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ASA’s Medical Marijuana in the News: 1/5/08

ASA ACTION: City of San Diego Sides with ASA on Patient Rights

When officials from three counties tried to opt out of California’s requirement that they issue medical marijuana patients ID cards, ASA’s legal team took action. ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford appeared in court on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups to argue that state law must be respected, and won. San Diego County was alone in deciding to appeal the ruling, and now the city of San Diego has filed a brief arguing in favor of patients.

City files amicus brief for medical ID cards
by Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union Tribune
In the legal tug of war between the county and state over medical marijuana, the city of San Diego has sided with Sacramento – and voters.

County Wants Relief of Duty Providing ID Cards for Medical Marijuana Users
Fox 6 San Diego
The city of San Diego has taken the state's side against San Diego county in a battle about medical marijuana use, according to court documents.

County, City At Odds Over Medical Marijuana
NBC San Diego
The city of San Diego joined the fight in support of medicinal marijuana Friday, issuing a request to the state court to confirm that ailing patients have the right to use the drug for medicinal purposes.

MONTANA: Corrections Officials Try to Block Access

Medical care for Montanans under state supervision would be limited if corrections officials get their way. But there is substantial opposition to the plan, which would eliminate access to the state’s medical marijuana program for those on parole or probation.

Medical Pot Ban Sought for Parolees
by Mattt Gouras, Associated Press
Montana's Department of Corrections is facing stiff resistance to a proposal to prohibit all people on parole or probation from obtaining medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana - No medicine for parolees
by Patrick Duganz , Missoula News (MT)
Convicts on parole or probation in Montana currently have the same rights as anybody else to use medical marijuana as prescribed by a physician, but the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) wants to alter this policy because of a perception that parolees are “doctor shopping” for the legal medication.

NEW MEXICO: Patient Grateful, but Still Fearful

Federal officials routinely say they are not going after sick people who use medical marijuana, but their actions say otherwise. The federal response to New Mexico enacting a medical marijuana program was to raid the home of a paraplegic man with a handful of cannabis plants, an action that elicited an angry letter to Washington from New Mexico Governor and presidential-hopeful Bill Richardson. None of that is lost on this aging AIDS patient.

Where are they now? "Lisa," 62-year-old medical marijuana patient
Albuquerque Tribune (NM)
The only thing still keeping her together, sane and alive, she said, is that the state has given her a license to use and grow her own medical marijuana.

NEW JERSEY: Medical Marijuana Bill Languishes in Legislature

The governor has promised to sign a medical marijuana bill if it ever reaches his desk, but so far legislation has been blocked in a state senate committee, despite strong public support. This OpEd from the widow of an MS patient whose suffering was eased by medical marijuana points out that protecting patients from prosecution makes good fiscal sense.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Proposed bill cost-effective
by Jim Miller, OpEd, Asbury Park Press (NJ)
There is a health care proposal that a key New Jersey lawmaker refused to post for a floor vote. It's the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. The program's cost would have been negated by the registration fees charged to participants. It would have cost the state virtually nothing. It would have saved New Jersey money in other areas. Not only is the proposed bill financially feasible, it would have eased the suffering of so many seriously ill and dying residents.

FEDERAL: Nomination for US Attorney Bodes Ill for California

The US Attorney’s office in Northern California has proven repeatedly that it is not afraid to subvert the will of the people in its district, repeatedly prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers -- despite state law, local ordinances and overwhelming public support. The past actions of the new nominee for the post indicate he may make the conflict even more intense, if confirmed. But questions over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal make that confirmation less than a sure thing.

Drug Warrior's Shadow Looms Over California's Pot Clubs
by Steven Wishnia, AlterNet
Bush's pick for a CA prosecutor post of hardliner Joseph Russoniello signals a possible crack down on the state's multi-billion dollar pot industry.

CANADA: Crusading Patient Memorialized

As compelling as the thousands of scientific studies on medical uses of cannabis are, it is the experience of individual patients that has propelled the movement for legal access. That is no less true in Canada than the US.

Woman led fight to legalize medical marijuana
by Karen Kawawada, Waterloo Record (Canada)
In recent years, when people saw Catherine Devries of Kitchener, they saw a tiny and obviously ill woman who needed to use a wheelchair when she managed to get out of bed at all. But her family and friends don't remember the trail-blazing medical-marijuana activist as frail. Anything but.

SENIORS: Aging Americans Look to Medical Marijuana

The benefits of medical cannabis are particularly clear for older patients who frequently confront problems related to side effects and interactions between increasing numbers of prescription drugs. The broad-spectrum therapeutic potential of cannabis means that it can frequently be substituted for multiple medications, reducing ‘polypharmacy’. Unfortunately, seniors have difficulty getting good information about medical marijuana, as evidenced by this piece from Consumer Affairs, which gets a host of facts flatly wrong. (For example, there are 12 states where medical marijuana is legally available, not the “more than half” the author claims.)

The Healthy Geezer: Medical Uses of Marijuana
by Fred Cicetti, Consumer Affairs
Q. I heard that marijuana helps glaucoma. I’d like to try it, but won’t I get in trouble?

DISPENSARIES: Operator Defends Safe Access

While many would like to dismiss those who operate medical cannabis dispensing collectives as mere drug dealers, the zeal with which those operators defend their patients suggests otherwise. While dealers will do anything to avoid law enforcement, dispensary operators typically seek out local officials to work out ways to remain where they can serve their patients, or even go to court.

West Slope: Cameron Park pot shop owner won't close without a fight
by Ken Paglia, Mountain Democrat (CA)
A Cameron Park medical marijuana dealer will be appealing El Dorado County's refusal to renew his business license.

CALIFORNIA: Medical Cannabis Conflict on North Coast

The voters in Ukiah on California’s northern coast made clear in a voter initiative seven years ago that they do not want local law enforcement interfering with qualified medical marijuana patients or providers. But some in the community remain resistant, with one group leading an effort to repeal the local ordinance. The local paper has even printed a negative article based on speculative opinion as part of a series of articles on medical cannabis.

'Pot docs' issuing 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards
by Linda Williams, OpEd?, Willits News
While most think of cancer and AIDS when hearing of medical marijuana, in recent years most marijuana recommendations have been issued for far less serious illnesses by a small cadre of "pot docs." Medical marijuana recommendations seem to be evolving into Get Out of Jail Free cards rather than treatment for serious medical conditions.

Ukiahan seeks to overturn Measure G
by Mike A'Dair, Willits News (CA)
Local television producer Jimmy Rickel has taken a bold step to answer former Congressman Dan Hamburg's challenge to put Measure G up to a vote.

ASA BLOG: Comments from ASA Staff and Guests

ASA's blog is helping keep activists informed on the issues and events affecting medical marijuana patients and providers.

California Weekly Round Up
by Sonnet Seeborg Gabbard
Oakland Mayor Dellums Speaks Out for Safe Access; Court Appeals Verdict: Patient’s Conviction is Reversed; Ukiah City Council Calls for Medicine Limits- Board of Supervisors to Consider Ballot Initiative; Orange County Begins Issuing Medical Cannabis ID Carrds


Find out about ASA at More medical marijuana news summaries can be seen at

United States

Marijuana: Despite Law Allowing Ticketing for Pot Possession, Most Texas Counties Still Arrest

Thanks to a new state law that went into effect on September 1, law enforcement agencies in Texas now have the option of simply ticketing misdemeanor marijuana possession offenders instead of arresting them. The law, which also applies to a handful of other misdemeanor offenses, was designed to alleviate chronic overcrowding in Texas jails and make better use of police resources. However, almost no one in Texas is taking advantage of it.

According to a report this week in the Dallas Morning News, only the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff's Department is ticketing instead of arresting misdemeanor marijuana offenders. Officials in Dallas, Tarrant (Fort Worth), and Collin (suburban Dallas) counties gave varying reasons for failing to implement the cost-saving measure, ranging from "system inadequacies" to the belief it will "send the wrong message" about marijuana use.

"It may... lead some people to believe that drug use is no more serious than double parking," Collin County prosecutor Greg Davis told the Morning News.

"I think the legislature was very sensitive to the fact that there are so many jails that are overcrowded," said Terri Moore, Dallas County's first assistant district attorney. "This was a great idea, but it raises a lot more questions that we are not ready to answer."

"These are not just tickets. These are crimes that need to be appropriately dealt with," said Ron Stretcher, Dallas County's director of criminal justice. "We want to make sure we get them back to court to stand trial. It's not about emptying the jail. It's about making sure that we have room in the jail for the people who need to be there," he said.

But the Travis County Sheriff's Department said merely ticketing marijuana offenders was smart policy. "There are folks that think we are being soft on crime because we are just giving tickets. We are still hard on crime," said spokesman Roger Wade. "We believe if we can save resources and have the same effect on crime, then we should take advantage of this."

Prosecutors in north Texas counties also cited the lack of a system for dealing with misdemeanor tickets. But that seems pretty feeble.

You Can't Protect the Children's Futures by Putting Them in Jail for Marijuana

Fed up with prison overcrowding, the Texas legislature passes a law encouraging police to ticket rather than arrest people for small amounts of marijuana. And, wouldn’t you know it, police and prosecutors are ignoring it and fidgeting around rationalizing their determination to haul every pot smoker off to jail. Why? They consider it their job to overcrowd the prisons.

And as you might expect, we're told this is all necessary to protect the children:
For Greg Davis, Collin County's first assistant district attorney, one of his qualms with the new law is the perception created by ticketing for a drug offense, instead of making an arrest.

"It may... lead some people to believe that drug use is no more serious than double parking," Mr. Davis said. "We don't want to send that message to potential drug users, particularly young people." [Dallas Morning News]
It's not enough for Mr. Davis to brand them with criminal records that could haunt them for the rest of their lives. They must also suffer the indignity of being handcuffed and tossed in an overcrowded steel box full of dangerous thugs the moment they're found with marijuana. Surely, that will show them how much we care.

And while we're at it, double-parking really is a vastly more serious crime than having marijuana. If Americans double-parked at the same rate that they smoke pot, we'd be living a parking lot. Pizzas would be undeliverable. Productivity would generally suffer considerably.

At least the police in Austin are following the new policy, and for innovative reasons you might never even think of:
With the high price of gasoline, Mr. Wade said, writing citations also saves money because officers don't have to drive into Austin from the county's outskirts to put a suspect in jail.
Is that what these people care about? Do we have to start talking about trivial crap like gas mileage to stop marijuana arrests? I will if I have to, but damn…
United States

Marijuana: Idaho Balks at Town's Pot Initiatives

Last month, voters in tiny Hailey, Idaho, approved three municipal initiatives that legalized medical marijuana, cultivation of industrial hemp, and ordered the city to make enforcement of state and federal marijuana laws the lowest law enforcement priority. Now, city officials have delayed acting on the initiatives, and Idaho's attorney general says the first two initiatives conflict with state law and are invalid and the third "is likely not an allowable subject for an initiative, and therefore invalid."

In the brief written by Deputy Attorney General Mitchell Toryanski, Toryanski said that in addition to conflicting with state law, the initiatives were also problematic on free speech grounds and because they affected the constitutional division of powers between the state and municipalities.

In the brief, Toryanski wrote that: "The Idaho Constitution guarantees that 'every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty. The right to free speech includes the right not to speak.'"

Toryanski also cited Idaho case law on the division of powers to invalidate the lowest law enforcement priority initiative, noting that "while subjects of a legislative nature were allowable for local initiatives, subjects of an administrative nature were not."

"None of this surprises me in the least," Hailey city attorney Ned Williamson told Sun Valley Online. "There are at least three issues, three problems with the initiatives."

"The provision in the initiatives that require you guys to advocate for changes in law violate your freedom of speech and freedom of political discretion," Williamson said, referring to the requirement imposed on city officials to attempt to persuade officials in other cities, the county and anyone else to promote legal use of marijuana.

"The bottom line is that major provisions of the initiatives are illegal and are invalid," Williamson said. "It coincides with what I said in the past, and we have to decide how to proceed." Williamson said the city can choose between litigating, repealing or amending the initiatives.

Now, city officials have put off any decisions even on whether to move ahead with the oversight committees mandated by the initiatives. No word yet from the Idaho Liberty Lobby, the group that sponsored the initiatives.

Europe: Finland to Set Guidelines for Medical Marijuana Use

The Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health announced Monday that it will draw up guidelines to accommodate the use and prescribing of medical marijuana. The move comes a year after the National Agency for Medicines granted its first special permission for a patient to use the plant.
Dutch marijuana prescription
In that case, in which a man suffering chronic pain from a back injury obtained a prescription from a Dutch physician, the agency originally rejected his application, saying that under its interpretation of Finnish law, prescribing marijuana was absolutely prohibited. But the patient appealed to the regional Administrative Court, which overturned that decision.

The National Agency for Medicines then granted the permission for one year. It was recently extended for another year after reports that the patient's condition was improving.

But more broadly, the court ruling has forced the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to produce regulations to accommodate medical marijuana use and prescription. Those changes are expected to take place in a few months. According to YLE News, medical marijuana prescriptions will require the approval of the National Agency for Medicines.

Mexico: Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Introduced

A bill that would remove the threat of jail from marijuana consumers was introduced in the Mexican congress late last month. Introduced by Social Democratic Alternative Party Deputy Elsa Conde after being developed in working sessions with a group of marijuana experts and activists known as Grupo Cañamo, the copy of the bill presented to congress was written on hemp paper.
Elsa Conde
The bill is the first of a proposed four-part package that will also include legislation on industrial hemp, medical marijuana, and the rights of consumers.

The bill would reform the penal code so that, while marijuana use remains illegal, it would be punished not by jail time but with "informative and educational" sanctions that would protect the health and freedom of users without exposing them to "our deficient penitentiary system," Conde said.

The limit proposed for possession is a relatively stringent two grams. The bill would also allow for up to three plants.

The bill, said Conde, would also "contribute to the battle against organized crime by focusing on those who profit from the trade," not consumers.

"We are looking to decriminalize a debate largely suppressed in our society and we appeal for a critical, scientific, and unbiased examination of a plant that, without being innocuous, has never represented a serious public health problem and that nobody, ever, has suffered a grave harm to his health by consuming it occasionally or habitually, not even by abusing it -- a quality that many other substances, including legal ones like alcohol and tobacco, lack," said Deputy Conde as she introduced the bill. "To sum up, we recognize that, eventually, the use or abuse of marijuana could represent a public health problem, but what is most harmful to our society is the policy of absolute prohibition. Keeping this in mind, we call on the legislature, the executive branch, and our society to assume the task of reducing the harm as a shared responsibility."

While proponents of the bill claim it has public backing, the prospects for rapid passage appear to range from slim to none. Conde is one of only four Alternative members seated in Mexico's 500-member congress, and while members of all of the big three political parties have expressed interest in marijuana law reform, that is still a minority position within those parties. Still, as the government of President Felipe Calderon prepares to gear up its war on drugs with an infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars in US assistance, it is heartening to see some evidence of a counter-current.

Death Penalty: Malaysia to Execute Man for Marijuana, China to Execute Man for Meth

Even as the UN General Assembly voted this week for a death penalty moratorium, two Asian nations were once again exercising the ultimate sanction against drug offenders. In Malaysia, a man faces death for less than two pounds of marijuana, while in China, a man has been sentenced to death for trafficking in methamphetamine.

In Malaysia, Razali Ahmad, 33, was found guilty of trafficking marijuana Tuesday after police searched his house and found 858 grams. In Malaysia, the charge of trafficking carries an automatic death sentence.

Meanwhile, a Chinese court Monday sentenced Hao Chen to death for being a ringleader in a meth trafficking organization in southern Guandong Province. Five other ring members were sentenced to terms ranging from 15 years to life. The sentences were for trafficking about three pounds of meth.

In addition to the UN General Assembly's condemnation of the death penalty in general, the use of the death penalty against drug offenders has generated a campaign by harm reductionists to end such practices. Look for an in-depth report on all of this in the coming weeks.

Medical Marijuana: DEA Threatens San Francisco Dispensary Landlords, Dispensaries Sue, Conyers to Hold Hearings

In a reprise of a tactic first used against Los Angeles and Sacramento area dispensaries, the DEA this week sent letters to dozens of owners of buildings leased to San Francisco dispensaries warning them that their buildings could be seized. Dispensary operators responded by filing suit in federal court to stop the agency, and a high-ranking congressman has promised to hold hearings on the matter.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and currently, hundreds of dispensaries are operating in the state to provide marijuana to patients qualified under the state's admittedly loose law. DEA raids and federal prosecution have failed to blunt their growth, and the landlord letters are only the latest wrinkle in the agency's war on the will of California voters.

"By this notice, you have been made aware of the purposes for which the property is being used," said a copy of the letter sent to San Francisco landlords, signed by the special agent in charge of the DEA's San Francisco office, Javier Pena. "You are further advised that violations of federal laws relating to marijuana may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines and forfeiture of assets."

The letter gave no deadlines.

San Francisco once had as many as 40 dispensaries, although only 28 have applied for licenses under a city regulatory process that began in July. But dispensaries may also be linked to other buildings where medical marijuana grows or storage take place.

"The feds do as they please... (and) they've done it before," San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding he would not be surprised at a crackdown. "I would only hope they would coordinate with local law enforcement and that they are aware of the new regulatory system we have in place, and are sensitive to it."

Dispensary operators, however, were not quite so sanguine. A previously little known industry grouping, the Union of Medical Marijuana Providers, last week joined the Los Angeles area Arts District Healing Center in filing a federal lawsuit charging the DEA with extorting landlords. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to bar the DEA from sending any more threatening letters.

Dispensary operators and their supporters are also looking forward to hearings on the issue in the House Judiciary Committee. In response to complaints from California, last Friday, committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) announced he would hold hearings on the issue.

"I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is threatening private landlords with asset forfeiture and possible imprisonment if they refuse to evict organizations legally dispensing medical marijuana to suffering patients," Conyers said in a statement. "The committee has already questioned the DEA about its efforts to undermine California state law on this subject, and we intend to sharply question this specific tactic as part of our oversight efforts."

"When I saw Representative Conyers statement regarding the DEA's abuse of their power in order to thwart California's law, I knew that our legal efforts were beginning to pay off," said James Shaw, executive director of the Union. "The DEA has alienated too many citizens with their heavy-handed 'above the law tactics' for too long. We welcome all the support we can find in our efforts to ensure our rights are protected."

Steven Schectman, the Union's chief counsel, said he has contacted Representative Conyers' office in order to provide his staff copies of the litigation that was filed in both state and federal Court. "I am hopeful we can support the Judiciary Committee in any way possible. As a result of our research and investigation of the DEA's threatening letter campaign, in preparation of our litigation, we have become the most knowledgeable group, outside the DEA, who best understands the scope and import of their tactics. We are here to help."

A Holiday Surprise & Victory for Medical Marijuana!

[Courtesy of Americans for Safe Access] 

Last week, House Judiciary Committee Chair, Rep. Conyers (D-MI) pledged to investigate the DEA’s recent and ongoing tactics threatening the safety and security of state-sanctioned patients, providers, and innocent third-party landlords. Chairman Conyers’ commitment to question DEA attacks on medical marijuana states has brought holiday cheer to medical marijuana patients and supporters. Please thank Chairman Conyers, and his staff, today!

Click here to thank Chairman Conyers right now! Chairman Conyers needs to know you support and appreciate his decision to hold oversight hearings. Be sure to thank him and tell him that as a patient and/or medical marijuana supporter, you look forward to working with him and his dedicated staff as they prepare for the oversight hearing.
Visit to send a short message.

Since the DEA began raiding medical cannabis dispensing collectives in 2002, Congress has never held a hearing to investigate the goal of these raids, how much these raids are costing taxpayers in both dollars and precious resources, or what impact these raids are having on patients and the state and local governments attempting to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana in accordance with state law. A House oversight investigation is an important and significant opportunity for the medical marijuana community. Please thank Chairman Conyers today. Click here to send a message.

Thank you for your commitment to safe access.


Sonnet Seeborg Gabbard
Field Coordinator
Americans for Safe Access
Washington, DC
United States

Why Doesn't the DEA Just Crack Down on Medical Marijuana?

Ever wonder why the federal government doesn't just go ahead and raid every medical marijuana dispensary in California? The DEA seems to conduct only enough raids to create the perception of risk, while completely failing to prevent widespread medical access. In an online chat, someone asked the Drug Czar about this, and you know what he said? Nothing. He may be afraid to answer, but I'm not.

First check out his lengthy response and note that it doesn't answer the main question:
Patrick, from San Francisco, CA writes:
Mr. Walters-- My son is a high school junior here in San Francisco, CA. A large percentage of high school students in San Francisco smoke pot on campus several times a day. Teachers and school administrators are powerless to stop it and simply look the other way, all due to state and local laws which make it almost impossible to control pot and thereby keep it out of the hands of kids. How serious is the federal government in its attempts to shut down the phony "medical marijuana" industry, which is really just an underhanded way to make it easy for people to use pot recreationally. Raiding pot clubs could be stepped up easily (with very few people), couldn't they? --Patrick

John Walters
I’m glad you raised this concern, Patrick. We’re hearing the same thing from many other communities dealing with the same issue.

We believe that if there are elements of marijuana that can be applied to modern medicine, they should undergo the same FDA-approval process any other medicine goes through to make sure it’s safe and effective. In absence of that approval, the Federal position is clear: the smoked form of medical marijuana is against Federal law and we will continue to enforce the law.

Last year, the FDA issued an advisory reinforcing the fact that no sound scientific studies have supported medical use of smoked marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of smoked marijuana for general medical use. This statement adds to the already substantial list of national public health organizations that have already spoken out on this issue, including the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – all of which do not support the smoked form of marijuana as medicine. So who’s pushing for the smoked form of medical marijuana then?

Funded by millions of dollars from those whose goal it is to legalize marijuana outright, marijuana lobbyists have been deployed to Capitol Hill and to States across the Nation to employ their favored tactic of using Americans' natural compassion for the sick to garner support for a far different agenda. These modern-day snake oil proponents cite testimonials—not science—that smoked marijuana helps patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other painful diseases “feel better.” While smoking marijuana may allow patients to temporarily feel better, the medical community makes an important distinction between inebriation and the controlled delivery of pure pharmaceutical medication. If you want to learn more about this, we have information available that shows how medical marijuana laws increase drug-related crime and protect drug dealers. Hopefully you can help us educate more of our citizens about this fraud.
So it's clear that the Drug Czar opposes medical marijuana, but what about the raids? Well, I can think of a few reasons why a full-blown attack on medical access in California would be highly problematic:
1. Simultaneously raiding California's several hundred dispensaries would provoke aggressive protests and widespread bad publicity. The ensuing press coverage would highlight marijuana's well-known medical applications.

2. DEA's tactic of suppressing evidence in court that the marijuana is for medical use wouldn’t work if they raided all the providers at once. Jurors would figure it out and vote to acquit, wasting federal law enforcement and prosecutorial resources.

3. Black market violence would erupt immediately as criminals rush in to meet demand. This would prove to everyone that the medical marijuana industry actually made California safer.

4. Anti-medical marijuana statements from Republican presidential hopefuls have already jeopardized their chance at winning California's 54 electoral votes. An aggressive DEA campaign at this time would ensure a democratic victory there. Bush's Drug Czar knows better than to help democrats win California.

I suppose it's not very surprising that the Drug Czar declined to elaborate on this. He certainly wouldn't want to put ideas in anyone's head.

The point here isn't that providing medical marijuana carries no legal risks. It clearly does. But it's important for everyone to understand how hollow most of the DEA's threats really are. DEA's ongoing efforts against medical marijuana providers in California are designed to create the appearance of chaos, which is then cited as evidence that the medical marijuana industry is inherently harmful. This is purely political.

The Drug Czar's failure to answer this simple and common question reveals a great deal about his own reluctance to interfere with the will of California voters.

United States

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