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Former Surgeon General Says Legalize Marijuana

Dr. Jocelyn Elders ignited a firestorm when she proposed studying the merits of drug legalization while serving as Surgeon General under President Clinton. It was a bold move back then and she's still eager to speak out in favor of reform:

You’re also a vocal proponent of medical marijuana. Why?

I have been speaking out about it for a long time. I’m a member of the board of advisors of a medical marijuana group. To me, it’s not nearly as toxic for our bodies as tobacco or alcohol. It should be legalized. As far as we know, it doesn’t cause lung cancer, it doesn’t cause people to go out and drive drunk and commit crimes. If it helps reduce the nausea and vomiting and reduce leg cramps, make patients feel better, what’s wrong with that? We should make it available to people who need it. I feel if people want marijuana, they could get a prescription. Then we can tax it and know who is getting it. I don’t think it is a drug that is doing harm to this country. By arresting people, putting them in jail for crimes related to marijuana, we’re spending millions on drug enforcement and it causes more problems. Young people are convicted of a crime, they can’t get money to go to school, we have over 2 million prisoners and many related to drug use—it is a vicious cycle and one we created. [New America Media]

She gets it. In fact, she got it a long time ago.

Americans for Safe Access: August 2009 Activist Newsletter

Americans for Safe Access
Monthly Activist Newsletter

August 2009

Volume 4, Issue 8

Calif. Senate Committee Urges New Federal Policy on Medical Marijuana

Resolution calls for comprehensive federal approach

Some California state senators are pushing for comprehensive changes in federal policy on medical cannabis.

After hearing testimony from Americans for Safe Access and other patient advocates, the California Senate Health Committee last month passed a resolution urging an end to federal interference in state medical marijuana programs, as well as a new national approach that supports research and makes the drug available in all states.

Introduced in June by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by ASA, the resolution is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed there, it will go before the full Senate.

"Patients and providers in California remain at risk of arrest and prosecution by federal law enforcement, and legally established medical marijuana cooperatives continue to be the subjects of federal raids," said Sen. Leno in a statement.

Senate Joint Resolution 14 asks the federal government to both curtail raids in the state and "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it."

The resolution also urges President Obama and Congress to establish "an affirmative defense to medical marijuana charges in federal court and establish federal legal protection for individuals authorized by state and local law."

Don Duncan, ASA's California Director, and Lanette Davies, a Sacramento patient and activist were among those who explained to the senators why this is so important.

"With more than two dozen medical marijuana defendants currently being prosecuted by the Justice Department, each of them facing many years in prison, such a policy change would be timely, relevant and critically important," said Duncan. "The entire country needs a sensible, comprehensive medical marijuana policy."

While the Obama Administration has stated that it has a new policy on medical cannabis, federal raids on patients and providers have continued.
Currently, medical marijuana patients and providers charged under federal law cannot introduce evidence about their medical condition, their doctor's advice, or state medical marijuana laws.

The California Senate resolution also seeks expanded research into the medical benefits of marijuana. More research was a recommendation of the 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical marijuana, a report commissioned by the White House but never acted on.

An administrative law judge ruled two years ago that the federal monopoly on the cultivation of marijuana for research purposes has unnecessarily limited FDA-approved scientific studies, but the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected the judge's recommendations.

Further information:
Senate Joint Resolution on medical marijuana
ASA fact sheet on SJR 14

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ASA Wins Landmark Calif. Ruling on Cultivation of Medical Marijuana

Appellate court protects patient collectives and affirms civil rights

A case Americans for Safe Access has been fighting for three years resulted last month in an appellate court ruling that protects California patients who grow marijuana collectively.

The California Third District Court of Appeal issued a 2-1 decision affirming a superior court ruling that state and local law enforcement must respect the right of medical marijuana patients to cultivate their medicine collectively.

The court also found that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search a patient's property and seize any marijuana found there. The judges wrote that to rule otherwise would "surely shock the sensibilities of the voters" who approved the state's medical marijuana initiative in 1996.

"In addition to protecting patients' right to collectively cultivate, the Court has reaffirmed that medical marijuana patients enjoy the same constitutional rights as everyone else, including the ability to file civil rights actions when those rights are violated," said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel and the attorney who litigated the case.

ASA took the case in 2006 after receiving repeated reports that Butte County law enforcement and other police agencies throughout the state were refusing to recognize the legitimacy of patient collectives.
The landmark appellate decision in County of Butte v. Superior Court concerns the 2005 warrant-less search of a patient's home in Paradise, California.

During the search, the Butte County Sheriff ordered the homeowner, David Williams, 56, to uproot more than two-dozen plants being grown for a small collective of seven medical marijuana patients. Though state law allows for collective cultivation, the sheriff told Williams it is not lawful to grow marijuana for multiple patients.

A superior court judge in Butte County ruled otherwise in 2007, saying medical marijuana patients "should not be required to risk criminal penalties and the stress and expense of a criminal trial in order to assert their rights."

The appeals court last month agreed, finding that patients have "the same constitutional guarantee of due process available to all individuals, no matter what their status, under the state Constitution." The appeals panel noted that "[t]he fact that this case involves medical marijuana and a qualified medical marijuana patient does not change these fundamental constitutional rights or an individual's right to assert them."

"This ruling by the California courts sends yet another strong message to state law enforcement that they must abide by the medical marijuana laws of the state and not the competing federal laws," said ASA's Elford.

Even the dissenting opinion in the case contained a plea for new federal law on medical marijuana. Court of Appeal Judge James Morrison wrote that, "[t]he United States Congress should reconsider its refusal to amend the federal drug laws to make reasonable accommodation for the 13 states that have enacted some form of compassionate use exception to their penal codes."

Further information:
The ruling by the California Third District Court of Appeal
Information on ASA's work on the Butte Case

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Colorado Rejects Restrictions on Medical Cannabis Distribution

Grassroots Organizing Floods Hearing with Advocates

On July 20, patients and advocates convinced the Colorado Board of Health to reject a proposal that would have sharply restricted the ability of the state's citizens to access medical marijuana.

Nearly 1,000 medical cannabis patients and supporters -- including lawyers, doctors, care providers, veterans, and numerous health-care and religious organizations -- attended the 12-hour hearing, and nearly 200 supporters of safe access testified, thanks to months of coordinated efforts by Sensible Colorado, an ASA affiliate.

As a result, the Board of Health voted 5-4 to table a proposal that would have limited caregivers to assisting no more than five patients. The proposal would have also restricted who can qualify as a caregiver under Colorado law, requiring medical marijuana providers to assist patients in ways that would be impractical for many -- including providing patients with food, transportation, and housekeeping services.

When these changes were first proposed in January, Sensible Colorado mounted a grassroots campaign that delayed the hearing until July so patient advocates could organize a response. The successful outreach efforts among patients that ensured the large turnout at the hearing were just part of Sensible Colorado's campaign.

Director Brian Vicente also convinced such prominent state organizations as the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, the ACLU of Colorado and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar to publicly oppose the changes, and he persuaded one of the state's Congressional delegation, Rep. Jared Polis, to write a personal letter of opposition to the board.

The success of Sensible Colorado's organizing paves the way for increased access to medical marijuana through safe and affordable distribution, an issue that many of the 13 states with medical cannabis laws are confronting.

With only one exception, state medical marijuana laws failed to address how qualified patients are to obtain their medicine. The legislatures of several states have now amended their laws to establish rules for centralized distribution of marijuana to patients.

In the past few years, California, Washington and Oregon have created provisions for regulating distribution. This year, both Maine and Rhode Island have taken up the issue, with Rhode Island changing its law in June to license three "Compassion Centers" to provide medical marijuana to patients. Voters in Maine will also have the chance to approve a ballot initiative in November that would implement a distribution mechanism for patients.

One state that has tried to deal with this issue from the beginning is New Mexico. When the legislature adopted a medical marijuana law in 2007, lawmakers not only established protections for patients who use medical marijuana, but directed state officials to find ways of distributing it. In March, the New Mexico Department of Health issued its first license for non-profit medical marijuana production.

Distribution questions are also shaping new medical marijuana laws coming before state legislatures. Lawmakers in New Jersey and Iowa have been debating measures that incorporate plans for distributing medical marijuana to patients, not just protect them from prosecution once they have it.

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Media Hypocrisy in the Marijuana Debate

Russ Belville shares the fascinating story of some "higher ups" at CBS pulling the plug on a NORML radio show that was about to go on the air. The whole thing is magnificently absurd considering that CBS owns Showtime, home of the hit series Weeds.

If CBS has a problem with marijuana, then they really shouldn’t be out there making money by sensationalizing it. Boy, it would really suck for CBS if word got out among Weeds viewers that the show's corporate owners have some kind of problem with debating marijuana laws.

Marijuana is Safer Than Water

I sometimes wonder if we rely too heavily on the argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco. People who don't know anything about marijuana (which comprise a substantial portion of our opposition) may have a hard time understanding what we mean by that. Moreover, it's tricky to compare the totality of harm produced by those drugs vs. marijuana because our opponents obscure the analysis by blaming the harms of alcohol and tobacco on their legality.

Inevitably, the argument that marijuana is safer than alcohol and tobacco suffers by virtue of the fact that those drugs are pretty dangerous. Being safer than them doesn’t mean it's safe. So for a while now, I've been trying to think of something else to compare it to and I think Pete Guither nails it in this post.

Presentation of The Society for the Study of Social Problems' 2009 Social Action Award to Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana

The national organization of sociologists, "The Society for the Study of Social Problems," has named the California medical marijuana organization, the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, as the recipient of its 2009 Social Action Award. WAMM, which is a small patient-caregiver cooperative in Santa Cruz, California, has collectively grown and given away millions of dollars worth of cannabis to seriously and terminally ill people since the early 1990s. The organization is strictly not-for-profit. The organization is the subject of a recent ethnography by Wendy Chapkis and Richard J. Webb, Dying to Get High: marijuana as medicine (New York University Press 2008): For more information, contact Michele Smith Koontz (SSSP Administrative Officer) at (865) 689-1531 or
Sat, 08/08/2009 - 8:00pm
905 California Street -- Nob Hill
San Francisco, CA 94108
United States

Iowa's Board of Pharmacy Public Forum/Hearing on Medical Marijuana

The state Board of Pharmacy will hold the first public forum before it makes a final decision on the use of medical marijuana. Three more hearings will take place later this year in Iowa City, Council Bluffs, and in Mason City. Once all hearings are complete, the Pharmacy Board will make a recommendation to lawmakers on whether medical marijuana should be legalized. For more information, contact: tel: 515-281-5111 or Specifically, the Board is seeking information including, but not limited to, the following: * Marijuana's actual or relative potential for abuse * Marijuana's pharmacological effect * Current scientific knowledge regarding marijuana * The history and current pattern of abuse of marijuana * The scope, duration, and significance of abuse of marijuana * The risk to the public health from moving marijuana to a different controlled substance schedule * The potential of marijuana to produce psychic or physiological dependence liability, and * Whether marijuana is an immediate precursor of a substance on some other controlled substance schedule The Board is interested in hearing from medical practitioners including physicians, mid-level practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, and hospice workers; patients; care-givers; law enforcement personnel; regulatory agencies; legislators; educators; scientists; researchers; other interested parties; and members of the general public.
Wed, 08/19/2009 - 10:00am - 7:00pm
600 East Locust
Des Moines, IA 50319
United States

Book Premier: "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"

Three of the nation's most successful marijuana policy reform organizations will come together at the Oaksterdam University Student Union in Oakland to premier the highly acclaimed new book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? Co-authors Mason Tvert (of SAFER) and Paul Armentano (of NORML) will be on hand to discuss Marijuana Is Safer, beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a session of Q & A and time for book-signing. More information on Marijuana Is Safer is available at About the Book Nationally recognized marijuana-policy experts Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert compare and contrast the relative harms and legal status of the two most popular recreational substances in the world-marijuana and alcohol. Through an objective examination of the two drugs and the laws and social practices that steer people toward alcohol, the authors pose a simple yet rarely considered question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol? Marijuana Is Safer reaches for a broad audience. For those unfamiliar with marijuana, it provides an introduction to the cannabis plant and its effects on the user, and debunks some of the government's most frequently cited marijuana myths. For current and aspiring advocates of marijuana-law reform, as well as anyone else who is interested in what is becoming a major political battle, the authors spell out why the message that marijuana is safer than alcohol must be a prominent part of the public debate over legalization. Most importantly, for the millions of Americans who want to advance the cause of marijuana-policy reform-or simply want to defend their own personal, safer choice-this book provides the talking points and detailed information needed to make persuasive arguments to friends, family, coworkers, and elected officials. About the Authors Steve Fox is the Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation's largest organization dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. From 2002-2005, he lobbied Congress as MPP's Director of Government Relations. He cofounded Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) in 2005 and has helped guide its operations since its inception. He is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston College Law School and currently lives in Maryland with his wife and two daughters. Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and the NORML Foundation. A recognized national expert in marijuana policy, health, and pharmacology, he has spoken at dozens of national conferences and legal seminars and has testified before state legislatures and federal agencies. He appears regularly on Drew Pinsky's nationally syndicated radio show, Dr. Drew Live, and his work has appeared in over 500 publications. Armentano is the 2008 recipient of the Project Censored Real News Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He currently lives in California with his wife and son. Mason Tvert is the cofounder and executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) and the SAFER Voter Education Fund. He appears frequently in the news and travels the country promoting the "Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol" message. He resides in Denver, where he serves on the city's Marijuana Policy Review Panel appointed by Mayor John W. Hickenlooper. Advance Praise for Marijuana Is Safer "The follies of marijuana prohibition have never been laid bare with more erudition and plain common sense. Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? is a book every citizen needs to read, and a question we all have to raise our voices to ask." -Barbara Ehrenreich, bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation "Finally, a book that confronts the half-baked hallucinations of a drug policy gone mad. If you are one of the millions of Americans who support keeping marijuana illegal but enjoy a good beer, glass of wine or cocktail now and then, I suggest you read Marijuana is Safer, rehab your mind, and get high on the facts. If, on the other hand, you already believe our marijuana laws are illogical, this book will give you hope that change is in the air--and show you how you can do your part to push it along." -David Sirota, nationally syndicated columnist and bestselling author of The Uprising and Hostile Takeover "I have always maintained that the legalization of marijuana would lead to an overall drop in substance abuse in this country. In particular, the option of legal marijuana use, as an alternative to the death and violence associated with alcohol use, would be a welcome societal change. Surprisingly, though, there has never been a book dedicated to conveying this basic idea to the public. But with Marijuana is Safer, now there is. Kudos to Fox, Armentano, and Tvert for their remarkably insightful and important book." -Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico "Our current draconian laws prohibiting the use of marijuana by responsible adults are doubly flawed. Not only does such prohibition violate fundamental freedoms but also, as this book documents, it undermines personal health and public safety. Regardless of your views on the civil liberties issues, this book should convince you of another compelling justification for marijuana law reform: that it will promote health and safety for all of us, including our nation's children." -Nadine Strossen, former President, American Civil Liberties Union, and Professor of Law, New York Law School "From my own work and the experiences of other members of the law enforcement community, it is abundantly clear that marijuana is rarely, if ever, the cause of disruptive or violent behavior. That marijuana causes very little social harm is reason enough in a free society to legalize it for adults. But as Steve, Paul, and Mason so brilliantly demonstrate in this book, an even more persuasive reason is that by prohibiting marijuana we are steering people toward a substance that far too many people already abuse, namely alcohol." -Norm Stamper, former Chief of the Seattle Police Department "I took great pride in my performance on and off the field, and often questioned why our culture embraces alcohol while simultaneously stigmatizing those who choose to consume a less harmful alternative, marijuana. Marijuana Is Safer makes an irrefutable case for liberating current cannabis policy by comparing and contrasting its use with that of alcohol. This outstanding book makes it clear that it is inconsistent, both legally and socially, for our laws to punish adults who make the 'safer' choice." -Mark Stepnoski, five-time NFL Pro Bowler and two-time Superbowl champion with the Dallas Cowboys "In a society too often paralyzed by fear when it comes to finding smart solutions to our failed drug war, Marijuana Is Safer offers a pragmatic way forward. The authors offer a new and common sense approach to marijuana policy--one that is motivated not by incarceration or punishment, but by reducing the overall harm to our society." -Rick Steves, travel guidebook writer and TV and radio host
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 5:00pm - 8:00pm
1915 Broadway
Oakland, CA
United States

Will Foster: Habeus Corpus Hearing

Please come show your support for Will Foster. Judge Antolini will hear arguments in the case that determines whether Will is sent back to Oklahoma. It is important for people to be in the courtroom. Publicity does affect court decisions. Will needs your support, so help bring attention to his case. Please email me at if you have any questions about Will and his case. Angela Bacca (510) 533-0605 ext 5# For more information, see:
Tue, 08/04/2009 - 1:30pm
600 Administration Drive Court Room 3, Judge Antolini
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
United States

Marijuana: Decrim a Done Deal in Cook County

Last Friday, Drug War Chronicle reported that the Cook County (greater Chicago) Board had passed a marijuana decriminalization ordinance Tuesday, but that there were mixed signals from Board President Todd Stroger about whether he would sign it or veto it. After equivocating for a couple of days, however, Stroger has told the Chicago Tribune that he will not veto decriminalization.

The measure will go into effect in unincorporated areas of Cook County in 60 days. It will not automatically go into effect in towns and cities in the county, but it will give those municipalities the option of adopting it. Under the ordinance, police officers will have the option of issuing $200 tickets for people caught in possession of 10 grams or less instead of arresting and booking them.

The move has caused some controversy in Illinois, with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who once supported decriminalization, ridiculing it, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) offering tepid semi-support. Five years ago, Daley supported decrim as a revenue enhancement measure and because "it's decriminalized now... they throw all the cases out."

But Daley was singing a different tune this week. "People say you cannot smoke... They said, 'Please don't smoke.' Now, everybody's saying, 'Let's all smoke marijuana.' After a while, you wonder where America is going," the mayor said. "Pretty soon, the headline [will be], 'Let's bring cigarettes back. It makes people feel calmer, quieter, relaxing.'… We said you cannot smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoking is bad for you. Now all the sudden, marijuana smoking is good for you. Can we take Lucky Strikes, mix 'em together and say, 'Smoking is coming back in the United States?'"

The mayor continued to confuse lessening the penalties for pot possession with advocating its widespread use in his remarkably incoherent remarks. "The issue is really clouded. It's a health issue. We're worried about health care for everyone and, all of the sudden, we think marijuana smoking is the best thing if someone drives down the expressway, someone's driving a cab, someone's driving a bus, someone's flying a plane. After a while, where do you go?" the mayor said.

Gov. Quinn, for his part, suggested that he is open to local decriminalization ordinances, but declined to actually endorse the Cook County Board vote. "I think it's important that counties assess what their law enforcement priorities are," he told Chicago Public Radio. "Crimes that are not grievous crimes against persons need to be looked at," he added.

Medical Marijuana: Maine Activist Headed for Prison

Longtime Maine marijuana and medical marijuana advocate Donald Christen is headed for prison. The Maine Supreme Court Tuesday rejected his appeal and he will have to report for an eight-month sentence soon. Christen was sentenced to 14 months, but six months were suspended. After he does his time, he will serve two more years on probation.
Don Christen
Christen was arrested after a November 2004 raid on his home in Madison in which police seized 13 marijuana plants and 22 ounces of marijuana. He was charged with two counts of aggravated trafficking in marijuana and one count of aggravated cultivation, but ultimately convicted only of the cultivation offense.

Christen had argued he "was growing marijuana legally as a designated caregiver for several people who qualified as eligible patients pursuant to Maine's medical marijuana statute." A Somerset County jury disagreed.

Christen appealed, arguing that the trial judge had improperly instructed the jury regarding the applicability of an affirmative defense for medical marijuana. But in its decision, the Supreme Court held that the judge's instructions were correct.

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