Pages tagged "Americans for Safe Access (ASA)"

  • Massachusetts DPH Looking for Input While Writing Regulations

    Earlier in the week, we posted a blog from one of our Board Members, Dr. Karen Munkacy, who is working hard on making sure that implementation of Massachusetts’ medical cannabis program goes smoothly.  Of course, Massachusetts scored a huge victory for safe access when they passed their initiative last November, but few people understand that this is only the first step towards ensuring patients get access to legal medicine in a state. The battle we’re fighting now, with the help of advocates like Dr. Munkacy, is making sure that the rules and regulations for the program are composed in a way that most benefits the patients.

    The good news is that what has truly been a battle in other states has become a welcome and open dialogue with the MA Department of Public Health (DPH), who is charged with the difficult task of interpreting the initiative while writing the program’s regulations. In fact, DPH is actually looking for public input on a number of issues and are holding Townhall-type meetings called “Listening Sessions” in the next few weeks. This is a great opportunity for MA patients and advocates to submit comments on these seven issues:



    • Patient eligibility and debilitating conditions

    • Guidance and training for physicians

    • Operations of a medical marijuana treatment center, including security requirements

    • 60-day supply of marijuana

    • Use of marijuana in food products for medical purposes

    • Requirements for hardship cultivation registrations

    • Monitoring of medical marijuana treatment centers and enforcement of regulations


    If you are planning on testifying in person, make sure your testimony addresses only these listed issues. Also, residents of MA can submit written comments on these issues if they cannot make it to testify at one of the sessions. ASA is encouraged by the amazing example that MA DPH is setting for their colleagues in other states through their transparency and disposition to hear stakeholder input. Through DPH’s willingness to work with the medical cannabis community, MA will soon have a functional and patient-oriented program to serve the needs of their patients. Hopefully this means that suffering patients in the Bay State won’t have to wait as long as their brothers and sisters in New Jersey (over 2 years) to receive legal medicine!
  • 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.
  • Appellate decision puts the ball in your court

    The US appellate court in Washington, DC, denied our appeal to reschedule cannabis under federal law today, agreeing with the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) position that "adequate and well-controlled studies" on the medical efficacy of medical cannabis do not exist. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) strongly disagrees with the court’s opinion. Our briefs referenced two hundred peer-reviewed scientific studies proving the medical value of cannabis.

    The Obama Administration keeps changing the definition of medical efficacy.  Politics have trumped medical science on this issue. ASA can point to a research approval process for medical cannabis, controlled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is unique, overly rigorous, and hinders meaningful therapeutic research. ASA argued in its appeal brief that the DEA has no "license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case."



    The decision in Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration is disappointing, but not the end of the road. ASA will seek an en banc review, asking all nine judges to review the two-to-one decision by a three-judge panel that heard oral arguments in October of last year. If the full nine-member panel does not reverse the decision, we will ask the US Supreme Court to hear the case. In the meantime, the ball is in your court. We must now turn to Congress to do what the courts have not. ASA is calling on patients and advocates to join us in Washington, DC, February 22-25, for our national conference and historic citizen lobby day.

    The conference, called “Bridging the Gap between Public and Policy,” is a chance to network with other activists from around the country, attend panels and workshops to improve your skills and increase your knowledge, and to engage in direct citizen-lobbying efforts in the halls of Congress on Monday, February 25. Our goals are to bring medical cannabis into the mainstream political conversation in the nation’s capitol and to send an army of motivated and empowered activists back home to work at the local and state level. The courts may not be ready to acknowledge that cannabis is medicine – but we are going to be sure Congress and the Obama Administration get the message. Do not miss your chance to be a part of it. Register for the conference today!

    ASA’s national conference is sponsored by the International Association of Cannabinoid Medicines, Patients Out of Time, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, the American Herbal Products Association, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Scholarships are made possible by a generous matching funds contribution from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.

    See you in Washington, DC!
  • 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.
  • LA City Council moves to write a third medical cannabis initiative

    Voters in Los Angeles will have three medical cannabis measures from which to choose when they go to the polls in May. The City Council approved a motion (11-1) by Council Member Paul Koretz on Wednesday instructing the City Attorney to write a voter initiative regulating collectives and cooperatives and raising the tax they must pay. The city’s belated effort at regulating hundreds of patients’ associations will join two community-led efforts to adopt regulations that have already qualified for the ballot.

    Staff at City Hall does not expect to see initiative language from the City Attorney until just before the January 31 deadline for submitting ballot measures, so no one knows the details of City Council’s plan. Council Member Koretz’s motion instructs the City Attorney to base the voter initiative on a draft ordinance last vetted by the City Planning Commission on November 29. Known at City Hall as the “limited immunity” ordinance, that draft banned patients’ associations unless they met strict criteria, including opening before September 2007, locating 1,000 from sensitive uses, paying taxes, never having closed, and more.  Council Member Koretz’s new motion instructs the City Attorney to  add another 1% local tax on collectives and cooperatives – bringing the city’s total medical cannabis tax to 6%.



    The first voter initiative qualified for the May ballot was submitted by the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhood (CPPN), a coalition that includes Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA), and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770. That initiative would only allow collectives and cooperatives that opened before September 2007, the date the city originally established a moratorium on new facilities. The initiative also allows the city to pursue permanent licensing for patients’ associations when there is greater clarity under state law.

    A second voter initiative was submitted by a group of collective and cooperative operators recently organized under the name Angelinos for Safe Access. This organization has no connection to ASA, despite the surprising similarity of their name. The second initiative sets no upper limit on the number of facilities in the city, relying instead on location restrictions and other criteria to limit potential providers. This initiative was specifically designed to provide an opportunity for some of the hundreds of collectives and cooperatives that opened after the city’s 2007 moratorium to stay open. The second measure would also raise the existing city tax from 5% to 6%.

    ASA remains committed to the voter initiative we helped create and submit as part of the CPPN patient-provider-worker coalition effort. We think it is the best option for preserving patients’ access and addressing the community’s concerns. We are confident most voters in Los Angeles will agree – including those who are ambivalent on this issue. Of course, we hope the city will create a ballot measure that we can all get behind. But we cannot afford to wait and see, especially given the City Attorney’s persistent opposition to any medical cannabis regulation in the city.

    Patients and other voters will debate the pros and cons of each measure between now and May 21, when all three initiatives are likely to be on the ballot. ASA will publish more analysis and comparisons of each measure after the city publishes its version. In the meantime, there may still be time for residents of Los Angeles to influence the content of the city measure. ASA encourages patients and advocates to speak up to their City Council representative right now. Tell him or her what you do and do not want to see in a medical cannabis ballot measure. Do not wait for the City Attorney’s draft – there may be little time for debate and amendments before the submission deadline on January 31.
  • 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!
  • ASA's Year in Review 2012

    This is the time of year when I take some time to reflect over the past twelve months and prepare myself for the opportunities that lay ahead in the New Year.

    2012 was bittersweet. On one hand, we moved the fight for safe access to medical cannabis forward – adding two new medical cannabis states, Connecticut and Massachusetts; legislatures in a dozen states considered medical cannabis bills; current medical cannabis states tried to tackle regulation and implementation; new and influential allies joined the fight, like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Americans Herbal Products association (AHPA); and the election brought with it new allies in the Senate and House.

    But nineteen of our brothers and sisters spent their holidays in prison, and a half a dozen more will be joining them in the next few months. Millions of patients are left without access following aggressive raids and landlord threats. US Attorneys seem to be hell bent on destroying access models built by states and cities across the country.

    Despite all this, I cannot help but to look at 2012 and see a movement of resistance and courage. As I think about 2013, I am filled with a great sense of hope. As a member of ASA, you helped us do so much this year:

    I know that, if we can pool our resources, we can change federal law. We start 2013 with a President in his second term, a more sympathetic Congress, and 106 million Americans living in states with medical cannabis laws. We are going to greet our federal elected officials in 2013 with the largest gathering of medical cannabis advocates ever seen in Washington, DC, at our Bridging the Gap Between Public and Policy Conference February 22-25.

    Also in 2013, we will hear from the courts on our rescheduling lawsuit, we will be working on new legislation in a dozen states, we will be preparing for initiatives in 2014 in Arkansas and California (to name a few), we will be working with current medical cannabis states on passing access laws and implementing new laws, and all of this while we continue to provide free legal support and other resources for patients and providers.

    Let’s play to win in 2013! Start off by joining or renewing your membership to ASA, and making plans to join us at our national conference.

    Happy New Year!

    Steph Sherer is the co-founder and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access.
  • ASA Comments on CA Sales Tax Exemption Proposal

    Recently, the California State Board of Equalization asked for comments on a conceptual proposal to exempt terminally ill patients from paying sales tax on cannabis provided by dispensaries. In California, as in many other states, medications prescribed by doctors are not taxable. Below is Americans for Safe Access' letter to the Board of Equalization.


    Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is encouraged that the Board of Equalization (BOE) is considering revising the present system which subjects medical cannabis patients to retail sales tax when purchasing their medicine; however, we have concerns about patient privacy and fairness that makes the proposal untenable in it’s present form.

    The idea to grant a waiver to terminally ill patients from having to pay sales tax raises a number of concerns. In order to become eligible for such a waiver, a patient would have to disclose their specific medical condition to BOE or another agency. In addition to forcing patients to disclose their condition or even their greater medical history to receive the benefit of not having to pay sales tax, the state would be put in the precarious position of determining what patients are sick enough to earn a sales tax exemption.

    Instead, ASA feels a more appropriate approach would be to treat medical cannabis sales in the same manner as other sales of medicine in California by not taxing patients for the purchase of medicine from a health care facility. An approach that better meets the spirit of Revenue & Taxation Code § 6369(a)(3), (“Sales of medicines are exempt from sales and use taxes if…(3) furnished by a health facility for patient treatment pursuant to the order of a licensed physician.”) would be more appropriate for the BOE to adopt. Rather than taxing patients for the purchase of their medicine, the BOE should consider other ways of raising revenue from the medical cannabis industry that do not directly affect patients, many of whom are low-income and permanent chronic debilitating conditions that are not terminal.
    ASA thanks the Board for offering the chance to comment and would gladly welcome any opportunity to further discuss revising sales tax for medical cannabis purchases.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.
  • 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.
  • Medical Marijuana Advocates Take Fight to DC

    As the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, it’s my privilege to meet and facilitate the work of medical cannabis advocates throughout the nation. In the week before yesterday’s election, I drove all over Arkansas, visiting counties to drop off signs and connect with activists. This is an amazing movement, made up of compassionate people and patients willing to fight for their health. Last night we learned of many victories for patients who can be helped by cannabis, at both the state and federal levels. Most directly, the voters of Massachusetts overwhelmingly supported a compassionate use law, bringing the total number of medical marijuana states to 18 (plus the District of Columbia)! The results for Congress were especially positive for our movement. 95% of our Congressional champions who ran were reelected. Patients and their supporters are excited to welcome medical cannabis supporters Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin to the Senate. Fresh faces in the House and Senate mean that new champions of the cause can emerge, and Americans for Safe Access and other organizations will be working hard to provide Congressmen and women with plenty of opportunities to stand up for patients. The lead-up to last night’s results was an exciting campaign season for medical marijuana patients and advocates. In response to President Obama’s crackdown on medical marijuana states, we organized voters throughout the nation with Camp WakeUpObama, bringing our message to Obama campaign headquarters and events in nationwide and local actions. In October, the Appeals Court heard our lawsuit challenging the federal government’s policy of marijuana as “without accepted medical use,” and the forthcoming court decision may set the agenda in the coming year. We’ve further deepened our relationships with the scientific and medical community. Superstring theorist Dr. John Schwarz wrote an op-ed in favor of treating the science of marijuana fairly, and medical associations have been increasingly outspoken in opposing laws against medical marijuana, with the California Medical Association recently calling on Governor Jerry Brown to support rescheduling the drug to make it more available. We now have a second term of the Obama Administration, led by a President that has publicly expressed support for state medical marijuana laws, yet overseen an unprecedented federal attack on them. We have new state legislators who will join the nation-wide conversation happening in state capitals from coast to coast. We have new Senators and Congressman who are empowered to end the federal state divide. And an additional state now recognizes the medical need for cannabis. Though the voters of Arkansas did not pass a medical marijuana initiative, organizers in the state are fired up and ready to take the issue up with their legislature. This movement is ready for the second Obama administration. We are ready for a House with an unchanged partisan dynamic, but many new faces, Republican and Democratic, who support medical cannabis. We are ready for a Senate that includes supporters of our cause. Because of these victories, Americans for Safe Access will start the new year with a strong focus on the federal government. In February, medical cannabis advocates, researchers, doctors and legal professionals will come to together to work to end the federal-state divide over cannabis access. Our National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference will bring the fight for access from the statehouses to the Capitol. The lawmakers elected yesterday will be the ones we will meet with, and we are eager to begin the dialogue. See you in February! Steph Sherer is the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. This was originally posted at the Huffington Post.