporting state efforts to effectively regulate medical marijuana in accordance with Prop 215, the Obama administration seems committed to re-criminalizing it. This destructive attack on medical marijuana patients is a waste of limited law enforcement resources and will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives. I urge President Obama to reconsider this bad policy decision and respect California's right to provide medicine to its residents.

    In a separate statement, State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) also blasted the decision to shut down licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city:
    Medical marijuana dispensaries are helping our economy, creating jobs, and most importantly, providing a necessary service for suffering patients. There are real issues and real problems that the US Attorney’s Office should be focused on rather than using their limited resources to prosecute legitimate businesses or newspapers. Like S-Comm, our law enforcement agencies – both state and local – should not assist in this unnecessary action. Shutting down state-authorized dispensaries will cost California billions of dollars and unfairly harm thousands of lives.

    Most recently, California Attorney General Kamala Harris spoke out against the recent federal crackdown:
    Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. … While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.

    Even local officials are speaking up. Mendocino County Supervisor John McCowen called the federal raid on a medical marijuana collective licensed by the county, “outrageous.” Supervisor McCowen said in a written statement, “if the federal government truly wants to protect public safety,” it should change its strategy of:
    [R]aiding medical marijuana growers who are doing everything they can to operate in full compliance with state and local law.

    Perhaps the feds should take heed, lest more officials from across the state speak up in defense of patients and state law.
  • Members of Congress Urge President Obama to Reschedule Cannabis



    Today, in a joint effort between Congressional Representatives and Americans for Safe Access, several members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama expressing "concern with the recent activity by the Department of Justice against legitimate medical cannabis dispensaries in California that are operating legally under state law." The letter, headlined by Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and signed by Representatives Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Pete Stark (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Bob Filner (D-CA), noted that California was only the latest state hit in the federal government's campaign against medical marijuana.
    This year alone has seen aggressive SWAT-style federal raids in at least seven medical marijuana states, as well as threats of criminal prosecution by U.S. attorneys against local and state public officials. It is our strong position that local and state governments must be allowed to develop, implement and enforce their own public health laws with regard to medical cannabis.

    The members of Congress further stated that:
    [I]t is more urgent now than ever to reschedule marijuana as a legitimate controlled substance for medicinal purposes.

    Specifically, they requested that the Obama administration either reschedule cannabis as a Schedule II or Schedule III drug or that they publicly support the adoption of legislation that would remove cannabis from its current place in Schedule I. The letter comes on the heels of the Department of Justice's most recent attempt to circumvent California's 15 year old medical cannabis law.

    In the beginning of October, California's four U.S. attorneys sent letters to at least 16 landlords and property owners who rent buildings or own land where dispensaries provide safe access to medical cannabis, notifying them that they were violating federal drug law. The letters warned that the dispensaries must shut down within 45 days or the landlords and property owners will face criminal charges and confiscation of their property - both real and personal - even if they are operating legally under the state's medical cannabis law.

    This latest instance of federal interference is in stark contrast to the spirit if not the precise letter of the Obama Administration's policy on medical cannabis and though the DOJ is now claiming that President Obama had no prior knowledge of these latest enforcement tactics, the signers of the Farr-Rohrabacher letter urge the President to show respect for patients and their providers by changing federal policy and providing them with safe access to their medicine rather than pushing them back into the illicit market. Whether or not their pleas fall on deaf ears remains to be seen.