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Feature: Health Canada Adjusts Medical Marijuana Program, Doubles Number of People Providers Can Grow For -- From One to Two

Faced with a series of federal court decisions striking down the federal government's Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) as unconstitutionally restrictive, Health Canada responded this week by increasing the number of people for whom a medical marijuana provider can grow from one to two. The tepid reform drew loud condemnation from advocates and members of parliament.

The move comes more than a year after a federal judge threw out the one provider-one patient restriction as "arbitrary" and "not rationally related to legitimate state interests," and thus unconstitutional. The government lost again in the Federal Court of Appeal last fall, and the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear its appeal in a decision released last month.

According to testimony in that case, some 400,000 Canadians use medical marijuana. But little more than 2,800 have registered as patients with the MMAR. Only about 2,000 have registered as medical marijuana growers, and only about 300 of them are growing for someone other than themselves. As for actually receiving medical marijuana from Health Canada, as of July 2008, only 673 registered patients were doing that.

Medical marijuana patients and advocates have cited an unhelpful bureaucracy and lower quality marijuana from Health Canada's monopoly supplier as reasons for not using the government pot. Many patients turn to the "compassion clubs" that provide higher grade medical marijuana outside the scope of the MMAR, or else to the black market.

The new regulations are in force, said a Health Canada spokesman. "As a result of the Federal Court ruling, the government has moved quickly to address this regulatory void and has modified the regulations to allow one designated person to now produce marijuana for up to two authorized persons," spokesman Philippe Laroche said."This modification is currently in force."

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Philippe Lucas (from vicgreens.com)
"This is a slap in the face to Canada's critically and chronically ill bordering on contempt of court," said Philippe Lucas, a member of the Victoria, BC, city council and founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society. "As usual, Health Canada is doing as little as possible to meet the real needs of medical marijuana users in our nation. This means patients are going to find themselves once again struggling to fix a program that's been declared unconstitutional five times in the past five years."

The changes are an "outrage" and run contrary to the spirit of the court decisions, said Alison Myrden, an outspoken Canadian medical marijuana advocate. "None of us will settle for this," she told the Canwest News Service. "This is so disingenuous of our government, because we are sick and dying people. We'll have to go back to court again."

"This is ridiculous bordering on outrageous," said Jay Leung of the BC Compassion Club in Vancouver. "When you consider how sick and fragile a lot of these patients are, it's really quite criminal that they are spending all these resources to make medical marijuana inaccessible despite the fact that the courts keep ruling that those who are ill and can benefit from cannabis have the right to access it. They set up this shoddy program in order to avoid violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but this just shows that they are not really interested in helping ill Canadians."

It wasn't just activists. New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies, who represents Vancouver East, told Canwest the government's response was "abysmal" and would likely once again be struck down by the courts. "From the beginning, the federal government has been dragged kicking and screaming into accepting the use of marijuana for medical reasons," said Davies.

"There is no doubt this will not stand up to further legal scrutiny," said Lucas.

Liberal MP Keith Martin, who has introduced a private bill to decriminalize marijuana possession, said the new two-person limit showed the Conservative government was unwilling to disentangle concerns about illegal drug use and medical marijuana. "They lump them all in together," said Martin.

Saying he was "disappointed but not surprised," Lucas added that Health Canada has been intransigent under both Liberal and Conservative governments. "There has been a pattern of resistance and entrenching their failed policies, and it's been about the same under the last three health ministers. None of them have ever spoken about the program," he noted. "There has not been near enough public scrutiny. We need an investigation of the incredible cost to taxpayers when the government has to repeatedly spend money in failed litigation."

Lucas also warned that Health Canada could face suits for damages from aggrieved patients. "Health Canada is making itself increasingly vulnerable to civil suits," he said. "The patients of this country aren't going to put up with any more of this. I wouldn't be surprised to see civil litigation to strike the program or get reparations for Health Canada's intransigence," he predicted.

In the meantime, the Vancouver Island Compassion Society and its fellow organizations across Canada will fill the void -- despite being outside the purview of the law. "We operate with the support of our local communities and we're not seen as a police priority," Lucas said. "Since we are supplying more medical marijuana to patients than Health Canada and at no cost to taxpayers, there is little motivation to attack organizations that actually help critically and chronically ill Canadians instead of increasing their stress and anxiety."

Job Opportunity: National Field Coordinator, Americans for Safe Access, Oakland, California

Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research. ASA works in partnership with state, local and national legislators to overcome barriers and create policies that improve access to cannabis for patients and researchers. ASA has more than 30,000 active members with chapters and affiliates in more than 40 states.

ASA provides legal training for and medical information to patients, attorneys, health and medical professionals and policymakers throughout the United States, and also organizes media support for court cases, rapid response to law enforcement raids, and capacity-building for advocates. ASA's successful lobbying, media and legal campaigns have resulted in important court precedents, new sentencing standards, and more compassionate community guidelines

The mission of Americans for Safe Access is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic uses and research.

The field coordinator is responsible for building and maintaining ASA's field of organizers, and for maintaining communication between the field, ASA staff and ASA campaigns. The position is supervised and accountable to the Chief of Staff. This is a full-time, salaried position, based out of ASA's Oakland, CA headquarters.

Specific tasks and responsibilities include recruiting new volunteer organizers and managing their development; reaching out to field organizers from other organizations and to other key allies; scheduling and staff tabling outreach at public events and conferences; following up with new contacts from public events and conferences; conducting web and email outreach; collecting new contacts through internet, personal, and chapter-based outreach; adding new emails to email lists regularly; maintaining regular communication with key organizers & chapter leaders including convening monthly organizer conference calls; providing information, guidance, assistance, and training to local leadership; maintaining project and program-based materials and distributing such to organizers; maintaining relationships with field organizers from other organizations with other key allies; maintaining internet responsibilities including updating the website, managing listserves and discussion forums, and utilizing social networking tools; sending monthly action packets to organizers; coordinating regular trainings; visiting chapters and affiliates as needed; maintaining clear records of organizers, including updating contact information and tracking communication and activities; advising and participating in strategic planning with chapter leaders and key organizers; being a liaison with staff through regular meetings; setting up constituent meetings on legislation; coordinating grassroots actions based on current programs, projects and campaigns; organizing court support for medical marijuana defendants; writing campaign materials, activist alerts, updates, and letters to organizers; creating and maintaining political materials for national and state-based outreach; writing regular reports of grassroots activity for distribution to staff and the public; and posting to blog and discussion forums regularly.

Experience and qualifications include a minimum of 2-5 years experience in grassroots organizing; political campaign and/or lobbying experience preferred; a commitment to the mission and goals of Americans for Safe Access; computer literacy, and being comfortable with acquiring new skills; exceptional time management and prioritization skills; remaining calm under pressure; flexibility at setting (and re-setting) priorities and managing multiple projects; exceptional communication, organizational and diplomacy skills with strong written communication skills; a sense of humor, high ethical professional standards, and multi-cultural perspective; working well in a team environment; a flexible schedule, including availability to work occasional evenings and weekends, and to travel periodically throughout the state and nationally; and dedication to working closely and cooperatively in a community-based organization with diverse staff, volunteers, and community members.

If interested, please submit a cover letter and resume to HR@SafeAccessNow.org. No phone calls or faxes please.

ASA is an equal opportunity employer. People of color and women are strongly encouraged to apply.

Research Proves Marijuana is Not a "Gateway Drug"

The surging debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana has brought with it the resurrection of the "gateway theory," which alleges that experimenting with marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The gateway debate was reborn last week, thanks to a video of FBI director Robert Mueller testifying before Congress that marijuana should be illegal because it leads to more dangerous drug use.

Although the Mueller video has provoked amusement on pot-friendly websites, the unfortunate reality is that the "gateway drug" stigma continues to present an impediment to the reform of marijuana laws. A new Rasmussen poll found that a large percentage of Americans believe the gateway argument:

The new survey also shows that nearly half of voters (46%) believe marijuana use leads to use of harder drugs. Thirty-seven percent (37%) do not see marijuana as a "gateway" drug.

Revealingly, the percentage who opposed marijuana legalization and the percentage who believed in the gateway theory were identical, both coming in at exactly 46%. As we look for ways to persuade those who remain opposed to marijuana reform, it's clearly in our interest to work towards demolishing the pernicious gateway theory once and for all. Let's take a look at what the data shows.

In 1999, drug czar Barry McCaffrey commissioned a major study on medical marijuana conducted by the venerable Institute of Medicine, which included an examination of marijuana's potential to lead to other drug use. In simple terms, the researchers explained why the gateway theory was unfounded:

Patterns in progression of drug use from adolescence to adulthood are strikingly regular. Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana -- usually before they are of legal age.

There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.

In 2006, the University of Pittsburgh released a more thorough study in which researchers spent 12 years tracking a group of subjects from adolescence into adulthood and documented the initiation and progression of their drug use. The researchers found that the gateway theory was not only wrong, but also harmful to properly understanding and addressing drug abuse:

This evidence supports what’s known as the common liability model, an emerging theory that states the likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illegal drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug but instead by the user’s individual tendencies and environmental circumstances.

“The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person’s behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs,” Dr. Tarter said. “To become more effective in our efforts to fight drug abuse, we should devote more attention to interventions that address these issues, particularly to parenting skills that shape the child’s behavior as well as peer and neighborhood environments.”

Of course, the simplest refutation of the gateway theory is the basic fact that most marijuana users just don't use other drugs. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports:

More than 100 million Americans have tried marijuana; 14.4 million Americans are estimated to be "past-month" users. Yet there are only an estimated 2,075,000 "past-month" users of cocaine and 153,000 "past-month" users of heroin. [DrugWarFacts]

Clearly, people who use marijuana overwhelmingly do not move on to other drug use. That's why the number of people who use marijuana will always be more than 10 times greater than the number of people who use cocaine, heroin, etc. The fact that marijuana users rarely become involved in other drug use is right here in front of us.

Unfortunately, there is one important way in which marijuana use can result in exposure to other more dangerous drugs. Laws against marijuana have created an unregulated black market, in which criminals control the supply and may attempt to market more dangerous drugs to people who just want marijuana. As the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2003:

Alternatively, experience with and subsequent access to cannabis use may provide individuals with access to other drugs as they come into contact with drug dealers. This argument provided a strong impetus for the Netherlands to effectively decriminalize cannabis use in an attempt to separate cannabis from the hard drug market. This strategy may have been partially successful as rates of cocaine use among those who have used cannabis are lower in the Netherlands than in the United States."

Ironically, the only real gateway that exists is created by marijuana prohibition, yet proponents of harsh marijuana laws cynically cite the damage they've caused as evidence that the drug itself is acutely harmful. It's truly the height of absurdity, yet it persists despite the mountain of categorical data I've outlined above.

The point here isn’t just that marijuana isn’t actually a "gateway drug," but that there really is no such thing as a gateway drug to begin with. The term was invented by hysterical anti-drug zealots for the specific purpose of linking marijuana with harmful outcomes that couldn’t otherwise be established. Everyone knows marijuana is completely non-lethal, but if it leads to sticking needles in your arm, anything's possible. Through repeated use, the term began to stick and we're now confronted with a marijuana legalization debate in which 46% of the country believes an antiquated, widely-refuted fabrication that erroneously renders marijuana as deadly and unpredictable as anything a scared parent can imagine.

It's perfectly typical of the unhinged drug war demagogues that one of their most popular anti-pot propaganda points doesn't even actually have anything to do with pot. Their tireless reliance on such nonsense may go a long way towards explaining why support for legalization is growing faster than ever before.

Drunk Reporter Debates Marijuana Legalization in a Bar


Ok, maybe she's just a little tipsy, but this is surreal either way:



Christian Science Monitor Advocates Teaching Kids to Support the Drug War

Pete Guither patiently sifted through all the nonsense in this epic anti-marijuana-legalization rant at Christian Science Monitor, so I'll just mention one quote from the article:

Maybe parents thought they left peer pressure behind when they graduated from high school. But the push to legalize marijuana is like the peer pressure of the schoolyard. The arguments are perhaps timely, but they don't stand up, and parents must now stand up to them.

They must let lawmakers know that legalization is not OK, and they must carry this message to their children, too.

That's right kids! The drug war is your best friend. If it wasn't for the drug war, that nice lady at school who collects your pee samples would be out of a job.

Of course, urging parents to warn their children against the horrors of legalization may sound utterly ridiculous, but it's actually perfectly ok with me. Go ahead, seriously. Tell them these laws are controversial. The sooner they learn to think critically about drug policy, the better.

The Worst Argument Against Medical Marijuana

NYT's Freakonomics Blog has a pro-con piece on marijuana decriminalization that includes this bizarre argument from USC professor Joel W. Hay:

There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence that marijuana is safe and effective for any medical condition. Moreover, THC, the active ingredient of pot, has been approved by the FDA and on the market in capsule form since 1985.


How could you even write something like that without seeing how silly it is? If we've been selling FDA-approved concentrated marijuana pills for almost 25 years, then there's really no question how "safe and effective" marijuana is. The fact that pills made of pure THC have been approved by FDA and sold legally for decades without incident is the best proof you could ever ask for that marijuana is remarkably safe.

What was he thinking when he wrote this?

Update: And, of course, the claim that there's no evidence of medical marijuana's safety and effectiveness is absurd. I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Supporters Vow to Keep Fighting After Veto

Minnesota Cares logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
MAY 22, 2009

Medical Marijuana Supporters Vow to Keep Fighting After Veto

2010 Constitutional Amendment Likely

CONTACT: Former Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover)......................................................(763) 439-1178

ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA -- Supporters of medical marijuana legislation declared their intention to continue the fight to protect patients despite Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of the bill tonight, raising the possibility of a constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot.

     Before passing the legislation, the House amended it to greatly narrow its scope. The ability of patients to grow their own medical marijuana was removed, and the bill was narrowed to cover only patients suffering from terminal illnesses.

     "I'm disappointed in the governor's action, but I'm not giving up," said Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), sponsor of the House bill. "This would have been the narrowest, strictest medical marijuana law in the country, but the bottom line remains that there are patients suffering terribly who need protection, and I won't stop till they are protected."

     "For the governor to veto this legislation even after the House narrowed it so much that thousands of suffering patients would have been without protection is just unbelievably cruel," said Senate bill sponsor Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing). "Since the governor has refused to listen to reason or to the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans, we have no choice but to bypass him and take this directly to the people through a constitutional amendment."

     "The governor thinks I'm a criminal for allowing my daughter some comfort during the last months of her life," said Joni Whiting of Jordan, whose adult daughter's suffering was relieved by medical marijuana while she was undergoing treatment for the melanoma that eventually killed her. "I don't know how he sleeps at night, but I do know I'm not giving up until others in my daughter's situation are protected."

     Thirteen states, comprising approximately one-quarter of the U.S. population, now permit medical use of marijuana under state law if a physician has recommended it.

    ####

Location: 
MN
United States

Minn. governor vetos medical marijuana bill

Dear Friends:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) today vetoed the medical marijuana bill just passed by the Minnesota Legislature.

MPP has been lobbying in Minnesota for five years, pushing our medical marijuana bill closer and closer to passing. The Senate passed our bill on May 4, and on Monday, the House followed suit … the first time a medical marijuana bill has been debated on the floor of the Minnesota House in history.

However, because the governor had been threatening a veto, the House narrowed the scope of the bill, hoping to find common ground with the governor and start protecting Minnesota's patients from arrest and jail. The final version of the bill was watered down beyond what any medical marijuana advocates wanted to see — in its ultimate version protecting only terminally ill patients.

And yet disgustingly, the governor still vetoed it, while simultaneously claiming that he “has great empathy for the sick” … the same sick and dying people he has now sentenced to arrest and jail.

Disgusted? Me too.

It's not going to end here. Every recent poll shows that Minnesotans support medical marijuana by a 2-to-1 margin, and if the governor won't listen to them, we can bypass him entirely. In Minnesota, constitutional amendments bypass the governor and are instead ratified by voters after passing the legislature. We can lobby next year to pass a constitutional amendment for a comprehensive medical marijuana law that would appear on the state's November 2010 ballot.

But that would mean going from our lobbying campaign in the legislature — which was expensive but affordable — to a ballot initiative campaign, which would require statewide advertising, which is much more expensive. What do you think? Should we should stand up and fight? Taking the battle to the next level will cost more but would be the only way forward.

If you're outraged by the governor's cruelty and want to gird for the next stage of battle, can you help us show the governor and other prohibitionists like him that their time is past? We can win — just like we've won in other states  — but we need your help to do it.

Thank you,

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Location: 
MN
United States

Cool "History of Weed" Video from Showtime "Weeds" Program

A precisely two minute YouTube ad for the Showtime program "Weeds" offers "A Brief History of Weed." The video begins with medical marijuana use documented in China in 2727 BC -- about 2,300 years too early for the Buddha image they use to represent it, but that's nitpicking. Flamethrower imagery at 1:06, representing the beginning of federal marijuana prohibition, is very effective, and post-Prop. 215 marijuana storefront footage is downright exciting. Check it out -- check out the Weeds season premiere on June 8th too. (Via The Daily Dish blog's "Cool Ad Watch.")

Medical Marijuana: Eddy Lepp Sentenced to 10 Years in Federal Prison

California medical marijuana grower, spiritualist, and activist Eddy Lepp was sentenced Monday to a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence on federal marijuana cultivation charges in a case where he grew more than 20,000 pot plants in plain view of a state highway in Northern California's Lake County. US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel also sentenced him to five years probation. He must report to federal authorities by July 6.

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Eddy Lepp (courtesy cannabisculture.com)
Lepp contended that the plants were a medical marijuana grow for members of the Multi Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari and legal under California law. But during his trial, he was not allowed to introduce medical marijuana or religious defenses. He was found guilty of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 pot plants and of cultivating more than 1,000 plants, which carries a maximum life sentence.

According to California NORML (CANORML) and the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, there were gasps and sobs from Lepp supporters in the courtroom as Patel passed sentence. The sentence was "extreme," Patel conceded, but said her hands were tied by federal law.

In a nod toward the current turmoil over the status of federal prosecutions of medical marijuana providers, Judge Patel said Lepp could apply for a rehearing if the laws changed. Lepp and his attorneys plan to appeal the verdict and the sentence.

Lepp attorney Michael Hall told Patel the sentence was "incredible."

"Incredible is what the law requires," Patel responded, adding that legalizing marijuana appeared to be Lepp's driving passion. "Maybe you want to be a martyr for the cause," she said.

Sentencing Lepp, a 56-year-old veteran in ill health, to prison is a travesty and a waste, said supporters. "This case sadly illustrates the senselessness of federal marijuana laws," said CANORML's Dale Geiringer. "The last thing this country needs is more medical marijuana prisoners. Hopefully, we can change the law and get Eddy out of jail before he completes his sentence."

"Locking up Eddy Lepp serves no purpose and is a huge waste of life and scarce prison space," said Aaron Smith, California policy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The community would be a lot better served if we taxed and regulated California's $14 billion marijuana industry rather than continuing to incarcerate nonviolent people like Eddy, who are clearly of no danger to society."

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