Pages tagged "D.C."

  • A Plaintiff Speaks: My Quest for Safe Access

    Shortly after California passed Prop. 215 in 1996, I asked the chief physician at my county clinic for a verbal or written recommendation to use cannabis medicinally. He told me that, while he had no problem with me using cannabis for my conditions, he was afraid to make any kind of recommendation without proper authorization and guidelines. He said as long as cannabis is a Schedule I drug, he could not prescribe it to me.

    Over the years living with epilepsy and Post-Polio Syndrome, I have been prescribed and used a myriad of over and under the counter medications for pain, seizures, inflammation, nausea (Marinol), anxiety, insomnia etc. and none of the medications I have taken are as effective, tolerable and free of side-effects (both short term and long term) as cannabis.

    After being denied by my doctor, I met with the clinic director who said the same thing as every medical professional and county/state health department representative I communicated with: "As long as cannabis is a schedule I drug, I cannot help you."

    In 2002 when I heard that ASA was going to DC to protest at the Dept. of Health and Human Services for rescheduling, I felt it was a perfect opportunity to take my quest to ease my own, and other patients' suffering, to the federal government. It was my first trip to DC, but I didn’t tour the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. I did end up touring the downtown jail facility along with 14 other patients (including ASA Director Steph Sherer), from 11 different states.

    We were arrested for blocking the entrance the HHS Building holding a 300 ft. banner with the names of 7,000 MD’s that support cannabis rescheduling. We also served notice that we wished to challenge the federal scheduling process regarding cannabis.

    Ten years later, we finally have a chance in court to challenge the government’s position that cannabis has no medical value. Being fortunate enough to live in a state that allows patients the right to use cannabis medicinally, I have experienced the benefits of using cannabis, and noted its superiority over other accepted medications. Working as a patient advocate for 15 years, I have spoke with thousands of patients who also profess its benefits.

    Recently, the federal government has stepped up efforts to close down any group or organization that tries to distribute cannabis to patients, which forces patients to purchase on the street, or go without.

    Patients in states without medical cannabis laws and states with restricted access are being forced to suffer needlessly. Cannabinoid research must be allowed to go forward. Cannabis, and the chemicals it contains, have the potential to replace many of the prescription drugs on the market today with a safer, more effective medicine.

    Recent studies prove that cannabis has the potential to be an effective medicine for many different conditions and illnesses. Doctors, nurses and patients agree that cannabis should be made available. Nearly 80% of the general U.S. population also agrees it’s time to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Red tape and preserving the status quo can no longer be an excuse to allow needless suffering and wasted resources: cannabis must be rescheduled.

    William Britt is a plaintiff in the case Americans for Safe Access v Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • Lee's HR 6335 Would End the Assault on Landlords in the War on Safe Access

    There are many who suffer the "collateral damage" of the war on safe access to medical cannabis. Patients who must suffer or break the law to obtain medicine, as well as their loved ones and providers are some of the more well known victims in this federal assault. However, the overzealous actions of US Attorneys at the Department of Justice (DOJ) have brought to light another group suffering from our utterly nonsensical federal medical cannabis policy - the landlords who lease property to dispensaries.

    On Thursday, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced HR 6335 (text), the  the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act. The bill would stop the seizure of property from landlords of state law-compliant medical marijuana businesses, and was introduced less than a month after US Attorney Melinda Haag began forfeiture proceedings against the landlords of Harborside, the well-known dispensary who's Oakland location is in Lee's district.

    Facing Peril Unforeseeable Based on Prior Federal Rhetoric

    Landlords in states with medical cannabis laws have every reason to believe and expect that when a business presents them with a legitimate business license issued by the state and/or local municipality, that such a business is not breaking any laws merely for existing. In fact, based upon President Obama's instance that he was no longer going after medical cannabis patients and that we no longer have a "war" on drugs, it's perfectly understandable that the average person would not think twice about leasing such a property to medical cannabis dispensary.

    Not only do these landlords have every right to expect that these businesses are OK to lease to, the cost to the landlord to get such a property ready to lease to another customer can be quite expensive. Furthermore, in a time when commercial property owners have a hard enough time finding any tenants, these landlords have made business decisions based on the presumed reliable income that dispensary-tenants provide. When you consider that each crime study regarding dispensary neighborhoods indicates that these facilities are assets rather than liabilities to the community, the wisdom of the DOJ forfeitures is questionable at best.

    US Attorneys Running Roughshod Over Justice

    Speaking of US Attorneys and "questionable" legal thoughts, check out US Attorney Melinda Haag's bizarre and unhinged rational for issuing forfeiture proceedings against Harborside. If sheer size and number of retail sales for things within the Controlled Substances Act was sufficient basis for forfeiture at Harborside, why isn't every CVS, Rite Aide and Walgreens of similar size to Harborside being raided as well. Based on their size, something illegal must be afoot! (Maybe US Attorny Duffy will take up that charge...)

    Civil asset forfeiture is a rather extreme government tactic which some have noted treads dangerously close to offending at least four US Constitutional Amendments, the 4th, 5th, 8th, and 14th. It forces property owners to prove their innocence rather than have the government prove guilt. Property owners have no right to an attorney or a jury trial in these proceedings. Many have said civil forfeiture should be done away with all together, but if it is to exist, the government must be judicious in its application.

    Lee's HR 6335 Would End this Tactic Against Safe Access

    Americans for Safe Access thanks Congresswoman Lee and the cosponsors of HR 6335 for protecting the property rights of land owners who rent to state-approved and law abiding medical cannabis dispensaries. Contact your Representative today and urge them to cosponsor this much-needed safe access legislation.

     
  • 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.
  • D.C. Health Dept Approves 4 Dispensaries

    After a long application and review process, the D.C. Department of Health announced today that four medical cannabis dispensaries have been approved and may now apply for business licenses and other regulatory requirements for opening. This announcement, which came a week or two earlier than expected, is welcome news to the District's patient population, as it has been two years since the D.C Council approved the local medical cannabis bill, B18-622, in May, 2012.

    Faith in the Public Safety of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

    At times during the application review process, some local community members raised concerns about the public safety of dispensaries coming to their community. The efforts of dispensary applicants, along with support from groups like Safe Access DC and a growing number of residents, demonstrated to community leaders and District officials that medical cannabis dispensaries are hardly a threat to public safety. ASA published a white paper which it distributed to community leaders and public officials. Moreover, yet another study suggests that medical cannabis dispensaries are not associated with increasing crime or violence, and may have a crime-reducing effect. 

    Safe Access is on the Horizon in D.C.

    Although D.C. voters first approved medical cannabis in 1998 - implementation of which was barred by Congress until 2009 - it will still be still be several months until D.C.'s licensed cultivation sites will be able to provide medicine to the approved dispensaries. Some are saying as early as August, although B18-622 co-sponsor David Cantania has estimated safe access to begin closer to year's end. If you'd like to join the effort to create safe access to medical cannabis in the District, including urging the Department of Health to create a process to verify patient status, check out SafeAccessDC.org.
  • Obama Stance on Safe Access Disappoints Veterans

    On Memorial Day, a grass-roots group of veterans expressed their disappointment in the Obama administration's stance on access to medical cannabis. Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access petitioned the White House to allow veterans access to medical cannabis to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, receiving over 8000 signatures on WhiteHouse.gov. The reply was disappointing.

    President Obama's Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske introduced his long-delayed response by lamenting "substance abuse" issues that trouble many veterans, and then asserted that medical marijuana cannot treat any symptom. This from an administration that refuses to allow research on the health benefits of cannabis!

    Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access were very disappointed in the administration's response - both that access to medical cannabis will not be provided to veterans of America's armed forces, and the tone of the Drug Czar's long-delayed response. They said in a statement:
    We Veterans petitioned the Obama Administration to: "Allow United States Disabled Military Veterans access to medical marijuana to treat their PTSD."

    The White House response to our petition was very disappointing. We asked for a change in policy. To have our petition answered by the drug czar,an ex policeman, is most inappropriate given the drug czar is bound by law to ONLY discuss current law and has no power to discuss policy change with the public. Even the lowest ranking staffer at the White House or anyone from the Veterans Health Authority would have been more appropriate.

    Al Byrne, retired Naval Officer and co-founder of VMCA, was blunt in his assessment of the White House concern for injured Veterans:

    "Vets have used cannabis for PTS since the Revolutionary War. We know what we need and to be told by our President, the Commander in Chief, that he does not care about those he has sent to war by denying medicine to the wounded is unconscionable."

    The Department of Veterans Affairs is also now in direct conflict with the White House.

    According to the Veterans Affairs, Undersecretary of Health in correspondence with our Executive Director, Michael Krawitz: "The provider (VA) will take the use of medical marijuana into account in all prescribing decisions, just as the provider would for any other medication.

    On Memorial Day, all Americans acknowledge the sacrifices our veterans have made for our freedom and security. President Obama missed an opportunity to value veterans' sacrifices by allowing them safe access to all therapies recommended by their doctors.
  • Why Regulated Dispensaries Should be Welcomed, not Worrisome, in DC and throughout the Nation

    Last week, two Washington, D.C. Area Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) voted unanimously in support of dispensary permit applicants who received provisionally sufficient scores by the District Department of Health to operate in their neighborhoods. Two additional medical cannabis dispensary applicants will have their applications considered at ANC meetings later in May. Some in these neighborhoods have expressed fear over negative perceptions about what medical cannabis dispensaries mean in terms of community impact; however, the best evidence available suggests that dispensaries are a benefit, not a risk, to public safety.

    Whenever the Unknown Enters your Community, it’s Natural to Worry About the Impact 
    The worry of some District residents (as well as those in each state that adopts a new medical cannabis law) of dispensaries coming into their community is natural. For those who are concerned, the reality is actually different than the fears. As research by UCLA concludes (PDF), dispensaries are actually wonderful neighbors because crime is reduced in areas surrounding well-regulated dispensaries, regardless of the existing crime level prior to the dispensary’s arrival. More specifically, “Dispensaries with security cameras and signs requiring a [patient registration identification] card had significantly lower levels of violence within 100 and 250 feet.”

    What Public Officials Have to Say About Well-Regulated Dispensaries
    Americans for Safe Access has prepared a white paper with testimonials from lawmakers, police chiefs and other municipal officials (PDF) from locations where medical cannabis dispensaries have been implemented and are well-regulated. Sebastopol CA Police Chief Jeffrey Weaver reported, "We've had no increased crime associated [with Sebastopol's medical cannabis dispensary], no fights, no loitering, no increase in graffiti, no increase in littering, zip." In much larger Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck observed that, "banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," and that the claim that dispensaries attract crime "doesn't really bear out." Concerning community fear of the unknown, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos noted, "The parade of horrors that everyone predicted has not materialized."

    D.C.’s Public Safety Dispensary Regulations are Among the Strictest in the County
    The District of Columbia’s regulations have very stringent dispensary security requirements compared to any existing state regulations, which can be found here on pages 72-80 (DOC). In addition to the high security standards, ASA’s white paper highlights the fact that very few people - only those with appropriate registration cards - will be allowed to enter dispensaries, and that there are criminal penalties for those who sell or even give away medical cannabis acquired from a dispensary.

    The instinct of community residents to want to preserve and promote public safety in their neighborhoods is laudable. Residents with that goal should be open to the best evidence available about public safety. When it comes to medical cannabis dispensaries, their impact on community public safety ought to be welcome, not a cause for alarm.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director. Read ASA's complete white paper on DC's regulations and dispensary safety (PDF).
  • Why we fight for medical cannabis - and how Congress can help us win



    One month ago I traveled to California for an event in San Francisco. The morning before the event, I awoke to the news that the Drug Enforcement Administration was raiding Blue Sky, a dispensary in Oakland. It was heartening to see an outpouring of support for medical marijuana patients, but the dispensary was closed down and medicine was seized. The next day I visited a dear friend who is suffering from late-stage cancer, who is too ill to medicate even with a vaporizer. Though in great pain, my friend did not want to use morphine and lose her ability to communicate with the friends and family whom she loves very much.



    Thanks to California’s compassionate use law, I was quickly able to meet her caregiver at a dispensary in San Francisco where he safely purchased cannabis edibles recommended by her doctor. Within an hour of taking a medical cannabis lozenge, my friend who hadn’t eaten in three days, sat up and ate like a horse. This sight reminded me why we all fight so hard for safe access. What would I have done if this were my grandmother in Texas, which does not permit compassionate use? How could I have quickly found edibles if the DEA had closed every dispensary in the Bay Area?

    When the federal government tries to stop access to medicine, they are trying to undo tens of thousands of hours work that advocates and local governments have put in to creating regulations for safe access to cannabis. The DEA wants to deny patients medicine that can dramatically improve their lives, or reduce their suffering. Without safe access to cannabis, patients and caregivers have to resort to the inconsistency of the illicit market.

    That is why Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher, Maurice Hinchey and Sam Farr will introduce a bipartisan amendment to deny funding to DEA raids against dispensaries operating in accordance with state law. This amendment to an Appropriations bill would not legalize marijuana, but would preserve state’s rights to allow compassionate use, and support local government decision-making.

    If you do one thing for safe access to medical marijuana this year, make it a phone call to your Representative in support of this important amendment by using our Online Action Center.

    My friend is still alive. Marijuana will not reverse the course of her illness, but thanks to high-quality cannabis products, she is alert enough to talk to her friends and family for what may be the last time. Having those precious moments with a dear friend is why I work so hard for all patients. Please join me in asking your Representative to vote Yes on the Rohrabacher-Hinchey-Farr Amendment, to preserve safe access for our friends and loved ones.