Pages tagged "Medical Cannabis"

  • LA City Council moves to write a third medical cannabis initiative

    Voters in Los Angeles will have three medical cannabis measures from which to choose when they go to the polls in May. The City Council approved a motion (11-1) by Council Member Paul Koretz on Wednesday instructing the City Attorney to write a voter initiative regulating collectives and cooperatives and raising the tax they must pay. The city’s belated effort at regulating hundreds of patients’ associations will join two community-led efforts to adopt regulations that have already qualified for the ballot.

    Staff at City Hall does not expect to see initiative language from the City Attorney until just before the January 31 deadline for submitting ballot measures, so no one knows the details of City Council’s plan. Council Member Koretz’s motion instructs the City Attorney to base the voter initiative on a draft ordinance last vetted by the City Planning Commission on November 29. Known at City Hall as the “limited immunity” ordinance, that draft banned patients’ associations unless they met strict criteria, including opening before September 2007, locating 1,000 from sensitive uses, paying taxes, never having closed, and more.  Council Member Koretz’s new motion instructs the City Attorney to  add another 1% local tax on collectives and cooperatives – bringing the city’s total medical cannabis tax to 6%.



    The first voter initiative qualified for the May ballot was submitted by the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhood (CPPN), a coalition that includes Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA), and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770. That initiative would only allow collectives and cooperatives that opened before September 2007, the date the city originally established a moratorium on new facilities. The initiative also allows the city to pursue permanent licensing for patients’ associations when there is greater clarity under state law.

    A second voter initiative was submitted by a group of collective and cooperative operators recently organized under the name Angelinos for Safe Access. This organization has no connection to ASA, despite the surprising similarity of their name. The second initiative sets no upper limit on the number of facilities in the city, relying instead on location restrictions and other criteria to limit potential providers. This initiative was specifically designed to provide an opportunity for some of the hundreds of collectives and cooperatives that opened after the city’s 2007 moratorium to stay open. The second measure would also raise the existing city tax from 5% to 6%.

    ASA remains committed to the voter initiative we helped create and submit as part of the CPPN patient-provider-worker coalition effort. We think it is the best option for preserving patients’ access and addressing the community’s concerns. We are confident most voters in Los Angeles will agree – including those who are ambivalent on this issue. Of course, we hope the city will create a ballot measure that we can all get behind. But we cannot afford to wait and see, especially given the City Attorney’s persistent opposition to any medical cannabis regulation in the city.

    Patients and other voters will debate the pros and cons of each measure between now and May 21, when all three initiatives are likely to be on the ballot. ASA will publish more analysis and comparisons of each measure after the city publishes its version. In the meantime, there may still be time for residents of Los Angeles to influence the content of the city measure. ASA encourages patients and advocates to speak up to their City Council representative right now. Tell him or her what you do and do not want to see in a medical cannabis ballot measure. Do not wait for the City Attorney’s draft – there may be little time for debate and amendments before the submission deadline on January 31.
  • California Supreme Court picks February 5th for oral arguments to decide whether municipalities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana

    The California Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments this week in a case that has received widespread attention inside and outside of the medical marijuana community. The appellate court ruling in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center is being reviewed by the High Court in order to address the issue of whether municipalities can use zoning regulations to ban outright the local distribution of medical marijuana.

    Oral arguments in the Riverside case will be held in a special session of the California Supreme Court on Tuesday, February 5th at 10:15am at the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law.

    In addition to the Riverside case, a number of other appellate court rulings from southern California focusing on the same issues were granted review by the Court, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles, City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective, and People v. G3 Holistic.

    Notably, two of these appellate rulings held that local officials may not ban distribution and must develop regulations instead. Specifically, the County of Los Angeles decision from July 2012 overturned a local ban on dispensaries, reversing the lower court’s preliminary injunction from the previous year. The appellate court in County of Los Angeles held that “medical marijuana collectives…are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function,” and that “[Los Angeles] County’s total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature's intent.” The Court further concluded that, a “complete ban” on medical marijuana is “preempted” by state law and, therefore, void.

    Yet, other appellate court decisions have sided with municipal governments in their cynical effort to push out any form of safe and legal access to medical marijuana.

    Rest assured, however, that Americans for Safe Access will work with the lawyers in the Riverside case to obtain a ruling from the California Supreme Court favorable to patients across the state. Just as with its amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief filed last year in the Riverside case, ASA will continue to fight for safe access. “While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely,” read ASA’s amicus brief. “These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.”

    See you at USF next month!
  • ASA's Year in Review 2012

    This is the time of year when I take some time to reflect over the past twelve months and prepare myself for the opportunities that lay ahead in the New Year.

    2012 was bittersweet. On one hand, we moved the fight for safe access to medical cannabis forward – adding two new medical cannabis states, Connecticut and Massachusetts; legislatures in a dozen states considered medical cannabis bills; current medical cannabis states tried to tackle regulation and implementation; new and influential allies joined the fight, like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Americans Herbal Products association (AHPA); and the election brought with it new allies in the Senate and House.

    But nineteen of our brothers and sisters spent their holidays in prison, and a half a dozen more will be joining them in the next few months. Millions of patients are left without access following aggressive raids and landlord threats. US Attorneys seem to be hell bent on destroying access models built by states and cities across the country.

    Despite all this, I cannot help but to look at 2012 and see a movement of resistance and courage. As I think about 2013, I am filled with a great sense of hope. As a member of ASA, you helped us do so much this year:

    I know that, if we can pool our resources, we can change federal law. We start 2013 with a President in his second term, a more sympathetic Congress, and 106 million Americans living in states with medical cannabis laws. We are going to greet our federal elected officials in 2013 with the largest gathering of medical cannabis advocates ever seen in Washington, DC, at our Bridging the Gap Between Public and Policy Conference February 22-25.

    Also in 2013, we will hear from the courts on our rescheduling lawsuit, we will be working on new legislation in a dozen states, we will be preparing for initiatives in 2014 in Arkansas and California (to name a few), we will be working with current medical cannabis states on passing access laws and implementing new laws, and all of this while we continue to provide free legal support and other resources for patients and providers.

    Let’s play to win in 2013! Start off by joining or renewing your membership to ASA, and making plans to join us at our national conference.

    Happy New Year!

    Steph Sherer is the co-founder and Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access.
  • ASA Comments on CA Sales Tax Exemption Proposal

    Recently, the California State Board of Equalization asked for comments on a conceptual proposal to exempt terminally ill patients from paying sales tax on cannabis provided by dispensaries. In California, as in many other states, medications prescribed by doctors are not taxable. Below is Americans for Safe Access' letter to the Board of Equalization.


    Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is encouraged that the Board of Equalization (BOE) is considering revising the present system which subjects medical cannabis patients to retail sales tax when purchasing their medicine; however, we have concerns about patient privacy and fairness that makes the proposal untenable in it’s present form.

    The idea to grant a waiver to terminally ill patients from having to pay sales tax raises a number of concerns. In order to become eligible for such a waiver, a patient would have to disclose their specific medical condition to BOE or another agency. In addition to forcing patients to disclose their condition or even their greater medical history to receive the benefit of not having to pay sales tax, the state would be put in the precarious position of determining what patients are sick enough to earn a sales tax exemption.

    Instead, ASA feels a more appropriate approach would be to treat medical cannabis sales in the same manner as other sales of medicine in California by not taxing patients for the purchase of medicine from a health care facility. An approach that better meets the spirit of Revenue & Taxation Code § 6369(a)(3), (“Sales of medicines are exempt from sales and use taxes if…(3) furnished by a health facility for patient treatment pursuant to the order of a licensed physician.”) would be more appropriate for the BOE to adopt. Rather than taxing patients for the purchase of their medicine, the BOE should consider other ways of raising revenue from the medical cannabis industry that do not directly affect patients, many of whom are low-income and permanent chronic debilitating conditions that are not terminal.
    ASA thanks the Board for offering the chance to comment and would gladly welcome any opportunity to further discuss revising sales tax for medical cannabis purchases.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.
  • LA advocates submit 70,000 initiative signatures

    A coalition of medical cannabis patients, providers, and organized labor submitted 70,000 signatures on Friday to qualify a voter initiative for the May ballot in Los Angeles. The Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods (CPPN), which includes Americans for Safe Access (ASA), developed the voter initiative to establish sensible regulations for medical cannabis patients’ cooperatives and collectives in the city. The proposal would limit the number of facilities in the city to those that meet certain criteria – opening date, proximity to sensitive uses, hours of operation, etc.

    Advocates are turning to the voter initiative process in Los Angeles because they are increasingly frustrated with the City Council’s progress on long-standing promises to protect access for patients. The City Council spent years creating an adopting a flawed ordinance in 2010, but numerous lawsuits (by patients’ associations and the city) rendered the measure unenforceable. After settlement talks with the City Attorney collapsed earlier this year, Councilmember Huizar introduced and quickly passed an ordinance that effectively banned all cooperatives and collectives in the city. CPPN mounted a successful voter referendum to force the repeal of the ban, but the city still has no regulations for medical cannabis.



    Research conducted by ASA proves that sensible regulations reduce crime and complaints, while preserving safe access for patients. It is past time for California's largest city to enjoy the benefits of reasonable regulations. The City Council still has time to adopt a regulatory ordinance before the vote in May. A compromise ordinance, which would allow a small number of facilities in the city, was approved by the City Planning Commission last month. It is unclear if City Council Members are willing to approve it, and advocates want to be sure the voters are poised to act if the Council does not.

    A separate medical cannabis voter initiative is in the signature gathering phase right now. It is possible that the City Council will be debating the compromise ordinance while advocates are gearing up to campaign for two separate measures. If either measure is approved, it will replace the city’s ordinance. If voters approve both measures, the initiative with the highest number of votes will prevail.

    Stay tuned for an eventful winter and spring in LA!
  • Massachusetts becomes the 18th medical marijuana state; now comes the difficult work of implementation

    Earlier this month, an overwhelming sixty-three percent of Massachusetts voters approved Ballot Question 3 and, in so doing, became the country’s 18th state to pass a medical marijuana law. Massachusetts is now the latest in a growing number of states that are choosing to implement their own public health laws, regardless of any reluctance by the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana.

    But, getting Massachusetts voters to turn out in sufficient numbers to pass Ballot Question 3 was only the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy implementation process.

    The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has 120 days after the law is enacted on January 1, 2013 to design regulations that will help DPH implement the law. However, until the program is up and running, patients can still go see their physician to discuss medical marijuana and, after January 1st, can obtain a recommendation for its use. That way, patients can be protected, without delay, from any unnecessary law enforcement incursions.

    The new law restricts qualifying patients from possessing “more marijuana than is necessary for the patient’s personal, medical use, not exceeding the amount necessary for a sixty-day supply.” Therefore, in addition to developing a patient registration process in the first 120 days, DPH is tasked with using “the best available evidence” to determine what might constitute a 60-day supply of medical marijuana.

    DPH then has until January 1, 2014, one year after enactment, to license distribution facilities, called “nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers,” thereby making medical marijuana accessible to patients throughout the state. The law requires that in the first year DPH must license at least fourteen treatment centers, one for each county in Massachusetts, but no more than five per county and no more than 35 for the entire state.

    The law tightly restricts cultivation in the state, requiring licensed treatment centers to produce their own supply and, generally, preventing patients from cultivating themselves. However, patients who can show a financial and/or physical hardship can apply to DPH to grow their own, once those regulations are established.

    Because it’s important to involve patients throughout the implementation process, Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), the group largely responsible for the law’s passage, will be embarking soon on a campaign to educate patients and ensure they are contributing to the development of statewide regulations. MPAA is currently preparing an FAQ for patients and concerned Massachusetts residents. Educational material will also be accessible at MPAA’s website: www.MassPatients.org, and yet-to-be-scheduled public education events are being planned over the next few months.

    According to MPAA’s Matt Allen:
    We’re here to make sure that patients are fully involved in the implementation process, and since this is a public health issue we want to make sure that patients’ needs are recognized and respected.

    MPAA is also continuing to build its base of advocates in order to begin the process of working with DPH and the state legislature so that the law will work effectively. If you’re a Massachusetts resident and want to get more involved in the law’s implementation, go to the MPAA website and fill in your contact info. Together we can make the law work for Massachusetts patients!
  • Feds Continue to Undermine Mendocino's Local Law by Violating Patient Privacy

    It wasn’t enough for the Justice Department to conduct aggressive raids on state-compliant cultivators in Mendocino County in 2010 and 2011, then earlier this year threaten local officials with litigation if the highly successful cultivation program continued. Now, according to the Ukiah Daily Journal, federal authorities issued a subpoena for “financial records the county of Mendocino keeps regarding its medical marijuana ordinance.”

    Little is known about the subpoena, other than it was issued in October to the Mendocino County Auditor-Controller's Office for records of funds paid to the county under its medical marijuana ordinance, County Code 9.31. Undoubtedly, the lack of information has to do with unwillingness by the Justice Department to come clean about its interference in the implementation of local and state medical marijuana laws. The offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney could “neither confirm nor deny” that a subpoena was issued, and local officials are also not talking.

    In 2010, the DEA raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office, in the widely popular program that raised about $500,000 of new revenue for the county. Under the local law, which was abandoned in March after threats from the Justice Department, the Sheriff’s Office sold zip ties for $25 per plant to show that they were being grown in compliance with state law.

    No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA reared its ugly head again in October 2011, with the raid of Matt Cohen’s farm, Northstone Organics. Like Greenfield, Cohen was in full compliance with the law. Sheriff Tom Allman commented at the time that, “As far as I know, Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics were following all of the state laws and local ordinances that are in place.” Matt, too, avoided arrest, but his entire crop was destroyed and he was intimidated from continuing to grow.

    Escalating its effort to undermine Mendocino’s cultivation ordinance, in January the U.S. Attorney’s Office threatened to file an injunction against the program and seek legal action against county officials who supported it. However, the forced termination of the program was apparently not enough for the feds. Nearly a year later, the Justice Department now appears to be seeking private and outdated information that should be under the sole purview of local officials.

    This, of course, raises a number of important questions beyond the sweeping impact of divulging private patient records to federal law enforcement.

    1. What are the motivations of federal officials in seeking this information?

    2. Who is being targeted and why?

    3. If the program is no longer in effect, why are these records important to the federal government?

    4. Shouldn’t privacy laws and the state’s Medical Marijuana Program prevent such invasive tactics by the federal government?


    Regardless of how you answer these questions, the actions of the Justice Department are anything but “just” and, likely, violate the rights of California patients. Because of this, ASA intends to get to the bottom of the subpoena and take whatever actions are necessary to keep patients and their providers out of harm’s way. Our hope is that when all of this subsides, the Mendocino cultivation program will be operational once again.
  • Congressional Medical Cannabis Champions Win Big in Reelection & Senate Bids



    One of the least reported stories coming out of this year's Election Day results was the strong showing that medical cannabis champions had in their reelection bids this year. Even better for medical cannabis patients, 2013 will mark the first time that the public supporters of safe access will be joining United States Senate. Overall, the 40 strongest safe access champion candidates received 66.7% percent of the vote! What makes these victories more impressive is that they came in an election season when President Obama refused to come to terms with his current anti-safe access policy on medical cannabis.

    In the US House of Representatives, ASA had 37 champions running for reelection to Congress in 2013. When we refer to a Member of Congress as a "champion," this means that ASA has developed a relationship these offices and they are reliably the voices on the Hill that not only speak out, but take action on behalf of safe access, by introducing, cosponsoring, or working behind the scenes to get other reps on board. Of these champion candidates, 35 will be returning to DC! Having a strong base of support like this coming into the new conference is going to be especially important in February, when ASA and its members will descend upon the Capitol for a lobbying day following our national conference. In fact, we hope to grow our list of champions when patients and safe access activists come to the Hill to engage in citizen lobbying.

    Some of the most exciting news for safe access on Election Day came in the US Senate races. While there are a handful of current US Senators who are sympathetic to the issue of safe access, they support, grateful as we are to have it, has largely been silent. Tuesday night's result changes all of that. When the new Senate is sworn in this January, two incoming senators have publicly embraced safe access. In Wisconsin, one of ASA's strongest champions in the House, Tammy Baldwin, won her bid to become not only the first openly gay member of the Senate, but also the first senator who has cosponsored safe access federal legislation in the past. Over in Massachusetts, where the electorate gave landslide approval to the state's medical cannabis ballot measure, Question 3, voters elected Elizabeth Warren to the replace Scott Brown. Warren spoke during the campaign about her father's struggle with cancer and how she strongly feels patients in that position need access to medicine that works.

    Unfortunately, not all of the news on Election Day was so fortunate. Two of ASA's long-time champions in California lost their reelection bids. Congressman Pete Stark, one of ASA's strongest and most determined champions on the Hill was unsuccessful, losing to a fellow Democrat, thanks to California's bizarre top-two election process. Congressman Stark and his staff were extremely helpful and important this summer when ASA was working with Congresswoman Lee's office to help introduce HR 6335. Another champion fell victim to political circumstance when Howard Berman was forced to run against fellow champion incumbent Ben Sherman in a hotly contested race that was the result of redistricting. While Sherman's record has been slightly stronger than Berman's, his and Stark's voices will be sorely missed.

    Additionally, several of ASA's longtime champions will not be returning in 2013 due to retirement. Four of the greatest champions for safe access in Congressional history, Barney Frank, Ron Paul, Maurice Hinchey, and Denis Kucinich will not be returning. These four greats introduced and cosponsored much of the safe access legislation in the past decade and their incoming members have large shoes to fill. Will it's a bit soon to tell how their replacements will be, we have confidence other incoming members to Congress, such Beto O'Rourke, will help fill the void. Additionally, new leaders such as Jared Polis and Justin Amash are emerging, and other champions such as Steve Cohen and Jerrold Nadler (to name just a few) are speaking out louder and more forcefully with each Congressional session.

    President Obama may not have come reconciled his 2008 promised to end the federal war on safe access, but the 113th Congress may perhaps turn out to be the federal agent of change for medical cannabis patients. If that is going to happen, we need citizen lobbyists to be speaking with their members of Congress to make safe access to medical cannabis a top priority in 2013.

    Mike Liszewski is ASA's Policy Director.
  • Medical Marijuana Advocates Take Fight to DC

    As the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, it’s my privilege to meet and facilitate the work of medical cannabis advocates throughout the nation. In the week before yesterday’s election, I drove all over Arkansas, visiting counties to drop off signs and connect with activists. This is an amazing movement, made up of compassionate people and patients willing to fight for their health. Last night we learned of many victories for patients who can be helped by cannabis, at both the state and federal levels. Most directly, the voters of Massachusetts overwhelmingly supported a compassionate use law, bringing the total number of medical marijuana states to 18 (plus the District of Columbia)! The results for Congress were especially positive for our movement. 95% of our Congressional champions who ran were reelected. Patients and their supporters are excited to welcome medical cannabis supporters Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin to the Senate. Fresh faces in the House and Senate mean that new champions of the cause can emerge, and Americans for Safe Access and other organizations will be working hard to provide Congressmen and women with plenty of opportunities to stand up for patients. The lead-up to last night’s results was an exciting campaign season for medical marijuana patients and advocates. In response to President Obama’s crackdown on medical marijuana states, we organized voters throughout the nation with Camp WakeUpObama, bringing our message to Obama campaign headquarters and events in nationwide and local actions. In October, the Appeals Court heard our lawsuit challenging the federal government’s policy of marijuana as “without accepted medical use,” and the forthcoming court decision may set the agenda in the coming year. We’ve further deepened our relationships with the scientific and medical community. Superstring theorist Dr. John Schwarz wrote an op-ed in favor of treating the science of marijuana fairly, and medical associations have been increasingly outspoken in opposing laws against medical marijuana, with the California Medical Association recently calling on Governor Jerry Brown to support rescheduling the drug to make it more available. We now have a second term of the Obama Administration, led by a President that has publicly expressed support for state medical marijuana laws, yet overseen an unprecedented federal attack on them. We have new state legislators who will join the nation-wide conversation happening in state capitals from coast to coast. We have new Senators and Congressman who are empowered to end the federal state divide. And an additional state now recognizes the medical need for cannabis. Though the voters of Arkansas did not pass a medical marijuana initiative, organizers in the state are fired up and ready to take the issue up with their legislature. This movement is ready for the second Obama administration. We are ready for a House with an unchanged partisan dynamic, but many new faces, Republican and Democratic, who support medical cannabis. We are ready for a Senate that includes supporters of our cause. Because of these victories, Americans for Safe Access will start the new year with a strong focus on the federal government. In February, medical cannabis advocates, researchers, doctors and legal professionals will come to together to work to end the federal-state divide over cannabis access. Our National Medical Cannabis Unity Conference will bring the fight for access from the statehouses to the Capitol. The lawmakers elected yesterday will be the ones we will meet with, and we are eager to begin the dialogue. See you in February! Steph Sherer is the Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access. This was originally posted at the Huffington Post.
  • California Medical Association Calls on Governor Brown to Urge for Marijuana's Reclassification

    More than two weeks ago, with less fanfare than it deserved, the California Medical Association (CMA) voted to urge Governor Brown to petition the federal government to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Notably, the vote occurred two days ahead of oral arguments before a federal appeals court in a widely watched case concerning the reclassification of marijuana: Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration. With this latest resolution from the CMA, pressure continues to build on the federal government to design policy based on sound science and to treat medical marijuana like the public health issue it is.

    On October 14th, the 141st annual CMA House of Delegates voted unanimously to approve Resolution 103-12, urging the Governor to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reschedule cannabis. The resolution was co-authored by Dr. Donald Abrams, Chief of Hematology-Oncology at San Francisco General Hospital and an eminent cannabis researcher in his own right, and Dr. Larry Bedard, president of the Marin Medical Society and a physician who has practiced emergency medicine for more than 30 years.

    Resolution 103-12 requests that:
    California Governor Jerry Brown petition the DEA and the Administration to reschedule marijuana based on the science that shows medicinal marijuana has ‘accepted medical use.’

    The CMA resolution also emphasized that:
    [M]edical decisions should be based on science, not politics.

    The CMA resolution comes as more than 70 medical professionals have co-signed an open letter calling for marijuana to be rescheduled from its current status as a dangerous drug with no medical value.

    It’s not as if Governor Brown would be politically sticking out his neck, either. Within the last year, the governors of Colorado, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have all petitioned the DEA to reclassify marijuana for medical use. Given that the vast majority of Californians support medical marijuana, it would be politically prudent for Governor Brown to take this action. For all the harm that the Obama Administration has caused the medical marijuana community over the past few years -- incessant raids and prosecutions against legally compliant businesses -- it’s the least Governor Brown could do in favor of the state’s hundreds of thousands of patients who rely on the same dispensaries the federal government is shutting down.

    According to its website:
    CMA serves more than 35,000 members in all modes of practice and specialties representing the patients of California. CMA is dedicated to serving our member physicians through a comprehensive program of legislative, legal, regulatory, economic and social advocacy. … Our goal is to provide our members with the necessary support, so that they can surpass the challenges and continue to run successful medical practices.