Pages tagged "Federal"

  • 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    The federal government employs this outdated policy on marijuana not only to obstruct meaningful research into cannabis, but also to target patients and providers of medical marijuana with aggressive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.
  • 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
  • DuffyHoax Revealed - Medical Cannabis Advocates Explain It All


    On October 7, 2011, at a press conference in Sacramento, US Attorney Laura Duffy, along with several other US Attorneys, announced a statewide crackdown on medical cannabis cooperatives, collectives, gardens, and others.

    Without citing any specific violations in state law, Duffy's office claimed all were out of compliance and would be targeted for eradication including those fully licensed and regulated by local government and law enforcement.

    Since this proclamation of war on California’s medical marijuana program, Duffy’s office sent hundreds of letters to landlords threatening asset forfeiture if they did not immediately evict their dispensary tenants. As a result of these backhanded tactics, many landlords were forced to comply. Within six months, Duffy closed over 200 dispensaries in San Diego alone.



    These closures forced thousands of employees into unemployment, left hundreds of properties vacant and most importantly, left the 70,000 plus medical marijuana patients in San Diego county wondering where to get their medicine

    Duffy’s war did not stop with just closures of collectives and cooperatives. With her next move, she focused on local governments. After learning that advocates had gathered enough signatures to place initiatives to regulate dispensaries on several local ballots in the county, she began threatening council members and city staff with federal prosecution for writing laws to regulate safe access.

    This past July, Duffy fired off a threatening letter to the City of Del Mar, as well as sent DEA agents to several council meetings to intimidate lawmakers in person. Duffy's actions, as well as those of other US Attorneys across the state, are in stark contrast to what President Obama and the Department of Justice are saying.

    During his election in 2008, Candidate Obama promised he would not use Justice Department resources to target those in compliance with state law, and his administration publicly maintains this position. In addition, as recently as June, Attorney General Eric Holder, Duffy’s boss, testified before Congress that his Justice Department would only undertake enforcement action against medical marijuana organizations operating "out of conformity with state law."

    Under President Obama’s Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund has grown from $500 million in 2003 to $1.8 billion in 2011, with $79 million going directly to California law enforcement agencies.

    Since October of last year advocates have worked tirelessly, using traditional means to fight against these attacks and to bring media attention to the issue. Lawsuits have been filed, letter drives organized, petitions signed, protests held, letters to editors written— yet nothing has worked. In fact, in San Diego the attacks seem to be getting worse and it was clear that something more radical had to be done.

    How San Diego ASA Got Involved in the Action


    San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy group, working with LGBT activism group Canvass for a Cause, received a letter from the San Diego Museum of Art last month, inviting both groups to participate to participate in The Yes Men’s "Yes Labs" workshop organized by the museum as part of their Summer Salon Series program.

    The goal of the workshop as the email explained was, "to identify a concrete, media attention grabbing idea and then figure out an approach towards making it come to fruition."

    Upon accepting the invitation, another email from the museum asked San Diego ASA to have at least a few hundred dollars available to turn the project into a reality.

    The next email read, "Despite the fact that the museum provides you with The Yes Men, the space, and meals, we do not want this cost to be a deterrent. Therefore, the Museum will contribute $100 in seed money to get you on your way."

    The workshop was scheduled for July 23rd and 24th at Agitprop, an art gallery in North Park.

    The Workshop


    The opportunity to execute an action holding Duffy accountable with help from The Yes Men and with the support of local arts community, could not have come at a more appropriate time. Not only were advocates looking for new summer activities to take on as part of Americans for Safe Access's summer program www.CampWakeUpObama.com, but the first day of the workshop, several members had to miss a part as they were Downtown organizing a protest against Duffy’s attempt to close the sole permitted dispensary in the county.

    The workshop began with introductions and an awe inspiring presentation of previous artistic actions organized by ‘The Yes Men’. The day then shifted into group discussions of causes everyone cared about and actions that could be taken right here in San Diego in support of those causes. After a few brainstorming sessions the group reached consensus to focus on the medical cannabis issue first. A plan was hashed out and Tuesday July 31st was set as the day of action. It became clear that through satire and art the chapter would bring attention to Duffy’s reign of terror.

    The plan was that a series of satirical press releases would be issued to media first claiming Duffy would target pharmacies for closure using asset forfeiture proceedings, similar to her track record with medical marijuana dispensaries, followed by another press release from Duffy claiming the first was a hoax and the perpetrators would be prosecuted. Then, a fake organization called FAC – the Federal Accountability Coalition would take credit for both satirical releases. Finally, the real advocates behind the project would step forward and claim responsibility in a fourth an final release.

    The Day of the Action


    On July 31st, a command center was set up in the heart of Hillcrest. The day began at 7:04am with the first press release sent to the media from [email protected], an email address chosen to resemble the real Duffy’s but be clearly phony, stating that the US Attorney will be shutting down pharmacies for their high volume of sales of controlled substances, the same rationale used by US Attorneys to close medical cannabis dispensaries.
    These pharmacies are not only about providing medicine to the sick. They are part of a pervasive for-profit industry that facilitates the distribution of drugs for illegitimate use. Doctors are prescribing unneeded medication; kids are overdosing on aspirin; police are finding pill bottles at junior high schools. Addiction and abuse of these drugs are serious problems in our communities and parents have come to me with their concerns. These pharmacies have provided not just medication - prescription and otherwise - but all the serious repercussions that come with it, including significant public safety issues and often irreparable harm to our youth.” said Duffy.

    At 7:34am, local San Diego CityBeat reporter Dave Maass, tweeted: “I wonder if the real looking press release I got from a fake looking email might be a product of The Yes Men workshop with mmj activists.” (@DaveMaass).

    While other media outlets, including the LA Times, were digesting the first release and trying to understand which pharmacies were being targeted, an actor playing "Deputy US Attorney of Narcotics and Logistics, Mr. Shiner" (a name selected randomly) was available by phone to answer questions.

    "Yes we are shutting them down," said Shiner while answering one of the calls, "Prosecutorial discretion means Duffy decides how and when to enforce laws."

    In the hour following the first release and while "Mr. Shiner" was answering inquiries from media, several Cease and Desist notices were posted by actors at five pharmacies in town. Although the fake press release said twenty locations were being targeted, only five actual notices were posted on the front doors of [email protected] claiming the first release was a hoax and that the perpetrators would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    Analogous to the first release, the second had a spokesperson as well. This time, it was an actor playing Mr. Steven T. Fredrickson (another randomly chosen name). "Mr. Fredrickson" answered calls and email from media outlets and discussed the strict enforcement action he was planning on taking against the perpetrators of the first release. "They will be thoroughly punished,” he told reporters "we will be issuing another statement in the near future."

    Shortly after the second release was sent out, the real Laura Duffy scheduled a press conference for 11:00am to discuss the fake releases. Meanwhile, Shiner's and Fredrickson's phones were ringing off the hook, with reporters trying to figure out who was behind the hoax.

    Although not planned for, Duffy’s press conference spurred the idea of sending an actor to deliver the third release directly to the media gathered at the press conference.

    Duffy stood outside the federal courthouse in front of a dozen cameras grumbling about the fake releases. Interrupting her speech, the actor walked up to the media and said, "Laura Duffy is a Benedict Arnold, nothing but a Benedict Arnold!" and passed out the third release, in which the Federal Accountability Coalition claimed responsibility.

    This third release scolded Duffy for her wasteful attack on state’s rights, as well as insubordination of federal government, President Obama, and attorney general Holder. The release criticized her insubordination, raised concerns of her rogue efforts, and raised fears of Duffy targeting farmers' markets and people’s right to bear arms next. The statements in the release were so sensational that even more media attention was brought to the action as a result.

    Once all copies of the release were handed out, he walked away, the media following him for several blocks. The mere presence of FAC caused all the cameras to shift focus away from Duffy and to the actor, as a result entirely spoiling her press conference.

    After the third release went out, an actor playing Dexter Haight (another randomly chosen name) took calls and answered reporters' questions.

    By this time, there were already multiple articles online about the hoax and the action was taking over local news coverage for the day. Various news outlets were running stories about the action, some of them mixing up real quotes from Duffy with quotes from fake releases, and all of them focusing on this organization called FAC.

    The FAC had not only an email and phone number, but, to appear credible, there was also a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a YouTube Account, which were all getting a lot of traffic. The website and FAC press release included links to a video where Dexter Haight claimed responsibility for the hoax on camera.

    The Youtube page had interviews with various people, including a pharmacist, a CVS store manager, and a patient who supposedly patronized the stores shut down by Duffy’s actions. As the actor playing Dexter was fielding dozens of calls and emails from media about the hoax, it became clear that the best way to finish off the day was for FAC to hold a press conference at which the full reveal would take place. FAC then announced that a press conference would be held at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park at 2pm that day to discuss all the details of the hoax.

    The media showed up in full force. There were multiple cameras, photographers, and a stand with microphones. The press conference started promptly at 2pm with the actor playing Dexter Haight coming up to the stand and announcing, “My name is Dexter Haight, I am with the Federal Accountability Coalition. I am here to announce that my name is not Dexter Haight, I am an actor.” After Dexter spoke, advocates took the stage and discussed in detail the horrors of Duffy’s actions and why they had gone to such great lengths to bring this issue to light.

    Just as this final press conference began, the 4th and final press release was sent out, explaining that medical cannabis activists were behind the hoax.
    "Just as the closure of retail pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens, is poor public health policy, so is the federal government’s crackdown on medical cannabis dispensaries," said Eugene Davidovich of San Diego ASA. "Pharmacies, like medical cannabis dispensaries, play an essential role in our communities as they help the sick and dying treat and manage various medical conditions," continued Davidovich. "Laura Duffy and the Obama Administration have no place interfering in the implementation of state law by shutting down dispensaries that thousands of patients rely on."

    Since the final release, multiple articles have been published by various news outlets covering the action as well as Duffy’s response. Duffy, however, instead of considering changing her stance on cannabis, has since threatened jail time for those she calls "the hoaxers" and has announced to the media that the FBI has been brought in to investigate; more waste of taxpayer dollars and another boneheaded move by Duffy’s office.

    With this action and other actions that took place that week throughout the state, Duffy and other US Attorneys are on notice that any person who interferes with medical cannabis patients and/or providers will continue to be subject to coordinated grassroots response by the public at large, in local and national forums.

    It is time to end this war on patients, let science lead public policy, and allow states to protect their most vulnerable citizens.

    The San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access would like to extend a thank you to all the advocates who took part in this wildly successful expression of art and satire, with a special thank you to Canvass for a Cause, The Yes Men, Agitprop and the San Diego Museum of Art for making this action possible.

    More Information


    San Diego Chapter of ASA - www.SafeAccessSD.org

    Canvass for a Cause - www.canvassforacause.org

    Eugene Davidovich is a Steering Committee Member of the San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access.
  • Report: Federal asset forfeiture fund balloons while oversight is lacking

    On the heels of introduction of HR 6335, the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Right Protection Act, by Barbara Lee (D-CA) in Congress last week, safe access advocates might want to take a look at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) July 12, 2012 report on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF). What the GAO discovered is that the Department of Justice has expended over $1 billion for the past several years on forfeiture, but reporting data remains elusive for Congressional oversight and public scrutiny.

    For those unfamiliar with the AFF and how it pertains to medical cannabis, check out some of ASA’s earlier work on this topic. But even those who have been following this issue may be interested to know that the AFF has 3 goals:

    1. to punish and deter criminal activity;

    2. to enhance cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies “through the equitable sharing of assets recovered through this Fund;” and

    3. to produce revenues in support of future law enforcement investigations and related forfeiture activities.


    To connect the dots for how this relates to medical cannabis, the DOJ is using civil forfeiture (and thereby sidestepping Constitutional protections provided to criminal defendants) to seize property that is associated with legal activity authorized by state and local law, in an effort enhance cooperation with with law enforcement agencies that permit the activity in question. So the only practical purpose the AFF has when applied to medical cannabis dispensary properties is to secure revenue for other DOJ projects.

    Costs obscured by lousy reporting and lack of oversight

    The cost of how much the DOJ spends in this utterly absurd effort is obscured by the lousy reporting process has for outside oversight. The GOA specifically recommended that “provide more detailed information to Congress as part of the AFF's annual budget process, clearly documenting how DOJ determines” key data. The reason for this is that the reporting data does not appear to have breakdowns for civil and criminal forfeiture, merely some anecdotal examples. However, by checking the tables that are provided, on can see that the AFF revenue has increased nearly 350% since 2003, from $500 million in 2003, to $1.8 billion in 2011. Perhaps more disturbing is the amount of money that it costs the DOJ to run the AFF. Since 2007, expenditures on the AFF have exclipsed a billion dollars each year, reaching a high of $1.3 billion in 2011.

    This is one of many areas where the Obama Administration has fallen asleep when it comes to respecting the rights and dignity of medical cannabis patients, caregivers and providers. In addition to illuminating the AFF reporting process, the DOJ is also embarrassing the United States every day by maintaining marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, asserting that marijuana has no medical value. This lack of transparency and respect is precisely why Congress should give HR 6335 full hearings.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.
  • Cannabis News Around the Nation

    Two weeks of medical cannabis news in review.
    • Congresswoman Introduces Bill to Protect Landlords of Compliant Medical Marijuana Businesses - ASA PR
    • Michigan court rules localities cannot use federal law as an excuse for violating state laws protecting medical cannabis patients - The Detroit News
    • Case on Benefits of Marijuana Heads to Court - Huffington Post
    • LA Councilman Bill Rosendahl comes out at as a medical cannabis patient - LA Times
    • Detailed Rules for Medical Marijuana Proposed in Maine - Kennebec Journal
    • Pharmacy Shutdown Hoax Revealed - San Diego ASA
    • Medical Marijuana Advocates Mourn Pot Club Closures with Mock Funeral - SF Weekly
    • Arizona prosecutors urge Governor Jan Brewer to end the medical marijuana program, citing threats from federal prosecutors. The Governor declined to intervene - Arizona Republic
    Jonathan Bair is ASA's Social Media Director.
  • 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.

     
  • Support HR 6335 to protect patients' access

     

    [caption id="attachment_2990" align="alignleft" width="150"]
    US Rep. Lee[/caption]

    The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is trying to confiscate property used to cultivate or provide medical cannabis to patients, even when it is legal under state law. Americans for safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization, needs your help today stop them.

    Take a minute right now to ask your US Representative to co-sponsor and support HR 6335, the “States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act.”

    US Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced a HR 6335 last night to stop federal intimidation in the seventeen states and the District of Columbia where medical cannabis is already legal. HR 6335 will prevent the DOJ from using federal civil asset forfeiture laws against medical cannabis cultivators and providers who are in compliance with their state’s medical cannabis laws.



    This is not a hypothetical threat. The DOJ has already initiated civil asset forfeiture proceedings against the property owner of California’s largest medical cannabis patients’ collective, and the threat of additional federal action has sent shock waves through the medical cannabis community nationwide. Numerous providers’ associations have already been closed or evicted in response to federal intimidation.

    Federal civil asset forfeiture laws were created to target large-scale narcotic traffickers, but the DOJ is using these draconian measures to target legally-organized and operated medical cannabis associations. This is fundamentally unfair, and we have to stop it. HR 6335 will prevent the DOJ for misusing the powerful and controversial civil asset forfeiture laws against medical cannabis patients, cultivators, and providers whose conduct is legal under state law.

    Please help ASA stop this injustice. States should be free to permit and regulate the medical use of cannabis. This may eventually lead to a national policy that protects legitimate patients from prosecution and the dangers of the illicit market – if we stop the federal intimidation now. Ask your US Representative to co-sponsor and support HR 6335 today.

    ASA is committed to stopping the federal interference and intimidation, so that patients can have safe access to medicine. But we need your help to fight this battle in Congress, the federal courts, and in the states. Can you please make a contribution of $35, $50, $100, or whatever you can afford to help ASA pass HR 6335 and accomplish our other important work?

    Download a copy of the bill and ASA's Fact Sheet to learn more. Thank you for supporting HR 6335 and ASA.