Pages tagged "Americans for Safe Access (ASA)"

  • Connecticut medical marijuana law comes into effect

    On October 1st, 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act came into effect - the first national prohibition of cannabis. 75 years later, Connecticut today became the seventeenth state in the Union, along with the District of Columbia, to provide some access to the medical benefits of marijuana. The Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, CT Public Act 12-55, now allows patients to begin obtaining temporary registration status even as the rules of the registration process are being developed. And while several places that have passed medical cannabis laws in the past few years have yet to implement their programs (such as NJ, DE, and DC), patients in Connecticut can obtain temporary registration status before the official registration process is decided through administrative rule making.

    There is a three step process in order to obtain a temporary registration certificate from the CT Dept. of Consumer Protection, which is administering the state's medical cannabis program. Patients will not be able to legally purchase medical cannabis until the dispensaries open for business, but the temporary registration certificate will protect patients who obtain a recommendation from their physician and use medical cannabis prior to dispensaries opening. However, patients in Connecticut should realize that the law does not specify the maximum possession limit, and instead, the Dept. of Consumer Protection will specify the maximum "one-month supply" on each individually issued temporary registration certificate. This rule will almost certainly preclude home cultivation. You can find it on Section 15, page 17, of the current regulations (PDF).

    Connecticut's forethought for including temporary registration protection is a sensible approach for legislatures to address public health needs that occur between the passage of a law and the careful implementation regulations that provide for safe access to medicine. While allowing patients and caregivers to cultivate medicine at home would better guarantee safe access, this approach marks an improvement to other "closed loop" models. Patients in Connecticut who currently need to use medical cannabis should speak with their physicians about obtaining a recommendation for medical cannabis therapy.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.
  • 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.
  • A Plaintiff Speaks: Why I'm Suing for Safe Access

    I am a disabled United States Air Force veteran who is one of the plaintiffs suing over the placement of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, in the ASA v DEA case which will be heard by the United States Court of Appeal for the DC Circuit on October 16th. In order to understand why I would be willing to put my name on the line in this lawsuit over the schedule number of cannabis it is first important to review a little bit of history.

    Most people know that marihuana (spelled just that way) was the subject of a national law called the Marihuana Tax Act but less known is the fact that this law was based upon the Machine Gun Tax Act. It was legal trickery at best, as the whole point of the new law was to prohibit the sale and possession without the bother of a Constitutional Amendment as was done with alcohol prohibition.

    I think the chief drug bureaucrat at the time, Harry Anslinger, knew full well that the Marijuana Tax Act was on shaky Constitutional ground as he made it his life's work to sure up the law. In the 1960¹s he succeeded with the Single Convention treaty and thereby sought a back door Constitutional authority for his prohibition because it is written in our Constitution that treaties, once ratified, become “the supreme law of the land.”

    The United States Supreme Court wasn¹t impressed with Mr. Anslinger¹s efforts. however, and in 1969 they sided with Dr. Timothy Leary and ruled the Marihuana Tax Act unconstitutional. This opened the door for Congress to create a new federal law on marihuana using the Interstate Commerce Clause to define their jurisdiction and the new treaty system as part of its basic constitutional authority.

    The new federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, is a basically good law that allows for fairly seamless control of and access to thousands of medicinal substances, but unfortunately the arbitrary inclusion of marihuana in the most restrictive category - Schedule I - makes this good law as bad at the Marihuana Tax Act in practice.

    Every day the federal government maintains marihuana's Schedule I status, the more damage it causes to our system of government. It is no surprise that this Schedule I placement of marihuana is now causing a serious rift between many states and the federal government that to an outside observer appears to be an extraordinary conflict, even a constitutional crisis.

    The definition of cannabis as Schedule I has caused my fellow patients to be imprisoned, denied work, housing, right to own a firearm, a place on a transplant list, and of greatest concern to me, is the latest casualty of the drug war, my VA doctor. My Veterans Affairs Medical Center doctor is now prohibited from recommending cannabis to me and instead the VA has explicitly relegated their sovereign power to the state to handle all aspects of a veteran¹s medical treatment with cannabis. Since the recommendation of cannabis has been shown by court cases in the 9th Circuit to be a free speech activity crucial to the doctor patient relationship it is now apparent that the VA can not effectively operate while this conflict between state and federal law exists.

    That is why I am very proud to put my name on this effort to right a wrong and acknowledge that cannabis does in fact have accepted medical use in the United States.

    Michael Krawitz is a plaintiff in the case ASA v DEA.
  • Montana Supreme Court upholds a terrible law, but voters have final word

    The Montana Supreme Court issued a ruling last week in the Montana Cannabis Industry Association's lawsuit against the State of Montana. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court's injunction against provisions of the state's medical marijuana law, known as SB423, and ordered it to reconsider its decision using a different standard of review than previously applied. It is not clear based on the language in the Supreme Court's decision whether or not the injunction is currently in effect, leaving hundreds of medical marijuana providers to wonder if they are currently in compliance with state law.

    While many will be quick to blame the Montana Supreme Court for what they may consider a bad decision, the real fault lies with the state legislature for passing an unworkable medical marijuana law. The law is fraught with impossible standards and barriers to participation, many of which were blocked because of the injunction. With those legal protections removed, it will finally be clear the extent to which SB423 was intended to end medical marijuana in Montana. This law isn't regulation; it was never intended to be regulation. It was repeal in disguise and now voters can see it for what it is, when they vote in a referendum in November.

    Despite this setback, the MTCIA is proud that it has been able to help protect thousands of patients from the worst effects of SB423 since it went into effect 15 months ago. And regardless of this ruling, the real solution lies ahead of us: Just because the Supreme Court says the legislature has a right to pass a bad law, that doesn't mean the voters shouldn’t demand the legislature overturn it and pass something workable. The overwhelming majority of voters who supported the original medical marijuana law in 2004 have a chance to overturn this awful law and demand that the legislature do its job. Voters in Montana can overturn the current bad law by voting “No” on IR-124 on November 6. In the mean time, our legal battle will continue. Our state representatives should stop trying to undo what the voters want. Instead, the legislature should develop a workable and rational system that serves both patients and their communities.

    Chris Lindsey is the President of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.
  • Cannabis, the Gateway Herb: A Doctor Responds

    David Sack in his recent HuffPo post entitled "Marijuana: The New Snake Oil" challenges the status of medical marijuana, an increasingly popular alternative treatment, as "good medicine." This question is particularly relevant because the Washington DC federal Court of Appeals will soon hear a lawsuit disputing the status of marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, brought by Americans for Safe Access, a national member-based organizaton advocating for medical cannabis access and research. I am a doctor and a board member of the ASA Foundation, and I'm proud to present a medical professionals' perspectives to the cause.

    Dr. Sack’s anti-marijuana platform is built on the foundation of addiction psychiatry, practiced through the lens of pharmaceutical medicine, resting primarily on a characterization of the FDA approval process as a gold standard of medical evaluation. This same contention, that without FDA approval marijuana cannot have medical value, has been repeated as medical cannabis laws are decided by voters. However, the FDA process is not an infallible one, and it is important to point out about half of FDA approved drugs have been subject to recall or black box warnings. There is no need to belabor this point, but just bear in mind: Accutane, Serzone, Clozapine Pradaxa, Reglan, Yasmin, Chantix, Celebrex and Rosiglitozone, to name a few. The FDA process is not perfect, and the "gold standard" randomized controlled clinical trial is not a one-size-fits-all process: it was particularly designed for single molecule synthetic compounds. As a clinical study tool, it has its limitations, especially where integrative medicine and herbal supplements are concerned.

    As Dr. Sack and other cannabis opponents point out, it is truly unfortunate that there is a dearth of clinical trials assessing the efficacy of a variety of cannabis products for a wide array of diagnoses. We can thank our Federal government for this, because research is strictly limited. However, what little research has been conducted demonstrates an utter lack of detrimental health impacts, including no mechanism for an “overdose” bodily response, which can be triggered by virtually all other drugs. In the last decade or so, the American Medical Association, the National Nurses Association, the National College of Physicians, and even the federally-run National Health Institute have all recommended that cannabis be removed from Schedule I and become available as part of treatment regimes.

    Despite Dr. Sack’s firmly-worded assertions, we have much to learn about what predisposes individuals to addictive behavior. In the mean time, there is a massive uncontrolled clinical trial being conducted by millions of Americans who are using Cannabis to treat quite a wide range of symptoms and diagnoses. With an explosiong of marijuana use both recreational and medical since the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1969, mental illness and other supposed ills of marijuana use have not materialized in the general population.

    Regardless of what status cannabis has with the FDA, it behooves us as physicians to be interested in and informed about what our patients are using as medicine. As for meeting FDA criteria, a recent study proposed by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies on smoked and/or vaporized marijuana for symptoms of PTSD in veterans of war, was approved by the FDA in April of 2001, but hindered by the National Institute on Drugs of Abuse. The National Cancer Institute has published a comprehensive Physician Data Query (PDQ) and The Institute of Medicine both have publications where the science base of Cannabis has been assessed. And unlike drugs that go through the FDA approval process, cannabis had been part of the American pharmacopoeia long before the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed. Federal hindering of new scientific studies of marijuana does not erase millenia of human cultural experience with the medical value of this plant.

    Though some physicians are uncomfortable with this fact, we are in an era of a revival of natural approaches to health. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2008 estimated that 40% of adults in the US are using some form of complementary alternative care, spending 33.9 billion out-of-pocket dollars. Many of the tools and herbs they access have been practiced and used literally for centuries (ten centuries for cannabis), and what Dr. Sacks characterizes as "anecdotal" evidence is the safety data.

    There are some in the medical community who question the reliability of the current FDA approval system (especially where complex plant mixtures are concerned), work with their patients toward optimal whole health, and are not threatened by new paradigms of healthcare. The ultimate yardstick under federal law is whether or not a substance has "accepted medical use in the United States." ASA will be challenging the DEA's assertion that marijuana has not medical value in court on October 16th, and we've created a sign-on letter for prescribing medical professionals to express their agreement. Cannabis seems to be opening the door to what some may consider a "Pandora's Box", and other simply see as Robert Frost saw, the gate to a road "less traveled by".

    Michelle Sexton, N.D., is an Assistant Research Scientist at Bastyr University Research Institute, and a member of the ASA Foundation Board.
  • Medical Cannabis News in Review

    Is Paul Ryan's statement similar to Obama's position on medical marijuana? Is there evidence that marijuana has accepted medical uses? Are there really more dispensaries than Starbucks in LA? Recent news about medical marijuana:

    • Paul Ryan’s position on medical pot: “up to Coloradans,” and “not a high priority” for a Romney/Ryan Administration. Associated Press in the San Jose Mercury News

    • What if Obama called a real marijuana user instead of actors? Huffington Post

    • From dispensary operator to illicit dealer. Is medical marijuana being driven underground? LA Times

    • Study shows marijuana use among teens in Colorado, a medical cannabis states, dropped even as it increased nationwide. Huffington Post

    • Far fewer dispensaries in Los Angeles than ban proponents claimed, UCLA study finds. UCLA Newsroom

    • Author Martin Lee presents slideshow of seminal moments in the post-ban history of cannabis - Huff Post Books

    • Summary of research in the Daily Beast finds strong evidence of cancer-fighting effects of cannabis. Daily Beast

    • Prescribing medical professionals launch sign-on letter disputing Federal position that cannabis has no medical value, in advance of the October 16th hearing. ASA

    • Southern California’s only Sheriff-permitted dispensary closed by US Attorney Laura Duffy. San Diego ASA

    • Senior learns to bust the myths around medical cannabis. HuffPost Post 50

  • Medical Prescribers Launch National Letter for Medical Cannabis

    After this blog was posted, prescribing medical professionals have signed a letter acknowledging that cannabis has medical use and should be rescheduled.

    Most would agree with the premise that medical decisions regarding the appropriateness of a treatments are best left to doctors and other medicine prescribers in conjunction with patients. When it comes to herbal marijuana or cannabis, Congress and federal regulatory authorities have taken it upon themselves to judge across the board whether this substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, taking little or no input from clinicians who are responsible for actually providing treatments in this country.

    Responding to the fact that nothing has been done to organize individual medical professionals to clearly state with one voice to the federal regulatory authorities that there are indeed currently accepted medical uses for cannabis (aka herbal marijuana) in the United States today, the medical prescribers on the board of ASA have started a sign-on letter to give the opportunity for their colleagues to stand and be counted. On Friday August 31st, in collaboration with fellow ASA board and staff, an open national-sign on letter was launched. This sign-on letter is in advance of the federal DC Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on October 16 when judges will consider questions regarding the appropriate classification of marijuana or cannabis in the drug scheduling framework.

    Invited signatories to the letter are licensed physicians, physician assistants, and advanced registered nurse practioners - professions with prescribing privileges - who recognize that safe, currently accepted medical uses in treatment for marijuana presently exist in the United States. The letter cites national medical professional consensus statements which signal that the current Schedule I status of cannabis is suspect.

    Maintaining the Schedule I status for marijuana in federal law requires drug regulatory authorities to assert and maintain that no accepted medical use in treatment in the US currently exists for marijuana. To do so in the face of the accumulated evidence requires strained and ill-conceived arguments. In their July 2011 decision rejecting ASA’s petition to reschedule marijuana (the appeal of which is the subject of the upcoming hearing), the DEA included the required scientific assessment from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which had been prepared 5 years prior. Writing on December 6, 2006, HHS found that there were no "NDA-quality [new drug application] studies that have assessed…efficacy and…safety…of marijuana for any medical condition." They went on to say that "at this time, it is clear that there is not a consensus of medical opinion concerning medical applications of marijuana," that "a material conflict of opinion among experts precludes a finding that marijuana has been accepted by qualified experts", and finally that there is no opportunity for "adequate scientific scrutiny" of the existing scientific evidence as the data were "only in summarized form, such as a paper published in the medical literature, rather than in a raw data format."

    It is without merit to assume that the only way that a drug or substance can be judged to have accepted medical use is through the completion of "NDA-quality studies," which is another way of saying "Phase III" randomized controlled trials. There are many medically accepted uses of drugs for indications that have not undergone Phase III level testing. For example, take the use of platelet-rich plasma (PrP) injections for the treatment of Achillies tendonitis or tennis elbow. While it is being prescribed by a great number of physicians and being reimbursed by insurance companies, there are no completed Phase III "NDA-quality" studies that have been done to evaluate this medical application. However, it would be wrong to say that that PrP has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States – just ask the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation or other medical specialty societies who hold, sponsor, or advertise training workshops on PrP. Clearly, medical acceptance for treatments depends on presently accepted clinical practices by the medical community. Given that the two largest physicians groups in the United States, the AMA and the ACP, have both come on record saying that the Schedule I status of marijuana needs to be reviewed and that, according to the ACP, such a review would likely lead to reclassification of the drug, it is not accurate to say that there is not a consensus medical expert opinion about the medical utility of marijuana. While it is true that these positions of medical associations were formally taken after the 2006 position prepared by the HHS, they were available at the time the DEA issued its ruling.

    In fact, many more patients have been involved in randomized-controlled clinical studies involving cannabis and cannabis-based medicinal extracts than many other drugs. While only a few of these studies rise to the level of Phase III, that does not mean that a strong evidence base is lacking (nearly all controlled clinical trials of cannabis done in the United States have been positive). One pharmaceutical company in England, GW Pharmaceuticals, has conducted large Phase III studies with a cannabis-based medicinal extract produced directly from liquid CO2 extraction of herbal cannabis. While the company would like to contend that studies related to this extract don’t apply to marijuana, as they indicated in a letter from their lawyer to HHS, it is hard to see how they do not apply to marijuana given that the long-standing enforced definition of "marihuana" in federal law since 1937 has been "all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds, or resins." Certainly the DEA has recently created a separate classification for cannabis extracts in their Scheduling schema, but it is clear that this is little more than pharmacolegal jujitsu to somehow create a privileged parsing of "marijuana extracts" from "marijuana" for the benefit of drug pipelines.

    HHS’s claim that "raw data" is needed and that published papers in the medical literature will not do is bizarre and unusual. Medical education, research, and evidence-based consensus-statement writing relies on the same pool of data with findings commonly presented in journal articles. Not having it all together in "one big paper" is really no reason to deny judgment about accepted medical use of marijuana.

    The prescribers signing on to the letter are able to judge based on their expertise developed out of clinical experience, study, and collegial discussions, that marijuana or cannabis has an accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. With likely over 10,000 physicians authorizing patients to used cannabis in medical marijuana programs, which have been around for 16 years, and with the string of positive outcome clinical trials of cannabis and cannabis extracts, there is more than enough medical experience and evidence available to recognize that a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States exists for marijuana. If strong scientific evidence and clinical professional opinions count for anything in policy, then it is time to re-schedule/de-schedule marijuana.

    Sunil Aggarwal, M.D., Ph.D., is an Americans for Safe Access Foundation Board Member
  • Should Grandma Smoke Pot?

    Starting today, television stations in West Palm Beach Fl and Eugene Oregon will begin airing an “edu-mercial” about medical cannabis called, Should Grandma Smoke Pot? The show is the brain child of Robert Platshorn, the man who served the longest prison sentence in America for smuggling marijuana. After the government forced him to halt his live pro-legalization “Silver Tour,” Grandma is his new effort to educate seniors on the benefits of medical marijuana.

    With award-winning director Walter J Collins, Robert has produced a thirty minute show that pulls no punches in taking on what he calls “the government’s wasteful and irrational ban on marijuana.” The show will air more than a dozen times over three weeks in West Palm Beach on WTIX the CW and WCTN My TV. In Oregon, it will air more than a dozen times on KEVU-TV.

    Summing up his new direction, Robert Platshorn, who served thirty years of a sixty-four year federal prison sentence, said “I must be making an impression on America’s seniors, because the Federal Parole Commission has ordered that I may no longer travel ‘to promote legalization of marijuana.’” Robert exclaims, “If I can’t travel to legalize this important medicine for seniors, I can damn well send Grandma across America on a mission of mercy.”

    Robert, who for many years was a national TV pitchman, is raising money to air his show like an infomercial on local and national TV networks. As an experienced infomercial producer, Robert has access to the private auctions where he can buy half hours on good stations for about ten percent of normal rate. As little as $3000 can buy twenty or more airings for Grandma on local stations or one national airing. You can learn more at

    Watch the edu-mercial, and share it with your grandma!

    Jonathan Bair is ASA's Social Media Director
  • LA advocates turn to the people to stop the ban

    Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and coalition partners in the City of Los Angeles will submit more than 50,000 signatures on Thursday calling for a voter referendum to overturn the city’s recent ban on patients’ cooperatives and collectives. It took less than three weeks to gather the signatures, and the number collected far exceeds the 27,485 valid signatures needed to trigger a citywide vote in March. This is a major victory for patients and grassroots advocates who vowed to stop the ban when the City Council adopted it on July 24. Congratulations to everyone who helped out!

    The referendum comes just in time. The ban would have become effective on September 6, but the successful petition drive puts enforcement on hold until the City Council rescinds the ban or voters have a chance to decide in March of next year. ASA and our allies on the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods hope the City Council will use the extra time to move forward with a motion by Council Members Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine to create a new ordinance that will allow for a smaller number of well-regulated patients’ associations in the city.

    The City Council has been rattling sabers as the effective date of the ban approached. On August 22, the City Council approved a motion by Council Members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry instructing the Los Angeles Police Department to cooperate with the District Attorney (DA) and Drug Enforcement Administration in closing cooperatives and collectives. This would give the DA the chance to prosecute operators for felonies (as opposed to the misdemeanor specified in the ban), and raised the specter of federal prosecution. This week, the City Council referred to committee a new motion by Council Members Ed Reyes and Herb Wesson to divert funds from the City Attorney’s Community Redevelopment Agency budget to enforcement of the ordinance banning medical cannabis cooperatives and collectives.

    The city’s rush to enforce is misguided. They can avoid more confusion, delay, and litigation by sitting back down at the table with stakeholders to hammer out a compromise ordinance that works for everyone. Patients and operators agree with the majority of Californians who support regulating and controlling medical cannabis. They just want a sincere effort from law makers and a realistic regulatory framework. The city failed on both front in 2010, when they approved an unworkable and byzantine regulatory scheme that even Council Members had trouble deciphering. The referendum gives new incentive to do a better job with the Koretz/Zine motion for sensible regulations. Let’s hope the City Council takes advantage of this opportunity, so the referendum campaign can be a victory for everyone.

    Stakeholders who want to learn more about the referendum and what comes next in Los Angeles should keep an eye on ASA’s Access Southern California Discussion Forum and plan to attend the LA-ASA meeting on Saturday, September 15, at 1:00 PM in the Community Room (#152) at the West Hollywood Gateway Mall, 7100 Santa Monica Blvd. (at La Brea Ave.), West Hollywood, CA 90046.
  • Michigan Nears Passage of Mixed Bag of Reforms

    The Michigan Senate will likely approve a set of four medical cannabis laws that should bring a handful of improvements and clarity to the law, but not without imposing needless provisions that may harm safe access and the rights of patients in the state. The quartet of bills were originally passed by the Michigan House earlier this year and appear to be destined the pass the Senate without alteration. None of the bills provides a regulatory structure for medical cannabis dispensaries in the state.

    While just about everyone in the MI safe access community seems to agree that these bills are far from perfect, there are varying opinions as to whether the 4 bills, when taken as a whole, are good, bad or neutral. Thankfully, citizen activists who made their way to Lansing were able to influence the bills to some degree while they were being considered in the House. Without their efforts, these bills would have been much worse, and it goes to show that even if a citizen lobbyist does not earn a 100% victory, it is still very much worth the effort. Ultimately, ASA feels that these bills are somewhere between quarter and a half step forward for safe access in Michigan, below are the reasons why.

    HB 4834 - 2 Years for Valid ID Cards, but Warrentless Searches Expressly Permitted

    The most controversial bill in the deals with the patient/caregiver registry system. Some of the it's less worrisome provisions would require patients to submit a photograph when applying for an ID card, and the bill would actually double the period of time that a card is valid, improving from 1 to 2 years before needing to renew. The bill also requires the the Department of Health to appoint no more than 15 members (at last 3 or whom must be non-physicians) to a board to review new qualifying condition petitions.

    But when you get to Section (h) of the bill, the language becomes troubling.  The bill would expressly give police the right access the patient/caregiver registry without a warrant. This is clearly the biggest flaw in the legislation, one that threatens the right to privacy of patients, caregivers, and the rest of the state's population, as the law (by accident or design) allows officers to comb the registry merely if the officer has "probable cause to believe that a violation of the law" involving marijuana has taken place, and specifically "does not require the officer or official to obtain a search warrant to obtain access to the system." Yuck, talk about putting the gross in gross overreach!

    In fact, ASA has already received several reports of persons who have been arrested because a police officer was able to snoop through the registry, and this new legislation will have very little practical protection, likely only helping if a case goes to trial...and the patient/caregiver bears the expense and embarrassment of having to face the judicial system.

    While  HB4834 fails to establish a warrant standard, it does is create the skeletal structure for future reform. Should the bill go into law, A) a level of protection has already been established as necessary for the public good, and B) the legislative fix for this to strike the words "probable cause" and replace with "a search warrant," and striking the final sentence in Section (h)(3)(B)(ii). Clearly this fix will be on the agenda for future safe access legislation in Michigan.

    HR 4851 - Bona Fide Doctor-Patient Relationship

    Many patients are concerned that by establishing a definition for the type of relationship required between patients and their physicians, some patients with legitimate medical need will be denied access.  This seems unlikely, at least not directly, as the definition fits what most people would expect a patient-physician relationship to look like: an complete history/evaluation and an expectation of ongoing physician care of some sort if the condition is ongoing. However, the record keeping requirements, Sec. 3(a)(2) and 3(a)(4), mean that the legitimacy of a patient's physician-patient relationship could be in jeopardy through no fault of the patient, simply because the physician may keep sloppy records. This could put patients who received good-faith examinations from a doctor who appeared legitimate might face legal trouble should the patient's doctor has poor record keeping. As a result, patients may have a harder time finding a physician who has a known reputation maintaining quality records. (Is that sort of thing available on Angie's List?)

    HR 4853  - Level G Sentencing Classification

    This is easily the most neutral of the four bills passed, as it simply places  the sentencing classification for selling medical cannabis in violation of the state card registry program as a Class G felony. Currently, sentencing for this act is punishable up to 2 years in prison. A class G felony carries an maximum of a 2-year sentence. This is basically a wash as no greater harm has been created.

    HR 4856 - Medicine Storage Within a Vehicle

    The final of the four bills defines the legal space within a vehicle where a medical cannabis can be stored. The definition is overly strict, and applies to both moving and stationary vehicles, but it does provide patients and caregivers with a clear set of rules to where they can keep their medicine in their vehicle. The bill would require that medical cannabis be stored in an enclosed case in the truck of the car, or if the vehicle does not have a trunk, in a  enclosed case elsewhere in the car that is not readily accessible to the interior of the vehicle. Patients and caregivers who drive vehicles with trunks should have little trouble abiding by this law, as should patients who drive trucks or other vehicles that have exterior storage space, but what about drivers of hatchbacks and station wagons? And what exactly is "a case" and what is meant by not readily accessible from the interior of the vehicle? It seems as if patients in these situations will need to keep their medicine in a locked container stored in the most rear part of the vehicle's cabin. Perhaps they will need to install fencing in the backs of the interior vehicles...but even then, the medicine could still be viewed as accessible.

    The vagueness and potential breadth of this legislation is troubling, but it's a good first step and one that can easily be fixed, as the intent of the law seems pretty clear - keep it in your trunk or as far away from the driver as possible.

    Moving Forward

    The legislation ready to be approved by the Michigan legislature is lackluster set of bills patients and caregivers, and legislative reforms in the next session will be necessary. Moving forward, citizen lobbyists should recognize that while these four bills need modification, they do provide a starting point and basic framework from which meaningful reforms can be amended and implemented.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.