Pages tagged "legal"
Finally, President Obama has spoken about his aggressive stance toward medical marijuana. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, his statements are underwhelming, inaccurate and do nothing to address medical marijuana as a public health issue. In response to a question from Rolling Stone on why his administration is conducting more medical marijuana raids than the Bush administration, President Obama failed to come clean on reasons for the breadth and intensity of the attacks, which significantly escalated since he took office.
What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana…
Actually, what Obama said on the campaign trail in 2008 was that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state [medical marijuana] laws.”
The shell game continued with Obama declaring that, as President, he “can’t ask the Justice Department to…‘ignore…a federal law that’s on the books.’”
In fact, Obama has complete discretion to let local and state authorities enforce their own medical marijuana laws. When affirming that discretionary authority in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court also questioned the wisdom of going after medical marijuana patients.
Obama then declared that his Justice Department should use “prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize [its] resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.”
That, however, seems to beg several questions, not the least of which is “how does one determine what “things” are “really doing folks damage?” Why is that not the purview of local and state officials to enforce? And, is the federal government doing more damage than it’s supposedly preventing? Keep in mind that the damage his administration has inflicted also impacts the fiscal bottom line of local and state governments. In California, dispensary closures precipitated by the federal crackdown have robbed the state of millions of dollars in lost taxes.
The president seems to seek cover with his comment that, “there haven’t been prosecutions” of medical marijuana users. But, even if it was true, and it’s not (all of the more than 60 people indicted on his watch use medical marijuana), this reasoning would still not justify the SWAT-style raids and the fear and intimidation they create. Nor would it justify the purging of lawful medical marijuana businesses from commercial banking institutions, or the IRS requirement that dispensaries pay taxes on gross proceeds, thereby ensuring bankruptcy, or discrimination against patients in public housing and the Veterans Administration.
At the end of the day, whether or not Obama’s Justice Department decides to prosecute whom it considers “wrongdoers,” qualified patients are still being denied a safe and legal means of obtaining their medication.
Even Obama’s “Drug War” excuses don’t match those of his U.S. Attorneys who are directly engaged in the attacks. The president erroneously stated that, “The only tension that’s come up” has been “commercial operations” that may be “supplying recreational users.” However, U.S. Attorneys have made little reference to targeting medical marijuana businesses because they’re allegedly selling to non-patients. The prevailing excuse has been simply that dispensaries are federally illegal or that they are too close to schools and other so-called “sensitive uses” (according to federal standards, not to local or state standards).
Obama’s weakest rationale for continuing the assault on medical marijuana patients is that he “can’t nullify congressional law.” However, the president can realistically do a number of things to address medical marijuana as a public health issue. First of all, Obama could introduce a bill that would carve out an exception for medical marijuana patients and providers. In fact, he doesn’t even have to introduce his own legislation, he could simply throw his weight behind HB 1983, a bill that would do just that. The president could also issue an executive order, not to change federal marijuana statutes but to exclude medical marijuana so as to let the states enforce their own laws.
Additionally, the president, through his executive powers, could also reclassify marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I substance -- a dangerous drug with no medical value. Yet, he and his Drug Enforcement Administration choose not to. In addition to four governors who have filed rescheduling petitions within the last year, Americans for Safe Access has a pending federal lawsuit that seeks reclassification.
At some point, President Obama is going to run out of excuses. Until then, please join ASA in urging him to do the right thing.
Faced with an extremely hostile trial court judge, medical marijuana dispensary operators Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were convicted of marijuana sales after Long Beach Superior Court Judge Charles D. Sheldon initially deprived them of a medical marijuana collective defense and later gave them only one day to prepare such defense. Judge Sheldon later recused himself from the case after he admitted to sending a congratulatory letter to the prosecutor. Further extreme bias by Judge Sheldon can be found in the trial transcript, which reveals that he repeatedly sustained prosecution objections to the introduction of defense evidence, but did not sustain a defense objection until page 1004 of the transcript of the proceedings.
Many, including me, expected the convictions to be reversed on appeal, due to Judge Sheldon's actions. Instead, the two Joes got a far earlier reversal of their convictions, as Long Beach Superior Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani cited a number of improprieties by Judge Sheldon -- including complimenting the prosecutor, while being extremely rude to the defense team, before the jury -- in granting the two Joes' motion for a new trial. Judge Comparet-Cassani dubbed this a "terrible, terrible, terrible trial." Hopefully, there will be no need for a second one.
The use of the quotations around “recently” in the prior paragraph was deliberate to illustrate what happens when states refuse to include patient cultivation rights with their medical cannabis programs. Both DC and and New Jersey passed their medical cannabis laws about 2 years ago, and both places have been extremely slow to implement their medical cannabis programs. Progress with New Jersey program has been moving with all of the swiftness of a turtle walking sideways. In fact, the painfully slow implementation has caused at least one patient to sue the state for relief. Result: no safe access in New Jersey.
In DC, things have moved slightly quicker pace, but only in the sense that ketchup drips faster than molasses. Nearly 23 months since the DC Council passed its medical cannabis law (which was originally passed by DC voters in 1998 [or 173 months ago!]), cultivation centers were at long last officially awarded. Now DC patients must await for the District to approve the dispensary locations (which are facing NIMBY scrutiny by Councilmembers), establish the registry system for obtaining patient ID cards, and hope that the less than 600 plants permitted by the District program (6 locations, 95 plants each) can support the medical cannabis needs of community with 3% adult HIV infection. That’s over 15,000 potential patients from just one of the extremely narrow approved qualifying conditions. Add in DC's cancer, glaucoma, and MS populations, and one can easily predict that the DC dispensaries are going to resemble the completely bare shelves of a Soviet Union-era supermarket. Result: no safe access in DC.
The Delaware law? Their bill that lacked patient cultivation rights was nixed by executive order in February when Gov. Merkell caved under the pressure a US Attorney threat letter, mere months after he signed the law. Result: no safe access in Delaware.
Yet the state that approved medical cannabis during the same time frame as NJ, DC and DE that from the outside might appear to have the most tumultuous medical cannabis program is actually the one that is best serving patients. Those who qualify as patients in Arizona now have the right to grow their own medical cannabis, in spite of the several medical cannabis lawsuits brought forward by or against Governor Jan Brewer. The state even hosts a website that lets residents know who is eligible to cultivate. Result: Unlike patients in NJ, DC, and DE, Arizonan patients have legal access to medicine.
Patient cultivation rights are certainly not the only component of an ideal medical cannabis law, but without the right for patients to grow their own medicine, patients are forced to rely slow moving bureaucracies, or worse, the black market, to obtain the medicine they need.
Late last year, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag successfully shut down Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), the oldest operating dispensary in California, by threatening its landlord with asset forfeiture. It didn’t seem to matter that MAMM had the staunch support of Fairfax public official and members of the community. It was, truly, the end of an icon.
Then, news came out this week that the federal government had won in its effort to shut down Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), another historical icon in the medical marijuana community. Despite support from the Chamber of Commerce and its neighbors, BPG and its landlord were targeted by Haag for being too close to two private schools. Notably, teachers from one of the schools Haag is ostensibly trying to “protect” have spoken out in defense of BPG.
While Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates joined the chorus of support for BPG, calling it a “high-class operation,” with “no complaints,” and “compliments from neighbors,” he stopped short of standing up to the federal government. Instead, Bates said in a statement that, “We’re really sorry to see them close up.”
However, no sooner than it was announced that BPG would be shutting its doors, the dispensary refuted the news. In a statement issued on Thursday, BPG Chief Operating Officer said, “BPG is not closing.”
Berkeley Patients Group remains dedicated to providing safe and affordable access to its patient-members, while working to preserve the jobs of its 70+ employees… We have been looking to relocate for several years and look forward to announcing our new site, soon.
Maybe they won’t have to wait for Mayor Bates to grow a spine after all.
In contrast to Berkeley’s trepidation, other Bay Area cities have shown bold leadership on medical marijuana. Both San Francisco and Oakland have recently permitted several new dispensaries. While Haag has been threatening numerous San Francisco landlords, which has resulted in a handful of dispensary closures in the so-called “Sanctuary City,” three new facilities have just been permitted. In Oakland, four new dispensaries were licensed this week, doubling the number facilities in that city.
Cities like San Francisco and Oakland are examples of how to stand up to federal intimidation. We need more local officials to take their lead and develop local laws that recognize the needs of patients in their communities, not the fickle demands of the federal government.
[W]e conclude off-site dispensaries are not authorized by California medical marijuana law because nothing in the law authorizes the transportation and possession of marijuana to stock an off-site location.Unfortunately, in this regard, the Lake Forest court got it wrong. The MMPA explicitly protects patients from arrest and prosecution for transportation of marijuana when engaged in collective medical marijuana activity. This part of the court’s decision is not only bad public policy, but has no basis in the law.
Second District Court of Appeal rejects Attorney General’s argument that all collective members must participate in cultivation
The California Court of Appeal issued a landmark published decision last week affirming the legality of storefront dispensaries and rejecting the argument that every member of a collective or cooperative must participate in the cultivation. Didn’t hear about the ruling? Maybe because the decision came from the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles, the domain of District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, famously intolerant to medical marijuana dispensaries. It would be an understatement to say that the ruling jabs a large thorn into both of their sides. You’ll certainly see no publicity from their corner.
The case People v. Colvin involves William Frank Colvin, the operator of Hollywood Holistic Inc., who was arrested while lawfully transporting a pound of medical marijuana from one collective he operates to another. Even while acknowledging that Colvin was operating a legitimate dispensary, the trial court denied him a defense on the grounds that transportation of medical marijuana was illegal under state law. After being denied a defense, Colvin was convicted.
On appeal, California Attorney General Kamala Harris advanced the view that under state law all members of a collective must somehow participate in the cultivation process and “come together” in “some way” for this purpose. In characterizing Attorney General Harris’s argument, the Court said:
The Attorney General does not specify how many members must participate or in what way or ways they must do so, except to imply that Holistic, with its 5,000 members and 14 growers, is simply too big to allow any ‘meaningful’ participation in the cooperative process; hence, it cannot be a ‘cooperative’ or a ‘collective’ [in compliance with state law].
The Court then compared medical marijuana cooperatives with food cooperatives:
[The Attorney General’s interpretation of state law] would impose on medical marijuana cooperatives requirements not imposed on other cooperatives. A grocery cooperative, for example, may have members who grow and sell the food and run a store out of which the cooperative's products are sold. But not everyone who pays a fee to become a member participates in the cooperative other than to shop at it.
However, the Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the stringent requirement that an “unspecified number of members to engage in unspecified ‘united action or participation’ to qualify for the protection of [state law].” Perhaps most importantly, the Court said that the “logical conclusion” of such requirements would likely “limit drastically the size of medical marijuana establishments.” Furthermore, the Court said that:
[T]he Attorney General’s vague qualifier provides little direction or guidance to, among others, qualified patients, primary caregivers, law enforcement, and trial courts. Rather, imposing the Attorney General’s requirement would, it seems to us, contravene the intent of [state law] by limiting patients’ access to medical marijuana and leading to inconsistent applications of the law.
It should be no surprise why Cooley, Trutanich and the other opponents of medical marijuana would want to downplay such a landmark decision. However, at a time when trial courts are denying a defense to medical marijuana dispensary operators, the Court’s decision is a welcome one that is long overdue.
The seemingly permanent classification of marijuana in Schedule I has got to be one of the most notable examples of the federal government sticking its head in the sand in recent US history. To keep marijuana under Schedule I, the federal government is literally saying that:
- Marijuana has a high potential for abuse.
- Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision.
Congress should be embarrassed by its failure to protect safe access for patients. For Day 2 of Medical Marijuana Week, ASA is asking you to remind your members of Congress about this absurdity, so please take a moment to call Congress and demand your member’s support for HR 1983. Americans for Safe Access is moving forward with the decade-long court battle with the federal government to marijuana rescheduling, but passage of HR 1983 would mean the government would have to complete the rescheduling process in 12 months. The election year presents a wonderful opportunity to put pressure on members of Congress, so please take time today to call, demand passage of HR 1983, and remind them that your vote is not to be taken for granted.
ASA Fact Sheet on HR 1983: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/1983FactSheet.pdf
National Action Alert - Urge Congress to Co-Sponsor HR1983: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/article.php?id=7066
Medical Marijuana Week: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=7061
When President Obama was elected in 2008, the medical marijuana community was optimistic that the worst days of federal harassment were finally in the past. After all, he had once said, "I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It’s not a good use of our resources." This caused patients and those who provide them with safe access to their medicine to be hopeful that the 200-plus medical marijuana dispensary raids under President Bush would be resigned to being a terrible memory, a dark chapter in America’s past never to be repeated. Hopeful, indeed.
For a brief time, it seemed that Obama’s campaign promises would be followed through upon, with the issuing Holder Memo, which seemed to announce a federal ceasefire in the war on patients. Ultimately, the campaign pledges and Holder Memo turned out to be broken promises, with over 170 SWAT-style raids resulting in at least 61 federal indictments, causing great distress to patients seeking safe access to their medicine. After little more than 3 years in office, Obama is not only on track to surpass two terms worth of Bush raids in just half the time, his Department of Justice has initiated a vicious attack on state sovereignty, designed to destroy the means of safe access patients have come to rely on. Americans for Safe Access is calling on patients, their loved ones, and all concerned citizens to voice their unwillingness to accept Obama’s massive assault against safe access by taking part in Medical Marijuana Week.
Things would be bad enough if the Obama DOJ had merely doubled Bush’s rate of raids, but instead, US Attorneys have escalated hostilities against safe access to include threats to public officials and landlords. Officials in at least ten states have no doubt experienced a chilling effect on their sovereignty after received threatening letters, such as the City Councils for Chico and Eureka California. This past week, Governor Markell of Delaware announced the suspension of the state's recently passed medical marijuana program. Even the US Attorney for Colorado, John Walsh, once considered relatively amicable towards medical marijuana has sent similar threat letters, boldly proclaiming them as “not a bluff.” Americans for Safe Access has filed a 10th Amendment lawsuit against the DOJ for their coercive tactics that have derailed medical marijuana legislation in several states. In a separate federal legal action, ASA has recently filed a brief in its petition against the arbitrary and capricious refusal by the government to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
Now is the time to tell the White House that enough is enough. Americans for Safe Access is launching Medical Marijuana Week with an action alert to call the White House and demand that Obama end using federal resources to undermine state laws, and stop putting politics before science by acting immediately to reclassify marijuana as medicine. Remind President Obama about his campaign broken campaign promises, because if patients, their loved ones, and concerned citizens do not tell Obama that his medical marijuana policy must change, it will never improve. After calling the White House today, please continue to join ASA’s Medical Marijuana Week actions, culminating in several local rallies on Thursday February 16, 2012, and keep the pressure on Obama until his policy promotes safe access.
ASA's Medical Marijuana Week: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=7061
Action Alert to Call the White House: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/article.php?id=7065
“Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally-financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched.”
Here, Obama has stated a goal, having a treatment available that kills cancer cells, while not harming healthy cells. The potential for reaching this goal through medical marijuana has been known for at least several years, and even the National Institutes of Health has recognized this potential with the Physician Data Query issued by the National Cancer Institute last March. Although the government retracted certain parts of the PDQ in a politically motivated move, the post-retraction version still makes a compelling case for marijuana’s cancer-killing/healthy-cell-preserving potential by reporting that, “[c]annabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death.”
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has not only ignored pursuing medical marijuana to achieve this goal, it has done nothing to make use of its own agency’s findings. This is not only irreconcilable with the goal he laid out in the SOTU, at best it is willful ignorance on the part of the Obama administration to let patients suffer without safe access to the best cancer treatments known.
“There is no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly.”
One federal regulation Obama ought to reconsider as being outdated, lacking necessity, and being too costly is 21 CFR 1308.11. This regulation is the manifestation of the Controlled Substances Act in the Federal Record. The necessity of keeping marijuana under Schedule I was only to permit the Attorney General sufficient time to gain more complete scientific information about marijuana. That was four decades and several studies ago (the government’s own PDQ refers to several dozen of these studies), so this is clearly outdated and unnecessary. In terms of costliness, the toll of human suffering of cancer patients should be enough, but the economic drain related to cancer suffering is staggering as well. The best way for Obama to revisit this regulation would be direct Attorney General Eric Holder to initiate the rescheduling process.
“Let's never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a Government and a financial system that do the same.”
Among the millions of Americans who work hard and wish to play by the rules are the thousands of providers of medical marijuana located in states that have approved the use and distribution of this medical treatment. Perhaps more than any community, these American entrepreneurs are quite willing to pay their share of business taxes that result from their work to provide safe access to medical marijuana patients who are unable to cultivate to their own medicine. However, in providing medical marijuana in accordance with state law to patients, dispensary operators must deal with a burden that no other legitimately run business have to face, Section 280E of the IRS Tax Code. This provision, which bars anyone from taking tax deductions for business expenses related to Schedule I and II substances, was originally intended to prevent cocaine kingpins from manipulating the tax code to launder their completely illicit profits, but instead the IRS is now manipulating the provision to attack state-approved businesses that provide safe access.
President Obama should not only order Holder to initiate the process to reschedule marijuana, he should also instruct Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to promulgate a comment in the Treasury Regulations that excludes medical marijuana providers operating in good faith compliance with state law. This would be particularly helpful in the event that marijuana is rescheduled into Schedule II, which would still mean safe access would be in peril related to 280E.
President Obama’s speech last night described the kind of America where safe access to medical marijuana should be readily available, but unfortunately his administration’s actions have been at odds with this goal. Rescheduling marijuana and removing unfair tax burdens on dispensary owners would go a long way in reconciling his goal of an America where patients have safe access to best the cancer treatments available.