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Prohibitionists go down on Election Day

Dear friends:

Not only did Tuesday's election produce two major marijuana policy victories — MPP's sweeping wins in Michigan and Massachusetts — but we also saw signs of progress in Congress and the White House.

President-elect Barack Obama has said — often in response to questioning from MPP — that he does not support the federal government arresting medical marijuana patients in states where medical marijuana is legal.

As recently as Monday of this week, his campaign said: "Many states have laws that condone medical marijuana, but the Bush Administration is using federal drug enforcement agents to raid these facilities and arrest seriously ill people. Focusing scarce law enforcement resources on these patients who pose no threat while many violent and highly dangerous drug traffickers are at large makes no sense. Senator Obama will not continue the Bush policy when he is president."

The congressional landscape also changed for the better. With several contests still undecided, the Democrats are likely to pick up at least 23 new seats in the House of Representatives — 21 of which belonged to medical marijuana opponents in the last Congress. And three senators who opposed medical marijuana were replaced with newcomers who have already voted or spoken out in favor of protecting medical marijuana patients. 

Some of Congress' most outspoken medical marijuana opponents lost their seats, like Congressman Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), Congressman Ric Keller (R-Fla.), and Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.). In fact, on the Democratic side, every single incumbent who lost Tuesday consistently opposed protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail.

And candidates who are close allies of MPP won spots in the House of Representatives, like Nevada state Sen. Dina Titus (D), a strong supporter of medical marijuana access.

There is still more work to do in coming election cycles, of course. MPP's team on Capitol Hill will be working to ensure that presidential appointees (like the head of the DEA and the drug czar) are aligned with the commitment to marijuana policy reform that President-elect Obama expressed on the campaign trail. And we expect that medical marijuana legislation will be introduced in 2009, presenting an enormous opportunity to protect medical marijuana patients at the federal level.

You can help make the most of this changing dynamic in Congress and the White House. Any donation you can make today will help MPP push for the change that conditions are so ripe for.

Kampia signature (e-mail sized)

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

Michigan passes medical marijuana law; when will New Jersey?

[Courtesy of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc.] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Ken @ (609) 394-2137 Michigan passes medical marijuana law; when will New Jersey? WHO: Residents of Michigan WHAT: Passed a medical marijuana law, becoming the 13th state in the U.S. to do so WHEN: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 WHERE: In the voting booths of the State of Michigan WHY: To protect seriously ill or injured patients who use marijuana therapeutically with the recommendation of licensed physicians The Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc., (CMMNJ) congratulates Michigan on becoming the 13th state in the U.S. to remove statewide penalties for the use of medical marijuana. Michigan voters yesterday approved the measure that would protect patients who use marijuana on the recommendation of a licensed physician. CMMNJ Executive Director, Ken Wolski, RN said, “The American people understand the need for this safe, effective and inexpensive therapeutic agent. Nearly 25% of all Americans now live in a medical marijuana state and eventually, medical marijuana will be legal throughout the country. How long will it take New Jersey to approve this? Every day, seriously ill New Jersey patients are either being arrested for using medical marijuana, or are suffering needlessly without it.” New Jersey residents, unlike those in Michigan, are unable to pass laws through the initiative process, so they must depend on their state legislators for lawmaking. While 86% of New Jersey voters approve of medical marijuana according to the latest poll, New Jersey’s bill has been tied up in legislative committees for nearly four years. The "New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act" (A804 & S119) would allow patients or their caregivers to grow and use a small amount of marijuana when a licensed physician recommends it for chronic pain, nausea, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, etc. New Jersey patients would be issued state ID cards so law enforcement personnel could easily see they are legal medical marijuana users, as does Michigan’s law. The American Nurses Association, the American College of Physicians, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and many other professional healthcare organizations have endorsed medical marijuana. However, the federal government opposes the medical use of marijuana and so it is not available to patients in pharmacies yet. Michigan residents will have to grow their own marijuana, as patients are allowed to do in the 12 other states that approve its use. CMMNJ is a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to educate the public about the benefits of safe and legal access to marijuana for patients who are under the care of licensed physicians and nurse practitioners. CMMNJ is a 501(c)(3) public charity. For more info, contact: Ken Wolski, RN, MPA, Executive Director Coalition for Medical Marijuana--New Jersey, Inc. 844 Spruce St., Trenton, NJ 08648 609.394.2137
United States

Americans for Safe Access: November 2008 Activist Newsletter

ASA Court Win on San Diego ID Cards Affirmed

State Supreme Court Refuses Review, Patients Pressure Counties to Uphold Law

California counties will have to implement the state's medical marijuana identification program now that the California Supreme Court has refused to review a landmark case argued by Americans for Safe Access. The case stems from resistance in a handful of counties to provisions of California's medical marijuana law.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford

County officials in San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties filed suit against the State of California in February 2006, arguing that state law was preempted by federal law. That argument was rejected by the San Diego Superior Court in December of 2006, causing San Bernardino and Merced officials to drop their challenge. San Diego County appealed the ruling, only to be denied by the Fourth District Court of Appeals in July of this year and now by the state Supreme Court's refusal to hear their appeal. County officials have said they intend to attempt a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, though it has already ruled that state medical marijuana laws do not conflict with federal prohibition.

The San Diego lawsuit challenged the validity of the state identification card program, which was established by Senate Bill 420 in 2003, as well as the foundation of California's medical marijuana laws. But California courts at all levels have concluded that the ID card program and state law are valid and do not violate the state constitution.

"The San Diego case is now final under California law," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel of Americans for Safe Access, who argued before the appellate court on behalf of patients. "The courts have made clear that federal law does not preempt state law relating to medical marijuana and that local officials must comply with California's medical marijuana laws."

In a unanimous opinion earlier this year, the Court of Appeals ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act "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 was joined by the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project in defending the interests of patients before both the state Supreme Court and the Superior Court in San Diego. The City of San Diego registered its opposition to the County's lawsuit by filing an amicus or 'friend of the court' brief in December 2007, siding with the Attorney General and medical marijuana patient advocates in favor of implementing the law.

After the appellate court ruling, ASA put all California counties that had not yet established a voluntary patient identifcation program on notice of their obligation to implement state law, in particular the state ID card program, which both assists law enforcement and affords greater protection to patients. As a result, Fresno and Kings counties voted to issue the patient ID's almost immediately. Now, ASA is again following up with a warning for remaining California counties that refuse to obey the law.

"We expect the remaining holdout counties to implement the medical marijuana card program immediately," said Elford. "And if they continue to refuse to comply with state law, we will ask the courts to require them to do so."

For more information, see ASA's web page on the San Diego case.




Activists Protest Dispensary Owner's Conviction, Ask Congress to Intervene

A major protest by medical marijuana activists in Los Angeles this month demanded that Congress to do something about the conviction of a California man who was operating a cannabis dispensary.

Over 350 people attended a protest to support former Morro Bay dispensary collective operator Charles Lynch, whose case drew national attention when he was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and prosecuted, even though he complied with state law, had a business license from the city, and was even a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.

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

Organized by the Los Angeles chapter of ASA and a team of dedicated activists, the protest was attended by numerous criminal justice and patient rights organizations, and took place in front of the LA Federal Courthouse on the day Lynch was to have a hearing on a motion for a new trial. This hearing has been delayed to November 4.

Even though Lynch operated his collective within the mandates of state law and local regulation, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff took issue with his facility and called in the DEA to close him down. Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers had been open for 11 months when federal agents raided it on March 29, 2007.

As a result of that raid, San Luis Obispo Sheriff Pat Hedges is being sued by a former patient of Lynch's for seizing her medical records and violating her privacy.

During a widely watched trial, that included segments on Reason.TV by the television host Drew Carey, the Morro Bay mayor and city attorney testified on behalf of Lynch, and he took the stand himself to describe attempts he made to operate within even federal law.

Lynch was found guilty of five federal felonies. Defense attorneys will file a motion for a new trial on November 17. Sentencing is currently scheduled for November 24 in Los Angeles.

ASA Joins Legal Fight Against Dispensary Bans

Files Amicus Brief in Suit Against Anaheim

Americans for Safe Access has thrown its support behind a dispensary that has challenged a city ban on medical marijuana patient collectives. ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, fresh off victory in the San Diego case, is filing an amicus or friend of the court brief on behalf of patients in the appeal of Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim. This marks the first appeal of a dispensary ban challenge.

The suit contends that the city of Anaheim cannot legally ban all patient collectives. ASA's brief argues that such bans on medical marijuana collectives are wrong on two counts.

The first reason is that conflict with California state law, and, as a result of that conflict, local bans are preempted because the state has clearly expressed an intent that dispensaries be considered legal entities.

The second reason is that interpreting state law as requiring cities and counties to tolerate dispensaries does not create a conflict with federal law. The ruling in the case of San Diego's challenge to California's medical marijuana law makes it clear that state and federal law are separate.

"Federal authorities will do what they will do," said Elford. "But they can't conscript the state to do their work for them."

The case will be heard by the 4th Appellate District, the same court that made the landmark finding in the Garden Grove case, which established that law enforcement must return cannabis seized from qualified patients.

So far, 35 cities and counties have filed amicus briefs against Qualified Patients Association, as has the California Peace Officers Association and the California Sheriff's Association. But ASA's Elford remains confident. He believes that the decisions in Garden Grove and San Diego mean that federal pre-emption only exists when there is a positive conflict, as would be the case if state law required someone to violate the federal prohibition.

"This is yet again an example of local officials wishing to enforce federal instead of state law," said Elford. "You don't have to regulate dispensaries. You just can't ban them."

A study of local communities conducted by ASA found that not only do dispensaries pose negligible problems for the communities in which they operate, they serve a critical function for the most seriously ill of California's medical marijuana patients. That report can be downloaded at

A decision in the case of Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim is expected within the next few months.

Feature: Big Day for Pot -- Decriminalization Wins in Massachusetts, Medical Marijuana in Michigan, All Local Initiatives Win, Too!

Barack Obama wasn't the only big winner in Tuesday elections; marijuana polled just as well, if not better. A medical marijuana initiative in Michigan -- the first in the Midwest -- and a decriminalization initiative in Massachusetts both won by convincing margins, and scattered local initiatives on various aspects of marijuana policy reform all won, too.
marijuana plants
In both the statewide initiatives, reform forces overcame organized opposition on their way to victory, mostly from the usual suspects in law enforcement and the political establishment. Michigan enjoyed the dubious distinction of a visit from John Walters, the drug czar himself, who popped in to rail against medical marijuana as "an abomination."

"We could be seeing a sea change in more ways than one in this election," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which backed both state initiatives. "These are not just wins, but huge wins. In two very blue states, marijuana reform outpolled Barack Obama. At this point, we can look members of Congress in the eye and ask them why exactly they think marijuana reform is controversial."

The results are also an indicator of the decreasing influence of the drug czar's office, said Mirken. "A clear public mandate has emerged, and it's particularly noteworthy coming as it does after eight years of the most intense anti-marijuana campaign from the feds since the days of Reefer Madness," he said. "Despite all the press releases and press conferences, despite all the appearances and campaigning Walters has done to try to convince Americans that marijuana is some sort of scourge, the voters just said no."

In Michigan, the medical marijuana initiative organized by the local Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care and backed in a big way by MPP won a resounding 63% of the vote. Michigan's new medical marijuana law will go into effect quickly -- ten days after the elections are certified, with the Department of Community Health having 120 additional days to come up with regulations for a registry.

The law will allow patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other conditions to obtain a doctors' recommendation to cultivate, grow, and possess marijuana without fear of prosecution under state law. Registered patients may possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and have up to 12 plants in a secure indoor facility, or they may designate a caregiver to grow it for them.

"Michigan voters have clearly signaled in no uncertain terms their support for a compassionate medical marijuana law," the committee said in a victory statement Tuesday night. "Our opposition threw the kitchen sink at us, hoping one of their false claims and outright lies would cost enough votes to tank this effort. But Michigan voters saw through the deception, and soon numerous seriously ill patients across the state will no longer need to live in fear for taking their doctor-recommended medicine."

Tuesday's win makes Michigan the 13th medical marijuana state, and, more importantly, the first one in the Midwest. The Michigan victory means planned or ongoing efforts in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois just got a little easier.

In Massachusetts, Question 2, the marijuana decriminalization initiative, overcame the opposition of every district attorney in the state to win a resounding 65% of the vote. Now, instead of an arrest and possible six months in jail, people in the Bay State caught with less than an ounce of marijuana will face a simple $100 fine. Equally importantly, small-time possession offenders will not be saddled with a Criminal Record Information Report (CORI), a state arrest report that lingers long after the offense and can impede an offender's ability to obtain jobs, housing, and school loans.

Again backed by MPP, the Bay State's Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy (CSMP) took the organizing lead in Massachusetts this year. Building on nearly a decade's worth of winning local questions on marijuana policy reform by groups like the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and the state NORML affiliate, MassCann/NORML, the committee was able to go over the top statewide with decrim this year.

"It's great to see the people of Massachusetts were able to see what a sensible, modest proposal Question 2 is," said CSMP head Whitney Taylor. "It's going to end the creation of thousands of new people being involved in the criminal justice system each year and refocus law enforcement resources on violent crime."

While some prosecutors are already whining about having to implement the will of the voters, there appears little chance that legislators will attempt to step in and overturn the vote, as they could do under Massachusetts law. A spokesman for House Speaker Sal DiMasi told local WBZ-TV as much Wednesday afternoon.

"Question 2 now has the force of law and the Speaker sees no reason to consider a repeal or amendment at this time," said David Guarino, DiMasi's deputy chief of staff.

Statewide decrim wasn't the only marijuana-related issue on the ballot for some Massachusetts voters. Continuing the tradition of placing questions on representative district ballots, voters in four districts were asked: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow seriously ill patients, with their doctor's written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana for their personal medical use?"

As with past medical marijuana questions, the question passed overwhelmingly in all four districts.

The question passed with 74% In the 1st Middlesex Representative District (R – Robert S. Hargraves), 71% in the 21st Middlesex Representative District (D – Charles A. Murphy), 73% in the 13th Norfolk Representative District (D – Lida E. Harkins), and 71% in the 6th Plymouth Representative District (R – Daniel K. Webster).

Meanwhile, in other local marijuana-related initiatives:

  • Berkeley, California's, Measure JJ, essentially a zoning initiative that would allow dispensaries operating in the city to expand into more non-residential districts, won with 62% of the vote. The campaign was organized by Citizens for Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation.
  • In Hawaii County, Hawaii (the Big Island), a lowest law enforcement priority initiative for adult marijuana possession won with 66% of the vote. The campaign organized by Project Peaceful Skies was an outgrowth of the movement to end intrusive marijuana eradication raids.
  • In Fayetteville, Arkansas, another lowest priority initiative passed. Some 62% of voters in the Northwest Arkansas college town agreed with Sensible Fayetteville and its director, Ryan Denham, that police had better things to do than bust pot smokers. Sensible Fayetteville itself is an umbrella organization including the Alliance for Drug Reform Policy in Arkansas, The Omni Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology, the Green Party of Washington County, University of Arkansas NORML and the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas Inc.

"We think these election results send an extremely important message," Denham told the Northwest Arkansas Times Wednesday. "I'm not surprised since national statistics say that 70% of Americans feel that misdemeanor marijuana offenses should be a low priority. It clogs courts and jails and puts a burden on taxpayer resources."

Election day was a good day for marijuana reform. Let's hope that activists and politicians alike are now prepared to press for more in the near future.

Medical Marijuana: New Washington State Quantity Limits Now in Effect

New rules governing the amount of medical marijuana Washington state patients can possess and grow went into effect Sunday. After holding public hearings and consulting with law enforcement, health workers, and medical marijuana advocates, the Washington State Department of Health has set those quantities as 24 ounces of usable marijuana and up to 15 plants.

Under Washington's medical marijuana law, patients are entitled to a 60-day supply, but just what constituted a 60-day supply had not been defined until now. While the new rules should provide some guidance and protection for patients, not everyone is happy.

One medical marijuana grower told KOMO-TV News the new rules could lead to a crackdown on growers who are growing for more than one patient. The Washington law does not allow for growing co-ops. "That's a totally ridiculous way to come up with a 60-day supply," he said, noting that he has 37 plants growing in his basement.

"Our goal in the rule making was to have a final rule that provided clarity for law enforcement, for patients and physicians and meets the needs that what we believe will be the majority of medical marijuana patients in Washington," said Karen Ann Jensen, assistant secretary for health systems and quality assurance, who made the recommendation and will oversee the rules change.

Europe: Denmark's Christiania Residents Sue for Control Over Their Enclave

The residents of Christiania, a 900-person countercultural enclave that had been self-governing since hippies took over an abandoned military base in the center of Copenhagen in 1971, have petitioned the Danish courts in an effort to regain control over their community. The conservative national government cracked down on drug sales in the enclave's famous Pusher Street in 2004 and later announced plans to yuppify the district.
entrance to Christiania, Copenhagen (courtesy Wikimedia)
Christiania residents have fought back. When the government announced in 2004 it was cracking down, cannabis dealers burned their own Pusher Street shops and retreated to cafes and apartments in a bid to blunt the drive. They sued the Danish government in 2006 claiming the right to use the land even if they don't own it.

Since then, there have been numerous clashes between residents and police, including street fighting two weeks ago that left two officers injured and 15 people arrested. That battle came as police tried to evict squatters. They fired tear gas at demonstrators, who responded by setting fire to police barricades and pelting police with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

"The plan by the government would destroy Christiania as we know it," Thomas Ertman, a spokesman for Christiania residents, told the Associated Press Monday.

The case is before the Eastern High Court and is set for a hearing by November 21. A decision is expected in January.

Will Obama End the Medical Marijuana Raids?

When Barack Obama enters the White House in January, will he make good on his promise to end federal interference with state medical marijuana laws? Reformers have not easily forgotten the broken promise of George Bush, who spoke of "state's rights" regarding medical marijuana on the campaign trail only to subsequently declare war on patients and providers in states that protect medical use.

While the terms of engagement between DEA and the medical marijuana community under an Obama administration won’t be fleshed out for many months, I’d like to remind everyone what exactly we’ve been told to expect. This is the Obama campaign’s response to emails about medical marijuana:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for contacting Obama for America to inquire about the Senator's position on allowing severely ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Many states have laws that condone medical marijuana, but the Bush Administration is using federal drug enforcement agents to raid these facilities and arrest seriously ill people.  Focusing scarce law enforcement resources on these patients who pose no threat while many violent and highly dangerous drug traffickers are at large makes no sense.  Senator Obama will not continue the Bush policy when he is president.

Thank you again for contacting us.


Obama for America

As I've argued previously, it's really quite silly to argue that arresting patients is a "poor use of resources" as though we'd persecute the sick if only we could afford to. The hysteria about "many violent and highly dangerous drug traffickers" is also utterly irrelevant and distracting, a frivolous pander to law & order types who may or may not require constant reassurance that Obama doesn't plan to end enforcement of all criminal laws on day 1.

And yet, despite the almost complete incoherence of Obama's position on medical marijuana, it somehow arrives at the conclusion that we must stop arresting medical marijuana patients and providers. Is there any ambiguity about that? If nothing else, the above statement insists convincingly that Obama has every intention of promptly discontinuing one of the worst excesses of the modern war on drugs. If this happens, it will be the functional equivalent of the chronically doomed Hinchey Amendment, and one could scarcely overstate the significance of such an event.

A Mandate For Marijuana Reform

Bruce Mirken at MPP points out that marijuana reform initiatives in Massachusetts and Michigan pulled higher percentages than Obama. The numbers really are incredible:

Consider this: As I write this, with 67% of precincts reporting, marijuana decriminalization is passing in Massachusetts with 65% of the vote. Obama, who is carrying the state handily, is getting 62%.

In Michigan it’s similar. With 40% of the vote in, medical marijuana is passing with 63% while Obama is carrying the state with 55%.

These victories were expected, but the margins are just staggering. This is testament to the apparent impotence of the typical scare tactics brought to bare by our opposition. On many levels, this election left "tough on crime" politics in the dust, as a host of new issues, ideas and concerns took their place. But the significance of that would be much harder to articulate without scoring towering victories for marijuana reform. The results in Massachusetts and Michigan are the exclamation point on an electoral season that ought to entirely reshape the way crime politics are perceived by public officials.

As I’ve argued at length, the future of reform relies heavily on our ability to depict a popular mandate for changes in our drug policy. Indeed, it seems we are increasingly able to meet that challenge. A new administration brings new obstacles and new opportunities, but enter into the next stage with considerable momentum.

Medical Marijuana Heading for Big Win in Michigan


NOVEMBER 4, 2008

Medical Marijuana Heading for Big Win in Michigan
Federal Shift Seen as One in Four Americans Now Live in a Medical Marijuana State

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-668-6403 or 202-215-4205
                   Dan Bernath, MPP assistant director of communications ..........................202-462-5747 x2030

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Medical marijuana supporters hailed apparent passage of Michigan's medical marijuana initiative, Proposal 1, as an important harbinger of a national shift on the issue. With Michigan becoming the 13th medical marijuana state, one in four Americans now live in a state where medical marijuana patients with a physician's recommendation are protected by law.

    AP called the race at just after 9 p.m. EST, and with eight percent of precincts reporting, Proposal 1, the Marijuana Policy Project's Michigan medical marijuana initiative, was leading, 60 percent to 40 percent. Outgoing White House drug czar John Walters personally campaigned against the measure.

    "Michigan voters just dealt a fatal blow to the federal government's cruel, dishonest war on medical marijuana and sent a stunning message to the new presidential administration and Congress," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "One in four Americans now live in a medical marijuana state, and the federal government has no business fighting a war against a quarter of our citizens. It may take a year or two, but the federal war on medical marijuana is dead. Finished. Over."

    With more than 25,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit

United States

Medical Marijuana Wins in Michigan

Michigan voters have approved Prop. 1 to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest. We now have 13 medical marijuana states. For any politicians still struggling with these concepts, I’ll be providing free tutoring sessions on remedial contemporary drug war politics.

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