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Feature: In Bold Step Backward, Canadian House of Commons Passes Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Bill

Bowing to the wishes of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Party Members of Parliament (MPs) joined Monday with Harper's Conservatives to pass the controversial C-15 mandatory minimum sentencing drug offense bill. The bill was opposed by MPs of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois.
C-15 hearings online video collection
Monday's vote came only after NDP and Bloc MPs filibustered the bill last week. But when one NDP member could not make it to parliament, the filibuster collapsed, and the Liberal Party leadership joined with the Conservatives in forcing a successful vote.

It also came after committee hearings on C-15 in which 13 of 16 witnesses, including criminal justice, health, and harm reduction experts, testified against the bill. Among them was US Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling, who drafted mandatory minimum legislation for Congress as House Judiciary Committee counsel in the 1980s and saw the flawed politics firsthand.

The bill next goes to the Canadian Senate. Unlike the US, Canadian senators are appointed, not elected, and the Canadian Senate typically -- but not always -- defers to the House. Observers hold out some hope that in this case, the Senate, which called for the legalization of marijuana in a 2002 report, will seek to block or amend the bill. The Senate could also effectively kill the bill by refusing to act on it before new elections are called.

Under the measure, mandatory minimum sentences would be enacted for a number of drug offenses, including an automatic six-month jail term for growing as few as five marijuana plants. Growing more than five plants would earn a mandatory minimum two-year sentence, and mandatory minimum sentences would also be in effect for other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

The tough sentences are aimed at "serious drug traffickers, the people who are basically out to destroy our society," said Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in the run-up to passage of the bill. But critics charged the bill would end up targeting low-level first offenders and filling Canada's prisons with them.

"I think it is really bad news," MP Libby Davies (NDP-Vancouver East) told Vancouver's Cannabis Culture magazine. "The evidence shows very, very strongly -- overwhelmingly -- that mandatory minimum sentencing is not an effective policy when it comes to drug crime. My fear is that we are going to see more people in jail, and more people fighting charges because they know they will be facing a mandatory minimum sentence. That means more court time and more backlogs."

"Mid and upper-level traffickers will get no particular increase in punishment, because a major dealer would already get six months or a year for any kind of trafficking," said Vancouver marijuana activist and Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery. "What we're going to see is people who wouldn't normally go to jail, they're going to be the people affected. It's going to be largely young people in schoolyards -- because if you are dealing around a school, it's an enhanced penalty. The enhanced penalties of six months, a year, two years, are going to affect, almost exclusively, people under the age of 25."

"The criminal justice approach has not only failed to achieve its initial goal of lowering drug use and availability, it has exacerbated the problem," said Jacob Hunter, policy director of the newly formed Beyond Prohibition Foundation. "The committee was presented with more than 50 scientific studies that stated this unequivocally, but the Conservative Party ignored that evidence, talking instead about the victims of crime. It is obvious from the evidence that C-15 will increase the violence and crime on our streets, almost exclusively target low-level and addicted dealers, and do so at great cost to families and taxpayers. Instead of repeating the costly mistakes of the past, we ought to go in a new direction."

Liberal Party opposition could have blocked the bill, but the party instead supported it for political reasons, said Hunter. "The Liberals are afraid of losing votes in suburban and rural ridings and don't know how to counter accusations of being 'soft on crime,'" he said. "Most Liberals are aware of the evidence on C-15, and indeed there was apparently lively disagreement in caucus over support for the bill, but ultimately, the Liberal leadership opted to support the bill."

Hunter was hopeful, but not optimistic, that the Senate would act to block passage of C-15. "It's tough to know what will happen, with many Senators vowing to fight this bill as long as it takes, the Senate has rarely blocked a bill passed by the House of Commons," he said.

But at this point, decisive action -- or inaction -- in the Senate is all that stands between Canada and the embrace of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. Too bad Canada's Conservatives, who are playing from an outdated US playbook, refuse to learn the lessons of the failures of such policies south of the border. And too bad the Liberals are so craven and cowed that they know better, but vote for such measures for the sake of political expediency.

Medical Marijuana: California Dispensary Operator Charles Lynch Sentenced to a Year and a Day, Remains Free Pending Appeal

A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary operator Charles Lynch to a year and a day in federal prison Thursday in one of the first sentences to be handed down since the Obama administration said it was adjusting federal policy on medical marijuana. Lynch was scheduled to be sentenced earlier this year, but US District Judge George Wu postponed that hearing with federal medical marijuana policy up in the air.
Charlie Lynch (from
Lynch was convicted of five marijuana-related offenses last year for operating his dispensary in Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County even though the dispensary was licensed and operated with the approval of local authorities -- except for the sheriff, who turned to the feds after being frustrated in his efforts to shut down the operation of which he did not approve, but which operated in accordance with state law.

Judge Wu showed some leniency in sentencing. Under federal law, Lynch faced a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, but Wu said Lynch merited an exception. He also allowed Lynch to remain free on bail while pursuing an appeal.

That wasn't enough for drug reform advocates. "For Charlie Lynch to spend one night in federal prison, let alone a year, is a travesty," said Stephen Gutwillig, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "This dispensary operator followed all state and local rules and has been dragged into a legal nightmare right out of Kafka. He is caught between California's voter-approved medical marijuana system and the Bush administration's single-minded effort to smother it. That Attorney General Holder changed federal policy three months ago only makes this miscarriage of justice all the more disturbing. Charlie is like a forgotten prisoner of war, abandoned after a truce was declared."

"Years from now, Mr. Lynch may well be remembered as the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of an already repudiated policy well on its way to the ash heap of history, but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said Marijuana Policy Project executive director Rob Kampia. "This sentence is a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice. Mr. Lynch and his attorneys say they plan to appeal, and we hope they succeed. With federal law enforcement at the Mexican border so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, even one more penny spent persecuting a man who is not a criminal in any rational sense of the word is an outrageous waste of resources."

Charlie Lynch Sentenced to Jail for Medical Marijuana

Today, Charlie Lynch was sentenced to one year and one day in jail for operating a medical marijuana clinic that was legal under California state law. U.S. District Court Judge George Wu declined to impose the 5-year mandatory minimum that federal prosecutors deemed appropriate and I've been informed that the U.S. attorney was visibly upset with this outcome. In contrast, Reason reports that Lynch's attorneys "seem extremely happy and relieved with the sentence and are convinced they will knock it down much lower and that Lynch will not be in prison anytime soon."

In that respect, today's outcome brings back memories of the government's epic campaign against Ed Rosenthal, in which federal prosecutors exhausted phenomenal resources, drew virulent public criticism, frustrated the trial judge, and ultimately walked away disappointed. Rosenthal's persecution and ultimate vindication galvanized national support for medical marijuana, thus the Lynch trial feels very much like a parting shot from an entrenched clan of desperate drug war demagogues who've all but expended their legal and political resources while alienating the American public at every turn.

The fatal flaw in the federal war on medical marijuana has always been that if you try hard enough to put people in jail for it, you'll lend urgency and credibility to the movement for reform.

MPP Condemns Prison Sentence for Medical Marijuana Defendant Charles C. Lynch

JUNE 11, 2009

MPP Condemns Prison Sentence for Medical Marijuana Defendant Charles C. Lynch

Law-Abiding Medical Marijuana Collective Was Licensed by City

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications, 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205
                   Aaron Smith, MPP California policy director, 707-575-9870

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA —The Marijuana Policy Project strongly condemned today's federal sentencing of Charles C. Lynch, a California medical marijuana provider who worked scrupulously to follow state and local laws but now faces one year and one day in federal prison.

    "Years from now, Mr. Lynch may well be remembered as the last American to go to federal prison for a mistake, the final victim of an already repudiated policy well on its way to the ash heap of history, but whose mean-spirited effects still linger," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "This sentence is a cruel and pointless miscarriage of justice. Mr. Lynch and his attorneys say they plan to appeal, and we hope they succeed. With federal law enforcement at the Mexican border so overwhelmed that traffickers coming through with up to 500 pounds of marijuana are let go, even one more penny spent persecuting a man who is not a criminal in any rational sense of the word is an outrageous waste of resources."

    In February, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that henceforth the Drug Enforcement Administration would only conduct enforcement actions against medical marijuana defendants who were violating both state and federal law, reversing the Bush administration's policy of ignoring state medical marijuana laws.

    Lynch's medical marijuana collective was licensed by the city of Morro Bay, and officials routinely inspected the facility to monitor compliance with state and local laws. But because federal law makes no statutory allowance for medical marijuana, all evidence related to California's medical marijuana law was barred from his trial.

    With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


Los Angeles, CA
United States

Americans for Safe Access: June 2009 Activist Newsletter

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms California Medical Marijuana Program

High Court Refuses to Hear County Challenge to State Law

In another landmark victory for the ASA legal team, the U.S. Supreme Court has said no to an attempt by a California county to overturn the state's medical marijuana law.

The case, brought by San Diego County and joined by two others, alleged that the federal prohibition of marijuana preempts the state law that allows legal access for qualified patients. County officials were resisting the legislature's mandate to implement a identification card program for medical marijuana patients.

"No longer will local officials be able to hide behind federal law and resist upholding California's medical marijuana law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who helped argue the case. "The courts have made clear that federal law does not preempt California's medical marijuana law and that local officials must comply with that law."

The San Diego Superior Court and the Fourth District Court of Appeals both rejected the argument, which was followed by the California Supreme Court's refusal to review the case in 2008. ASA filed a lawsuit in January against Solano County for its refusal to implement the state ID card program.

"This decision and our lawsuit against Solano will undoubtedly have an impact on the other 10 counties that have failed to implement the ID card program," said Elford.

Colusa, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, San Bernardino, San Diego, Solano, Stanislaus, and Sutter counties have each been notified about their obligation to implement the ID card program.

ASA worked with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project to litigate the San Diego case, with both organizations on the side of the California Attorney General defending the state's medical marijuana law. The County of San Bernardino joined San Diego County in its original lawsuit and the subsequent appeals.

The ID card program was established in 2004 with the legislature's passage of SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act. The ID cards are intended to assist law enforcement identify qualified patients and protect those patients from wrongful arrest.

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ASA Defends Marijuana Seizure Ruling on Appeal

California Court Considers Law Enforcement Limits

The right of California patients to both organize collectives to grow medical marijuana and be protected from unreasonable search and seizure was defended by ASA last month before a state appeals court. Butte county officials are trying to overturn a lower court's decision that had removed restrictions the county had imposed on patient collectives.

"We're cautiously optimistic about the outcome," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who argued the case. "The panel asked tough questions of the county and clearly understands that this is an important and interesting case for defining the limits and obligations of state medical marijuana law."

The case, Williams v. Butte County, involves a collective of seven patients who had pooled their labor and resources to maintain a 41-plant garden. But county policy required every member of the collective to live on the property or physically till the soil, a restriction not found in California law. So when the sheriff's department entered the property without a warrant and ordered the owner to tear down all but six plants for himself and six plants for his wife -- which he did under threat of arrest - ASA sued the county and won.

Butte officials are appealing the trial court's ruling that the Butte County policy is preempted by state law and that a patient may file a claim for unreasonable search and seizure in such a circumstance. The county is being supported before the Court of Appeal for the Third District by the California Peace Officers' Association, California Police Chiefs' Association, and California Sheriffs' Association, organizations that have filed amicus briefs arguing against patient rights in several ASA cases.

In addition to the question of whether county's can impose onerous restrictions on how collectives may operate, the court was concerned with when and how law enforcement may seize medicine.

The county argued that there is no restriction on seizures of marijuana by state officials, since it remains illegal under federal law. One of the justices commented that this would seemed to violate the spirit of Proposition 215 and asked whether the electorate would be "mystified" by a decision that would allow law enforcement to seize marijuana from patients without any restriction.

ASA argued that the California Supreme Court's opinion in People v. Mower that "probable cause depends on all of the circumstances, including one's status as a qualified medical marijuana patient" means that law enforcement must have probable cause to seize medicine from qualified patients.

Elford told the court that in this case there was neither probable cause nor a search warrant, and without any exigent circumstance to justify a warrantless seizure - the officer knew that Williams wanted to keep the marijuana and was not going to destroy it on his own -- there is no excuse for failing to get a warrant.

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ASA Chapter Profile: Honolulu, Hawaii

Since it was formed last September, ASA's Honolulu, Hawaii chapter has been growing steadily and gaining ground in the fight for medical cannabis patients rights. Honolulu ASA is the only advocacy group on the island which works exclusively for medical cannabis issues. In the past few months, Honolulu ASA has formed alliances with other advocacy groups on Oahu such as the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the West Oahu Hope For A Cure.

Last month, the chapter gained a seat on Hawaii's statewide Medical Cannabis Task Force, which was established by the legislature on April 29th to look into the Hawaii program and make recommendations early next year. The director of the Honolulu chapter of ASA will represent ASA members throughout the state in the upcoming deliberations to make Hawaii's program a viable system, including the possible creation of a distribution system.

This is the first time that an ASA local chapter will have a seat on a statewide task force. This bill is now being sent over to the governor for her approval.

The Honolulu chapter has been growing rapidly, with membership recently reaching 100 members, thanks in part to a new partnership with a local physician. ASA Honolulu's goal is to eventually have every medical cannabis patient on the island of Oahu as an ASA member.

ASA Honolulu has established a relationship with Dr. Jimenez to have a presence in his Hawaii office as he is seeing new and re-certifying patients during his monthly visits to the island. This allows ASA an opportunity to introduce the organization to qualified patients and get them signed up as new members.

Dr Jimenez is also an ASA member and a member of the local chapter and has been added as the Medical Advisor to the chapter to assist in work on the Medical Cannabis Task Force. Dr. Jimenez is one of the primary medical cannabis recommendation physicians in Hawaii and California with approximately 11,000 current recommendations written.

This month, the Honolulu chapter will begin holding approximately 20 different "Cannabis Classes" to teach patients valuable tips and techniques for choosing, growing, cloning, harvesting, curing, and using their medication. They are also working out the details for weekend "Cannabis Camps" to be held at various beach parks on Oahu each year. These Cannabis Camps will offer ASA members additional opportunities for classes, fellowship with other patients, and entertainment while camping at a beautiful Hawaii beach. Members from other chapters are invited to attend these Cannabis Camps as an opportunity to further relationships between the chapters.

For more information about the Honolulu ASA chapter and the work that we have been doing in Hawaii, visit our chapter website at or contact us by email at or by phone at (808) 840-0229 or (808) 352-5815.

Rhode Island Senate Votes to Open Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Legal access to medical marijuana could soon be coming to the east coast:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island would be the third state in the nation and the first on the East Coast to allow nonprofit stores to sell marijuana to medical patients under legislation approved Tuesday by state lawmakers.

The state Senate voted 30-2 to adopt a measure permitting three stores to sell marijuana to more than 680 patients registered with the state Department of Health. It now heads to Gov. Don Carcieri, who has previously vetoed bills legalizing marijuana for medical use.

A veto from the governor is almost certain, but towering majorities in the House and Senate should make it possible to override the veto. That's exactly how Rhode Island's original medical marijuana law was passed. Maybe Carcieri should just sign the damn thing and save himself the double embarrassment of not only trying to stand between seriously-ill patients and their medicine, but also failing at it.

Congress Calls on DOJ to Better Explain Medical Marijuana Policy

Via Ben Morris at MPP:

The House committee that oversees the Department of Justice (DOJ) passed an amendment today that adds language to the committee’s report urging the DOJ to clarify its position on state-legal medical marijuana. The provision is a non-binding recommendation, but carries weight given the committee’s role in funding the department.

The language, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), states, “There have been conflicting public reports about the Department’s [DOJ] enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department’s policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities.”

Although federal interference with state medical marijuana laws has been sparse since Obama took office, we have seen evidence of a potential loophole in the attorney general's pledge to respect state laws. As long as charges are brought in federal and not state court, there exists no mechanism for determining that state laws were ever violated, thus DEA could theoretically raid legitimate dispensaries based on unverified claims that local laws were being broken.

That's why Hinchey's effort to ensure accountability is so important. Although public outrage has been a powerful force towards pushing federal medical marijuana policy in a more reasonable direction, we simply cannot count on DEA to execute the new policy in good faith. The more pressure that's applied early on, the better our chance of ensuring that the worst excesses of the war on medical marijuana are behind us.

Canadian House Passes Anti-Crime Bill With Mandatory Minimums for Pot, Other Drug Offenses

The Canadian House of Commons today passed the Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper' C-15 crime bill, which will institute mandatory minimum sentencing for some marijuana and other drug offenses. The vote, in which after dilly-dallying for days, the opposition Liberals joined in, came despite hearings in which no witnesses favored such a tough on crime approach north of the border. It's not a done deal yet. The bill must still be approved by the Canadian Senate, which issued a report several years ago calling for the government to head in the opposite directoin. But the Senate, which is appointed, is not known for bucking the government and the House of Commons. That the Liberals buckled for fear of being "soft on crime" and supported the Conservatives in this giant step backward is disappointing but not surprising. Oh, Canada! Once we looked to you for a progressive example on drug policy. I will be writing about all this for the Chronicle later this week, as well as focusing on our other border with a feature article on the Obama administration's new initiative to thwart the Mexican so-called drug cartels.

Press Release: House Appropriations Committee Seeks Clarification on Medical Marijuana Policy

JUNE 9, 2009   

House Appropriations Committee Seeks Clarification on Medical Marijuana Policy
Amendment Seeks Explanation in Light of Attorney General Holder's Recent Statements

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 202-215-4205 or 415-585-6404

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In light of recent statements by Attorney General Eric Holder indicating that the Obama administration would not pursue prosecutions of individuals involved in medical marijuana activities sanctioned by state law, the House Appropriations Committee has added language seeking clarification of the new policy to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.

     The language, sponsored by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), states, "There have been conflicting public reports about the Department's enforcement of medical marijuana policies. Within 60 days of enactment, the Department shall provide to the Committee clarification of the Department's policy regarding enforcement of federal laws and use of federal resources against individuals involved in medical marijuana activities."

     In past years, Hinchey and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) have sponsored an amendment aimed at ending Drug Enforcement Administration raids on state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers. But in recent months, Attorney General Eric Holder has disavowed any intent to pursue such attacks. Last week, Holder told KOB-TV in Albuquerque, "For those organizations that are doing so sanctioned by state law and do it in a way that is consistent with state law, and given the limited resources that we have, that will not be an emphasis for this administration. ... Medicinal marijuana ... that is something for the states to decide."

     "We are glad to see the federal government finally moving toward sanity on medical marijuana," said Marijuana Policy Project director of government relations Aaron Houston. "No one battling serious illness and following their state's laws should live in fear of our federal government, and we look forward to clear assurances that suffering patients will be left alone."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


Washington, DC
United States

ASA Sponsored Resolution Calls for Federal Change

Dear ASA Supporter,

California Senator Mark Leno (D-SF) introduced Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 14 yesterday. This ASA-sponsored resolution calls on the President and US Congress to end medical cannabis raids in California and to "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it." If adopted, SJR 14 will be the first time a state legislature has officially called for a change in federal medical cannabis policies.

Please help ASA get SJR 14 adopted by making a special contribution of $100 today.

The President and US Attorney General Eric Holder have talked about a new federal policy concerning medical cannabis, but there is still a lot of work to do in defining what that policy will be. SJR 14 supports ASA's National Policy Agenda and is part of our strategic campaign to shape a more reasonable and compassionate federal policy - one that ensures safe and legal access for all patients nationwide.

The resolution calls on the President and the US Congress to (1) end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical cannabis laws; (2) adopt policies and laws to encourage advanced clinical research trials into the therapeutic use of cannabis; (3) provide for an affirmative defense to medical cannabis charges in federal court; and (4) to create comprehensive federal medical cannabis policy that ensures safe and legal access for patients.

SJR 14 is an opportunity for the California legislature to influence the development of the new federal policy, defend the state's right to choose and regulate medical cannabis, and to defend the compassionate will of the voters. But, we only have a short time to get this resolution through committees and floor votes in the State Senate and Assembly.

Please support ASA by donating today so that we can get SJR 14 adopted right away!

Thank you for your help,

Rebecca Saltzman
Chief of Staff
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. For more information on SJR 14, visit
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