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Press Release: CA Attorney General Directs Law Enforcement on Medical Marijuana

MEDIA RELEASE Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release: August 25, 2008 CA Attorney General Directs Law Enforcement on Medical Marijuana / Comprehensive recommendations include protection of dispensaries Sacramento, CA -- California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued long-awaited guidelines on medical marijuana today with support from advocates and law enforcement alike. The guidelines direct law enforcement on how to approach encounters with medical marijuana patients and establish a road map for local police policies. However, more significantly, the guidelines provide recommendations for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in accordance with state law. Specifically, the Attorney General states that, "a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful under California law." The guidelines are the culmination of years of work by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and other advocates to educate and urge action from the Attorney General and other state officials. "Today we stand beside the Attorney General of California in his effort to fully implement the state's medical marijuana law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "We welcome this leadership and expect that compliance with these guidelines will result in fewer unnecessary arrests, citations and seizures of medicine from qualified patients and their primary caregivers." The guidelines not only provide direction for patients and police, but also for lawyers, judges and public officials to better understand their rights, responsibilities, and obligations under state law. The guidelines firmly establish that as long as patients and caregivers are abiding by local and state laws, they "should be released" from police custody and "the marijuana should not be seized." In the event that medical marijuana is wrongfully seized from a patient or caregiver, and the court orders its return, the guidelines state that police "must return the property." Affirming that California's medical marijuana law is not preempted by federal law, the Attorney General further directs "state and local law enforcement officers [to] not arrest individuals or seize marijuana under federal law" when an individual's conduct is legal under state law. Contained within the guidelines is a controversial provision requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to operate on a not-for-profit basis. This interpretation of the law comes from California's Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), passed by the legislature in 2003. However, while the voter-approved initiative Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, references the need for a distribution system, no mention is made of for-profit status. In prior discussions with the Attorney General's office, ASA had strenuously objected to this provision of the guidelines. The guidelines come at a time of escalating interference by the federal government. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Justice continue in their attempts to undermine state law through ongoing investigations, raids, seizures, prosecutions, and imprisonment of medical marijuana patients and providers. In response, several California mayors, including Gavin Newsom and Ron Dellums, have voiced their opposition to House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI) and have called for oversight hearings. "It is now up to Congress and the new President to align federal policy with California and other medical cannabis states," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "It is time to resolve the federal-state conflict that serves only to undermine California and other states' sovereignty and inflict harm on seriously ill patients and their care providers." For further information: Guidelines issued today by the California Attorney General: Attorney General bulletin issued to all law enforcement after the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in /Gonzales v. Raich/:
United States

Marijuana: Massachusetts Decriminalization Initiative Polling Well

A Massachusetts initiative that would decriminalize marijuana possession looks set to win in November, if polling numbers from this month are any indication. According to a 7NEWS/Suffolk University poll, the initiative now has the approval of 72% of voters. Only 22% of respondents said they opposed the decrim measure, while 6% had no opinion.

The initiative, sponsored by the Committee for Responsible Marijuana Policy, would replace current criminal penalties for marijuana possession with a civil penalty of forfeiture of the marijuana and a $100 fine.

It looks like the Massachusetts public is on board with decrim, said David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University. "This issue suggests that there is a libertarian streak in the thinking of Massachusetts voters," he said.

The decrim initiative, known as Question #2 on the November ballot, is the only one of three initiatives garnering majority support, according to the poll. An initiative that would reduce and ultimately eliminate the state income tax was trailing 50% to 36%, while an initiative that would bar dog racing that entailed wagering was hovering at the half-way mark, with 50% approval and 37% and opposed.

Massachusetts voters may be uncertain about dog racing and opposed to messing with the state tax system, but they seem clear about the need to decriminalize marijuana possession. If they pass the initiative, Massachusetts will become the 13th decrim state and the first since Nevada in 2001.

Europe: Move Afoot in Poland to Legalize Marijuana

According to Polish Radio, a campaign to loosen the marijuana laws is underway in Poland. A petition to the Ministry of Justice requesting the legalization of marijuana for personal use has already been signed by hundreds of people, including drug rehab specialists and members of Monar, a nonprofit group that works with addicts, the HIV/AIDS positive, and the homeless.

Now, would-be legalizers are trying a new tack: direct contact with members of parliament (MPs). "Cannabis canvassers" recruited via the Internet have been paying visits to politicians in an effort to win them over, and it seems to be working. The canvassers have already collected the signatures of five MPs, including former health minister Marek Balicki.

Legalization of personal possession (or decriminalization) would be a step forward for Poland. Under current law, possession of even small amounts of marijuana is a serious criminal offense.

Medical Marijuana: California Supreme Court to Take Up Limits Issue

The California Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to revisit the question of how many plants and how much marijuana medical marijuana patients may legally possess. It did so by taking up a prosecutor's appeal of a May California Appellate Court decision that found a 2003 law designed to make the state's medical marijuana law operational conflicted with the voter-approved Compassionate Use Act by setting fixed limits on how much marijuana patients may possess.
California medical marijuana bags (courtesy Daniel Argo via Wikimedia)
The state's Compassionate Use Act does not specify the amount of marijuana a patient may possess. Instead, that law allows an amount of marijuana "reasonably related to the patient's current medical needs."

The case, People v. Kelly, began in 2005, when Los Angeles County deputies searched Patrick Kelly's home and found 7 plants in his back yard and 12 ounces of prepared marijuana in the house, along with a doctor's note saying Kelly needed marijuana for back problems, hepatitis c, and other ailments. After prosecutors told jurors Kelly had exceeded the limits of the 2003 law, the jury found him guilty. But the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles overturned the conviction earlier this year, agreeing with Kelly's argument that the 2003 law was invalid because it conflicted with Proposition 215, which did not set any specified limits.

Medical marijuana activists are divided on the case. Some, like Americans for Safe Access, argued that the 2003 only set guidelines for police and that the numbers in the law constituted a minimum, not a maximum. Throwing out the law would remove a statewide standard that "protects qualified patients from unnecessary arrests," ASA attorney Joseph Elford argued in court papers.

But the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the 2003 law's eight-ounce limit applies to the 18,000 people who have registered with the state under that law's voluntary registration program. But Prop 215 still applies to all medical marijuana patients in the state, the ACLU argued. That means doctors may continue to prescribe greater quantities of marijuana and local entities may set higher limits.

Marijuana: Hawaii's Big Island to Vote on Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Initiative

Petitioners for an initiative making adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority on Hawaii's pot-friendly Big Island failed to gather enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, but it is going there anyway. After reviewing the signature count, the county council voted 5-4 to put the measure on the ballot.
Volcano National Park, Hawaii Island
Led by a Big Island group called Project Peaceful Sky, the lowest priority initiative would bar police from going after people growing 24 plants or less or possessing 24 ounces of marijuana or less. It also orders the county to forego any state or federal funds to be used for controversial marijuana eradication efforts on the island.

For decades now, marijuana cultivation on the Big Island and law enforcement eradication efforts -- especially those carried out by noisy, low-flying helicopters -- have been a political issue. In 2000 and again last year, the county council refused federal eradication funds (although the county ended up providing such funding itself last year).

Local law enforcement is not happy. Police Major Sam Thomas, who oversees police operations in East Hawaii, worried that the initiative would create "gray areas" that could hurt police anti-drug efforts. "There is so much gray in there, and police officers, we don't do well in gray. We need to have a lot of black and white," he told the Honolulu Advertiser.

Thomas also worried to the Advertiser that growing 24 plants could create windfall profits for growers and that the initiative would hurt methamphetamine enforcement. Now, Thomas explained, when police find pot plants growing outside a suspected meth dealer's home, they can use that evidence to get a search warrant. It wouldn't be like that if the initiative passed, he said. "In this case, if I wanted to use the marijuana as the basis for a search warrant, no, I won't be allowed to do that," he complained.

But County Councilman Bob Jacobson, who introduced the council resolution to put the proposal on the ballot, said he wants to see the issue put to a public vote. He told the Advertiser that a number of people had told him they supported the initiative but were afraid to sign the petitions.

"Personally, I just believe it needs to be done," Jacobson said. "There are better, higher priorities for police than running around trying to find a few casual marijuana users."

Adam Lehmann, an organic farmer, spiritual pot smoker, and board director for Peaceful Sky told the Advertiser there is support for the initiative. "People are really tired of seeing money misappropriated away from education and healthcare to fund a military-style war on a plant," said Lehmann. "It's clearly going to give law enforcement more time and resources to focus on serious crimes. It's going to provide lots of space in our prisons, it's going to help courts run smoother, and it's going to essentially save this county's taxpayers millions of dollars every year," because they will avoid the costs of strict marijuana enforcement, he said.

Lowest priority initiatives have already been approved in six California cities; Seattle; Denver; Missoula County, Montana; Hailey, Idaho; and Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Feature: Seattle's Hempfest Again Draws Multitudes in Celebration of Cannabis Culture

Last Saturday and Sunday, Seattle's Myrtle Edwards Park, a mile-long strip of land fronting Puget Sound just north of downtown, once again played host to the Seattle Hempfest. And once again, the Hempfest lived up to its reputation as the world's largest marijuana "protestival."

With a core staff of around a hundred, led by the indefatigable Vivian McPeak, and about a thousand volunteers who worked to set up the event, keep it running smoothly, and tear it all down at the end of the weekend, Hempfest is not only a celebration of cannabis culture but also the living embodiment of the grassroots cooperative activism that has flourished for years in Seattle.

From its beginnings as a small pro-hemp event 17 years ago, Hempfest has become the coming out party for America's cannabis nation, which in Seattle includes not only youthful stoners, wizened hippies, and Mr. Bong Head (a guy wearing a working bong contraption on his head), but punks, Goths, ravers, uncostumed twenty- and thirty-somethings, families with children in strollers, and -- the biggest cannabis celebrity in town -- travel writer Rick Steves. Steves once again called for the US to follow the lead of Europe in relaxing marijuana laws.

Over the event's two-day span, an estimated 150,000+ people showed up to see and be seen, listen to four stages worth of live music, peruse the hundreds of vendors' stands for the newest technologies and best buys on glass pipes, t-shirts, hemp items, and other pot-related accoutrements and accessories.

And to get high in public with their comrades. Seattle police have for years now had an accommodation with Hempfest, even more so since the city's voters told law enforcement very clearly in 2003 that marijuana should be the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Police were on the scene, patrolling the park's sidewalks in pairs, but appeared oblivious to the open pot-smoking going on all over the place.

In effect, Hempfest is not only the largest marijuana protestival in the world, it is also a massive act of civil disobedience. Even though Seattle has its lowest priority policy and Washington state has decriminalized pot possession, marijuana use and possession is still against the law. As one speaker addressed the crowd, pointing out this fact and telling listeners that despite all the progress they had made, they were still criminals, the crowd responded with an enormous cheer.

The only real tension at Hempfest occurred when a small group of sign-holding fundamentalist preachers berated the passing crowds, telling them they were going to hell for their sins. That sparked occasional heated discussions. At one point Saturday, Hempfest organizers were heard threatening to send a squad of transgender people to scare off the fanatics.

Some Hempfest attendees took a break from browsing, shopping, and listening to music to actually listen to between-band speeches by activists calling for further marijuana law reform. While decriminalization and legalization were predictably common themes, this year's Hempfest emphasized two other issues: The promotion of hemp and the battle over Washington state's medical marijuana law, especially the ongoing fight over what are appropriate quantities of marijuana allowable for patients. The state is currently tangling with patients and advocates over what constitutes a minimum 60-day supply of their medicine. An earlier proposal called for 35 ounces of marijuana, but Gov. Christine Gregoire sought a review of that, and the state is now recommending a 24-ounce limit.

Besides between-band speeches, political activism also took place throughout Hempfest at the Hemposium tent, although in an indication of the role politics played in the larger festival, crowds in the tent numbered in the dozens, as opposed to the tens of thousands listening to music.

"Every single patient I know will not be in compliance with the 60-day rule. It's not going to work. It's driven by law enforcement, not science," said Douglas Hiatt, a lawyer who represents medical-marijuana users, as he spoke at one of the Hemposium sessions. Hiatt was among the activists calling on patients and supporters to come out for an August 25 action in support of higher limits.

But for most Hempfest attendees, the event was a party, a celebration, not a political seminar. While that may be a disappointment to activists, it is also a demonstration of the breadth and scope of Pacific Northwest cannabis culture. It has gone mainstream, with all the apolitical apathy abundant in the broader culture.

And if Hempfest was a little too mellow for your taste, you could always check out Methfest, not a celebration of amphetamine culture but a scary rock music show put on in nearby Belltown.

Panel Calls For No Marijuana Enforcement During Democratic National Convention

Police in Denver must be so sick of Mason Tvert. But in case they haven't noticed, he's not gonna stop calling them out until they stop wasting valuable public safety resources on petty pot busts:
A panel set up to review Denver's marijuana policies has recommended that police refrain from busting adults who fire up during the Democratic National Convention.

Police will have to deal with numerous security issues next week when thousands of people - ranging from protestors to delegates - descend on Denver, said Mason Tvert, leader of a group that sponsored a law mandating that marijuana be a low-enforcement priority.

"It is absolutely absurd for the police to be spending any of their time worrying about adults using a drug that is less harmful than alcohol," he said today.

Tvert, who also sits on the Marijuana Policy Review Panel, said he would deliver the recommendation to Mayor John Hickenlooper, Police Chief Gerald Whitman and Denver City Council president Jeanne Robb. [Denver Post]
Of course, this conversation wouldn't even be happening if Denver police just listened to the people they serve. The citizens of Denver voted against petty marijuana enforcement not once, but twice, first legalizing possession of up to an ounce, and then calling on police to make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority. Is there anything confusing or ambiguous about that?

If the community makes a statement about what type of policing they want, it is law-enforcement's job to make it work. Anything less renders the police department a rogue agency, abusing the very population whose tax dollars pay police salaries.

California Legislature Passes Employment Rights Bill for Medical Marijuana Patients

This is big news:

Sacramento, CA -- A medical marijuana employment rights bill, which would protect hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in California from employment discrimination, passed the State Senate today. AB2279 had already passed the State Assembly in May, which means the bill now heads to the Governor's desk. Advocates expect the bill to reach Schwarzenegger's desk in the next few weeks.

AB2279, introduced in February by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), reverses a January California Supreme Court decision in the case Ross v. RagingWire. Support for the bill has been widespread, coming from labor, business, and health groups at the local and national level. [Americans for Safe Access]

Ten years after the passage of Proposition 215, medical marijuana hasn’t lost any support in California. Even the state legislature is standing up for patients' rights, as well it should. How embarrassing this must be for those who claimed that medical marijuana was a threat to public safety. Californians are pleased with their medical marijuana law, despite unwelcome inference by the federal government. It is just beyond dispute at this point that allowing patients with a doctor's recommendation to obtain medical marijuana doesn't cause any significant social problems. We can see with our own eyes that the sky has not fallen.

Now it is up to Governor Schwarzenegger to do the right thing and sign this commonsense bill into law. He's already bowed disgracefully to federal pressure by vetoing a sensible and completely harmless bill to legalize hemp cultivation, so there's good reason to question his judgment. On the other hand, this bill is about the basic employment rights of people treating medical conditions according to the advice of their doctors. A veto would not be well-received by the people of California. Let's hope the Governator knows what's good for himself and his constituents.

This is an easy one. Don't let anyone try to make it complicated.

Press Release: Medical Marijuana Employment Rights Bill Passes Both CA Houses

PRESS RELEASE Americans for Safe Access For Immediate Release:* August 20, 2008 Medical Marijuana Employment Rights Bill Passes Both California Houses / Anti-discrimination bill AB2279 now heads to the Governor's desk Sacramento, CA -- A medical marijuana employment rights bill, which would protect hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in California from employment discrimination, passed the State Senate today. AB2279 had already passed the State Assembly in May, which means the bill now heads to the Governor's desk. Advocates expect the bill to reach Schwarzenegger's desk in the next few weeks. AB2279, introduced in February by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Assemblymembers Patty Berg (D-Eureka), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Lori Saldaña (D-San Diego), reverses a January California Supreme Court decision in the case /Ross v. RagingWire/. Support for the bill has been widespread, coming from labor, business, and health groups at the local and national level. "Now that both houses of the California legislature have voted in favor of employment rights for medical marijuana patients, the onus is on Governor Schwarzenegger to do the right thing," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the medical marijuana advocacy group that argued the case before the Court and a sponsor of the bill. "The Governor has a chance to include medical marijuana patients as productive members of society, thereby protecting the jobs of thousands of Californians with serious illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS." The bill leaves intact existing state law prohibiting medical marijuana consumption at the workplace or during working hours and protects employers from liability by carving out an exception for safety-sensitive positions. "AB2279 is not about being under the influence while at work. That's against the law, and will remain so," said Mr. Leno, the bill's author. "It's about allowing patients who are able to work safely and who use their doctor-recommended medication in the privacy of their own home, to not be arbitrarily fired from their jobs," continued Mr. Leno. "The voters who supported Proposition 215 did not intend for medical marijuana patients to be forced into unemployment in order to benefit from their medicine." On January 24, in a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that an employer may fire someone solely because they use medical marijuana outside the workplace. The plaintiff in the case, Gary Ross, is a 46-year old disabled veteran who was a systems engineer living Carmichael, California, when he was fired from his job in 2001 at RagingWire Telecommunications for testing positive for marijuana. The decision in /Ross v. RagingWire/ dealt a harsh blow to patients in the courts, shifting the debate to the state legislature. But, before the court made its final decision, Ross enjoyed the support of ten state and national medical organizations, all of the original co-authors of the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420), and disability rights groups. Since it began recording instances of employment discrimination in 2005, ASA has received hundreds of such reports from all across California. Further information: Employment rights legislation AB2279: ASA web page on AB2279, including Fact Sheet and Letters of Support: Legal briefs and rulings in the Ross v. RagingWire case: # # #
United States

Pet Mountain Lion Gets Man Arrested for Marijuana

Ok, if you're growing marijuana, don't harbor an illegal pet mountain lion:

mountain lion

Russell Rexrode, a 41 year old Ft. Bragg resident, has been sentenced to 180 days in jail following his conviction by a jury of felony cultivation of marijuana. Sheriff's deputy Dustin Lorenzo testified during the trial that he weighed 119 pounds of processed marijuana and 142 pounds-worth of unprocessed marijuana plants found at Rexrode's residence. Sheriff's Lieutenant Rusty Noe testified that the wholesale value of the pot was $2,400 per pound.

Fish and Game Department Lieutenant Lynette Shimek testified that she led the search of Mr. Rexrode's property on Oct. 17, 2005, on the basis of evidence relating to "unlawful mountain lion possession." Superior Court judge Ron Brown presided over the case, and in addition to giving Rexrode the jail sentence, he ordered the defendant to pay $1,500 for the misdemeanor offense of having the mountain lion. [Ukiah Daily Journal]

Now, I understand why someone would grow marijuana. It's medicine. It makes people happy and creative. And I understand why someone would want a mountain lion. They are majestic. But this guy pushed his luck too far. As much as many of us may wish to live in a world where you can grow weed and raise mountain lions, we just don't. And if there's one thing that's going to generate more buzz around the neighborhood than a homegrown marijuana garden, it's a lion.

But here's what I want to know: how come the guy got 180 days in jail for growing pot, but only paid a $1,500 fine for the mountain lion?! It should go without saying that mountain lions are vastly more dangerous than marijuana.

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