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Feature: Battlelines Forming Over 2008 Oregon Medical Marijuana Ballot Issues

Oregon's Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) will be ten years old next year, and with the nation's second largest number of registered patients -- some 16,000 of them -- it is certainly a success by some measures. But while the self-financing, state-regulated program rolls along, it looks as though it is going to be a hot issue in next year's elections.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/oregon-petitioning.jpg
Oregon petitioning (courtesy voterpower.org)
On one hand, OMMA is under direct attack in a crime-fighting initiative filed by a powerful and well-connected Republican political figure who is a veteran and inveterate initiative campaigner. On the other hand, some of the same medical marijuana campaigners who organized the 1998 initiative victory that created OMMA have filed an initiative that would broaden the program by creating a state-regulated system of dispensaries. And that's got some patients and activists feeling caught between the frying pan and the fire.

It is very early in the game, with the filing of initiatives being only the first step in a long and sometimes Byzantine process, and it is not certain that either of these two initiatives -- or a number of others already filed -- will actually be going before the voters in November 2008. But the maneuvering has already begun.

Former Republican state legislator and 2002 gubernatorial nominee Kevin Mannix has made a political career as a moralizing, tough on crime politician. In 1994, he authored a successful initiative instituting mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of violent crimes. Other accomplishments he touts are a crime victims' rights amendment to the state constitution and an anti-stalking law.

Mannix is not one to rest on his laurels, and this year, he has already filed a dozen or so initiatives on topics ranging from regulating strip clubs to more mandatory minimum sentences -- this time for drug dealers -- to allocating a share of lottery profits to "CSI: Oregon" to requiring the state police to hire more officers. But the initiative that has the medical marijuana community on edge, the Oregon Crime Fighting Act, is a direct attack on OMMA and the medical marijuana regulation system it created.

Along with provisions calling for mandatory minimum 25-year sentences for some repeat sex offenders and making repeated drunk driving arrests felonies, the proposed initiative would "replace the 'Medical Marijuana Act' with the following Marijuana Derivative and Synthetic Cannabinoid Prescription Program," a strange Mannix concoction that would have the state of Oregon provide synthetic THC in the form of Marinol to any patient who needed but could not afford it.

Mannix told the Chronicle Thursday he filed the OMMA repeal initiative because of abuses in the program. "Law enforcement reports to me that the whole system is very loosely drawn in this state, so that they are running up against cases where people are found with a variety of drugs, including cocaine and meth along with marijuana, and they present cards saying they are caretakers for 50 people," he said.

OMMA regulations allow for caregivers to grow for only four people.

Also, Mannix argued, since Oregon has decriminalized marijuana possession, there is really no need for a state medical marijuana law. "If someone wants to possess and smoke marijuana for whatever reason, they're not subject to a criminal charge," he said.

Oregon medical marijuana activists who spoke with the Chronicle view the Mannix initiative with real concern. "Mannix is a real problem," said Madeline Martinez, head of Oregon NORML. "He has opposed OMMA from the beginning. He's always been a moral crusader, and we're very concerned about him, we're frightened he's going to take our program away from us."

"Some in the community take it very seriously, some don't," said Anthony Johnson, political director for Voter Power, the group that mobilized support for the successful 1998 OMMA initiative. "We take it very seriously, because Mannix has the backing of a lot of powerful interests, and with enough money, you can get on the ballot, and then you can run ads to campaign against OMMA," he said.

"OMMA is popular in Oregon," Johnson complained. "He must think the only way he can win the repeal of OMMA is by tying it to other provisions that crime-weary voters will find attractive, like longer sentences for sex offenders."

"It should be the primary focus of activists in Oregon to try to defeat the Mannix initiative," said Leland Berger, activist attorney, Oregon election law expert, and legal advisor to Voter Power. "If it were to pass it would be very problematic."

Berger has been putting his lawyerly acumen to work in preliminary skirmishes designed to slow the Mannix initiative's progress. He filed a petition to challenge the initiative's ballot title, arguing that it only said "replace" OMMA when the initiative would effectively repeal it. There could be more legal challenges coming down the pike, as well, he said.

But while Berger said defeating the Mannix initiative should be the "primary focus" of activists, he and his colleagues at Voter Power have already filed several initiatives themselves, including an initiative that would create the Oregon Regulated Medical Marijuana Supply System, or a network of state-sanctioned dispensaries.

Under the proposed dispensary initiative, the state of Oregon would set up a system of licensed medical marijuana growers who could provide marijuana to nonprofit dispensaries and be reimbursed for their production costs. The dispensaries would in turn be able to dispense medical marijuana to registered patients and be reimbursed for their expenses. The proposal calls for the program to be self-funding, paying for itself with fee revenues -- 10% of earnings -- and for it to fund the distribution of medical marijuana to indigent patients and further research.

While there is general agreement that something needs to be done about supply issues, the deepening of OMMA through the creation of a dispensary system worries some patients and activists, in part for fear of sparking DEA raids like those plaguing California's booming dispensary scene, in part out of disdain for the flashy -- some say greedy -- entrepreneurial style sometimes evident in California. But that is not stopping Voter Power from moving forward.

"We feel this is necessary for two reasons," said Voter Power's Johnson. "First and foremost, to get medicine to the patients who need it. The current law is very unfair to many patients who can't grow their own and don't have connections to a garden. They have to rely on the charity of others or go to the black market," he said. "But we also think our initiative will protect OMMA because it will generate millions of dollars in revenues for the state budget. Voters and politicians like programs that can fund other programs or make tax increases unnecessary."

Johnson pointed to yet a third reason for pushing a dispensary initiative. "Other ideas that have been floated, like state gardens or donation clubs, are good ideas, but they require legislative action, and the legislature has proven unwilling to solve the supply crisis. We think it's up to voters, activists, and patients to do it -- that's why we're called Voter Power."

But some important Oregon activists disagree. "I believe going forward with a dispensary initiative could in fact harm patients," said Oregon NORML's Martinez. "If we have a dispensary model like the California model, that will give ammunition to Mannix. We're very concerned about him. In fact, we're telling our members don't sign any petitions that mention medical marijuana. This cycle we don't want to do anything, and we don't want to sign anything," she said. "A dispensary initiative will distract us from fighting Mannix, and I think our priority has to be protecting the 16,000 patients who are now benefiting from the law."

That position brought a quick retort from Berger. "I find it very strange that the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is against reforming the marijuana laws," he said.

A lot of patient concern about a dispensary initiative has to do with "those terrible headlines from California" about dispensaries being raided, said Martinez. "We see things differently up here," she said. "We don't want corner dispensaries, and we are scared of being raided. That hasn't happened yet here, but when you start mixing this stuff up, then you have the DEA coming in, and we're very afraid that will happen with this initiative," she said.

Martinez also pointedly recalled that Voter Power had tried a similar initiative in 2004 that had received only 43% of the vote. "When this was tried before, the voters said no," she said. "Why do they think it can win this time? It hasn't even been polled," she said.

"The current initiative is much more tightly drawn than in 2004," responded Johnson. "That initiative was quite radical and expansive, like a wish list for activists, while this one is limited to trying to establish licensed and regulated dispensaries."

Johnson also disputed the idea the initiative would create a "California model." "There is no statewide regulation of dispensaries in California," he said. "Our statewide regulation adds legitimacy, as well as tighter structure and much greater control of what's going on."

As for potential DEA raids, Johnson pointed out that the initiative sets cultivation and possession limits under the levels that trigger federal mandatory minimum sentences, perhaps providing a disincentive for federal prosecutors to send in the SWAT teams.

Battle lines are being drawn in the Oregon medical marijuana community. While it is united its opposition to the Mannix initiative, there are deep strategic and philosophical divisions over how to move forward. While those are to be expected, the atmosphere can sometimes grow nasty, and that does the movement little good.

"Even though there is widespread agreement that the current system of supply is inadequate, there is disagreement among advocates in Oregon about whether to go forward with licensed and regulated dispensary proposals," Berger said. "Some of that is based on real concerns about dispensaries, but some of it has descended to personal attacks on the motivations of proponents, and that's really disappointing. Nobody circles the wagons and opens fire inward better than our movement," he said. "We need to support each other more; there are just too few of us."

Neither the Mannix initiative nor the dispensary initiative are done deals, and Berger said that the latter must do well in polling if it is to move forward. In any case, it looks as if the voters of Oregon will once again be deciding the fate of medical marijuana in the Beaver State.

Fundraiser for Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy Featuring Tom Robbins

Please join the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy for a reception and reading with Tom Robbins. RSVP is required -- Purchase Tickets at www.SensibleMarijuanaPolicy.org or call (617) 901-7765. As always, anyone with questions should feel free to contact me directly. All my best, Whitney A. Taylor, Campaign Manager Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy P.O. Box 130151, Boston, MA 02113 (617) 901-7765 (phone), (617) 451-1897 (fax) www.SensibleMarijuanaPolicy.org
Date: 
Fri, 09/14/2007 - 5:30pm - 7:30pm
Location: 
2 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02116
United States

Sacramento: Please Attend Medical Marijuana Activist Bryan Epis Federal Resentencing Hearing Friday

Bryan Epis, a former medical marijuana provider who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, and served two years before being released in the wake of the Raich medical marijuana decision, is returning to court for resentencing pending the filing of his appeal. Bryan asks that reformers in the area attend the hearing as a show of support. It is taking place at 10:00am this Friday morning (9/14) in Sacramento, California -- courtroom of Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr., 501 I Street, 15th floor, courtroom two. Click here to read our 2005 interview with Bryan, and click here to read about possible misconduct committed by the prosecution in his case. We will report in our blog Friday afternoon (or as soon as information becomes available) on what happens.
Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

ASA’s Media Summary for the Week Ending 9/7/07

FEDERAL: Northern California Raids Spark Protests, Policy Talk

The DEA’s latest attempts at interfering with how California is implementing safe access to medical marijuana resulted this week in protests by patients and meetings of local officials. The raids on the San Francisco Bay Area community have created problems for the patients who relied on the three dispensaries. As in Los Angeles, many are challenging local law enforcement over their cooperation with federal agents. San Mateo ASA is launching a campaign to protect dispensaries; they testified at the city council meeting and will be doing the same at the County supervisors hearing next week.

Medical marijuana advocates protest shutdown of three San Mateo clubs
by Michael Manekin, MediaNews
Medical marijuana patients and advocates, upset over the federal raid and closing of three medical cannabis dispensaries in downtown San Mateo last week, are asking city officials for help. "We do not want to see our local tax revenues wasted on paying our local law enforcement to aid in federal raids when there has been no violation of state law," said Brent Saupe, a San Mateo resident and a volunteer with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group.

Officials to shape pot policy
by Dana Yates, San Mateo Daily Journal
Patients affected by the closure and recent raids of three San Mateo medical marijuana dispensaries have officials meeting to form a new countywide pot club policy, San Mateo City Manager Arne Croce told members of the City Council last night.

City calls for pot shop regulation
by Michael Manekin, San Mateo County Times
The many battles raging in California over medical marijuana are fueled by a basic disagreement between federal law, which prohibits the possession of cannabis altogether, and state law, which has allowed the selective use of medical marijuana for more than a decade.

OREGON: Federal Judge Says Patient Records Off Limits

A serious challenge to patients’ privacy was turned back by a U.S. District judge this week, who denied the federal government’s attempt to obtain patient records from Oregon’s state medical marijuana program. A chief criticism of programs that require patient registration – as most do – is that it leaves patients vulnerable to being target by the DEA and other federal agencies.

Ruling protects pot patients
by Anne Saker, The Oregonian
A federal judge has thrown out sweeping subpoenas for patient records kept by Oregon's medical marijuana program and a private clinic, saying privacy concerns overruled a grand jury's demand for information.

U.S. court won't allow subpoena of Ore. medical marijuana records
Associated Press
A U.S. District Court has decided the medical records of 17 Oregon medical marijuana patients do not have to be released.

NEW MEXICO: State Working to Implement New Program

Governor Bill Richardson personally assured the creation of the new medical marijuana program in his state, but now the real work of ensuring safe access for patients is underway. Already, federal agents have raided a paraplegic man authorized by New Mexico to grow and possess cannabis, causing the governor, who is also a former federal official and now a candidate for President, to vow a full scale battle.

Patient finds temporary relief with medical marijuana
by Sue Vorenberg, Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
There's no lie in her face, no subtlety in her responses - only a resigned acceptance and willingness to fight against her circumstances. At age 62, she has AIDS. She weighs 78 pounds. The side effects of her medications aren't as sickening as they used to be, but she's still constantly nauseated and in pain. What gets her through it all, she says, is marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients face difficult task of finding drug
by Sue Vorenberg, Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
At the center of the labyrinth of issues around medical marijuana is a snarled garden of Catch-22. Certified patients in New Mexico can use it - but they have no way to legally get it.

Commentary: Why fight medical marijuana?
by J. Michael Jones, Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
New Mexico is the most recent state to legalize medical marijuana - not the last. The feds' pursuit of those violating federal laws but not state laws is a waste of time, money and effort. But the tide is turning, and eventually this version of prohibition will come to an end, like the previous one, for much the same reason.

WASHINGTON: Officials Seek Input on Medical Marijuana Rules

For the past two years Washington state officials have been trying to improve their medical marijuana law. Currently they are engaged in a statewide process of consulting with stakeholders over reasonable limits for how much patients may cultivate and possess. Many state programs have limits far below what the most desperately ill or injured patients need. The federal government’s own medical marijuana program distributes more than six pounds a year to a handful of patients, more than most states currently allow.

Medical Marijuana Laws Under Scrutiny
by Evan McLean, Sequim Gazette (WA)
Marijuana growers and law enforcement in Clallam County are watching the state cultivate rules to better define the legal medical use of the drug.

COLORADO: Registration Requirement Enforced, But No Jail

Like most medical marijuana states, Colorado requires medical marijuana patients to register with the state to enjoy full immunity from prosecution. But many patients who use marijuana on their doctor’s advice do not register, either out of fear of giving their name to the government (see Oregon) or for other reasons. A Colorado man challenged the registration requirement at trial, arguing that his doctor’s recommendation should be enough to acquit him of criminal charges. A jury disagreed, but even the prosecutor urged the judge to impose no jail time.

Jury finds ill man guilty in pot case
by Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News
A Thornton man with several debilitating conditions didn't get the verdict he wanted when an Adams County jury found him guilty of cultivating marijuana - but not guilty of possessing more than 8 ounces of the drug. Jack Branson, 39, and his attorney, Rob Corry, argued that because Branson, who is HIV- positive and has hepatitis B, needs marijuana to help him with his pain - and had gotten a verbal recommendation from a doctor - it was irrelevant that he hadn't filed the proper medical marijuana forms with the state.

DISPENSARIES: Officials Balancing Community Concerns and Patient Needs

California officials are finding that careful regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries helps them monitor distribution while ensuring that their neediest constituents get the services they need. ASA’s report on the experience of communities with regulations shows that fears about dispensaries are misplaced, as they tend to reduce crime in the neighborhoods where they operate. For more info, see www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/DispensaryReport.

AG resident in medical marijuana battle
by Hector Trujillo, Santa Maria Times (CA)
Arroyo Grande resident Charles Lynch is embroiled in a legal battle with federal prosecutors over his medical marijuana dispensary.

Cities racing to set rules
by Harrison Sheppard, Daily Bulletin (Inland Valley, CA)
More than a decade after California voters passed legalization of medical marijuana, an explosion of dispensaries and patients has cities and counties scrambling to regulate the operations.

Dealing a harsh blow
by Raheem Hosseini, Ledger Dispatch
When the Jackson City Council voted unanimously to repeal an ordinance that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate, I was disappointed, but not surprised.

FEDERAL: Denial of Medical Efficacy Disproven by Patients

Much science and medical experience demonstrates the absurdity of the federal government’s continued insistence that there is no medical use for marijuana. But nothing shows the folly of their position like the testimony of patients for whom it is a life-transforming treatment.

Why Do People the Government Says Don't Exist Keep Writing Us?
by David Borden and Paul Armentano, Huffington Post
According to the federal government, 53-year-old Deborah Palmer (not her real name) doesn't exist. A grandmother and former California corrections officer, Ms. Palmer suffers from chronic spinal pain (the result of a pair of botched back surgeries) and fibromyalgia. Because her body is allergic to opioid medications, she recently began using medical marijuana to obtain relief from her daily suffering. That is until federal and state law enforcement officials raided the California dispensary that provided her medicine.

FEDERAL: Patient Collective Cannot Block Future Raids

When the DEA descended on the Wo/Mens’ Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, a patient cooperative that provided marijuana free to seriously ill members, they created a lasting controversy. The mayor and City Council responded by giving away marijuana to patients at City Hall, and then joined the collective in suing the federal government. In a ruling that echoed the US Supreme Court Decision in the case of Angel Raich, a federal judge this week said that WAMM cannot get an injunction against future raids.

U.S. Court hands setback to WAMM's fight for legal medical pot
by Kurtis Alexander, Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
A federal court ruling Thursday dashed hopes of local medical marijuana advocates seeking to keep the government out of their pot gardens. In the case of Santa Cruz County v. Alberto Gonzales, U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel granted the attorney general's motion to prevent a Santa Cruz marijuana cooperative and its supporters from suing the office to stop federal marijuana raids.

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.

Location: 
United States

DEA Agent Admits Medical Marijuana Laws Work

This piece in the Providence Journal is remarkable for several reasons. The stories of the real people who benefit from Rhode Island's medical marijuana law are simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. This is required reading for anyone who doesn't understand why medical marijuana advocacy is so important.

One seemingly minor point caught my eye, and raises issues that need to be discussed at the national level:
Anthony Pettigrew, agent for the New England field office of the DEA, said that while marijuana possession is against federal law, "the DEA never targets the sick and dying." The agency is more interested in organized drug traffickers, Pettigrew said. "I've been here for 22 years," he said, and "realistically, I've never seen anyone go to federal jail for possessing a joint."
This is a significant and unusual concession on DEA's part. Pettigrew's argument essentially refutes the typical ONDCP strategy of intimidating patients and legislators in prospective medical marijuana states by arguing that medical users will remain vulnerable under federal law.

If DEA won't arrest patients and state police can't arrest patients, then medical marijuana laws work very well. DEA continues to raid dispensaries in California, but the totality of this activity utterly fails to undermine patient access or the spirit of the state's medical marijuana law. In fact, dispensary raids continue for the sole purpose of obscuring the otherwise obvious benefits of laws that protect patients.

It doesn't matter whether DEA's policy of not arresting patients is motivated by compassion, political sensibilities, funding constraints, or some combination thereof. The fact of the matter is that state laws are effective at protecting medical marijuana users from prosecution, which is their intended purpose. This simple fact demonstrates the importance of these laws, while also revealing how empty and fraudulent the federal government's threats against medical marijuana states truly are.
Location: 
United States

Americans for Safe Access Monthly Activist Newsletter -- September 2007

ASA Argues for Return of Patients' Unlawfully Seized Marijuana

Ruling from state appellate court could end years of local law enforcement violations

ASA's Return of Property campaign reached a pivotal point this month. Chief Counsel Joe Elford appeared before a state appeals court to argue that any California patient whose medical marijuana is seized in a law enforcement encounter has a right to get that cannabis back as soon as the patient demonstrates that the marijuana is lawfully possessed underCalifornia law.

State law says any wrongfully seized property must be returned, but some law enforcement agencies have argued that they cannot give back medical marijuana because doing so would violate federal law, even though the state Attorney General has said otherwise. California court rulings have split on the issue, with some judges ordering the return of medical marijuana and some refusing.

The appeals court is considering two cases. The first is that of Felix Kha, a Garden Grove patient who had eight grams of medical marijuana confiscated. A Superior Court judge ordered the return of his medicine, but the city of Garden Grove not only refused, it appealed the order. The second case is that of Jim Spray, a Hunt-ington Beach patient who was denied a court order by a different judge in the same Court that issued Kha's order.

"It is bad enough to have your medicine seized by police,” said Elford. “But to then be denied its rightful return shows a blatant disregard for the law."

Over the past two years, ASA has had success getting law enforcement agencies such as the California Highway Patrol to change their policies and has even helped patients get cash compensation for medicine that was destroyed or lost before it could be returned.

For further information, refer to:
Felix Kha's return of property case, including a description and legal briefs
The City of Garden Grove's appeal
ASA's opposition to Garden Grove's appeal
The California Attorney General's amicus brief in support of Kha
The California Police Chiefs Association amicus brief in support of Garden Grove
Examples of return of property court orders issued by Superior Court judges in California

Program for Seniors Considers Medical Marijuana

Poll Shows Nearly All Viewers Support Safe Access

Medical marijuana was the subject this month of a news magazine program on the country's largest television network devoted to retired Americans. The "Viewpoint" program on Retirement Living Television (RLTV), a cable channel that boasts 29 million viewers, included interviews with patients, medical researchers, dispensary operators, and federal officials.

Among those featured in the program were Florida medical marijuana patient Irv Rosenfeld, who receives his medicine free from the federal government; Dr. Bertha Madras, the Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; and Dr. John Benson, one of the co-investigators for the 1999 Institute of Medicine report, which concluded that there are medical uses for marijuana. ASA's Director of Government Affairs, Caren Woodson, was part of an RLTV promotional program that aired the day before.

The focus of the RLTV programs was "the relationship between seniors living with chronic pain and their choice to use medical marijuana to alleviate their constant discomfort," according to RLTV, which offers additional information at www.rl.tv.

A poll of RLTV viewers found that only one person did not support access to medical marijuana with a physician's recommendation. This is consistent with a December 2004 poll conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which found that 72% of their membership "agree that adults should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if a physician recommends it." Nearly one-third said that they smoked marijuana.

Many of the ailments commonly associated with aging - such as arthritis, cancer, glaucoma, and chronic pain - can be effectively treated with cannabis, as outlined in the ASA booklet on medical marijuana and aging.

Fore more info, see:
RLTV Viewpoint promotional segment
AARP 2004 Report
ASA Chapter Focus

Front Range ASA, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Front Range ASA (FRASA) chapter members have been pioneers with their organizing tactics to ensure safe access for Coloradoan patients. Working with one of ASA's Medical Advisory Board members, Dr. Bob Melamede, the chapter has used both science and activism to improve access for patients. Just this year, one of FRASA's leaders and a medical cannabis researcher, Matt Schnur, filed two petitions with the Colorado Department of Health to expand the list of conditions for which cannabis is approved. The petitions cite research indicating diabetes mellitus and anxiety and depression can be treated with cannabis. The chapter is waiting for a response.

FRASA has also been reaching out to the medical community and patients groups. In addition to distributing ASA's condition-based booklets and research to hospitals, patients groups, doctors' offices, and other health associations, FRASA has contacted the American Cancer Society and American Diabetes Association about updating their official public statements about medical cannabis. The intersecting patient populations ASA shares with a variety of condition-based organizations provide unique opportunities for collaboration.

This summer, FRASA and the Colorado Campaign for Safe Access, a project of ASA and Sensible Colorado, sponsored an educational seminar for El Paso County Drug Taskforce members. This seminar on Marijuana Education and Dispensary Safety, or MEDS, was taught by Colorado Campaign for Safe Access' Executive Director, Brian Vicente. Participating law enforcement members learned about Colorado's medical cannabis laws and patients' rights.

The Colorado Campaign for Safe Access and FRASA also worked together in August to organize mass e-mails, petitions, calls, and meetings with their Congressional representatives, urging them to sign on to a letter to DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, asking her to grant UMass Amherst professor Lyle Craker a license to grow marijuana for medical research.

FRASA has already made great strides towards ensuring safe access in Colorado and will continue to work towards this goal.

Los Angeles City Council Fast Tracks Dispensary Issue

LA-ASA's two years of work to establish sound regulations for medical cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles has accelerated in the wake of the latest DEA raids there.

The large patient protests ASA organized have given the City Council a new sense of urgency to complete the permanent ordinance. The city's medical cannabis working group has abandoned plans to start from scratch, and is instead using the LA County ordinance as a template.

This model ordinance, which ASA was instrumental in helping craft, includes on-site consumption, the distribution of medical clones, and other patient-centered provisions.
Since last month's raids, the Los Angeles City Council has been working even more closely with LA-ASA.

Government Must Answer for Marijuana Misinformation

ASA has taken the next step in its lawsuit to force the federal government to tell the truth about medical marijuana and admit that many doctors routinely recommended marijuana to their patients.

On August 17, ASA filed an amended complaint with the federal District Court, charging that the government's failure to answer ASA's 2004 Data Quality Act petition violated the law and constitutes an "unreasonable delay."

The government has 60 days to respond.

ASA's petition documents why the government cannot factually say that marijuana "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and "there have been no studies that have scientifically assessed the efficacy of marijuana for any medical condition."

The Data Quality Act says federal agencies must rely on sound science in the information they disseminate.

The case will likely be heard in late 2007.

ASA Activists Deliver Message on National Congressional Drop-in Day

On August 29, ASA activists throughout the country visited their Representatives' local district offices to ask for Congressional action on medical marijuana.

Activists asked their Representatives to join others in the U.S. House who are trying to eliminate funding for federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers.

They also asked their Representatives to add their names to a "sign-on" letter to DEA Administrator Karen Tandy from John Olver (D, MA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA).

The letter urges Tandy to accept a judge's recommendation that scientists at University of Massachusetts Amherst be allowed to cultivate cannabis for federally approved medical research.

Location: 
United States

Marijuana Charge From 25 Years Ago Prevents Man From Coaching Little League

There is just no limit to how stupid our society can become thanks to drug prohibition:
A Bourne, Mass., man with a decades-old marijuana-possession charge on his record was recently banned from coaching youth sports after the town started conducting criminal-background checks, the Cape Cod Times reported Sept. 4.

Gary Hapenny, 46, pled guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in 1982 and paid a $62 fine. But the town of Bourne bars anyone with a narcotics-related offense from using town facilities, lumping people like Hapenny in with murders, rapists, kidnappers, and child molesters. [Join Together]
Maybe this is Gary Hapenny's fault for trying to live a normal life in a town run by idiots. Unsurprisingly, it appears that his marijuana use 25 years ago hasn’t affected his coaching ability today:
David Rondeau, the head coach of Hapenny's football team, said, "Gary's been coaching football with me for the last two years, and the parents and kids love him…"

That's the drug war for you: shielding children from people they love based on arbitrary criteria born from irrational prejudices. Why take the time to judge someone based on their character when you can just run their name through a database?

The lesson here is that we must always use our brains when making policy. If you try to protect children without thinking, you'll end up hurting them. Rules must bear some relationship to their intended purpose, lest they should become an obstacle to the healthy functioning of our society.

This may seem a small matter when stacked against the drug war's daily transgressions. But it serves to illustrate how drug prohibition is so much worse than the sum of its parts. It consists of a million injustices, both large and small, that destroy vital relationships and collectively rot our culture. It is hard to imagine something more mindless and insane than banning a Little League coach over a misdemeanor pot arrest from 1982, but we needn't use our imaginations here. If nothing else, the drug war can be counted upon to deliver new calamities of escalating stupidity with each passing day.

Location: 
United States

Europe: Czech Marijuana Users to Get Lesser Penalties

Czech deputies responsible for writing an amendment to the penal code are proposing much lesser sentences for pot smokers, mushroom eaters, and possibly, marijuana growers, the Czech daily Pravo reported August 27. There is a possibility the amendment will include no penalty for growing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, the paper said.

Current Czech drug laws make no distinction between marijuana and so-called hard drugs. Under that law, anyone producing illicit drugs is subject to five years in prison. But while the law makes no distinction, judicial practice does. In most cases, the possession of "quantities lesser than great" (in the case of marijuana, up to 20 cigarettes) is handled as an administrative offense, not a criminal one.

The proposed amendment would completely remove the possibility of a five-year sentence for simple marijuana possession, making the maximum sentence one year. The maximum sentence for small-time growing would most probably be six months.

Medical Marijuana: WAMM Lawsuit Hits Bump

A Santa Cruz medical marijuana cooperative that was raided by the DEA in 2002 was dealt a setback August 28 when a federal judge granted a US Justice Department motion to stop them from suing it. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) and the city and county of Santa Cruz sought to sue US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to prevent his office from continuing raids on medical marijuana providers in California.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/wamm-march.jpg
2005 WAMM march, downtown Santa Cruz (courtesy santacruz.indymedia.org)
The lawsuit cited California's Compassionate Use Act, approved by voters in 1996, which makes the medical use of marijuana legal in the state. But the Justice Department successfully argued that marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel agreed, granting its motion to block the lawsuit.

"Naturally, we're disappointed. I had hoped for something better," said Mike Corral, who, along with his wife Valerie, were cofounders of WAMM.

WAMM and Santa Cruz may be down, but they're not out just yet. Judge Fogel left two of the county's claims intact: a 10th Amendment argument that the states -- not the federal government -- have say over marijuana, and an argument that medical necessity trumps federal drug laws. The county's legal team says it will continue to argue those claims while trying to build a stronger case that the federal government is improperly intervening in areas that should be the purview of the states.

Feature: Stirring the Pot in Denver -- "Lowest Law Enforcement Priority" Marijuana Initiative to Go to Voters As Activists Bedevil Council, Mayor

The Denver city council agreed August 27 to put an initiative to make adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority on this fall's municipal ballot. It's not that the council likes the idea; in Denver, the council must either send initiatives that have gathered the required number of voter signatures to the voters or approve them and put them into law immediately.

Unlike a number of other cities across the country that have lowest law enforcement priority marijuana ordinances, marijuana is actually legal under Denver's municipal code. Voters there voted to legalize it in 2005, but local law enforcement and political officials have refused to implement the will of the voters, instead arresting marijuana offenders under Colorado state law. Despite the clear signal from the voters, marijuana arrests actually increased last year.

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SAFER rally, August 27, 2007
Although the council unanimously approved putting the initiative before the voters, various members lambasted it as mainly symbolic and its supporters for making "a joke" out of elections.

"You're trying to make a joke out of the electoral process in Denver," said Councilwoman Carol Boigan. "I think this is aimed at street theater and capturing media attention."

Even members who support drug policy reform, like Councilman Chris Nevitt, who supported the 2005 legalization initiative and the failed 2006 state legalization initiative, said the lowest priority initiative was the wrong way to go.

"The war on drugs is as misguided as the war on Iraq," said Nevitt, who compared the country's drug laws to the failure of Prohibition. "This issue needs to be taken to the state and federal level. Denver voters have already spoken."

The initiative is the brainchild of Citizens for a Safer Denver, the latest incarnation of executive director Mason Tvert's SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation), which started off winning campus votes to equalize penalties for marijuana and alcohol, then moved on to the stunning legalization victory in Denver two years ago. SAFER's primary point, which it hammers at continuously, is that marijuana is safer than alcohol.

Tvert and his fellow activists have specialized in tormenting the Denver political establishment for its stand on marijuana, particularly targeting Mayor John Hickenlooper, who owns the Wynkoop microbrewery and who opposed the legalization initiative, the failed statewide legalization initiative (which won majority support in Denver), and the pending initiative. They once followed Hickenlooper around with a man wearing a chicken suit named "Chickenlooper" when he refused to debate them.

SAFER and its latest municipal incarnation have also specialized in innovative tactics designed to incite media attention to advance their cause. And they've been at it again in recent weeks. In an August 23 press release the group offered to withdraw its initiative if the city council and mayor would agree to enact a moratorium on marijuana arrests during next summer's Democratic national convention, agree to formally recognize that adult marijuana use is less harmful than alcohol use, and agree to explore marijuana policies that reflect the understanding that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

"In order to demonstrate their commitment to a more rational approach to the use of marijuana and alcohol -- and to set an example for the rest of the nation -- our campaign respectfully requests city officials enact a moratorium on citations for adult marijuana use during the 2008 Democratic National Convention," said Tvert in the press release. "Tens of thousands of people will be flooding Denver for this tumultuous event, and visitors and city residents should not face the threat of arrest for simply making the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol, if that is what they prefer. After all, this is the first city in the United States that has voted to remove all penalties for private adult marijuana use," he noted.

"We understand the Denver City Council and Mayor Hickenlooper are extremely concerned about maintaining order during the convention. By allowing adults to consume marijuana instead of alcohol during this hectic time, they could potentially prevent the disorder that all too often accompanies the use and abuse of alcohol."

"The council was looking for ways to keep our initiative off the ballot, so we decided to help them out," Tvert told the Chronicle this week. "We also wanted to generate some attention as the spotlight is put on Denver for the Democratic national convention."

The council and mayor unsurprisingly didn't bite, but the offer received saturation press in Denver and Colorado, and even managed to earn a story in the Washington Times, "Pot Touted to Calm Denver Rallies."

"The council basically pulled a 180 trying to fight to keep it on the ballot in the face of our offer," Tvert said. "We weren't allowed to withdraw the initiative, but this just shows they're trying to void this any way possible."

Tvert also had some less than kind words for the mayor and the council. "The council has signaled they will oppose the initiative," he said. "There are three who say they are with us in spirit but against this particular law. Our city council has every right to tell the police to stop arresting adults for marijuana possession, but these people are acting like cowardly sell-outs," he said, singling out council members Chris Nevitt and Doug Linkhart, both of whom support marijuana legalization.

Neither Nevitt nor the mayor's office returned Chronicle calls seeking comment, but Linkhart did.

"I would like to see marijuana legalized in Colorado," said Linkhart. "Voters here in Denver have twice voted for that, and I supported those efforts. But I don't support this initiative. The police are sworn to enforce the law, and you either have the law or you don't," he said.

Linkhart also attacked Tvert over his tactics. "His stunts make some elected people angry, and that may hurt his cause," he said. "He is good at getting a lot of attention and getting the media involved, but I'm not sure that really helps his cause."

"They say this measure is only symbolic, but it will create a law that they will have to break if they want to continue doing business as usual," Tvert said. "We're forcing their hand on this."

Tvert and Citizens for a Safer Denver also managed to generate a story in the Denver Daily News the day of the council vote that outed at least four council members and the mayor as having smoked marijuana. Titled "Hypocrisy on Pot?," the piece could not have been more timely.

"We knew the mayor had partaken," said Tvert. "He says he had admitted it, but it was news to most people. This just shows how full of crap they are. We had a couple of council members saying marijuana is a gateway drug, but those council members who smoked, as well as the mayor, all seem to be functioning well," he snorted.

And while the fall vote is still weeks away, Tvert and the crew are keeping up the pressure on the mayor and the council. Their latest move is to demand a public hearing on a measure that would renew the city's partnership with the Coors Brewing Company, based in suburban Golden. The deal would allow Coors to sponsor events at the Colorado Convention Center, among other venues. The deal "sends the wrong message to children," said Tvert.

"Once and for all, the Council needs to explain why it is necessary to punish adults for using marijuana in order to send the right message to children, yet somehow it's no problem to have our city officially partner with an alcohol company to promote alcohol use to all who attend these events, including children," he said, adding that he is concerned that Coors could be sponsoring a circus next month where many children will be in attendance.

Maybe the Denver political establishment would be better off getting on board with its citizens' views on what the marijuana laws should be. At least then, it wouldn't have Tvert to hound it.

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