Pages tagged "Medical Cannabis"

  • AB 473 falls short in California Assembly

    Tom Ammiano

    The California Assembly rejected AB 473 on Friday. The 35-37 vote means the effort by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF) to regulate commercial medical cannabis activity in the state will not move on to the Senate. Friday was the last day for bills to be approved in their house of origin, but even after two votes in as many days, the controversial bill did not garner the forty one votes needed for approval. AB 473 would have created a new Division in the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to write and enforce statewide regulations.

    Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our coalition partners at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) strongly support the goal of better and more equitably regulating commercial medical cannabis activity in California. Although medical cannabis has been legal in the state for seventeen years, the legislature has never adopted a comprehensive plan to implement Proposition 215 or regulate cultivation, transportation, and distribution of medicine. Patients, cultivators, industry workers, and other stakeholders need sensible regulations to help overcome public ambivalence, perceptions of abuse, and wildly inconsistent enforcement practices in communities across the state.



    AB 473 might have been an important step towards a better-regulated medical cannabis system in California, but there were some big problems with the bill. The medical cannabis community was reluctant to embrace ABC as a regulatory body for medical cannabis. ASA steadfastly argued for regulatory oversight in another part of the Department of Consumer Affairs or the Department of Health. We worried that ABC, which is charged with reigning in vice, would be poorly motivated to facilitate access to medicine.

    ASA also took issue with an eleventh-hour amendment in the Appropriations Committee that made local zoning approval a prerequisite for the state registration required under the bill. More than two-hundred cities and counties already have bans on medical cannabis patients’ cooperatives and collectives. Others have bans or severe limitations on cultivating medicine. A recent California Supreme Court Decision, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, authorizes local bans, and many of our constituents were looking for legislation that corrected or mitigated the court’s unfortunate ruling. This amendment did the opposite.

    One lesson from AB 473 is that lawmakers need to hear from supporters in their community if we expect them to make difficult decisions and stand up for medical cannabis. AB 473 lost because Democrats in Southern and Central California failed to support the bill. Fourteen Democrats from these more conservative parts of the state joined five Northern California Democrats in voting no on the bill. Another seven Democrats cast no vote at all, which is functionally vote against the bill (forty-one votes are needed for approval). The bill only needed six of those twenty six votes to pass. Could patients and advocates have swayed six of these twenty six Democrats to vote yes, if the Assemblymembers knew there was support for an affirmative vote at home? Absolutely.

    Another lesson from AB 473 is that lawmakers need to listen to their constituents when they have concerns about legislation. The community’s uncertainty about the net benefit of AB 473 was clear. The Author and Democratic leadership must realize that our community expects to be heard alongside the army of lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants that have flocked to this issue in the last two years. Medical cannabis may be a nascent industry, but it is still fundamentally a patients’ movement. Patients must be at the table when bills and amendments are being vetted.

    Perhaps the most important lesson from the demise of AB 473 is the need for pragmatism from all of the stakeholders. This bill was imperfect, but the process of implementing medical cannabis law and regulating commercial activity must move forward for everyone’s benefit. We are not going to get everything we want in a medical cannabis bill right now, and we will not be able to stop every proposal or amendment with which we disagree. Compromise is part of the political process. It would be a shame to miss another opportunity to move the ball down the court for patients, cultivators, and industry workers because we do not agree on all of the details.

    We are going to have another chance to do something about medical cannabis in Sacramento this year. SB 439 by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-SF) was approved by the Senate on May 20. That bill will clarify the scope of protection offered by the state’s medical cannabis laws and codifies guidelines published by the Attorney General in 2008. SB 439 will formally recognize the right of patients’ cooperatives and collectives to maintain storefront facilities (dispensaries) to provide medicine for members, expands protections to employees of patients’ associations, and recognizes that members buy their medicine from the associations. Substantial amendments – good and bad – are likely as the bill moves through the Assembly.

    Let’s learn our lessons from AB 473 and do a better job of shaping and adopting SB 439. Speak up to your lawmakers about this bill, insist that everyone is included in the debate, and be reasonable about compromises that may be necessary to get where we need to go.

  • CA Senate approves regulation bill

    Sen. Darrell Steinberg


    The California Senate approved SB 439 on Monday. The bill, which is co-authored by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) clarifies the scope of protections offered by the state’s medical cannabis laws and codifies guidelines published by the Attorney General in 2008. SB 439 will formally recognize the right of patients’ cooperatives and collectives to maintain storefront facilities (dispensaries) to provide medicine for members, an interpretation supported by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) since lawmakers adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420) in 2003. The bill also expands protections to employees of patients’ associations and recognizes that members buy their medicine from the associations.



    ASA supports SB 439 because uncertainty about the scope of California’s medical cannabis laws has led to differing interpretations and inconsistency in law enforcement around the state. Some cities and counties regulate and tax storefront facilities, while others ban them outright or turn a blind eye to their operation. Lobbyists for law enforcement are promoting a narrow interpretation of the law, which leaves patients in some jurisdictions without safe, legal, and dignified access to medicine. Patients and lawmakers need more clarity about what is legal in California, and SB 439 is an important step in that direction.

    At a hearing before the Senate Public Safety Committee, President Pro-Tem Steinberg told his colleagues that SB 439 was a starting point. We can expect substantial amendments as the bill moves through one of more committees in the Assembly and on to a final vote on the Assembly floor before September 13. Differences between the Senate and Assembly versions will be resolved in a concurrence committee made up of members of each house. The Governor will have thirty days to sign or veto the bill.

    Advocates must be vigilant and practical in the effort to complete this bill. There are many voices in Sacramento this year trying to influence the outcome. Lobbyists for law enforcement, local government, community groups, and others will be pushing for changes we don’t like. We have to push back and ask for what we want with a unified voice. ASA will be calling on members and friends to be a part of that conversation for the rest of the legislative season. Be sure you are a part of that process by making your voice heard. Sign up for our mailing list to stay informed and find out how you can participate online and face-to-face with lawmakers.

    ASA and our coalition allies at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) have developed the Principles of Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation to help lawmakers understand what we want to see in state regulations. We developed these principles after a year of conversations that started at the California Unity Conference in 2012 and are still ongoing. Constituents took these principles with them to visit dozens of legislative offices at our California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day May 5-6. If you agree that principles like these make sense, please join ASA and CRMM in asking lawmakers to support them.

    This is going to be a big year for medical cannabis in California. The legislature is determined to do something about the issue, so let’s work together to be sure they do the right thing!

  • CA Supreme Court ruling puts the ball in our court



    The California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that medical cannabis dispensaries are legal under state law, but cities and counties can still ban them. The decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center is disappointing, but it is not the end of the fight for safe and dignified access to medicine in approximately two hundred communities where patients' associations are banned. The Supreme Court pointed out that "nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach." That means the ball is in your court now.

    Ask your California lawmakers to protect safe access for every legal patient by adopting statewide regulations based on our "Principles of Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation." Two measures before the state legislature seek to regulate medical cannabis activity – AB 473 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and SB 439 by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). Act now to be sure these two measures, which are still being finalized by lawmakers, reflect what patients and other medical cannabis stakeholders want to see.



    Almost one hundred members of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our allies hit the halls of the State Capitol Building on Monday to take our pro-regulation message directly to our elected Representatives. The California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby day was a success, but we need to stay at the table as the legislative session continues. You can ask your Assemblymember and Senator to adopt sensible regulations whether or not you were at the Capitol this week. Send a message right now.

    ASA will be rolling out new programs this summer to help patients and advocates fight local bans with new legislation and voter initiatives. Your participation and support will be the key to success in Sacramento and in communities statewide. You can start helping by joining ASA or making an additional contribution right now. 

    I want to say a special thank you to everyone who attended the summit and lobby day, and especially to our sponsors – California NORML, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Bay Area Safe Alternatives, Greater Los Angeles Collectives Alliance, Emerald Growers Association, Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, Berkeley Patients Group, Crusaders for Patients Rights, Good Fellows Smoke Shop, and Desert Organic Solutions Collective.

    Thank you for acting to support regulations and fighting with ASA for safe access for everyone.

  • Activist Spotlight: Bunny Hethcox, Columbus, Wisconsin



    Bunny Hethcox is a 54-year-old mother of two and grandmother of six. A real estate broker for 17 years, Bunny taught her kids drugs were bad. But Bunny also suffers from fibromyalgia, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and one day while driving with her son, she had a bad panic attack and was unable to find her xanax. After pulling over, sweating and shaking, her son pulled a joint from his pocket and said “I think you need this more than I do.” It took her a minute to decide whether to yell at him or try it, but once she did, she discovered that cannabis calmed her considerably.

    Hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, Demerol and various other drugs had failed to ease the pain of her fibromyalgia, but after using medical cannabis for several months for her anxiety, she found that the pain lifted and her intense PTSD symptoms became tolerable. That got her doing some research on cannabis and the history of its prohibition.



    Last January, she got involved with politics for the first time, doing a lobby day at the Wisconsin state capitol. After a disappointing visit with her representative, she decided to find help changing the law. She came across the ASA website only ten minutes before the deadline for scholarship applications to ASA’s National Conference in Washington D.C., but got it in on time.  She got the scholarship, and off she went to DC for the first time, worried about flying alone and what she’d find at the conference.

    After meeting doctors, scientists, lawyers and leaders of medical research from the Netherlands, Canada and Israel she knew she needed to do what she could to help people get safe and legal access. She asked how to start an ASA chapter in Wisconsin, and on April 13, Bunny held the first meeting.

    “We are now on our way to help Wisconsin become a legal State,” she says. “I have two choices, live in pain and suffer with anxiety and depression by keeping the law or break the law by medicating myself with cannabis to live a normal life. I choose cannabis.”

  • Kal Penn of "Harold & Kumar" off-base for defending Obama attacks in medical marijuana states

    Last week, Kal Penn, who plays Kumar in the “stoner” film franchise Harold & Kumar, spoke to Huffington Post Live about President Obama’s marijuana policies. During the April 26th interview, Penn defended recent Justice Department attacks on dispensaries in medical marijuana states like California, citing articles he read from a Google search.

    Unfortunately, we cannot always rely on a pliant mainstream media -- that too often quotes Justice Department officials without any counterpoint -- to provide consistently factual information.

    Take, for example, the rationale that forms the basis for the Obama Administration’s most sweeping closures of dispensaries in California, Colorado and Washington State: they’re within 1,000 feet of a school. Using threats of asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has succeeded in shuttering hundreds of dispensaries in the past couple of years.

    However, if Penn had done his homework, he would have found out that in California, where well over 500 dispensaries have closed for fear of retaliation by federal drug enforcement officials, dispensaries are only required to be at least 600 feet from schools:

    No medical marijuana cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator establishment, or provider who possesses, cultivates, or distributes medical marijuana pursuant to this article shall be located within a 600-foot radius of a school.


    Also glossed over by Penn was the Obama Administration’s callous attitude about the impact of these dispensary closures. Each of the shuttered dispensaries provided medical marijuana to hundreds, often thousands of qualified patients who are now left with little option to find a medicine that’s legal under state law.

    And, believe it or not, the dispensary operators and their landlords who are warned with letters of imminent legal action are the lucky ones. The dispensaries that are targeted with aggressive SWAT-style raids stand to lose much more. At minimum, those dispensary operators can expect seized bank accounts, computers, patient records, and other property.

    However, if there are arrests, federal defendants can expect 5-10 years in prison. Over the past few months, several state-compliant dispensary operators and cultivators have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including California dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky (10 years), Michigan Cultivators Jeremy and Jerry Duval (5 years and 10 years, respectively), and John Marcinkewciz (5 years), as well as Montana cultivator Chris Williams (5 years). Another Montana cultivator, Richard Flor, died in federal custody last August while serving a 5-year sentence.

    Indeed, Penn’s failure to understand the impact of the Obama Administration’s policies on medical marijuana is symptomatic of the lies being told to the American public and the impunity with which it’s being done. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have both claimed that they are not targeting those in compliance with state law, but refuse to confront the evidence that belies such pronouncements.

    It’s about time that the federal government admits that the devastating and costly effects of its enforcement policies in medical marijuana states are unnecessary and unproductive. All patients are asking for is a compassionate and even-handed policy that treats medical marijuana like a public health issue.

  • Why I'm Attending the California Summit

    I am so excited to be attending the ASA California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day this weekend.  The event last year was absolutely brilliant.  Steph and the Sacramento ASA Chapter did an outstanding job organizing the event, and together, we accomplished the impossible. Imagine visiting EVERY representative in Sacramento in ONE day.  What an undertaking!  We might qualify for a Guinness Book of World Records.

    Lobbyists have a lot of power in Sacramento, but legislators really take notice when an “ordinary” citizen takes the time to show up in their offices.  The value is priceless.

    Seriously, I learned so much about being an EFFECTIVE advocate: how to make  appointments to talk to your representatives, how to address them, how to prepare my talking points, and how to follow up after the meeting.  This training has served me well during the past year and I have developed relationships with several legislators as a result.



    Another great reward for attending the conference is the sense of community that comes when you meet activists from other areas.  It is empowering to know that we have so much support.  I guarantee that you will have a great opportunity to network and build relationships with other activists.

    The most important lesson I learned from the Conference is that even seemingly impossible tasks can be accomplished by creating a systematic and well executed plan of action.

  • Off to the U.S. Supreme Court We Go

    Sadly, but not unexpectedly, last week the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a petition for rehearing filed be Americans for Safe Access in ASA v. DEA. After more than a decade of legal wrangling with the federal government over the medical efficacy of marijuana and its relative lack of abuse potential, the D.C. Circuit gave great deference to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) position that marijuana has no proven medical value. In doing this, the D.C. Circuit not only ignored voluminous evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, but it held the petitioners to a standard above and beyond that advanced by the government itself. Out of thin air, the Court interpreted the phrase “adequate and well-controlled studies” to require FDA-approved Phase II or Phase III studies, rather than the common meaning of the term. A similar such standard as that interjected into the proceedings by the Court at the last possible moment had already been rejected by the same Court and others in the cases of Grinspoon v. DEA, 828 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1987) and Doe v. DEA, 484 F.3d 561 (D.C. Cir. 2007).  This, coupled with the failure of the Court even to consider marijuana’s lack of abuse potential, was the basis for ASA’s recent petition for rehearing.



    Unfortunately, for medical marijuana patients and others, the extremely small number of active judges on the D.C. Circuit makes rehearing en banc (by the entire circuit) next to impossible. Because there are only eight active judges on the D.C. Circuit, en banc review is extremely rare, with only one petition granted by this Court last year. Thus, the next legal step is to challenge the DEA’s action in the Supreme Court of the United States through a petition for writ of certiorari , which must be filed within ninety days. This opens the possibility for arguments that exceed those allowed under the recently denied petition for rehearing.  It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of this wrong-headed approach to medical marijuana at the highest judicial level.

    Stay tuned for more details on the upcoming appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in ASA v. DEA.

  • SB 289 means trouble for legal patients

    California Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) has proposed a bill that would turn most of the state’s legal medical cannabis patients into criminals. SB 289 will make it a crime to drive with any amount of a controlled substance in your blood, unless the drug was prescribed by a doctor. The bill makes no exception for medical cannabis patients, whose medicine is recommend by a doctor, as opposed to prescribed. That means trouble for responsible, law abiding medical cannabis patients statewide.

    Regular medical cannabis users may have detectable levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the active compounds in cannabis, for up to two days after using medicine (See G. Skopp and L. Potsch, "Cannabinoid concentrations in spot serum samples 24-48 hours after discontinuation of cannabis smoking," Journal of Analytical Toxicology 32: 160-4, 2008). However, measurable impairment from medical cannabis use may only last a few hours. This means that a legal medical cannabis user will be in violation of SB 289, because he or she has a detectable amount of THC long after there is any potential for impairment.

    ASA is asking medical cannabis supporters to speak up against SB 289 to protect legal patients from unnecessary arrest. The bill will be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 30, so your California Senator needs to hear from you now.

     



    Testing for cannabis and medical cannabis impairment is a controversial topic nationwide. Voters in the state of Washington approved an absurdly-low threshold for cannabis-impairment when they approved I502 last year, and rule makers in Colorado seemed poised to do the same. Why the zero-tolerance approach to cannabis and medical cannabis, even where it is legal? Certainly no one wants to see impaired drivers on the road, but the root of the issue is stigma. Zero tolerance measures like SB 289 ignore science and rely instead on the perception of cannabis and medical cannabis users as irresponsible and dangerous on the road. Stigma makes laws that enshrine discrimination plausible, and that in turn, gives medical cannabis opponents the chance to push back on safe access.

    California law already makes driving while impaired by any drug – legal or otherwise – a crime. We do not need another bill to turn up the heat a little more – especially when some of those drivers are obeying the law. Lawmakers should reject SB 289 and rely on science and common sense when making policy.
  • Patient Advocates Seek Changes to Draft Regulations for Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law

    Patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed recommended amendments today to draft regulations which were issued last month by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) in order to implement Question 3, the state’s new medical marijuana law. The amendments were filed in advance of a scheduled hearing by the Public Health Council that took place today in Boston.

    The draft regulations are the product of many weeks of deliberation, during which time DPH sought input from medical marijuana patients and other stakeholders, including ASA, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Seeking a broad range of feedback, DPH held public hearings earlier this month in Boston, Plymouth, and Florence.

    In November, sixty-three percent of voters approved Question 3, making Massachusetts the 18th medical marijuana state. Question 3 establishes a framework that allows qualifying patients with serious illnesses to get a recommendation from their licensed physician for the use of marijuana, and further enables patients to obtain their medicine from a registered Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC). Overseen by DPH, the MMTCs will be licensed to cultivate, process, and sell medical marijuana to qualifying patients who are allowed to obtain up to 10 ounces in a 60 day period. Patients who qualify under a hardship provision will be able to cultivate for themselves if unable to access a MMTC due to distance, disability, or low income.

    And, while patient advocates are generally pleased with the draft regulations and the progress made by DPH, there remain concerns over a few provisions that could limit patients’ access to medical marijuana. For example, the regulations require physicians to register with DPH and undergo mandatory training before being authorized to recommend marijuana to their patients. Patients are concerned that this requirement will chill physician participation in the program and make it more difficult for patients to obtain a recommendation.

    Dr. Karen Munkacy, an anesthesiologist and delegate to the Massachusetts Medical Society, as well as a board member of ASA, testified at today’s hearing. While Dr. Munkacy agreed that educating doctors about medical marijuana would be helpful, she said in a previous statement that, "I have concerns about any regulation that would create additional obstacles for physicians who want to incorporate this medicine into their practice.”

    The draft regulations also prohibit patients from obtaining their medication from more than one MMTC, and place unique and onerous restrictions on minors who might benefit from medical marijuana. Advocates argue that these types of restrictions create unnecessary barriers to treatment. Dr. Munkacy testified today that:

    If we limit this medicine only to dying children, then it is not legally available for the 80 percent of children who live longer than six months after their cancer diagnosis.  Childhood cancer is rare, but distraught parents, who are already dealing the nightmare of their child having cancer, shouldn’t also have the nightmare of buying their children’s medicine from back alley drug dealers.

    Although Massachusetts law allows certain qualifying patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana, advocates argue that the draft regulations unduly limit such activity. For example, patients that can show their income, disability, or lack of mobility is an impediment to obtaining their medicine from an MMTC, they may be able to cultivate it themselves or find a caregiver to grow it for them. However, the financial hardship threshold, as it stands, only includes the poorest of the poor and excludes patients who still have a legitimate economic barrier to purchasing their medicine from an MMTC. Also, the lack of an appeals process for patients seeking hardship qualification denies them due process rights that are part of other social services programs.

    After the final draft regulations have been completed, DPH will present them again to the PHC on May 8th and, if adopted, they will go into effect on May 24th.
  • Why I am Going to Sacramento

    Nothing happens in the state legislature just because it should. Sometimes laws get passed because those with a financial interest in the outcome influence lawmakers. In some cases, political favors get traded to get something done. And all too often, lobbyists are the only voices lawmakers hear when they make choices that affect citizens. That is what is happening with medical cannabis in Sacramento right now, and I hope you will join me there next month to change that conversation for the better.

    Medical cannabis patients and other stakeholders are meeting in Sacramento May 4-6 for the California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day. The goals of the event are to develop strategies and skills necessary to adopt beneficial legislation for medical cannabis this year, and to take that message to lawmakers in person. Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and our partners at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM); a coalition of patients, cultivators, organized labor, and others; is organizing this event to be sure that patients are at the table when important decisions about regulating medical cannabis are made this year.



    You can help shape the future. Last year, we brought hundreds of patients to the State Capitol and helped push medical cannabis legislation further than anyone thought possible. Lawmakers noticed our grassroots coalition and started to take us more seriously. We need that influence now more than ever. Bills to regulate cultivation, distribution, and testing of medical cannabis are on the table right now. Proposals about additional taxation are on the way. We cannot afford to be silent right now. Someone is going to influence lawmakers on good and bad legislation this year. If it is not you, it will be lobbyists, law enforcement, and others who want to roll back safe access in California.

    We will have a special fundraising reception on Saturday night, and then spend all day Sunday building strategies and skills for the citizen lobby day on Monday. We will start on Monday with a press conference, and then we hope to visit every lawmaker in Sacramento to talk about what we want to see in California. We will all meet back for a complimentary VIP reception on Monday evening.

    Register today for the California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day. This may be the most important thing you can do for medical cannabis right now.

    We have a great opportunity to do something positive for patients, cultivators, workers, and others. If lawmakers from all over the state hear in person from constituents in their Districts, we can show them that there is a safe political space to stand up for medical cannabis. That is why I am going to Sacramento: to make a difference. Will you be there with me?