Pages tagged "Federal"

  • Members of Congress Urge President Obama to Reschedule Cannabis



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

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

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

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

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



    The first broad marijuana policy statement by a state medical association has become a hot topic of conversation, repeatedly referring to the current federal approach as a “failed public health policy.” Indeed, the October 14, 2011 official policy statement by the California Medical Association (CMA) is gathering significant interest from medical marijuana advocates as well as the broader reform movement. While certain portions of the statement focus on full legalization, the CMA has geared its policy recommendations for those in Washington with the power to reschedule medical marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

    The prevailing theme of the CMA policy is that marijuana’s current placement under Schedule I of the CSA has directly and severely hindered researchers from fully establishing marijuana’s medical value. Specifically, the CMA states without equivocation that:
    [C]annabis must be moved out of its current Schedule I status.

    Notably, the CMA points out that Schedule I classification of cannabis is the principle reason the growing body of international evidence in favor of medical marijuana’s efficacy has been limited in the U.S. to approximately one dozen clinical trials. The CMA ultimately recommends that:
    Rescheduling cannabis will allow for further clinical research to determine the utility and risks of cannabis.

    By urging the federal government to reclassify marijuana out of Schedule I, the CMA are in effect stating that marijuana does in fact have medical value. While some may choose to play up the reference to “risks,” the CMA was confident enough in medical marijuana’s safety to have issued an August 2011 “Physician Recommendation of Medical Cannabis,” which provides guidance to doctors on how they may treat their sick and dying patients with medical marijuana. In other words, the CMA has asserted that marijuana, even in the absence of FDA approval, is safe enough for physicians to recommend to their patients.

    The CMA policy recommendation to reclassify marijuana is one that ASA not only supports, but has also been actively working to implement. As part of the Coalition for Rescheduling  Cannabis (CRC), ASA has appealed a July 2011 denial by the DEA of the CRC rescheduling petition. With this policy statement by the CMA, patients and advocates have gained an important champion on the critical issue of federal rescheduling of marijuana. The question now becomes, will Washington officials listen to doctors' orders?
  • The Ongoing Saga of Federal Interference in Washington State & Push Back from Congress



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Earlier this year, on April 21st, the Washington State legislature passed SB 5073, a bill that would have established a licensing system for the dozens of medical marijuana distribution centers that existed to provide much-needed medication to thousands of patients throughout the state. Notably, the legislature passed the bill after Governor Christine Gregoire sought and received feedback from the Obama Justice Department. U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby wrote that growing facilities, dispensaries, landlords, financiers, and even state employees “would not be immune from liability under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act).” In other words, anyone remotely connected to the production and distribution of medical marijuana could be criminally prosecuted under federal law. Yet, the legislature must have seen through these threats of intimidation because it passed SB 5073 anyway.

    Less than a week after SB 5073 was passed, on April 27th, U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking “further clarification” on the Justice Department’s position on “federal prosecution in states that have enacted laws authorizing medical use of marijuana.” Specifically, Congressman Inslee sought clarification on whether the Justice Department would really “prosecute a state employee who is operating in full compliance with SB 5073.” Unfortunately, nearly 6 moths later, Congressman Inslee is still waiting for a response.

    Not-so-coincidentally, a day after the congressman sent his request for clarification, the federal government conducted several aggressive law enforcement raids in Spokane, Washington and later indicted multiple dispensary operators under federal law. A day after that, Governor Gregoire vetoed the parts of SB 5073 that included the establishment of medical marijuana production and distribution regulations.

    Apparently, this was a thought-out, well-conducted strategy by the Obama Administration to undermine the efforts of Washington State legislators to establish sensible public health policy with regard to medical marijuana. And Washington is not alone. Similar derailments of public health policy happened in Arizona, California, Montana, and Rhode Island, to name a few.

    Thursday, Congressman Jay Inslee sent a follow-up letter to Attorney General Holder, reminding him that the Justice Department has:
    [F]ar more critical functions than preventing some of our Nation’s most vulnerable residents from getting the relief they need.

    Once again, Congressman Inslee asked for:
    [A] detailed justification as to why the Justice Department is focusing such a substantial portion of its limited resources in this area.

    This is yet another example of the push back from federal legislators on President Obama’s confusing war against medical marijuana. He would do well to respond and, better yet, President Obama should reconsider his harmful and indefensible policy.
  • Some City Council Members in LA and Long Beach Move to Ban Patients’ Coops and Collectives

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    In the wake of a confusing ruling in Pack v. Long Beach from California’s Second Appellate District, efforts are under way in Los Angeles and Long Beach to ban medical cannabis dispensing centers (MCDCs) altogether. Earlier this month, the court held that federal law preempts certain provisions of the highly-restrictive medical cannabis ordinance adopted by the City of Long Beach last year. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) holds that the impact of the ruling on local regulation is limited, and the decision is already the subject of an appeal to the state Supreme Court (see our previous blog for more). Nevertheless, medical cannabis opponents on the Los Angeles and Long Beach City Councils are moving recklessly towards banning patients’ associations.



     Los Angeles City Council Members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, who have consistently opposed medical cannabis in the city, made a motion to ask the City Attorney to “phase out” MCDCs in the city. The City Council voted unanimously today to meet in closed session with the City Attorney on Tuesday to discuss the impact of Pack v. Long Beach, a move that alarmed advocates. ASA submitted a letter clarifying the scope of the Pack decision, and City Council Member Dennis Zine praised ASA for its ongoing commitment to protecting safe access and supporting regulation.

    Meanwhile in Long Beach, the City Council also voted to meet with their City Attorney in closed session for a similar conversation. Long Beach City Attorney Robert Shannon told reporters that he has been instructed to appeal Pack v. Long Beach to the California Supreme Court. The outcome of that case may have serious implications for the right of local governments to implement California’s medical cannabis laws. But the appeal may also confuse efforts to use the decision as a rationale for banning MCDCs. Keep an eye on ASA’s mailing lists, web page, and this blog for developments.

    Patients and community members should hope that efforts to ban MCDCs in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and other cities that may follow suit fail. Research conducted by ASA and fifteen years of experience in providing safe access show that sensible regulations reduce crime and complaints around MCDCs, while preserving safe access for legitimate patients. Banning MCDCs would deny these proven benefits for both cities. ASA is committed to defending safe and well-regulated access for patients – in the courts, at City Halls, and if necessary, at the ballot box. Lawmakers in Los Angeles and Long Beach should remember that voter referendums have stopped bans in the City of San Diego, Butte County, and Kern County. Voters still believe in medical cannabis, even if some cynical lawmakers do not.
  • Elected Officials Push Back Against Threats by DOJ Over Medical Marijuana



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    On Friday, President Obama’s Justice Department (DOJ) made clear its motivations to disrupt and undermine California’s medical marijuana laws. However, advocates argue that last week’s announcement by the state’s four U.S. Attorneys, which included threats against property owners, comes after months of aggressive DOJ attacks in several medical marijuana states. SWAT-style raids and threats of criminal prosecution against local and state officials has become emblematic of Obama’s policy on medical marijuana, a far cry from his pledge on the campaign trail that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

    Yet, just as Obama’s confusing war on medical marijuana has reached a fever pitch, condemnation could be heard from several state and federal officials in California. Some state legislators and members of Congress are refusing to be intimidated by this latest round of threats from the federal government. Congressional members Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA), as well as State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) all decried the recent DOJ announcement in California.

    In a statement issued to Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Congressman Rohrabacher called the DOJ effort “a waste of scarce federal resources.” In a separate statement issued to ASA, Congressman Farr had this to say:
    Medical cannabis continues to be prescribed by physicians to patients suffering from painful and serious illnesses, as a means to minimize their pain and support their recovery. For that reason it is important that patients continue to have safe access to the medication they need. California has adopted clear regulations that allow patients to do just that, it is unfortunate that the Federal Government has decided to target these legal vendors instead of focusing those resources on those who sell illicit drugs.

    State Senator Mark Leno told the Los Angeles Times that the DOJ strategy was a waste of precious resources at a time of fiscal crisis:
    They’re wasting money they don’t have. This is not the issue of the day. This doesn’t create jobs. This does not keep the security of the nation intact. It doesn’t clean the environment. If anything, they should be demonstrating leadership in resolving the conflict between federal and state laws. Until we deal with that, we’re going to be going around in circles here.

    Assembly member Tom Ammiano had perhaps the strongest words of condemnation in a press release issued shortly after the DOJ press conference on Friday. Ammiano said that the attack on medical marijuana would cost the state “millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives.”
    I am bitterly disappointed in the Obama Administration for this unwarranted and destructive attack on medical marijuana and patients’ rights to medicine.  [Friday’s] announcement by the Department of Justice means that Obama’s medical marijuana policies are worse than Bush and Clinton.  It’s a tragic return to failed policies that will cost the state millions in tax revenue and harm countless lives. 16 states along with the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws -- whatever happened to the promises he made on the campaign trail to not prosecute medical marijuana or the 2009 DOJ memo saying that states with medical marijuana laws would not be prosecuted?  Change we can believe in?  Instead we get more of the same.

    Notably, Congressman Rohrabacher’s statement had a prescriptive solution:
    [The DOJ announcement] underscores the need for Congress to pass H.R. 1983, the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act.

    He’s right. People across the country should contact their member of Congress and urge them to pass H.R. 1983, a bill that would reclassify medical marijuana and allow states to develop, implement and enforce their own laws without interference from the federal government.
  • Push Back on the Federal Attack



    The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a major new crackdown on medical cannabis patients, providers, growers, and property owners on Friday. US Attorneys told reporters at a press conference in Sacramento that every medical cannabis patients’ cooperative and collective in California is illegal and must close within forty five days – even if they are obeying state law. The DOJ also dusted off a Bush-era tactic by expanding their crackdown to property owners who rent to medical cannabis providers and growers. The DOJ has already started sending letters threatening to prosecute property owners and confiscate their real estate using federal civil asset forfeiture laws.



    The Obama Administration’s about face on medical cannabis in California should be a wakeup call for medical cannabis patients and providers in every state. The new crackdown represents the most visible evidence yet of a national medical cannabis backlash. Banks are closing accounts, the Internal Revenue Service is squeezing providers, and state access programs are on hold. And of course, the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to raid medical cannabis dispensing centers and gardens.

    Opponents are reacting to the expansion of safe access in sixteen states and the District of Columbia, and to moves by state and local governments to implement medical cannabis laws with meaningful regulations. Federal law enforcement and other opponents know they must move now, or risk having medical cannabis permanently entrenched in local and state law. If patients and advocates fail to check the federal escalation in California, we can expect to see these same tactics in every state where medical cannabis is legal.

    Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is calling on medical cannabis patients and advocates to redouble their commitment to the grassroots campaign for safe access. We need to make our voice heard at City Hall, in our state legislatures, and in the District offices of federal lawmakers right now. Elected officials need to know they cannot sweep safe access away, and they also need to know there is a safe political space for supporting medical cannabis. ASA provides a free Advocates Training Center to hone skills in direct advocacy, community organizing, media relations, and more.

    ASA also calls on the nascent medical cannabis industry, and the industries that support it, to marshal their substantial financial resources to support the patients’ movement for medical cannabis. Lawyers, consultants, bankers, real estate professionals, merchant service providers, business equipment dealers, and others are needed in the campaign for safe access right now.

    The solution to this newest challenge is political. If we rise to the occasion, we can push back this federal attack on medical cannabis and swing the pendulum back in our direction. But to do it, we need the time and resources of our constituency. ASA urges everyone who cares about medical cannabis to join the fight today.

    Are you an ASA member? Join today!
  • CA Congressman Stark Pushes Back on IRS

     

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    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is playing hardball with medical cannabis providers in California and Colorado, and Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) is moving to stop them. Using a provision of federal law adopted to fight large-scale drug trafficking, the IRS is disallowing tax deductions for ordinary business operating expenses like payroll, rent, and insurance. The result is a massive tax burden for providers – making it essentially impossible to operate. Congressman Stark explains why the IRS tactic is bad for patients and unfair:
    We need to fix the tax code so that medical marijuana dispensaries may operate like the legitimate businesses that they are. If they cannot take the deductions allowed to every other legal business, the medical marijuana industry will cease to exist and patients will suffer. It seems ridiculous that we'd go after these dispensaries, which help people manage illness, when companies including Exxon, which pollutes the air, effectively paid no taxes last year. Our priorities need adjusting and our tax code needs an update, which is why I introduced the Small Business Tax Equity Act.



    Congressman Stark’s bill, HR 1985, would exempt medical cannabis providers who are operating legally under their state’s law from a provision in Title 26 of the US Code, which forbids tax deductions for expenses incurred in “trafficking in controlled substances.” Congressman Stark recognizes that this section of the US Code was never intended for legitimate, state-sanctioned medical cannabis programs. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is supporting HR 1983 in hopes of protecting patients’ access in every state where it is already legal.

    Disallowing ordinary business deductions is just one more tactic the federal government is using in an effort to roll back medical cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to raid providers. Banks are under federal pressure to close medical cannabis accounts, and federal officials just seized accounts in Sacramento. And now the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is getting in the game. That agency recently decreed that medical cannabis patients cannot own guns or ammunition!

    Federal intimidation is the primary impediment to fully implementing state medical cannabis laws. We cannot have a well-regulated, transparent medical cannabis program until the federal government and agencies step back and let the states do their jobs. Congressman Stark’s HR 1985 is a step in that direction. Medical cannabis advocates should support HR 1985 and other new federal legislation, so that we can finally put a stop to the federal interference.
  • California Appellate Court Creates Contradictory Law on Federal Preemption of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries



     

     

     

     

     

     

    The California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District issued an opinion yesterday in Pack v. City of Long Beach, a case involving a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance adopted last year by the Long Beach City Council. The court did not invalidate the ordinance in its entirety, but instead found that federal law preempted certain provisions of the city’s permitting scheme. In particular, the court found that the provisions of the ordinance granting permits to dispensaries through a lottery system at a significant, recurring fee, are preempted by federal law.

    Notably, the court made a distinction between a permitting or licensing scheme and an ordinance that would merely protect such facilities against local civil or criminal prosecution. This leaves open the possibility that Long Beach could comply with the court’s decision simply by making semantic changes to its ordinance, requiring “registration” rather than “permits” or “licenses.”

    The Long Beach decision expressly disagrees with two published decisions on federal preemption by the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, one in County of San Diego v. San Diego NORML and another in Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim. Because of this appellate conflict, the Long Beach decision is not binding on trial courts outside of the Second Appellate District. Sadly, this ruling creates more uncertainty about localized medical marijuana distribution, instead of resolving it.

    Americans for Safe Access (ASA) argued against federal preemption in the Long Beach case by filing an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in June with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Unfortunately, the court disregarded those arguments and chose to throw a wrench into the implementation of California’s medical marijuana law.

    ASA will, in all certainty, file a request for depublication of the Long Beach decision, which is not yet final. There is a possibility that the California Supreme Court will grant review of the decision or depublish it, especially since it is our belief that the court applied an incorrect preemption analysis.
  • ATF is Latest in Long Line of Federal Agencies to Bully Medical Marijuana Patients



     

     

     

     

     

     

    Two weeks ago, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), under the Obama Justice Department, issued a memorandum instructing firearms dealers not to sell to lawful medical marijuana patients. The ATF memo -- an affront to patients’ Second Amendment rights to be sure -- was just the latest in a long list of policy statements and threatening letters from the federal government aimed at undermining the rights of medical marijuana patients. However, this particular effort against gun owners has people riled up more than usual.

    After finding out about the ATF memo, Montana’s congressional delegation -- Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), and U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) -- blasted the decision. In response, Tester wrote a letter to the ATF last week, urging the agency to “immediately reconsider [its] misguided effort.” Rep. Rehberg and Senator Baucus made similar condemning remarks.

    In defense of patients, Senator Tester wrote:

    It is unacceptable that law-abiding citizens would be stripped of their Second Amendment rights simply because they hold a state-issued card authorizing the possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

    In Michigan, the ATF is being especially proactive. Americans for Safe Access has received reports that the federal government is using information obtained from the state’s medical marijuana program to serve search warrants and forfeiture notices on patients with legally possessed firearms.

    The ATF memo comes after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a notice to state and local housing authorities that accommodation need not be given to legal medical marijuana patients and that eviction from public housing was an acceptable option.

    Also earlier this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) issued an order, increasing the enforcement responsibilities of banks to ensure against criminal and illicit activity. This order has been used to deny or cancel banking services for countless legally operating medical marijuana dispensaries across the country. According to a Denver Post editorial from today:

    [L]ast week, the lone bank in the state that openly worked with the [medical marijuana] industry closed an estimated 300 marijuana-related accounts for fear that the companies  are breaking federal law.

    In a now-famous move, the Obama Justice Department sent out a series of letters this summer to public officials in at least 10 medical marijuana states, threatening criminal prosecution for implementing public health laws. This had a deleterious effect on several local and state laws in Arizona, California, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington to name a few.

    More recently, however, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that Harborside Health Center -- possibly the largest licensed medical marijuana distribution facility in California -- could not deduct its operating costs and must pay taxes on gross income. Besides the possibility of putting Harborside out of business, this could have a devastating effect on local distribution across the country.

    The ATF memo and other examples of intolerance by the federal government illustrate the need for a federal policy that treats medical marijuana as a public health issue. As such, urge President Obama to develop a comprehensive policy on medical marijuana. Also, people should urge their Member of Congress to pass HR 1983 to reclassify medical marijuana, HR 1984 to restore banking services for the medical marijuana community, and HR 1985 to allow dispensaries to deduct their operating expenses when paying federal taxes.
  • Rhode Island Governor Chafee Buckles to Federal Intimidation as He Puts the State’s Medical Marijuana Dispensaries In Limbo



    Rather than acting as the champion of Rhode Island’s Medical Cannabis Program, Governor Lincoln Chafee has failed the medical cannabis community by halting the legislated licensing of dispensaries.  Governor Chafee’s failure to effectively implement H5359, the state’s dispensary licensing law, passed overwhelmingly by the legislature, will continue to have a negative effect on those patients who struggle to find adequate and consistent access to medical cannabis.



    Attempting to validate his failure to stand behind Rhode Island’s medical cannabis law, Governor Chafee stated:
    Federal injunctions, seizures, forfeitures, arrests and prosecutions will only hurt the patients and caregivers that our law was designed to protect.

    However, Jesse Stout, founder of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, is encouraging the medical cannabis community to act:
    Patients and activists who are angered by Chafee’s backsliding should call his office at 401-222-2080 and demand that he follow state law and issue 3 medical marijuana compassion center licenses as planned

    A public outcry has also occurred as a result Chafee’s reluctance. A rally of more than 80 people was held this past Saturday to protest the Governor’s decision to abort. Some legislators have even spoken out. Rhode Island Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Providence) said, “we would urge the governor to follow the law.” According to the Providence Journal, Slater said he is willing to sit down with Chafee to work on a solution.

    While federal interference in state medical cannabis laws is possible, this type of cowering will only invite interference in Rhode Island by establishing a political climate where the even the state is questioning the legitimacy of legal access for patients.

    Hundreds of Rhode Island patients who suffer from severe and debilitating conditions are still unable to obtain the medication they desperately need because they are unable to grow it for themselves or find a caregiver to grow it for them.  Product consistency as well as access to concentrates and other forms of medical cannabis has also been difficult and dangerous for patients without the option of specialty shops that would otherwise provide products and services these patients desperately need.

    But for threats from the Obama Justice Department, Governor Chafee had planned to implement the establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries this year.  It is shameful that the Governor is turning his back on the thousands of patients across his state who need this law, and the legislature who worked so hard on a plan to license these facilities in communities where access to medical cannabis is needed.  Furthermore, it is not the purview of Governor Chafee to aid the Obama Administration in enforcing federal law. Rather, he is responsible for enacting laws passed by the state.