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Medical Marijuana: Minnesota Bill Heads for House Floor Vote, Last Stop Before Governor's Desk

A bill that would allow some Minnesota patients to use medical marijuana is headed for a House floor vote after easily passing the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday. The bill, SF 345, passed the Senate last year, so the House vote is the only obstacle remaining before the bill lands on the desk of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).

But the governor remains an obstacle as well. Pawlenty has signaled he will veto the bill. A Pawlenty spokesman reiterated the veto threat Wednesday, saying the bill must include provisions to make it palatable to law enforcement.

The bill would allow qualifying patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and to obtain it from organizations created to dispense the drug. Those nonprofits can grow up to 12 plants per patient. Patients and dispensaries would be registered with the state.

"To me, this is the ultimate conservative issue," said Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover), a cosponsor of the measure. "It's about keeping the government out of the doctor-patient relationship."

While the bill passed out of committee with no debate, that will not be the case when it comes before the House as a whole. That should take place sometime in the next few weeks.

Preston resident Neil Haugerud, former sheriff of Fillmore County and a former state representative who suffers chronic pain from arachnoiditis (inflammation of the lining that surrounds the spinal cord), said, "I'm grateful to the committee for passing the medical marijuana bill, and I hope the full House and the governor will go ahead and make it law as soon as possible. Patients who are in pain shouldn't have to risk arrest and jail to get relief."

Twelve states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington -- presently allow medical use of marijuana. Medical marijuana bills are now under consideration in Illinois and New York, and an initiative is expected to appear on Michigan's November ballot.

Beware the Dreaded Skunk: British Press Suffers Contact High, Contracts Bad Case of Reefer Madness

With British Prime Minister Gordon Brown poised to reclassify marijuana as a more serious drug subject to stiffer penalties, the United Kingdom appears to be in the grip of an outbreak of Reefer Madness that would make Harry Anslinger blush. Fueled by the country's widely-read tabloid press and used by opposition Conservatives as a club with which to beat Brown's Labor government, the marijuana moral panic is a key element in what appears almost certain to be Brown's retreat from marijuana law reform.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/devilsharvest.jpg
1930's ''Reefer Madness''-style film poster
If, as is widely expected, Brown actually does order marijuana reclassified from Class C to Class B, which would mean a return to routine arrests for simple possession and an increase in penalties for trafficking, he will be ignoring the recommendation of the government's own drug policy-setting panel, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which has called for marijuana to remain Class C. Instead, Brown will be siding with law enforcement, concerned moms, and the mental health-drug treatment complex, all of whom are loudly howling that the drug is so dangerous it must be reclassified.

The British tabloid press, exemplified by the Daily Mail, has become a leading actor in the debate over reclassification, breathlessly reporting scary story after scary story about marijuana and its effects, particularly on youth. Here are just a handful of recent Daily Mail Reefer Madness headlines: "Son twisted by skunk knifed father 23 times," "How cannabis made me a monster," "Escaped prisoner killed man while high on skunk cannabis," "Boys on skunk butchered a grandmother," and "Teen who butchered two friends was addicted to skunk cannabis."

In another article, "How my perfect son became crazed after smoking cannabis," the Mail consults an unhappy mother whose child ran into problems smoking weed. Last fall, the Mail was warning of "deadly skunk."

While the Mail's preoccupation with skunk, a decades-old indica-sativa hybrid, is novel, it has also been hitting some more familiar themes. In an article headlined "Cannabis: A deadly habit as easy for children to pick up as a bag of crisps," after blaming marijuana for the problems of British youth culture and prohibition-related violence, the Mail breathlessly reports that skunk isn't your father's marijuana.

The other problem for the Government and others who urged the then Home Secretary David Blunkett to downgrade cannabis in the run-up to 2004, is that the drug on sale to young people on the streets today is very different from the one ministers thought they were downgrading.

Doctors believe that this new strain has the potential to induce paranoia and even psychosis.

Some of those we met who work with young criminals link the advent of the new drug with the growth and intensity of street violence.

Uanu Seshmi runs a small charity in Peckham, where gun crime is rife, which aims to help boys excluded from school escape becoming involved in criminal gangs.

He has seen boys come through his doors who are "unreachable" and he blames the new higher strength cannabis sold on the streets as "skunk" or "super skunk" for warping young minds.

"It isn't the cannabis of our youth, 20 or 30 years ago," he told me.

"This stuff damages the brain, its effects are irreversible and once the damage is done there is nothing you can do."

While such yellow journalism from the likes of the tabloid press is no surprise, even the venerable Times of London is feeling the effects of skunk fever. Under the headline Cannabis: 'just three drags on a skunk joint will induce paranoia', the Times managed to find and highlight a gentleman named Gerard who doesn't like that particularly variety of pot:

I smoke around six joints of regular cannabis every week, mostly at the weekends. What I like about smoking hash or weed is that it keeps me calm and gives me a more amusing outlook on life. With skunk, it's a completely different story. Just three drags on a skunk joint will induce paranoia on a massive scale.

As Britain's pro-cannabis reform media outlet Cannazine noted, "As a result of Gerard's personal experience with cannabis, The Times published a story to Google News which will ultimately go on to form part of the over-all anti-cannabis diatribe we are all subjected to daily. Is there any wonder at all why the world has such a confused view of what is really a hugely important social issue within the UK?"

Fortunately for British pot-smokers, smoking high-potency strains is not likely to turn them into mental patients or psycho-killers, said Dr. Mitch Earleywine -- and it may even be better for them than smoking low-potency weed. "The tacit assumption that increased potency translates into greater danger from the drug is untrue," he said. "In fact, marijuana with greater amounts of THC may is probably less hazardous than weaker cannabis. Stronger cannabis leads to smoking smaller amounts. Smoking smaller quantities could provide some protection against the health problems normally associated with inhaling smoke. Smokers may take smaller, shorter puffs when using more potent marijuana. Smoking less may decrease the amount of tars and noxious gases inhaled, limiting the risk for mouth, throat, and lung damage. Obviously, avoiding smoke completely would eliminate these problems," he said, suggesting that eating cannabis may be an alternative.

While marijuana potency has increased over the years, claims of dramatic potency increases "suffered from exaggeration or misinformation," said Earleywine.

The same could be said about claimed links between marijuana and schizophrenia, he suggested. "The obvious stuff, that pot doesn't cause schizophrenia but schizophrenics like pot, tends to apply here," he said. "The longitudinal studies often do a great job of assessing psychosis at the end of the period but a poor job of assessing symptoms at the beginning of the study. There are now about five longitudinal studies suggesting increases in 'psychotic disorders' or 'schizophrenic spectrum disorders' in folks who are heavy users of cannabis very early in life. There are also six studies to show more symptoms of schizo-typal personality disorder in cannabis users. Note that none of these are full-blown schizophrenia, the rare, disabling disorder that affects about 1% of the population," he said.

"The best argument against this idea comes from work showing that schizophrenia affects 1% of the population in every country and across every era, regardless of how much cannabis was used at the time or up to ten years before," Earleywine added.

For California court-certified cannabis cultivation expert Chris Conrad, the British obsession with skunk is somewhat mystifying. "Skunk is just another hybrid cannabis strain," he said. "It was developed by Dave Watson, and I believe it is 75% sativa and 25% indica with a strong aromatic flavor, hence the name. There is also 'Super Skunk' that adds more indica, which is what differentiates it from regular skunk. But the name and any alleged "skunk effect" are not related in any reality-based way, because that same effect is derived from all hybrid strains."

While scoffing at the sensationalized claims of skunk's powers, Conrad pointed to one real, but minor, risk associating with using high-potency marijuana. "Individuals with low blood sugar, low blood pressure and a tendency toward fainting may pass out after smoking a few hits of very strong cannabis, usually indica strains grown indoors. That's it. The only danger seems to be bumping your head if you fall over."

If the British press wanted to warn readers of real potential problems with high-potency marijuana, it would tell them to be careful around strong cannabis if they have low blood pressure and/or a history of fainting, said Conrad. "But instead of responsibly advising the public that certain individuals who are easily identified by their medical history should be careful to sit down when they smoke very strong cannabis -- the media instead uses this to fan fears, glamorize the drug war and sell newspapers without even bothering to give their readers the only useful information they need to know about the topic. Somebody should be fired for allowing them to publish lies like they have been doing. Shame on them."

"We are in the middle of a full-blown Reefer Madness moral panic," said Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation. "It is, of course, political -- opponents of the government are attacking it using the 2004 reclassification as a basis. Any bad things that happen involving cannabis can be blamed on the government, and any research that illustrates cannabis harms used to show how weak and irresponsible the government is. The government is on the verge of caving into the pressure, rather than arguing the case for the policy," he noted.

And while the Daily Mail is a tabloid (a rough American equivalent would be the New York Post), it is influential, Rolles said. "It influences the government because it is read by a large number of floating voters who switched from Tory to Labor and will potentially switch back," he argued. "The Mail has a disproportional impact on politicians because of its reader demographic and correspondingly has a disproportional impact on the news agenda and general popular political discourse. The memes about cannabis harms -- particularly mental illness and young people, the potent new 'skunk', links to violent crime -- and the fact that reclassification, and by implication the government, are responsible for it all are very much perpetuated by the Mail. It's the old story about the Government 'sending out messages' to young people," he said.

The Daily Mail is a political actor in opposition to the Labor government, Rolles noted. "The Mail despises the government for various reasons -- mostly to do with its editor who is a reactionary-right moral authoritarian with a classic conservative view of a traditional Britain under attack from various wicked modern cultural forces."

The Daily Mail's Reefer Madness reporting serves the political ends of the Conservatives, Rolles explained. "Their home affairs spokesman, David Davis, is like a drug war jack in the box, popping up at every opportunity and deploying one of a selection of set phrases linking all of the above; government being weak, sending out the wrong message, cannabis harms, reclassification being the cause of all the problems, and his solution -- ignore the ACMD, reclassify, and most absurdly; 'secure our borders'. It's fear mongering and sound-tough drug war idiocy on a quite epic scale."

But that idiocy will most likely be sufficient to sway the Labor government into moving resolutely backwards on marijuana policy. For American readers in particular, for whom such reporting seems like something out of the 1930s, the role of the reactionary British press in setting marijuana policy should be an object lesson.

Clinton and Obama's Positions on Medical Marijuana Aren't Good Enough

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton echoed Barack Obama's statement that medical marijuana raids are a bad use of law-enforcement resources. Via DrugWarRant:

What would you do as president about the federal government not recognizing Oregon's Medical Marijuana Program as legal?

We've got to have a clear understanding of the workings of pain relief and the control of pain. And there needs to be greater research and openness to the research that's already been done. I don't think it's a good use of federal law-enforcement resources to be going after people who are supplying marijuana for medicinal purposes.

So you'd stop the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's raids on medical marijuana grows?

What we would do is prioritize what the DEA should be doing, and that would not be a high priority. There's a lot of other more important work that needs to be done. [wweek.com]

Honestly, this "not a good use of resources" argument for ending medical marijuana raids is the weakest excuse possible for taking the right position on this. Of course it's not a good use of resources, but that isn't why we should refrain from harassing sick people. We don't do that because it's just wrong. Why can't you say that? Are you afraid?

This fiscal argument against medical marijuana raids isn’t just incoherent, it's politically useless. When polling data shows overwhelming public support for medical marijuana, and John McCain looks vicious and cruel by comparison, it's time to go on the offensive. There's no sense in failing to call out McCain on his wildly unpopular position. But you can't accuse him of cruelty unless you acknowledge that this is genuinely cruel and not just a poor investment.

I don't think this is necessarily a matter of educating Clinton and Obama about where the people stand on medical marijuana. I think they know that. Unfortunately, I fear it's all they know. They've stumbled cluelessly into the right position, but they lack the will and/or the knowledge to debate it and capitalize on the easy political points it offers them.

The way the winds are blowing, I'd wager that either of them could have clinched the democratic nomination already simply by speaking more bravely about this and other drug policy issues. That sure would have livened up this mindnumbing spectacle for one thing. They'd never attempt it for fear of nasty attack ads and so forth in the general election, but since it's going to come up anyway, you're always better off throwing the first punch.

Senators, the next time someone asks you about medical marijuana, tell us that you know it works and that's why you support it. Tell us that John McCain thinks it should be a crime and that he's wrong. Not only is this the best political answer, it's the truth.

Update: In comments, MPP's Bruce Mirken points to recent statements from Obama that go a bit further than Hillary's remarks yesterday. I am still dissatisfied, but I suppose it could now be claimed that Obama's position isn't confined to just the "bad use of resources" argument. He has acknowledged the legitimacy of medical use in certain circumstances, which is a step in the direction I'm advocating.

Update II: Some have argued in comments that I should have mentioned Ron Paul and Mike Gravel's positions on medical marijuana in this post. I disagree. My central point is that the democratic nominee would be wise to improve their medical marijuana position in anticipation of the general election against John McCain. To my knowledge, neither Ron Paul nor Mike Gravel will be running in the general election. We've covered those candidates previously, but with respect to their supporters, I don't consider them relevant to the specific argument I'm making here. It's not that I don't appreciate the contributions of Paul and Gravel, but this post isn't about them.

(TThis blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

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Press Release: Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Final Committee -- House Floor Next

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: APRIL 9, 2008 CONTACT: Neal Levine, MPP director of state campaigns, tel: 612-326-6690 ext.802 Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Final Committee Measure Clears Last Hurdle Before House Floor ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA -- Minnesota's bill to protect seriously ill patients from arrest for using medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation cleared its final committee hurdle today, passing the House Ways and Means Committee, 13-4. The next stop for the bill, SF 345, is the House floor. The Senate version of the bill was approved by the full Senate last year. Preston resident Neil Haugerud, former sheriff of Fillmore County and a former state representative who suffers chronic pain from arachnoiditis (inflammation of the lining that surrounds the spinal cord), said, "I'm grateful to the committee for passing the medical marijuana bill, and I hope the full House and the governor will go ahead and make it law as soon as possible. Patients who are in pain shouldn't have to risk arrest and jail to get relief." "Medical marijuana is a conservative issue," said Rep. Chris DeLaForest (R-Andover), a co-sponsor of the bill. "It's about the right of doctors and patients to make the best treatment decisions to relieve suffering, without interference from politicians and bureaucrats." "I hope the House follows the Senate's lead and, for the sake of Minnesota's seriously ill patients, passes this compassionate bill quickly," said bill sponsor Rep. Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth). The bill's chances were recently boosted by a strong statement of support for medical marijuana from the 124,000-member American College of Physicians, the largest medical specialty society and second largest physician group in the U.S. The ACP statement is available online at http://www.acponline.org/advocacy/where_we_stand/other_issues/medmarijua... Twelve states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington -- presently allow medical use of marijuana. Medical marijuana bills are now under consideration in Illinois and New York, and an initiative is expected to appear on Michigan's November ballot. With more than 23,000 members and 180,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.
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St. Paul, MN
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You Have My Permission to Name a Marijuana Strain After Me

I know, I'm a D-list pot celebrity at best, but at least I won't throw a raging hissy fit:
Tom Cruise's attorneys are looking to take legal action over a new strain of medical marijuana that has been put on the market under the star's name.

The "Tom Cruise Purple" brand, which features a picture of the actor laughing on the vials, is currently being sold in licensed marijuana clubs in Northern California. [sfgate.com]
Thanks to Prop. 215, it might even be possible to sue in California courts for trademark infringement over the name of a marijuana strain. But all you can really do is go after the clubs offering it, which can in turn just change the name to something else like TCP. Regardless, if Tom Cruise really wanted to screw these people, he would have been well advised to keep his mouth shut rather than make the strain famous by complaining about it.

Until all of this plays itself out, aspiring marijuana breeders should just name their strains after me, which I assure you is totally ok. Call it "Scotty Mo Skunk" or something like that. I won't complain unless it sucks.
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Skunk Weed Causing Outbreaks of Mad Brit Disease

With British Prime Minister Gordon Brown poised to reclassify marijuana as a more serious drug subject to stiffer penalties, the United Kingdom appears to be in the grip of an outbreak of Reefer Madness that would make Harry Anslinger blush. Bizarrely, much of the British concern about marijuana is centered on the dreaded "skunk." The Daily Mail, which makes the New York Post look like the New York Times, has been a leading proponent of skunk mania. In an article headlined Cannabis: A deadly habit as easy for children to pick up as a bag of crisps, after blaming marijuana for the problems of British youth culture and prohibition-related violence, the Mail breathlessly reports that skunk isn't your father's marijuana. (Haven't we heard this one before?)
The other problem for the Government and others who urged the then Home Secretary David Blunkett to downgrade cannabis in the run-up to 2004, is that the drug on sale to young people on the streets today is very different from the one ministers thought they were downgrading. Doctors believe that this new strain has the potential to induce paranoia and even psychosis. Some of those we met who work with young criminals link the advent of the new drug with the growth and intensity of street violence. Uanu Seshmi runs a small charity in Peckham, where gun crime is rife, which aims to help boys excluded from school escape becoming involved in criminal gangs. He has seen boys come through his doors who are "unreachable" and he blames the new higher strength cannabis sold on the streets as "skunk" or "super skunk" for warping young minds. "It isn't the cannabis of our youth, 20 or 30 years ago," he told me. "This stuff damages the brain, its effects are irreversible and once the damage is done there is nothing you can do.
This new strain of marijuana? Skunk? Odd, since it's been around since the 1970s (read the description of Skunk #1) and is just another of the countless indica-sativa hybrids. Thankfully, we have "drug experts" like Mr. Seshmi to raise the alarm about its irreversible effects. There's more from the Mail, which apparently has made reclassifying cannabis its moral crusade of the day. In another article, How my perfect son became crazed after smoking cannabis, the Mail consults an unhappy mum whose child ran into problems smoking weed. Last fall, the Mail was warning of--I kid you not--"deadly skunk". Here are some more skunk headlines from the Mail in recent months: "Son twisted by skunk knifed father 23 times," "How cannabis made me a monster," "Escaped prisoner killed man while high on skunk cannabis," "Boys on skunk butchered a grandmother," and "Teen who butchered two friends was addicted to skunk cannabis." While one expects such yellow journalism from the likes of the tabloid press, even the venerable Times of London is feeling the effects of skunk fever. Under the headline Cannabis: 'just three drags on a skunk joint will induce paranoia', the Times managed to find and highlight some guy named Gerard who doesn't like that particularly variety of pot:
I smoke around six joints of regular cannabis every week, mostly at the weekends. What I like about smoking hash or weed is that it keeps me calm and gives me a more amusing outlook on life. With skunk, it’s a completely different story. Just three drags on a skunk joint will induce paranoia on a massive scale. I’m not talking about the difference between a beer and a vodka shot. I’m talking about being unable to get out of bed in the morning because you feel paralyzed, about being incapable of holding a conversation. I would like to think I’m a pretty lucid guy, but after smoking skunk I find myself struggling to string a sentence together. In the skunk haze of my student days, I would sometimes find myself unable to leave the house at all. It’s like a mild form of dementia. Once, a friend passed me a skunk joint before going to a birthday party. After just a few drags, I went into a room full of people, barely able to talk. I headed straight for the bar and drank as much alcohol as possible to counteract the effects. It helped, but using one vice to neutralize another is not exactly ideal.
My advice to Gerard (and it's something he apparently still has the brain cells left to figure out by himself despite smoking the evil skunk): If you don't like it, don't smoke it. But more broadly, what does the Times piece tell us? Nothing except this guy doesn't like skunk. Honestly, I don't understand this British mania over skunk. Something similar is going on in Australia, only down under, it's not skunk but the dreaded "hydro" that is causing murder, mayhem, and madness. Blaming a particular cultivation technique is about as stupid as blaming one variety of cannabis. I think this is something I'm going to have to write about in a feature article this week. I'll consult cannabis cultivation experts, media critics, and the latest science to try to get a handle on this.
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Americans for Safe Access: April 2008 Activist Newsletter

California Cannabis Dispensaries Testify at Tax Hearing

Medical Cannabis Generates More than $100 Million in Sales Tax

On Tuesday, March 18, medical cannabis advocates and dispensary operators from around California went to the state capital to testify about the sales tax medical cannabis generates. The group urged the Board of Equalization (BOE) to help protect an important source of revenue for the state—$100 million in sales tax collected annually by medical marijuana dispensaries.

The BOE testimony The patients, advocates, and operators who testified.

ASA's Chief of Staff Rebecca Saltzman testified first. She told the BOE that the tax revenue the state receives from licensed medical cannabis dispensaries is in danger, due to increased federal interference in the state medical marijuana program.

"The sales tax collected by medical marijuana dispensaries in one year could fund the construction of two large schools or 2,000 elementary and high school teachers," said ASA Chief of Staff Rebecca Saltzman. "By robbing California of this much needed revenue, the federal government is not only harming thousands of patients that rely on this medicine, it is also impeding the state's ability to fund critical aspects of its infrastructure."

Others who testified included Dale Geiringer, Ph.D., the head of California NORML, who outlined the millions of dollars of tax revenue dispensaries produce for the BOE, and several dispensary operators and former operators from Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Sacramento and Santa Cruz, who all testified to their problems with the DEA.

Among those dispensary operators was Lisa Sawoya, the tax-paying former director of Hollywood Compassionate Care in Los Angeles, who was forced to close her dispensary because the DEA intimidated her landlord by threatening to seize the property. Her collective still suffered a raid at the hands of the DEA, even though her landlord had notified the DEA that the dispensary was closing in a matter of days.

Bill Pearce, former director of River City Patients' Center in Sacramento, described the $700,000 he had paid to the BOE over the past three years, as well as a quarter of a million to the IRS and Franchise Tax Board. The DEA shut him down in September.

All those testifying urged the BOE to do everything possible to help protect safe access and state tax revenues. ASA's Rebecca Saltzman also pointed out that the DEA would soon face oversight hearings before Congress on their tactics, and State Senator Carole Migden is introducing a resolution calling for an end to federal interference and urging Congress and the President to establish policy consistent with the compassionate use laws of California.

In 2007 alone, the DEA raided more than 50 medical marijuana providers, and they embarked on a new strategy, sending more than 300 letters to landlords of dispensaries, threatening property owners with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture.

Read more in Rebecca Saltzman's report on the hearing on ASA's blog. Also, see the ASA Fact Sheet on sales tax on the website here.

ASA Mounts Strong Response to Latest LA Raids

Patients, Activists and Victims of DEA Raids Rally, Speak to City Council

ASA organized a quick response to DEA raids on six locations of a medical cannabis collective in Los Angeles on March 20.

Activists were at the locations quickly to protest the raids, thanks to ASA's Raid Response Emergency Text Messaging system. One of the activists onsite even overheard a DEA agent tell the others that "the alert has gone out" and "they're on the way."

Within days, operators of several dispensaries that have been targeted testified before the Los Angeles City Council, then joined 60 medical cannabis patients and advocates for a protest in front of the DEA offices downtown.

"It's very difficult to comply with state law with the DEA continuing to raid legally-sanctioned dispensaries," said Virgil Grant, who had multiple dispensary locations raided. "It's time for the Los Angeles City Council and other local governments to end DEA interference."

The city council was asked to re-convene the city working group that is developing regulations for collectives, and Council Member Janice Hahn said she would.

Next Wednesday, April 2, the council will vote on a resolution endorsing state Senator Carole Migden's Senate Joint Resolution 20 calling on the President and US Congress to end the raids. See below in the City and County Hearings section for more details.

No arrests were made and the collectives, which took only minor losses due to careful precautions, are expected to reopen today.

Sign up for ASA's Emergency Response Text Messaging System to receive instant alerts about raids in your area. Visit ASA online at www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/RaidAlert.

ASA Fact Sheet on Senate Joint Resolution 20, calling for an end to DEA interference is at www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/SJR_20_Fact_Sheet.pdf.

Maryland Patients Get ASA Rights Training

As part of a campaign to raise awareness about Maryland's medical cannabis law and improve it, patients throughout Maryland received trainings on their rights this month as part of in an education partnership between ASA and the Drug Policy Alliance.

ASA's first Medical Marijuana Teach-In and Know Your Rights Training in the state drew a diverse crowd to hear about the state's medical marijuana law. A few attendees were not even aware that Maryland has a medical marijuana law.

Unlike most states with medical cannabis laws, Maryland still considers patients criminals, even when they can prove that their marijuana use is a medical necessity. A successful medical defense will leave a patient with a misdemeanor criminal record that poses barriers to financial aid, housing, employment, and more.

Those attending the training all signed ASA's petition to protect Maryland medical marijuana patients, and many also signed up to participate in a field trip to meet with state legislators next month.

ASA conducted similar teach-ins throughout the month of March, including trainings in Salisbury, Maryland (Eastern Shore), Silver Spring, MD (Montgomery County) and Western Maryland. The campaign is designed to build grassroots support and identify potential leadership to support future legislative reform efforts.

For more information about how to help improve Maryland's medical marijuana law see ASA’s website at: AmericansForSafeAccess.org/maryland.

California Supreme Court Affirms Patients’ Rights

Landmark ASA Win in Return of Property Case Stands as Precedent

ASA's landmark litigation establishing patients' right to the return of wrongfully seized medical cannabis was affirmed by the California Supreme Court on March 19.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford

The Court refused an attempt to overturn the appellate ruling in City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court of Orange County, otherwise known as the Felix Kha case.

Now that the Felix Kha decision has been affirmed by the highest court in the state, state and local law enforcement can no longer hide behind federal prohibition as an excuse for not returning medical cannabis.

Patients and caregivers can now challenge the wrongful confiscation of medicine in any court in the state.

"California law enforcement is now on notice that they cannot seize and keep the medicine of seriously ill patients," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who represented Kha. "The court has ensured that patients have a way to get their cannabis back."

The decision in Felix Kha's case was a huge victory for patients, one ASA worked hard to get.

This summer, ASA will beef up its return of property campaign to be sure that every patient and caregiver in the state enjoys the full benefit of this important precedent.

For more on this important decision, see Chief Counsel Elford's blog on it at AmericansForSafeAccess.org/blog/?p=74.

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Europe: Dutch Court Throws Out Maastricht Coffee Shop Ban on Foreigners

A district court judge in the Dutch border city of Maastricht Tuesday overturned a municipal ordinance ordering coffee shops to refuse to serve foreign clients, according to reports compiled by NIS News. The city had imposed the ban as an experimental measure in 2005, in part to appease the neighboring Belgian, French and German governments, who complain that their citizens go to Holland to score, and in part to appease conservative Justice Minister Peit Hein Donner.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/maastricht-coffee-shop.jpg
downstairs of a coffee shop, Maastricht (courtesy Wikimedia)
One coffee shop was shut down for three months in 2006 because it did not follow the ban on foreigners. But it reopened three months later.

In the meantime, a legal challenge to the ordinance wound through the courts. Now, a Dutch judge has ruled that because the sale of marijuana is legal in practice under Dutch law, ordinances barring foreigners from partaking in that legal activity amount to discrimination by nationality, which is banned by the Dutch constitution unless there are objective, reasonable grounds to justify it. The judge held that no such grounds exist in the present case.

As a Dutch city bordering neighboring countries where marijuana policies are not so relaxed, Maastricht has been the locus of numerous battles over marijuana sales. Just three weeks ago, courts ruled against its bid to set up coffee houses on a designated strip on the city's outskirts to mitigate congestion from foreign "drug tourists."

Search and Seizure: Vermont Supreme Court Throws Out Marijuana Conviction Based on Warrantless Aerial Surveillance

In a decision handed down last Friday, the Vermont Supreme Court threw out the felony marijuana cultivation conviction of a man caught growing marijuana following a warrantless flyover of his rural property by a military helicopter. Vermont residents have a broad privacy right "that ascends into the airspace above their homes and property," the court held in State v. Bryant.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/eradication-helicopter.jpg
marijuana eradication helicopter, Nashville
The case began in 2003, when Stephen Bryant, who owned a remote Addison County home, told a local official he didn't want trespassers. That unnamed official "found defendant's insistence on privacy to be 'paranoid,'" the opinion noted, and suggested that a Vermont State Police team do a flyover to look for marijuana. Under the rules of the state's Marijuana Eradication Team, which uses Vermont Army National Guard helicopters and pilots, flights are supposed to stay 500 feet above the ground. But an August 7, 2003 surveillance flight dipped down to 100 feet and hovered above Bryant's property for half an hour.

Troopers in the chopper saw marijuana plants, then used that information to obtain a search warrant. Bryant was arrested and charged with marijuana possession and cultivation. At trial, he argued that he used marijuana for medicinal purposes to treat an old work injury. Jurors acquitted him of possession, but convicted him of cultivation. In June, 2005, he was sentenced to 45 days. His appeal followed.

The Vermont constitution protects the privacy rights of residents even if it means some pot plants may go unseized, the court held in an opinion written by Associate Justice Marilyn Skoglund for the 4-1 majority.

"We protect defendant's marijuana plots against such surveillance so that law-abiding citizens may relax in their backyards, enjoying a sense of security that they are free from unreasonable surveillance. Vermonters expect -- at least at a private, rural residence on posted land -- that they will be free from intrusions that interrupt their use of their property, expose their intimate activities, or create undue noise, wind, or dust," wrote Skoglund.

"With technological advances in surveillance techniques, the privacy-protection question is no longer whether police have physically invaded a constitutionally protected area. Rather, the inquiry is whether the surveillance invaded a constitutionally protected legitimate expectation of privacy," she added.

"The decision is a boon to all Vermonters," said Middlebury attorney William Nelson, who represented Bryant at the Supreme Court. "It protects our privacy when we are out of doors, on our own property, and in our own yards," he told the Burlington Free Press after the decision.

The opinion serves as further evidence that the state constitution gives Vermonters greater privacy protection than federal laws do, Vermont law school professor Cheryl Hanna told the Free Press. "A lot of people feel the federal government doesn't respect privacy rights after Sept. 11," said Hanna. "Vermonters, at least at the state level, have that additional check on what the government can do."

Middle East: Israeli Anti-Drug Campaign Links Marijuana Use to Terrorism

American drug czar John Walters would be proud. Tearing a page from his "pot smoking supports terrorism" playbook, the Israeli Anti-Drug Authority this week launched a new campaign featuring Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in hopes of deterring Israelis from smoking marijuana.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/nasrallah-marijuana-poster.jpg
(haaretz.com)
The campaign includes a poster showing Nasrallah emerging genie-like from a bong. Beneath the image, the text reads: "Hezbollah is clearly planning to flood Israel with narcotics. Narcotics pose a strategic threat to Israeli society. Whoever uses narcotics is giving a hand to the next terrorist attack."

The new campaign, with its linkage of marijuana and terrorism, comes just a week after senior Israeli security sources told Israeli media that Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a stand-off in the summer of 2006, is planning to flood the country with drugs in an effort to harm its citizens. That same day, Israeli police and IDF troops seized the largest shipment of heroin ever confiscated on the border with Lebanon, some 60 pounds.

Lebanese hash has been a staple of the Israeli drug scene for decades, but no one is growing opium there. The heroin most likely came on a long journey from the valleys of Afghanistan. But if Israel is really concerned about local potheads putting money in Hezbollah's hands, it could solve that problem by allowing domestic, regulated cultivation of cannabis.

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