Powerful Congressman Challenges DEA Tactics
House Judiciary Chair Questions Federal Attacks on Medical Marijuana
Federal attacks on medical marijuana patients have drawn the notice of a powerful congressman whose committee oversees the Drug Enforcement Administration.
US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has demanded that the DEA explain the raids and intimidation tactics it has been orchestrating against medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California and elsewhere.
Rep. John Conyers
On April 29, Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart challenging her interference in state medical marijuana programs. Conyers' action resulted from months of nationwide activism by Americans for Safe Access and other patient advocates, as well as concerned elected officials.
Conyers first voiced his concerns about DEA interference after a series of coordinated California raids in December. He is the highest ranking elected official to challenge the DEA's tactics since medical cannabis raids in California escalated dramatically in 2007. The congressman's letter is the first step towards Congressional hearings of the DEA by the House Judiciary Committee.
Conyer's letter questions the DEA's heightened raid activity across California and its intimidation of property owners with threats of prosecution and asset forfeiture because they rent to medical cannabis dispensaries.
In reference to letters the DEA has been sending landlords, Conyers pointedly asks, "is the use of civil asset forfeiture, which has typically been reserved for the worst drug traffickers and kingpins, an appropriate tactic to employ against individuals who suffer from severe or chronic illness and are authorized to use medical marijuana under California law?"
Conyers letter also recognizes how the State of California benefits from the estimated $100 million in sales taxes medical marijuana dispensaries pay annually. He asks Leonhart whether she has considered that the DEA's actions are "negatively impacting the ability of state and local officials across California to collect tax revenue, which they are entitled to under California law."
Over the past several months, ASA and advocates all over the country have lobbied Congress to convene hearings on the DEA's attacks on medical marijuana patients. Dozens of legal, tax-paying dispensaries have been shut down from DEA raids or evictions by their landlords, and many more face the same fate if Congress does not intervene.
"Chairman Conyers' letter to DEA has emphasized the greater need to seek effective solutions that will advance safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research", said Caren Woodson, ASA Director of Government Affairs, who has been lobbying the offices of Conyers and Subcommittee Chairman Robert C. Scott about this issue for months. "However, before we can begin to develop a sensible national policy on medical marijuana, we must end federal attacks on patients and their care providers."
ASA's work with the House Judiciary Committee was bolstered by a statewide effort to get California's elected officials to call for an end to the harmful tactics of the DEA. ASA and its allies were successful in garnering strong letters of support from several elected officials, urging Chairman Conyers to hold hearings. Among those who spoke up were Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, and the mayors of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and West Hollywood.
Visit AmericansForSafeAccess.org/ConyersLetter to read the letter from Chairman Conyers.
California Legislature Considering Several Medical Marijuana Measures
Implementation of California's medical marijuana program is becoming a more pressing political issue, and the state's legislature is taking steps to both more fully protect patients and turn back federal interference.
On May 28, patients in California got closer to being guaranteed employment protections when the Assembly passed the employment rights bill sponsored by ASA.
The measure, AB 2279, which now moves on to the California state senate, would protect the jobs of hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients by preventing discriminating against patients and caregivers in "hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment" based on their status or a positive drug test.
Assemblymember Mark Leno introduced AB 2279, which was drafted with assistance from ASA's Legislative Analyst Noah Mamber, in answer to a state Supreme Court decision that found patients can be fired, even if they are qualified to use cannabis under state law and do so only away from the workplace.
The bill leaves intact existing state law prohibiting consumption at the workplace and protects employers from liability by allowing exceptions for jobs where physical safety could be a concern. But employees such as Gary Ross, the software engineer whose case became a test of California's medical marijuana law, could no longer be terminated for following their doctors' advice.
"The California Assembly has acted to protect the right of patients to work and be productive members of society," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the Ross case before the state Supreme Court. "The State Senate now has the important task of passing this bill with the aim to protect the jobs of thousands of Californians."
In response to continuing federal raids and threats, the state Senate is preparing to take the next step toward a landmark resolution calling on federal officials to end their interference with state medical marijuana programs. Senate Joint Resolution 20 is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee soon, after passing in the Senate Health Committee recently.
Sponsored by Senator Carole Migden (D, San Francisco), the resolution calls on Congress and the President to enact federal legislation that would prevent future raids on state-qualified patients and providers, and to return any assets seized from medical marijuana patients and providers.
If passed, it would be the first time that a state legislature has denounced and demanded an end to DEA attacks on medical marijuana patients and providers. The Los Angeles City Council has passed its own resolution in support of SJR20.
A bill has stalled in the Assembly that would prevent local law enforcement from assisting the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies in "raids, arrests, investigations, or prosecutions" of medical marijuana patients or providers.
The sponsor of AB 2743, Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), successfully shepherded the measure through two committees, but decide to make it "inactive" after passage by the Assembly Appropriations Committee because the measure was just a few votes short of the support needed to get it through the Assembly. More members supported it than opposed, but abstentions by a few lawmakers meant it did not have the necessary majority.
At least five California cities have passed resolutions barring their local law enforcement agencies from assisting in the DEA's war on medical marijuana patients and providers.
The other bill that failed to advance is SB 1098, a measure that would facilitate sales tax collection from dispensing collectives which are facing retroactive taxes. The Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee held a hearing in April but did not bring the bill to a vote. The state Board of Equalization began requiring the sale of medical cannabis to be taxed in 2005, but the BOE's decision to impose back taxes has jeopardized Califor-nia's oldest dispensing collectives, some of which have been operating since shortly after voters approved Prop. 215 in 1996. This bill would encourage compliance with BOE requirements and protect access by forgiving back sales tax prior to October 2005.
ASA Chapter Focus: Rhode Island
by Jesse Stout
Another of the many active local ASA chapters and affiliates is the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC).
RIPAC is Rhode Island's community of patients, caregivers, healthcare providers, and advocacy organizations supporting and implementing the Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Act. RIPAC works to advance our mission in four main areas: advocacy, education, research, and policy.
ADVOCACY: RIPAC has been connecting patients with one another through twice-monthly patient/caregiver meetings, and with the statewide advocacy community by garnering endorsements-most recently from the likes of the Rhode Island Office of the Public Defender, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, and the Rhode Island Public Health Association.
EDUCATION: RIPAC actively educates law and health professionals about medical marijuana. In March, we presented a Continuing Legal Education course to public defenders and criminal lawyers. In April, we began a statewide tour of police trainings with the Portsmouth Police Department. And in May, we will host Dr. Donald Abrams, the renowned therapeutic cannabis and HIV researcher, for a physician education conference at Brown University.
RESEARCH: RIPAC representatives have recently met with both of our U.S. Senators and both of our members of the House of Representatives to ask support for Dr. Lyle Craker's research application to DEA. Dr. Craker, a professor at UMass-Amherst, is seeking a license to grow cannabis for federally approved medical research.
POLICY: RIPAC is supporting a bill in the General Assembly that would regulate the distribution of medical marijuana by licensing a non-profit Compassion Center to grow medicine for patients. Like many states with medical cannabis provisions, there is little in the law to ensure that patients have safe and reliable access to their medicine.
To find out more about RIPAC and what it's doing to support patients and caregivers, visit their website at www.ripatients.org.
Thank Chairman Conyers for Standing Up to the DEA
Last month, US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to DEA Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart challenging the DEA's actions. Chairman Conyers' letter questions DEA directly about its heightened raid activity across California and its intimidation of property owners owners with threats of prosecution and asset forfeiture because they rent to medical cannabis dispensaries.
This letter is an important and necessary step towards Congressional hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the actions of the DEA. Please call Representative Conyers to thank him for sending this letter and for standing up for the medical cannabis community: (202) 225-5126