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Medical Marijuana: Berkeley Declares Itself a Sanctuary City

The Berkeley City Council gave a collective raised middle finger to the DEA Tuesday night, unanimously approving a resolution declaring the city a sanctuary in the event the federal agency attempts to interfere with its medical marijuana dispensaries. Passage of the resolution was greeted with loud applause, according to the Daily Californian, the student newspaper at Cal Berkeley.

The resolution was opposed by the DEA, and softened last month to accommodate grumbling from Police Chief Douglas Hambleton and City Manager Phil Kamlarz, but it still puts the city on record as "opposing the attempts by the US Drug Enforcement Administration to close medical marijuana dispensaries, and declaring the City of Berkeley as a sanctuary for medicinal cannabis use, cultivation, and distribution that complies with State law and local ordinances in the event that" the DEA tried to raid one of the city's regulated dispensaries.

The resolution also reinforces a 2002 Berkeley policy directing police not to cooperate in federal medical marijuana investigations. City police were criticized last fall after arriving at the scene of a DEA action related to a raid on a Los Angeles dispensary. The resolution reemphasizes that the Berkeley police and the city attorney's office are not to cooperate with the DEA in "investigations of, raids upon, or threats against physicians, individual patients or their primary caregivers, and medical cannabis dispensaries and operators" operating within California law.

In addition, the resolution directs the city clerk to send letters to Alameda County, of which Berkeley is a part, to state Attorney General Jerry Brown, and to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging them to appropriately support medical marijuana.

The city of Berkeley has now committed itself to ensuring that its residents have access to medical marijuana, but it's not clear just yet exactly what that means. The resolution directs the police chief and the city manager to try to find ways to turn the resolution into reality. If the DEA shuts down Berkeley's dispensaries, will the city provide medical marijuana? Will it help new dispensaries set up? The answers are in the making.

Medical Marijuana: First Kansas Bill Introduced

In a historic step, the Kansas Healthcare Strategies Committee voted Monday to introduce the state's first medical marijuana bill. The bill, titled the Medical Marijuana Defense Act, would allow legitimate medical marijuana patients arrested for pot possession to raise their medical use as "defense to prosecution."

Under the bill, people arrested for possession could present a written certification from their physicians to defend themselves in court. Out-of-state medical marijuana cards and registrations would not be a valid defense. The bill also includes protections for physicians who recommend medical marijuana to their patients.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/robertstephan.jpg
Robert Stephan, KSCCC press conference, August 2007
The bill is the result of months of groundwork by the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition and its director, Laura Green. The effort to get a medical marijuana bill in the legislature this session had its public coming out last August, when Green organized a press conference where former Republican state Attorney General Robert Stephan came out in support of medical marijuana legislation.

Green requested that the committee introduce the bill, and that request was approved on a voice vote with only one representative dissenting.

"This is simply an issue of compassion," said Green.

"It costs a lot of money to introduce a bill," complained Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka), the sole no vote. She added that the bill violates federal law -- it does not -- and that it would be difficult to ensure each patient used the same amount of marijuana.

The bill is now at the State Revisor's Office, where it will be formatted and given a bill number. That should take about a week. After that, look for hearings sometime next month.

Medical Marijuana and the Right to Work: Under Attack in California and Oregon, At Risk In Most Other States As Well

Last week's California Supreme Court decision upholding the ability of employers to fire employees who test positive for marijuana even if they are patients has shone a spotlight on an increasingly contested grey area created by the disjuncture between state and federal policies toward medical marijuana. With last week's decision, California's more than 150,000 medical marijuana patients now face renewed insecurity on the job. But 11 other states also have medical marijuana laws, and patients are equally at risk of job loss in most of them.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/workplace-ruling.jpg
the infamous ruling
While every state medical marijuana law says employers are not required to accommodate on-the-job use, most have provisions that could be interpreted as protecting medical marijuana users' employment rights, but only one, Rhode Island, explicitly protects patients, according to Karen O'Keefe, assistant director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

"There are several states -- California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Rhode Island -- that specify that patients cannot be punished by professional licensing boards, and New Mexico and a number of other states have language like 'not subject to penalty in any manner,'" she said. "In Washington, it says 'the people shall not be denied any right or privilege.'"

But whether such language really means patients are protected from being fired for testing positive on a drug test is likely to be sorted out only by court cases or legislation. Better to get that explicit protective language written into the law in the first place, suggested Jesse Stout, executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC).

"We did get specific employment protections written into the law, as well a protection from discrimination in terms of enrolling in schools and leasing property," said Stout. "This happened because we went to our patients and asked them what they thought, and they said they wanted marijuana treated like any other medicine."

While Rhode Island advocates had to take other measures out of the bill to ensure passage, employment protections were not controversial. "They weren't a problem," Stout said.

As a result, Rhode Island's 600 medical marijuana patients are among the best protected in the country when it comes to employment protection. And they don't have to rely on the courts or the legislature to provide protection after the fact.

In California, on the other hand, the Supreme Court has settled matters -- at least for now -- with its ruling last week. In that decision, the Court found that employers may fire workers who use medical marijuana in compliance with California's Compassionate Use Act -- even if they are off duty and even if their use does not affect their job performance.

In that case, Gary Ross, whose doctor recommended medical marijuana for chronic back pain resulting from an injury incurred while serving in the Air Force, was hired by Raging Wire as a systems engineer in 2001 and was required to take a drug test as a condition of employment. He provided the company with a copy of his doctor's recommendation, but the company fired him a week later because of a positive test result.

Ross sued, alleging that the company violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) by not accommodating his disability. He also argued that the company fired him in violation of public policy because the Compassionate Use Act legalized medical marijuana in the state.

But in siding with employers, the state high court said the state's Compassionate Use Act protected users only from criminal prosecution. "Nothing in the text or history of the Compassionate Use Act suggests the voters intended the measure to address the respective rights and duties of employers and employees," wrote Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdeger for the majority. "Under California law, an employer may require pre-employment drug tests and take illegal drug use into consideration in making employment decisions."

Additionally, Werdeger noted, even though medical marijuana is legal under state law it remains illegal under federal law, and "the FEHA does not require employers to accommodate the use of illegal drugs."

Justice Joyce Kennard was scathing in her dissent. The decision was "conspicuously lacking in compassion," she wrote. "The majority's holding disrespects the will of California's voters." The voters "surely never intended that persons who availed themselves" of the medical marijuana act "would thereby disqualify themselves from employment," Kennard said.

She wasn't the only one. "This was an atrocious decision that generated a scathing dissent," said Joe Elford, legal counsel for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, who argued the case for Ryan. "When California voters passed a law ensuring the right of ill Californians to use marijuana, they didn't expect people to be fired for exercising that right."

"This is a decision is based on tortured logic designed to lead to an absurdly narrow reading of the law," said Bruce Mirken, San Francisco-based communications director for MPP. "The court is claiming that California voters intended to permit medical use of marijuana, but only if you're willing to be unemployed and on welfare. That's ridiculous on its face, as well as cruel, as Justice Kennard rightly observed in her dissent."

If the California Supreme Court has slapped patients in the face, at least one legislator is prepared to seek redress in Sacramento. In a press release the same day, San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno announced he would introduce legislation protecting medical cannabis patients' right to employment.

"Today's California Supreme Court ruling strikes a serious blow to patients' rights," stated Leno. "In the coming weeks I will introduce legislation that secures a medical cannabis patient's right to use their doctor recommended medication outside the workplace. Through the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 and SB 420 in 2004, the people of California did not intend that patients be unemployed in order to use medical marijuana."

If in California the battle over the employment rights of medical marijuana users will ultimately be decided in the legislature, in Oregon, the state with the second highest number of medical marijuana patients, some 16,000, the legislative battle is already in its second year. But instead of legislation seeking to protect patients' rights, Oregonians are faced with competing proposals to instead protect the rights of employers to fire those patients.

Last year, a bill that would essentially have allowed employers to discriminate against medical marijuana patients handily passed the state Senate before dying in committee in the House on the last day of the session. This year, in what is supposed to be a limited special session that lasts only through February, legislators are again seeking to provide cover for employers.

"They are trying to get a watered-down version of last year's bill through," said Leland Berger, an attorney and one of the leaders of Voter Power, the group behind the 1998 passage of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA).

With the special session not yet underway, the bills are currently in the form of "legislative concepts." A hearing was held last week to introduce the competing bills, which would protect employers from lawsuits filed by medical marijuana cardholder employees fired for positive marijuana tests.

Along with Oregon's panoply of medical marijuana advocacy groups, the ACLU of Oregon was a staunch supporter of patients rights' last year, and is back at it again this year. "We oppose both of these bills and any like them for a number of reasons," said Andrea Meyer, legislative director for the ACLU of Oregon, who has been working legislators on the issue. "First, we don't think they're necessary or effective. They talk about impairment, but most employers rely on urinalysis testing to determine impairment, and urinalysis doesn't measure impairment. We know that marijuana metabolites can stay in the system for up to 30 days after ingestion, but that has no correlation with impairment," she said.

"This sort of legislation discriminates against medical marijuana cardholders," Meyer continued. "Oregonians voted to enact a medical marijuana law so people could lawfully obtain marijuana in almost the same manner as any other medicine, and we don't think patients using marijuana should be treated any differently than patients using codeine or morphine or amphetamines," she said.

"We believe in a safe workplace, and we think when an employee is impaired for whatever reason -- emotional distress, under the influence of alcohol or lawful medications or illegal drugs, illness -- the employer has the legal authority to take action," Meyer said. "But we aren't any safer when an employee relies on a urinalysis to determine whether someone is a hazard in the workplace."

The federal government's refusal to recognize medical marijuana is a key part of the problem, said Meyer. "If marijuana could be prescribed like any other controlled substance, I don't think employers would be suggesting it should be treated differently. The fact that the federal government proscribes it gives employers the excuse. What all this says is that we need to change the Controlled Substances Act and make medical marijuana available by prescription," she argued.

Barring that unlikely event, it will be up to the states to protect the employment rights of their medical marijuana patients. "The California Supreme Court decision is an ill omen," said ASA's Elford. "Every one of the medical marijuana states should pass legislation to protect patients, but I'm afraid that's not going to happen."

Barack Obama Comes Out in Favor of Marijuana Decriminalization [Updated]

For the first time since his presidential bid began, the Obama Campaign has clarified the Senator's position on marijuana: stop arresting people for it.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise after Obama recently raised his hand in opposition to marijuana decrim at a recent democratic debate. Seeking to paint him as a flip-flopper, The Washington Times dug up footage of a 2004 appearance in which Obama said this:
"I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," Mr. Obama told an audience during a debate at Northwestern University in 2004.

Obama's campaign is now standing by this earlier statement, claiming that the Senator has "always" supported marijuana decriminalization. This actually makes sense, because Obama's apparent opposition to decrim during the debate was triggered by a badly worded question from Tim Russert. As I said at the time, this all goes to show how a cheap soundbite approach to the marijuana discussion trivializes the issue and obscures any real difference of opinion.

Fortunately, now that Obama's position has been made perfectly clear, we face the possibility of a full-on marijuana debate between front-running presidential candidates. It could begin as soon as this evening during Obama's long-anticipated one-on-one face off with Hillary Clinton. Absent that, an Obama nomination would guarantee republican attacks on the marijuana issue, inevitably sucking this discussion into the political mainstream where it belongs.

Jacob Sullum argues correctly that decrim is a remarkably soft position by drug reform standards, but that fact will surely be lost on the blood-thirsty political attack machine that will be directed at Obama if he receives the democratic nomination. And I for one welcome every last nasty morsel of it, lest the debate over recreational marijuana use in America should be excluded entirely from presidential politics yet again.

Weak as it may be, Obama's is the best position on the marijuana issue taken by a viable presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter.

Update: Tragically, the Obama campaign has now reversed its position on decrim. Most of the above can be disregarded entirely.

Location: 
United States

Berkeley City Council Tells DEA to Stay Out

Entire cities are revolting against the DEA's cruel attacks against medical marijuana:
Berkeley City Council members unanimously approved a resolution last night to declare Berkeley a sanctuary for medicinal marijuana in the event of federal interference with dispensaries.

The resolution, which was received with overwhelming support and applause from the audience, opposes attempts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to conduct raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley, and urges city, county and state departments to not cooperate in the event that a raid occurs.

By claiming itself as a sanctuary, Berkeley have committed to ensuring that residents are provided access to medicinal marijuana if dispensaries in the city are shut down. [Daily Californian]
In the 10 years since Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in California, public support for patients has just continued to grow. While the Drug Czar and the DEA struggle to portray medical access as some sort of obscene disaster, the people actually living among medical marijuana patients and providers are saying the opposite and they're saying it loudly.

Medical access to marijuana is good public policy. After 10 years, nothing could be more obvious.
Location: 
United States

Eric Sage Fights Back

As part of a new Drug War Chronicle occasional series on victims of the war on drugs, we told the story of Eric Sage back in November. Now, there are new developments. On his way home to Nebraska after attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last summer, Sage's motorcycle was pulled over by a highway patrolman. A pick-up truck accompanying also stopped, and when the patrolmen searched that vehicle, he found one of the passengers in possession of a pipe and a small amount of marijuana. Bizarrely, the patrolman charged not only the pick-up truck passengers but also Sage with possession of paraphernalia. Unlike most people arrested on drug charges--even bogus ones--Sage refused to roll over. That prompted local prosecutors to threaten to charge him with "internal possession," a crime (so far) only in South Dakota, and a charge even less supported by the evidence (there was none) than the original paraphernalia charge. After repeated multi-hundred mile trips back to South Dakota for scheduled court hearings, Sage's charges mysteriously evaporated, with prosecutors in Pennington County lamely explaining that they had decided the charge should have been filed in another county. Sage was a free man, but his freedom wasn’t free. Sage says his encounter with South Dakota justice cost him thousands of dollars, lost work days, and considerable stress. Now, he is seeking redress. On Monday, Sage and South Dakota NORML announced that he had filed complaints with several South Dakota agencies and professional standards groups regarding the actions of the prosecutors, Pennington County (Rapid City) District Attorney Glenn Brenner and Assistant DA Gina Nelson, and the highway patrolman, Trooper Dave Trautman. Sage accuses Trautman of improperly charging everyone present at the incident with possession of paraphernalia. He also accuses Trautman of concocting an arrest report long after the fact to support the new charge of internal possession. Sage accuses Assistant DA Nelson and her boss of prosecuting a case they knew was bogus and of threatening to convict him of an offense where they knew he was not guilty because he refused to plead to the original paraphernalia charge. "They mugged me," Sage said. "They cost me $4000. I had to travel to Rapid City several times, I had to hire a lawyer, I missed work. It cost me three times as much to get them to drop a bogus charge as it would have cost me to say I was guilty of something I didn't do and pay their fines. They only quit when they ran out of clubs to hit me with." Prosecutors didn't even have the courtesy to let him or his local attorney know they had finally dropped the charges, Sage said. "My lawyer called Gina Nelson several times to see if I needed to drive up on Nov. 21," he said. "She wouldn't return the calls. So when I got there, I found the charges had been dropped on the 16th. Gina had purposefully made me drive one more 500 mile round trip, for nothing." Now, we'll see if the powers that be in South Dakota will bring the same dogged determination to seeing justice done in this case as they do to going after anybody who even looks like a small-time drug offender. You can read Sage's complaints to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the South Dakota Bar Association Disciplinary Committee, and the Pennington County Commission here.
Location: 
Rapid City, SD
United States

What Do You Think About Medical Marijuana Vending Machines?

The introduction of medical marijuana vending machines is a curious development.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the machines are convenient for patients and provide 24 hour service, unlike traditional dispensaries. They could provide a useful fallback for a patient who accidentally runs their medicine through the laundry after hours. With onsite security to verify doctor recommendations and prevent theft, there seems to be little potential for abuse.

Still, the specter of "drug-filled vending machines" has long been raised as a red herring by the prohibitionist peanut gallery. Though the machines only serve medicial marijuana to valid patients protected under California's Prop. 215, it's easy to imagine their mere existence being cited by our opponents as evidence of a "slippery slope" towards ubiquitous marijuana distribution under the banner of medical use.

Whatcha think?
Location: 
United States

Berkeley City Council Vote on MMJ Sanctuary Resolution

On January 29, the Berkeley City Council will be considering a very important resolution. Co-sponsored by Kriss Worthington and Darryl Moore, this item would: 1. declare Berkeley a "sanctuary city" for medical cannabis in the event that the DEA raids any of our dispensaries, 2. call on the Berkeley Police Department, the County District Attorney, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, and the State Attorney General not to cooperate with the DEA in its efforts to undermine state and local medical cannabis laws, 3. urge Governor Schwarzenegger to publicly stand with the more than 200,000 medical cannabis patients in the state and to let Congress and the Bush Administration know that DEA interference is uncalled for and will be resisted by local and state government, and 4. encourage the City to plan for continued safe access in Berkeley in the event of a DEA raid on one or more of our dispensaries. See the draft text at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/citycouncil/agenda-committee/agendaindex.htm. Click on the pdf for the 1/22 meeting, and look for Item 22. ASA and others have worked extensively with Councilmembers Moore and Worthington, and with many other supportive city staff, to craft this resolution, and we expect the full support of the Council, the City Manager and the City Attorney. Obviously this is a VERY important moment for medical cannabis patients, and I want to encourage you to attend tomorrow's City Council meeting if at all possible. We plan to have a rally at 6:45 p.m., before the Council meeting, on the steps of Old City Hall. Wear your ASA shirt, sport a medical marijuana pin, and let's fill the hall with supporters to celebrate the moment--and thank our Berkeley elected officials for taking this significant step to defend patients' rights! For more information, contact Becky DeKeuster at 510-540-6013 ext. 0.
Date: 
Tue, 01/29/2008 - 7:00pm - 10:00pm
Location: 
2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way
Berkeley, CA
United States

Berkeley City Council to Vote on MMJ Sanctuary Resolution

[Courtesy of Berkeley Patients Group] Friends, Tomorrow night (1/29/08), the Berkeley City Council will be considering a very important resolution. Co-sponsored by Kriss Worthington and Darryl Moore, this item would: 1. declare Berkeley a "sanctuary city" for medical cannabis in the event that the DEA raids any of our dispensaries, 2. call on the Berkeley Police Department, the County District Attorney, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, and the State Attorney General not to cooperate with the DEA in its efforts to undermine state and local medical cannabis laws, 3. urge Governor Schwarzenegger to publicly stand with the more than 200,000 medical cannabis patients in the state and to let Congress and the Bush Administration know that DEA interference is uncalled for and will be resisted by local and state government, and 4. encourage the City to plan for continued safe access in Berkeley in the event of a DEA raid on one or more of our dispensaries. See the draft text at: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/citycouncil/agenda-committee/agendaindex.htm Click on the pdf for the 1/22 meeting, and look for Item 22. ASA and others have worked extensively with Councilmembers Moore and Worthington, and with many other supportive city staff, to craft this resolution, and we expect the full support of the Council, the City Manager and the City Attorney tomorrow night. Obviously this is a VERY important moment for medical cannabis patients, and I want to encourage you to attend tomorrow's City Council meeting if at all possible. We plan to have a rally at 6:45 p.m., before the Council meeting, on the steps of Old City Hall. Wear your ASA shirt, sport a medical marijuana pin, and let's fill the hall with supporters to celebrate the moment--and thank our Berkeley elected officials for taking this significant step to defend patients' rights! City Council Meeting - 1/29/2008 7 p.m. - 10 p.m. 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way Be well, Becky DeKeuster Community Liaison Berkeley Patients Group 2747 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley, CA 94702 510-540-6013 ext. 0
Location: 
Berkeley, CA
United States

Stop CBS4 Attacks on Cannabis Patients -- Tell CBS Not to Air the Attack on Disabled Veteran Kevin Dickes

[Courtesy of vflog.com] Call CBS4-Denver at 303-830-6464! CBS4-Denver has been attacking medicinal marijuana patients and their caregivers in Colorado. The last person to be the focus of a CBS4 medicinal cannabis "investigation" (Ken Gorman) ended up murdered less than a week after the story aired. Now they are trying it again by attacking a disabled veteran. These attacks have to stop. This Thursday (Jan. 31), CBS4 is scheduled to air an "investigation" of Kevin Dickes, former Marine and disabled Gulf War veteran. Dickes was prescribed cannabis for a war injury and has a valid Medical Marijuana Registry identification card issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. In 2000, Colorado voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that allows patients to legally use cannabis as medicine with their physician's approval. Dickes was arrested in Aurora in March 2007. He was charged with felony cultivation and faced 6 years in prison. Because he was a registered patient, all charges against Dickes were eventually dropped. Colorado law says that police shall return the cannabis "unharmed", so Aurora police were forced to return his medicine to him. The CBS4 "investigation" scheduled to air this Thursday allegedly shows a former Marine who served with Dickes in the Gulf War who says Dickes' injury was not caused in the Gulf War. The fact that Dickes was injured is not in question. In the promotion for the CBS4 story, it clearly shows the 36-inch scar on Dicke's leg. Apparently, all that is in question is the cause of that injury. Dickes has provided medical records to CBS4 proving he was injured in the Marines, but CBS4 is still airing the story. Read the letter from Dickes' attorney, Robert Corry, here: http://www.vflog.com/action/dickes.corry.let.html This is a blatant attack on a law-abiding citizen for using a plant he grew himself to ease his pain. The cause of his injury is none of CBS4's business! This is an invasion of medical privacy. This sensational story is designed only to boost ratings at the expense of a disabled veteran. Kevin Dickes has already suffered with his arrest, prosecution and destruction of his medicine. This "investigation" serves no purpose other than to attack Dickes' and make him suffer more for his use of a legal medicine. All citizens should be outraged! In Feb. 2007, CBS4's Rick Sallinger aired a story about medical marijuana caregiver, Ken Gorman. Less than a week later, that caregiver was found brutally murdered in his home. Denver police have made no arrests and have no suspects in the case. See the story that aired one week before Ken was murdered: http://cbs4denver.com/investigates/Denver.Colorado.medical.2.556420.html. See the story about Ken's death: http://cbs4denver.com/local/Ken.Gorman.Murder.2.556598.html "I don't want to end up dead in my own home like Ken Gorman because of Rick Sallinger," Dickes says. What's next for Rick Sallinger? Will he start investigating all Gulf War veterans and their private medical histories? Is he going to continue to attack other medicinal cannabis patients just to boost his ratings? Why doesn't he do an investigation of Ken Gorman's murder and find out why the Denver Police refuse to investigate this case? Please call CBS4 to protest this attack on sick patients. Ask them not to air the story on Thursday: CBS4-Denver 303-830-6464 kcncnews@cbs.com If CBS4-Denver does not pull the story, there will be a protest at their offices (1044 Lincoln Street) at 3pm on Thursday (1/31). Please check this website for updates before you go http://www.vflog.com Bringing the 1st Amendment into the 21st Century...
Location: 
Denver, CO
United States

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