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ASA's Medical Marijuana in the News: Week of 8/24/07

ASA ACTION: Defending Patient’s Property Rights

What happens when qualified medical marijuana patients have encounters with law enforcement? Too often, their state-legal medicine is confiscated and not returned, even once it is determined that they are operating within the limits of the law. For more than two years, ASA has been leading a campaign to correct that injustice, helping patients get court orders for the return of their medical marijuana and even getting a fundamental change of policy from the California Highway Patrol, who was once one of the worst offenders. ASA has now taken that fight to the state court of appeals, arguing that patients who have committed no crime are always entitled to return of their property.

No crime? Give it back
EDITORIAL, Orange County Register (CA)
The California Court of Appeal for the 4th District will hear an important case today (at 1:30, 925 N. Spurgeon St., Santa Ana) regarding whether qualified medicinal marijuana patients are entitled to have their medicine returned after it has been seized by police even though they were entitled to possess it. It should be a no-brainer. Patients whose legally possessed property has been confiscated should have it returned unless they have been convicted of a crime.

Court considers medical marijuana seizures
by Rachanee Srisavasdi, Orange County Register (CA)
If police officers seize marijuana legally kept by a medical marijuana patient, should they have to give the property back? That was the central question today before a three-justice panel of the state's Fourth Appellate District. Two California patients are pursuing the case with the legal assistance of Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana nonprofit group.

Judges asked to order the return of O.C. men's pot
by Christine Hanley, Los Angeles Times
Two Orange County men have taken the cops to court to get their pot back. Jim Spray, 51, and Felix Kha, 22, who have doctors' recommendations to use marijuana for medical reasons, said that since charges against them were dropped, their property should be returned. Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based group that monitors medical marijuana issues across the state, is representing the two men.

FEDERAL: Doctor-Lawyer Couple Convicted for Medical Growing

Again the constraints on admissible evidence in federal marijuana trials have resulted in the convictions of Californians who were helping medical marijuana patients. In this case, the couple involved are a doctor, who is herself a patient, and her caregiver-husband, who is an attorney. After the passage of the state law allowing it, Dr. Mollie Fry began using marijuana as a treatment with help from her husband, Dale Schafer. Then they began to do what they could to help others in their community, providing recommendations and help with cultivation. First, the government stripped Dr. Fry’s license to prescribe medicines. Now, it has obtained convictions that mandate a minimum of five years in prison for each of them. They can only hope that the judge has taken note of how other district judges in California have treated similar cases, granting downward departures on the basis of the “lesser harm” entailed by helping ease suffering with cannabis rather than abiding by the blanket federal prohibition.

Guilty Verdict In Medicinal Marijuana Case In Cool
CBS 13 Sacramento
It took a jury in Federal court about three hours to hand down a guilty verdict in a local medicinal marijuana case that goes back six years.

Cali-nullification
by Cosmo Garvin, Sacramento News & Review
There's an inscription carved into the plaza at the entrance of the Federal Courthouse downtown. Maybe you’ve seen it: “There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people.” Last week in federal court, defense attorney Laurence Lichter tried to read that phrase, originally uttered by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, to a jury, explaining why his client didn’t deserve five years in federal prison. Judge Frank Damrell wasn’t having it, and cut Lichter off during his closing statement. So goes the trial of Dr. Mollie Fry and her husband, Dale Schafer, medical-marijuana activists convicted last week of “conspiracy to manufacture” pot and distribute it to sick people.

LOS ANGELES: Continued Blowback from DEA Raids on Dispensaries

This editorial joins the Los Angeles City Council in condemning the involvement of city police in the coordinated series of federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries there. Since the city council was shown video footage of an LAPD officer assisting in a raid, a hearing has been held and an investigation begun. ASA is working with the City Council on a resolution of non-cooperation that would prevent police from ignoring state law.

Selective enforcement
EDITORIAL, Los Angeles Daily News
When federal agents busted down doors raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles in July, Los Angeles Police Department officers were their comrades in arms. The department's assistance in the raids infuriated some City Council members, who chastised them last week for cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Agency and for enforcing federal drug laws that are in conflict with California's medical marijuana law - and the will of the public.

CAMPAIGN ’08: Democrats All Say DEA Raids Should Stop

With all Democrats running for President and the majority of Republican candidates saying DEA actions against state-legal medical marijuana patients and providers should end, the recent spate of raids may be the last gasp of a dying federal policy. Sure, federal officials have been denying the medical science for decades, but with international researchers uncovering new potential for the treatment of such difficult diseases as MS, cancer and Alzheimer’s, pressure for policy change is increasing.

All Democratic presidential candidates pledge to end medical marijuana raids, group says
by James Pindell, Boston Globe
Last night in Nashua US Senator Barack Obama became the latest Democratic presidential candidate to say that if he were elected president he would end raids from federal law enforcement agencies against those who use medical marijuana in the dozen states where it is legal to do so.

WASHINGTON: State Studying Better Implementation and Access

Removing criminal penalties for patients whose doctors have recommended they use medical marijuana is but the first step in grappling with the issue of safe access. Keeping patients out of jail is one thing, but states with protections for patients must also confront the means by which patients are to get their medical marijuana. Questions of quantities and caregivers are just a few of those Washington and other medical marijuana states are facing.

Officials seek public input on medical marijuana
by M. Alexander Otto, Tacoma News-Tribune (WA)
The Washington State Department of Health is looking for public input on what constitutes a 60-day supply of medical marijuana. Officials also want to hear the public’s ideas about how patients can gain access to adequate and safe sources of medical marijuana.

Input sought for new medical marijuana rules
by John Branton, The Columbian (WA)
State health officials have been directed by the Legislature to create new rules for the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes, and the public is invited to comment.

KANSAS: Former AG Fighting For Safe Access

As reported last week, a push for a state medical marijuana measure in Kansas is coming from a man who was its chief law enforcement officer, former Attorney General Bob Stephan. Common sense and compassion are enough to convince most folks that patients should not be prosecuted or imprisoned for following their doctors’ advice, but sometimes it takes personal experience to make an advocate.

Former Attorney General Bob Stephan advocates medicinal marijuana
by Sasha Roe, Daily Kansan
Stephan, who is diagnosed with stage four lymphocytic lymphoma, wants to allow new laws for medicinal marijuana use. The issue could come up in future legislative sessions.

Stephan joins push for medical marijuana
by Scott Rothschild, Lawrence Journal-World (KS)
The push to legalize medical marijuana got a big lift Friday when former Attorney General Bob Stephan announced his support and urged Kansans to get behind the effort.

NEW MEXICO: Plans for State Marijuana Production and Distribution

Governor Bill Richardson pushed through a medical marijuana bill in New Mexico because, as he said, “it was the right thing to do.” Now he is directing state officials to figure out how to grow and distribute marijuana to patients, even though the state Attorney General has suggested it could create federal legal problems for the state employees involved. While Richardson has not indicated whether he will implement the distribution plan once its designed, the fact is that federal drug law includes an immunity provision for state officials who deal with drugs as part of their jobs.

NM pushes marijuana program
by Barry Massey, Associated Press
Gov. Bill Richardson has ordered the state Health Department to resume planning of a medical marijuana program despite the agency's worries about possible federal prosecution.

Gov. Orders Agency To Plan For Medical Marijuana Program
KOAT TV7 Albuquerque
Gov. Bill Richardson is ordering the state Health Department to move ahead with the planning of a medical marijuana program, despite the agency's worries about possible federal prosecution.

OHIO: Medical Marijuana Initiative May Go Before Voters

With neighboring Michigan gearing up for a voter initiative on medical marijuana this fall, and legislative action stalling in the Ohio House this year, patient advocates in the Buckeye State are considering trying for a ballot measure of their own next year.

Medical marijuana may go on Ohio ballot
by Alan Johnson, Columbis Dispatch (OH)
A statewide issue to legalize medical marijuana is headed for the ballot in Michigan next year -- and could swing south to Ohio shortly thereafter.

DISPENSARIES: Patients and Local Officials Grapple with Needs

Most of the struggle over patient access at the local level has been at the level of land-use planning, with officials and patients negotiating the appropriate role of medical marijuana dispensaries in the community. Implementation of state law is difficult enough, but federal interference has made matters worse. The federal government has clearly had an impact with continued raids and prosecutions, but patients are also fighting back and making their own impact on the community and local law. ASA's report on officials' experiences of how dispensaries are working is at AmericansForSafeAccess.org/DispensaryReport.

Medical marijuana supporters, defendants rally in Modesto
by Eve Hightower, Modesto Bee (CA)
Seven people arrested on drug charges stemming from an investigation into an Oakdale medical marijuana dispensary were in court Wednesday. Their arraignments were put off until Sept. 25 so the district attorney has more time to investigate.

Cities grapple with pot clinics' growth
by Harrison Sheppard, Whittier Daily News (CA)
More than a decade after California voters passed legalized medical marijuana, an explosion of dispensaries and patients has cities and counties scrambling to regulate the operations. According to Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, 26 cities and eight counties in California have ordinances allowing and regulating dispensaries.

Colma pot clubs killed by council
by Christine Morente, Oroville Mercury-Register
Medical marijuana dispensaries are now banned from this town. Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said the prohibition of dispensaries is disheartening and asserted the facilities are legal under state law.

County weighs need for medical marijuana
Fox News Bakersfield
Kern County Supervisors are struggling over whether the county should oversee medical marijuana facilities. It was a heated meeting during the morning session of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Medical marijuana advocates, patients and activists packed the meeting to speak out in favor of the county regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.

Sheriff gets booed at Board of Supervisors pot meeting
KGET TV17 (Bakersfield)
Sheriff Donny Youngblood got a chilly reception at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning. Youngblood was booed by medical marijuana supporters when he said, “I think we need to say no to medical marijuana dispensaries in Kern County.”

Board votes to keep pot law as is
by James Burger, Bakersfield Californian
Kern County supervisors on Tuesday struggled to find a clear path for themselves out of the legal morass that is medical marijuana in California.

Salinas council deadlocks on medical marijuana ban
by Brian Seals, The Salinas Californian
An ordinance that would have permanently prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries in the city failed to pass at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. A vote that would have rejected the ban failed on a 3-3 tie vote. Councilman Steve Villegas was absent.

CALIFORNIA: Medical Marijuana Opposition Group Milks Federal Funds

When medical marijuana advocates are asked why opposition persists in the face of medical science, many point out that those opposed frequently have vested financial interests in perpetuating prohibition. The case of a new group in California would seem to confirm this. Founded by state law enforcement officials using federal money, the group is already busy using myths and misinformation to block dispensaries. The real question is why anyone actively undermining the implementation of state law is allowed to remain on the state payroll.

Marijuana gains new foe
by Will Bigham, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)
A newly formed organization opposed to medical-marijuana dispensaries is urging local governments to prohibit the businesses. Paul and Brenda Chabot formed the group after learning of a federal program that helps groups seeking solutions to substance abuse. The group lacks steady funding, but it is working to secure federal grants, Brenda Chabot said. Brenda is a former probation officer for San Bernardino County; Paul Chabot is a Commissioner for the Juvenile Parole Board of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

GERMANY: First Medical Marijuana Patient Approved

Neighboring Holland has been providing cannabis by prescription for some time, but Germany has now officially made provisions for its first patient, a woman with MS. Many MS patients report that they use medical marijuana to ease spasticity and nerve pain that is not otherwise treatable. Since one patient is now allowed use of medical marijuana, other similarly situated patients in Germany can hope that they, too, will be given access soon.

Germany Allows Patient Legal Use of Cannabis
Deutsche Welle
A patient suffering from multiple sclerosis has been legally allowed to buy cannabis at the pharmacy under strict conditions. It's the first time Germany has permitted the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Germany permits medicinal marijuana
United Press International
A German woman with multiple sclerosis is the first person in her country to be allowed to legally buy pharmaceutical-grade cannabis to ease her symptoms.

MORE ABOUT AMERICANS FOR SAFE ACCESS

Find out more about ASA at AmericansForSafeAccess.org. More medical marijuana news summaries can be seen at AmericansForSafeAccess.org/News.

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Don't Smoke Pot in Your Car

Listen up hippies: smoking pot in your car is for jerks. Here's what will eventually happen to you if you insist on doing this:

An off-duty Sioux Falls police officer called other officers Thursday after he pulled up next to a car in which a man was smoking a marijuana pipe while driving, police spokesman Loren McManus said.


"As a matter of fact, (the pipe) was still warm when they found it," he said. [Argus-Leader]
Marijuana enthusiasts are fond of claiming that the drug doesn't actually impact your driving ability to any significant extent. I think it depends on your experience level, but literally getting high behind the wheel is just stupid no matter who you are. For one thing, the more comfortable you are with marijuana, the more you'll hate having to pee in a cup every 30 days for a year (or worse).

In my work with Flex Your Rights, I've heard so many horror stories about people getting arrested this way that I could never count them. For anyone who doesn’t already know this, the smell of marijuana automatically gives police probable cause to search your vehicle. You will be arrested for anything and everything that might be in your car.

So, whether you're Willie Nelson or my friend Peter, just wait 'til you get where you're going (depending, of course, where that is).*

*This public service announcement has been brought to you by StopTheDrugWar.org, a division of the international conspiracy to legalize drugs.

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All 8 Democratic presidential candidates support medical marijuana!

[Courtesy of MPP]

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) just became the last of the eight Democratic presidential candidates to pledge to end the DEA’s raids on medical marijuana patients and providers who act legally under state law.

This means that all eight Democratic presidential candidates — including U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) — have now taken public positions in support of protecting patients in the 12 states with medical marijuana laws.

In regard to Sen. Obama, it took MPP’s campaign in New Hampshire, Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana (GSMM), five separate encounters over the last few months — and two back-to-back encounters earlier this week — but on Tuesday in Nashua, Sen. Obama told a GSMM volunteer, “I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It's not a good use of our resources." You can watch the encounter here and read some news coverage of this coup here.

MPP/GSMM has had one full-time staffer — Stuart Cooper — working in New Hampshire since March, and I’m thrilled that our persistence has paid off. Stuart and his cadre of volunteers and patients have been dogging the Democratic and Republican candidates at almost every appearance in the state, urging them to take strong, public, positive positions on medical marijuana in advance of the New Hampshire primary — currently the first in the nation — on January 22.

In addition to the eight Democratic candidates, two Republican candidates — U.S. Reps. Ron Paul (Texas) and Tom Tancredo (Colo.) — have also vowed to end the medical marijuana raids as well. In fact, these two members of Congress recently voted for the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment on the House floor ... for the fifth year in a row.

You can see or hear the good guys in their own words here.

Can you imagine if all the presidential candidates publicly supported protecting patients? Please make a donation so we can keep up the pressure on the six Republicans who still haven’t taken positive positions.

The 10 good candidates are to be commended for their common sense and compassion, especially as federal intrusion into medical marijuana states has been on the rise this summer, with DEA raids taking place in several counties in California and Oregon. Recently, the DEA also began threatening landlords who lease space to medical marijuana dispensaries — activity that’s legal under state law — with forfeiture of their property, a move condemned in a Los Angeles Times editorial as "a deplorable new bullying tactic."

And last week, presidential candidate and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who signed legislation in April making his the 12th medical marijuana state, wrote to President Bush asking him to end the federal raids in medical marijuana states: "Respected physicians and government officials should not fear going to jail for acting compassionately and caring for our most vulnerable citizens. Nor should those most vulnerable of citizens fear their government because they take the medicine they need."

We still have work to do in New Hampshire: Will you consider making a donation today to ensure that in January 2009 we inaugurate a president who is committed to ending federal interference in the states that have medical marijuana laws? Thank you for your support.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property

MEDIA ADVISORY Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: August 23, 2007 Contact: ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes (510) 681-6361 or ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford (415) 573-7842 Medical Marijuana Patients Argue for Right to Unlawfully Seized Property Hearing Today in state appellate court could mark an end to years of local law enforcement violations What: Oral arguments for two medical marijuana "Return of Property" cases in State Appellate Court When: Thursday, August 23 at 1:30pm Where: California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District, 925 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana Who: ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, Chief Counsel Joe Elford will all be available for comment after the hearing Santa Ana, CA -- After more than two years, Garden Grove patient Felix Kha may finally see the return of his wrongfully confiscated 8 grams of medical marijuana. California's Fourth Appellate District in Santa Ana will hear oral arguments today in a case that has drawn the attention of the State Attorney General and the California Police Chiefs Association. Both organizations filed amicus briefs in the case, which supported opposite sides of the issue whether law enforcement has a right to seize a patient's marijuana and, in the event of an unlawful seizure, whether that patient has a right to get it back. Kha was cited for marijuana possession and had his medicine seized in June 2005, but after the case was dismissed in August 2005, an Orange County Superior Court judge ordered the return of his medicine. However, the City of Garden Grove not only refused to return Kha's unlawfully seized property, it also appealed the order, an unprecedented action by a California city. "More than ten years after the passage of the Compassionate Use Act, patients are still victim to routine medical marijuana seizures by local law enforcement," said Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel, and Kha's attorney, Joe Elford. "It is bad enough to have your medicine indiscriminately seized by police, but to then be denied its rightful return shows a blatant disregard for state law and the hundreds of thousands of California patients for whom this law was designed to protect." Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has compiled reports from nearly eight hundred patient encounters with local or state police during a period of more than two years. These reports show a glaring trend: more than 90% of all encounters result in medicine seizure by police regardless of any probable cause. According to reports received by ASA, rampant seizure of medical marijuana from qualified patients and primary caregivers has taken place in 53 of California's 58 counties. These violations of state law occur in both urban and rural locales, in the north as well as the south, and by both city and county law enforcement. Until 2005, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) held the record for the worst violator of Proposition 215, with a policy of mandatory seizure of medical marijuana regardless of patient status. In early 2005, ASA sued the state's top law enforcement agency and by August of that year the CHP had revised its policy to better respect patients' rights. As a result of that policy change, the CHP went from being the most irresponsible law enforcement agency with regard to the unlawful seizure of medical marijuana to one of the state's best. As a result of different litigation, also involving ASA, the County of Merced revised its police policy in June 2007 to prevent the unlawful seizure of marijuana from qualified patients. As a consequence of the high number of medicine seizures, ASA has assisted scores of patients in seeking the return of their property. Although fairly onerous, California criminal courts have a mechanism to seek the return of medical marijuana; patients can file a motion for return of property and request a hearing. According to ASA, at least thirty of these motions have resulted in Superior Court orders and the return of patient medicine. At the same time, an undue number of denials have also occurred. In fact, Kha's case will be heard alongside the case of Jim Spray, a Huntington Beach patient that was denied a court order by a different judge in the same Superior Court that issued Kha's order. This discrepancy makes the issue ripe for an appellate court decision.
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Santa Ana, CA
United States

Europe: First German Patient Approved to Use Medical Marijuana

The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices has for the first time approved the use of medical marijuana for a patient. The institute acted in the case of a 51-year-old woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis, who will be able to legally buy marijuana at a pharmacy to ease her symptoms.

Beginning next month, the woman will be allowed to buy a "standardized extract" of the marijuana plant from the pharmacy for a year. The woman's health will be monitored by a doctor. In addition, both the woman and the pharmacy must store the marijuana extract in a safe to prevent theft.

Marijuana is illegal in Germany, but a 2005 German Federal Administrative Court ruling has muddied the waters when it comes to medical marijuana. In that ruling, the court held that it was "in the public interest" to improve the health of patients, so now the federal institute must individually evaluate each case where a patient seeks access to medical marijuana.

Until now, German doctors have only been able to prescribe Marinol, but that compound is both expensive and lacks some of the cannabinoids that patients say makes natural marijuana preferable to the synthetic drug. Marinol is also not approved as a medicine in Germany, meaning it is not covered by health insurance. Natural marijuana should be less expensive.

Still, despite this week's decision to approve medical marijuana for one patient, other medical marijuana patients still face possible prosecution. Last week, the Suddeutsche Zeitung reported on the case of a hepatitis-C patient sentenced to a year in jail for marijuana possession.

Marijuana: Humboldt County Supervisors Say Legalize It

In a 4-0 vote, the Humboldt County, California, Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send a letter to their congressional representative asking him to work to legalize marijuana. Humboldt County is part of Northern California's famed marijuana growing "Emerald Triangle."

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/humboldtnarc.jpg
Humboldt County ''Drug Enforcement Unit'' -- just abolish it
The letter, which was proposed by Supervisor Roger Rodoni, asks US Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) for his "support in helping to initiate legislation which will legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana."

Rodoni pronounced himself pleasantly surprised by the unanimous vote in an interview this week with the Eureka Reporter. "I was prepared to consider it a furthering of the conversation," he said, adding that he didn't anticipate the board's receptive vote.

The move comes on the heels of a similar effort by nearby Mendocino County, which last month endorsed marijuana legalization. Other California localities have approved measures calling for the taxation and regulation of marijuana, including Oakland (2004), Santa Cruz (2006), and San Francisco (2006).

Marijuana is a multi-billion dollar business in California and is especially important to local economies in Northern California.

Medical Marijuana: Obama Says End Raids, All Democratic Presidential Candidates Now on Board

The Democratic Party presidential field is now in agreement on at least one issue: The DEA's raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal should be stopped. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who had been the last holdout, on Tuesday said he would end such raids.

Obama's pledge came as a response to a question from Nashua resident and Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana volunteer Scott Turner, who asked the senator what he would do to stop the federal government from putting seriously ill people like Turner in prison in states where medical marijuana is legal. Granite Staters is a project of the Marijuana Policy Project designed to advance the issue by taking advantage of New Hampshire's crucial role in presidential primaries.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Obama said. "It's not a good use of our resources."

Obama now joins all seven other Democratic presidential contenders in opposing the raids, as well as Republican candidates Rep. Ron Paul (TX) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (CO).

"For the first time in history, the leaders of one of our nation's major parties have unanimously called for an end to the federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients," GSMM campaign manager Stuart Cooper, from Manchester, said. "New Hampshire voters and medical professionals effectively sent a clear message that we would not support a candidate who would arrest – rather than protect – our nation's most seriously ill citizens. Compassion and reason are finally overcoming politics and propaganda."

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson took it a step further by sending a letter to President Bush asking him to end the raids. "Respected physicians and government officials should not fear going to jail for acting compassionately and caring for our most vulnerable citizens," Richardson wrote. "Nor should those most vulnerable of citizens fear their government because they take the medicine they need."

Medical Marijuana: Is An Ohio Initiative In the Works?

With the effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the 2008 ballot in Michigan well underway, reform proponents are now eying next door Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday. The newspaper said the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is weighing its options in the Buckeye State.

"Ohio would be a state worth considering, certainly a high priority. It would be a question of timing," said Edward Orlett, a former Democratic state legislator who represents DPA in Ohio.

DPA sponsored a 2002 Ohio initiative that would have mandated treatment instead of incarceration for many drug offenders. It was defeated 2-to-1 at the polls after the state's Republican political establishment campaigned against it, but now Ohio legislators are pondering passing a bill that would do basically the same thing.

A medical marijuana initiative effort in Ohio would likely attract the interest of Cleveland-based Peter Lewis, the chairman and former CEO of Progressive Insurance, and a major contributor to marijuana reform efforts who gives millions of dollars each year to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

MPP has awarded a startup grant to the Ohio Patient Network, a Columbus-based group that supports medical marijuana, the newspaper reported.

Twelve states have enacted laws allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana. None of them are in the Midwest.

Feature: Push for Medical Marijuana Underway in Kansas

An effort to bring Kansas into the ranks of the medical marijuana states took a big step forward last Friday as one of the state's most well-known political figures appeared at a news conference at the state capitol to announce his support of such a move. Former Attorney General Robert Stephan, a Republican who held the position from 1979 to 1995, told the news conference the state has an obligation to act to allow its citizens to use medications that would alleviate suffering.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/robertstephan.jpg
Robert Stephan, KSCCC press conference, August 2007
"Let me make clear that I am in no way advocating drug legalization," said Stephan, who has been on record as a medical marijuana supporter since 1983. "But I also do not believe that the state should preempt the role of the physician when it comes to deciding what's best for ill Kansans. That's why I support changing state law to ensure that individuals can obtain and use a limited amount of marijuana if recommended by their doctor -- without fear of prosecution."

Stephan cited his own experience as a cancer patient, as well as the suffering of other patients, in calling for a Kansas medical marijuana law. Rejecting opposition to the medicinal use of marijuana as "voodoo medicine" and recounting the moans of misery he heard on the cancer ward, Stephan said, "It seemed incomprehensible to me that there should be such suffering and any drug, including marijuana, should be available to assist the patient." Stephan said access to medical marijuana should not be limited to cancer patients. It has proven useful for glaucoma, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, and other diseases, he said.
Stephan declined a Drug War Chronicle request for an interview. He said he feared talking to a publication that advocates for drug legalization would damage his cause.

Last Friday's event marked the public coming out for the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition, which has been busy laying the groundwork for a campaign it hopes will lead to legislation next year. It certainly garnered attention in the Jayhawk State. A Google search this week produced dozens of local media mentions of the news conference.

And that's just fine with KSCCC head Laura Green. "Our goal is to get a bill introduced in the Kansas legislature to protect seriously ill Kansans from arrest and prosecution for using marijuana as a medicine," said Green, "and this will kick-start the conversation."

It is a conversation that could use a boost in the Heartland. Twelve states with some 50 million inhabitants currently have medical marijuana laws, but none of them are in the Midwest. Efforts in legislatures in states such as Illinois and Minnesota have not reached fruition, while voters in South Dakota last year narrowly defeated a medical marijuana initiative -- the first state to reject medical marijuana at the ballot box.

The KSCCC is not carrying a pre-drafted bill to present to the legislature, said Green. "We're still five months away from the legislative session, so we don't have a bill yet," she said. "We're working with individual legislators and trying to built support and a consensus. There are many different medical marijuana models out there, and we're looking for one that our legislators can get comfortable with," Green said.

Some Kansas politicians were quick off the mark to reject medical marijuana after last Friday's press conference, but Green is not concerned. "We don't have a lot of political support right now, but that's to be expected," she argued. "Some politicians say they haven't had a chance to hear from their constituents, while even some of the ones who say publicly they're against it tell us something different in private."

It's not just legislators, said Green, who added she and the KSCCC will do everything they can to make sure elected officials do hear from constituents favoring a medical marijuana bill. The coalition is about a year old and some 400 members strong right now. "We're going around the state recruiting members -- patients, physicians, nurses, members of the religious community -- to try to build our numbers," Green said.

The Kansas State Nursing Association is a key target. The influential group will vote on a medical marijuana resolution in October, Green said, noting that an endorsement from the nurses will be a powerful tool.

The group is also attempting to get the Kansas clergy on its side. "We are getting a lot of religious support," said Green, who, as head of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas spent long hours mapping out the state's hundreds of congregations as part of laying the groundwork for drug reform efforts. "We did a mailer to members of the clergy last Friday, and we've already had 30 responses. The response from the clergy has really been great," Green said.

If the legislative record in other medical marijuana states is any indication, KSCCC and its supporters have a long and twisting road in front of them. Passage of a medical marijuana law seems to be almost universally a three-year affair, or more. But in Kansas, patient proponents have been laying the groundwork for a year or more, and now they have emerged with a key state political figure standing with them. If they manage to enter the legislative session in January with some momentum, they just might short-circuit the normal, glacial legislative process.

Democratic Presidential Candidates All Support Medical Marijuana

It's about time Barack Obama took the right position on a drug policy issue. Last night he concurred with the other democratic presidential hopefuls that the federal medical marijuana raids must stop:
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — In his first public statement on the subject, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to end medical marijuana raids in the 12 states that have medical marijuana laws Tuesday at a campaign event during a Nashua Pride minor league baseball game.

Obama's pledge came as a response to a question from Nashua resident and Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana volunteer Scott Turner, who asked the senator what he would do to stop the federal government from putting seriously ill people like Turner in prison in states where medical marijuana is legal.

"I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users," Obama said. "It's not a good use of our resources." [MPP]
I remain unimpressed with Obama, however. He promises "change" yet openly laments the "political capital" it would cost to repair a no-brainer racial justice issue like the crack powder sentencing disparity. Arguably the worst on drug policy among the democratic contenders, Obama's stance on medical marijuana could easily be dismissed as a political rather than a compassionate stance.

Still, Obama's gutlessness would hardly alienate him from a Democratic Congress that remains enslaved by the drug war status quo. Really, if all democratic candidates agree with ending the medical marijuana raids, why the hell are democrats continually blocking the Hinchey Amendment, which does exactly that?

I just asked MPP's Aaron Houston this question, and he says it's a lot easier for the President to define DOJ's priorities than it is to get every single Democrat to sign onto something that many believe could hurt them politically. This may explain why Hinchey didn't do better this year under a democratically-controlled Congress. Since the democrats see a strong chance of reclaiming the White House, they have little incentive to take even minor political risks over an issue that could be resolved administratively in January '09.

That's a long wait for patients and providers that continue to live in fear of the DEA, but with Hinchey on pace to pass in 2027, January '09 feels like a fine time to bring this madness to an end.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
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