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Medical Marijuana: National MS Society Takes Half-Step Toward Recognizing Therapeutic Uses

The National MS Society has released an expert opinion paper that marijuana has the potential to treat MS symptoms and limit the progression of the disease, but stopped short of recommending that MS patients use the drug.

"Although it is clear that cannabinoids have potential both for the management of MS symptoms such as pain and spasticity, as well as for neuroprotection, the Society cannot at this time recommend that medical marijuana be made widely available to people with MS for symptom management," the society concluded. "This situation might change,
should better data become available that clearly demonstrate benefit."

The society called for future clinical trials on methods of administration that rapidly deliver cannabinoids to the bloodstream, such as vaporization. It also called for clinical trials to study medical marijuana's potential to slow the progression of the disease. It cited "anecdotal reports from patients... that cannabis reduces the frequency of their MS attacks."

With clinical data already reported showing that whole plant cannabinoid extracts relieved pain, spasticity, and incontinence, more clinical studies ongoing, and countless anecdotal accounts from patients, some suggest the society is being overly cautious.

"The MS Society's recommendations are a positive step, but they don't go far enough. Surveys indicate that as many as one out of two MS patients use cannabis therapeutically, yet this report does nothing to challenge these patients' legal status as criminals," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, in a statement responding to the expert opinion.

Still, it is progress for the MS Society. It was only two years ago that the society, finally heeding the pleas of the people it is supposed to serve, first funded medical marijuana clinical trials. Before that, the MS Society had been indifferent, if not hostile, to medical marijuana. One half-step at a time.

Feature: Feds Score Another Conviction Against a California Medical Marijuana Dispensary Operator

In a trial that garnered national attention because of the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws, a federal jury in Los Angeles Tuesday convicted the owner of a Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary on five counts of violating federal drug laws. As was the case in previous federal prosecutions, the defense was not allowed to mount a medical marijuana defense or even mention the words "medical marijuana" during the course of the trial.
Charlie Lynch (from
Charles Lynch, 46, operator of Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in San Luis Obispo County, faces a minimum of five years in prison and as many as 85 years after being found guilty of distributing more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, some of to people considered minors under federal law.

Federal prosecutors portrayed Lynch as a mercenary drug dealer, toting around backpacks full of cash and selling dope to minors. One minor, Owen Beck, actually took the stand in Lynch's defense. Beck suffers from bone cancer, and accompanied by his parents, he would visit the dispensary to purchase medical marijuana recommended to him by his Stanford University oncologist. But as soon as Beck mentioned that he was ill, Federal District Court Judge George Wu blocked his testimony.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times after reaching a verdict, jury forewoman Kitty Meese said jurors understood Lynch was no run-of-the-mill drug dealer, but that federal law made no provision for dispensary operators. "We all felt Mr. Lynch intended well," Meese said. "But under the parameters we were given for the federal law, we didn't have a choice." She added, "it was a tough decision for all of us because the state law and the federal law are at odds."

Lynch had run the dispensary in compliance with state law and with the blessing of local officials in Morro Bay, but after a fruitless, year-long investigation by San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Pat Hedges failed to find any violations of state law, the sheriff invited the DEA to come and raid the dispensary. The DEA did just that last year, and a few months later a federal grand jury indicted him.

Lynch is only the latest of at least six dispensary operators convicted under the federal drug laws, and his dispensary is but one of the dozens raided by the DEA in the last couple of years. With federal juries blocked from hearing about or considering the state's medical marijuana laws by federal judges in those cases, convictions are all but a foregone conclusion.

"This just goes to show the difficulty of getting a fair trial on this in federal court," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "The feds are batting a thousand when it comes to getting convictions in these cases. You cannot get a fair hearing."

"Charley got steamrolled by the federal government," said San Luis Obispo attorney Lou Koory, who represented Lynch in his dealings with local officials. "It's just not a fair fight when you can't tell the whole story," he said.

"The jury selection process revealed that potential jurors in Los Angeles had major questions about why the feds would be prosecuting someone like Charley when there are several dispensaries operating within walking distance of the courthouse there," Koory pointed out. "Those jurors were dismissed for cause, so we were left with citizens who were apparently not concerned about the federal government's actions in this case and who felt compelled to follow the judge's instructions."

"When you have things like Owen Beck being prevented from testifying, that only escalates the tragedy of this case," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access. "The jury was not allowed to hear the whole truth in the larger context of the state law," he said.

Hermes was quick to point out that Lynch was not the only victim of the DEA and its local law enforcement collaborators. "When Charles was raided, his was one of the only facilities in the whole region," said Hermes. "Now patients have to go much longer distances, sometimes hundreds of miles, to get their medicine. Not only has this destroyed Charlie's life, it has worsened the lives of hundreds of patients."

With the deck stacked against dispensary operators in these federal prosecutions, activists and advocates are looking for ways to change the status quo. Some involve fighting back against recalcitrant law enforcement officials like Sheriff Hedges, others looks to greater help from state officials, while still others are turning a jaundiced eye on the federal marijuana laws.

At least one of Lynch's patients has filed suit against Hedges, alleging that he violated patients' privacy protections by seizing patient records and violated both her state and federal constitutional rights by doing an end run around state law.

"The sheriff couldn't get a state search warrant, so he calls in the DEA and participates in the raid," said Koory. "In return for serving up Charley on a silver platter, the sheriff got access to all the evidence, including patient records," he explained. "The dispensary was a rock in the sheriff's shoe, so after a year's worth of failed investigation, Sheriff Hedges invited the DEA to come up to Morro Bay and raid the dispensary. That's the real story here."

While the idea of suing sheriffs sounds appealing, it's a long-shot, said Hermes. "They are certainly subject to litigation if someone wants to file a lawsuit against a local official for cooperating with the federal government, but it's a difficult legal challenge," he said. "There is no law that prohibits local law enforcement from cooperating with the feds. What officials like the sheriff are doing is wrongheaded, harmful, and unnecessary, but it will be difficult to win, I think."

In the meantime, said Hermes, there are other avenues to pursue in reining in renegade local officials. "One thing would be to get a pronouncement from Attorney General Jerry Brown directing law enforcement on appropriate conduct around these issues. We're expecting that to happen soon," he said. "Absence of direction from the attorney general has made it easier not only for federal law enforcement to come in and undermine the implementation of state law, but also to make it easier for local law enforcement to help in that effort."

Hermes said that recent state court decisions, including last week's slap-down of San Diego County's challenge to the law (see related story this issue) are also helping define the playing field. "We've had multiple appellate court rulings declaring the state's medical marijuana law is not preempted by federal law, that the two can coexist, and that local law enforcement should be upholding state law and not federal law," he said. "Between these rulings and the pending guidelines from the attorney general, there will be less and less wiggle room for local law enforcement to skirt the law."

There is also the ballot box. Sheriffs are elected officials, and they could be challenged at the voting booth over their medical marijuana misbehavior, but ASA's Hermes couldn't recall a case where someone was either defeated or elected over the issue. "It is certainly an issue to bring up in sheriffs' races," he said. "If there are renegade law enforcement officials trying to skirt state law, we can try to make them feel the political heat."

Still, Hermes predicted that given the state court rulings, the pending guidelines from the attorney general, and new set of faces in Washington next year, the renegade law enforcement problem will probably recede. "If it continues to happen," he said, "there will be a political battle I think public officials will be sorry they got into. I think we will see less and less cooperation between local law enforcement and the feds on this."

A new administration in Washington could make a huge difference, Hermes said. "If we elect Obama, and he follows through on his promise to end federal raids on dispensaries, then we will hopefully see less federal activity here in California."

But the ultimate solution is changing the federal law around marijuana. Legalization, decriminalization, rescheduling marijuana out of Schedule 1, or even passage of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would cut off funds for federal raids in medical marijuana states, are some of the steps that could be taken.

"We need to see either marijuana rescheduled as something other than Schedule 1, or the US Supreme Court's Raich decision needs to be revisited and overruled. The logic behind that decision -- that medical marijuana grown, distributed, and consumed within California affects interstate commerce -- is a stretch at best," said Koory.

"What we need is a comprehensive federal policy in the US," said Hermes. "Rescheduling or passing Hinchey would be easier than passing either decriminalization or legalization, but we would welcome any of those. We'll be working for a sweeping federal policy that includes rescheduling, further research, and allows for safe access to medical marijuana for patients all across the country."

Until the federal marijuana laws are reformed or eliminated, medical marijuana patients are not safe. Instead, they will be subject to the whims and political proclivities of whoever has hold of the levers of power in Washington.

Click here to watch Drew Carey's video about Charlie Lynch, on Reason TV.

Americans for Safe Access: August Activist Newsletter

Calif. Appellate Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Law

ASA Defeats County Challenge; San Diego Wants Supreme Court Review

An appeals court has ruled that California's medical marijuana laws must be implemented. A handful of counties had challenged the ID card program the state legislature established, saying that federal prohibition trumped state law. That challenge was rejected by a judge in 2006 and again by an appeals court this month. In both instances, the courts sided with attorneys from Americans for Safe Access, the ACLU and the California Attorney General's office, who all argued that federal and state laws can exist side by side.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford

In a unanimous opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that federal law does not preempt the state's medical marijuana program. Nonetheless, San Diego County supervisors have voted to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

"This is a huge win for medical marijuana patients, not only in California, but across the country," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel of Americans for Safe Access, who argued before the appellate court on behalf of patients. "This ruling makes clear the ability of states to pass medical marijuana laws with an expectation that those laws will be upheld by local and state, if not federal, officials."

San Diego County officials filed suit against the state in 2006, hoping to avoid implementing the medical marijuana ID card program mandated by state law. They were originally joined by Merced and San Bernardino counties in arguing that California's medical marijuana laws were not valid because federal laws prohibiting all marijuana use supercede any state law. Merced abandoned the challenge and began implementation after losing in superior court later that year.

In rejecting that argument, Justice Alex McDonald wrote for the court that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) "signifies Congress's intent to maintain the power of states to elect 'to serve as a laboratory in the trial of novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country' by preserving all state laws that do not positively conflict with the CSA."

ASA argued on behalf of the interests of patients in the original case and the appeal, filing briefs along with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. Officials from the City of San Diego broke with their county counterparts and filed an amicus 'friend of the court' brief in the appeal, siding with the Attorney General and medical marijuana patient advocates.

"More than eleven years after the passage of Proposition 215, it's about time that we all got on the same page with regard to medical marijuana and the protections afforded by California law," said Elford. "With two appellate court decisions clearly stating that federal law should not be an excuse to avoid enforcing state law, it is now time for full implementation in California."

In March, the California Supreme Court denied review of City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court, another appellate court case that found the state's medical marijuana law was not preempted by federal law.

ASA will be launching a campaign soon to educate elected officials across the state about their obligation to implement state law, in particular the state ID card program, and the benefits of doing so for both law enforcement and medical marijuana patients.




Federal Legal Confusion Yields Conviction

Dispensary Owner Obeyed State and Local Laws but Faces Five Years in Prison

The closely watched federal trial of a California medical marijuana dispensary owner has resulted in guilty verdicts on all counts. Charlie Lynch, 46, faces a minimum of five years in prison, even though he operated his dispensary legally under state law, complied with regulations set by Morro Bay city officials, and contacted federal authorities about his plans.

Charlie Lynch cutting the ribbon on opening day Charlie Lynch cutting the ribbon on opening day

Lynch, a successful software developer with no prior criminal record, sought and received a business license from the city and was welcomed to the local Chamber of Commerce. Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers was open for 11 months before federal agents raided it on March 29, 2007.

"It is a huge waste of taxpayer resources for the federal government to spend millions of dollars attacking someone who was abiding by local and state law in every respect," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "It is shameful and a tragedy for Mr. Lynch and his patients."

Federal medical marijuana trials typically forbid any mention of state or local laws, or even the medical conditions of the patients. But attorneys' for Lynch persuaded the judge to allow limited testimony from the Morro Bay mayor and city attorney, as well as Lynch's own account of attempts he made to operate within the law.

Lynch testified that he called federal authorities on four occasions to find out if he could legally open a dispensary. He claims a DEA agent told him it was up to state and local laws, and he has the phone records to prove that he at least made the call. Lynch's federal public defenders argued that this amounted to a legal assurance, and that the jury should find that any violations of federal law were the result of entrapment.

But the jury foreman told an ASA volunteer that jury was not persuaded by Lynch's contact with the DEA because he could not provide names of the people he spoke with. Lynch's discussed those conversations with an attorney before opening the dispensary, but the attorney was not allowed to testify.

During the week-long trial, Lynch testified that he did everything he could to make sure his activities were within the law. His federal public defenders introduced evidence showing that he maintained scrupulous records and enforced an uncompromising ethical code of conduct for his employees. Federal prosecutors allege that he was concerned only with profits and that some of the patients to whom he sold marijuana were under 21, an offense that carries federal sentencing enhancements.

Lynch attempted to call one of those patients to the stand as a character witness. Owen Beck, a 17-year old bone cancer survivor, appeared in court with his parents, who had always accompanied him on his visits to the dispensary, per city regulations. But after hearing that the marijuana Beck bought was being used on the advice of his Stanford oncologist, Judge George Wu ruled his testimony inadmissible. Beck's father told reporters that Lynch had never asked for or received payment for the cannabis he provided Owen.

Though Lynch was in full compliance with state and local law, the federal investigation against Lynch was supported by San Luis Obispo Sheriff Pat Hedges. Hedges is being sued by a former patient of Lynch's for seizing her medical records in the raid.

Soon after the raid, Lynch reopened his dispensary. The next month, Lynch's landlord was threatened by the DEA with forfeiture of his property unless he evicted Lynch, leading to the dispensary's closure in May 2007.

Lynch was found guilty of conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute marijuana and concentrated cannabis, manufacturing marijuana, knowingly maintaining a drug premises, and sales of marijuana to a person under the age of 21.

Lynch is currently scheduled to be sentenced on October 20. For more on the Lynch case and what you can do about it, see ASA's blog at

ASA Chapter Focus: Hawaii ASA

2008 has been a very eventful year for ASA in Hawaii. Since January, new ASA chapters have been established in Hawaii and Honolulu Counties. On the island of Oahu, the Honolulu County ASA has hosted informational rallies, phone bank campaigns, and outreach efforts to educate state and federal officials on medical cannabis laws, the science behind medical use, and the needs of patients in Hawaii. Members of the Hawaii County Chapter have been involved in these educational programs as well.

On the Big Island (Hawaii County), there has been widespread support for petitioning to add a county-wide initiative to the November Ballot that would make cannabis the lowest-level law enforcement priority there.

In July, Hawaii's Governor, Linda Lingle, vetoed a bill (HB2675) that would have established a task force to study the effectiveness of current state law. Unfortunately, the bill fell short of a veto override.

Also in July, controversy erupted as the Hawaii Department of Public Safety violated patient privacy laws by giving a local newspaper reporter private information on over 4000 state-registered medical cannabis patients. This privacy violation highlights the problems associated with having law enforcement agencies oversee state medical programs. Big Island ASA is working with the Governor's office to transfer oversight of the medical cannabis program to the Department of Public Health.

ASA's two Hawaii chapters have built alliances with several other organizations in the state, including THC Ministries and Patients Without Time, as well as student groups from several college campuses and the West Oahu for a Cure Foundation, which works on HIV and cancer-related issues.

ASA is attempting to establish chapters in each city and to expand membership in established chapters. If you can help, please contact ASA's local chapter leaders to get more information on immediate goals for improving patient access, such as: establishing secured growing facilities, clarifying state law to allow collectives and dispensing organizations, and establishing patient protections for employment, housing, and reciprocity for other medical cannabis states.

DEA Secures Another Medical Marijuana Conviction by Lying in Court

The highly controversial Charles Lynch trial has reached a disappointing conclusion:

The owner of a Morro Bay marijuana dispensary was found guilty today in federal court of five counts of distributing drugs.

Charles Lynch, the owner of the dispensary, faces a minimum of five years in prison.

His closely watched trial involved conflicting marijuana laws and went to a federal court jury Monday. Jurors were asked to determine if Lynch was guilty of violating federal drug laws.

During a week-and-a-half-long trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, federal prosecutors sought to depict Lynch as a common drug dealer who sold pot to teenagers and carried a backpack stuffed with cash.

Lynch was charged with distributing marijuana, conspiring to distribute marijuana and providing marijuana to people under the age of 21. [LA Times}

Like other medical marijuana convictions, federal prosecutors were only able to prevail by blocking testimony about medical marijuana and misleading jurors about the true nature of the defendant's actions. tells the truth about the Lynch case here:

Fortunately, while the federal government can lie to a jury, they cannot conceal their contemptuous conduct from a public already sickened by the vicious and embarrassing war on medical marijuana patients and providers. Their manipulative tactics will be fully exposed in the aftermath of today's result and will be greeted with the same widespread disgust that has characterized past persecutions prosecutions.

We must never mistake today's events for anything but what they are: a pathetic and purely symbolic attempt to obscure the obvious benefits of state medical marijuana laws. They are powerless against the tide of public opinion and the booming industry that has spawned amidst their intransigence. They now resort to petty martyrings, the brutal last resort of a disgraced tyrant, in the fading hope of intimidating a nation that has embraced democracy itself to subvert their hideous war.

Even in its hour of victory, the war on medical marijuana shivers naked before us, spitting desperately into the eyes of a public whose support it lost long ago.

Marijuana Offers Hope For Battling Colon Cancer

Marijuana's incredible medical potential becomes increasingly clear with every new study:

Raymond DuBois and colleagues at the University of Texas in Houston discovered that a key receptor for cannabinoids, which are found in marijuana, is turned off in most types of human colon cancer.

Without this receptor, a protein called survivin, which stops cells from dying, increases unchecked and causes tumour growth.

To better understand the role that the receptor, called CB1, plays in cancer progression, the researchers manipulated its expression in mice that had been genetically engineered to spontaneously develop colon tumours.

"When we knocked out the receptor, the number of tumors went up dramatically," says DuBois. Alternatively, when mice with normal CB1 receptors were treated with a cannabinoid compound, their tumours shrank. [New Scientist]

The body of evidence showing that THC may effectively treat tumors is already extensive, so there's nothing particularly surprising about this latest research. Rather, it provides yet another opportunity to point out just how much damage our government has done in the course of its relentless and fraudulent campaign to convince everyone that the marijuana plant is incredibly dangerous rather than incredibly helpful.

Imagine what we might have achieved if our nation's efforts over the past thirty years had been focused on identifying the plant's benefits rather than exaggerating its harms and vilifying its users.

Hey Politicians, Reforming Marijuana Laws is Smart Politics

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) signed on to Barney Frank's marijuana decriminalization bill because he thought it was the right thing to do. He certainly wasn't trying to score political points, but look what happened:

Clay was worried about the reaction. Supporting the liberalization of marijuana laws is not often seen as a political winner, especially in Midwestern cities like St. Louis.

But instead of stoner jokes, derision and righteous indignation, Clay was surprised to start getting praise from complete strangers.

“People are coming up to me saying this is a common-sense, sensible way to deal with the issue of personal use,” Clay said.

So far, he said, his calls, mail and contacts are running 80-20 in favor of the bill. He was impressed enough that he decided to go ahead and step before the cameras last week with Frank and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) at a news conference touting the bill. [The Hill]

One of the most pernicious artifacts still tainting the marijuana policy debate is the false notion that reforming marijuana laws is "politically risky." As Lacy Clay just learned, it isn't nearly that simple. Support for marijuana legalization has increased steadily for the last 20 years, according to a 2005 Gallup poll. While full legalization is still not the majority position, decriminalization enjoys 72% support according to Time/CNN.

It is just a fact that most Americans believe our marijuana laws are deeply flawed. This view continues to gain momentum despite mountains of misleading government propaganda designed to achieve the opposite effect. We are on a trajectory towards reform in terms of public opinion, yet many of our politicians remain hamstrung by antiquated conventional political wisdom, which holds that reform can't be marketed to the public. It's wrong, and it can be proven so through a process as simple as voting for decriminalization and watching as your constituents glow with praise and enthusiasm.

It is really just a matter of time before the political viability of marijuana reform is fully revealed, and when that happens, I suspect we'll discover that our movement has friends we didn't know about.

Marijuana: Joplin, Missouri, Decrim Initiative in Final Signature-Gathering Push

Organizers of a Joplin, Missouri, initiative that would decriminalize possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana are in a sprint to the wire in a last-minute bid to get the necessary number of signatures to get the measure on the November ballot. During the initial signature-gathering phase, canvassers gathered more than the required number of signatures, but many of them turned out not to be registered Joplin voters. Now the group has a 10-day window from August 5 until August 15 to come up with more valid signatures.

Organized by Sensible Joplin, the initiative would amend a city ordinance to make simple possession a civil infraction with a maximum $250 fine. That would remove the threat of a criminal record and all its collateral consequences from marijuana smokers and would save Joplin law enforcement resources currently being wasted on low-level pot busts, organizers argue.

To get on the ballot, the initiative needs 4,656 valid signatures, or roughly 15% of Joplin voters. Sensible Joplin originally turned in more than 5,600 signatures, but only 3,623 were valid. That means the group needs an additional 1,033 valid signatures in the next two weeks.

Organizers said it could be done. "It's definitely a workable situation," Kelly Maddy, president of Sensible Joplin and Joplin NORML told the Joplin Globe this week. "We still feel really good that we have a fighting chance to get this thing on the ballot."

Feature: Federal Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Has Its Coming Out Party

For the first time in decades, a marijuana decriminalization bill is before the Congress. Actually introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) in April, the Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults (H.R. 5843) got its coming out party Wednesday as Frank, a handful of other representatives, and leaders of prominent drug reform organizations held a Capitol Hill press conference to push for the bill.

In the eyes of many, the bill couldn't come soon enough. Since 1965, more than 20 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges, 830,000 in 2006. Of those, nearly 90% were for simple possession. In addition to the jail time and other costs imposed on offenders, marijuana law enforcement costs society more than $7 billion a year.

While passage of a federal decriminalization bill would have little direct impact -- only 160 people were charged with federal marijuana possession offenses last year -- its symbolic impact could help break the marijuana law reform log-jam that has endured since the days of the hippies.

Here is the text of the bill in its entirety:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no penalty may be imposed under an Act of Congress for the possession of marijuana for personal use, or for the not-for-profit transfer between adults of marijuana for personal use. For the purposes of this section, possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana shall be presumed to be for personal use, as shall the not-for-profit transfer of one ounce or less of marijuana, except that the civil penalty provided in section 405 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 844a) may be imposed for the public use of marijuana if the amount of the penalty does not exceed $100."
Reps. Lee, Frank and Clay at press conference (courtesy Drug Policy Alliance)
Frank and other advocates conceded the bill has no chance of passage this year, but lauded it as a long overdue beginning. Hearings could come next year, they said.

The federal government should stop arresting marijuana users, Frank said as he stood before the microphones flanked by Congressional Black Caucus members Reps. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), and advocates Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML; Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, and Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Existing laws aimed at marijuana users punish otherwise law-abiding citizens and sick people whose doctors have recommended the drug, disproportionately impact African-Americans, and waste law enforcement resources, Frank said. They also amount to an unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of Americans, he said.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults and this should be of no interest or concern to the government," said NORML's St. Pierre. "In fact, the vast majority of marijuana smokers are adults who cause no harm to themselves or to anyone else, so there is no reason for the state to be involved."

Marijuana use should be treated like alcohol use, St. Pierre continued. "With alcohol we acknowledge the distinction between use and abuse, and we focus our law enforcement involvement on efforts to stop irresponsible use. We do not arrest or jail responsible alcohol drinkers. That should be our policy with marijuana as well," he said, noting that there were more than 11 million marijuana arrests since 1990.

Reps. Clay and Lee both emphasized the inordinate number of arrests of minority pot smokers. The application of the marijuana laws unfairly targets blacks, said Clay.

Clay called marijuana prohibition part of "a phony war on drugs that is filling up our prisons, especially with people of color." It is time for a "practical, common sense approach" instead, he said.

Lee also noted the disproportionate impact of marijuana law enforcement on the minority community, but as a representative of a state where medical marijuana is legal also singled out another group that suffers under the law. "This bill is about compassion," she said. "The federal government has better things to do than send sick people to jail."

MPP's Kampia noted that marijuana arrests outnumber arrests for "all violent crimes combined," and suggested that law enforcement concentrate less on pursuing nonviolent marijuana offenders. "Ending arrests is the key to marijuana policy reform," he said. "It is important to eliminate the threat of arrest. For the many marijuana users who aren't arrested, they still live in fear of arrest."

Marijuana prohibition is "one of the most destructive criminal justice policies in America today," said DPA's Piper, noting that in addition to arrest and possible imprisonment, marijuana users face the loss of jobs, financial aid for college, federal benefits, and access to low-cost public housing.

Even while conceding the bill has virtually zero chance of passing this year, earlier in the week Piper said you have to start somewhere. "The goal is to raise the issue and have something that advocates can organize around," he said. "But just having this bill introduced is groundbreaking in itself."

It could also rub off at state houses across the land, Piper said. "This will encourage state lawmakers to introduce similar bills. This is also something we can now turn around and use to lobby with at state houses," he said.

"There's a growing sentiment in Congress that the prisons are overcrowded," said MPP spokesman Dan Bernath. "I think we are at or near a tipping point, and this bill is a good way to start chipping away at our marijuana laws," he said. "This will set the stage for sensible marijuana reforms at the state and local level, as well as more meaningful federal reforms in the future."

If reformers see little likelihood of anything happening this year, the federal government's anti-drug bureaucrats were taking no chances. Crashing the gate at the press conference were Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) chief scientist Dr. David Murray and two aides. They came carrying glossy ONDCP propaganda and hoping to immediately rebut any claims by reformers, but both press corps and event participants seemed more bemused by their appearance than interested in what they had to say.

Marijuana: Fayetteville, Arkansas, Lowest Priority Initiative in Signature Drive

An initiative that would make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is now in the signature-gathering phase. Canvassers in the Ozarks college town need 3,600 signatures to make the November ballot. If it makes it to the ballot and is approved, Fayetteville would become the second Arkansas town to approve such a measure. Eureka Springs did the same thing in 2006.

Directed by Sensible Fayeteville, the initiative would mandate that:

  • Fayetteville law enforcement officers shall make law enforcement activity relating to marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, their lowest law enforcement priority. Law enforcement activities relating to marijuana offenses include, but are not limited to, investigation, citation, arrest, seizure of property, or providing assistance to the prosecution of adult marijuana offenses.
  • Fayetteville's prosecuting attorney shall make marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia offenses, where the marijuana and paraphernalia was intended for adult personal use, the lowest prosecutorial priority.
  • This lowest law enforcement priority policy shall not apply to driving under the influence.

It would also order the city clerk to send letters every year to state and local representatives calling for marijuana law reform. That letter reads: "The citizens of Fayetteville have passed an initiative to de-prioritize adult marijuana offenses, where the marijuana is intended for personal use, and request that the federal and Arkansas state governments take immediate steps to enact similar laws."

"You know, in Arkansas, if you get caught a second time with marijuana, no matter what amount, it's an automatic felony. That destroys lives. That means you can't vote and you lose your financial aid to college," Sensible Fayetteville campaign director Ryan Denham told KNWA Fox 24. "This is clogging the court and jail system here in Washington County and it's taking away precious police resources," he said.

Lowest priority initiatives have already passed in six California cities (Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, West Hollywood), Seattle, Denver, Columbia, Missouri; Hailey, Idaho; and Missoula County, Montana.

Medical Marijuana: DEA Seizes Medical Marijuana Seized By Seattle Police

Washington state has a medical marijuana law, and the city of Seattle has an ordinance making marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority, but that didn't stop Seattle police from raiding the Lifevine medical marijuana co-op two weeks ago, seizing hundreds of patient files, as well as 12 ounces of dried buds and several pounds of leaf.
California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
In the wake of pointed criticism, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg declined to press charges against co-op operator Martin Martinez and ordered the return of the patient files. But police did not return the co-op's stolen property -- the medical marijuana.

Now, it has become clear the medical marijuana will never be returned. The Seattle Police announced Wednesday that the DEA, acting at the request of US Attorney Jeff Sullivan, took the medicine last Friday.

The DEA tersely confirmed it had seized the medicine. "Accordingly, the DEA has seized and processed the marijuana for destruction; that concludes this matter," agency spokesperson Jodie Underwood said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

Drug War Issues

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