Pages tagged "Obama"
Mayors from across the United States gathered in Las Vegas this past weekend for the 81st annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. In a watershed moment, mayors voted unanimously yesterday to adopt a resolution "in support of states setting their own marijuana policies without federal interference." The resolution was introduced in advance of the conference by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and co-sponsored by 17 other mayors from across the country. Yesterday's passage of the resolution came just days after medical marijuana advocates issued an alarming report detailing how the Obama Justice Department has spent nearly $300 million to undermine medical marijuana laws in the U.S.
"Ultimately, this is about whether local and state governments can develop, adopt, and implement public health laws without heavy-handed interference by the federal government," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, which authored "What's the Cost?" an extensive report issued earlier this month on the economic and social costs of the federal government's war on medical marijuana. "This resolution is emblematic of the frustration experienced by local and state officials, which will continue until the federal government ends its attacks on medical marijuana." More than 100 million people, or 34 percent of Americans, currently live in states with medical marijuana laws.
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.
According to Matt Taibbi, in his latest Rolling Stone exposé on the banking and financial industry “Too Big to Jail,” HSBC “helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel,” and also “moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions.”
Yet, as outrageous as these transgressions are, the Justice Department refuses to criminally prosecute the bankers committing federal crimes right under the nose of the U.S. government.
At a press conference where the Justice Department announced a settlement between the government and HSBC, in which the bank was forced to pay $1.9 billion, but without any individual being fined or prosecuted, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had this to say:
Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.
So, the lesson we’re supposed to take from that is this:
if you’re a banker you can commit federal felonies and all you have to endure is a slap on the wrist. However, if you’re in any other line of business and you commit federal felonies, all bets are off.
If you’re a medical marijuana provider, for example, the Justice Department will not just look the other way as it did for years with HSBC. Instead, you can expect the government to come after you with the full force of the law.
Over the past four years, the Obama Administration has spent millions of taxpayer dollars criminally prosecuting scores of people, arguably in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws. Montana medical marijuana cultivator Chris Williams was most recently sentenced to 5 years in federal prison. California-based dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced a few weeks earlier to 10 years. Michigan cultivators and medical marijuana patients Jeremy and Jerry Duval were sentenced late last year to 5 and 10 years in prison, respectively. All four of these defendants were convicted at trial after being denied a medical marijuana defense.
In medical marijuana-related cases, the government goes out of its way to stack the legal deck against defendants. It’s bad enough that the Justice Department expends significant resources to prosecute those trying to comply with state law, but to also deny them a defense is shameful.
Two bills currently in Congress would attempt to change that dynamic. HR689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” would reclassify the drug for more widespread use and research, while HR710, the “Truth in Trials Act” would grant an affirmative defense in federal court cases. Passage of these bills would go a long way in bringing fairness to our country’s public health policy.
However, much more needs to be done before our skewed approach to medical marijuana is corrected. For example, some of the same banks that were at least partly responsible for our recent economic crash -- like Wells Fargo and Bank of America -- are in collusion with the federal government to deny financial services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses.
Just in case you missed it: the Justice Department looks the other way when large banks launder foreign drug cartel money in our own country, but works with large banks to deny services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses. And that’s if they’re lucky. If the Justice Department decides to target such businesses, as it has with hundreds of them, the owners could spend years in prison.
Justice in America has often been selective, though rarely has it been starker than this.
Massachusetts becomes the 18th medical marijuana state; now comes the difficult work of implementation
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!
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.
Even if ASA member Lanny Swerdlow's petition does not result in a question about medical cannabis, patients can still be part of the debate. Twitter is a great medium for joining a broad discussion about national events, and by using a hashtag (a searchable term preceded by a hash mark, #) we can create our own conversation. For these debates, whenever the candidates dodge the issue of cannabis while discussing law enforcement, states rights, healthcare or another topic, please tweet about the omission using the hashtag #ynotmmj.
An example would be the candidates discussing health care access for all. When they discuss access to medication or beneficial treatments, if they don’t talk about safe access to medical cannabis for patients, one could tweet, “The candidates talk about access to health care, but #ynotmmj?”
We will be following the discussion on Twitter - be sure to follow us back @SafeAccess! And for other discussions about medical marijuana, try to use the hashtag #mmot - Medical Marijuana On Twitter.
See you in the Twitterverse!
Jonathan Bair is ASA's Social Media Director
I was ecstatic to be shedding the dark days of the Bush Administration's war on medical cannabis patients. As a patient myself, I felt counted and part of the Change that would be coming to Washington, and I was proud to support and volunteer for Barack Obama's victorious campaign.
For his 2008 campaign, I donated money, I went to rallies to show support, I knocked on doors in VA, and on election night I joined thousands in D.C. who descended on the White House to celebrate and sing "Na, Na, Na, Na, Good bye" to President Bush. I went to sleep that night excited about a new direction for this country that would include me as a recognized medical cannabis patient.
From the beginning, the new administration made supportive statements about medical cannabis, including that the President was "not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws." On October 19, 2009, we got the policy document we had been waiting for. Then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum, now know as the "Ogden Memo," instructing U.S. attorneys to limit marijuana enforcement to those operating out of compliance with state law.
With this legal guidance, the medical cannabis movement went to work to pass new state laws protecting patients and those who provided their medication. Advocates, community members, and officials spent thousands of hours drafting legislation and regulations in at least eleven states. But when legislators and other state and local officials came close to passing or implementing these laws, they received letters from U.S. attorneys, threatening federal arrest and prosecution.
Dismayed by this apparent reversal in the Obama Administration's policy, patients demanded the President rein in the US Attorneys. Instead we got the "Cole Memo," issued by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, laying out a new interpretation of the Obama Administration's policy. The memo gave the Justice Department free rein in medical cannabis states, to undermine state laws and coerce local lawmakers. The Cole Memo launched an unprecedented attack on the medical cannabis community unprecedented in its scope.
In fewer then fours years of President Obama, we have seen more raids on dispensaries than during the Bush Administration's entire eight-year tenure. The Obama Administration has taken property from landlords, threatened local officials, forced the release of patient records, used the Internal Revenue Service to bankrupt legitimate dispensaries, told banks to purge medical cannabis clients, evicted patients from low-income housing, and denied a petition to recognize the well-established medical value of cannabis.
Now as President Obama approaches the vote on his reelection, I and other medical cannabis patients are finding it impossible to renew our support. How can I vote for someone who has broken his promise? How can I vote for someone who can't see very real public health needs? How can I vote for someone who wages war on my fellow patients and me?
There are more than one million legal medical cannabis patients across the country and millions more waiting to become legal. We have friends and family in every state, and there are many of us in states that are key to the Obama reelection campaign: Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.
I care a lot about this country and my fellow Americans, and I have always volunteered for candidates during election years. Now, instead of going to rallies or buying tickets to fundraisers, I will be protesting at campaign stops like the one today in downtown Oakland. Instead of working to elect a president, I'll be joining thousands of medical cannabis advocates at Camp Wakeupobama, a virtual summer camp during which we will press our case to the President.
President Obama, you can move medical cannabis policy forward and win this election - 74% of voters disagree with your attacks on state compassionate use laws.
Medical cannabis patients will be on the campaign trail, however you can still determine what our signs will say.
DEA’s Leonhart says “We will look at any options for reducing drug addiction,” but what about medical marijuana?
Administrator Michele Leonhart has created quite a controversy with her comments on medical marijuana made last Wednesday during a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) House oversight hearing. From her bumbling response to Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) on the issue of addiction and comparing medical marijuana to the harmful effects of other Schedule I substances like heroin or methamphetamine, to her commonsense response to Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on leaving the question of medical marijuana treatment, “between [a patient] and his doctor,” Leonhart illustrated her illogical approach to medical marijuana as a public health issue.
Notably, toward the end of Rep. Polis’s examination, he asked Leonhart if she was “willing to look at the use of medical marijuana as a way of reducing abuse of prescription drugs,” given that reducing prescription drug abuse is the DEA’s top priority. Leonhart candidly responded:
We will look at any options for reducing drug addiction.
Well, Administrator Leonhart, you’re in luck. There is indeed evidence that shows patients using medical marijuana to reduce or eliminate their addictive and often-harmful pharmaceutical drug regimen.
Just this month, eminent medical marijuana researcher Philippe Lucas, M.A. published an article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs called, “Cannabis as an Adjunct to or Substitute for Opiates in the Treatment of Chronic Pain.” According to Lucas, “Evidence is growing that cannabis [medical marijuana] can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, presenting a safe and viable alternative or adjunct to pharmaceutical opiates.”
As if directly addressing Leonhart’s statement to Rep. Polis, and her concern over prioritizing prescription drug addiction, Lucas notes that:
Addiction to pharmaceutical opiates has been noted by the medical community as one of the common side-effects of extended use by patients (such as those suffering from chronic pain), and a growing body of research suggests that some of the biological actions of cannabis and cannabinoids may be useful in reducing this dependence.
Lucas further argues that, “[R]esearch on substitution effect suggests that cannabis may be effective in reducing the use and dependence of other substances of abuse such as illicit opiates, stimulants and alcohol.”
As such, there is reason to believe that a strategy aiming to maximize the therapeutic potential benefits of both cannabis and pharmaceutical cannabinoids by expanding their availability and use could potentially lead to a reduction in the prescription use of opiates, as well as other potentially dangerous pharmaceutical analgesics, licit and illicit substances, and thus a reduction in associated harms.
Another article on the effects of medical marijuana “substitution” was published in December 2009 by the Harm Reduction Journal. Researcher Amanda Reiman MSW, PhD notes that medical marijuana patients have long been engaging in substitution by using it as an alternative to alcohol, prescription and illicit drugs. In a study Reiman conducted with 350 medical marijuana patients, she found that 40 percent reported using medical marijuana as a substitute for alcohol, twenty-six percent reported using it as a substitute for illicit drugs, and nearly 66 percent use it as a substitute for prescription drugs.
[S]ixty five percent reported using cannabis as a substitute because it has less adverse side effects than alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, 34% use it as a substitute because it has less withdrawal potential…57.4% use it as a substitute because cannabis provides better symptom management.
If Leonhart is serious about combating prescription drug abuse, she should heed the conclusions of researchers like Lucas and Reiman and pay attention to the evidence. Answers to two important public health concerns -- medical marijuana and prescription drug abuse -- lie at her feet waiting to be addressed.
As we find ourselves, yet again, under attack by the federal government, a new medical marijuana documentary tells the story of a dispensary operator arrested in 2007 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Five years later, the story of Charles C. Lynch has not died out and, in fact, is more relevant than ever.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Rick Ray teamed up with Brainstorm Media to release "Lynching Charlie Lynch" this past Friday. A press release issued at the time described the film this way:
Controversial and provocative, Lynching Charlie Lynch explores the conflict between the state-permitted medical marijuana business and Federal drug law in America, and the human cost of the arbitrary and inconsistent application of the law. Through in-depth interviews with experts and advocates across the country and on all sides of the issue, Lynching Charlie Lynch finds many answers, and raises even more questions.
Lynch was one of more than 200 Californians raided by the DEA during President Bush's 8 years in office. Yet, the Obama Justice Department has conducted more than 200 raids in at least 9 medical marijuana states in just 3 1/2 years, far surpassing his predecessor. Despite President Obama's pledge to do otherwise, he's waged an all-out assault on medical marijuana patients, the breadth and intensity of which is unprecedented in this country's history.
President Obama must be made to answer for the stark and harmful contradiction between his medical marijuana policy and his law enforcement practices. Please help keep President Obama accountable and help us pursue a sensible public health policy for medical marijuana.
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